Student Teaching in the New Millenium

Archive for the ‘Deuteronomy’ Category

Giving Ear (5771 Ha’azinu)

In Deuteronomy on October 4, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Give ear, oh heavens, let me speak;
Let the earth hear the words I utter!  (Devarim 32:1)

But who are the heavens?
And who are the earth?

Hosea 14:2-10
Micah 7:18-20
Joel 2:15-27
Deuteronomy 32:1-52

Parsha Ha’azinu tells us that we forsook God, that Jeshurun grew fat and kicked (Devarim 32:15).  Are we a nation of cows and sheep?

Does the parsha say “if only you would do the Law, good things will happen?”  Is the Torah a manual to prosperity?  Is the universe alive, or merely a mechanism that takes input and returns like output?  Is it a mechanism for Life, or a mechanism of Life, and what is the difference?  What is the difference between offering a cow and saying words?

Why does God switch from hiding his countenance to helping his people against their enemies, in response to the enemies’ doubts rather than the peoples’ merit?  Is God faithful or fickle?  Is the peoples’ hardship purification or meaningless?  Who is this God who starts in Love and ends in Vengeance?  What is God’s nature?

Do the prophets testify to a Vengeful God or clarify a Loving God?

Who is asked to give ear here?


A Plea to Return (5772 Shabbat Shuvah)

In Deuteronomy on October 4, 2011 at 11:11 am

Why speak three prophets
on the Shabbat of Return?
Mercy, Justice, and?

Hosea 14:2-10
Micah 7:18-20
Joel 2:15-27
Deuteronomy 32:1-52

Is Shabbat Shuvah a Torah-hosted intervention?  Are the prophets judges, or a cheering section?  Why do the readings progress from emphasizing our words to emphasizing God’s deeds?  Is an idol an object, or anything that distracts from the way?  Are fasts supposed to be joyous or dour occasions?  Why do we solemnize a fast after blowing a horn?  Why is God as He is, forgiving iniquity and forgiving transgression?  Micah says He loves graciousness; whose graciousness does he love?

These are the days of awe.  Are we comforted?

What is the difference between a bull and a word?  (Hosea)  An action instead of a promise?  Or vice versa?

Aspiring to Humanity (5771 Nitzavim-Vayeilech)

In Deuteronomy on September 25, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Walking through the woods.
I trip on a stone and stumble.
Dust off, move on.

Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9
Deuteronomy 29:9 – 31:30

Why do Nitzavim and Vayeilech almost always get grouped together? The practical aspect is the time of year. Is there thematic significance? Moses reminds the Israelites that the curses previously described will befall anyone and everyone who forsakes the covenant, even the entire nation. This will be followed by exile. When the people make teshuvah, or return, the people will be gathered into the land again, to possess it. This sequence is repeated three times in Nitazavim. Vayeilech discusses God’s poem that shall be My witness against the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:19). What is the point of all this if God already knows this people will thereupon go astray after the alien gods in their midst, in the land that they are about to enter; they will forsake Me and break My covenant that I made with them (Deut. 31:16). How, after their time in the wilderness, after their experiences with Og and Bashan and Moab and Midian, can there be alien gods in their midst? Who are these alien gods?

Why does Vayeilech cap Nitzavim’s patterns of straying and redemption with this ominous prophecy? Does it mean we are doomed to fail? Is humankind naturally evil? Are we doomed to wander the wilderness, wherever we may be? Will we always reach for the wrong thing? Is the holy always beneath us?

And the Lord your God will grant you abounding prosperity in all your undertakings, in the issue of your womb, the offspring of your cattle, and the produce of your soil. For the Lord will again delight in your well-being, as He did in that of your fathers, since you will be heeding the Lord your God and keeping His commandments and laws that are recorded in this book of the Teaching (Deut. 30:9)

Why is this statement followed by once you return to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul?

Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it. (Deut. 30:11-14)

What is a religious leader? What should they know? What should they do? How should they act? What should they teach? Should they lead us up to Heaven? Or down to Earth?

Who is eligible to lead? Only a few? Or is leadership eligible for all? What is the difference between someone who accepts leadership, and someone who seeks it?

Final question: Why are we built up to be humbled before Rosh Hashanah?

Who is the wife? (5771 Ki Thavo)

In Deuteronomy on September 18, 2011 at 2:17 pm

You joined the Air Force?
What were you thinking?! Here now,
A pot for each day.

Isaiah 60:1-22
Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8

Following the instructions of offering the first fruits and the tithe, we come to the conclusion of the narrative started in parsha Re’eh, where the blessings said towards Mt. Gerizim, and the curses said towards Mt. Ebal are explicitly described. There are 27 blessings to over 50 curses, counted thematically, before 28:45 alone. More follow.

This parsha reminds me of my mother’s cousin Joe. He joined the Air Force without telling his wife beforehand, and came home in uniform to announce the news. His wife took one look at him before unloading the entire kitchen pantry at him and screaming a lot. He must have been military material: we still don’t know how he survived.

Does this parsha sound like a wife throwing dishes to anyone else?

I bring this up because, in the previous parsha Ki Teitzei, we begin with the discussion of how to wed a woman of pleasing form (21:11) captured during a war. What to do and what not to do.

This brings to mind the fact that God is not the native deity of the Israelites. Depending on the translation, my father was a wandering Aramean (26:5). The relationship between God and the Israelites of the Exodus was established in war time, defeating the Egyptians in pursuit at the Red Sea, and written in blood, fire and words at Sinai. The relationship between God and the present Israelites was established in war time, defeating Og, Bashan, and the Moabites and Midianites responsible for the seduction, and further expounded on the steppes of Moab looking westerly towards Eretz Yisrael.

The treatment of the captive woman includes a month-long period of mourning (21:13). Would she learn about the people she was about to join, and discuss these things with the household around her? If yes, this narrative joins the narratives above in revealing the following pattern: war to learning and discussion to covenant between strangers!

Was there a woman of pleasing form wed to anyone at the wars of the Exodus and in Moab? Is God a woman of pleasing form? Is Israel?

Final question: what does this say about foreign policy?

Which one of these things doesn’t belong? (5771 Ki Teitzei II)

In Deuteronomy on September 6, 2011 at 6:00 am

Three circles
Walk into a bar and say
Who’s the square?

Isaiah 54:1-10
Deuteronomy 21:22-22:7

The second aliyah discusses five things:

1. Don’t hang someone’s body on a tree overnight
2. Save your brother’s lost property for him
3. Help your brother when his property is in hardship
4. Cross-dressing is an abomination
5. Don’t take the dam with the young (birds)

Each of these laws involve an act of loving kindness but one. What does cross-dressing have to do with loving kindness?

Rashi explains for an abomination (Deut. 22:8) as The Torah forbids only a garment which leads to abomination. What is meant by a garment that leads to abomination?

The Torah frequently reminds us to abolish idols. An interpretation of this is to abolish ignorance. If we accept this reading, what does our verse about cross-dressing become?

Is this a grave way of conveying our responsibilities to our communities? Should a civilian impersonate a police officer? Should a police officer impersonate a judge and jury? Should a child abuser impersonate a teacher? Should a teacher impersonate a prophet? Should a Rabbi impersonate a Priest? Should you make yourself up as something you are not and lead others astray?

Or should you educate people on reality versus fantasy? Is education an act of loving kindness?

Final question: is labeling an abomination?

Don’t Grieve the Women (5771 Ki Teitzei I)

In Deuteronomy on September 5, 2011 at 9:26 pm

To crush your enemies
See them driven before you
and to hear the lamentation of their women 

Isaiah 54:1-10
Devarim 21:10-21

The poem above is not from our aliyah. It is by a more modern, secular prophet. He isn’t even real. He is a hero of short stories and comic books, and has appeared in movies and tv. Conan the Barbarian, appearing as Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1982, said this of human nature.

The first aliyah of Ki Teitzei is challenging us. It describes the protocol for taking a captive woman to wife, execution of inheritance relating to multiple marriages, and dealing with rebellious children.

Rashi argues that these three ideas relate to each other. Of and seest among the captives a woman of goodly form, and thou has a desire unto her, and wouldst take her to thee to wife (v. 11), Rashi says:

The Torah speaks only in opposition to evil inclination, for if the Holy One Blessed Be He does not make her permitted, he will marry her illicitly; however, if he does marry her, eventually he will hate her, for it is stated after this, (v.15), “If a man have,” etc., and eventually he will beget from her a stubborn and rebellious son (cf. v.18). Therefore these sections are adjoined (Tanhuma).”

Rashi and other commentators expand on this idea, saying that the further stipulations towards the woman – shaving her head and paring her nails, putting off the (beautiful, Rashi) raiment of her captivity, dwelling in her captor’s house, and bewailing her parents for an entire month (v. 12-13) – are meant to make her repulsive. The month-long wait lets her captor lose interest, find a proper wife, (the daughter of Israel shall adorn herself, v.13 Rashi), and avoid the curses of complex patrimony, criminal children, and familial humiliation.

This is a very man-centered interpretation. What about women?

Rashi is right when he says that men would marry these women illicitly if they were not permitted. The Talmud says that a man need only have sex with a woman to marry her (citation needed). This implies rape on the battlefield to me. See Rape of Nanking. Permitting these women for marriage lessens their risk of being brutalized by elevating them to the position of a commodity in the immediate awareness of the attackers (Deut. 20:14). This is still unacceptable, which is why the Torah further says if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her … thou shalt not deal with her as a slave (Deut. 21:14). In other words, these women are people. They have human rights.

I diverge from Rashi here. He explicitly states that wives of war will be hated by their husbands. I disagree, and I think the month-long waiting period imposed by the Torah has two purposes. The first, as Rashi implies, is meant to help the aggressor lose interest. The second, to give the aggressor the opportunity to decide if he loves the woman or not, and be circumspect. If he is not, and marries the woman anyway for immediate physical reward, he may rape her and hate her, and extend this attitude to her children.

This is why the next two idea groups discuss children’s rights and consequences. Verse 15 starts the second idea, saying that children are entitled to a patrimony appropriate to their entitlement, regardless of parentage. Not only the first-born but all children, as ibn Ezra explains on v. 17, if there are three brothers, the first-born receives two-fourths and the others have one-fourth each. Verse 17 also states, if the first-born son is of a “hated” mother, that the right of the first-born is his. Does apportioning appropriate inheritance qualify as honest business treatment? Does honest business treatment and right personal treatment go hand-in-hand?

The third idea, starting in verse 18, begs the following questions. If you mistreat your wife, should you be surprised if your children rebel against you? If you mistreat your children, should you be surprised when they don’t listen to you? Will you have earned the heartache, pleading and handwringing over their activities? Who is responsible for their crimes and eventual death? Them? Or you?

Final question: Who speaks more for our age? Isaiah? Or Conan?

Dvar Torah Parshat Shoftim 5771 2011 – It’s what’s inside that counts (via Torah Portion)

In Deuteronomy, ReBlogged on September 3, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Is a tree a tree?
Is a tree a trap?
A tree, a trap, a trapping?

This blog discusses the law in Deuteronomy 16:21 forbidding the planting of trees near the altar of Hashem. Torah Portion makes the point that it’s the recognition of the sanctity and holiness of the place that makes the experience, not the trappings.

I agree with this sentiment. But I ask: does this law still apply? Chazal may say the synagogue is the diminutive of the Temple, but is there a diminutive of the altar of Hashem? How can we plant a tree near the altar if there isn’t one?

Furthermore, is the law here against planting trees? Or against idol worship? In olden times, there may have been the temptation to worship at the tree alongside the altar. What about today? If it’s what’s inside that counts, is it the tree that matters, or your intent?

Is this taking away from the Law?

If the planting of trees near the altar is forbidden, should synagogues of wood also be forbidden?

A strange law prohibits Jews from planting trees by the Bet Hamikdash. LO TITA…KOL ETZ ETZEL MIZBACH HASHEM ELOKECHA…, “You shall not plant…any tree near the Altar of Hashem…” (Deut. 16,21) Why would this be prohibited? When we build a synagogue today it is recognized by Chazal as a Mikdash Me’at, a diminutive of the Temple. We try to beautify it and make it pleasant for those who worship in it. Yet the Torah says not to plant trees, implying tha … Read More

via Torah Portion

Word for Word (5771 Shoftim II)

In Deuteronomy on September 3, 2011 at 7:54 pm

One word? Not enough.
Two or three words? A matter.
After we’ve stoned them.

Isaiah 51:12-52:12
Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

What is “My word” that is put into Israel’s mouths here? Justice? Mercy? Commentary? Prophecy? If it’s my word against yours, what does it mean when they differ?

We are told specifically that we bow down to God alone, and that we bow down to no other gods besides Him. Worship God. What about justice? Can we posit that God is Justice? Worship Justice? Is this permitted?

Does the parsha literally impose the death sentence on idolaters? The parsha first specifies stoning at the gates (v. 5) and then specifies that the hand of the witnesses shall be first…to put…to death, and afterward the hand of all the people (v. 7). Why repeat this? Are these statements contradictory? A lot of emphasis is placed on the number of witnesses here. One witness is not enough. Two or three witnesses are necessary. The Hebrew is rendered at the mouth…shall be put to death (Deut. 17:6). So do we put people to death at the hand, or at the mouth? How do we put someone to death at the mouth? Can we speak death? Are words our stones?

The sequence of this exchange is as follows:

1) Publicly stone the idolaters that they die (v. 5)
2) Two or more witnesses are necessary to establish the matter (v. 6)
3) The hand … shall be upon him (or her?) … to put him to death (v.7)

Why lead with a directive to kill the suspects before locating witnesses? If we accept that words are stones, and stoning happens, publicly, how is a fair trial possible?

Is this why at the hand is last: so that, after all this, if there is still no reasonable doubt, a physical sentence may be considered? Does the Torah comment on human nature AND due process?

Is there a difference between idolatry and treason?

I believe the Hebrew for “have done this evil thing”, referring to the idolaters, is ha-davar hara. Can we render this as the evil word? Therefore, is a stoning of words all that is needed, as it is written:

life for life
eye for eye
tooth for tooth
hand for hand
foot for foot

(Deuteronomy 19:21)

Word for Word?

Final question: what does this mean for libel suits?

What’s there to fear? (5771 Shoftim I)

In Deuteronomy on September 2, 2011 at 9:42 am

Walking through your life
Looking left and looking right
Follow, Fear, Justice

Isaiah 51:12-52:12
Deuteronomy 16:18-17:13

Justice, justice you shall Pursue?  Or follow?  What about trail?  Or tail?

We are told numerous times to judge without fear or respect of other men.  Separate the people from the problem?

Isaiah says do not fear, for God is The comforter.  Is carelessness carefree?  At what point does carefree turn into careless?

What is the choice? (5771 Re’eh II)

In Deuteronomy on August 27, 2011 at 8:01 pm

Free will to make
Free will to create
Free will, make right, create wrong?

Isaiah 54:11-55:5
Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17

So the portion that begins with I set before you a blessing and a curse also restates the kosher laws. Why keep kosher?

Modern questions: Why keep organic? Why keep vegetarian or vegan?

If we accept the idea that the command to abolish idolatry can also be understood as a command to abolish ignorance, or a command to abolish the wrong, can we extend this to a command to eat ethically?

Why should we eat ethically? Why, when given the choice, do we pick unhealthy options? Why do unhealthy options exist? Does the food we eat satisfy? How does one measure the price of food? Is money the only measure? Is money the true price?

How do we get to the point where the unhealthy choices are no longer necessary? Is there a substitute? Where is the evolution? Is this an addition to the text? Or a detraction from the text?

Where do these choices come from? Where does free will come from?
If someone makes wrong choices, does that make them wrong?

Final question: Where does the wrong come from, and how can we abolish it?