Friday, March 28, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Tazria/HaChodesh 5774–Fifty Fifty

Parashat Tazria is always a challenge. Not that I shy away from challenges – I’ve certainly tackled Tazria a few times over the years. I could retreat into the (relative) safety of the Haftarah, this being Shabbat HaChodesh, but I’ve milked that a few times already.

So, when I encounter parashiyot like Tazria, sometimes my eye wanders. I look in places I might not ordinarily look. I peruse text and commentary that I might not usually consider as a particularly useful source (though I hesitate to say this because every source and every commentary is potentially useful. I do have to admit that I do find some sources more useful than others, however, I have trained myself over the years to look at less favored sources to help keep a handle on my own biases.

One place I rarely go is the “masorah.” The word itself is generally translated to mean “tradition” though it actually traces its origins to a word that originally seems to mean “fetter.”)  It is generally referring to the translating and reading of the biblical text. However, it it also used to refer to a particular set of notes to the Masoretic text of the Tanakh. These notes were compiled and added to an edition of the Mikra’ot Gedolot in the 1520s by the Spanish Jew Jacob ben Hayyim ibn Adoniyahu (who, it should be noted, after completion of this monumental task, converted to Christianity!) When forced to feel Spain, Ibn Adoniyahu went first to Tunisia and eventually wound up in Venice.

Believing the Tanakh to be G”d’s literal instructions and words to the people,  rabbis, scholars and other interested parties labored assiduously over the centuries trying to insure accurate transmission of the text – every letter, every word, every jot and tittle. Between the 5th and 10th centuries CE groups of scribes and scholars, located primarily in Tiberius, Jerusalem, and Iraq developed the system of diacritical vowel and grammatical markings  that enabled a previously oral tradition to be preserved. In addition to the formal markings, these scribes and scholars preserved annotations in the form of notes written both before the text, after the text, and in the margins surrounding the text. (Sometimes even within the text itself.) These critical apparatuses are collectively referred to as the “masorah.” They provide a wealth of information that enables scholars and scribes to be as faithful as possible to (what the Masoretic clans believe were) the original text.  They provide information in several categories: numerical, exegetical, grammatical, and text-critical. They note things like words with defective spellings, unusual forms, even “incorrect” words (the qetiv and kore, or situations where the written word is clearly defective and it is read differently than written.) There are lots of letter and words counts as well. These are largely related to the needs of the scribes to estimate how many pieces of parchment might be needed, or alternatively, how much to charge for their work. (Copyists were generally paid by the line. Since so much of the biblical text is simply continuous, they needed a way to determine how many lines to charge for.) Some of the numerical masorah function like a concordance, counting the number of appearances of words.

It’s not my purpose to provide you with an exhaustive account of the masorah of the biblical text. If you find the topic at all intriguing, by all means, go and learn more about it. Let’s press on.

So while perusing the text of parashat Tazria, I noted a little piece of masorah stating that a particular verse (Lev. 13:9) was one of only 11 in the entire Torah that begins and ends with the letter “nun.” My first thought, as it often is when I see notes of this type,  was “boy some folks just had too much time on their hands. I realize how unfair that thought is. It’s easy for us to ridicule the seemingly arcane, picayune and esoteric interests of others. Let’s face it – we probably all have some interest or obsession that some other person would consider silly or pointless. How much more so this becomes due to the passage of time – in the case of the masorah, centuries, perhaps millennia. (It’s generally speculated that the work that eventually resulted in a fixed biblical text actually began around the time of the Maccabees, and wasn’t completed until the 1500s when Ibn Adoniyahu created his compendium of Masoretic notes.)

As I’m fond of reminding the students I teach and tutor, the vowelized and cantillated text of the Torah we consider authoritative may have been created and assembled by the Masoretes in the 5-10th centuries, but the oldest extant complete version of it that we have (The Leningrad Codex)only dates back to the 11th century – so how can we be sure that what we have received is the same text? Another codex, from Aleppo, is a few decades older and actually considered a superior version, but parts of it (about half) were destroyed during the 1947 anti-Jewish riots in Aleppo. (It should be noted that scholars dispute the truth that all the missing pages were burned, and, indeed, additional missing leaves have surfaced, and some speculate that the missing pages were simply removed, distributed, and hidden.  The Aleppo codex is considered superior as it is attributed as being the work of the last and greatest of the ben Asher clan of Masoretes.)

It is believed that many of the Masoretic clans that worked on the text were Karaites, which one might suspect would influence their work. Karaites rejected the rabbinic Judaism embodied in the Talmud, and practiced a Judaism based solely on what could be plainly found in the Torah text. This would seem to make them better candidates for having insured that the ancient texts were accurate transmitted. Oddly enough, the clan of ben Asher, largely responsible for the “preferred” version of the Masoretic text were probably not Karaites.

Enough of a history lesson for now. There is much more to the story and I encourage you to do some further reading and research.

Why, in this modern era when topical relevancy, and “reader-response” are among the favored forms of biblical criticism and reception, would we care about the masorah, about the accuracy of the transmission of the biblical text? If the text is the work of human beings, and not G”d, does such accurate preservation of the text matter?  These kinds of attitudes lead to flippant thoughts like my own about people with too much time on their hands. Who am I to judge them? Is all the effort at preservation irrelevant?

No, I want to understand the preservers. Why did it matter to the scribes and scholars that only 11 verses in the Torah begin and end with the letter “nun?” Or, at an even more basic level, why do only 11 verses in the Torah begin and end with the letter “nun?” Is it merely an artifact, a coincidence, and insignificant fact? Yes, I am one that generally rejects most attempts to imbue the text with mystical meaning based on gematria, yet I also admit to a fascination with so many of the gematriacal “coincidences” in the biblical text. Of human or Divine origin, it is not entirely beyond belief that the creators of the biblical text did consider and employ deliberate gematriacal devices. Maybe the Beatles really did put backwards messages into their songs. (Of those two, I consider the former far more likely.)

I’m going to have to do some digging into arcane and esoteric sources if I am to have any hope of understanding why this numerical Masoretic note mattered. I’m not sure I’ll be able to find an answer. I’m also not sure that it matters if I do. If nothing else, some ancient Masoretic scribe was successful in getting me to explore this arcane note! Maybe that note is there for just such a purpose. Just as I have speculated that many of the so-called discrepancies in Torah exist precisely to perplex us and to cause us to investigate further, perhaps the same is true here. If this little piece of masorah got me to spend a little more time in the study of Torah, surely it has succeeded!

So I’ll end with this little gematriacal pun: I think it’s a 50-50 chance that there is a significance to the fact that 11 verses of the Torah start and end with a “nun.” (Clue: what’s the gematria for the letter nun? Duh.)

Shabbat Shalom,

©2014 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Tazria-M'tzora 5773-Even Lepers Bring Good News-Redux, Revised, & Expanded
Tazria-Metzora 5772 - We Are the Lepers
Tazria-Metzora 5770 - Excessive Prevention
Tazria-M'tzora 5767-Once Impure, Not Always Impure
Tazria-Metzora 5766 - Comfort in Jerusalem
Tazria-Metzora 5758/5764-Getting Through the Messy Stuff
Tazria-Metzora 5761-Lessons For Our Stuents
Tazria-Metzora 5762-Sing a Song of Leprosy

Tazria/Shabbat HaHodesh 5771 - It's Good To Be the King
Tazria 5768 - Just Not Good Enough is Just Not Good Enough
Tazria 5765-If Naaman Can Be Forgiven...
Tazria 5760-Preventing Spiritual Rot

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Random Musings Before Shabbat–Sh’mini/Shabbat Parah 5774-Indubitably Delicious

It occurs to me that as often as I refer to Nadav and Avihu as those two “crispy critters” that there may be large portions of my readership that no longer get the reference. In the 1960s, Post cereals introduced a new sugar-coated cereal in the shape of animals called “Crispy Critters.”


It has a checkered history, and was never very successful. Introduced in 1963, the cereal featured the character Linus the Lionhearted, a cartoon lion who was featured in one of the first cartoon shows that was intended as primarily a half-hour long commercial for the cereal.(Sheldon Leonard voiced Linus.)  Post kept trying different ways to enhance the cereal – they added several different kinds of “colored marshmallow” animals (think “Lucky Charms.”) They tried all kinds of tie-ins. In 1967, they added pink “pushmi-pullyus” to tie in with the Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse musical film starring Rex Harrison.


That made it one of my favorite childhood cereals because I absolutely adored that movie. Eventually, Post gave up and discontinued the cereal. They tried to revive it again in 1987 with a new mascot, a puppet named Crispy, a bizarre creature with fuzzy pom-pom topped horns (or antennae?) and tail, who sounded a bit like Jimmy Durante.


The cereal failed again the second time and has not been seen since. As Wikipedia notes: The phrase "crispy critter" entered American military, police and fire fighter slang as a name for a burnt corpse. Thus my reference to Nadav and Avihu as “crispy critters.

All of this is, of course, irrelevant, except as introduction to the following presentation of two of my prrevious musings based on the Nadav and Avihu/Crispy Critters theme.” First, the original, though in it’s 10th anniversary edition:

Random Musings Before Shabbat-Shemini 5762/5758


Crispy Critters

How many times over the years have I made reference to my two favorite crispy critters, Nadav and Avihu? I've grown so found of them that I try to sneak them into musings year round. So this time of year has become sort of special for me, a time when I can really talk about them in context.

Boundaries matter, no matter how artificial they may seem to us. Crossing them has consequences.

"But I didn't ask you to do that."

How many times have we heard that? In our lives, we have usually received a simple verbal admonition. But think of poor Nadav and Avihu - turned into crispy critters just for doing something they hadn't been told or asked to do. Pretty harsh punishment.

While I may think the punishment harsh, the lesson remains important. I think many of us have an innate desire to do things to please others. Sometimes, we overdo it, and begin to place more emphasis on doing things to please others rather than doing things to please ourselves.

Let's put aside the argument that it may have been in drunken enthusiasm that Nadav and Avihu crossed a boundary, and did more than they had been told to do. Let's assume that they might have been just as enthusiastic and eager even with that little extra Egyptian beer.

This episode in our holy Torah once again proves that behaviors like people-pleasing and co-dependency that are now in the province of pop psychologists were already recognized in ancient times. We don't need to read the latest best-seller on Co-dependency or Toxic Parents. The lessons we need to learn are right here in our own legacy of teachings.

We've all done it - stepped over the bounds of someone else's territory in an effort to please - to do as Nadav and Avihu had done. Our intentions were good, but our efforts were usurping the responsibility of another. Fortunately, we usually aren't consumed in fire as a result, but sometimes a metaphorical sort of flaming swoosh from G”d or the offended party can result! If we had remembered that we each have our assigned tasks and responsibilities, and must assume responsibility for them ourselves, we could have spared myself learning the lesson yet again. Too bad we don't remember the simple lesson of Nadav and Avihu first.

It's all about balance. It's good to be helpful, It's what we are taught to do, and what G”d wants us to do. But everything has limits, even helpfulness.

An argument one hears all the time is "if someone asks me to help them, they have no right to tell me how to help." But stop and think for a minute-if the help you are offering doesn't coordinate with the work that is being done, is what you are doing really helping the other person?

We have to learn, and it is a hard thing to do, to shed our skins, to step outside our paradigms, to eliminate or suppress our egos that we always know the best way to do something, when we offer help to someone. We need to find the humility to do it someone else's way, to play by their rules. They may not have the power to zotz us with a flash of lightning and burn us to a crisp, but they can certainly metaphorically do the same.

And when it comes to what we offer before G”d, let us be sure that what we offer is what G”d has asked us for (if we can indeed know for certain what that is.)

This Shabbat, remember to do what is required of you. And know what that is. It's sweet to want to do for others-but be sure they want it done for them before you do it. Be careful before you offer your alien fire before Gd. You might not end up a crispy critter, but then again. . .

This Shabbat, stay toasty and warm, but don't get burnt!

© 2002 by Adrian A. Durlester

Next, the follow-up:

Random Musings Before Shabbat
Sh'mini 5769

srettirC ypsirC

Last year, on the tenth anniversary of its writing, I re-shared my "Crispy Critters" musing. It is as true now as it is then what I wrote:

How many times over the years have I made reference to my two favorite crispy critters, Nadav and Avihu? I've grown so found of them that I try to sneak them into musings year round. So this time of year has become sort of special for me, a time when I can really talk about them in context.

Yet, in once again re-reading my words from 5758, I am struck by how little I have learned from my own admonitions:
We have to learn, and it is a hard thing to do, to shed our skins, to step outside our paradigms, to eliminate or suppress our egos that we always know the best way to do something, when we offer help to someone. We need to find the humility to do it someone else's way, to play by their rules.

I am as people-pleasing and as co-dependent as I ever have been. Why is this tendency so hard to shake? In our relationships with others, and in our relationship with the G"d of our understandings, why do we continue to so fruitlessly struggle to try and discern, to know what it is the other person (or G"d) wants from us?
Maybe the lesson from what happened to Nadav and Avihu is less about trying to do more when it is not asked for, than about a willingness to take a risk and give someone something of your choosing, whether you are certain they will approve or not?
One wonders, did Nadav and Avihu sit around and have a conversation of this sort:

N: Hey, what's wrong with sacrificing to G"d a little bit extra?
A: Shouldn't we give G"d exactly what G"d wants?
N: And how do you know what that is? Do you have a direct channel to G"d?
A: No, but Uncle Moshe does.
N: Maybe. But are you absolutely certain that everything Uncle Moshe says is exactly what G"d said, and no more or no less?
A: Well, that''s the generally held belief.
N: Then it's a naive belief at best.
A: You have a point. I mean, I like Uncle Moshe, but after all that rigmarole during our ordination...
N: You think he made some of that up, don't you? C'mon, admit it?
A: Well, yes-some of it was definitely over the top-a show for the people, and probably a practical joke against Dad.
N: And Uncle Moshe got away with it.
A: True.
N: So whaddaya say, shall we go offer an extra sacrifice?
A: I'm in. Let's go.

Now, this is all conjecture, however, just as Nadav and Avihu might have been unwilling to completely accept that even Moshe knew exactly what G"d wanted, I am similarly skeptical and suspicious of a whole lot of people: those who first put the Torah in written form, those who redacted it, those who translated it, the rabbis who created the oral Torah from whole cloth (I'm unequivocal on that one-Torah mi Sinai I'm still open to. Mishna from Sinai, not really), the Geonim, the Masoretes, Rabbi Caro, and so on and so forth. Also, I have my own suspicions about what Moshe transmitted to us as coming from G"d. The Prophets, too, had an agenda. All social conscience and no ritual is as extreme as ritual with no social conscience.

So here we are, 11 years out from the original "Crispy Critters" musing, and I'm having a totally different understanding of what happened Nadav and Avihu.

N: You know, Avihu, there's some risk in what we're doing?
A: Yes. But you've convinced me that the risk is worth taking.
N: Are you really sure about that?
A: What's with you? Are you now trying to talk me out of it? Getting scared yourself?
N: Well, maybe a little.
A; Courage, my brother. G"d will surely reward us for thinking of him and offering a little something extra, n'est ce pas?
N: Yes, you;re right, my brother. Courage.
A: Tell ya what? Let's have a drink first.
N: Sounds good to me.

There are some scholars who have speculated that Nadav's and Avihu's fates really were a reward-that their being zotzed simply allowed them to go the heaven and be closer to G"d. (Oh, wait, that wasn't really party of the theology back then, was it?)

All I know is, is that I spend too much of my time trying to figure out what others (G"d included) want me to say or do before I actually do or say something. What kind of life is that? Yes, there is great risk in just doing what I want to do or saying what I want to say, without regard to what I think another might want to hear me say or have me do. Yes, I might wind up a crispy critter, just like Nadav and Avihu. Yet life is full of risks, and, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

If I can't be sure that the words of any siddur are what G"d would want to hear me say, even though I may credit the creators of that siddur with great wisdom, I should not fear using my own words. How many of us simply iterate the words of the siddur simply because we figure that is what G"d wants to hear? (I hear the cries of "but we're still here-G"d hasn't wiped us out---yet-so these prayers must have some efficacy" in the background. Sorry, Don't buy it anymore.)

Judaism is not about playing it safe, about being codependent, about trying to say what you think others want you to say, or doing what you think others want you to do. Judaism is about coming to your own understandings of what to say and do. Reasonable people can disagree on those understandings, as may happen.
Instead of viewing what happened to Nadav and Avihu as a warning about what not to do, why not try viewing as a lesson on exactly what we should do. No pain, no gain.

Shabbat Shalom,


©2009 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Sh'mini 5772 - Collect Call
Sh'mini/Shabbat Parah 5771-So Say We All
Sh'mini 5770 - Don't Eat That, It's Not Kosher
Sh'mini 5767-Don't Be a Stork
Sh'mini 5766-Palmwalkers
Shemini 5765-It All Matters
Shemini 5764-Playing Before Gd
Shemini 5763 - Belly of the Beast
Shemini 5761-Lessons From Our Students
Shemini 5760-Calm in a Crisis
Shemini 5759-Porking Out

Friday, March 14, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Tzav/Shabbat Zachor 5774–Does G”d Need a Shrink?

I have often mused about the inconsistencies found in the biblical texts. At times, like others have done, I have attempted to explain them away as not being inconsistent. At other times, I have reveled in the inconsistencies, sometimes going so far as to suggest that they were either placed there (or left there intentionally) by the /Author/author/authors (a lot depends upon if you understand Author with a capital A) of the biblical texts, or subsequent editors, redactors, et al. The purpose of allowing these (apparent) inconsistencies to remain could be simply to tease or goad us into further intellectual inquiry, to challenge us, to demonstrate that tings are not always as they seem, etc. You could come up with dozens of explanations or rationales, perhaps more.

We have, in this week’s special haftarah for Shabbat Zachor, a genuine whopper of an inconsistency. Oddly enough, I didn’t notice it, at first. I was planning to muse simply about one statement in the text, and my focus upon it was so laser-sharp, so tunnel-vision-like, I seemed to have overlooked some clearly contradicting statements – one that occurs earlier in the haftarah and one that occurs only a few verses later than the verse upoin which I was focused. Ah, but wait, in the case of the second, perhaps more blatant contradiction, I am not to blame. The second verse with the contradicting statement is not part of the haftarah. It is the verse that comes immediately following the end of the haftarah. Clever, those rabbis. Let’s hide the obvious inconsistency from the people. Curiouser and curiouser.

I caught the fact that the haftarah only utilized 34 of the 35 verses in chapter 15 of 1 Samuel almost by accident. If I had only looked at my various collections and commentaries on haftarot, I would never have noticed. It was only because I turned to my Tanakh, and to various other printed and digital biblical study tools that I noticed verse 35. (Interestingly, traditions differ on the starting verse of the haftarah. The traditional ashkenazic haftarah--also used by the Reform movement, as chosen by Rabbi Gunter Plaut is--I Samuel 15:2-34, while Sephardim and others start with verse 1.

The verse that first caught my eye, when I didn’t realize that verse 35 had been (purposefully?) not included in the haftarah was verse 29:

     וְגַם֙ נֵ֣צַח יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל לֹ֥א יְשַׁקֵּ֖ר וְלֹ֣א יִנָּחֵ֑ם כִּ֣י לֹ֥א אָדָ֛ם ה֖וּא לְהִנָּחֵֽם׃

Chaim Stern’s translation of this verse in the Plaut Haftarah Commentary reads:

What is more, Israel’s glory does not lie or have a change of mind; G”d is not [like] human beings who change their minds.

The New JPS translation renders it:

Moreover, the Glory of Israel does not deceive or change His mind, for He is not human that He should change His mind.

with a little “-b” note to indicate that the Hebrew meaning of the word translated as “Glory” is uncertain.

The 1917 JPS translation reads:

And also the Glory of Israel will not lie nor repent; for He is not a man, that He should repent.'

In the Artscroll Kestenbaum Tikkun we find:

Moreover the Eternal One of Israel does not lie and does not relent, for He is not a human that He should relent.

Just for fun, the NRSV says:

Moreover the Glory of Israel will not recant or change his mind; for he is not a mortal, that he should change his mind

The King James Version reads:

And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.

For those that care, the Septuagint reads:

καὶ διαιρεθήσεται Ισραηλ εἰς δύο, καὶ οὐκ ἀποστρέψει οὐδὲ µετανοήσει,
ὅτι οὐχ ὡς ἄνθρωπός ἐστιν τοῦ µετανοῆσαι αὐτός.

It should be noted that this verse, 29, is a continuation of words spoken to Samuel to Saul in verse 28, and many editions end verse 29 with closing quotation marks (with the opening quotation marks appearing in the early part of verse 28.”

The story of the haftarah is, in brief:  An instruction from G”d to Saul through Samuel to attack Amalek and spare no living thing, human or beast. Saul complies but spares the life of the Agag, the Amalekite king, as well as the best of the animals which are taken as spoils. The word of G”d comes to Samuel saying that G”d regrets making Saul King. Samuel confronts Saul for disobeying G”d’s order to proscribe all the Amalekite people and their animals. Saul, (perhaps dissembling a bit?) says he intended to have these animals sacrificed to G”d. Samuel delivers an oft-quoted rebuke that G”d delights more in obedience to G”d’s commands than in animal sacrifices. A (chastised? defiant? Pissed pants?) Saul offers up another excuse – that he feared his own troops and yielded to their desires. Saul begs forgiveness and asks Samuel to accompany him and he will “bow low’ to G”d. Samuel says he will not go, for just as Saul has rejected G”d, so has G”d rejected Saul, and has removed his kingship. A desperate Saul clings to Samuel’s robe as he turns to go, tearing it. Samuel says to Saul that just as he has torn this robe, so has G”d torn away the kingship from him. (That’s verse 28. He continues with verse 29 as noted above in various translations.) Saul pleads once more with Samuel, who then agrees to accompany Saul back home, whereupon Samuel promptly lops of the head of King Agag, and then heads off to his own home.There the haftarah ends. The chapter, however, has one more verse,

OK, let’s look at the first contradiction. In verses 10 and 11 we read:

The word of the Lord then came to Samuel:  "I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned away from Me and has not carried out My commands."

How do we square this with Samuel’s pronouncement in verse 29 that G”d does not regret because G”d is not like a human who regrets?

Now, one might be forgiven for overlooking this discrepancy. However, how can one do so after encountering verse 35, the one excluded from the haftarah, and which reads:

Samuel never saw Saul again to the day of his death. But Samuel grieved over Saul, because the L”rd regretted that He had made Saul King over Israel.

Huh? This seems to confirm verse 11, that G”d does indeed regret things, and, in particular, making Saul King of Israel.

See what happens when you try and describe/create a G”d that is perfect, unerring, never regretting? What a mess you’ve made. What got into Samuel? Our Torah, in fact all our biblical texts are replete with stories of G”d changing G”d’s mind, of G”d regretting or reconsidering an action or a decision or a choice. How many times do biblical figures attempt to argue with G”d in order to change G”d’s mind? Plenty. More often than not, they convince G”d to do so!

There’s no textual out here. The same verb root,


is used in all three places here-verses 11, 289, and 35 to mean regret and, as freely translated by same, meaning to change one’s mind..

Now, we can argue about the various translations of the verb, and, indeed, this was my original intention when I started planning this musing. I was troubled by the liberty of even well-respected biblical scholars using the English phrase “change His mind” as a reasonable translation of the Hebrew. “Regret” is at least somewhat closer to the Hebrew, but we have a verb root here that has a truly broad range of meaning and usage. In its various forms it can mean “to regret,” “to be consoled” or “to find consolation,”  “to comfort” (the well-known “nachamu, nachamu ami”- “comfort, comfort my people” is from this root), “to be grieved by,” “to change one’s mind” and even “to find revenge.”  (That’s the joy of having seven different “binyamim” – structures of Hebrew conjugation.

I personally find it a big stretch to translate this verb as “change one’s mind” and particularly so because the one binyan in which this meaning is sometimes found is not the binyan used where this verb is being translated as “change one’s mind.” Regretting a choice is not the same thing as changing one’s mind, and I think it’s difficult, at best, to translate this verb as meaning “change one’s mind.” Yes, here I go again, arguing with the esteemed scholars of the JPS translation committee. I’ve nowhere near their level of knowledge or expertise, but I’m perfectly comfortable in questioning their choice here.

As an aside, you gotta love the fact that the same verb root can mean regret and console! Oh what lessons we could draw from that.

Maybe using “change one’s mind” in verse 29 is a way of dealing with the apparent inconsistency between verses 11 and 35 with verse 29. After all, I am arguing that regretting and changing one’s mind are different. However, on a more global level, the basic concepts are clear. Either G”d is a deity that can and does regret things, or have a change of mind, or G”d is not so. On that level, verses 11 and 35 (and many other places in the Tanakh) are inconsistent with Samuel’s words in verse 29, irrespective of the minutiae of translation. Elsewhere in Tanakh, we find Genesis 6:6

And the L”rd regretted that He had made man…

or Jonah 3:10

G”d saw what they did, and how they were turning back from their evil ways. And G”d renounced the punishment He had planned to bring upon them, and did not carry it out.

On the other hand, we have text that agrees with Samuel’s statement in verse 29.

Numbers 23:19 (spoken by Bilaam to Balak)

G”d is not man to be capricious, or mortal to change His mind.

Free will is the thing that causes all these problems with the idea of a G”d that does not regret, that does not have a change of mind. G”d wants us to be obedient, to follow G”d’s commandments. At the same time G”d gives us free will, gives us yetzer tov and yetzer ra (good and evil inclinations.)

Here’s the kicker. Based on the fact that the same verb root can mean both regret and console or comfort, one could infer that any description of a G”d that does not regret or have a change of mind is also a G”d that is not consoling and comforting. Think about it:

Moreover, the Glory of Israel does not deceive or console (or comfort,) for He is not human that He should console (or comfort.)

Now there’s a G”d I’m not so anxious to know or embrace. Maybe G”d needs an analyst. Maybe G”d see’s G”d’s self as someone who does not regret and does not have a change of mind (and this is why G”d puts those words in Bilamm’s mouth, as well as Samuel’s mouth,) yet G”d’s own behavior demonstrates that this is not so. G”d has perhaps convinced G”d’s self that G”d is someone G”d is not. Perhaps G”d needs to work with a therapist to recognize G”d’s own imperfections, and become comfortable with them.

Me? I’m totally fine with an imperfect G”d, with a G”d that regrets, that comforts. In fact, I want a G”d that is so. I know that’s not true for everyone. There are many who need, want, or prefer a G”d that is perfect, that does not make mistakes, does not have regrets. However, we could have not possibly been made in the image of that G”d.We’d be very different if that were the case. No, as I;ve said before, if we are b’tzelem El”ohim (in the image of G”d) then G”d is b’tzelem anashim  (in the image of all of humankind.) Samuel’s got it wrong, at least in verse 29.

Love those inconsistencies. They give me so much to think (and write about.)

Shabbat Shalom,

©2014 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Tzav (Purim) 5771 - A Purim Ditty
Tzav 5769 - Payback: An Excerpt From the Diary of Moses
Tzav 5768 - Jeremiah's solution (Updated from 5761)
Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5767-Redux 5762-Irrelevant Relavancies
Tzav 5765 (updated 5760)-Of IHOPs, Ordination and Shabbat
Tzav 5763 - Zot Torahteinu?
Tzav 5761/5759-Jeremiah's Solution

Note: Parashat Tzav often coincides with Shabbat HaGadol. I have not included musings for parashat Tzav that were focused on any of the textual readings for Shabbat HaGadol.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat - Vayikra 5774 - Ahhhhh

Dear friends, it has not been a good day. My computer decided to stop working yesterday. Amidst the scrambling to deal with that issue, I haven't taken the time to write a new musing. So forgive me if I simply offer this link to a list of previous musings to you.

I will offer one comment. Normally, I might be really stressed, upset, angry, and barking a continuous stream of profanity under these circumstances. Instead, I find myself calmly serene, not rushing about in a frenzy, not in a panic. I feel a bit like that little alef at the end of the opening word of Vayikra as it appears in the scroll. In a good way. Like a nice, relaxing ahhhhhh. I know not the source of this calm with any certainty, but I am truly thankful and grateful nonetheless.

Shabbat Shalom,