Friday, December 30, 2011

Random Musing Before Shabbat Vayigash 5772–Redux & Revised 5760- Teleology 101: Does G"d Play Dice With the World

I've written on this issue before, even in relation to this Torah parasha. It continues to haunt me so I  continue to plumb the depths of the question "can good come from evil?"

Joseph calms his brothers' fears, and tells them they need not be distressed as their past actions towards him. They were all merely pawns in G”d's plan.
[Gen 45:5-9] 

The obvious inference from this is that the actions of
Joseph's brothers in selling him into slavery were forgivable, as the end result was fortuitous? Such a teleological [outcome or end-result oriented]
ethic is surely a dangerous one. The people who come out on top always write the history. Hindsight is always 20/20. [Insert your own tired cliché here.]

Pharaoh could have used Joseph and then done away with him. Joseph could have slept with Potiphar's wife (there are some who suggest he did!)  Of
course, if one accepts the idea of a Divine plan, then no deviations were really possible. More on this later.

Many interpreters of Torah support the viewpoint that good can come from evil, if it is part of the Divine plan. Yet this idea has been used by the
perpetrators of the most vicious crimes against humanity. Was the Shoah truly part of G”d's plan? That medinat Israel is the phoenix that rose from
the ashes of the Holocaust seems little justification for the deliberate slaughter of millions.

To save Egypt (and that raises yet other questions about why Joseph was sent to “save Egypt” – another exercise in teleological thinking) Joseph had to make Pharaoh a slumlord and Feudal ruler. All Egypt became property of Pharaoh through the state’s control of the necessary resources to see the country through the famine. He could have been a ruler who simply gave the people the food they needed without extracting from them the price of the deeds to their property. Can we really say it was worth the price? Did the ends justify the means?

Some suggest that a "global view" of events facilitates the reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers. This reconciliation, too, as a worthy end,
is further justification of the evil acts previously perpetrated.

We could play many "what if" games that might affect our willingness to accept that "good can come from evil." Things certainly could have turned
out quite differently. Even Joseph's brothers seemed to think so. In Vayechi, they will wonder if, after Jacob's death, Joseph will finally take his revenge. [Gen 50:15] Maybe they weren't buying Joseph's "big picture" story after all.

But the “what ifs” didn't happen. History unfolded as it did and none of us would be here if it hadn't. Oh, really?  G"d wouldn't have had realization of
the Divine plan if Potiphar had simply decided to kill Joseph? If Joseph's brothers, fearing his retribution, simply fell upon him and killed him when he revealed himself to then, alone and exposed? The typical answer when such questions are raised is that when G”d’s plans are (apparently to us) thwarted by human choice/free will, then G”d just chooses an alternative. If not Joseph, then someone else and some other combination of circumstances would have led to the eventual slavery of the Israelites in Egypt and their ultimate redemption and covenant with G”d. All part of the plan, right? Any good manager or supervisor understands that it is an essential skill to be able to find alternatives when things gang aft agley. Better managers already have alternatives ready to go. Truly superior managers have the alternatives underway even while the main plan is proceeding apparently unimpeded.

So what happens when the Divine plan goes wrong? Don't be ridiculous, some argue. G”d is G”d. How much impact can our free will have on the Divine plan? It all depends on our conception/construction of Gd...or does it? G”d is what G”d is, regardless of how we construct our ideas of G”d!

I remember how, as a child, I loved playing with erector sets, Lincoln logs, etc. Legos are the new equivalent.  I also remember how I would like to
throw a curve in the works-take something that wasn't from the set, and fit it into my plan. I watch young children do this all the time. Perhaps G”d likes to do this too-and we, with our free will, perhaps provide some interesting curves for G”d in the plan for the universe? Perhaps G”d enjoys the chance in allowing humanity free will and the possibility of our interfering in Divine choice?

I also remember it was sometimes fun, and sometimes not, to create something with a friend. Ultimately, when the final shape deviated from my
plan too much because of a friends participation, I had several choices- knock it down and start again (the flood?)-restructure it the way I wanted (Torah?)-or revel in the beauty of having created something that neither of us could have done alone (covenant?) Perhaps you, my readers, can think of other examples where G”d chose options one two or three?]

One can take a modernist viewpoint and say that history is all hindsight, and write off any concept of Divine plan. Joseph got lucky, so he was willing to forgive and forget. After all, what cost to him to be a  nice guy? He can well afford it. The idea of Divine plan is so fraught with consequentialist ethics that it frightens me. Yet it also intrigues me. For a nihilistic [meaningless] view of life has little to recommend it.

My personal world view, at this point in time, incorporates the best of both worlds-Divine plan and free will. It is the "partnership with G”d" philosophy; that together we can finish the world. Joseph and his brothers seem to be merely pawns, yet surely Joseph is made of the stuff it takes to be a partner with Gd. It seems, however, that G”d was not yet ready to make such a covenant. So perhaps my answers aren't to be found in Joseph's story after all.

G”d does offer humanity choices. The clearest offering our of blessing and curse, death and life. [see Deut. 30:19] Nevertheless G”d gives us some advice: choose life!

In Mishna Avot 3.15, R. Akiba tells us that although there is a plan, man does indeed have free will.

Theologians go back and forth on these issues. A popular notion is the idea of a G"d who is persuasive but not all powerful. A less popular notion these
days in the "ineffable Gd." Both theologies think they wrap up the problem with a nice little bow, but in reality, they succeed no better than other solutions to the question of teleology, divine plan and humanity's free will.

Einstein didn’t like quantum mechanics. He didn’t like or accept a Universe in which G”d played dice, in which probabilities rather than certainties were the norm. Einstein didn’t want to accept “spooky action at a distance” either and spent most of his later life trying to prove that the idea of quantum entanglement was wrong. Modern physics has been able to demonstrate, albeit at only modest distances so far (though an experiment is underway that will attempt to demonstrate it across many miles) that quantum entanglement is indeed the reality of our universe, like it or not.

(The existence of quantum entanglement also provides a strong argument against teleological ethics. Choices we make at a local level have consequences that we might never see happening at a distance that might come back to haunt us.)

Einstein was wrong-G"d (or at least G”d’s universe) does play dice with the world. Human history as G"d's crapshoot. Hmmmm.

There is much to understand, study, and question about Joseph's reconciliation with his brothers. While we may not find the answers we are seeking, as I often suggest, we will surely find the questions we need to be asking.

Shabbat Shalom to you and yours,

Adrian A. Durlester
©1998, 2001, 2011 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Vayiggash 5771-Being Both Israels
Vayigash 5769 - He's A-Cookin'-a-Somethin'-A-Up
Vayigash 5768 - G"d By the Light of Day
Vayigash 5767-Two Sticks As One?
Vayigash 5765-One People
Vayigash 5763-Things Better Left Unsaid
Vayigash 5761/5766-Checking In
Vayigash 5762-Teleology 101: Does Gd Play Dice With the World?
Vayigash 5764-Incidental Outcomes and Alternate Histories

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Miketz 5772–A Piece of That Kit Kat Bar

In this parasha, Miketz, which tells the center section of the Joseph saga, and leaves us with one of the great biblical cliffhangers, as we wait to learn the result of Joseph setting up Benjamin as the fall guy for a missing goblet, we also get an example of a word phenomenon. The scholarly term for it is hapax legomenon – a word that occurs only once in a body of literature. This makes pinning down the true meaning of a word quite difficult.

When Joseph is appointed as Pharaoh’s second in command, he is paraded around town in a chariot (shades of Purim here)

41:43 He had him ride in the chariot of his second-in-command, and they cried before him, "Abrek!" Thus he placed him over all the land of Egypt.

The work “abrek,” (alef/patakh-vet/sh’va-resh/tsere-khaf sofit/sh’va, pronounced “a-brake” ) is one of about 70 hapax legomena in the Torah. This is a subject of some debate. There are probably about 1,500 words in the Tanakh that are candidates for being unique words, however more than two-thirds of such words have an etymology that can fairly readily be derived from some existing word or shoresh (root) leaving somewhere between 400-500 true hapax legomena in the Tanakh (of which some 67 or so are in Torah.)

As a brief sidebar, I am also curious as to why this word is transliterated as “Abrek” when, at least according to the vowelization of the Masoretes the second letter has no dagesh and would be pronounced as a “v” sound, and the final letter, khaf, even though the added sh’va sharpens and shortens the sound, would still not make it a true “k” sound but more of an abrupt “kh” sound.

Enough digression. As a true hapax legomenon, we cannot be sure of the word’s true meaning. We can make a lot of decent guesses based on the context – it is likely a word of honor rather than one of derision, and it is quite likely a word one would use to show obeisance.

We can certainly speculate. For one thing, some scholars argue that this word, too, is not a true hapax legomenon, and is easily derived from the Hebrew root “bet-resh-khaf” – the root that means “knee” and “to bend or bow” from which we eventually derive the words for “blessing.” Yet our context is Egypt, and this is a word that Egyptians would use for their leaders, making a Hebrew derivation somewhat suspicious (or not, depending on your views about where Hebrew actually comes from.) Strong’s Concordance says it is likely an Egyptian work meaning “kneel” (which makes it suspiciously like the Hebrew.) The venerable BDB (Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon) says the meaning is “dubious” and HALOT (Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament) says its meaning is uncertain but seems to buy into the connection to the Hebrew root. Of course these are resource works compiled mostly (but not exclusively) by Christian bible scholars.

The Septuagint (the Greek translation of Torah created by comparing the work of 70 (actually 72 in the original legend) elders of the Jewish community who separately translated the Torah into Koine Greek, each arriving, through G”d’s assistance, at the same translation) translates the word “Abrek” as “herald.”

Rashi suggests it could mean “father of the King” or, buying into the Hebrew root hypothesis, “bend the knee.” Modern scholar Nahum Sarna prefers thinking of it as an Egyptian term of uncertain meaning.

In his article on “Genesis and Ancient Near Eastern Literature” that appears in the Plaut commentary, William Hallo seizes on the word “abrek” as a perfect way to illustrate how important the use of context can be in biblical exegesis. Hallo provides a wonderful exploration of the topic. He suggests that the Alexandrian Jewish elders who created the Septuagint would be likely to understand the word. He then goes on to cite recent evidence of an Akkadian origin of the word meaning “chief steward” and a later Assyrian meaning specifically designating a high official in an administration. Hallo then takes off on a great discourse on what significance may or may not be attributable to the presence of an Assyrian word in the context of this part of the Torah. I commend it to you.

Now I hear you asking “so what?” When the Torah has so much to say, so much to teach, why waste time and such an insignificant and seemingly unimportant word that hardly does much to contribute to or advance the narrative?

The rabbis would have us believe that every word in Torah is carefully chosen, and every jot and tittle matters. Hallo (and many other scholars) argue that we must consider the interconnectedness of the Torah and other Ancient Near Eastern texts. The various texts inform and shape each other (Hallo reminds us that we must not see the Torah as only a recipient of influence from other ANE texts.)

So, what do I argue for in this case? Simple. It’s just another mystery in the Torah put there to do just what it is doing. Causing us to wonder about it.

Were you expecting something more, something deeper? Dear reader, you know me better. This has all been one giant shaggy dog story of a pun to connect the title of this musing with its last words:

Gimme “Abrek.”

Shabbat Shalom and Khag Urim Sameiakh,

©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on the parasha:

Miketz 5771-What's Bothering...Me?
Miketz/Hanukkah 5769 - Redux 5763 - Assimilating Assimilation
Miketz/Hanukah 5768 Learning From Joseph and His Brothers (revised from 5757)
Miketz 5767-Clothes Make the Man?
Miketz 5766-Eizeh Hu Khakham?
Miketz 5757& 5761-Would You Buy A Used Car From This Guy?
Miketz 5763/5764/5765-Assimilating Assimilation

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayeishev 5772–The Ram’s Horn Rag

Some years back, I wrote a musing, Strangers Walking Together, based on one short phrase from the Haftarah for parashat Vayeishev, centered on this verse:

3:3 Can two walk together, without having met?

In that musing, I asserted that we were sadly becoming a society in which it was indeed possible for two people, indeed for dozens, hundreds, thousands of people to walk together without meeting. This year I’d like to focus on another short phrase from the same source:

3:6 When a ram's horn is sounded in a town, do the people not take alarm?

Sadly, again, the answer is no longer the obvious one that the haftarah expects. It’s due to a combination of factors. First, we have now lived through centuries of people crying “wolf” when there was no wolf, so we have developed a tendency to ignore the warnings.

Second, we have become a society that, at least on the surface, utilizes technology to help insure safety. When fire alarms go off, despite all that was drilled into us as children in school, we don’t all drop everything we’re doing and go rushing into the street as quickly as we were taught. We have become complacent, arrogantly sure of our own safety. We are convinced that the alarm is meant for others and not for us.

Third, every time an alarm is sounded, there are people who shout loudly that the alarm is premature, or based on inaccurate information, or is unnecessary or reactionary.

I’m a bit of an odd duck in today’s world. Though I won’t claim to be scrupulously and consistently law-and-generally-accepted-practice abiding, I’m a bit more of a stick-in-the-mud than most other people I know. I have gotten into arguments with family and friends over this. I obey traffic and parking signs (even when others might say “oh, it’s just for a second”) and respond quickly and appropriately to alarms. People who regularly take shortcuts or imbibe in white-collar abuse of the system scoff at my unwillingness to take advantage as they do.

So yes, I think I am one of those people who believes that when the ram’s horn is sounded, I would, perforce, take alarm. My very use of the word perforce shows how I don’t even consider it an option – circumstances compel me. Why is it that I, exposed to as much of the “wolf!” crying, the arguments, the complacency that exists in our world, will respond to the shofar just as our ancestors expected I would?  I am not devoid of cynicism (though I would agree that I am generally positive and a bit of a Pollyanna.) I am not devoid of selfishness or laziness. yet still, the sound of the ram’s horn, or its modern equivalent acts upon me at deeper than a surface level.

I don’t know about you, but even now, living once again in New York City, where sirens and alarms are frequent, when I hear a police or fire siren in the distance, I don’t just ignore it, but really do take a moment to stop and wonder about what emergency may be occurring, what people may be in danger, what people may need our prayers. I don’t often act on those thoughts except, perhaps, to offer a brief prayer, and I probably don’t do that as often as I should. I’m thinking it’s a habit I should get back into.It’ll help me work towards that 100 blessings a day goal.

Ram’s horns are being sounded all around us, every day. Rather than ignore the din because there are so many, because we don’t believe it’s real, required, necessary, because we don’t think it is calling to us, maybe we need to start listening and heeding. Yes, perhaps discernment is needed, or we would spend our entire life responding to alarms. However, our world is pretty messed up, and maybe there’s a good reason so many alarms are being raised simultaneously. We ignore them at our own peril.

3:6 When a ram's horn is sounded in a town, do the people not take alarm?

Is it not time to make Amos’ words a truism again?

Shabbat Shalom and Khag Urim Sameakh,

© 2011 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Vayeishev 5771-Ma T'vakeish?
Vayeishev 5768 - Strangers Walking Together
Vayeishev/Hanukah 5767-I Believe in Miracles
Vayeishev 5766-Who Was That Guy?
Vayeshev 5761 - In Gd's Time
Vayeshev 5765-Mikol HaMishpakhot HaAdamah
Vayeshev 5758-What's Worth Looking After

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Random Music Before Shabbat – Vayishlakh 5772 – One and Many, Many and One

This parasha is rich with things to muse upon. I never know what’s going to catch my attention. Perhaps because I have mused many times upon the more significant events in the parasha, I sought out something different. I found it, near the end of the parasha, at the very start of chapter 35 of Bereshit/Genesis:

35:1 G”d said to Jacob, “Arise and go to Bethel and remain there; and build an altar there to the G”d who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”

Now go back and read that several times.  G”d is asking Yaakov to go build an altar to the specific G”d that appeared to Jacob at Bethel. Huh? Is there not only one G”d? why does the text not simply read “go back to Bethel and build an altar to Me?”

Is this all just part of the general confusion in Torah that seems to revolve around the role of malakhim, angels/messengers, who sometimes appear to be stand-ins for G”d. There are several occasions in the Torah when we see transitions from angels/messengers speaking to one of our ancestors to G”d directly speaking and interacting, as if they were somehow interchangeable.

Of course, this could also just be an artifact of the ancient worldview which had G”ds associated with places, and in the transition from a plurality of G”ds to the concept of a single G”d (which clearly passed through a period of monolatry-where the existence of multiple G”ds was accepted but there was a prime of chief G”d that was worshipped,) as well as the change from G”ds for every place to a portable, and ultimately “everywhere” G”d this holdover found its way into the sacred texts.

Or it could be that G”d really does acknowledge the existence of other G”ds. Not just manifestations, but perhaps lesser G”ds operating under G”ds authority. There’s a heresy. However I don’t see how anyone can read the Torah and come away with the idea that monotheism, as we understand it today, was really the theology of our ancestors.

The Hebrew further confounds things (or, perhaps, helps explain them.) Verse 35:1 uses the word “Elohim” at the beginning, but when it refers to the G”d that Yaakov encountered, it is simply “El” (as part of the construct “L’Eil”.) Keeping in mind that “elohim” is effectively a plural form of a noun, and “El” is singular, we have some interesting possibilities. Perhaps the fact that G”d is “Elohim” tells us that G”d has many constituent parts, many different manifestations – all part of the one same G”d. So when G”d, Elohim, refers to “El” perhaps G”d is referring to some constituent part. Perhaps monolatry was prevalent in the time the Torah was written/redacted/rediscovered.

The great rabbis and scholars wouldn’t like this. It borders uncomfortably on the Xtian concept of the Trinity. Yet true biblical scholars have to ask themselves if the Trinitarian idea was solely an invention of the Xtians or if it had roots in Judaism in some form. We’ve already seen lots of discussion about the potential existence of a female consort of the Hebrew G”d, so why not extend that to the concept of multiple instances of the G”dhead – especially since that sort of seems what we have here (and in other places in the Torah.) Heresy? Perhaps. Still worthy of exploration.

I am growing fond of the idea that “Elohim” is plural quite purposefully, and it’s a subject upon which I am going to spend some time studying. If each of us has a little spark of G”d in us, maybe it’s a piece of “El” which, when all taken together as a whole, becomes “Elohim.” E pluribus unum. Who knew?

Shabbat Shalom,

©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Vayishlakh 5771/5763 - The Bigger Man
Vayishlakh 5769 - A Fish Called Wonder
Vayishlakh 5768 - No One's in the Kitchen With Dinah
Vayishlakh 5767-Wrestlemania
Vayishlakh 5766-Like Deity, Like Deity's Child
Vayishlakh 5765-B'li Mirmah
Vayishlakh 5762-Don't Get Mad--Get Even!
Vayishlakh 5761-No Doubt? No Wonder!

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Friday, December 2, 2011

Random Musing Before Shabbat – Vayeitze 5772 – Stumbling on Smooth Paths

The editorial committee that created the JPS translation of the Tanakh was composed of very wise, scholarly folks. Despite my own humility and acknowledged limited level of knowledge I’ve sometimes taken them to task for their word choices. Sometimes, conveniently, I’ve decided to ignore any questions I might have about their choice of words in a translation precisely because their choice works for me in that moment and at that time. This may be such a case.

The new JPS translation for the last line of verse from the Book of Hosea, which is also the concluding verse for the haftarah for this weeks parasha (for Ashkenazim, not S’fardim,) Vayeitze, is as follows:

“For the paths of the L”rd are smooth: the righteous can walk on them, while sinners stumble on them.” (Hosea 14:10b, JPS)

The Hebrew word JPS translates as “smooth” is “y’sharim.” Using smooth requires a bit of poetic license for this word and root which generally means “straight,” “upright,” “pleasing,”and, in some contexts, “just.”

I might quibble that a smooth road and a straight road are not necessarily the same thing. A road can be one without being the other.

Now, whether you see the metaphoric road as “straight” or “smooth” the basic idea of Hosea’s words remain essentially clear and simultaneously confusing.

Life is hardly a smooth or straight road. That would be difficult for the righteous as well as the less so. Yet a smooth and straight road should be easy for anyone to navigate. Being a sinner should hardly be an impairment. So why doesn’t Hosea say that G”d’s paths can be difficult, yet the righteous can walk them whereas the wicked stumble?

The idea that a sinner might have a difficult time walking a straight road is beautifully poetic. Used to crooked twists and turns due to their inherently evil inclination, the sinner finds the straight road unfamiliar and this more difficult to navigate.  Imagine being prepared for a path that meanders to and fro, to always be in that mode, and encounter a straight path.

However, what about the smooth road? Smooth can mean many things. Smooth paths can actually be very difficult to walk, if their smoothness is the result of an icy or otherwise slick surface that offers no friction. That Teflon coating may make the razor pass smoothly over the face, or the food separate easily from the pan, but have you ever tried walking on a Teflon surface?

The righteous and less than righteous alike could have difficulty coping with a truly smooth road. Perhaps a person’s righteous nature gives them the traction they need to climb the smooth roads of G”d? People who understand dvekut, clinging to G”d, may have the necessary clinginess to traverse the smooth surface. The sinner, who often has little commitment, may not have the stick-to-it-tiveness to walk down the smooth path.

I think the example of the difficulty the wicked might have walking a straight path might have, to forgive the pun, more and easier traction as an understanding of these words. So in this case, though I think “smooth” is a stretch of a translation, I find I like it better, simply because it may be the harder reading! (Sadly, a musing I wrote for last week that expounded on Occam’s razor and questioned the idea that the easier reading of a text is generally the best never made it online – I’m saving it for next year. Nevertheless, this might help explain why I am in a mood that is happy to embrace the more difficult reading of a text.)

So kudos to the JPS editorial committee for their choice of smooth instead of straight. It’s not the simpler, easier translation. Kudos to them as well for perhaps recognizing that Hosea was perhaps being similarly feisty when he chose this particular text to end his book.

May your Shabbat have smooth and straight paths, and may you have the wisdom to understand that both can be easy and treacherous.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Vayeitzei 5771 - Luz is No Loser
Vayeitzei 5769 - Going Down and Loving It!
Vayeitzei 5768 - Encounters
Vayeitzei 5767-Hapax On All Your Hapaxes
Vayetze 5766-Pakhad HaShem?
Vayetze 5765-Cows and Cranberries
Vayetze 5764-Terms and Conditions
Vayetze 5763-Now and Then
Vayetze 5762-Change in Perspective
Vayetze 5760-Taking Gd's Place

Friday, November 18, 2011

Random Musing Before Shabbat-Hayyei Sarah 5772 - Zikhnah

This weeks parasha, Hayyei Sarah, and its haftarah (from I Kings chapter 1) are connected in many ways, but most clearly by their use of the same Hebrew phrase, “zakein ba bayamim,” meaning “old, advanced in years,” applied to Avraham and David respectively.

The end days of Avraham and David are not all that similar (or are they? We’ll see about that.) It is said of Avraham that he died having led a full, and generally righteous life. David’s end is marked by the same sorts of moral failings and intrigues that plagued his entire lifetime. David’s failings most definitely came home to roost in his last days.

The text paints a picture of a David who is quite possibly not fully aware. I have written in a previous musing, Never Warm, about the description of David as having lost his internal flame. Even a nubile young concubine, in the person of Abishag the Shunamite, seems unable to warm David up or restore David’s vigor. David’s courtiers think a little Viagra made flesh will cure what ails the King, but David seems unwilling, unable, or otherwise able to rise to the task.

A close reading of the text may cause one to read the words “v’HaMelekh lo y’da-ah” - “the King did not know her” as implying more than the classic knowing in the biblical sense. It is a David perhaps senile, disconnected, unaware. Later, we see that David is apparently unaware of Adonijah’s machinations and proclamation of himself as King. David would really have to be pretty out of it to be unaware of this.

Bathsheva and the prophet Nathan somehow seem to reach through David’s haze, and he regains his composure and intellect long enough to put a stop to Adonijah’s attempts to usurp the throne and insure Solomon’s ascension. Where sexual titillations failed to stir David’s passions, politics and intrigue succeeded. Says a lot about David.

The text paints a picture of an Avraham still in full control. with the sense to prepare for his impending death by insuring that his legacy is secure, certain, and designated. He leaves no doubt that Isaac is to inherit all.  The many sons he fathered with numerous concubines after Sarah’s death are given rewards and gifts and sent away to the east so they will not be there to challenge Isaac or cause trouble for him.

So classically, we are told to see David’s end as portrayed as reaping in old age what he sowed in life, and Avraham’s end as the end of a virtuous and full life lived.

(There is a midrash that attempts to recast David’s old-age as equally deserving of consideration as a righteous end, but I find it falls far short of its goal.)

As usual, I want to consider turning things upside-down or sideways. I’m not entirely sure that Avraham was any more deserving of the status of a righteous elder, of being zikhnah than David in any case. Yes, Avraham had a neater, more orderly end. If we are only to judge in hindsight, and in full knowledge of what the Torah says were G”d’s intentions, then Avraham did the right thing to insure Isaac as his successor.  Avraham followed G”d’s instructions and left his home for an unknown place. He argued with G”d against the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He properly acquired the cave in which he buried Sarah (and where he was eventually to be buried.) He faithfully prepared to slay Isaac as G”d instructed him to do.

Nevertheless, Avraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away. He fathered many sons after Ishmael and Isaac, and showered nothing in the way of legacy on any of them save Isaac. (G”d promised to further Avraham’s line through Ishmael, but Avraham sent Hagar and Ishmael off with nothing but a little bread and water.) And the kicker – Avraham faithfully prepared to slay Isaac as G”d instructed him to do. Despite the supposed outcome, I am still not prepared to accept this as a success on the part of Avraham.  There is much to be troubled about in Avraham’s supposedly righteous life.

Yet, in the end, I am prepared to accept Avraham as possibly worthy of zikhnah. Why, despite the misgivings I have outlined? For one simple reason, an artifact of the text I have mentioned before over the years. While Avraham’s many other sons were not there to bury him (and I still find this troubling) both Isaac and Ishmael were. Two sons, scarred and traumatized by their father come together to bury him and honor him. I can forgive the absence of all the other sons-perhaps they were not truly worthy, simply being bought off with gifts and rewards rather than a piece of their father’s legacy. Neither Isaac nor Ishmael had any compelling reason to help bury their father. That they did must tell us something not only about Ishmael and Isaac, but about their father as well.

If I can so easily overlook Avraham’s failures to allow him to be zikhnah, why not David’s? After all, David was a great man and king despite his failures. David left a great (if somewhat fractured) legacy. This is going to be my challenge to myself this Shabbat – to see if I can find it in myself to see both Avraham and David as worthy of being venerated as zikhnah. Of course, I will extend this to people I know in my own life, and to my own family. I commend the same activities to you.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Hayyei Sarah 5771 - The Book That Isn't - Yet
Hayyei Sarah 5770 - Call Me Ishamel II
Hayyei Sarah 5769 - Looking for Clues
Hayyei Sarah 5768 - A High Price
Hayei Sarah  5767-Never Warm?
Chaye Sarah 5766-Semper Vigilans
Chaye Sarah 5763-Life Goes On
Chaye Sarah 5762-Priorities, Redundancies And Puzzles
Chayeh Sarah 5761-L'cha Dodi Likrat Kala
Hayyei Sarah 5760 - Call Me Ishmael
Chaye Sarah 5757-The Shabbat That Almost Wasn't

Friday, November 11, 2011

Random Musing Before Shabbat – Vayera 5772 – Well?

There is something about deserts. It seems we’ve always known that. Our history, literature, and religious texts are replete with desert experiences that shape people and societies. People and prophets have walked the deserts seeking solace, answers, solitude, and more.

Science fiction author Frank Herbert created an entire universe which revolves around a desert planet:

Arrakis ... Dune ... wasteland of the Empire, and the most valuable planet in the universe. Because it is here — and only here — where spice is found. The spice. Without it there is no commerce in the Empire, there is no civilization. Arrakis ... Dune ... home of the spice, greatest of treasure in the universe. And he who controls it, controls our destiny.

Deserts fascinate us. I can still remember the stunning visual images of desert that graced the giant CinemaScope screen upon which I first saw “Lawrence of Arabia.” The joke at the time had been that the images were so realistic and awe inspiring that they caused long lines at the water fountains in the cinemas.

Which leads me to the subject of the preciousness of water in a desert environment, and eventually to the subject of wells. It’s no wonder that wells figure prominently in many of the stories we read in Torah. In this week’s parasha, in close proximity, we read of two wells. The first is the one that is revealed to Hagar that enables her and Ishmael to survive. The second, the well that Abraham reclaims from Avimelekh – a well that Abraham claims to have dug. As surety to Avimelekh that he is being truthful in his claim to be the owner of that well, he asks Avimelekh to accept seven ewes. Thus the name of the well, Beer-sheva, the well of seven.

Abraham was a wealthy man, and could easily afford to offer seven ewes as a bond of truth, yet it is nonetheless a significant gesture, indicating the importance and values of wells.

A more interesting lesson about wells might be derived from the story of Hagar. She has been thrown out of the camp by Abraham at the insistence of Sarah (sort of lowers their esteem in your eyes, doesn’t it?) with only some bread and a skin of water, which are quickly exhausted. She sets Ishmael down and moves away from him in the hopes that he might die out of her sight, so desperate is her plight.

In a delightful literary twist, we read first that, having left her son to due, Hagar bursts into tears. In the very next verse we read that G”d heard the cry of Ishmael, and then, through an angel, calls out to Hagar. There is no mention previously of Ishmael crying, though it is certainly likely that a thirsty, hot baby, left abandoned by its mother, would be crying.

However, the seemingly logical thing would be for the text to read that G”d heard Hagar’s crying and spoke to her through the angel. Yet the angel reiterates the point that G”d has heard the cry of Ishmael, and that G”d is responding to that.

However, there’s yet another literary twist here which complicates things. Before telling Hagar that G”d has heard Ishmael’s cries. the angel’s opening line is “What troubles you, Hagar?”

Is this G”d’s subtle way of saying to Hagar “you gave up too easily, and should not have abandoned the boy” ? Is this G”d telling Hagar, “look, dummy, there’s a well right over there and you were to busy feeling sorry for yourself and your son that you completely missed it” ? (Sort of like that well worn joke where G”d says to the man complaining about his death in a flood while waiting for G”d to rescue him  “But I sent you a boat, a helicopter…”)

Even more intriguing than this is the very fact that G”d seems to have enough interest in Hagar to ask her what troubles her. G”d actually cares that Hagar is troubled? Is this some newly sensitized G”d, having been taken to task by Abraham over G”d’s intent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, trying to give more attention to human concerns? (when pondering this, consider that G”d went ahead and destroyed the two cities. By implication G”d could not find even ten good people within them, but the Torah is certainly not explicit about that point, and I wouldn’t put it past G”d to fudge on the agreement with Abraham. (G”d did it after the flood, first promising to never destroy the earth, and then adding later the caveat “by flood.”)

In the Dune universe, the existence of a desert planet allows for a species of sand-dwelling animal to evolve into a worm species that produces a substance that enables inter-stellar travel. Just as we find in Torah, the Dune universe has its contradictions, and it remains unclear whether the desert created the sandworms (and thus the spice melange required for interstellar travel) or the sandworms (in their earlier forms) created the desert.

Consider, for a moment – G”d floods the earth – an overabundance of water is responsible for the death and destruction of all species (including humans except for Noah’s line.)  Then, in subsequent developments, G”d seeks out the inhabitants of a largely desert and wilderness region with whom to communicate and eventually create a covenantal relationship. Coincidence?

We will, in the course of our year-long journey through the Torah, encounter many other wells, and situations which bespeak of the power of the desert to shape, refine, strengthen and provide insight. We will learn to see water with the same reverence as that of the Fremen of the planet Dune/Arrakis. We will learn that wells and water are not solely the province of men.

The Shabbat bride is almost here. While wine is nice, maybe have a glass of water ready to offer her. As she comes into your life to sweeten your Shabbat, here’s a great conversation starter:


Shabbat Shalom,

©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Vayera 5771 - Density
Vayera 5770 - Not Even Ten?
Vayeira 5769 - He's a Family Guy (?)
Vayera 5767-Revised 5759-Whoops! (or Non-Linear Thinking)
Vayera 5766-The Price of Giving
Vayera 5765-From the Journal of Lot Pt. II
Vayera 5762-Plainly Spoken
Vayera 5760/5761-More From the "Journal of Lot"
Vayera 5759-Whoops! (or "Non-Linear Thinking?")
Vayera 5757-Technical Difficulties

Friday, November 4, 2011

Random Musing Before Shabbat – Lekh Lekha 5772 – Out of Context

I was perusing the haftarah for Lekh Lekha this week while pre-occupied with other thoughts, not giving my reading the attention it deserved. My eyes chanced upon these words:

Each one helps the other, saying to his fellow, “Take courage!”
The woodworker encourages the smith; he who flattens with the hammer [encourages] him who pounds the anvil.
He says of the riveting, “It is good!”
And he fixes it with nails that it may not topple.” (Is 41.6-7, JPS)

Wow, that sounds like a really positive and encouraging bit of text around which I could build a musing. Instantly I began to think about these words as describing an ideal community of people, helping each other, working together, supporting each other, and securing their efforts to protect them. That’s a nice positive thought.

Then, setting other distractions aside, I began to read more fully the text of the entire haftarah, allowing me to place it in context. It was only after a bit that the light dawned and I realized who the “they” were of which these passages speak, and what the work they were engaged in really was. It isn’t entirely obvious  without some thought (although one generally familiar with working with these texts will already be working from a mindset that sees these words in context.)

The first clue is found in the immediately preceding words:

The coastlands look on in fear, the ends of the earth tremble.

Just a passing familiarity with Isaiah is enough to know that these words are not referring to Israel, but rather those who surround and threaten her.

Following verses 6-7, in two, as the scholars call them, oracles, we hear G”d reassuring Israel that they will be supported against their enemies, and they need not fear them.

Having this information, when you go back to look at the text of verses 6-7, you soon realize that they are speaking of Israel’s enemies, and the work of which they are urging each other on is that of creating their idols, and, most telling of all, fixing them in place with nails so they will not fall! A little prophetic humorous barb or jab. The G”d of Israel does not need to be nailed down (and all levels of double, triple, and even more entendre intended.  Isaiah may have more more prescient in saying this than he realized. How even more delightfully ironic then, that so often Christian theologians turn to Isaiah as a source of positive foreshadowing. This one is a real kick in the teeth to them, seen in the right light. Now before you get all worked up,I intend no offense. Recall, dear reader, I studied at Vanderbilt Divinity School, and count many Christian ministers, scholars and theologians as colleagues.)

There’s something very Jewish about this little misinterpretation or misunderstanding that I had, initially,  about verses 6-7. Surely, encouraging and supporting each other, and working together are good traits. Yet in the Torah’s view there always seems to be two sides to every thing. Consider migdal Bavel (tower of Babel.) The Torah (and G”d’s) view of this working together is not that it is an entirely positive thing.  It is, in fact, so dangerous and threatening to whatever it is that G”d is trying to create that G”d directly interferes to eliminate the danger.

Context matters. On an entirely unrelated note to the parasha, but definitely connected to context, is a blog post I read last week from a rabbi once again railing against Halloween and simply dismissing it as not Jewish because the Torah forbids witchcraft and such things.

Need this rabbi be reminded of the many, many examples of magic, sympathetic magic, and other supposedly forbidden things one finds in Torah and Tanakh, and indeed in Jewish culture to this day (hamsas, pictures of “the Rebbe,” spitting and avoiding the ayin hara, attributing misfortune to scribal errors in mezuzot, etc.) Now, I will not quibble that there is some very direct language in the Torah against witches, witchcraft, sorcery, divination, etc. Yet these terms are not clearly defined, and we have oddities like the serpent on Moshe’s staff, the curative solution of the ashes of the red heifer, and the urim and thummim (if not oracles, what are they?) So like everything else in Judaism, the Torah is a bit conflicted when it comes to magic.

The well-worn “do not allow a witch to live” (Ex. 22:17) is, when examined in context, likely related to the Torah’s misogynistic bent and later layers of attempts to ascribe all the blame to women for men’s sexual weakness. It comes, after all, in the midst of text about deflowered virgins and  bestiality!

Traditional Judaism gets away with distancing itself from magic, witchcraft, divination, etc. with a simple explanation. If it is in the Torah (see the examples above) then it’s not magic. Magic is what the goyim do. The azazel goat, the waters of lustration, the urim and thummim, kapparot, tashlich – these are what Jews do. It’s a pretty thin veneer covering very deep inconsistencies and contradictions.

Look, there are plenty of reasons to dislike Halloween, and discourage your family from engaging in its rituals. It has become both a celebration of the macabre and selfishness/greed. Greed of children for candy, greed of companies for money. Yet it also has aspects of neighborliness, community-building, fun, and even, to some extent, providing a cathartic way for some people to confront their inner demons through the release provided by donning costumes, living out their fantasies, and partying. (It’s slippery slope, I know, sort of like the argument that violent video games provide an outlet for children and teens to release their aggression ) That’s Halloween in its contemporary American context. Yet neither Judaism nor Christianity has a leg to stand on when it comes to critiques against participation in Halloween festivities based on its supposed roots and connections to witchcraft, sorcery, etc.

Clearly two disparate trains of thought in this musing, but nonetheless there exists a tenuous connection on the basis of context. I’ll hope you’ll place this musing in its own context before you attempt to understand it. Good luck with that. Oops, can we say good luck? Is that Jewish? We do say mazal tov all the time, don’t we. Hmm, what is mazal? Look it up, it has astrological origins!!

Shabbat Shalom,

©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Lekh Lekha 5771 (5765, 5760) Things Are Seldom What They Seem An Excerpt from the "Journal of Lot"
Lekh Lkha 5770 - Revisiting the Ten Percent Solution
Lekh L'kha 5769 - Of Nodding Heads, Whistling Airs, and Snickersnees
Lekh Lekha 5768 - The Covenant That (Almost) Wasn't - Excerpts from the Diary of Terakh
Lekh Lekha 5767-Penile Pilpul
Lekh Lekha 5766-The Other Siders
Lekh Lekha 5765 - Redux 5760
Lekh Lekha 5764-Ma'aseir Mikol-The Ten Percent Solution
Lekh Lekha 5763-No Explanations
Lekh Lekha 5761-The Intellectual Echad
Lekh L'kha 5758-Little White Lies

Friday, October 28, 2011

Random Musing Before Shabbat – Noakh 5772 – The Long Haul

Maybe it’s a result of our affectation for pediatric Judaism (though we find it in the Xtian world as well) or perhaps its’ just our tendency to simplify. What people always seem to remember about the Noakh story are the 40 days and 40 nights of rain.

Ask someone how long the Flood was, or how long Noakh, his wife, his three sons and their wives, plus all those animals were afloat in the ark, and more often than not, people will answer, as it if were obvious, why, 40 days and nights of course.

Wrong. Now, as is sometimes typical of Torah it is not clearly or directly stated, briefly, in one place just how long the ark was afloat. (we find similar problems with the year counts of genealogies, censuses, and more.) If we read the text closely, we can put together two pieces, one from Genesis 7:11  that

11:  In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventh day of the month, on that day

All the fountains of the great deep burst apart and the floodgates of the sky broke open.

and one from Genesis 8:13-15 that

13: In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the waters began to dry from the earth… 14: And in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. 15: G”d spoke to Noah, saying, “Come out if the ark…”

So it would appear that the ark was afloat for one year (lunar? solar? do we know?) and 10 days. Yet we can’t be entirely sure, because we have other parallel chronologies in the text, plus other chronologies to add.

If we read a bit before 7:11, from 7:6-8, and 10 we read

6:6 Noah was six hundred years old when the Flood came, waters upon the earth. 7: Noah, with his sons, his wife…went into the ark because of the waters of the Flood…10 And on the seventh day the waters of the Flood came upon the earth.

Seventh day of what? Seventh day after everyone went into the ark? The seventh day of the week (i.e. Shabbat?) Surely not the seventh day of the month, since the very next verse tells us it was the seventeenth. If we work the chronology backwards, and assume it means seven days after they went into the ark, this tells us that Noah et al entered the ark on the tenth day of the second month, and seven days later the flood started. So this would seem to indicate that Noah and company were on the ark for one year and 17 days.

More chronology:

7:17 The Flood continued forty days on the earth…

7:24 And when the waters of the Flood had swelled on the earth one hundred and fifty days 8:1 G”d remembered Noah and all the beasts…and G”d caused a wind to blow…and the waters subsided.

8:3 the waters then receded steadily from the earth; At the end of 150 days that waters diminished, 4: so that in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5: The waters went on diminishing until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first of the month, the tops of the mountains became visible.

While it seems there might be two periods of 150 days, that doesn’t add up. One period of 150 days, added to everything else, seems to add up. Sort of. Then it gets even more confusing:

8:6 At the end of forty days, Noah opened the window of the ark and sent out the raven…

Forty days after what? After the 150 days, or the two sets of 150 days, or forty days after the 1st day of the 10th month when the mountaintops became visible? Not really clear.It doesn’t say how long he waited, but after a while when the raven didn’t return, Noah sent out the dove. It doesn’t say how long the dove was gone before it returned (ah, you forgot that part didn’t you-Noah sent the dove forth twice. We tend to combine the lost raven and the first dove in our minds, but the first dove returned when it couldn’t find a place to land. The raven simply never returned.) The text does say that Noah waited another seven days after the dove had returned presumably, to send it out again-it returned the evening of that same day with that olive leaf. (One again, I so often hear people mistakenly refer to an olive branch, but the text is clear that is was a alei-zayit, olive leaf.)

The general scholarly consensus is one year (however long that was) and seventeen days. In any case, all of this is fluff, and not even what prompted me to write this musing. I just can’t resist playing these number games.

My point here is two-fold. First is our tendency to conflate, simplify, and generally accept the pediatric explanations we were given (as children or as adults.) Even though we may read and hear the text read year after year, what sticks in our minds in the 30 days and nights.

The second point is how our tendency to conflate, simplify, etc. contributes to our growing sense of seeking quick results, instant gratification, etc.  Things take time. Good things and bad things both. The Japanese tsunami is out of the headlines, yet the region is still struggling. The same could actually be said of the gulf coast and Katrina. Heck, look how quickly we’ve forgotten the recent effects of Irene on the east coast – yet communities will be struggling with the after-effects for years. The forest and the wolves are reclaiming the lands around Chernobyl, but humans can still only venture into the exclusion zone for limited periods of time.

There is so much we can learn. We must be in things for the long haul. It takes far longer than we often assume to recover from a  disaster. Even our efforts to clean up the mess we’ve made of our planet’s environment will take time. The same is true for the US (and the world) economy. All these messes we’ve made and need to clean up. G”d may have had the power to wipe out life on earth instantly, and/or to simply dry up the earth after the flood in the blink of an eye (though for those who ascribe to the limited, or self-limited understanding of G”d, perhaps G”d couldn’t rush things either, and had to allow the Flood to dry up naturally.) It’s far too easy to get in a hurry, get frustrated when things don’t change or get fixed as quickly as we like, and simply go back to our old ways. So the next time you are tempted to view things from that modern (and even ancient) short attention/interest span, short-term view, consider how you might have felt spending a year and 17 days in the ark waiting to come out. May G”d grant us all the patience that Noah, his wives, sons, daughters-in-law, and all those animals must have had to endure a year and 17 days in the ark, and the perseverance to keep up our efforts, and remember to plant trees not so much for ourselves as for those who will come after us.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Noakh 5771 - Redux 5765 - A P'shat in the Dark
Noakh 5770 - Don't Ham It Up
Noah 5768 - Redux 5761 - Getting Noticed
Noakh 5766-What A Nimrod! (Revised)
Noakh 5765-A Pshat In The Dark
Noach 5764-Finding My Rainbow
Noach 5763-Striving to be Human
Noach 5762-To Make a Name for Ourselves
Noach 5761-Getting Noticed
Noach 5760-What a Nimrod!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Random Musing Before Shabbat – B’reisheet 5772 – The Unified Field Theorem of The Twelve Steps

Science has no place explaining religion. Religion has no place explaining science. As someone with a foot in both of these camps, I’m going to completely ignore this conventional wisdom.

Tohu vavohu. Whatever it means in Hebrew (and of this we can never be certain) it is an attempt to describe the universe prior to G”d’s act of creating the universe as we know it. If we want to play with analogies from physics, we can think of it as the state of the universe in those first few microseconds when the physical forces and laws as they now exists were not yet in force (that is, if we accept the big-bang theory of the origin of the universe.) It’s a very simplistic explanation, but certain current models of the formation of the universe extrapolate that it took some time (albeit measured in very minute quantity) for the various forces, strong and weak, that operate in our universe, to come into play. It is not at all clear, at least as far as my limited understanding of the physics goes, that the universe would resolve itself in the particular way it has, and that subtle occurrences during those first few microseconds might not have yielded a universe with entirely different forces and physical laws. (In fact, I understand that there is speculation that indeed different variations did occur resulting in multiple universes with differing physical properties.)

G’d is, perhaps, one way to attempt to explain why the physics of our universe are just what they are. G”d is, and may I be forgiven for this liberty by both my friends scientific and religious, a sort of unified field theorem-or in more recent scientific approaches, a “theory of everything” - an attempt to explain why things are the way they are.

One of the reasons I’m not a scientist is that I have sought  (and continue to seek) unscientific answers to the things that baffled me. Science as we know it is full of all sorts of interacting forces, particles, waves, constants. etc. It’s the constants, in particular, that trouble me, because it’s always appeared to me that there’s no clear relationship between some of the constants. This is a gross oversimplification, as many of the constants are related. Planck’s constant (the ratio of a photon’s energy to its wavelength) can be used to derive other functions like the Avogadro constant (the ratio of the number of particles of a substance within a given amount of that substance.) I particularly chose these examples because both these constants can be used to help understand and derive other physical constants. The Avogadro constant, in particular, helps scientists when it comes to matters of scaling – from the macroscopic to the microscopic and v.v.

Einstein remained frustrated until the end for his failure to create a unified theory that connected general relativity with electromagnetism. Scientists keep trying.

String theory, M-theory (those “branes” you often read about,) and quantum geometry (aka Loop gravity) are among the recent theories advanced as best candidates for a “theory of everything” that tie all known aspects of universal physics – reconciling relativity, quantum mechanics, et al.

Religion and Science have this in common – origins in the human desire to understand the universe in which humankind exists. Having dabbled in both disciplines for many years, I am slowly coming to the conclusion that both efforts may be futile when it comes to seeking a complete understanding of everything.

The Wikipedia article on “Unified Field Theory” contains this lovely quote:

“There may be no a priori reason why the correct description of nature has to be a unified field theory. However, this goal has led to a great deal of progress in modern theoretical physics and continues to motivate research.” (Unified field theory. (2011, October 18). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19:06, October 21, 2011, from

To put it in biblical terms, we have a little Job and a little Qohelet (Ecclesiastes.) Why do we persist in seeking something which need not exist? Might not the universe be little more than organized chaos?

One the one hand, we expect that G”d might want a well-ordered and structured universe. On the other hand, we have a Torah which relates our relationship to a G”d that can be whimsical, random, even unfair. Might not the universe of G”d’s creation be similarly inconsistent? Must it all tie together somehow?

So here’s the thing about tohu vavohu. In terms of a physical understanding of the universe, tohu vavohu describes a time when the rules of our universe were not yet set . How then can we, limited and restricted by the very constants that define our universe, even attempt to understand anything that existed before our universe, outside it? That lovely rationale of the Torah beginning with a “bet” whose shape intrinsic tells us that we can’t go back any further than this, that the answer to the question of what came before this is “don’t go there” or “even if you went there you couldn’t understand it” – there may be something to this. (What I like about this explanation combined with my theory about tohu vavohu is that is precludes any necessity of of asking “what came before the big bang?” because if we can’t even understand our own universe in the microseconds after the big bang before its physics became fixed, how can we possibly hope to go back before the big bang itself?

While religion and theology, even Judaism, came into being as part of humankind’s attempt to understand the universe, Judaism has, I believe, evolved past this.  Whereas some religions, and even science, remained largely focused on understanding why our universe is the way it is, Judaism recognized that our efforts may be better spent learning how to live in the universe as it is. It recognizes than human beings have some ability to change and shape that universe, but only up to a point – beyond which they are powerless.

Rashi spoke about tohu vavohu as an “astonishment at the nothingness” It is a nothingness, an emptiness upon which one can only look in awe. “G”d created a universe out of that?” The other day I heard a rabbi refer to tohu vavohu as “play-doh” as though it were simply formless matter waiting to be shaped by G”d. I’ve similarly heard tohu vavohu described as “crazy all mixed up mish-mosh” and all sorts of other metaphors.

Here’s the thing for me. As fascinated and driven as I am to understand tohu vavohu, to discover that there really is a theory of everything, these are mere distractions from the real tasks before me. (Now I am NOT suggesting that science stop seeking answers, or that religion stop as well. There may very well turn out to be a theory of everything. G”d may or may not be a part of that ultimate theory, though we could get into a real semantic loop here.) So I intend to go about my life trying to change the things in the universe that I can change, not trying to change the things in the universe that I cannot change, and seeking from Judaism and science the wisdom to know the difference. (How’s that for the ultimate conglomeration of science, theology-Jewish, Christian and otherwise, and the 12-steps?)

Shabbat Shalom,

©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

B'reishit 5772 - The Unified Field Theorem of the Twelve Steps
B'reishit 5770 - One G"d, But Two Trees?
B'reishit 5769 - Do Fences Really Make Good Neighbors
B'reishit 5767-Many Beginnings
Bereshit 5766-Kol D'mei Akhikha
Bereshit 5765 (5760)-Failing to Understand-A Learning Experience
Bereshit 5764-Gd's Regrets
Bereshit 5762--The Essential Ingredient
Bereshit 5763--Striving to be Human
Bereshit 5761--Chava's Faith
Bereshit 5760-Failing to Understand

Friday, October 14, 2011

Random Musing Before Shabbat – Sukkot III 5772 - Fragility

Sukkot is a time when we remind ourselves of the fragility of our own existence by dwelling in the sukkah. At first I was thinking that, giving all the instability in our world at the moment, few of us need an additional reminder of the fragility of life. Tsunamis. Hurricanes. Tornados. (Almost ) nuclear meltdowns. Financial meltdowns.  Continuing wars. Poverty. Disease. Pollution. Global warming. Things couldn’t be much more fragile than they are. Do we really need to dwell in a sukkah for a few days to remind us of our fragility. Do we need the anamnesis of reliving as our ancestors lived?

Yet history continues to remind us what we too easily forget when we fail to remind ourselves, periodically, of the fragility of existence. We become complacent, comfortable, even over-confident.

When we dwell in the sukkah, we are more likely to understand and have compassion for those whose lives truly are that fragile on a daily basis.  As big a mess as our economy is in, many of us live lives of relative comfort and ease in comparison to many in this world.

When we dwell in the sukkah, we are more likely to be attuned to the fragility in our own lives brought about by a combination of institutional greed and crass consumerism. We’ll be reminded that we are (at least most of us) part of the 99% and we need to stand up for economic fairness and justice in our world.

In many places tonight it’s raining. How many people will retreat from dining in their sukkah because of the rain? What might we learn and how might we be better persons if we ignored the rain and ate and even slept in our sukkot (always bearing in mind that human life is precious and we must do nothing to cause harm to ourselves.)

After Sukkot we can all return to our people caves with out 56” flat screens, iPads, heating and air conditioning, solid roofs, etc. We’ll lose sight of that fragility. We will be the worse for that.

To paraphrase that obnoxious beer commercial:

Stay fragile, my friends.

Shabbat Shalom, Moadim L’Simkha,

©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings for Sukkot:

Sukkot I 5770 - Fire and Rain
Sukkot 5767-Precious Congealed Light - Or Y'kator V'kipa'on
Sukkot 5764--Bayom Hazeh
Sukkot 5763--Sukkot Time Travel

Friday, October 7, 2011

Random Musing Before Yom Kippur 5772 – Al Chet Shekhetanu

This is truly a collection of random thoughts inspired by my ruminations this week on Yom Kippur and what’s going on in the world and in my life.

A tweet pointed me to a great blog post on “Occupying Kol Nidre” by writer Ester Bloom. Her comments, especially about the communal nature of our sinning and repentance interested me – more on that later. So I surfed on over to the Facebook page established for the Yom Kippur service at Occupy Wall Street. As I scrolled through the comments I noticed one person asking if a cellist was needed to play the Kol Nidre. The response by one of the organizers (a name well known in the blogosphere) was a simple

“no instruments please, but thank you for your kind offer”

The original poster responded:

“How would folks feel about having a cello before 7pm in an unofficial way? I'd really miss not getting to hear the max bruch piece as it really defines the holiday for me.”

Something about that exchange got my dander up and I wrote:

“ why must we continue to shape pluralistic Jewish gatherings in terms of traditional practice as the lowest common denominator? this seems somewhat inconsistent with the whole occupy wall street climate which seeks to rise above politics etc. and strives to be open to all. I believe a progressive Jew can be as offended by the absence of musical instruments in worship as much as a traditionally observant Jew can be by their presence. Surely some form of compromise in is order. I somehow believe our great sages would have found a way...”

I added as an afterthought:

“...and for 33 years, the CAJE conference always found a way as well...”

Now, if you read the full description of the service on the event page, it does state that the service is egalitarian. So we have at least one nod to modernity. So it’s not entirely using traditional practice as the lowest common denominator. Yet it is only going so far.

I’m not sure what got my dander up. Those of you who know me know that I am pretty much post (or trans-) denominational. I’ve taught and worked in Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Chabad, Traditional and other settings. I would not deliberately or purposefully shove my liberal attitudes in the face of a more traditional gathering, and would observe the minhag hamakom. Though, as someone for whom music and using a musical instrument is an essential part of my religious expression, I do have a preference for services that are musical and do use instruments, this has never stopped me from participating in , davening at, even leading services and programs where instruments were not used or permitted. Working across the movements as I do, I’ve had plenty of experiences where I’ve had to lead a group in prayer without my keyboard nearby.

However, the whole Occupy Wall Street movement has stirred within me social and political passions akin to those of my high school years in the late sixties and early seventies. Yes, there is a provocative element among the protestors which has led to confrontations with the police. Frankly, I’m skeptical about the NYPD’s claims to have been exercising great restraint. I do not for one second believe that all the protestors arrested, or hit with batons, or shoved, or otherwise treated roughly were among the provocateurs. The scandal-ridden NYPD has once again shown its true colors. It has also shown the typical law-enforcement misunderstanding of passion. Passion and provocation are not the same thing. People feeling passionate about something can be quite wrought up – but this does not automatically make them a threat.  Law enforcement needs a better was to distinguish real from perceived threats especially in these sorts of situations.

I digress. I am concerned that in a movement as broad as Occupy Wall Street the organizers of a Kol Nidre service are showing complete disinterest in accommodating the broadest possible array of practice and praxis. There should be some way to accommodate those for whom the use of music and musical instruments is crucial to their perceived spiritual value of prayer. The organizers are wrong to simply reject it out of hand, and decide, by fiat, “this far and no farther.”

Then there are Ester Bloom’s comments about the communal nature of Yom Kippur. I think this is a time when we might all do well to consider the communal nature of our sins. To be fair, I think we need to include our current economic situation. I don’t think Occupy Wall Street has gone far enough in identifying the problem.

For example, do we need an “Occupy Organized Professional Sports” and “Occupy Hollywood” movement?  I posted this on my Facebook profile the other day:

I am in total support and sympathy with Occupy Wall St I hope to join those marching in support this afternoon at 4:30pm. However, in comments accompanying an article critical of the apparent lack of diversity among the protestors (an article that actually seems a bit misleading and one-sided against the protest) one poster did raise a valid point: what about the ridiculously wealthy and overpaid folks of the entertainment and sports industries? If we are demanding that CEO salaries be kept in reasonable line with those paid to the lowest paid employees of a company, ought we not ask the same of entertainers and athletes? (It is important to bear in mind that, as with Wall St., it's probably only 1% of Hollywood stars who are super wealthy, and this is likely true of pro sports as well. Not including the wealthy 1% of entertainment and sports as part of what we are protesting against simply gives ammunition to the critics of this movement. I'd love to hear what Susan Sarandon or Alec Baldwin have to say in response to this. Would they be willing to have their fees limited to some reasonable multiplier of what the lowest paid actor on the shoot gets? (Also, FWIW, the high cost of seeing a Bway show is not really related to what the artists get paid, though even here there are exceptions that ought to be examined.) I agree that, unlike Wall St., the entertainment and sports industry haven't caused the same kind of economic problems that Wall St's greed has, but greed is greed, and if we're going to be fair about things, we should consider this.

The wealthy 1% in the this country, and large Wall St. firms have undoubtedly (with some notable exceptions) unfairly and unreasonably profited from their greed. Yet we must accept the fact that we, the other 99%, are not entirely blameless in all that has transpired. Some of us were seduced, some of us were tricked, some of us willingly went along, some of us were sheep. We wanted to take advantage of the economic good times, so we overspent, over-extended ourselves, took out loans that maybe shouldn’t have taken. None of that excuses or mitigates the guilt of the banks, lenders, etc. who, often through misleading and deceptive practices, preyed on those least able to protect themselves.

And through it all, we keep routing for our sports teams, building new stadiums, pay outrageous prices to see movies and shows, and allow sports figures and movie stars to receive ludicrous amounts of compensation for work that is, although admittedly sometimes hard, and very specialized, based on what the public is willing to pay for something rather than what the work is actually worth when compared to other work. (I think of the current TV commercial for a credit card that shows a bit actor on location at a shoot away from home that is running longer than expected. The bit actor uses her credit card to pick up some necessities locally. Something tells me this extra cost is more significant to her than it is to any high-paid stars also working the same shoot.) I’ve made a living in the arts and entertainment industries, and I know that 99% barely manage to eke out a living. Why have we in the arts community never really spoken out about the huge sums paid to top actors, or the millions spent by producers to create spectacle rather than art that drive ticket prices into the stratosphere. (I think the ticket prices for Book of Mormon may be the ultimate irony considering the somewhat anti-establishment origins of its creators. Their very success is ironic and oxymoronic, because their scathing social commentary lines their pockets quite well, I am sure.)

Which leads me to yet another thought thread- the value of genius. Matt and Trey are, in their own way, geniuses. I am not opposed to rewarding genius and creativity financially.  It is a question of scale.

Why do some people become enormously successful and wealthy and become the targets of scorn and derision, while others become paragons? Witness the outpouring of sentiment upon the death of Steve Jobs.  No doubt he was a genius. Some of that genius was devoted to creativity, but we’d be naive to believe that none of that genius was devoted to financial success for him and his company.

Consider that Apple’s products have always been proprietary and lacked (for the most part) any form of shared open architecture. Apple charged more for their products than other companies, and got away with it. Despite all this, Jobs managed to generally capture the public’s good will.

Let’s consider for a minute. A select group of people each year get MacArthur Genius Grants, That’s $500,000 spread out over 4 years. That’s recognizing and rewarding genius. However, that’s way less than some sports figures receive in salary, and way less than the compensation of may CEOs and top actors. What makes sports players, actors, and CEOs worth more than geniuses? Can we complain about Wall Street and CEO salaries without also drawing attention to the excesses elsewhere?

John D. MacArthur is an exemplar of the American success story. He was raised in poverty and became one of the world’s richest men. The foundation that was created to distribute some of the wealth of he and his wife is a fine example of the wealthy giving back to the community  Still, might he not also be an exemplar of all that’s wrong with the system? Did he really need to accumulate all that wealth? Is all that wealth ill-gotten, or did we, the 99%, perhaps help contribute to it?

What about state lotteries? Why do we continue to allow them to be all about huge “mega-prizes?” Might it not be better to see hundreds of $10,000 winner as opposed to a few winners of prizes in the millions? Yet would people buy lottery tickets if the top prizes were capped? My suspicion is they would not. This is a flaw in ourselves that we need to address. We also need to stop using the “American dream” as a means of sucking away dollars from those who can least afford it on a chance at getting rich quick. It’s wrong and we know it.  Part of me is glad that some native American tribes have been able to address the injustices done to them through financial revenge using casinos and gambling. It’s wrong, and we all know it. Private home poker games are illegal but casinos can rake in millions? It’s wrong and we know it.

Some fight to keep Wal-Mart out of our their community (that’s certainly a hot topic here in NYC these days, where others argue that Wal-Mart brings needed jobs. ) Yet Wal-Mart rakes it in – because most of us shop there instead of the small Mom and Pop stores they put out of business because it is cheaper.

Some of us, knowing that the music industry and the movie industry have made billions off of us, decide that intellectual property need not be respected and that artists are not entitled to any compensation for their work, and download and watch millions of illegal videos and music files. It’s wrong, and we know it.

How then can we only make Wall Street our “azazel goat” and place all the sins of our economic problems on them? As Walt Kelly said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” (or, if you read, Gus.)

Just as a I do with my Judaism, I’m not going to claim any consistency when it comes to the secular philosophies. I can rant here about the excesses of the wealthy, but I just made the conscious choice to open a bank account at Chase because of the convenience of their many NYC locations, multi-check-deposit ATMs, etc.  I took advantage of the economic good times and managed to accumulate plenty of debt I shouldn’t have. I am not without sin. I would like to work with the community to create in world in which we can be less tempted to sin in these ways. Anarchy is not the answer. Libertarianism is not the answer. Socialism and Communism are not the answer. And yes, capitalism, at least in the form we know it today, is not the answer. (I’m a little disappointed that the official Occupy Wall Street site talks about the “stealing of the American dream” because I’m not entirely sure the “American dream” was really a good idea all along. Parts of it yes. The parts about equality and equal opportunity. Not so much the parts about wealth being a goal of life. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness yes. Working hard and insuring I make more money than someone else so that I can live in more relative comfort than they can, not so much. My hope is that the growing Occupy Wall Street movement is about more than seeking redress for all of us injured by the excesses of the past few decades, and will seek to find a new and reasonable path in which justice and economic security co-exist as equals. A world in which economic sin and injustice is usually averted and quickly dealt with. My hope is that it is about restoring the “American dream” to its social, rather than economic roots.

And that is the point of Yom Kippur. None of us is without sin. At Yom Kippur, we repent for the communal sins. Occupy Wall Street is about seeking justice in our world. What has occurred in this country economically is unjust, and Occupy Wall Street is right to seek a way to bring those responsible for the economic meltdown to justice, and to seek fairer economic parity in our society.  We must not fall prey to any attempt to make only Wall Street and the 1% our azazel goat, as deserving as they may be of this questionable distinction. However, there can be no justice until we all admit our collective sins, and work together to fix this broken world.

Barukh Atah ’’, Eloheinu Melekh Ha-olam, she-natan lanu hizdamnut l’takein et Ha-olam.

Blessed are You, Ad”nai, our G”d and CEO of all existence, for giving us the opportunity to fix the world.

Gmar chatimah tovah,

©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Yom Kippur 5765 - Blanket apologies

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Book Review: Chanukah Lights by Michael J. Rosen and Robert Sabuda

Chanukah Lights Book CoverWhat do you get when you combine the talents of two award-winning people like Michael J. Rosen (author of National Jewish Book Award winning Elijah's Angel: A Story for Chanukah and Christmas) and Robert Sabuda? Only the most incredible book you’ll ever want for yourself, your family, and for a gift to give to others. I’m talking about “Chanukah Lights” by Michael J. Rosen and Robert Sabuda, and published by Candlewick Press. Given that it's a collaboration with Mr. Sabuda, who has created some of the best-selling and ingenious pop-up books, what else could it be but a pop-up book? And what an eye-pleasing pop-up book it is, full of cleverly designed and constructed pops ups, one for each of the eight nights of Chanukah (I might as well adopt this book’s transliteration, even though it’s not my favorite.) I will add the disclaimer that your humble reviewer is a lover of the pop-up book genre.

The authors were clearly troubled by many of the aspects of how Chanukah is observed and the story is told, especially the military aspects. Thus they chose, as did the rabbis of long ago, to focus the centerpiece of the story on light. Unlike the rabbis, who chose to mask their fear of openly celebrating a military victory  of a small minority of Jews over the mighty Syrian Greeks and antagonizing the Romans (and later oppressors) by introducing the story of the miracle of the oil (you mean you didn’t know the rabbis made that up?) Mssrs. Rosen and Sabuda use the concept of the “light” of Chanukah to help illustrate and illuminate eight different times and places in Jewish history and existence where Jewish people have been able to celebrate Chanukah and the story of the single lamp that burned for eight days. I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you which places are represented by the beautiful pop-ups. You’ll have to discover that for yourself. I’ll include this quote from the publisher:

“…this stunning collaboration showcases the spirit and resilience of a people in search of a home.”

The pop-ups are stunning, and their pure white color stands out against the subdued colors of the book’s pages. The very last pop-up is a surprise in how it departs from the all-white color scheme, and makes me wish that this technique had been used on at least some of the other pages – although I recognize that it was both nice to save it for a special surprise at the end, and also how difficult and expensive the process of colorizing the pop-up components can be.

If you’re looking for a book that tells the story of Chanukah, whether it’s the concocted rabbinic version, a more historical take, or even the “delayed Sukkot celebration” theory then this is not the book for you. If I have any quibble with the book, it’s pedagogic, in its subtle adherence to perpetuating the story (or should we say myth) of the “miracle of the oil” without any hint or suggestion that this so-called miracle may not have been part of the historical origins of Chanukah – though I can’t blame the authors for side-stepping that potential pitfall.

If, however, you are looking a for a delightful way to celebrate Chanukah, or share the celebration with others, then “Chanukah Lights” may very well be the best solution for Chanukah 5772.

Chanukah Lights by Michael J. Rosen and Robert Sabuda
ISBN 978-0-7636-5533-4
Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA

More about Michael J. Rosen at
More about Robert Sabuda at

Friday, September 23, 2011

Random Musing Before Shabbat – Nitzavimm/Vayelekh 5771 – Reader’s Choice

Call it writers block, or call it laziness. Whatever it is, it compels me to simply offer you this week a list of previous musings for Nitzavim/Vayelekh. I think they’re all worth reading. They represent a cross-section of my evolving and changing views over the years (as well as evidencing some constancies) and provide a nice window into how I deal with the tensions at the heart of Judaism.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2011, linked material ©1997,1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

Friday, September 16, 2011

Random Musing Before Shabbat-Ki Tavo 5771 – Curse This Parasha!

G”d could take a lesson from the Rambam (Maimonides.) The Rambam extrapolates, from the Torah verse “you shall not curse the deaf” (Lev. 13:14) that Torah was teaching us that the one who curses is a much a concern as the one who is cursed. For some, the Rambam explains, the mere act of verbal cursing will provide the necessary catharsis to prevent the one cursing from taking any physical act of revenge, however, cursing is just as likely to incite the curser further to commit to pursuing a course of physical vengeance or retribution against another party, only after which the curser feels ready to move on.

Given this, we have to ask ourselves why our parasha, Ki Tavo, is chock full of curses, including a series of ritualistic curses to be pronounced by the Levites when the people enter the promised land. If we follow the Rambam’s logic, then those pronouncing the curses might be tempted to be overly zealous in their pursuit of identifying and dealing with those who transgress and invoke the curse.

This of course brings up the very important conditional nature of the curses that appear in this parasha. These are not curses in the form of imprecations simply uttered by one wishing G”d to inflict punishment on another. The curses are warnings of what will befall those who do not follow G”d’s instructions and keep G”d’s ways.

There’s no clear direction from G”d to Moses and the elders to give this list of blessings and curses to the people. D’varim is, after all, one long discourse by Moses. So it would be unfair to indict G”d for threatening curses upon the people (thus, by the Rambam’s logic, making G”d more prone to continue to seek vengeance on the people.) Yet we can take Moses to task for his usage of curses as threats or warnings. While Moses has certainly seen the wrathful side of G”d, Moses has also seen the ever-loving side of G”d. The fact that Moses instructs the people with a list of blessings and curses makes that clear. Do right by G”d and be blessed, do wrong by G”d and be cursed.

While the blessings here are promises, the curses here are warnings. It’s Moses’ way of saying “choose wisely.”

Nevertheless it still troubles me that the threat of curses is used as an instrument to keep the people in line. One has to wonder if the Jewish people might have been less recalcitrant in their transgressions of G”d’s instructions if only a positive message had been used. (Human nature being what it is, there’s little evidence that a positive message would have been more successful than negative reinforcement, but there’s no clear evidence it would have been any worse. The threats of curses didn’t seem to have the desired effect. Or did they? It can easily be argued that the Jewish people might have been even worse in their transgressions without the threat of the curses looming over their heads. We’ll never know.)

The correctness of the Rambam’s view is clear in our own time. Surely I need not enumerate the countless situations in which mere verbal cursing led to much more drastic physical results. If it’s catharsis we seek, perhaps we can get it with verbal expressions that aren’t curses. I know many who try and avoid saying things like “G”d damn it” or “G”d damn you” and seek benign-er substitutes. In fact, one might make the case that allowing us to utter normally inappropriate language, like those seven words you used to not be able to say on television, in the place of curses (which, by definition, seek some sort of supernatural bad consequence befall someone or something else) may provide better catharsis, and be less likely to tempt us to take actual physical vengeance.

Here’s the thing about curses. Often the utterance of a curse turns out worse for the person who utters it. They can wind up consumed by guilt, even if nothing bad ever befalls the person they cursed. We do feel bad when we curse others, as we should. (Which would lead me to ask if Moses and the Levites should feel bad for uttering curses if it were not for the fact that these being conditional and only potential curses mitigates the situation. Or does it? History is replete with conditional curses. Does making a curse conditional make it alright to curse? Is it ever moral to wish for the Deity to cause harm to befall another? In fact, is a prayer for victory over another, even in a sports event, almost the moral equivalent of asking for a curse upon the other party?

Moses and the Levites are enumerating some pretty bad outcomes in their conditional curses. Some of them are disturbingly graphic in nature. It’s no wonder it was decided to soften the blow by providing such a positive haftarah reading from Isaiah.

Yes, there are times when we need to be made to feel low, in order that we might appreciate the normals and the highs. The combination of Torah reading and haftarah reading for Ki Tavo does strike a nice balance. However, I still wish we weren’t subjected to hearing these curses annually – even if it has become traditional to rush through them quickly and quietly.

The very concept of curses is one that could easily be utilized by the Hitchins’ and Gladwells of the world as yet another argument against religion and belief in G”d. If there’s no Deity to call upon to ask for evil to befall another, there might be no cursing, right?  I wonder. Even if every human being were a rationalist, realistic, and fully scientifically knowledgeable about the nature of the universe, we might still call upon the universe’s randomness to result in harm to another.

There is yet another side to curses we haven’t explored. The efficacy of curses is dependent on the willingness of both the utterer and object to believe in their efficacy. (Yes, that’s a circular argument, but it works.) Moses surely believed that curses were efficacious and thus posed a viable and credible deterrent when used as a threat to the people against transgression of the G”ds laws. Curses used by the builders of Egyptian tombs were dependent on the willingness of potential grave robbers to fear them. It seems they have only proven truly efficacious in the movies (though again it is hard to know how many potential tomb robbers never went through with a robbery as a result of learning about a curse.)

The Rambam argues that cursing was an especially important prohibition and the Torah is strongly concerned about  it because the Torah takes into account the beliefs and superstitions of the people (even when they might be erroneous) in determining how to instruct the people in the law. Again, following the logic here, we can perhaps justify the Torah’s inclusion of all the curses in the parasha, not because the Torah (or G”d) actually believe (or will cause) such things to pass, but rather because they believe the people believe it just might, and that ought to be enough to make them take the warnings seriously. Talk about preying on people’s superstitions.

The end result of my own wrestling with this is to make me even more upset and angry at the inclusion of these curses. Yes, you can argue that G”d was treating the Jews as the relative children they were at the time, and speaking in a language and with metaphors they could understand. Yet, if that is the case, since so much of the Torah was written with that in mind, does that not give credence to the view that the Torah is not intended to be eternal and unchanging, at least in matters of interpretation as opposed to actual text? Rabbinic tradition has already altered the Jewish view of these blessings and curses from what was probably their raw original understanding. The rabbis cloak their revised interpretations in the mantle of oral Torah and rabbinic authority (as in the story of the oven of Akhnai.) I’ve no need to cloak mine.

These curses are here because at the time the text was written (however that happened) the text’s creator(s) believed that curses as threat would be effective. I do not believe they are effective any longer, and I am not even certain what we can learn from them. My covenant with G”d as a Jew is no longer dependent on what this parasha teaches. I will not be compelled to follow the mitzvot under threat or duress.If there were parts of the Torah that I were comfortable with expurgating completely, this parasha would be one of them. (I could do without large portions of D’varim entirely…)

Yet this is not like me. I like the challenge that Torah presents – I sometimes revel in that challenge. So why do I shrink from this one? That is the question that I shall be asking myself this Shabbat. What will be your question?

Shabbat Shalom,

©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha

Ki Tavo 5769 - If It Walks and Talks Like a Creed...
Ki Tavo 5767 - Uncut Stones
Ki Tavo 5764-Al Kol Eileh (in memory of Naomi Shemer, z"l)
Ki Tavo 5763--Still Getting Away With It?
Ki Tavo 5760--Catalog of Calamities
Ki Tavo 5761--Rise & Shine
Ki Tavo 5762--Al Kol Eileh