Friday, June 22, 2018

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Chukat 5778 — The Spirit of Miriam (Revised)

Now wait just a darn minute here. This doesn't sound right.

At the start of chapter 20 of Bamidbar, Miriam dies, and the wells dry up. The only moaning, wailing and weeping on the part of the Israelites is for the lack of water. (Bamidbar 20:1-2)

וַיָּבֹ֣אוּ בְנֵֽי־יִ֠שְׂרָאֵל כָּל־הָ֨עֵדָ֤ה מִדְבַּר־צִן֙ בַּחֹ֣דֶשׁ הָֽרִאשׁ֔וֹן וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב הָעָ֖ם בְּקָדֵ֑שׁ וַתָּ֤מָת שָׁם֙ מִרְיָ֔ם וַתִּקָּבֵ֖ר שָֽׁם׃

The Israelites arrived in a body at the wilderness of Zin on the first new moon,and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there.

At the end of chapter 20, Aaron dies, and all of Israel mourns for thirty days. (Bamidbar 20:28-29)

וַיַּפְשֵׁט֩ מֹשֶׁ֨ה אֶֽת־אַהֲרֹ֜ן אֶת־בְּגָדָ֗יו וַיַּלְבֵּ֤שׁ אֹתָם֙ אֶת־אֶלְעָזָ֣ר בְּנ֔וֹ וַיָּ֧מָת אַהֲרֹ֛ן שָׁ֖ם בְּרֹ֣אשׁ הָהָ֑ר וַיֵּ֧רֶד מֹשֶׁ֛ה וְאֶלְעָזָ֖ר מִן־הָהָֽר׃

Moses stripped Aaron of his vestments and put them on his son Eleazar, and Aaron died there on the summit of the mountain. When Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain,

וַיִּרְאוּ֙ כָּל־הָ֣עֵדָ֔ה כִּ֥י גָוַ֖ע אַהֲרֹ֑ן וַיִּבְכּ֤וּ אֶֽת־אַהֲרֹן֙ שְׁלֹשִׁ֣ים י֔וֹם כֹּ֖ל בֵּ֥ית יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

the whole community knew that Aaron had breathed his last. All the house of Israel bewailed Aaron thirty days.

A while back, Aaron and Miriam spoke against Moses, and only Miriam was punished. (Yes, one can read the text such that it was really only Miriam who spoke against Moses, but I'm not convinced by that argument. And one can also argue that, in the end, Aaron was punished, as he didn't get to enter the promised land either. It still seems unfair to me.)

Just more evidence of a misogynist redaction of the text? There are surely scholars who might argue so, and who am I to disagree. Yet, I wonder if there is more going on here?

Of course, while there is no evidence of mourning and beweeping Miriam's death, the text is structured to have us believe there was some connection between her death and the lack of water. for following the terse statement of Miriam’s death, we read in the next verse:

וְלֹא־הָ֥יָה מַ֖יִם לָעֵדָ֑ה וַיִּקָּ֣הֲל֔וּ עַל־מֹשֶׁ֖ה וְעַֽל־אַהֲרֹֽן׃

The community was without water, and they joined against Moses and Aaron. (Bamdibar 20:2)

No geshrying about the death of Miriam, just a complaint to Aaron and Moses at the lack of water. More on that in a bit.

In connection with Aaron's death, we have only a small ritual of transfer of power (in the exchange of clothes) and thirty days of mourning. Now I don't know about you, but for me, a month of weeping and wailing for a departed leader sounds a lot better than being deprived of water in the midst of the desert.

Or was it really the water that the Israelites were being deprived of? Let's think on that.

The work of Aaron as high priest needed to be carried on by a successor. And all that is provided for by the elevation of Eleazar. (Lucky Eleazar-if brothers Nadav and Avihu hadn't gotten a little tipsy that one night, it might not be Eleazar who became the high priest.) A little exchange of vestments and voila: "the high priest is dead, long live the high priest!")

So now the appropriate sacrifices can continue. Now the people can be assured that, despite their usually wayward and oppositional ways, their sins will be atoned for, the community cleansed and redeemed in G”d's favor.

Miriam, however, is gone forever, and gone with her is her spirit, her healing touch, her prophetic voice. The Israelites seem not to mourn her passing, as though they won't be missing any of these gifts of Miriam. Or so they think.

It's clever, this Torah, that it doesn't have the Israelites connect the absent water with Miriam's death–yet still leaves the reader or listener to the story wondering, because of the juxtaposition of these two happenings, if the wells went dry because of Miriam's passing, and the removing of her spiritual spring from the community. How can one read the Torah and not make the connection? One wonders why the Torah chose not to be explicit here? Is it once again related to G”d’s (or redactors’) desire to not elevate Moses and Miriam to a point they might become objects of worship? Was there, at one time, explicit text that the priestly redactors chose to omit that treated Aaron in the same de-emphasizing way?

The community can go on with Aaron, because Eleazar has taken his place. However, the community cannot go on without its water, can it? So G”d provides water. Moses, forgetting perhaps briefly, that it is G”d who will bring a renewed source of water from the rock, makes a bad judgment call , strikes the rock instead of just speaking to it, and invokes G”d's punishment. Yet is it really only water that came forth from the rock, or is there some metaphorical component here as well - the renewal of the spirit that Miriam brought to the community of Israel? The lesson being that G”d will not allow the people to go physically or spiritually thirsty? Thus, through Miriam's death, the absence of water and the subsequent renewal of the font, we see yet again G”d's promise, G”d's kindness, G”d's mercy. In Aaron and Eleazar, we see only the simple transition from generation to generation of the leadership of a symbolic, ritualistic caste. Thus, the apparent absence of mourning upon Miriam's death actually becomes of greater significance than the thirty days of mourning that followed Aaron's death.

One could say that while, in life, Aaron appeared to assume the greater role, in death it is clear that the greater role was to be Miriam's. For it is through her death that we learn yet again of G”d's greatness and G”d's concern for this people, Israel.

One wonders how much greater Miriam’s role might have been had not the text been redacted over the centuries by those with clear misogynistic biases, and clear pro-Aaronic priesthood bias.

The spirit of Miriam lives on. Each and every time a font spurts forth water, whether real or metaphoric, to nurture the Jewish people, it is the spirit of Miriam, the prophetess, that G”d allows to renew and refresh us. Though we may not mourn Miriam, let us thank G”d for this everlasting gift that is G”d's present to us upon her death.

אָ֚ז יָשִׁ֣יר יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֶת־הַשִּׁירָ֖ה הַזֹּ֑את עֲלִ֥י בְאֵ֖ר עֱנוּ־לָֽהּ׃

Then Israel sang this song: Spring up, O well—sing to it—

https://youtu.be/L1yMeEMZniE 

Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian

©2018 (portions ©2002) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Chukat 5777 - Still Not Seeing What's Inside (Plus Bonus Thoughts)
Chukat 5775 - Wanting To See More Than Just The View From The MountainTop (Revised from 5759/61)
Chukat5774 - What a Difference a Vowel Makes (Revised from 5767)
Chukat 5773 - Biblical "Jodies"
Chukat 5772 - Your G"d, Our G"d, and the Son of a Whore
Chukat 5767-What A Difference A Vowel Makes
Chukkat 5765-Not Seeing What's Inside
Chukat 5764 - Man of Great Character
Chukat 5762-The Spirit of Miriam

Chukat-Balak 5766 - Community Sing
Chukat Balak 5763-Mi ChaMicah
Chukat-Balak 5760-Holy Cow!
Chukat 5759/61-Wanting to See More Than The View From The Mountaintop



Friday, June 15, 2018

Random Musing Before Shabbat – Korach 5778 — My Hero Korach

I’m going to keep it relatively short this week, and rehash some old territory. Sometimes I think we’ve got it all wrong. Korach isn’t the bad guy.

I keep playing the story over and over in my head, and no matter how hard I try, I wind up convinced that G”d is in the wrong here, and not Korach.  The rabbis and commentators like to write between the lines here, and ascribe to Korach and his followers all sorts of negative intentions which are just not there in the p’shat.

Korach has every right to question why Moshe is in charge and his brother Aharon gets to be the big kahuna. G”d seems to have a very big feeling of entitlement. I created you. I led you out of harsh slavery. My every whim should be your desire.

Yes. You created us. Then you set us up with this test (any tree but that one) which you knew we would fail, because You Yourself know that a perfect creation would be boring for all parties. Then, as an inevitable result of being forced out of the paradise You created, we challenged You. We built a tower, so You confounded our speech so we couldn’t challenge You as a united front again. We misbehaved, so you destroyed the world with a flood, so now, instead of all being descendants of Adam and Chava, we’re all descendants of a naked drunk.

Yeah, You got us out of slavery in Egypt. But that’s only after allowing us to get into it in the first place, and allowing us to languish there for 4 centuries. You inflicted needless additional suffering upon the Egyptians to prove Your point with added oomph!

We even think the whole “spies” thing was a setup. You knew even before we accepted the negative concerns of the tribal chieftains over the glowing reports of Yehoshua and Kalev that we were gonna have to wander and be winnowed before entering the land You promised us.

So pardon us if we question why Moshe should be the only one in charge, and his brother, coincidentally, gets to be the high priest. Are we not all a holy people, a holy nation?

This is not new territory for me. I’ve mused about this several times in previous years. See:

Korakh 5769 - And who Put G"d In Charge (or 2009: A Space Odyssey)

Korakh 5773 - B'tzelem Anashim (Redux 5764)

Korach 5777 - Revisiting B'tzelem Anashim

I heard someone the other day liken our current @POTUS to Korakh – reckless and selfish. In reality, I’d say the man currently occupying the oval office is acting more like G”d in this scenario, and we, the people questioning his motives and methods, are the Korachs of our time. We must therefore be alert, lest we too are swallowed up by the earth.

These, and other musings I have written about parashat Korach and it's accompanying haftarah, are among some of my favorites. and I commend them all to you.

Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian
©2018 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Korach 5777 - Revisiting B'tzelem Anashim
Korakh 5775 - Purposeful Unpleasant Reminder?Korakh 5769 - And who Put G"d In Charge (or 2009: A Space Odyssey)
Korach 5774 - Still a Loose End
Korakh 5773 - B'tzelem Anashim (Redux 5764)
Korakh 5772 - B'nei Miri
Korakh 5771 - Supporting Our Priests and Levites
Korakh 5770 (Redux 5758/62) Camp Rebellion
Korakh 5769 - And who Put G"d In Charge (or 2009: A Space Odyssey)
Korakh 5768-If Korakh Had Guns
Korach 5767-Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad, Tabernacle?
Korach 5766 - Investment
Korah 5765 - Stones and Pitchers and Glass Houses
Korach 5764-B'tzelem Anashim
Korach 5763-Taken
Korach 5761-Loose Ends

Friday, June 8, 2018

Random Musing Before Shabbat – Sh'lakh L'kha 5778 — Okay

[Ed. Note: This musing started out as “Another Missed Opportunity” in 2006. It has morphed into this greatly expanded version with a somewhat different focus at the end. As was its predecessor, it has but a slight connection to the parasha with one brief reference, and is otherwise a truly random musing.]

Scene 1:

G''d: "Hey, Noah! Go build an ark and get your family and all these animals into it because I'm gonna flood the earth to wipe up this mess you people have made of my creation."

Noah: "Okay."

[Editor's note: This "second chance" doesn't yet seemed to have worked out as well as anticipated by G''d.]


Scene 2:

G''d: "Hey, Abraham! Pack up your stuff and take you and your family to a place I will show you."

Abraham: "Okay."


Scene 3:

G''d: "Hey, Abraham! Circumcise the foreskin of your penis as a sign of the covenant between us."


Abraham: "Okay."

[Editor's note: needless to say, that hurt! And in the middle of his recovery, G''d sends these three angels to see Abraham...]


Cutaway Scene A:

Sarah: (laughing hysterically) A baby! Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha...


Scene 4:

G''d: "Hey, Abraham! The sins of S'dom and Gomorrah are too great. I am going to destroy those two wicked cities and all the inhabitants."

Abraham: "Uh, hold on a second there, big guy. You gonna wipe out the innocent with the guilty?"

G''d: "Hmmmm. I hadn't thought about that. OK. You show me 50 good people there and I will spare the cities for their sake?"

Abraham: "What makes 50 so special? What about 45? 40? 30? 20? 10?

G''d: "Okay. Even for 10 good people I will spare the cities and their people."

[Editors note: G''d destroys S'dom and Gomorrah anyway. While the Torah intimates through its illustrations of the behavior of the people of S'dom, and Gomorrah to these two visiting angels the obviously high rate of depravity, we're never definitively shown there weren't 10 good people there.]


Scene 5:

G''d: Hey, Abraham! Send Hagar and Ishmael away. Don't worry. I'll take care of them.

Abraham: "Okay."


Scene 6:

G''d: "Hey Abraham! Take your son, your beloved son, Isaac, and bring him to this mountain I'll show you and offer him up as a sacrifice to Me."

Abraham: "Okay."

[Editor's note: Okay. So G''d provided a ram for the sacrifice in place of Isaac. Assuming that's what "takhat" really meant in that situation...]


Cutaway Scene B:

https://youtu.be/NKurInYnovU?t=14s


Scene 7:

Abraham: “Let me buy this cave so I may bury my wife.”

Ephron: (after a little ritual negotiating) “Okay.”


Scene 8:

Assembled elders: “Rivka, will you go with this servant of your great uncle to go and marry your first cousin once removed?”

Rivka: “Okay.”


Scene 9:

Rivkah: “Yaakov - my sweet son. Here! Quick! Put on these hairy skins and go bring this food to your father and pretend to be esav so you will get your father’s blessing.

Yitzchak: “Okay.”


Scene 10:

Yaakov: “Okay guys. Cut off the tips of your penises and you can marry our daughters.“

The Men of Shechem: “Okay.”


Scene 11:

Shimon: “Yo, bro. Let’s go kill all the men of Shechem while they’re recuperating from the tip snipping. Dad will be so proud of us!

Levi: “Okay.”


Scene 12:

Pharoah: “Joseph, I rename you ‘Zaphnath-Paaneah’ and make you Vizier over all my Kingdom, second only to me.” [leans over to whisper to Joseph] “Which really means if you succeed, you live - otherwise, you’re the fall guy. Got it?”

Joseph: “Okay.”


Scene 13:

G''d: "Hey Moses! Go tell Pharaoh to let My people go!"

Moses: "Who? Me?"

G''d: "Just do it, will ya?"

Moses: "Well, if you insist, But I'm not much of a talker. And Who, by the way, are You? They' re gonna ask me."

G''d: "OK, your brother can do the talking for you. And you can just call me Que sera, sera."

Moses: "Okay."


Scene 14:

G''d: "Listen, Israel! I am giving you these commandments!"

Israel: "We will do and we will see understand." [ Ed. note: in other words, "Okay."]


Scene 15:

Moses: “Chill with the hissy fit. G”d. If you strike us down or abandon us now, after all You have done for us, what will the neighbors say? They’ll say you’re a fake, a sham G”d!”

[A light bulb appears above Moses’ head]

Moses: “The LORD! slow to anger and abounding in kindness; forgiving iniquity and transgression; yet not remitting all punishment, but visiting the iniquity of fathers upon children, upon the third and fourth generations. Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to Your great kindness, as You have forgiven this people ever since Egypt.”

G’d: “Okay.”


Scene 16:

Moses: "Hey, G''d! The folks found this guy gathering wood on Shabbat? What's the penalty?"

G''d: "Take him outside the camp and stone him to death."

Moses (and the people:) "Okay."


Epilogue 1:

G”d: “Rabbi Eliezer is correct.”

Rabbis: “The Torah is not in heaven.”

G”d: “Okay.” [Ed. Note: Well, G”d actually said “My children have defeated me” but that’s close enough.]


Epilogue 2:

About 70 generations of Jews: “How do we know how to be Jewish?”

Rabbis: “Do what we say!”

About 70 generations of Jews: “But sometimes even you disagree!”

Rabbis: “Do what we say!”

About 70 generations of Jews: "Okay."


Epilogue 3:

Modern, freethinking liberal Jews: “Why should we follow what the rabbis say?”

Traditional Jews: “See Epilogue 1.”

Modern, freethinking liberal Jews: “But the rabbis wrote this story just to justify their usurpation of the right to interpret Torah.”

Traditional Jews: “See Epilogues 1 and 2.”

Modern, freethinking liberal Jews: “But...”

Traditional Jews: “See Epilogues 1 and 2.”

G"d: "Okay."

Traditional Jews: “Wait a minute. How do you know it's okay with G"d?”

Modern, freethinking liberal Jews: “G"d told us. You were so busy listening to the rabbis who now claim the sole authority to interpret G"d's Torah that you didn't hear”


Epilogue 4:

Young Jews: "How do I know what to do?"

Traditional Jews: “Consult your LOR”

Liberal Jews: “Choose wisely”

Jews of the Future: [Ed. Note: they get to write this one.]

G"d: "Okay."


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Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian
©2018 (portions ©2006 by Adrian A. Durlester)

Other Musings on this Parasha: