Thursday, May 17, 2018

Random Musing Before Shabbat 5778–B’midbar–Doorway to Hope (Revised)

When we speak of irredeemable texts, one of the first that oft comes to mind are the first two chapters of the Book of Hosea. Many do indeed find them troubling, I find these two chapters among the most effective and brilliant rhetoric in all the prophetic writings. Hoshea knew how to stand out from the crowd.

Imagine dozens of prophets all offering essentially similar versions of "woe unto you, O Israel. If you do not forsake your evil ways, G”d's punishment is surely coming. Still, G”d will take care of us in the end." You hear it enough times it becomes pabulum, easy to ignore, tasteless, just background noise.

Then this one prophets steps up on a crate a shouts "G”d told me to marry a whore, so that I might know how that feels! You, oh Israel, are like her--a nation of harlots!" Now that's gonna get your attention, isn't it?

The rabbis decided that the Haftarah for Bemidbar would start with the second chapter of Hosea, which begins on a somewhat positive note. It's an uplifting sentiment to prophesy that the numbers of the people of Israel will be numerous as the sands of the sea provides. These words provide a tenuous yet acceptable linkage back to the parasha and it's account of several censuses. Yet these first few verses seem almost out of place with what precedes them and what follows them.

It's somewhat difficult to follow what is written about in chapter two of Hosea without at least having read the set up provided in chapter one. Yet the rabbis chose to leave that bit of prologue out. Practical, I suppose, for who wants to come to services to hear someone read "Go, get yourself a wife of whoredom and children of whoredom" ? I won't retell it here, but it's a scant 9 verses. Go read chapter one for yourself. Pretty it ain’t.

Then ask yourself what the first three verses of chapter two are doing sandwiched between the end of chapter one, and the words of verses 4-15 in chapter 2. They state that the people of Israel will become numerous, that they shall again assemble as one and arise from their pitiful state. That we shall again think of each other as brothers, and we will be loved by Gd.

Then we get back to the whoring as a metaphor for Israel's unfaithfulness to G”d. And predictions of all that will befall Israel, just as it would a harlot, for her transgressions.

After another 12 verses of complaints against the people of Israel,  G”d becomes the loving husband again.

וְנָתַ֨תִּי לָ֤הּ אֶת־כְּרָמֶ֙יהָ֙ מִשָּׁ֔ם וְאֶת־עֵ֥מֶק עָכ֖וֹר לְפֶ֣תַח תִּקְוָ֑ה וְעָ֤נְתָה שָּׁ֙מָּה֙ כִּימֵ֣י נְעוּרֶ֔יהָ וִּכְי֖וֹם עֲלֹתָ֥הּ מֵאֶֽרֶץ־מִצְרָֽיִם׃


"I will give her her vineyards from there, and the Valley of Achor as a doorway of hope. There she shall respond as in the days of her youth, When she came up from the land of Egypt." (Hosea 2:17.)

From עֵ֥מֶק עָכ֖וֹר emek achor (valley of trouble) to פֶ֣תַח תִּקְוָ֑ה petakh tikvah (doorway to hope.)

Some years back I came to a different understanding of why those words are where they are than I came to with this year's encounter with the text. It occurred to me as I was reading through the haftarah, that those first few verses of chapter two are a doorway, a gateway to hope. A glimmer of what is to come. Yet another stellar example of the brilliance with which Hosea's writings are constructed. Hosea recognized the power of his metaphor, his harsh words, to cause despair, so before he relates the metaphor of Israel as a whoring bride, he opens a small doorway to what lies ahead. Petakh Tikvah.

In my musing for 5759 on this parasha, I also spoke of this haftarah from Hosea, and the importance of it's closing verses, speaking of Gd's betrothal to Israel, in the well-known words of the "v'eirastich li." I've encountered this same haftarah in some similar and some different way this time, and put a somewhat different interpretation on the reasons for the positive statements of the first few verses of chapter 2.

וְכָרַתִּ֨י לָהֶ֤ם בְּרִית֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא עִם־חַיַּ֤ת הַשָּׂדֶה֙ וְעִם־ע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וְרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽאֲדָמָ֑ה וְקֶ֨שֶׁת וְחֶ֤רֶב וּמִלְחָמָה֙ אֶשְׁבּ֣וֹר מִן־הָאָ֔רֶץ וְהִשְׁכַּבְתִּ֖ים לָבֶֽטַח׃

In that day, I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; I will also banish bow, sword, and war from the land. Thus I will let them lie down in safety.

וְאֵרַשְׂתִּ֥יךְ לִ֖י לְעוֹלָ֑ם וְאֵרַשְׂתִּ֥יךְ לִי֙ בְּצֶ֣דֶק וּבְמִשְׁפָּ֔ט וּבְחֶ֖סֶד וּֽבְרַחֲמִֽים׃

And I will espouse you forever: I will espouse you with righteousness and justice, And with goodness and mercy,

וְאֵרַשְׂתִּ֥יךְ לִ֖י בֶּאֱמוּנָ֑ה וְיָדַ֖עַתְּ אֶת־יְהוָֽה׃

And I will espouse you with faithfulness; Then you shall be devoted to the LORD. (Hosea 2:20-22)

And that, as I have so often remarked, is the true miracle of all of this whatever it is that we call Judaism. Each encounter with the text is the same yet different. Sometimes the text reveals a Yanny, and sometimes the text reveals a Laurel. ( I have a feeling this will be a meaningless reference in a matter of years, if not weeks.) Each encounter has the potential to bring us from our emek achor to a petakh tikvah. May your encounter with our sacred texts this Shabbat bring you to a petakh tikvah, a doorway of hope.

Shabbat shalom,

Adrian
©2018 (portions ©2004) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

B'midbar 5777 - What Makes It Holy (Revised and Revisited 5767)
B'midbar 5775 - The Reward At The End Of The Boring?
Bemidbar 5774 - Torah as Anecdote-It's a Good Thing
Bemidbar 5773 - Who Really Provides?
Bemdibar 5771 - Moving Treasures
Bemidbar 5770 - Sense Us
Bemidbar 5769 - That V'eirastikh Li Feeling
Bamidbar 5767-What Makes It Holy? (Redux & Revised 5761)
Bemidbar 5766-Redux 5760-Knowing Our Place
Bemidbar 5764-Doorway to Hope
Bemidbar 5763-Redux 5759 (with additions for 5763)
Bemidbar 5762-They Did As They Were Told? You Gotta be Kidding!
Bemidbar 5759-Marrying Gd-Not Just for Nuns
Bemidbar 5760-Knowing Our Place
Bemidbar 5761-What Makes it Holy

Shavuot II 5766-Redux 5760-Getting Through the Crap
Shavuot II 5763-But Just In Case
Shavuot II 5762-Redux 5760-Getting Through the Crap
Shavuot II 5760-Getting Through the Crap (Habakkuk)

Friday, May 11, 2018

Random Musing Before Shabbat—B’har-B’khukotai 5778–Row, Row, Row Your Boat

קֹרֵ֤א דָגַר֙ וְלֹ֣א יָלָ֔ד עֹ֥שֶׂה עֹ֖שֶׁר וְלֹ֣א בְמִשְׁפָּ֑ט בַּחֲצִ֤י ימו [יָמָיו֙] יַעַזְבֶ֔נּוּ וּבְאַחֲרִית֖וֹ יִהְיֶ֥ה נָבָֽל׃

Like a partridge hatching what she did not lay, So is one who amasses wealth by unjust means; In the middle of his life it will leave him, And in the end he will be proved a fool. (Jeremiah 17:11)

Were I to give in to my inclinations at this moment, that would be my entire musing. Or simply repeating this verse from the haftarah for parashat B’har-B’khukotai from Jeremiah 17:11 over and over.

Warning: this gets political.

However, I can’t leave it just sitting there. I’m not fully comfortable with this end-of-life judgment thing, and other pithy aphorisms that suggest that those who do not do right by others will eventually suffer some form of retributive justice at the hands of G”d. History and experience have shown us otherwise. This is not a new discovery – the inclusion of the book of Job in our canon is proof not only that people have felt this way for a very long time, but also that they feel so strongly about it that the rabbis were, for all intents and purposes, forced into retaining Job in the canon or risk the wrath of the people.

We are living in a time when the need to believe that the righteous will be rewarded and the wicked will suffer the consequences of their wickedness is needed by so many people simply to get through the mounting horrors all around us in this country, and on our planet. At the same time, I think, perhaps, that we may need around us those who are called by their recognition of the reality of the absence of retributive justice meted out by a deity or the universe to stand up in open defiance to the evil and wicked among us – who are not content to stay silent, to sit on the sidelines, and who provide the occasionally-needed slap in the face to those of us who wait patiently for the long arc of justice.

“Drain the swamp” was the cry. The swamp has been replaced by a cesspool. We have reaped what we have sown. Why are we letting history repeat itself? Our ancient ancestors knew the truth: wealth corrupts, excessive wealth corrupts excessively. In more recent U.S. history, we realized, during the time of the railroad, steel, and oil barons, that concentration of wealth amongst a few was not best for the overall health and good of the country. Somehow, we have forgotten this lesson. In an inexplicable desire to return to some imagined idyllic past, we ignore the realities of that past to which we aspire (or, in the case of some, the realities aren’t ignored, they are embraced.) Worse yet, we have elected a leader who has delusions of being a member of that small coterie of the vastly wealthy who run the world, and, in an effort to get himself elected into the club, is allowing U.S. oligarchs to run roughshod over our country – glorying in the repeal and elimination of the bothersome people-protecting regulations that hinder their accumulation of even more wealth.

The next time you play Monopoly, play by the actual rules. Go and learn how the game was originally created to help people understand the unfairness of landlords deriving excessive economic benefit from non-productive factors, and how they can conspire with each other and with others to maximize that excess. Then stop and think about where our current POTUS and his father before him acquired their wealth (even if it doesn’t put them in the top tier like they think it does.)

The political aspects aside, and whatever may come of them legally, these corporate payments to Michael Cohen reveal a deep sickness in the way things work. Shyster or not, they very fact that corporations felt they needed to curry favor or seek assistance from him is telling. If it turns out they he simply duped them into thinking he could provide access, that’s no better a reality. If, on the other hand, Cohen’s activities were part of a deliberate strategy in conspiracy with others then we will have reached a whole new level of corruption. Yet I fear that, even if this were proven to be the case, he and his conspirators still might escape any retributive justice. Even after spending time in jail, paying fines and legal costs, many of these people could still live lives of relative ease and comfort compared to the average citizen.

As it says at the very beginning of this haftarah:

יְהוָ֞ה עֻזִּ֧י וּמָעֻזִּ֛י וּמְנוּסִ֖י בְּי֣וֹם צָרָ֑ה אֵלֶ֗יךָ גּוֹיִ֤ם יָבֹ֙אוּ֙ מֵֽאַפְסֵי־אָ֔רֶץ וְיֹאמְר֗וּ אַךְ־שֶׁ֙קֶר֙ נָחֲל֣וּ אֲבוֹתֵ֔ינוּ הֶ֖בֶל וְאֵֽין־בָּ֥ם מוֹעִֽיל׃

O LORD, my strength and my stronghold, My refuge in a day of trouble, To You nations shall come From the ends of the earth and say: Our fathers inherited utter delusions, Things that are futile and worthless. (ibid 16:19)

Guess what folks? This applies equally to the wicked and aspiring wealthy, and to those of us who allow ourselves to be controlled by them! I’d like to believe that G”d might rescue us from these harsh realities of life, but I fear a few millennia of history have shown how stubbornly we refuse to heed some of the wise words and advice we find in our holy texts. “Pray to G”d but row toward shore” is the oft-cited aphorism. In times like these, I wonder if the balance between the praying and the rowing needs to adjust to be primarily on the rowing side. No disrespect intended there, G”d. After all, as “they” say, “G”d helps those who help themselves.”

Wait a minute. There’s something sneaky about that aphorism. If you think about it, doesn’t it actually support the position and proclivities of the wealthy, the oligarchs, and their ilk? Is this but another example of how the upper classes have maintained control over the lower classes by feeding them self-serving ideas clothed in a religious or other positive veneer?

In that “praying/rowing” example, I’d be happier if I saw not just the crew, but also the officers all praying and grabbing oars. Yes, yes, every crew needs to leader to work efficiently. This efficiency can be achieved even when using a servant leadership model.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are many people who can and do rise above the challenge of their wealth to be good and decent people. Perhaps there are more than we realize, but from my vantage point, they are few and far between.

I’d like to  compare these two verses from the haftarah

כֹּ֣ה ׀ אָמַ֣ר יְהוָ֗ה אָר֤וּר הַגֶּ֙בֶר֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יִבְטַ֣ח בָּֽאָדָ֔ם וְשָׂ֥ם בָּשָׂ֖ר זְרֹע֑וֹ וּמִן־יְהוָ֖ה יָס֥וּר לִבּֽוֹ׃

Thus said the LORD: Cursed is he who trusts in man, Who makes mere flesh his strength, And turns his thoughts from the LORD. (ibid 17:5)

and

בָּר֣וּךְ הַגֶּ֔בֶר אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִבְטַ֖ח בַּֽיהוָ֑ה וְהָיָ֥ה יְהוָ֖ה מִבְטַחֽוֹ׃

Blessed is he who trusts in the LORD, Whose trust is the LORD alone. (ibid 17:7)

If verse 5 is the case, G”d, then why did You create us? If it was only to worship You, I’m not sure that’s a good enough reason to exist. I understand what the verse is saying – that we should not be vain, and not assume that all we have is the result of only our own effort. Yet is not some of the effort ours, G”d? That’s where verse 7 fails for me. Trust G”d alone? G”d, whose silence has been deafening lo these last few millennia? G”d, who gives us free will and then uses that same free will to explain G”d’s own failures to bring about a world of peace and truth and justice?

It is tiring and tiresome, G”d. The realities of today are beginning to require more effort than even the staunchest among us can muster. Are you listening G”d? Where is the G”d that will do as it says at the end of this hafatarah?

רְפָאֵ֤נִי יְהוָה֙ וְאֵ֣רָפֵ֔א הוֹשִׁיעֵ֖נִי וְאִוָּשֵׁ֑עָה כִּ֥י תְהִלָּתִ֖י אָֽתָּה׃

Heal me, O LORD, and let me be healed; Save me, and let me be saved; For You are my glory. (ibid 17:14)

It hurts so much G”d. Living and watching this world, this nation destroy itself, I can’t stand around waiting for Your healing to happen. If G”d is the physician of the universe, then physician heal Thyself!

I’m going to go row for a while. It’d be nice if you’d pitch in, too, G”d.

Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian
©2018 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musing on this Parasha:

B'har-B'khukotai 5777 - Keri Is So Very... (Revisited 5763)
B'har B'khukotai 5773 - In Smite Of It All
B'har-B'khukotai 5772 - Scared of Leaves (Redux & Revised 5769)
B'har-B'khukotai 5770 - Bad Parenting 301
Behar-Bekhukotai 5769- Scared of Leaves?
Behar-Bekhukotai 5767-A Partridge in a Tree of Life
Behar-Bekhukotai 5766-Only An Instant
Behar-Bekhukotai 5764 - The Price of Walls
Behar-Bekhukotai 5762 - Tough Love
Behar-Bekhukotai 5761-The Big Book (Bottoming Out Gd's Way)

B'har 5774 - Avadim hayinu v'ata Avadim Heim
Behar 5765-Ki Gerim v'Toshavim Atem Imadi
Behar 5763-Ownership
Behar 5760-Slaves to Gd

B'khukotai 5774 - Taking the Hard Way Yet Again
Bekhukotai 5771 - The Long Road Ahead
Bekhukotai 5765-I'll Take the Hard Way
Bechukotai 5763-Keri Is So Very...
Bekhukotai 5760-Repugnant Realities






Thursday, May 3, 2018

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Emor 5778–A Quixotic Hope on the Camino Real

The world of Camino Real, Tennessee Williams’ way ahead of its time play, is a dark place from which escape may not be possible. If you’re familiar with the play, you may recognize how it might be a fitting play to produce in our own troubled times. It’s a complicated work, and I cannot do it real justice here. I’m not sure that even if you read it you’ll understand, and may find you’ll have to consult the analyses of others to aid in your understanding.

(Consider that among the characters in the play are the literary characters Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Lord Byron, Camille, Esmerelda, and you might understand why it attracts me so. Read the play itself and you might understand why it feels so apropos to today’s realities.)

One of the characters in the play is the Gypsy, who is used by the despotic character Gutman as a distraction from the harsh realities of Camino Real. A recurring theme is how the Gypsy’s daughter, Esmerelda regains her virginity with each moonrise, with each new moon.

Therein lies the most tenuous of connections to what we read in parashat Emor.

Impurity doesn’t last forever. Impurity fades and one can become chaste again. A priest or other who has come into contact with a dead body, or through nocturnal emissions will become pure again by the evening, simply through the passage of time. The purity, in this case, is the purity that permits a priest to partake in the sacred offerings. (Or, to be more blunt about it, the sacrifices made to G”d that really serve the function of feeding the priests. What need of G”d has burnt food?)

At Yom Kippur, we get a clean slate (at least for our sins against G”d.) So this concept of impurity being time-limited appear in Jewish belief and practice. What then are we to make of a book of judgement? If our impurities can be made pure through the simple passage of time (and perhaps a ritual or two) how can we square that of this idea of standing in judging before G”d at the end of our lives, with our good deeds and sins being weighed to determine our fate. (For those of you who think this isn’t part of accepted Jewish belief, think again.)

Can all types of impurities be washed away through some form of ritual and the passage of time? Are there some impurities that can never be washed aware or fade with time?

Or is all this a moot point, because this whole concept of impurities fading with ritual and time seems to be only for the priestly class?

No lay person may eat of the sacred donations. It’s for the priest only. However, the lay person must sacrifice only the best animals, without impurities. In fact, the priests have to bend over backwards to insure that no lay person eats, even accidentally, from the sacred donations, and to prevent them from offering a blemished animal in sacrifice.  Why can’t these impure animals be made clean? Let the priests eat some of the less choice offerings.

Sounds like the priests looking out for the priests, if you ask me. Well, this is the book of Leviticus, isn’t it. The priests probably redacted this whole book so heavily it bears no resemblance to its original form (or the priests made up this book from whole cloth.)

In Camino Real, both the upper echelons and the unwashed masses are equally guilty of greed, gluttony, and ill-treating others. So before I go lambasting the priests, I should remind myself that the laity have their faults, too.

But c’mon. In yet another example of  the Torah as bad parenting 101, G”d throws Moshe a bone and makes his older brother and his descendants into the priests. Isn’t that like asking for a Korach to come along? Sure, we’ve all heard the apologetics. Freedom was new to the formerly enslaved Israelites. They had to be weaned. A priesthood is one way to help insure a gradual transition. Problem is, the transition never got made until external forces defeated us and destroyed our Temple. Twice. Then, rushing to fill the vacuum, and certain that the unwashed masses couldn’t possibly do it on their own, the rabbis rush in and, with the simple story about pure or impure status of a certain oven at Akhnai place themselves, by their own decree, into the role formerly occupied by the priests. Today, many of us are still trying to claim our freedom – the freedom first given to the priests and later stolen by the rabbis.

Camino Real in the play is the end of the road. A sort of purgatory (or for that matter, a hell, as at least two levels of Dante’s hell are embedded into the play.) It is Sheol. Yet even Camino Real offers a glimmer of hope. Kilroy, erstwhile hero of the play refuses to give in to Gutman (the anti-hero despot.) Kilroy is eventually killed, but restored to life. (Yeah, I know, I know. Don’t go there.)

Esmerelda launches into a long diatribe including these words:

G”d blesses all con men and hustlers and pitchmen who hawk their hearts on the street, all twotime [sic] losers who're likely to lose once more, the courtesan who made the mistake of love, the ˻˻ greatest of lovers crowned with the greatest horns, the poet who wandered far from his heart's green country…, look down with a smile tonight on the last cavaliers, the one with the rusty armor and soiled white plumes, and visit with understanding and something that's almost tender those fading legends that come and go in this plaza like songs not clearly remembered, oh, sometime and somewhere, let there be something to mean the word honor again!

Surely those are words for our own moment in time.

I’m not sure you could say the play has a hopeful ending (the analysts debate that) but it has offered a few moments of hope amidst all the overwhelming despair. Even if, ultimately, it mocks the Quixotian hope, it does remind us that such hopes do exist.

My Quixotic hope is that we Jews will again rediscover and reclaim our own ability to make the impure pure, simply though time and perhaps simple ritual, and to be able to interpret for ourselves what the priests and rabbis claimed only they could interpret.

Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian
©2018 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Emor 5777 - Mum's the Word (Revised & Revisited 5760)
Emor 5775 - Missing the appointment
Emor 5774 - Lex Talionis (Redux & Revised from 5759)
Emor 5773 - The Half-Israelite Blasphemer
Emor 5772-Eternal EffortII: We Have Met the Ner Tamid and It Is Us
Emor 5771-B'yom HaShabbat, B'yom HaShabbat
Emor 5770 - G"d's Shabbat II
Emor 5767-Redux and Revised 5761-Eternal Effort
Emor 5766 - Mum's the Word (Redux 5760 with new commentary for 5766)
Emor 5765-Out of Sync
Emor 5764-One Law for All
Emor 5763-Mishpat Ekhad
Emor 5758-Gd's Shabbat
Emor 5759-Lex Talionis
Emor 5760-Mum's the Word
Emor 5761-Eternal Effort