Friday, July 27, 2012

Random Musings Before Shabbat- D'varim 5772 Redux 5762 L'chu v'niva'ch'chah and the Twelve Steps


On it’s tenth anniversary, it’s time to share this musing with all of you again.  Enjoy

This week, I focus on the Haftarah this Shabbat Chazor, from Isaiah Chapter 1.

We think it means "let us reason" or "reach an understanding." But we don't really know. As much as we like to be absolutely sure that the text as handed down to us is pure and unblemished, we've got an undecipherable word here.

Whatever its true and accurate meaning, the most amazing part is who is saying it. The rest of the phrase is "yomar Ad”nai." "Says Ad”nai."

This is quite fascinating. G"d is inviting us, through the prophet Isaiah, to reason with G"d, or come to an understanding. It's a negotiation. Hmmmm.

The Master of the Universe can't seem to make this recalcitrant people, the stiff-necked Israelites bow to G"d's will, can't get them to behave. It is as if G"d had tried everything else and was now ready to try reasoning with an infant. Just as parents sometimes do with the infant children-trying to reason with them or have them understand abstract concepts of negotiation or give-and-take that are somewhat beyond their developmental level.

The question must be asked, however--were, by the time of Isaiah, the Israelites still like infant children? Had they not the item to mature and grow? After all, they had become a nation, with Kings and cities and armies and farming --no longer the nomads wandering in the desert.

Clearly, G"d felt we could be reasoned with, or G"d would not have suggested it. Perhaps the problem was that the Israelites did not see themselves as a mature people? That seems most unlikely considering their present circumstances.

We all know people who, though mature in age, are not quite so mature in other areas of their personalities. I daresay that I can be like that, and I am sure many of you feel the same, at least at times.

We sometimes rail at ourselves for our inability to control those less immature impulses we sometimes have. However, let someone else dare to suggest we might be behaving in a less than mature manner, those defensive screens go right up. Is that how the Israelites reacted to the prophets? "Who, us? Dissing G"d ? No, it's not us. Things are just fine between us and G"d."

Yet G"d doesn't think so. Time and again, G"d pleads with the people, G"d punishes, cajoles, entices. And nothing changes. This time, G"d is so fed up that G"d says that all the people's sacrifices to G"d are empty, meaningless, even annoying. Yet G"d is going to try, one more time. L'chu-na, v'nivach'chah. Come, let us reason. Come, let us reach and understanding. I'm gonna lay it out for you one more time. No matter how grave your sins, they can be forgiven and you can learn to walk the righteous path. But..if you blow it, I'm gonna create more havoc.

Is G"d co-dependent? Is that why G"d keeps observing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Is that perhaps why, in apparent desperation, G"d offers to reason with us? Is the outcome of this negotiation really in doubt? Hardly. Israel, like the addicted spouse, will continue on its errant ways. And G"d, the raging co-dependent, will continue to forgive and forget, to enable, to be passive-aggressive and never truly detached and espousing "tough love."

Truly, as I have suggested before about that book I'm going to write some day, the idea of b'tzelem Elokim really does seem to mean just as much that G"d is like us as we are like G"d.

Maybe G"d has learned? Maybe G"d read "Codependent No More" and that is why G"d is now really practicing detachment--that perhaps this is why G"d doesn't seem to be so apparently and obviously taking a direct and active role in the world (though I've no doubt a huge unseen role is involved.) G"d is detaching in love from G"d's people Israel, so that perhaps, by "bottoming out" we will discover that there is hope, a way out of this mess. So far, however, we haven't fared very well, sinker deeper into our addictions and bad behaviors. I sure hope we hit bottom soon. And for us, instead of railing against G"d, angry at the apparent abandonment of us, maybe we can adjust our attitudes and learn to accept the G"d's detachment from us is a detachment with love. The ever merciful and compassionate G"d is still there, still with us. G"d is just doing what G"d finally realized needed to be done. To detach, and let us discover for ourselves how much we really need G"d, and thus be motivated to do what we must do (i.e. keep our end of the covenant) in order to have G"d back in our lives, actively and always.

At least every Friday night we get to welcome that loving aspect of G"d known as Shabbat, and get a taste of what life could be like if we would but mend our ways, get sober, work our program, and keep G"d's eternal covenant with us. Ken y'hi ratson. Ken y'hi ratsoneinu. Be this G"d's will. Be this OUR will.

Shabbat Shalom and Tzom Kal,


©  2012, 2002 by Adrian A. Durlester

Friday, July 20, 2012

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Matot-Masei 5772– And the Punting Goes On

Last week I wrote about the story of Zelophehad’s daughters, and how it wasn’t the triumphant endorsement of women’s rights as we like to frame it these days.

As I wrote, I managed to restrain myself from adding in the last bit of supporting evidence, which I knew was coming in this parasha.

It in is parshat Masei that we read of the claim of the Manassite clan, the clan to which the daughters of Zelophehad belonged, that if the daughtgers were to marry outside the clan, then this inheritance would be lost to the clan. The rights would transfer to the clan into which the daughters married. Thus, when it came time to apportion out the pieces of the promised land, the Manassites could lose some of what they believed should be theirs.

It’s clear that the Manassite clan, indeed the whole confederation of Josephite clans understood that the rights were given to Zelophehad’s daughters only as instruments through which to transfer the rights of their father and have it remain in his clan.

In a (perverse? misogynistic?) echo of the words used to convey G”d’s decision to Zelophehad’s daughters, we again read:

“So Moses, at the Lord's bidding, instructed the Israelites, saying ‘The plea of the Josephite tribe is just.’ ” (36:5 – JPS)

It uses the same Hebrew word, “ken” which is translated as “just” (by the JPS.)

It’s interesting to note that in the case of Zelophehad’s daughters, the text clearly states that Moses brought the matter to G”d.  In this case, it merely states that Moses replied at G”d’s bidding. Some rabbis interpreted this to mean that G”d had already anticipated this situation and included that in the instruction originally given to Moses, so Moses already knew that daughters were expected to marry within their own tribe. I find that hardly plausible.

I think this is a fairly typical case of decisions being made (even by G”d) without fully thinking through the consequences. Precision matters. Language matters. The original instructions regarding the claim of Zelophehad’s daughters was inadequate from the get go.

Punting seems to be a popular biblical tactic. I’ve previously written, about this particular parasha as a matter of fact, about Moses’ punting on the matter of the tribes that asked to settle on the east side of the Jordan.

I think these further clarifications of the situation regarding Zelophehad’s daughter are just another punt. A whoops and a quick fix.

I mean, you gotta just love this:

This is what the Lord has commanded concerning the daughters of Zelophehad: They may marry anyone they wish, provided they marry into a clan of their father's tribe. (36:6 – JPS)

But wait – it gets better – whether at the hand of G”d and/or Moses, or by later redactors – the following condition is added:

No inheritance of the Israelites may pass over from one tribe to another, but the Israelites must remain bound each to the ancestral portion of his tribe. 8 Every daughter among the Israelite tribes who inherits a share must marry someone from a clan of her father's tribe, in order that every Israelite may keep his ancestral share. 9 Thus no inheritance shall pass over from one tribe to another, but the Israelite tribes shall remain bound each to its portion. (36: 7-9 – JPS)

Just in case we weren’t clear a while back. This is what we meant to say, and what we said, even if you didn’t hear it that way. You just weren’t following the conversation in our heads. It made perfect sense to us.

Well, if you meant it the first time, why didn’t you just say it? Thank you, G”d and Moses, for yet another imprecise commandment and a quick amplification to help. Just wait until you see what the rabbis do with your words.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2012 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Masei 5771 - Cause and Effect
Matot 5771 - Don't Become Like...Them
Matot-Masei 5770 - Treasure Trove of Trouble
Masei 5768 - Accidents Matter
Matot 5768/5765-Even Moshe Rabbeinu Had to Punt
Matot-Masei 5766 - First Fruit
Matot-Masey 5764-Putting the Kids Before the Kids
Matot--Masey 5763-Over the Top
Matot--Masey 5762--The Rebel's Complaint and Promises, Promises


Friday, July 13, 2012

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Pinkhas 5772–Not Such a Shining Moment

I know Moshe was old, tired, frustrated, perhaps a bit angry. Nevertheless I am left wondering why Moshe found the case of the daughters of Zelophehad so difficult to decide such that he turned to G”d for an answer.

G”d provided that answer, and a rather direct one at that.

The plea of Zelophehad's daughters is just: you should give them a hereditary holding among their father's kinsmen; transfer their father's share to them. Numbers 27:7 JPS

The rabbis spin it, as usual, both ways. One tradition holds that Moshe seeking G”d’s help was meant to inform future generations of leaders that it was an acceptable thing to do, and one should not be ashamed of seeking G”ds help when one cannot seem to come up with an answer, solution, or decision.  Another midrashic tradition views this as a humiliation for Moshe. His inability to come to a decision, or to know what the law should be in this case is punished by G”d through allowing the women to effectively make the decision, and allowing their position to stand. (I think this interpretation is a stretch at best, and so glaringly misogynist as to be embarrassing. I also think it conflicts with the somewhat direct meaning of G”d’s answer.)

We have to put the request of Zelophehad’s daughters into context. It’s not really about any extant real property, it’s a about line of succession, and insuring that their clan will be duly awarded their piece of the promised land when it is apportioned out. The “inheriting” daughter in reality inherits nothing. She is merely a vehicle for the transference of the future inheritance from father to grandson. So, as much as we like to trumpet this story as evidence of early examples in Judaism of  extending equal rights and treatment to women, it is simply not so. (It should also be noted that, while inheritance by a daughter is unusual in Ancient Near East culture, it is not without precedence, and in fact Sumerian law, pre-dating the presumed Biblical period by 1000 years or so also allows for an unmarried daughter to inherit when there are no sons.)

The rules of succession stipulated here really provide only a stopgap measure to insure a clan’s continuity.  It would also appear here that Zelophehad’s wife was no longer among the living, or else a levirate marriage would be in the offing. It can also be assumed that the five daughters were unmarried. Had they been married, their inheritances would have passed on to the clans of their husbands, and Zelophehad’s inheritance would not have remained in his clan (and that, after all, is what his daughter’s were using as the basis for their claim. How selfless. Ahem.)

Five unmarried daughters? And a dead wife, to boot. How likely is that? No wonder Moshe was puzzled. It was truly an unusual circumstance. Yet the solution seems so obvious, so apparent, that I still find myself asking why Moshe felt it necessary to turn to G”d for the answer. (This is all the more the case knowing that there were precedents for daughters inheriting already dating back a millennia.)

So now the question arises-is G”d a misogynist? G”ds mastery of the subtleties of Hebrew is apparent in G”d’s answer. The instruction is to “transfer (ha’avarta, from the root ayin-bet-resh) the inheritance of their father to them.” The rabbis are quick to point out that, in the following verses, and elsewhere in Torah, inheritances are given (un’tatem, from the root n-t-n in these specific verses) to sons and male relatives and only in the case of women is there merely a transfer. The inheritance is passed through the women, not passed on to them. (The root ayin-bet-resh can mean pass over, pass through, pass by, over step. In verse 7, the verb is in a hifil form, meaning to allow to pass over/through/by, allow to be overlooked, and herein translated as transferred.)

So much for that big moment of gender equality in ancient Israelite thought. Now, whether the misogyny is G”d’s or that of the authors/redactors of the Torah is a question I leave to you.

G”d could certainly have said: “Duh! Look, Moshe, this really is a no brainer. Let the daughters inherit.” (Some might argue this is exactly what G”d did say!) Yet G”d (or the redactors) chose to make women merely the agent of transfer. Imagine how different our world might be if G”d had said (or even the redactors had put in G”d’s mouth the words) “No sons, no problem. Women can inherit. In fact, come to think of it, women are to be treated equally to men in all things, save those circumstances when biology intervenes.” Now that would have been a history-changing idea.

Nevertheless, here I am back where I started. Unsure why Moshe deferred on this particular problem and passed the buck to G”d. Why was Moshe so unsure? Or afraid? Or worried? Or concerned? Did he fear offending someone? Was he afraid of making the wrong choice and thus angering G”d?  Could it get any worse for him? Already he wasn’t getting to go into the promised land. Could it simply be that Moshe was simply sick of it all and just said “eff it, let G”d decide?” Was Moshe motivated by fear, boredom, anger, indifference or something else entirely? The text provides no obvious clues. Guess I’ll have to dig a little deeper. Or just let Moshe off the hook. Not sure I’m feeling that generous this week, but who knows.  what about you?

Shabbat Shalom,

©2012 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Pinkhas 5771 - Wake Up and Smell the Coffee
Pinkhas 5770 - Thanking Those Who Didn't Make It
Pinkhas 5769-Why is This Rebuke Different From All Other Rebukes?
Pinkhas 5768 - Still Zealous After all These Years
Pinhas 5766-Let's Give Moshe a Hand
Pinkhas 5765-Kol D'mamah Dakah
Pinchas 5762 -- I Still Get Zealous
Pinchas 5764/5760-It Just Is!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Random Musing Before Shabbat-Balak 5772-Unbelievable

I know plenty of people who read or hear read, or simply know of) the may wondrous miracles that happen in the Torah. While many may be skeptical about the veracity or historicity of these events, they often don’t seem to put out by them or overly troubled by them. Plagues, splitting seas. Manna. Water from a rock. Blooming staffs. Suddenly leprous skin appearing and disappearing. Burning bushes unconsumed. They’re willing to overlook these excesses of narrative, they don’t press their concern.

Yet, all of a sudden, for some strange reason, when it comes to a talking donkey, they are suddenly incredulous. What is it about the talking donkey that people find challenging? These days, lots of things that don’t usually talk can talk. Our cars talk to us. Our phones talk to us. Answering machines talk to us.  Elevators talk to us. ATM machines talk to us. Scientists work with chimpanzees, apes, gorillas, dolphins and many more animals trying to see if they can actually communicate with humans in a fashion. People certainly seem to have no issue with an animated donkey that sounds like Eddie Murphy.

Sometimes I feel as if we need to change the old adage “when pigs fly” to “when donkeys talk” because more people seem to be uncomfortable with the talking donkey here in parashat Balak than with possibly flying pigs.

Does it have something to do with our relationship with animals – both those we use to service us as well as those we have for pets? (Most, though not all people, who utilize animals to serve them also seem to have a personal bond or connection with them that transcends the norms between species. Even Tevye talked with his horse as if it were his best friend.

Maybe it has something to do with being a society that grew up with Mister Ed (or in the case of younger folks, the aforementioned Eddie Murpjy donkey from Shrek.) However, familiarity with these examples of talking animals ought to make us less skeptical of the biblical story, don’t you think?

Apparently not. We struggle. Not, it would seem, with parting seas and burning bushes, but talking donkeys.

Go figure.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2012 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Balak 5771-Imperfect Justice is No Excuse
Balak 5770 - Beating Our Donkeys II (Revised and Updated 5758)
Balak 5764 - Bad Habits
Balak 5758/5761-Beating Our Donkeys