Friday, January 30, 2015

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Beshalakh 5775–I’m Not Doing It Alone

How many times have we heard it? How many times have we said it ourselves? “Come with me!” “If you won’t come with me then I won’t go!” Not words we normally associate with military leaders. We live in a world where we want “to boldly go where no one has gone before” to be the norm, but few of us are willing to accept the challenge – especially alone.

וַתִשְלַח וַתִקְרָא לְבָרָק בֶן־אֲבִינֹעַם מִקֶדֶשׁ נַפְתָלִי וַתֹאמֶר אֵלָיו הֲלֹא צִוָה׀ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵֽי־יִשְרָאֵל לֵךְ וּמָֽשַכְתָ בְהַר תָבוֹר וְלָקַחְתָ עִמְךָ עֲשֶרֶת אֲלָפִים אִישׁ מִבְנֵי נַפְתָלִי וּמִבְנֵי זְבֻלֽוּן

(Devorah the prophet) sent out a call to Barak son of Abinoam, from Kadesh, in the territory of Naphtali, and said to him “Ad”nai, G”d of Israel commands you to draw up at*  Mount Tabor and take with you 10,000 men from Naphtali and Zevulun. [Judges:4:6]

* – I think a fair modern colloquial translation of the sense of the word here might be “get up off your ass and head on over to…” I think there’s a bit of both haste and chastisement here, considering the many other verb roots that could have been used here. It’s like saying “WYF are you waiting for?”

וּמָשַכְתִי אֵלֶיךָ אֶל־נַחַל קִישׁוֹן אֶת־סִֽיסְרָא שַר־צְבָא יָבִין וְאֶת־רִכְבּוֹ וְאֶת־הֲמוֹנֹו וּנְתַתִיהוּ בְיָדֶֽךָ

Then I (i.e. Ad”nai) will draw* Sisera. commander of Jabon’s army, with his chariots and soldiers, to the Wadi Kishon, and I will place him in your hands. [Judges 4:7]

* – the word used here is from the same Hebrew used in the previous verse for “draw.” So, in truly modern slang, G”d is saying “you drag you ass up to Mt. Tabor, and I’ll drag Sisera’s ass and all his army up there, too, and hand ‘em over to y’all.”

So far so good. But what Barak says next is part of why I am convinced the words in v. 6 are a mild chastisement.

וַיֹאמֶר אֵלֶיהָ בָרָק אִם־תֵלְכִי עִמִי וְהָלָכְתִי וְאִם־לֹא תֵלְכִי עִמִי לֹא אֵלֵֽך

He (Barak) said to her (Devorah) “if you go with me, I will go; if you won’t go, I won’t either.” [Judges 4:8]

This is a great hero and soldier? Then Devorah plays the emasculation card.

וַתֹאמֶר הָלֹךְ אֵלֵךְ עִמָךְ אֶפֶס כִי לֹא תִֽהְיֶה תִֽפְאַרְתְךָ עַל־הַדֶרֶךְ אֲשֶר אַתָה הוֹלֵךְ כִי בְֽיַד־אִשָה יִמְכֹר יְהוָה אֶת־סִֽיסְרָא וַתָקָם דְבוֹרָה וַתֵלֶךְ עִם־בָרָק קֶֽדְשָה

“I’ll go alright,” she said, but no glory will you gain on the path you’re taking, for G”d will now turn Sisera over to a woman’s hands.

In others words, if you need a woman to back you up, then a woman is gonna get the credit. That’s exactly what happens. Sisera is killed by a woman. Not Devorah, as one might have suspected she meant, but by Yael, wife of Heber the Kenite. She did it using her womanly wiles, convincing him her tent was safe, and killing him in while he slept by driving a tent peg through his head. How pleasant.

Everything about this story sucks. Despite modern feminist attempts to reclaim it, it is, ultimately, a misogynistic story. Barak is emasculated, and Yael tricks and kills Sisera. The story subtly attempts to paint Barak as somehow lacking, and he pays for his failure to “man up” and go it alone. Though the text describes the song that follows the prose telling of the events as the song of Devorah and Barak, Devorah is listed first, and it has been known historically, and not just in today’s more feminist lens. as the song of Devorah. Barak is just kind of there.

Barak won his battle (through G”d’s support) but he didn’t get his prize – to kill Sisera. Lest we think too harshly upon Yael, she was a bit between a rock and a hard place. Her husband had allied himself with King Jabin (and thus Sisera) but it was surely obvious to her that the Israelites had defeated Jabin’s army and would come looking for Sisera. The tent of one allied with Jabin might be a good place to look for him, so she took the violent, but probably safest course, to placate the Israelites. I don’t think for one moment that Yael is a hero – she was a cruel trickster. However, I think we can at least understand her motivations, even as we disapprove of her actions.Yael nevertheless earn hero status in the song of Devorah.

A glint of hope comes at the end. The Israelites live in peace for the next 40 years.Credit, in the song, for that goes to Yael, Devorah, and Barak (though it really belongs to G”d, does it not? The prose that immediately precedes Devorah’s song makes that clear, but in the song itself, G”d’s role appears more incidental. The song, scholars say, is probably far older than the prose version of the story.

How might the story be different if Barak had asked G”d to come with him to Mt. tabor, rather than Devorah? That’s the question I leave you to ponder this Shabbat Shirah.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2015 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings On This Parasha:

Beshalakh 5774 - A Lot Can Change in 13 Years - Or Not
Beshalakh 5773 - Moshe's Musings (Revised from 5760)
Beshalakh 5772 - Thankful For the Worst
Beshalakh 5771 - Praying That Moshe Was Wrong
Beshalakh 5768 - Man Hu
Beshalakh 5767-March On
Beshalakh 5766-Manna Mania II
Beshalakh 5765-Gd's War
Beshalach 5763-Mi Chamonu
Beshalach 5760-Moshe's Musings
Beshalach 5762-Manna mania
Beshalach 5761-Warrior Gd

Friday, January 23, 2015

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Bo 5775–Teach Your Children Well (Redux 5762)

My apologies. Some technical problems, So here’s an old favorite from 1998

Random Musings Before Shabbat - Bo 5762

Teach Your children Well

While I may not have children of my own flesh and blood, I have many children of my soul. They are all a blessing to me as if they were my own. And it is as much for their sake as my own that I hold my Judaism so dearly.

Parashat Bo teaches us much about our obligation to our children. First we learn from Moses' insistence that "Young and old alike will go." (Ex. 10:9)

וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה בִּנְעָרֵינוּ וּבִזְקֵנֵינוּ נֵלֵךְ בְּבָנֵינוּ וּבִבְנוֹתֵנוּ בְּצֹאנֵנוּ וּבִבְקָרֵנוּ נֵלֵךְ כִּי חַג־יְהוָֹה לָֽנוּ


Pharaoh is willing to make a deal, but Moses will have none of it. All or none. The children must be part of the people that will go forth to serve their Gd. From this I learn that we must include our children in all that we do.

I learn that we are asked to treat our children as adults, and to share our pride with them - "You will then be able to confide to your children and grandchildren how I made fools of the Egyptians.." (Ex. 10:2)

וּלְמַעַן תְּסַפֵּר בְּאָזְנֵי בִנְךָ וּבֶן־בִּנְךָ אֵת אֲשֶׁר הִתְעַלַּלְתִּי בְּמִצְרַיִם וְאֶת־אֹֽתֹתַי אֲשֶׁר־שַׂמְתִּי בָם וִֽידַעְתֶּם כִּֽי־אֲנִי יְהוָֹֽה

We're not told to wait until they ask a question, but to volunteer information. Later on we read "On that day, you must tell your child, 'It is because of this that God acted for me when I left Egypt.'" Again, without waiting to be asked. (Ex.13:8)

וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר בַּֽעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה יְהוָֹה לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָֽיִם

We need not boast to our children, but surely we must share our pride in our people and our way of life. And here, clearly, I learn that I must also tell them of the wondrous things that G”d has done for us. There is no escaping that instruction. To leave G”d out of the story is unacceptable - yet how much is G”d still a part of what we teach our children (especially in our religious schools) ? Even if the concept doesn't fit our modern understanding, does that excuse us from relating the story as our ancestors saw it? I think not.

I also learn that children will be inquisitive, and learn that I must answer their questions - and know what I need to know to answer them.

Your children may [then] ask you, 'What is this service to you?' (Ex.12:26)

וְהָיָה כִּי־יֹֽאמְרוּ אֲלֵיכֶם בְּנֵיכֶם מָה הָֽעֲבֹדָה הַזֹּאת לָכֶֽם

Your child may later ask you, "What is this?" (Ex. 13:14)

וְהָיָה כִּֽי־יִשְׁאָֽלְךָ בִנְךָ מָחָר לֵאמֹר מַה־זֹּאת וְאָֽמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו בְּחֹזֶק יָד הֽוֹצִיאָנוּ יְהוָֹה מִמִּצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִֽים

Both times were are told what we must answer.

How can I answer them if I myself do not know? Do I send them off to their computer to look it up on some CD-Rom encyclopedia? Or do I look it up myself and them answer them? Do I wait for them to learn it themselves or do I teach them?

It is not enough to just give our Jewish children the tools and skills to learn things for themselves. As valuable as that might be, there are some things we adults need to teach them ourselves. We must find out what needs to be taught and seek to know these things in our own hearts so we can teach them to our children.

So I study and learn not only for myself, but for my children. And my children are your children - our children. They are our future. Let us heed the messages of Bo.

Shabbat Shalom,


©1998 & 2002 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Bo 5774 - Spellcheck On My hand
Bo 5773 - Dear G"d...Love, Pharaoh
Bo 5772 - Lifting the Cover of Darkness
Bo 5771 - Keretz MiTzafon-Again! (not the same as 5769)
Bo 5769-Keretz MiTzafon
Bo 5768 - Good Loser (Redux 5763)
Bo 5767-Teach Your Children Well (Redux 5762)
Bo 5766 - Random Disjunctions and Convergences (Redux 5760)
Bo 5765-Four Strikes and You're...Well...
Bo 5764-Keretz Ani
Bo 5763 -Good Loser
Bo 5761-Cover of Darkness
Bo 5762-Teach Your Children Well

Friday, January 16, 2015

Random Musings Before Shabbat Va'era 5775–Brighton Beach Last Stop (Revised)

I wrote this musing back in 1999, and last shared it ten years ago when my mother was having a significant birthday, because it's based on a reference from my childhood. Well, here it is ten years later, and Mom is about to celebrate her 90th birthday. I thought it was time to revisit this musing again.

Va’era 5765 (Based on 5759's Musing)
"Brighton Beach-Last Stop!"

"Now can I have cake?" says the 3 year old. "No. You didn't finish what's on your plate. Cake is for dessert after dinner." [He eats one elbow macaroni] "Want cake. I'm finished dinner. Can I have cake now?" "You can have cake after dinner-and after you've eaten some more. Here, eat this." [He takes it in his mouth, pretends to chew, then spits it out.] "Finished. I want cake." "Eat some more dinner." "Want cake." "Not until you eat some more of your food." [He eats another small bite or two, then begins playing with food, throwing it on floor.] "I want cake now. I'm finished." [Sternly spoken:] "We're still eating. You have to wait until after dinner for dessert." "Want cake." "No! Here, eat this. [feeding him a few vegetables and bites of food. Finally, he begins to feed himself, too.] [A few moments of blessed silence.] "Finished. Cake. Now! I want cake. I want cake. I want cake." [One parent starts to give in and unwraps the cake and prepares to serve it to him. The other parent says "don't give in, he's got to learn. Just ignore him. We try again:] "If you eat some more of your food, you can have some cake." [He eats one tiny bite.] "Finished. Cake time." "Not yet." "You said if I ate my dinner I get cake. I ate it up." "No cake yet. Stop fussing!" [continued in next week's parasha.]

The child just does not understand. The children of Israel just did not understand. I think even Moshe and Aharon had a little trouble comprehending. And many who encounter the story of the plagues in Torah don't understand. But a parent understands. Anything worth getting is worth waiting for. It has to be delivered under the right circumstances. It has to be earned. It has to be meaningful. Few things that are easy to get are all that valuable. (And lest you be tempted to mention things like "goodwill" and other moral and ethical values, feelings, and actions, would that all of them would really be that easy to come by.)

Imagine what Judaism might be like today if, after one simple plague, Pharaoh had said "get thee out!" and we left?  Would we still be thanking G"d quite so much for the effort of freeing us from bondage? G"d hardened Pharaoh's heart, just as we "hardened our hearts" against an eager little child who wanted cake. Could the child truly understand the special nature of the cake unless he was made to wait for it? Unless he could see that great miracles had to be performed first? What would it mean to act as if we ourselves had come forth out of Egypt, out of bondage, if it happened quickly and with minimal apparent effort by G"d? (OK, OK, we'd already been in Egyptian bondage for some time, and we had suffered, so freedom would still hold plenty of meaning and value for us. Especially since G"d seems to have forgotten about us for a while. Still, the harder it-that is, our freedom, was to achieve, all the more we might value it.)

The 14 year old in that family, observing the situation related above, remarks that the parents mistake was in putting out the cake where the 3 year old could see it. A good point. But if the goal isn't known, how hard will one strive toward it? Whether the goal is freedom from bondage or a piece of cake, you gotta know what the goal is to get there. Moshe knows what his dessert is going to be-G"d has already told him. And those enslaved-no matter how crushed their spirits-would hopefully always be aware of freedom, n'est ce pas? Or is the Torah making the point that we had been enslaved for so long, had gotten to so used to it, that we no longer sensed that goal of freedom-that only when we could sense it did we moan loud enough about it for G"d to hear us?)

When the youngster in the story is older, perhaps he'll read Torah and learn some strategy. Instead of asking for the whole dessert, he could just say "how about letting me go three days away into the wilderness to sacrifice to my G"d?" (He wouldn't be being any less duplicitous than Moshe was-Moshe knew darn well he wanted cake, er, I mean total freedom from bondage for his people. I jest.)

But was it all theatrics? Did G"d just want to make a big show of it? (Did G"d even need to harden Pharaoh's heart? I think it becomes obvious to Pharaoh in time that Moshe is looking for more than a three day sojourn in the park.)

The parents knows that one can eat the cake anytime-before, during, or after dinner. The parent also knows that sometimes children just don't eat in normal patterns. So what? But the parents make a big show of it. Why? Because, for some reason, children learn from things that seem like a big deal. They learn from exciting, tense, dramatic, entertaining moments. Like Sesame Street. (They also learn from the quiet meaningful moment, as with the late Fred Rogers.) Nothing that comes that easy is that good, is it?

My parents used to name off the subway stations - Atlantic Avenue - Prospect Park - Newkirk - Kings Highway - Avenue U - Sheepshead bay - on the way to "Brighton Beach, last stop!" to get us to finish our food or drink. Always coaxing us to the end of the line-where we can get off the train and start a brand new journey. It was unthinkable to finish before the last stop. (For you New Yorkers, I guess it was what is now the "Q" line.)

And, in some strange, quirky way, that childhood experience, along with ones I have experienced in households with children, help me understand why G”d hardened Pharaoh's heart and made us gain our freedom from Egypt only when it really was time for dessert. (Or is that desert?)

During the civil rights movement, the connection of that struggle to those of the Israelites was frequent. It seems that struggle Is not yet over, despite the progress that has been made. It still seems to be a crime in this country just to be black. Also, while it may not be as openly expressed in this country as it is in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, there are still those for whom being Jewish seems to be a crime as well. So even today, our struggles are not over. There are prices to pay, and as frustrating as it is, sometimes we need to be reminded to be patient.

Today, protestors in the Boston area carried out acts of civil disobedience in protest of the seeming indifference with which police are treating people of color, They blocked a major traffic artery during the morning rush hour,This was surely done with the knowledge that they would be arrested, as they were. They surely knew that it was a risk to block traffic into the city from the suburbs, that this might alienate some. In fact, this was part of their point – that those living in suburbia seemed indifferent or not troubled enough by how those living in the more socio-economically disadvantaged city were treated.  The cause mattered enough to take these risks.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we have to go thorough more murders (and yes, that’s what I believe they were) of more Eric Garners and Michael Browns. I’m not suggesting we are not yet worthy of achieving a society where all are truly treated equally. Yet the risk exists that if everything were simply to be fixed overnight, we could quickly become blasé to the reality and forget to be vigilant and fail to recall the struggle required to achieve it.

It wasn’t enough that the Federal government said bus stations that handled interstate traffic had to integrate. It took the Freedom Riders to change the reality to match the law. The same for integrating schools. Change for the better, it seems, will always take effort. I’m not sure what that says about our species and about our universe (and about G”d.) Nevertheless it’s our reality, and since it is, we might as well be prepared to deal with it.

There are four more plagues to go, and we’ll read of them next week., Would that many of the evils that plague our society would be over and done with in another week.

Those last four nasty plagues have yet to be endured. Tune in next week to see if the child gets his cake at last. We're still in Manhattan. Across the East River is Brooklyn and freedom. See if we reach Brighton Beach at last.

Shabbat Shalom,


©2015 (portions ©2005 and 1999) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Va'era 5774 - Tomorrow, Again
Va'era 5773 - Let Our People Go/Rendezvousing With Rama
Va'era 5772 - Got It!
Va'era 5771/5765-Brighton Beach-Last Stop!
Va'era 5769 - Substitute
Va'era 5767-again, Crushed Spirits (Miqotzer Ruakh)
Va'era 5766-Why Tomorrow?
Va'era 5765-Brighton Beach-Last Stop!
Va'era 5764-Imperfect Perfection and Perfect Imperfection
Va'era 5763 - Pray for Me
Va'era 5761-Just Not Getting It
Va'era 5762-Early will I Seek You

Friday, January 9, 2015

Random Musing Before Shabbat-Sh’mot 5775-Redux 5765-Why Us?

Ten years ago, in the wake of the horrible earthquake and tsunami that destroyed so many communities along the Indian Ocean, I wrote this musing, once again discussing issues of theodicy. In the wake of the terrible tragedy that has unfolded in France over the past few days, culminating in today’s additional tragedies, I turn once again to these words. Also, recently, the folks over at Behrman House asked people to post about how “As a Driven Leaf” impacted their lives and careers as Jews, and I thought my references to it in this musing were equally timely.


Random Musing Before Shabbat – Sh’mot 5765 – Why Us?

Near the end of this week's parasha, the foreman of the Israelites confront Moshe and Aharon for having angered Pharaoh and causing their labors to be harder now that they must obtain their own straw but still meet the same quota of bricks. What Moses or Aharon may have responded is, as is often the case in Torah, is left to our imagination. For in the next verse Moshe "returned" to G”d.

[Sidebar-what, exactly, might that mean? Where did Moshe have to "go" in order that he could "return" and speak to G”d? Or perhaps we should take less liberty with the Hebrew and read "vayashav" with the plainer meaning of dwell or reside. Thus, perhaps "vayashav Moshe el-Ad-nai" could just mean Moshe didn't "go" or "return" anywhere, but rather went inside himself to that place where he could then be "toward" G”d. But I digress.]

So where were we? Ah, yes. The foremen of the Hebrews complain to Moshe and Aharon, and then Moshe asks G”d:

"Lama harei-otah la'Am hazeh?" "Why have you brought harm to this people?"

Now, Moshe goes on to ask another question, which we'll get to in a minute. Right here, right now, those words stopped me dead in my tracks. With perhaps more than 120,000 killed and millions affected, how can any person of faith not be asking this same question of G”d today? It is being called an event of "biblical" proportions, and the obvious connections, at least in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, to water, floods, waves et al as sources of destruction and salvation cannot be ignored. And even though we live in an age in which we understand the natural forces at work which caused this disaster, those of us who profess faith in a G”d (or gods) of our understanding cannot evade that nagging doubt of Divine involvement.

In this post-Holocaust age in which we live, these questions of theodicy are a normal part of our discourse and our thoughts. We sometimes revel in the perspective that our expanding and increasing knowledge of how the universe works gives us. And thus we feel that our wondering about why such things happen is somehow superior to that of our ancestors whose understanding of science and nature was view as inferior. Yet it seems no less true for our ancestors when we examine their writings. We need only look at the psalms, Job, Kohelet and more - indeed, we need only look at Moshe's question to G”d in this parasha - to see that this is so.

I don't think for a second that our ancestors (in a global sense) were any more pacified by the stock answers that our varying faith traditions have developed, than we are, among them: G”d testing humanity G”d's ineffable ways Suffering produces character (and can lead to redemption) Good can come from evil Punishment for misdeeds Suffering is just part of life G”d uses natural disasters to help maintain the natural order G”d has decreed Lack of faith can lead to punishment and suffering Suffering and Pleasure as counter-balances to maintain the order of things G”d suffers along with G”d's creations Suffering and evil are the work of humans, and not G”d Ask not where G”d was but where humanity was G”d's ability to act in the universe is limited by having given humans free will G”d's ability to act in the universe is limited Which of these, if any, work for you? Ineffability, coupled with the concept a limited G”d seems to have become one of the most common understandings in our own times. Along with this, we have learned to warp the idea of good coming from evil by focusing not on the horrible disasters that happen, but the great moments of human action they produce. Roger Kamnetz, commenting on the question "where was G”d in this disaster"* uses this very argument, saying that G”d was not in the disaster, but in humanity's responses. I have to admit that there is some comfort in (and pride) in this thought. It allows us to take the focus off the Divine and place it on ourselves.

But there is still part of me that sees this, for people of faith, as avoiding the question. And I think this stems from our fear that we might lose faith. As Jews, we know that, in relating the story of Rabbi Eliezer ben Abuyah, the Talmud singles out this question of theodicy, of why bad things happen to good people, as one that can ultimately lead to a complete loss of faith.

Yet, though we fear asking the questions, we cannot avoid them. Thus, it's no surprise that Milton Steinberg's "As A Driven Leaf" is seeing renewed interest among readers, and not just Jews. Steinberg's brilliance lies in layering issues that we struggle with in our own times in the context of Rabbi Eliezer's times and struggle with Hellenistic culture as well as theodicy. We empathize with the Rabbi who eventually turns heretic as he struggles with trying to understand G”d and the world. And, at the same time, we fear it. We want to be spiritual seekers, yet we recognize the risk that pursuing such a course might lead us to becoming humanist or even atheist.

We fear, as I alluded to in my 5760 musing on Shemot, that G”d's word will become to us

צַו לָצָו צַו לָצָו קַו לָקָו קַו לָקָו זְעֵיר שָׁם זְעֵיר שָׁם לְמַעַן יֵֽלְכוּ וְכָשְׁלוּ אָחוֹר וְנִשְׁבָּרוּ וְנוֹקְשׁוּ וְנִלְכָּֽדוּ

"tzav latzav tzav latzav kav lakav kav lakav ze'eir sham ze'eir sham lema'an yelkhu vekhashlu akhor venishbaru venokshu venilkadu," "mutter upon mutter, murmur upon murmur, now here, now there. And so they shall march, but they shall fall backward, and be injured and snared and captured." (JPS)

In other words, Gd's words become to us as just so much noise and nonsense.

[Sidebar: As a liberal Jew, I think the more literal translation often used in traditional translations of "commandment by commandment, commandment by commandment; line by line, line by line; a bit here and a bit there; so that they will go and stumble backward and be broken, and be tripped up and caught" somewhat misses Isaiah's point, and, ironically, sets up for criticism the very traditional community that embraces that translation, for Isaiah could be seen as mocking those who adhere to the strict letter of G”d's law!]

To those of us of faith, and especially of Jewish faith, these words from the haftarah for Sh'mot, from Isaiah 28:13, are a warning to try and understand and heed G”d's words. This we do, as Jews, regularly, no matter our level of observance. When we stop trying, we run the greatest risk of losing faith. Yet the difficulty in trying to understand what G”d has said to us pales in comparison to trying to understand why G”d would do certain things, or allow certain things to happen.

Which finally brings us to Moshe's second question to Gd. After asking "why did You bring harm to this people?" Moshe asks

לָמָּה זֶּה שְׁלַחְתָּֽנִי

"Lama zeh sh’lakhtani?" "why have you sent me?" [Sidebar: why do most translations, including the more traditional ones, ignore the possible implications of the "zeh?" Fodder for a future musing, perhaps?]

Even Moshe rabbeinu couldn't avoid humanity's ultimate fault, by steering the conversation back to himself. It wasn't enough to just ask G”d "why did you do this?" No, we seemed doomed to perpetually qualify such thoughts by adding "why me?"

Seems to me that we will never truly reach our full potential as G”d's creations until we learn to automatically think globally, and ask, "why all of us?"

Shabbat Shalom,


©2015, 2004 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings On This Parasha:

Sh'mot 5774 - Pas De Deux
Sh'mot 5773 - Wicked, Wonderful Moral Ambiguities
Sh'mot 5772 - Is Might Ever Right?
Sh'mot 5771 - Free Association IV
Sh'mot 5767-Logic & Metaphysics
Shemot 5766 - Free Association III
Shemot 5764-Uncomsumed-ness
Shemot 5763 - Free Association II
Shemot 5760-Tzaz Latzav, Tzav Latzav
Shemot 5761-The Spice of Life
Shemot 5762-Little Ol' Me?

Friday, January 2, 2015

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayekhi 5775–Which Last Words?

The haftarah for parashat Vayekhi is taken from I Kings 2:1-12. It contains the words of a dying King David to his son Shlomo (Solomon.) They are, no surprise here, somewhat troubling words. He asks him to exact revenge upon one commander who did wrong, to extend courtesy to another commander who aided him. Then there is the third commander, who at first cursed Shlomo, but then later joined him, and to whom David promised he would not kill him. David tells Shlomo to kill him. Hereditary vengeance, How lovely.

The tenuous connection to the parasha is that both speak of a father’s last words to his children, Of both Jacob’s last charge to his sons, and David’s last charge to Shlomo, much has been written (mostly in the way of apologetics.) Some say David wasn’t telling Shlomo to kill Shim’i outright, but to wait for him to commit some offense for which no pretext would be needed to have him killed. Others say it was just David’s way of warning Shlomo to be on the lookout for  Shim’i and others who might challenge him. Yet others call it a “preemptive strike” to eliminate someone who was sure to oppose and threaten Shlomo as he did David.

Do we need the apologetics for David (or even for Yaakov?) Must we sanitize everything? I, frankly, love the fact that the Torah portrays our heroes as far from perfect, and doesn’t shy away from showing us their faults. [As an aside, I’ve heard some parents talk about how disappointed they were after taking their kids to see “Into the Woods” – but it makes me wonder how many of them are actually familiar with the fairy tales in their original forms, warts and all. The Brothers Grimm made no such pretense – their collection was actually intended to be a scholarly collection of folklore, and not at all for children, though they themselves edited out some of the more sexual, grittier, and gorier stuff. Even though nowadays we use the term “Disneyfied” to mean sanitized, even the Disney versions of tales contain more adult content that often gets unnoticed by the younger viewers. Let’s not forget, Bambi’s mother dies. It’s not all fluff and rainbows and happy endings. Nevertheless, somewhere along the line our society developed a superficial disdain for the uglier parts of our fables and stories. I just participated in an extended online debate about when and how and where we teach our children the “true” story of Hanukkah.]

While I am not at all uncomfortable with the grittier and seamier side of Torah, I am glad that there is a balance, and we can find more uplifting things as well. The same David written about in I Kings 2 is also the subject of the earlier (theoretically) II Samuel 23, source of the well known last words of David:

These are the last words of David: the word of David, son of Jesse, the word of the man raised high, the anointed one of the G”d of Jacob, the sweet singer of songs in Israel: The spirit of The L”rd has spoken through me, G”d’s message is on my tongue, the G”d of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spoke to me: He that rules over men shall be just, such that he rules in awe of G”d, he is like the light of morning at sunrise, a morning without clouds, when, through clear shining after rain, the grass springs forth from the earth…

Yeah, that David. That’s the one we always want to hear, but the truth is, we also have to hear the David who said, speaking of Shim’i “send his grey hair down to Sheol in blood.”

The redactors of the Tanakh knew full well that they were ordering David’s words in this way, so that his poetic last words came before his grittier last words. What message were they trying to send to us? (Those who consider the Tanakh as dictated as is in toto by G”d have no less a dilemma – though they also have that “ineffable” thing to fall back upon in their puzzlement.)

Jacob got slightly better treatment. Jacob gets to give his oracles (call it a living will if you must, but that’s such a whitewash. In truth it was a frank assessment by a father of his children and what their futures were likely to hold.) After the oracles, Jacob gets to have simple last words:”Bury me with my father…in the cave…at Machpelah…which Abraham purchased…”

Maybe, when we figure out why David’s meaner last words come after his nicer last words, we’ll be ready for the messianic age? Or does that simple fact explain why it hasn’t come yet?

In Egypt.

Khazak, khazak, v’nitkhazeik.

Shabbat Shalom,

© 2015 by Adrian A. Dulester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Vay'khi 5774 - The Puppet's Unritten Lament
Vayekhi 5773 - The Wrong Good (Redux and Updated 5762)
Vayekhi 5772 - A Different HaMalakh HaGoel
Vayekhi 5771-Trading Places (Redux & Updated from 5759)
Vayekhi 5770 - Musing Block?
Vayekhi 5769 - Enough With the Hereditary Payback Already!
Vayekhi 5767-HaMalakh HaGoel
Vayechi 5766-Thresholds (Redux 5764 with Reflections
Vayechi 5761/5-Unethical Wills
Vayechi 5764-Thresholds
Vayechi 5763 - I Got it Good and That Ain't Bad (Redux 5760)
Vayechi 5759-Trading Places
Vayechi 5762-The Wrong Good