Friday, September 26, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Ha’azinu/Shabbat Shuva 5775-Who’s Got the Last Laugh Now?

Starting the new year off with a truly random musing again. Been a long time since I wrote one this way. We’ll see where it winds up. I suspect it will surprise all of us, even me.

The psalmist told us: “the Guardian of Israel neither slumbers no sleeps.”

Liar! Liar! Pants on fire! Well, alright, I can’t really prove that. It is quite possible that G”d never slumbers of sleeps. G”d, however, can certainly be inattentive. Our sacred texts are replete with examples of G”d having to notice our cries, or roused by the people or their actions into taking action. Given that this is a covenantal relationship. it’s not entirely surprising that perhaps G”d sometimes expects people to make the first move.

We have such an example here, in our haftarah for Shabbat Shuvah. (Note that this part of the haftarah only appears in the Ashkenazi rite.)

וַיְקַנֵא יְהוָה לְאַרְצוֹ וַיַחְמֹל עַל־עַמּֽוֹ

THE Old JPS translation committee tries to soften and smooth things up with their translation

Then the Lord was roused
On behalf of His land
And had compassion
Upon His people.

Other translators use euphemisms like: G”d had zeal for G”d’s land

However, as far as I am concerned, there’s no getting around that the first active verb here is based on the root קנא , to be/make jealous.

Adding in the context of the previous verses, it’s apparently another case of G”d being goaded into action by an appeal to G”d’s vanity.

בֵין הָאוּלָם וְלַמִזְבֵחַ יִבְכּוּ הַכֹהֲנִים מְשָרְתֵי יְהוָה וְֽיֹאמְרוּ חוּסָה יְהוָה עַל־עַמֶךָ וְאַל־תִתֵן נַחֲלָתְךָ לְחֶרְפָה לִמְשָל־בָם גּוֹיִם לָמָה יֹאמְרוּ בָֽעַמִים אַיֵה אֱלֹהֵיהֶֽם

Between the portico and the altar, let the priests, the Lord's ministers, weep and say:
"Oh, spare Your people, Lord!
Let not Your possession become a mockery,
To be taunted by nations!
Let not the peoples say,
'Where is their God?'"

Nothing seems to spur G”d to action more than an appeal to vanity. Hmmm.

However, I’ve decided not to go where this line of inquiry was leading me. I’ve developed an entirely different take on things.

Maybe, just maybe, if G”d isn’t responding to our cries, then things aren’t as bad as they seem? (We’ll set aside for the moment that bad is earlier defined as eating our own babies and similarly awful things.) Am I really thinking such thoughts? Am I ready to let G”d off the hook this easily? This doesn’t sound like me at all. What’s going on?

To speak with some in the Jewish world, the end is nigh. They don’t mean the messianic age, they mean Judaism as we know it. Assimilation. Lack of affiliation. The list goes on an on. Now, there’s no discounting and disregarding the rising tide of anti-Semitism in the world – things are not all peaches and cream. Assimilation is up. Affiliation is down. Be a good time for G”d to intervene, no?

Maybe, after all these millennia, G”d has finally developed some decent parenting skills. Maybe G”d now knows enough to let the child get slightly burnt to learn not to pick up a hot pan. Maybe G”d now knows it’s best not to rescue your child from every situation, lest they never develop independence.

G”d really does look at things with a longer time scale than we do. We might just be existing in a little historical blip. (No, I am NOT calling the Shoah a historical blip, but I will remind us that the essential Shoah question is, as Elie Wiesel suggests, not “where was G”d?” but “where was humankind?”

So yea, despite all the problems in the world, and specifically in the Jewish world, perhaps, overall, they are not as bad as we think they are. They are not (yet) bad enough to provoke G”d into action. Jews, in this and other countries (but not every country) enjoy unprecedented freedoms and rights. Many (but hardly all) Jews enjoy a high standard of living. Many (but not all) are well-educated. We can complain about things like the scheduling of baseball games or school debates that conflict with Jewish holidays, but I can just see G”d rolling G”d’s eyes and thinking “first world problems…”

“Seriously?” I ask myself.Yes. My gadfly nature compels me to insure that every position be brought forth for consideration-perhaps especially those that I haven’t given serious consideration to for a while (or never even seriously considered.) A limited G”d that cannot act, or simply a G”d that is able to but choose to not act – why are these ideas automatically beneath consideration?

Now, there are some places I won’t go, though I bring them to your attention for consideration (even though for me they are beyond the pale.) The ineffable G”d is one of them. If that works for you, more power to you. That’s one I just can’t live with. Here’s my (somewhat silly) argument about this: it’s no different than the question “can G”d create a rock that is too heavy for even G”d to lift?” You might choose to think of it this way – can G”d create an intelligence that can outthink G”d? (Before you answer, go back and read the story of migdal Bavel.) I actually prefer to think of it this way: can G”d create an intelligence with free will that could not eventually develop the capacity to outthink G”d? Yes, we can create machines with limited intelligence. Yes, there are factors than can and do limit human intelligence. Ultimately, however, is not human intelligence unlimited in potential? If so, is there anything above and beyond unlimited? Is there a state beyond infinity? (I don’t mean in the Toy Story universe.) If such a state exists, does only G”d occupy it? Or does G”d have to live in this universe like the rest of us? Changes the equation, doesn’t it?

I think Douglas Adams may have had it right when he suggests in his Hitchhiker's series that earth was created as a device to determine the ultimate question to which the ultimate answer (42) had already been determined by the supercomputer Deep Thought. (Sadly, the earth gets wiped out by the Vogons in order to build a hypersapce bypass, before the earth’s-and thus humanity’s-work is complete. Whoops.)

I complain about the story of the oven at Akhnai all the time because I feel it is the ultimate co-option of Divine power by the rabbis. Methinks they took a little bit too much upon themselves. The Torah says “it is not in heaven” but it also says it is near to us, in our mouths and hearts. Us. Not “just the rabbis” and “sages.”  They wanted to be the ultimate wielders of the power of Torah, so they just took it. I know, I know, G”d could have made G”d’s displeasure about this known – but – stay with me now – maybe G”d is waiting for we Jews to figure out what happened and get our power back by ourselves without Divine intervention. Eyes wide open, folks.

However, there’s that tail end to the story that begins to ring a little truer now for me than it used to ring: “My children have defeated Me.” The Talmud suggests that G”d said this while laughing. Who will have the last laugh?

Shabbat Shalom, Shanah Tovah!

©2014 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Ha'azinu/Shabbat Shuvah 5774 - 5774: A Torah Odyssey
Ha'azinu 5772 - An Insincere Hymn?
Ha'azinu/Shabbat Shuvah 5570-Pur Prayers Aren't Bull
Haazinu 5766-Trifles (Updated from 5762)
Haazinu 5765/5763-How would It Look If...
Haazinu 5764-More Bull From Our Lips
Haazinu 5762--Trifles
Haazinu 5760-Bull from Our Lips

Friday, September 19, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Nitzavim-Vayeilekh 5774—Even Lola Doesn’t Get Everything She Wants

There’s a touching scene in the musical, “Damn Yankees” by Richard Adler & Jerry Ross that I wish to describe.

Baseball fan Joe Boyd, having made a deal with “Mr. Applegate”  (who we all know is the Devil himself) has been given the persona of young Joe Hardy, aka “Shoeless Joe,” and the chance to help the Washington Senators beat the Yankees and win the pennant. Missing the life he has forsaken, Joe becomes a boarder with his own wife, Meg (who does not know Joe really is.) Meg bonds with her new boarder, sharing her pain at the loss of her husband. At one point, Joe tries to assure and calm Meg (and deal with his own inner turmoil) with these words:

He's near to you
Near to you
Though you think he's far away
He's near to you, so near to you
As near as April is to May!

Can't you feel him there is his favorite chair
Staring at the fireplace
Oh so near to you, always near to you
Why you might as well be face to face
For it's just as though he were standing as close as I
I know it's hard to imagine, but try,

If he's really near to you, near to you
You may be far apart and yet
If he's in your heart
Really in your heart
How near to you can he get?

(If you have Spotify you can get to a link to the song at this page: On Youtube you can only find the 1995 version plus a bunch of amateur and semi-professional versions. I’m much more partial to the original Broad way version or even the movie version.)

This song and these words come to me almost every time I think about “lo bashamayim hi. They tell very much the same story. I know for me, and I suspect for many others, there are plenty of times when the Torah is right there with us and we don’t even know it. It seems far too easy for us to feel as if Torah has gone away from us (or us from Torah.) Yet, as the song says, if Torah is really in our hearts, how far away can it really be from us?

We know these words from our parasha all too well.

כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָֽנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם לֹֽא־נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ וְלֹֽא־רְחֹקָה הִֽוא: יב לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם הִוא לֵאמֹר מִי יַֽעֲלֶה־לָּנוּ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ וְנַֽעֲשֶֽׂנָּה: יג וְלֹֽא־מֵעֵבֶר לַיָּם הִוא לֵאמֹר מִי יַֽעֲבָר־לָנוּ אֶל־עֵבֶר הַיָּם וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ וְנַֽעֲשֶֽׂנָּה: יד כִּֽי־קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָֽבְךָ לַֽעֲשׂתֽוֹ

Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach.  It is not in the heavens, that you should say, "Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?" Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?" No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it. (Deut. 30:11-14, NJPS)

We know them yes. Do we understand them? Do we embrace them? Do we accept them? Are they as near and dear to us as Meg is to Joe?

The whole story of “Damn Yankees” has many connections to the story of the people Israel. The Torah isn’t much different from Joe Boyd. He’s far from a perfect husband, and, for at least “six months out of every year” his devotion to baseball and the Washington Senators makes him an absentee one as well. Setting aside the typical sexism of the period of the 50s, it’s clear that Meg loves her Joe despite his faults. It’s no wonder she is heartbroken at his disappearance.

This parasha tells us that the Torah is there to serve as witness against us, yet it also tells us that it is always near to us, in our hearts. It is, perhaps, our goal to continually reunite ourselves with Torah each time we stray.

Joe is so like the Israelites. He is all too easily tempted to forsake his wife to become a baseball hero (though this is not so simple a story – it’s not entirely clear that it is for his own glory that Joe makes his deal with the devil, as it is for his fanatical devotion to the Senators. Sure, he gets the benefit of a young, virile body, but this is part of Applegate’s seduction package. Even that young, virile body and what that could get him isn’t enough to shake Joe’s inner love and devotion to his wife, as we learn with the failure of “Lola,” the devil’s top seductress, to seduce him.

While there may have been some attrition along the way, the people Israel have, despite their many transgressions, at least tried to stay faithful, and have come back to their Torah, to their G”d after making their own misbegotten deals with the devil.

“Damn Yankees” is like Judaism in another way. It’s original 1955 Broadway staging, the 1958 film version, and the 1994 Broadway revival have plots with some differences and changes in them. Similar to how the message, the interpretation, the understanding of Torah has been shaped and reshaped over time by rabbis, poskim, scholars, and commentators to give in meaning in their contexts. (Having recently read Dr. Joel Hoffman’s excellent “The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor: The Holy Scriptures Missing From Your Bible” reminded me how important it is that those of us who know of these non-canonical resources make every effort to acquaint every reader of the bible with them so they can realize just how diverse a range of understandings there has been about matters of faith, religion, praxis, belief and more. Even Judaism, with its penchant, at least in Talmud, for preserving a diversity of opinions, has been a victim of ignorance when it comes to so many texts that wound up on the bible’s cutting room floor as it were. Similarly, if you only know the film version, or one of the two Broadway versions of Damn Yankees, and you have never read Douglass Wallop’s “The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant” you don’t know all the possible variations in the story line. In the novel, Joe’s wife is Bess, not Meg. In the novel, the intrigues needed for Joe to wrangle out of his deal with the devil are involved and sometimes defy logic and stretch credulity--but then again, this is a fable to begin with. The thing about Joe Hardy is that he is always, inside, Joe Boyd, a man with a sense of ethics, of honor. He lived by a code, and always felt bound to it. He is so bound by his code, and, at least in the musical version, by his love for his wife, that even the devil and his best seductress cannot succeed against him in the end. Living by a code. Hmmm. Sound familiar?)

I’ve written before how I wasn’t raised in an observant family, yet I have discovered in my discovery (rediscovery? Am I entitled to call it that?) of my Judaism that the code, the ethics taught to me by my parents and older relatives is totally Jewish at its core. As minimalist as my exposure to Judaism was as a child, when I heard its call as a young adult, it was not foreign to me. That code may be as much a product of nature as it is nurture-though I do not wish to downplay the truly significant role of the nurture in this case or any other. If ethics are bred into us, it is only through biologic and evolutionary advantage and necessity, and not the choice of creatures with free will. It’s all so complicated.

In some ways I am not as good a person as the fictional Joe Boyd. I am not so sure I am as good about following my own inner ethic, my code, as he is. On the other hand, I have not been as tempted by the devil’s offers of fame and fortune, nor as fanatical about something like baseball that, in the scheme of things, doesn’t quite rank up there with Torah and covenant and G”d. I guess we could call that Joe’s idolatry – holding up baseball and the Washington Senators as his god, with the Yankees as Amalek.

(Guess I know now what musical show I’ll be using as a basis for the next Purim Shpiel  parody I write. Is “Damn Amalekites” a good working title?)

Joe learned that what was dear to him wasn’t “up in heaven” or “across the sea.” What he went looking for and discovered, just like Dorothy Gale, is that there is no place like home.Oz was filled with wonders for Dorothy. Baseball was full of wonders for Joe. These aren’t the only stories that drive home that message. It’s a tale as old as time. We read it and hear it and see it over and over – and still we fail to heed its message. We keep looking for the greener grass, the tree,the garden, the tower, the wall. (Ironically, the final line in The Fantasticks has now been changed from the original “You must leave the wall” to “It was never about the wall.” That one little chaamge makes a world of difference in how people understand the the story. One wonders how decisions by Torah’s earliest compilers, editors, and redactors, along with the Masoretes significantly changed the meanings of the text of the Torah. As I have written elsewhere, one of the truer and deeper meanings of “lo bashamayin hi” is that we do not have to depend solely upon what the translators and commentators tell us. If Torah is truly in our mouths and hearts, we have the ability to discern Torah’s meaning and intent for ourselves.

Since I’ve brought up The Fantasticks, I’d be remiss if I didnlt mention that we do find some of the same sentiment as “Near to Me” in The Fantasticks’ haunting “They Were You.”

When the moon was young,
When the month was May,
When the stage was hung for my holiday,
I saw shining lights
But I never knew:
They were you.
They were you.
They were you.
When the dance was done,
When I went my way,
When I tried to find rainbows far away,
All the lovely lights
Seemed to fade from view:
They were you.
They were you.
They were you.
Without you near me,
I can't see.
When you're near me,
Wonderful things come to be.
Every secret prayer,
Every fancy free,
Everything I dared for both you and me.
All my wildest dreams
Multiplied by two
They were you.
They were you.
They were you.

(Harvey Schmidt, Tom Jones, The Fantasticks)

You can find the revival recording on YouTube, but nothing beats the original recording with Kenneth Nelson and Rita Gardner, which you can purchase on iTunes, Google Play Music, Amazon, and elsewhere.

I can easily imagine “Near to Me” and “They Were You” as paeans to Torah. As replete as Judaism is with metaphor, why not add more?

I can’t say that I strayed from Judaism and Torah. because I didn’t have much of a connection anyway. Yet Torah waited patiently for me to find her. I am Matt to Torah’s Luisa, Joe to Torah’s Meg. Torah is faithful to us, in its own way. our challenge is to be faithful to Torah, in our own way. Our challenge is to even recognize and realize that Torah is right there with us if we only but look for her.

There is so much in Torah that troubles me, confuses me, angers me. Those things make it harder to recognize that she is near to me. There is also so much that calls to me, draws me, helps me, guides me, empowers me. Those should make it easier to know that the Torah is not in heaven, but that she is close to me, in my mouth and my heart. Too often, I fear, this isn’t the case. The Torah’s own yetzer hara, (evil inclination,) the Torah’s own “Mr. Applegate,” steer me off course, and prevent me from seeing and knowing what is right there beside me, inside me.

What’s the secret? How do we learn to believe that the Torah is there, near to us, even when we can’t see or feel her? How can we have the faith to always return to her even after we stray or transgress? All I can say is,”you gotta have heart…”

Shabbat Shalom,

©2014 by Adrian A. Durlester

PS-a hat tip to Dawn Bernstein, who, once again this year, on her blog Dawn Ponders, has been participating in BlogElul, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer (Ima On and Off the Bima) with a new selection from a  musical each day, and may have, inadvertently, inspired the style of this week’s musing.

Other musings on this parasha:

Nitzavim-Vayeilekh 5773 - Opening Our Own Hearts
Nitzavim 5772 - Where or When?
Nitzavim/Vayeilekh 5770 - Flawed, Schmawed
Nitzavim/Vayeilekh 5769 - Disconnecting and Reconnecting the Dots
Vayeilekh_Shabbat Shuvah 5769 - Cows and Roses
Nitzavim/Vayeilekh 5766 - Keep Looking
Vayelekh 5765-The Time Is Still Now
Nitzavim 5765-To Lo Or Not To Lo
Nitzavim/Vayelekh 5763-Connect the Dots
Nitzavim 5757/5759/5764-Lo Bashamayim Hi
Nitzavim 5758-Not By Ourselves
Nitzavim/Vayelekh 5760/67-L'eyd B'vnei Yisrael-The Real Denouement
Nitzavim 5761 was the week of Sept. 11, 2001. There was no Musing.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Ki Tavo 5774–They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To

I led you through the wilderness forty years; the clothes on your back did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet; 5 you had no bread to eat and no wine or other intoxicant to drink — that you might know that I the Lord am your God. (Deut. 29:4-5)

There's something odd about these two verses. It's as if there's a non sequitur. How does the first verse connect with the second? (BTW, if you are reading these verses from a non-Jewish bible, you may find them numbered differently.)

The context itself is confusing and unclear. The chapter opens saying that "Moses summoned all Israel and said to them:" so that one might suppose that it is Moses doing the talking. Yet by the time we get to verse 5, it seems as if it is G”d talking. Now, it is not unusual for G”d to be speaking through Moses, or for Moses to be relaying to the people what G”d told him to say (though we also know that Moses is not always the most entirely accurate and reliable in his retransmission of G”d’s words. There. I said it.) However, in this instance (and numerous others in Torah) the context appears just a little hazy. (You know, like – G”d/Angel? Angel/G”d? Or with whom or what Is Jacob wrestling, and so many other places.)

So was it G”d or Moses that led the people through the wilderness for 40 years? What’s with the clothes and sandals thing? They wore the same clothes and sandals for 40 years? Yuck. A podiatrists nightmare (or boon.) What is it that Moses (or G”d) is trying to say here? Surely it’s not a comment on the quality of manufacture. Is it actually being suggested that Moses/G”d made the journey easier on them – allowing their clothes and sandals to withstand the rigors and hardship? Yeah, this was an easy journey alright. Not.

Then all of a sudden we shift from what appears to be a description of protection and favors to a description of the people’s self-sacrifice in order to know their G”d. They had no bread on the journey? No wine or intoxicants? Yeah, they just let all those grapes that the 12 scouts brought back from their reconnoiter go to waste. No bread? It didn’t have time to rise, but what was that they brought out of Egypt them? Wasn’t it…bread? What was that they were doing at Sinai while waiting for Moses to come down? Can you imagine the people partying without bread and wine? (Though I suspect a lot of clothes and sandals were coming off…) Yes, Torah does tell us that the people ate the manna for 40 years until they came to the border of the promised land. I got this bridge in Brooklyn…

Why isn’t Rashi bothered by these verses? I sure am. Jeff Tigay in the JPS Commentary offers the rather blithe suggestion that this was all about G”d recognizing that the people were seemingly incapable of sustaining their belief and reverence for G”d, so G”d provided for their material needs so that they would have the time to contemplate the Divine. He says that it was on the manna, quail, and water provided by G”d that the people survived. (Yep, these thousands of people wandered the wilderness for 40 years with their flocks and herds, and they never sacrificed and ate on of the animals. There’s the bridge in Brooklyn again…

These were a stubborn and obstinate people, always forgetting all that G”d had done for them. In forty years wandering, they never ate anything but the manna (and the quail?)

Yet the classic explanation does help connect the two verses. Might it be best to apply Occam’s Razor here?

Me, I don’t like my Torah smoothed out with the bumps removed. I want it, warts and all. So I’m going to keep digging and looking for another explanation about these two seemingly disparate verses. That ought keep me busy this Shabbat. What about you?

Shabbat Shalom,

©2014 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Ki Tavo 5773 - Catalog of Calamities (Redux and Greatly Revised 5760)
Ki Tavo 5772 - Mi Yitein Erev? Mi Yitein Boker?
Ki Tavo 5771 - Curse 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

Friday, September 5, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Ki Teitzei 5774–Microcosm

Parashat Ki Teitzei is one of the richest in the whole Torah. It is full of some truly remarkable laws and ethical principles. It also contains its fair share of “huh?” moments.That is what makes it a perfect microcosm for the whole Torah and then entire body of Jewish religious commentary. I’ve written about and commented on any number of these before. Cross-dressing, obligations to neighbors,  remembering/blotting out Amalek, parapets, gleaning (for both the land owner and the forager,) the exclusion of eunuchs and those with crushed testes, parents and recalcitrant children, respect and dignity even for the body of one who is executed, shooing away the mother bird, not mixing seed, fringes, fair grounds for divorce, Ammonites & Moabites bad – Egyptians and Edomites sort of OK (hmm, wasn’t Ruth a Moabite?), mamzers, protection for fugitive slaves, be fair to your workers and to the widow and orphan, limits to the extent of punishment and protecting the dignity of the punished, poop outside the camp and bury it, you can charge interest to non-Jews but not to other Jews, levirate marriage, (discovered) adultery results in capital punishment for both the married man and the married woman involved, to protect her husband a woman may not grab an opposing man’s testicles in a fight, use honest weights and measures, do not put parents to death for the crimes of their children (and vice versa,) wear fringes, no wearing of shatnez. Lost property (if you haven’t read any of the many versions of “The Torah, The Gold Watch, and Everything” I’ve posted over the years, please do.)  Plus a few more. A lot of these are laws and commandments which we can point to with pride. Some of them, not so much.

Isn’t that just like the rest of the Torah? You get the good with the bad, the “that makes sense” with the “huh?” You get chok (a law with no obvious underpinning) and mishpat (a law with obvious or logical underpinnings.) In all honesty, when I am trying to explain to folks how the Torah is replete with things which make us smile and things with make us cringe, parashat Ki Teitzei is an example I often offer.

The very opening verses of the parasha are a microcosm of Torah in and of themselves. At least in term of modern sensibilities, they are a mixed bag. We are told to be understanding and patient with a captive woman to whom we take a fancy, and if we marry and after the trial period decide we don’t like her, she becomes a free woman and cannot be enslaved. How nice. However, at the very heart of this is the fact that a man could simply force a captive enemy woman to be his lover and wife.

There’s that favorite of parents everywhere that enables them to have a wayward child stoned to death! yeah, we can point to that with pride. Not.

There’s even two genuine head-scratchers in the parasha. The first is the commandment about shooing away the mother from the next before taking the eggs or the fledglings. The second is the whole remember/forget Amalek business. There are no other head-scratchers like those anywhere else in the Torah, right? Here’s that deed to the Brooklyn Bridge I promised to sell you.

There are times when reading the Torah is like the old “besides that how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” Now don’t get me wrong – on the whole I do believe the good in the Torah outweighs the negative. However, that is not license to simply ignore it.

Recently, Rabbi Block, head of the CCAR, wrote in Tablet Magazine of his decision to cancel his subscription to the NY Times because of the anti-Israel bias in the coverage of the recent Gaza conflict that had finally gotten to be too much for even him. In the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, Rob Eshman wrote a rebuttal suggesting there may be a more Jewish response. He asked, in one among his five points, if boycotting everything that offends us is the solution. Do we reject the whole of Torah because of the more troubling verses? Shouldn’t we argue with the Torah? Some would argue that is certainly what our tradition teaches us.

Rabbi Block does make a compelling case about the perceived bias in NY Times coverage of the recent conflict in Gaza. Like him, despite have very left leanings, I, too, was troubled by coverage in the NY Times (and elsewhere.) Nevertheless, spurred by Rob Eshman’s questions, I have to ask myself if I can justify boycotting the NY Times anymore than I can justify boycotting the Torah for the objectionable (from my perspective) content it contains. My conclusion (at least for now) is that I must argue and engage.

Thank you, parashat Ki Tetzei, for some of the truly remarkable and uplifting commandments and ethical concepts you contain. Thank you just as much for the troubling bits, that allow me to be, as we often suggest the meaning of the word, to be Yisrael, one of those who struggles with G”d.

Al kol eileh, al kol eileh,
Shmor nah li Eili hatov
Al hadvash v'al ha'okets
Al hamar v’hamatok.
(N. Shemer)

Shabbat Shalom,

©2014 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Ki Teitzei 5773 - Be True To Who You Are
Ki Teitzei 5772 - The Torah, the Gold Watch, and Another Retelling
Ki Teitzei 5771 -  Metaphorical Parapets
Ki Tetzei 5769 - The Choice of Memory
Ki Tetzei 5767 - Honoring Inconsistency
Ki Teitzei 5766-B'Shetzef Ketzef
Ki Tetze 5764/5-The Torah, The Gold Watch, and The Rest of the Story
Ki Tetze 5757,9,60,63--The Torah, The Gold Watch, & Everything
Ki Tetze 5758--Exclude Me
Ki Tetze 5762--One Standard