Student Teaching in the New Millenium

Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

Discuss: Moses Received Torah From Sinai (Avot 1.1)

In Talmud on July 2, 2012 at 7:34 am

MOSES RECEIVED TORAH FROM SINAI AND HANDED IT ON TO JOSHUA, AND JOSHUA TO THE ELDERS, AND THE ELDERS TO THE PROPHETS, AND THE PROPHETS HANDED IT ON TO THE MEN OF THE GREAT ASSEMBLY.

THEY SAID THREE THINGS:

BE DELIBERATE IN JUDGEMENT,
RAISE MANY DISCIPLES,
AND MAKE A HEDGE ABOUT THE TORAH.

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Discuss: Aggadah and Parable No. 1

In Talmud on July 1, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Those who look for Scripture’s inherent meaning say:

If you wish to know Him
by whose word the world came into being,
study Aggadah;
you will thereby come to know the Holy One, blessed be He,
and hold fast to His ways.

Sefer Ha-Aggadah, The Meaning of Aggadah and the Parable, #1

On The Agnostic’s View of the Ten(Twelve) Commandments

In Exodus, ReBlogged on January 19, 2012 at 8:00 am

I chanced on two interesting articles the other day at The Tattered Thread  and RemotelyNowhere, written by two friends, Rob Slaven and Grant Dawson, blogging their impressions of the Ten Commandments.  The first is agnostic, the second is Christian.  This is my contribution to their discussion, with some editing.

The name “Ten (Twelve)” commandments is from Rob, who aptly points out that the Ten Commandments, in the strictest sense, discuss more than ten specific things.  I’ve opted to stick to the Ten Commandments formula here.

On The Agnostic’s View of the Ten(Twelve) Commandments

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...

Moses with the Tablets, by Rembrandt

1. I am the LORD thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

The plain meaning of the pesuk (phrase) means as you have said, God says “I am God.” Now, what other gods exist in the world today? Money? Sex? Power? Certitude? What happens when people chase after them? Everyone gets hurt, and everyone is enslaved.

The purpose of this commandment is to encourage appreciation for the ineffable, as Abraham Joshua Heschel puts it, and discourage the worship of bad ideas. It also affirms God’s oneness. God appears in Torah in multiple guises including: love, justice, compassion, mercy, the elements, father, and (hey feminists!) mother. If God is a God of infinite possibility, imposing limits on God reduces Her splendor.

It also reminds us of something more important than ourselves. What is this?  An excellent question.

“And the LORD repented of the evil which He said He would do unto His people.” (Exodus 32.14)

Human dignity is precious.

 

2. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image…thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them.

The previous commandment discourages the worship of bad ideas. This commandment discourages the worship of man-made things. So, I cannot say: my rock says I should kill you because your rock’s butt ugly and you smell.

In other words, bowing to a rock and giving it my lunch money equals bad ju-ju….even if it is damn funny. Bowing to the rock and going Son of Sam on people…not so much. Is this serving the rock, or savage impulse?

Man-made gods embody the ideas we give them. When this was written, children were sacrificed to fire…by their parents. Is this commandment redundant, or does the repetition teach that idolatry, in any form, is a really, really bad idea?

If we worship man-made things, does that mean we worship man?

God tired of sacrifice long, long ago.

 

3. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.

Do not make false oaths in God’s name. Since we run the risk of not fulfilling every oath we make, don’t swear in God’s name at all. Why? To avoid an error.

It’s our responsibility to fulfill our oaths, not God’s.

Better yet: don’t make false oaths in YOUR name, or anyone else’s.

 

4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

We spend six days a week creating, acquiring, building, and molding existence to suit our needs. Shouldn’t we take some time for ourselves?

We should all take a break from chasing money.

A holiday every week. A beautiful thing.

 

5. Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

How do we live long and happy lives on our land? By honoring our parents. What do our parents want for themselves and their children? Peace. How do you make peace? By honoring everybody.

Or:  how do we live long and happy lives on our land?  By honoring our neighbors.  When we bring honor to our neighbors, we bring honor on ourselves, and thereby honor our parents.

What’s the alternative?  Theft.  War.  Death.

“Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Leviticus 19.18)

 

6. Thou shalt not murder.

The plain meaning of the pesuk is as you’ve described. Consider this: slander is a form of murder.

God tired of sacrifice long, long ago.

 

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

The Sages in the Talmud say that marriage was established in three ways: exchange of money, the signing of the contract, or sex. Sacred prostitution was all the rage in biblical times.

Another interpretation: let’s borrow from the Catholic understanding of the married couple as a new life. Is this murder?

 

8. Thou shalt not steal.

Not only don’t steal, but don’t think of stealing. Why do we think of stealing? To acquire what others have that we do not: money, power, things. More idols.

When we conceive the theft, and follow through, where does the theft occur?  In the word, or the deed?

 

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Don’t make false oaths in your own name, or anyone else’s. Honor everybody.

 

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife…nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

Intention is everything. The Sages ask why the Torah demands fourfold or fivefold reparations are required for certain crimes of theft. Some interpret the number of steps in the act into the reason. Conceiving the crime is the first step.

We are already told not to steal.  What does the repetition teach?  That theft is a really, really bad idea?  How about, don’t tempt yourself?

***

I leave you with a midrashic interpretation.

Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife
bearing false witness to have him put away
so you can steal his money
and have sex with his wife
motivating you to murder him
and make your parents feel shame
because you don’t make peace
and lie
and chase idols
and don’t know what is good in life

Who Are You?

In Exodus on January 14, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Someone approaches.
Who am I, I hear him say.
I say, Who are You?

Someone coughs a bit.
Who am I, I hear her say.
I say, Who are you?

Someone drops its hood.
I see in it a copy.
Behold! A mirror!

Parsha Shemot

English: Moses and the Burning Bush, illustrat...

Moses and the Burning Bush, 1890 Holman Bible

And God said unto Moses: ‘I AM THAT I AM’; and He said: ‘Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: I AM hath sent me unto you.’

Exodus 3.14

Rashbam says it means “‘I will be,’ forever” and ibn Ezra says it means “I [always] am.” Rashi says the same thing, poetically: I will be [with you in your suffering here] as I will be [with you in your suffering in the future]. So God’s nature, whatever that may be, is ongoing.

Maimonides says “The Torah speaks in the language of men,” and “if it could be supposed that He did not exist, it would follow that nothing else could possibly exist.” This agrees with the foregoing, and asks an intriguing question: is God the source of being? Suppose yes: is God the source of being in the beginning of Genesis, or the source of being in the beginning of every moment? At what moment did Creation occur? If Genesis is the beginning of time, could it have happenned at a moment? Could it have happened at every moment? Could it still be happenning right now, at this moment, and the next? Is every moment of our lives genesis? Is this why we read the Torah through every year?

But Maimonides also says: God is a “First Being who brought every existing thing into being.” This reminds me of the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle, who continually contemplates its own contemplation. I AM THAT I AM. This supports the commentators too, but does it not also ask if God is wholly self-absorbed? Perhaps a better way to ask the question is, is God self-aware? Are God’s behaviors part of the machine? Are they pure instinct, or stimuli leading to instinctual action? Are they pure expression, or considerations leading to pure expression?

If God is what God is, are we are what we are?  Are we for ever or ever dynamic?  If God doesn’t change state, how can he ever be a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of His people; And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn back the battle at the gate (Isaiah 28.5)?  Is this statement and the LORD repented of the evil which He said He would do unto His people in harmony? (Exodus 32.14)

Do we make Torah more than mutter upon mutter, murmur upon murmur (Is. 28.13) or does God?  Or, is the creative activity necessary to turn “nothing into something” dependent on active collaboration between God and Man? Would everything God created in the beginning have substance if they lacked creation by God and naming by Man?

Moses learns from I AM THAT I AM who he is supposed to be. Did Moses speak with God in the fire, or himself? Did God speak with Moses from the fire, or Himself?

Who are you?

Who Are Your Parents?

In Exodus on January 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm
English: Pharaoh's Daughter Has Moses Brought ...

Pharaoh's Daughter Has Moses Brought to Her, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot

On my morning walk
I like to go to the park
with my dog, a treat.

Neighbors come, walking
dogs and children, laugh and play
fills the air, the world.

How sweet it is.

Exodus 1.1 – 6.1
Isaiah 27.6 – 28.13; 29.22 – 23

Parsha Shemot

What does this passage teach?

And the maiden went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her: ‘Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.’ And the woman took the child, and nursed it. And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses, and said: ‘Because I drew him out of the water.’

And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown up, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens; and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren.

Exodus 2.8-11

Moses’ mother is called by Pharoah’s daughter to nurse him.  After the child grows up, he is presented to Pharoah’s daughter, who makes him her son.  So, who is Moses’ mother?

Yochobed is Moses’ biological mother.  This is established later in chronicle (Exodus 6.20).  The plain meaning of she nursed it, and the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharoah’s daughter, seems to me to mean Yochobed saw to the physical aspects of Moses’ upbringing, until it was time for him to be adopted into Pharoah’s daughter’s household.  Moses was raised as an Egyptian from that point on.

Next, the text says and it came to pass…that he went out unto his brethren.  The plain meaning of this text, as I said last year, seems to be “Moses recognized the Hebrews.”  If Moses was raised as an Egyptian, as the previous thought unit implies, how can he recognize Hebrews as his brethren?

It seems unreasonable to assume that Yochobed could refrain from imparting to Moses his origins, though she certainly had ample motivations to do so.  Pharoah’s decree is one.  Her livelihood is another.  Pharoah’s daughter charges her to take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.  The parsha has already established Yochobed’s predilection for going against the rank and file, however.  In addition, she being called to be Moses’ wet nurse is a total setup:  the maiden is his sister (v.7).

By the same token, could Pharoah’s daughter refrain from teaching Moses the ways and customs of her household once he became her son?  Pharoah’s daughter was Egyptian.  Is there any reason why Pharoah’s daughter would not raise Moses as an Egyptian following his adoption?  Indeed, Moses is also an Egyptian (Exodus 2.19).

So two women, Yochobed and Pharoah’s daughter, shared in Moses’ parenting.  Does the text then suppose that Moses was raised as a Hebrew or as an Egyptian? When the text says and the woman took the child, and nursed it. And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son who does the text actually mean?  Yochobed?  Or Pharoah’s daughter?  Or both?

This reminds me of my mother, who taught in the New York school system for many many years.  She once told me, every so often, some child or other would walk up to her and look up at her with those big wide eyes they have, and say, “mommy”?  My mother and these children’s parents came from very different places, yet the children were raised by both.

Rabbi Binyomin Adler says on his blog that the gemara says Pharoah’s daughter converted to Judaism.  The Torah does not record this fantastic event.  Rabbi Adler’s words,

The Medrash (Shir HaShirim Rabbah2:22) likens Moshe to a deer. Just like a deer appears and disappears, so too Moshe appeared to the Jewish People and then he disappeared. In essence, the entire redemption of the Jewish People until the last moments was shrouded in mystery. The redemption commenced when Pharaoh’s daughter saved Moshe from drowning in the river. Her conversion and her subsequent life were concealed because the entire redemption process was shrouded in mystery.

I’m not sure I buy the full implications of this.  It fits, but I ask:  should we celebrate the fact that a convert to Judaism saved a Hebrew child, or that someone of another tradition, against the law of their land, saved a Hebrew child?  Which is the greater miracle:  the contemporary Jewish convert or the Righteous Christian of World War II?  By naming the child Moses, because I drew him out of the water, did Pharoah’s daughter cast her lot in with the Israelites in fact, and is “in fact” more important than “in faith”?  Is her fate then shrouded in ethereal mystery?  Or is it tied up with the physical experience at Sinai, like the rest of us?  Did she go there with her adopted son?

Did the Egyptians as a people cast their lot in with the Israelites already?

…and it pleased Pharaoh well, and his servants. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph: ‘Say unto thy brethren: This do ye: lade your beasts, and go, get you unto the land of Canaan; and take your father and your households, and come unto me; and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land. Now thou art commanded, this do ye: take you wagons out of the land of Egypt for your little ones, and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. Also regard not your stuff; for the good things of all the land of Egypt are yours.’ And the sons of Israel did so.

Genesis 45.16-21

Was Pharoah’s daughter, in fact, a prophet?

The notion of Pharoah’s daughter converting to Judaism, or what we should call the ancient Hebrew equivalent, reinforces the idea that Moses recognize his brethren to be the Hebrews.  But, if Pharoah’s daughter did not convert, we’re left with a Hebrew child raised at once Hebrew and Egyptian.  What does this teach?

When Moses went out unto his brethren, did he go out to the Hebrews and find Egyptians?  Or did he go out to the Egyptians and find Hebrews?  When the text says, and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren, who is one of his brethren?  Is it the Hebrew?  Or the Egyptian?

Are our physical parents our only parents?

For all our differences, are we in fact one family?

Joyous Shabbos Peace to You!

Is Moses Mamzer?

In Exodus on January 12, 2012 at 8:23 am
English: Moses Laid Amid the Flags, c. 1896-19...

Moses Laid Amid the Flags, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot

My child is born.
I look down and see. It is
the prettiest thing.

I look at my wife.
They said she was forbidden
and not like to me.

Others will say this:
“She is not like us,” until
she makes herself great.

My child is already great.

Exodus 1.1 – 6.1
Isaiah 27.6 – 28.13; 29.22 – 23

Parsha Shemot

And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived, and bore a son; and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months.

Exodus 2.1-2

And Moses said unto the LORD: ‘Oh Lord, I am not a man of words, neither heretofore, nor since Thou hast spoken unto Thy servant; for I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.’

Exodus 4.10

Why does the text say and there went a man of the house of Levi, and took [to wife] a daughter of Levi?  This is the old JPS translation.  The new JPS translation renders it a certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman.  Why not just “a man took to wife a woman”?

Ramban explains that the Sages explained the verse to mean that the man separated from his wife to avoid fathering a child following Pharoah’s decree and remarried her to have Moses.  Rashi and Rashbam echo this idea.  Ramban further explains that the plain meaning of the text describes marriage, not reunion, and that Torah does not relate events in strict chronological order.  The couple married, bore Aaron and Miriam, heard Pharoah’s decree, and then bore Moses, who was beautiful.  Of course, the statement that Torah does not relate events in their strict order is not an incontrovertible defense of either position.  In either case, the passage means that the certain man was already this woman’s husband, having already fathered Aaron and Miriam.

Ramban says something else interesting that contradicts the Sages, that to say the man went and did something does not mean to do over but to do something new.  He cites Reuben went and lay with Bilhah (Gen. 35.22) and he went and married Gomer (Hosea 1.1).  What fascinates me is what these phrases have in common.  Bilhah was Jacob’s concubine, or wife in the biblical sense, their marriage being established by sex.  Gomer was a sacred prostitute.  Both of these phrases refer to forbidden relations.  Perhaps nothing new, but exceptional.

It seems to me the onus of the statement went and did lies on the active participant, who in this case is the Levite man.  Ibn Ezra explains that Amram and Jochobed were later identified as Moses’ parents, and that Jochobed was Moses’ aunt. So here again, an exception has taken place.

What else is there?  We are taught later in Exodus that Moses is slow of speech and of a slow tongue.  Rashi explains slow of speech to mean that Moses was a stutterer.  Rashbam explains that slow of speech is part of Moses’ nature.  Ramban identifies it as an impediment, which seems to me to have support in who makes him dumb or deaf, seeing or blind?  Is it not I, the Lord? (Exodus 4.11)  So does Moses, the beautiful son of a certain man who went and married his aunt, have a speech impediment?

Was the certain man a certain man because there was something certain about him?  Did Moses inherit his speech impediment from him?  Or was the certain man a certain man, certain of what he wanted to do, with his own self-formulated opinions and direction and sense of his own and others’ rights, regardless of others’ thoughts?  Why not both?  Is this irresponsible?  Or liberated?

Is the man chosen by God to be the greatest prophet of the Torah and the giver of the Law, a mamzer?

Now…what does this teach us?

Midwives and Crazy People

In Exodus on January 11, 2012 at 9:26 pm
English: Pharaoh and the Midwives, c. 1896-190...

Approached by man in
motley and he says to me
drink this tasty poison.

Its quite good for you
and you’ll never feel better.
I say thanks and leave.

Exodus 1.1 – 6.1
Isaiah 27.6 – 28.13; 29.22 – 23

Parsha Shemot

What does this passage teach?

But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men-children alive. And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them: ‘Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men-children alive?’ And the midwives said unto Pharaoh: ‘Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwife come unto them.’ And God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty. And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that He made them houses.

Exodus 1.17-21

Why would the midwives apparently lie to Pharoah?  Does our discussion of the white lie apply here or not?  When Joseph’s brothers presented Israel’s alleged statements to Joseph in the last parsha, we assume their intent was to keep peace.  Can we say the same here?

Are the Hebrew women more robust than the Egyptian women?  Why do the midwives deal in racial stereotypes?

Are we supposed to behave based on stimuli or values?  Here it says the midwives feared God, and did not as the king…commanded them.  Did the midwives disobey Pharoah because they fear God?  Or did the midwives fear God, and disobey Pharoah, because this was right behavior in their eyes?  This distinction is subtle, but important.

If you don’t hold steadfast to your values, how do you expect to build a stable home?  Is this why the midwives were made houses after this episode?  Does the phrase made them houses make any sense?  Let’s put it another way:  were the midwives allowed to be fertile and lively because they allowed their sisters to be fertile and lively?  When we steadfastly preserve others’ liberties, do we promote our own?

So, the parsha makes the midwives’ lie not a lie.  The Israelites are granted fertility and livelihood as a result of the midwives actions.  God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty.  How is this accomplished?

First we must ask what Pharoah was doing talking with the midwives directly in the first place.  If the Egyptians were adread of the Israelites (Exodus 1.12) why would Pharoah trust the Hebrew midwives (v.15) to do his dirty work?  While we’re at it we should ask: why does Pharoah treat the Israelites as he does?  Was Pharoah provoked?  Where does the Torah tell us this?  How absolutely ridiculous is this situation?

I’d like to share a Zen story.  One day, on market day in a village, someone let a bull loose.  The bull was angry.  He ran up and down an alley destroying stalls and chasing people.  The villagers brought the local wise man and said to him “Wise man!  There’s a bull loose in the alley!  He’s angry.  He’s running up and down an alley destroying stalls and chasing people.  What should we do?”  The wise man took one look down the alley at the bull, before running down the road…to a different alley.  What does this teach us?

Sometimes, we’re forced to deal with crazy people.  This is an inescapable fact of life.  Everybody operates differently from everybody else, but the crazy person differs in that they’ve left the rest of us, and our common ground of humanity, far behind.  If someone is behaving in a way that makes no sense to you, if someone is endangering your life, what should you do?  You should do what’s necessary to get out of there.

This is what the midwives did.

You’re walking down the street.  Someone comes up behind you and says “drop your money on the ground and walk away.” You feel a knife to your back.  Do you say no and die?  Or do you do what’s necessary and live? No one is fertile or lively when they’re dead.

People of the Land

In Exodus on January 10, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Pharaoh Notes the Importance of the Jewish People, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot

I wake up today,
And bend my back to my work.
The taskmaster comes.

He says do this way.
I do. He says do that way.
Why? Because you’re wrong.

Exodus 1.1 – 6.1
Isaiah 27.6 – 28.13; 29.22 – 23

Parsha Shemot

‘Come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there befalleth us any war, they also join themselves unto our enemies, and fight against us, and get them up out of the land.’

Exodus 1.10

Why say deal wisely or deal shrewdly with them?  Why not just say deal with them?

There is an old, old term in our tradition.  The Am Ha’aretz, or “people of the earth.”  At the turn of the eras, this was a rough phrase for landless, unskilled day workers.  These people took whatever work they could find and were looked down on by higher levels of society.  Could that be part of what’s going on here?

Woe to the crown of pride of the drunkards of Ephraim,
And to the fading flower of his glorious beauty,
Which is on the head of the fat valley
Of them that are smitten down with wine!

Isaiah 28.1

Why don’t the Israelites deal wisely with the Egyptians?  Is this from too much food and wine in the Egyptian bars?  Why didn’t they just leave?

Are food and wine metaphors for daily experience?  It seems to me there is a lot of fat in our daily lives, and oftentimes things happen that muddle my judgement.  Sometimes, I can’t see straight!  Did Pharoah take the actions he did not only to physically subjugate the Israelites, but to spiritually subjugate them as well?  The text specifies fight against us and get them up out of the land.  One is physical.  Is the other mental?  Does one go without the other?

These behaviors persist in people to this day.  How do we know when others try to make us into am ha’aretz? How do we know when we’re being subjected to this treatment?  How do we know when its willful or just stupid?  Why do we hesitate to respond, and how do we decide?  Should it be scary when we respond, or beautiful? How can we tell when we behave this way towards other people, and how do we stop?

Is the book of Shemot about the redemption of Israel from “sin,” or bad habits?  Is the point of exodus to divinely test and prove one’s worth, or is it P90X for the soul?

Pharoahs

In Exodus, General on January 9, 2012 at 11:11 pm

To march forward and
Not march backward we must look
At ourselves and ask

To where do we go?
And from where do we come from?
Where are we right now?

Exodus 1.1 – 6.1
Isaiah 27.6 – 28.13; 29.22 – 23

Parsha Shemot

What does this passage teach?

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph. And he said unto his people: ‘Behold, the people of the children of Israel are too many and too mighty for us; come, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there befalleth us any war, they also join themselves unto our enemies, and fight against us, and get them up out of the land.’ Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh store-cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And they were adread because of the children of Israel.

Exodus 1.8-12

What does not knowing Joseph have to do with Pharoah’s behavior? Also, why does the text say “knew not Joseph”? What does one have to do with the other?

Is Pharoah angry and evil here? Or is he just afraid? Do his actions make any sense to us?

Are there Pharoahs in your life? What makes them Pharoahs? Are these people mean and bullish, or oppressive and belittling? Do they flee responsibility for their actions while you clean up the mess? Are they obstacles to you doing what you want to do and being what you want to be? There are many people out there who fear their own shadow, and pale at their own reflection. How would they respond if they could actually see themselves?

Isaiah instructs us not to condemn, but to mourn.

When the boughs thereof are withered, they shall be broken off; the women shall come, and set them on fire; for it is a people of no understanding; therefore He that made them will not have compassion upon them, and He that formed them will not be gracious unto them.

Isaiah 27.11

Do these people sound at all evil or wrong, or deserving of this fate? Or do they just need all the help they can get?

There’s a wonderful book by Viktor Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning. It’s a wonderful book and I highly suggest you read it. It’s Viktor’s account of life in the WW2 camps, and his encounters with people in them. Some were reduced to little more than animals, bereft of any understanding of humanity, driven by survival. Some became churlish, mercenary, working with the camps to make their own lives just a little easier. And others found it in themselves to say Shacharit, the morning prayers, with little more than scraps of newspaper and shoelace tefillin. How is this like our portion? What does this teach us?

Are we measured by our ability to adapt to survive? Or is our ability to weather oppression the catalyst that helps us to increase, to wax exceeding mighty?

My questions are: what is the difference between necessary and unnecessary suffering? How can you tell? How do you know when to quietly acknowledge or actively answer? And, how can we break the cycle, so that Pharoahs will dread no more this year?

Patience is a Scale

In Genesis on January 4, 2012 at 9:45 pm

Look up at the trees /
You planted them as a youth /
Now they’ve all grown up

Parsha Vayechi

1 Kings 2.1-2.12
Genesis 47.28-50.26

What does the blessing of Gad mean?

Gad, a troop shall troop upon him; but he shall troop upon their heel.
(Genesis 49.1)

The face value of the blessing seems to promise Gad’s vengeance on some future enemy army. The text doesn’t give any details, however.

King David tells his dying wishes to King Solomon.

Thou knowest also what Joab the son of Zeruiah did unto me…Do therefore according to thy wisdom.
(1 Kings 2.5-6)

Show kindness unto the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be of those that eat at thy table.
(1 Kings 2.7)

There is with thee Shimei the son of Gera…who cursed me with a grievous curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim…Now therefore hold him not guiltless, for thou art a wise man.
(1 Kings 2.8-9)

How does this relate to our parsha? First, the question: how many men make up a troop? One thousand? One hundred? The answer depends on where you are and when you are. Is there such a thing as a troop of one? Where can we find support for this? It is said, He delivered me from mine enemy most strong, and from them that hated me, for they were too mighty for me. (Ps. 18.18) Thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine. (1 Samuel 17.32) It is also said, “I am the last of my troop.”

David never saw what actions his son took on his behalf. He waited until after death to execute these debts. They trooped upon him in life. Did he troop upon their heel in death? Imagine: you’re dead and buried, but God grants you sight through the walls of your casket. You’re visited by people you loved, and maybe some people you did not love. You’re lowered into the ground, and they walk away. Do you see their heads, or their heels?

The time has come to execute your last will and testament. Your loved ones come to the executor’s office to hear what it has to say. The proceedings conclude. Your loved ones leave.

Is it necessary to wait until after death to take necessary action? If it is the right time to act, then yes. Would Gad troop on his adversary’s heel before he were ready? Could he have? When is the right time to act? Patience answers this question for you.

Patience is a gift and a mitzvah. Adversity troops on us. Contentment troops after it, happy to see the back of it. This is an expression of balance. On this scale, our behaviors are weights and time is the pivot. Impulsive reactions, like Reuben’s, or Simeon and Levy’s, is transgression, tipping the balance to adversity. Judged responses reward contentment. This is the meaning of the space between a troop shall troop upon him and but he shall troop upon their heel.

This does not mean that we should accept attacks on our persons without responding, or that this principle is limited to weathering negative periods in our lives. All debts must be repaid.

Is this another meaning of the phrase and he lived?