Friday, January 29, 2016

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Yitro 5776–Top Ten (Redux and Revised 5766)

There's an oft-used exercise in religious school and other learning settings in which students/participants are invited by the instructor to "write their own ten commandments." A number of teachers I know use this exercise to develop their class rules at the beginning of the school year. Rarely, if ever, have I seen this exercise used when the aseret hadibrot, the biblical ten commandments, were not taken as a given, with the intent being to create supplemental commandments.

What if such an exercise really intended to start from scratch? A possibly blasphemous thought, yet one no doubt considered by many throughout the ages. I somehow doubt that it is only the (supposed) freedom of intellectual thought that came with modernity and enlightenment which emboldens us to consider an alternative set of ten.

After all, the rabbis went to great lengths to insure that these ten commandments were of no greater or lesser import than any of the mitzvot (commandments.) Eventually, regular recitation of these ten commandments was expunged from the siddur (although now Artscroll has saw fit to put it back in the previous decade.) If no single mitzvah (commandment) is more important than any other, then we should be able to construct another set of ten from any of them. Of course, now we have a rather large number of mitzvot that, in the absence of Holy Temple and the sacrificial cult, cannot be observed. Yet, even leaving those out, we have a rather lengthy list from which to choose our own top ten.

One can choose to make the argument that all the other mitzvot except these ten are known only through rabbinic Judaism, though from a traditional point of view, they would be part of the the oral Torah that was received at Sinai along with the written Torah. Of course, the rabbis and scholars can't even agree on all 613 mitzvot - not everyone is fully in step with the Rambam's (Maimonides) definitive list.

Browsing through a list of all 613 mitzvot, it's not hard to find other candidates for inclusion in the "top ten list." In our deliberations, we might keep in mind that are plenty of human beings on this planet who pretty much use only "the" ten commandments as their guideposts for living (albeit far too many more often in the breech than in observing), so we must ask "are any ten we choose" sufficient to create a sustainable and civil society? (I, for one, don't really think it's possible. And of course there are those who want to winnow it down further. “Al shlosha d'varim,” on three things the world stands, we are taught. Of course, the prophets and sages disagree on which three. And Hillel taught that all the Torah was merely commentary on his version of the so-called "golden rule" (given by Hillel in a negative format, and by Christian tradition, in a positive format. It's always important to remember the last part of Hillel's answer: that we one must now “go and learn/study it”-referring to Torah.)

Despite my personal thesis that one is certainly inadequate, as are three, and as are ten, I'm still interested in the exercise. So which ten might I choose? Which ten might you choose.

Whiel I’m on the subject, and before I forget, I do want to recommend “not standing idly by the blood of your neighbor” as a strong candidate for being one of the big ten, along with “love your neighbor as yourself.”

And now we can add another wrinkle.

Let's no longer limit ourselves to just the 613 miztvot identified in the Torah. What else might we include? Just in the Jewish literature along we can find many worthy ideas. The prophets had many. Job and Qohelet, Psalms, and Proverbs. Then the mishnaic and talmudic literature. Pirke Avot, in particular provides lots of possibilities.

Step outside the bounds of Judaism, and the world is our oyster. From the ancient Greek Philosophers, Shakespeare, Rumi, and so many, many more. I’d be remiss if I excluded the Christian’s New Testament and the Quran, the Ghitas, Lao-Tzu, and the writings of every religious faith.

Thousands of pithy aphorisms come to mind. Take your pick. "All I ever need to know I learned in Kindergarten." "Wherever you go, there you are." "Out of the nowhere and into the here." "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." "Where's the beef?" “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” "Always look on the bright side of life" or "No one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition." Today’s pop songs are replete with all sorts of pithy content. Or we can turn to Broadway. Because I knew you I have been changed for good.” “The internet is for porn.” Not all great pearls of wisdom. On the other hand, consider this gem from South Pacific “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear…” Or this from Damn Yankees:  “A man doesn’t know what he has until he loses it.” Broadway knows how to do pithy.)

Now, many of these are, admittedly, trite, and at least some largely unworthy of consideration.   Yet every day people by the millions post pithy little memes on Facebook. Bible quotes. Rumi. Maya Angelou. Gandhi. MLK. JFK. Oprah. Ellen. Colbert. (When I originally wrote this in 2006, I referred instead to people buying little books, posters, or chatchkas emblazoned with concise, supposedly insightful sayings.) These days, I suspect more people value “Who Moved My Cheese,” "Life's Little Instruction Book," "Chicken Soup for the Soul," "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," or even "The Wit and Wisdom of Seinfeld" as much or more than the sacred texts of any religious faith. (We'll take just a second to remind everyone just how many of these "modern" ideas actually can be found in Torah.)

As silly as some of these seem as candidates for replacements to the "big ten," let's also remember that we have this first commandment that doesn't really sound like a commandment at all. "I am the L"rd your G"d who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage." Of course, it all depends on how you divide up the verses and the create the first few commandments. And even on this, there is no agreement!

If you search the internet you’ll find plenty of atheist reframings of the ten commandments. They can be a fascinating read.

So, let's have our little exercise. Choose which ten you might make your "top ten" commandments. You can decide for yourself whether to restrict the pool to only the other mitzvot, or expand to include whatever you think fits. I'd be curious with what people might come up with, so don't hesitate to email me your list after Shabbat.

Looking for a concise list of all 613 mitzvot. Try this one:

I'll go through the exercise myself, even though, truth be told, I think my first commandment might be:

"Life is complicated. You can't distill the essence of what any human being needs to know and to do down into a top ten list, or a top three list, or even a single golden rule. Therefore this commandment is inherently oxymoronic."

Now, being gadfly I am, I am sorely tempted to add "and I'm not sure you can distill it down at all." However, my faith compels me to keep trying to "turn it and turn it, for everything is in it." I am always amazed at the wisdom one can find in the many writings of our tradition. And even better-if it truly turns out that everything is indeed in it, then I will know that these truly are words received from G"d, whether directly, through intermediaries, or inspiration. For only G"d could make that possible.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2016 (portions ©2006) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Yitro 5774 - The Rest of the Ten Commandments (Revisted and Revised)
Yitro 5773 - From Cheap Theatrics to Impossible Possibilities (Revised and Updated from 5761)
Yitro5772 - Why I Won't Be Unplugging on the National Day/Shabbat of Unplugging
Yitro 5771/ Redux Beshalakh 5762 - Manna Mania
Yitro 5770 - Special Effects
Yitro 5769 - Evolution Shabbat
Yitro 5768-B'Kol HaMakom-In Every Place
Yitro 5767-Kinat Ad"nai
Yitro 5766-Top Ten?
Yitro 5765-Outsiders (Updated from 5759)
Yitro 5764-Outsiders II
Yitro 5763-El Kana
Yitro 5762-Manna Mania
Yitro 5761-From Cheap Theatrics to Impossible Possibilities
Yitro 5760-The Rest of the Ten Commandments
Yitro 5759-Outsiders

Friday, January 22, 2016

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Beshalakh 5776 - Mi Kamonu?

It's Shabbat Shirah for which I offer this classic musing from 5759, as I've never been able to say it better, although I've added even more new elements this time around.

Random Musings Before Shabbat-Beshalach (Shabbat Shirah) 5759 (revised 5763, 5776)

Mi Kamonu?

מִי כָמֹֽכָה בָּאֵלִם יְיָ, מִי כָּמֹֽכָה נֶאְדָּר בַּקֹּֽדֶשׁ, נוֹרָא תְהִלֹּת עֹֽשֵׂה פֶֽלֶא

Who is like You, Ad”nai, among the gods? Who is like You, awesome in splendor, working wonders?

For a brief moment, I considered making that my entire musing for today. After all, it sums up for me, quite distinctly, what I think about G”d.

Diversion 1: But, like Nachshon, I'll plunge ahead into the waters anyway-even as unsure as I am of what lies ahead, saying "Mi khamokha baelim Ad”nai..."

מִי כָמֹֽכָה בָּאֵלִם יְיָ

G”d is quite remarkable, of that there is no doubt (or so I used to think.  Nw I wonder if remarkable is the right word. Now, I am also willing to admit to mements when there is a lot of doubt about G”d.) But G”d created a creature and endowed it with some truly remarkable features as well. (Well, evolution and natural selection did that, but it remains miraculous that it happened as it did, and I still wonder what part G”d might have played in all of that-if any.)  Out of all the gifts G”d gave to this creature, known as humankind, one stands out as a unique way to thank and praise our creator. It may not be G”d's greatest gift to us, but it sure ranks up there. (We are the recipient of so many gifts from G”d I would be hard pressed to prioritize them: Shabbat, Torah, freedom from slavery, love, senses, etc. If I were to hazard a guess, I might place Shabbat above all-for it came before Torah, as we are taught. But that's a discussion for another time.)

Diversion 2: I step into the sea. (Or reed swamp, or whatever it was.) It's cold. The wind is blowing. Moshe promises the waters will part. I believe. I'll plunge ahead. But it sure is cold and windy. This is hard to do alone. From where can I find the strength to go on?

The gift I am speaking of is the gift of music and song. What a glorious and remarkable gift it is. Those of you who know me well know that music is at the very core of my Judaism. That's why this Shabbat, Shabbat Shirah, is always one of my favorite Shabbats.

And since the gift of music is such a special one, what better way to thank and praise G”d but through music. With music we praise, thank, glorify, remember, teach, share, love.

Diversion 3: Well, the water is up to my waist, and it's still cold and wet and windy. This is hard. Maybe if I sing a tune as I go, keeping praise for G”d on my lips. "Mi khamokha baelim Ad”nai..."

מִי כָמֹֽכָה בָּאֵלִם יְיָ

In "Sparks Beneath the Surface" Larry Kushner and Kerry Olitzsky relate a teaching of Rabbi A. Chein. The Rabbi teaches that the reason we remember the miracle of what happened at the Reed Sea is because of the song they sung (Shirat Hayam.) Yet we do not recall Joshua leading Israel across the Jordan near Jericho - another miracle of waters split asunder and crossing on dry land.[Joshua 3:16-17] for it lacks the musical attestation.

What a beautiful teaching, that eloquently demonstrates the power of song and music. Much of what I first learned of the history of the Jewish people was through song and poetry, and I daresay this is true for many of us.

Diversion 4: That does help. Singing I mean. It makes me feel braver and better and warmer. But it's still cold and wet and windy, and Moshe is standing there with his staff in the air and I'm up to my armpits in cold, wet, water. "Mi khamokha baelim Ad”nai..."

מִי כָמֹֽכָה בָּאֵלִם יְיָ

Music is one of the most powerful forms of prayer. Every Shabbat I know it carries me to new heights of understanding, and brings me closer to G”d. Whether it's accompanying at services, or just singing Shabbat z'mirot, the feeling is there. I know I've told many of you before that what comes out of my hands when I play the piano is t'fillah. (One thing I discovered as a Jewish student at the essentially Xtian Vanderbilt Divinity School is that most Xtians I talked to simply could not conceive of what I mean what I say that. I haven't quite figured out why this is such an alien concept to them.)

Diversion 5: I believe G”d, I really do. I'm singing your praise with every step-but you'd better hurry up and do something soon..."Mi khamokha baelim Ad”nai..."

מִי כָמֹֽכָה בָּאֵלִם יְיָ

But this magic need not be the special province of Shabbat only. Simply by bringing our music with us into the rest of the week, we can keep a little bit of Shabbat with us. It works for me. Driving in the car, in my office, my classroom, when I go walking...listening to my favorite Jewish music selections helps keep me in that Shabbat mood.

Music can get through to everyone. It touches something inside our souls. This point is brought home everytime I work with children doing some music. It is such a joy to see all those smiling young faces, and to share with them my joy of Judaism and Shabbat in music and song. It is a revitalizing experience. Though it is sometimes scary to "wade into" a pack of young ones, and one must screw up their courage to do so. I’ve been doing it a very long time now, and as a music teacher at a Jewish day school, along with myother Jewish roles, I get to do it every day. However, even after decades of doing it, it can still be scary to wade in to the sea of children. On the other hand, even after all these decades doing it, it still feels revitalizing and energizing.

Diversion 6: The water is up to my chin, my lips, G”d. Isn't it time you did something? I'm really trying hard here. Show me that my faith is worth it. Please. We need a real wonder here. Show us. Please. "Mi khamokha baelim Adnai, Mi kamokha nedar bakodesh..."

מִי כָמֹֽכָה בָּאֵלִם יְיָ, מִי כָּמֹֽכָה נֶאְדָּר בַּקֹּֽדֶשׁ

Sometimes it's the words that are important to me, at other times, it's the music. Both can be equally powerful. Try it yourself. Hum a tune you know for "Mi Khamokha" and see if it doesn't remind you of what happened at the Reed Sea, even without the words.

Diversion 7: Sorry G”d. The water stuck in my throat and I said kamokha instead of khamocha. But you know what I meant. You care little for arcane rules of grammar and pronunciation (I hope.)  Nobody is like You. You are majestic! So when are we gonna do this thing. I'm really ready G”d. G”d, cut me some slack here, I'm about to drown, I'm about to drown. "Mi khamokha baelim Ad”nai, Mi kamokha nedar bakodesh...”

מִי כָמֹֽכָה בָּאֵלִם יְיָ, מִי כָּמֹֽכָה נֶאְדָּר בַּקֹּֽדֶשׁ

Mi Kamonu? Who is like us? We are the lucky ones. To have such gifts. And such gifts are to be shared.

Diversion 8: Oh my G”d! (Oh, excuse me G”d, I didn't mean that.) But--Wow!! You did it. The waters have parted--we can walk across the sea (swamp?) on dry land.

"Mi khamokha baelim Adnai!" "Mi kamokha nedar bakodesh."

מִי כָמֹֽכָה בָּאֵלִם יְיָ, מִי כָּמֹֽכָה נֶאְדָּר בַּקֹּֽדֶשׁ

It was a miracle! "Nora t'hilot, oseh feleh."

נוֹרָא תְהִלֹּת עֹֽשֵׂה פֶֽלֶא

May your name be forever on my lips, G”d. May I always honor you with song.

Ad”nai yimlokh l'olam va'ed."

יְיָ יִמְלֹךְ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד

May your Shabbat and all your days be filled with the beauty of Shirim.

Ad”nai yimloch l'olam va-ed.

יְיָ יִמְלֹךְ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד

Shabbat Shalom,


©2016 (portions ©1997, 1999, 2003) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Beshalakh 5775 - I'm Not Doing It Alone
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 15, 2016

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Bo 5776 Four Strikes and You're...Well... (A Fractured Midrashic Fairytale)

11 years ago, I wrote this fantasy musing built around the then current scandal rocking the baseball world about the use of performance-enhancing drugs. I started to re-write it this year, thinking to substitute some current issue. I made several attemps, but none proved to be quite as witty and entertaining as the original. So herewith, I present you with the original, and offer you the opportunity to try and substitute some current issue (say global warming and change-deniers, or economic disparity and the 1% and 99%, or the campaigns for the next president and the candidates thereof, or the scandals rocking FIFA, or the IOC, or Trump, or Cosby, or deflate-gate, or the NRA, gun lobby, and advocates for gun control,  or some other story or scandal re-situated in the setting of the ten plagues. I hope the musing, whatever subject you choose to imagine at the center of the narrative, will prove thought provoking.

-Adrian (5776/2016)


Four Strikes and You're...Well...

(A Fractured Midrashic Fairytale)

This musing has nothing to do with the parasha...or does it.....?

And after many years, G”d heard the cries of the fans, and remembered the promise made to them about affordable baseball tickets. One day, Moses was out tending his sheep when G”d appeared to him as a Ball Park Frank with mustard and sauerkraut, which was being eaten but not consumed. And Moses said "I must turn aside and eat this amazing thing."

G”d said to Moses "Take your shoes of your feet, for this is holy ground." And Moses did as the giant frankfurter commanded. And G”d said to Moses "Phew! Stinky feet! Are you from New Jersey? Well, put your shoes back on!"

Then G”d said to Moses "Go to the Players Association and tell them that they must not use performance-enhancing drugs, for it is an abomination to me, the fans don't like it, and besides, it isn't fair."

Moses says "Who am I, that the players should listen to me? I am slow of speech and besides, I don't even like baseball."

"Well, I'm partial to golf myself. But that's not important right now. You can take your brother Aaron along as your press liaison."

"And who, shall I tell the players, sent me to them?"

"Tell them that 'I Am" sent you."

"Tell them a yam sent me?"

"I thought you said you were slow of speech, not slow of hearing! Now, never mind what my name is, get going!"

So Moses and Aaron come to the Players Association and say "Thus spoke the Lord Yam 'You shall not use performance-enhancing drugs.'" But the Players Association just ignored them, and said to the fans "you shall pay higher prices for your tickets, for your insolence."

So G”d told Moses to again go to the Players Association and tell them "You must not use performance-enhancing drugs, for it is an abomination to me, the fans don't like it, and besides, it isn't fair. If I catch you using performance-enhancing drugs, I will cause you to be suspended without pay for 10 days."

And Moses did as G”d had commanded, and appeared before the Players Association and said "Thus spoke the Lord Yam 'you must not use performance-enhancing drugs, for it is an abomination to me, the fans don't like it, and besides, it isn't fair. If I catch you using performance-enhancing drugs, I will cause you to be suspended without pay for 10 days."

Still, the players used performance-enhancing drugs. So G”d tested them, and found they were using performance-enhancing drugs, and G”d caused all of them to be suspended without pay for 10 days (although it just so happened that there were only games scheduled for 3 of those days.)

So G”d told Moses to again go to the Players Association and tell them "You must not use performance-enhancing drugs, for it is an abomination to me, the fans don't like it, and besides, it isn't fair. If I catch you using performance-enhancing drugs, I will cause you to be suspended without pay for 10 days."

Moses, never shy, said to G”d "Isn't that what you threatened last time, Mighty Yam? Would it not make more sense to bring upon the players a harsher punishment for their stubbornness, their sins, and their refusing to submit to Your will?"

G”d, being eternally patient, decides to ignore the whole "Yam" thing and says to Moses "Just do it."

So Moses and Aaron put on their Nikes and just did it, as G”d had commanded. They went to the Players Association and said "Thus spoke the Lord Yam: 'you must not use performance-enhancing drugs, for it is an abomination to Me, the fans don't like it, and besides, it isn't fair. If I catch you using performance-enhancing drugs, I will cause you to be suspended without pay for 10 days.’ "

"That's what Yam said the last time. What's 10 lousy days of pay out of our million-dollar salaries?" And the players again sinned a great sin and used performance-enhancing drugs, and Gd again caused them to be suspended again without pay for 10 days.

So G”d told Moses to again go to the Players Association and tell them "You must not use performance-enhancing drugs, for it is an abomination to me, the fans don't like it, and besides, it isn't fair. If I catch you using performance-enhancing drugs, I will cause you to be suspended without pay for 10 days."

And Moses says to G”d "Isn't that what you threatened last time, and the time before that, Mighty Yam? Would it not make more sense to bring upon the players a harsher punishment for their continuing stubbornness, their sins, and their adamant refusing to submit to Your will? After all, they only get three strikes in their own silly game."

And G”d, still being patient, though the eternal part was beginning to weaken a little, said to Moses "In my ball park, we play by my rules. Do it."

So Moses and Aaron did it. They went to the Players Association and told them "You must not use performance-enhancing drugs, for it is an abomination to me, the fans don't like it, and besides, it isn't fair. If I catch you using performance-enhancing drugs, I will cause you to be suspended without pay for 10 days." And again the Players Association said "That's what Yam said the last time. What's 10 lousy days of pay out of our million-dollar salaries? Hey, Moses! Why don't you go and take your folks and your sheep and your goats and go out three days into the wilderness and offer sacrifices to your Lord Sweet Potato."

"That's Yam!" Moses (well, actually, Aaron) said and they stormed off to the parking lot.

And the players laughed and then they offered sacrifices to their god named money by demanding yet higher salaries of the owners, thus causing the poor fans to have to pay even more money for tickets to their games. Then the players again sinned a great sin and used performance-enhancing drugs, and yea, they did playeth mightily well. And G”d was angry with them and did as G”d has said, and G”d again caused them to be suspended again without pay for 10 days.

So G”d told Moses to again go to the Players Association and tell them "You must not use performance-enhancing drugs, for it is an abomination to me, the fans don't like it, and besides, it isn't fair. If I catch you using performance-enhancing drugs, I will cause you to be suspended without pay for an entire year."

"It's about time" said Moses, under his breath.

"What was that?" said G”d.

Aaron responded "He said 'Oh, G”d sublime.'" And G”d immediately turned Moses and Aaron into treif knockwursts. And then just as miraculously they were themselves again. "That's for being sassy," said G”d, "Now, go..."

"Do it" said Moses and Aaron and they went again to the Players Association, and said to them "Thus says the Lord G”d Yam 'You must not use performance-enhancing drugs, for it is an abomination to me, the fans don't like it, and besides, it isn't fair. If I catch you using performance-enhancing drugs, I will cause you to be suspended without pay for an entire year.'"

Some of the players had the fear of Yam in them, and said "we must listen to Yam and stop taking these performance-enhancing drugs" And some Players whined to the Owners saying "a whole year? Gimme a break. How am I going to afford my new condo on Maui and my Lamborghini and my Rolex?"

And the Owners said to them "We don't care about that. All we know is that you guys play so incredibly well when you take those performance-enhancing drugs, and fill up our ballparks and make us lots of money for us to share with you, that we'll gladly keep you on the team even after the humiliation of a year's suspension."

And the Trainers and Agents said to the whiners, and to those who were afraid of Yam "Big deal. So you'll lose a year. You've already made so much on the endorsements we've gotten for you, that you can easily afford it. Besides, the drugs make you such incredible players. And so the Owners and the Trainers and the Agents stiffened the hearts of the Players, and they continued to take performance-enhancing drugs.

So G”d caused those who took the performance-enhancing drugs to be suspended without pay for one year. And the suspended players moaned and whined under the oppressive yolk of the lifestyles of the rich and not presently busy. And the players began to regret having used the performance-enhancing drugs, and some of them even promised to G”d that they would not use them again. Then a year passed and all the players went back to spring training. And they took performance-enhancing drugs. And they played for many years, earning millions of dollars for themselves and the owners and the agents and the trainers, Oh, they occasionally had to be suspended for a year (and as new players joined, they went through their weary round of 10 days suspensions before hitting the big time one year ones.) And they even went to the Mayor of Washington and said to him "build us a new ballpark and we will deign to bring our august presence back to your dinky little backwater town which just happens to also be the capital of the most powerful nation on earth. Oh, and we want to make sure that the owner of the team in Baltimore gets compensated for any revenue he might lose when people stop coming to see his sucky little losing team and instead come to see the sucky little team from Montreal that is being moved to DC." And the Mayor said "sure thing, sounds good to me!" And most the people of Washington, and the chair of their city council said "but that's not what we want. We want better schools, more fair-priced housing " But the owners and the fans stiffened the Mayor's heart. And the city and the owners came to an agreement to bring baseball back to the nation's capital.

Meanwhile, Moses waited around to hear from G”d, but he heard nothing. So Moses went back to the hot dog stand where he had first seen G”d in the eaten but unconsumed wiener and said "Yo, Yam! Wassup!?"

G”d said to Moses "I'm busy watching the Stanley Cup playoffs, don't bother me. And stop calling me 'Yam' you little nudnik."

Now Moses was like all of G”d's chosen people-stubborn. So he again spoke to G”d, saying "Guess you're little gambit didn't work, did it? I have a suggestion. Next time, give 'em lots of chances, say maybe 10, but ramp up the consequences each time? Make 'em squirm a little. Whaddaya think?"

And G”d said to Moses "OK, you got my attention. I'm listening"

Moses said "Ooh, ooh! This would be even better. Get this. Even if, after the punishments the players agree to stop taking drugs, you keep hardening their hearts and they'll take drugs again and so you have to keep punishing them."

And G”d, who apparently had no compunction about using human beings as pawns and puppets, and causing apparently needless suffering just to make a point, said to Moses "sounds like a plan, Stan!"

And Moses said "and you'll let me live in the promised land?"

[Thunder and Lightning]

"Okay-how 'bout you'll let me dangle my feet in the river Jordan?"

[Thunder and Lighting]

"Heck with this. I'm gonna go open a deli in Jericho. Go find yourself another set of buns to worship You, Your Wienership!"

Well, G”d didn't like that at all, so he turned Moses into a Hebrew National Hot Dog. And then Aaron ate it. And that is why, to this day, we eat hot dogs at baseball games. After all, as the rabbis said, this is our Holy tradition. Torah she-be'al-park. Play ball!

Your turn to pick an alternate topic for the center of this narrative. Take your pick. Our Torah is timeless. Have fun. Updating the stories for today isn’t as hard as one might think. Plug and play.

Shabbat Shalom,


©2016 (portions ©2005) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha

Bo 5775 - Teach Your Children Well (Redux 5762)
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 8, 2016

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Va’era 5776–Why Tomorrow (Revised 5757/62/66)

Imagine a Monty Python-esque skit. We are in the "Office of Plague Revocation."  An officious looking clerk sits behind the counter, radiating ennui. Three men walk in dressed respectively as Moses, Aaron and Pharaoh.

Clerk: "Can I help you?"
Moshe: "I'd l-l-l-like to c-c-c-cancel a pl-pl-pl-pl-pl-pl-pl-pl-pl-pl-"
Clerk: "What?"
Aaron: "He'd like to cancel a plague." [indicating Moses]
Clerk: "Well, let him speak for himself then."
Aaron: "He's got a bit of a speech impediment. I'm his spokesperson-and also his brother."
Clerk (dropping, for a moment, his refined Oxford accent) "His brother you say? And he lets you do all the talking? Gor Blimey! Would that me own brother would shut up and let me do all the talking."
[Aaron gives Moshe an annoyed look. Moses eyes shoot daggers at Aaron]
[Clerk clears throat]

Aaron (to clerk): "Yes, that's all very nice, but we just want to cancel a plague."
Clerk: (back to formal accent) "Very good, sir. Just what kind of plague is it that you, or rather your brother wishes to cancel?"
Moshe: "Frogs."
Clerk: "Can you be more specific?"
Moshe: "I beg your pardon?"
Clerk: "Well, are they tree frogs, land frogs, river frogs? With pestilence or without pestilence? Croaking or ribbeting?"
Moshe: "Oh, I see. I believe they are just river frogs, no special additions like pestilence and that sort of rot."
Clerk: "And are you the curser or the cursee for this plague?"
Moshe: "No curse, just a plague of frogs."
Clerk: "Yes sir, I understand. But are you the person upon whom the plague has descended, or are you the one who called upon the Almighty for this plague?"
Moshe: "We didn't exactly c-c-c-all upon the Almighty."
Clerk: "What do you mean, didn't call upon the Almighty?" No one gets a plague sent against their enemies without asking the Almighty."
Moshe: [pantomimes while Aaron explains}
Aaron: "The Almighty said to us 'Stretch out your hand over the waters and bring forth frogs.'"
Clerk: "You are joking, of course? The Almighty spoke to you? And told you to call forth a plague of frogs?"
Aaron: "Well, yes, that pretty well sums it up."
Moshe: [nods agreement]
Clerk: "And now you'd like this plague of frogs stopped?"
Aaron: "Yes."
Clerk: "Well, this is all somewhat irregular, my good man. I'm going to have to check with the home office."
[Clerk steps into a back room. Moses is behind Pharaoh making funny faces at Aaron trying to get him to laugh.]
Pharaoh: (a la Yul Brynner) "I hate all this petty bureaucracy. It is so much easier when you yourself are a g"d, as I am."
Aaron - whispered to Moses, indicating Pharaoh: "See, I told you he wasn't getting it..."
[Clerk re-enters]
Pharaoh: "What is hold-up? I have little patience for you petty bureaucrats."
Clerk: "Come, come now, good sir. I'm sure those pesky frogs have made you just a wee bit testy, but there's no reason to take it out on me for just doing my job, is there sir?"
Pharaoh: (aside) "So much easier, when I am g"d."
Clerk: "Did you say you were a g"d sir? [to Moshe and Aaron] "Did he just say he was a g"d?"
[Moshe and Aaron nod yes.]
Clerk: "Well, can't he make the bloody frogs go away on his own then?"
Aaron: "Well, there's some slight difficulty with that, as you see...."
Clerk: "Oh yes sir., Say no more. Say no more. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. Just thinks he's a g"d, eh? I've had a dozen of those today already."
[Phone buzzes and clerk answers]
Clerk: "Yes...........yes...........I'll find out.....yes.......I see........very good, then."
[Clerk puts down phone and grabs a scroll from under the counter.]
Clerk: "Well, do pardon me, gents, I didn't realize you were so close with the boss. Seem's the boss has taken a special interest in your case, then."
Aaron: "Well, then, can we get this plague cancelled?"
Clerk: Of course, sir. Just have your brother initial [unrolls a rather long scroll] here, here, here, here, here, here, here....and here.....and sign here."
[Aaron hands scroll to Moses who initials and signs it. Quickly.]
[Clerk then stamps the scroll repeatedly. Slowly and deliberately. He then looks up and down the scroll to verify, discovering one he missed, and loudly stamps it.]]
Clerk: "Very good, sir, thank you."
Aaron: So we're done here?"
Clerk: "Well, just one more question."
Aaron and Pharaoh and Moshe: "Yes?"
Clerk: "When?"
Aaron: "When what?"
Clerk: "When would you like the plague stopped?"
Aaron: "Well, right away I.....[Moshe is gesturing furiously at Aaron]
Aaron, aside and annoyed, to Moshe: "What? What is it, dear brother?"
Moshe points at Pharaoh and says "Let him choose."
Aaron: "You want me to ask Pharaoh when the plague should stop?"
[Moshe nods yes.]
Aaron: "but...."
[Moshe gives Aaron a dirty look, holds his staff up.] [Sound effect: thunder]
Aaron: "Show off!" 
Aaron (To Pharaoh):  "OK, Pharaoh, when do you want the plague of frogs to end?"
Pharaoh: "You're asking me?"
Aaron: "Yes."
Pharaoh: "Well, as soon as possib.....hey, wait a minute. Is this some kind of trick question?"
Aaron: "You're a g"d, you figure it out!"
[Pharoah thinks for a minute, then his face lights up with a sly smile]
Pharaoh: "You're probably all expecting me to say right away. But I won't play your little game. How about....let's see's......tomorrow?"
Clerk: "What time tomorrow, sir?"
Pharaoh: "Don't bother me with piddly little details. Just pick a time. Anytime tomorrow will be fine."
Clerk: "Happy to oblige sir. Do come back and visit us again.
Moshe: "Thank you."
Clerk: "My pleasure sir. [whispered, to Moshe and Aaron] "Just wait until he gets a whiff of all those dead frogs tomorrow."
Voice-Announce: "And now for something completely different..."

Now, the rabbis give us a perfectly plausible explanation as to why Pharaoh would be asked when the plague should stop.  Having it stop at exactly the time that Pharaoh asked for, as opposed to that which Moses decreed, is a more powerful reminder to Pharaoh of who is really in control here, and who is really a g"d.

Still, if that's the case, why such a vague answer from Pharaoh? Why not "an hour from now" or "when the cock crows" or " when the sun, my glory, is high in the sky" ? If he wished to keep up some pretense of caring for his people, surely Pharaoh would have opted for "right now."

What can we learn here? What is this all about? Rashi gets fixated on the fact that although Pharaoh has asked for the frogs to be gone tomorrow, Moshe still goes out and prays right away for that to happen. For me, that's not the issue. It's why Pharaoh said "tomorrow" in the first place. Aren't you just the least bit curious?  Or do we just chalk it up to the unseen hand of G"d once again meddling directly with Pharaoh's thoughts (although the text does nothing to so indicate.)

I'm going to let the question linger-why did Pharaoh ask for the plague of frogs to be gone by tomorrow? If you come up with a good answer, I'd love to hear it. It has been 19 years since I first asked that question in this musing and I’ve yet to find an answer that fully satisfies!

Shabbat Shalom,


©2016 (portions ©1997, 2002,2006) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Va'era 5775 - Brighton Beach Last Stop! (Revised)
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 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 1, 2016

Random Musing Before Shabbat - Sh'mot 5776 - [SPOILER ALERT]

[SPOILER ALERT] Spoilers might not be such a bad thing.

I wasn’t on line that first night. I didn’t see the new Star Wars movie until a few days later. I did everything I could to avoid spoilers. People everywhere were making the same request. There were apps to prevent one from accidentally seeing spoiler information on line.

Do spoilers really spoil things? We are intelligent creatures. We know the many, many tropes used in our society. We can and often do speculate. Many of us take pride in having figured out a plot before the denouement. Entire TV series have been predicated on giving the viewer the high that comes from figuring out the plot before the reveal. At the same time, writers and directors seek ever more clever ways to lead us astray with unexpected plot twists. The best writers and directors have figured out the truth and it is a very Jewish one, requiring a balance of opposites. Both discovery and the unexpected can provide pleasure, an adrenaline or endorphin rush. Can’t make the plot too easy to figure out – can’t make it too hard, either. Give the audience the thrill of solving the puzzles along with the thrill of unexpected twists. This same technique can be applied in different formats and genres (we all know that feeling when we know the answer on Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune and the contestant doesn’t.)

At one point in my life, I was perplexed, even troubled by the many spoilers in the Torah. Parashat Sh’mot has one of the true classics of the type – G”d’s revelation to Moses of how things are going to play out in Egypt. You’re gonna ask, Pharaoh is gonna say no. I’m gonna  make life miserable for Egyptians, Oh, and by the way, I’m gonna harden Pharaoh’s heart.  In the end, I’m going to kill his first-born. They you will leave and the Egyptians will give you stuff on the way out.  Part of me is surprised that Moses didn’t respond somewhat like Job. Had I been writing this story, I might have Moses saying to G”d “Hey, since You already decided how this is going to end, can we just skip to the chase and get it over with?”

So what about all those books your read over and over, those movies you watch again and again? You know exactly what is going to happen, yet you still read and watch. Could it be that there’s more to it than just the thrill of discovery? Not to mention the fact that we re-read the entire Torah over and over each year. We all know what’s going to happen.

Ever watched a movie you love for the nth time, only to see something you never saw before, or have a new insight? That certainly happens to me with the Torah all the time (though the effect is likely enhanced by the fact that I am sometimes purposeful in seeking that. However, with the Torah, with movies, books, etc. I have also experienced new revelations when I wasn’t looking for them. There’s that Jewish balance again.

Balance isn’t always just between two sides, either. Sometimes there’s a third element. There’s the original new experience, there’s the repeat experience of the original, and there’s the cover song, the remake, etc. George Lucas can grouse all he wants, but I have to credit J.J. Abrams with finding a wonderful balance between all those elements.

Sometimes there are just two opposing concepts or values to balance, and sometimes there are many, many parts to balance. I wonder, sometimes, if all the inconsistencies and other problems we have with Torah and our other sacred texts aren’t the result of the attempt to balance so many different ideas, values, viewpoints, histories, etc. An argument could be made that this is a detriment as opposed to an enhancement – that the attempt to balance a few too many conflicting ideas resulted in a huge mess. There may be some truth to that. However, life is messy, so why shouldn’t our sacred texts be messy? (I could make a similar argument if I were reviewing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Disney, Abrams, and all involved had a lot of things to balance and juggle.)

What goes on inside our heads when we watch/read/encounter something new, watch/read/encounter something again, watch/read/encounter a remake (or listen to a cover?) It seems pretty obvious that something that was unexpected the first time will be somewhat less effective in future encounters. As obvious as that seems, I’m not entirely sure it’s true, and I’d love to see some of the brain research on that. There are some scenes that seem to still have the same level of effect on me. Perhaps the feelings of comfort and familiarity add their emotional impact and make up for any slightly lower intensity of reaction. I don’t know about you, but that dead body in the hole in “Jaws,” that alien bursting forth from John Hurt’s chest in “Alien” still make my heart leap. “Feed the Birds” still brings me to tears (sometimes, even just the mention of it will trigger me to tear up.) I still laugh at all the same places in films and TV shows.

[SPOILER ALERT] You know what, try as hard as I did to avoid spoilers, an obnoxious person insisted on telling me that Han dies. I can say, in all honesty, that I don’t think knowing that changed experiencing the moment one iota for me.

I think the reason I read primarily Science Fiction for leisure is a desire to try and find stories that both reinforce existing tropes, and also stories that create new ones. However, the Sci-Fi story that truly has new tropes (or no tropes) is exceedingly rare. There is a reason why, even today, stories use many of the same tropes we find in our sacred texts. Yes, things change over time. Some things remain essentially the same. In this parasha G”d says “I will be what I will be” or whatever ehyeh-asher-ehyeh means. (The thought popped into my head just now-could it mean “everything old is new again?”) Our universe is what it is, and our G”d is/will be whatever G”d will be/is. Once, in a very rare while, some of us can/will rise above the tropes that are our/define existence. For the most part, however, we human beings are what we are, and we’ll keep doing the same things, or new variations thereof. Some might look upon that thought negatively. I think of it as possibility and opportunity. So what if we know what’s coming? Every encounter, even with something we already know, is a new encounter

[SPOILER ALERT] Most of the time, there’s nothing to spoil. We already know.

Thousands of years later, we’re still reading this same story, with its spoilers and all. Perhaps the spoilers are there to teach us not to worry about them so much?

Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Secular Year,

©2016 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Sh'mot 5775 - Why Us (Redux 5765)
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 5765-Why Us?
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?