Friday, October 31, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat-Lekh L'kha 5775 More Nodding Heads, Whistling Airs, and Snickersnees

I'm an admitted Savoyard (in simple terms, a fan of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas.) I have made any number of references to them in my musings over the decades (just as I've referenced other favorites like "Man of La Mancha," and "The Princess Bride," parodists like Tom Lehrer and Allan Sherman, and many more.)
The title of this musing is a reference to the text of "The Criminal Cried" from the Mikado, in which three characters relate a most affecting tale about a non-existent execution. (You can also read some following dialog to place my comments into perspective.)
Some years back when I first mused upon this topic, I noted that I had been stopped dead in my tracks by two peculiar pieces of text. Both are in Chapter 15 of Genesis, in our parasha, Lekh Lekha. G"d again comes to Avram in a vision, telling him to not fear. Avram replies with a lament that as he has no blood heir, and asks who is to reap the promised reward. G"d tells Avram that his own child shall be his heir. Then , in verse 5 we read:
וַיּוֹצֵא אֹתוֹ הַחוּצָה, וַיֹּאמֶר הַבֶּט-נָא הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וּסְפֹר הַכּוֹכָבִים--אִם-תּוּכַל, לִסְפֹּר אֹתָם; וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, כֹּה יִהְיֶה זַרְעֶךָ
He (G"d) took him (Avram) outside, and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars. All you can count, He (G"d) said to him (Avram") thus shall be your seed."

Let's try those first few words again:
He (G"d) took him (Avram) outside...
G"d did what? Oh wait, it's just a vision. The Torah isn't being anthropomorphic-Avram is, for imagining this in his vision, right? But wait, if G"d implanted the vision, does G"d control the content? Apparently, either G"d or Avram wanted (needed) this conversation to be sort of buddy-buddy. Can you imagine in your mind that you and G"d, in some anthropomorphic form, are standing around inside your house talking, and G"d puts his hand on your shoulder, and escorts you outside and says "Hey, look up and try and count the stars..."

This seems a rather intimate form of vision. Is that a problem? I wonder if it is only from our modern mindset that we find it thus. Our understanding of G"d is, for lack of a better term, more global. G"d is everywhere. G"d is One. So to us, the idea of strolling through the garden with G"d feels odd. Would this have been odd to Avram? Early religious stories abound with direct contact between anthropomorphic gods and human beings. (In our own tradition, we need only look back on Chapter 9, and the whole nefillim thing.)
This desire to personalize G"d, to anthropomorphize G"d, to imagine person to person contact and intimacy with G"d is all pervasive. Is that a possible explanation for the success of Christianity? For Jews, intimate contact between humans and an anthropomorphic G"d are not the norm, yet such stories still pervade our literature and sacred texts. A pillar of cloud, a pillar of fire, and G"d's heiny are as close as we ever really get in "real life."
Although Christianity maintains the ethereal, incorporeal G"d, it throws in a little piece of corporeal G"d. Do people really find that easier to wrap their heads around than an unknowable, undefinable G"d? As a society, we seem to like the idea of George Burns, Morgan Freeman, or Alanis Morrisette as G"d incarnate. I've heard and read Jews complain that these films all cater to the Christian majority and thus present a view of G"d inconsistent with Jewish thought. Reading in this parasha that G"d took Abe outside for a chat makes me question that. (G"d apparently walked with Noah, too. Later we get to Abraham's visitors. Angels or G"d? It's not entirely clear. With whom did Yaakov wrestle? But Moses, our great Moses, only gets to see G"d's ass? Something's off here.)

The text proceeds apace on to my next puzzling piece. G"d tells Avram that his descendants shall be as numerous as the uncountable stars. G"d tells Avram that this is the land he is giving them for an inheritance. Avram, still somewhat unconvinced, asks how he shall know that this honor shall be his. G"d's somewhat odd response is to ask Avram to offer up a cow, goat, sheep, dove and a baby bird - which Avram does. Then, as the sun begins to set, Avram falls into a deep sleep, and feels a deep dread. (So is this real dread, or dream dread?) Then G"d foretells the bad news that his descendants shall be strangers in a strange land, enslaved and oppressed for 400 years, but that G"d will set them free and give them wealth.
Supposedly (though not obviously based on the text) still in this deep sleep, Avram then sees, when the sun has set, a smoking oven, and a flaming torch which passed between "those pieces."

What pieces? What is all this? What is the symbology?
But wait -this is all a Bob Newhart show ending, isn't it? It was all a dream. Even the dream was a dream within a dream or vision. That explains it all, right? Nothing to worry about here. People just sometimes envision strange things in their visions, including dreams with even strangers things in them. Right?

However, one can just as easily read this text as if it is describing actual events as they occurred, and not as part of some dream. which it is we cannot be sure. Does it make a difference? Weirdness in dreams is one thing, but weirdness in reality is another entirely. Weirdness in dreams can be attributed to the subtle influences of the Deity, but they do not require the Deity to break the laws of physics. Weirdness in reality requires the Deity to break the physical laws of the Universe. Just as we ask "can G"d create a rock too heavy for even G"d to lift?" we can also ask: can G"d create a universe with physical laws that even G"d has to obey? (Or can G"d create a universe with physical laws that only G"d does not have to obey?" However, if G"d created a loophole for G"d, it is possible for G"d's creations - i.e. us - to find and exploit that loophole? Is that the explanation for the Babel story and the confounding of languages? Were we close to finding a loophole?)
Dreams figure so prominently in religious literature because they help avoid that thorny problem of omnipotence versus self-limiting acts of creation.
Getting back to our text, I still wonder-why is all this here? Why do we need this level of detail about Avram's vision, and of the dream within that vision? The text could just say "G"d told Avram 'don't be afraid. You shall be rewarded. Though childless now, you will have an heir, and the inheritance of your descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. So trust me.' "

We don't need all this corroborative fiddlestick (thanks you, W.S. Gilbert.) Yet the story is embellished with snickersnees.(a large, sword-styled knife-for you non Savoyard types, let's just say "embellishments.") The point, as it is made in G&S's "The Mikado," is that things are bad enough, they don't need any embellishing of what is already a big lie. Just tell the lie simply, and perhaps it will be more believable. (Oh what a tangled web we weave, and all that.)
Now, I'm not implying that the Torah is telling a lie. Yet I am wondering why, like so many other places in the Torah, we have details that don't seem critical to the story. Now, for lots of those, we don't have a problem-our sages have figured out the deeper, hidden meanings. Why, our sages explain the whole "count the stars" thing, from their point of view, as not literally meaning that Avram should count the stars, but that the stars represent astrological predictions which Avram (and thus all Jews) should not believe in. That is to say, though the stars may have foretold that Avram was to remain childless, he shouldn't put his trust in the astrology.
OK, I sort of get that. But the sages didn't seem to put much time into explaining either the "He took him outside..." or the smoking oven and flaming torch vision. Guess it baffled them as well. Asking "what's bothering Rashi" is only a valuable exercise insofar as Rashi was willing to offer explanations for what was bothering him. How many oddities in the text did Rashi and so many other sages and commentators ignore, simply because they didn't really have a good explanation? I know I've run into a fairly sizable number of puzzling pieces of Torah text that, at least as far as I have been able to discover, no rabbi has tackled. Maybe it's just rabbinic tzimtzum leaving behind puzzles for future generations to solve. That would be the charitable explanation. I'm generally not inclined to be so charitable to the rabbis of the Talmud and other Jewish texts. My bet is still on "I'm not touching that one with a ten foot pole, because I have no clue how to explain it, even making esoteric connections."
I'm still not anywhere near as learned as I'd like to be. I've done some digging on this since I first wrote this musing years ago, and still no luck. Nevertheless, I'm sure if I dig deeper, I'll find some rabbi's explanation somewhere for both of those. Not sure I'd buy them, however. Just as I was years ago, I'm still stuck with the "what does this add to the story?" question. Then, as now, so are you.
Shabbat Shalom

©2014 (portions ©2008) by Adrian A. Durlester

Some other musings on this parasha:

Friday, October 24, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Noakh 5775–To Make A Name For Ourselves (Revisited)

I first wrote the original version of this musing in 2001, just weeks after the events of September 11. I’ve interspersed some new thoughts and comments, and edited some comments, even back-tracked on a few, but the basic ideas of the original musing are still there. I would be surprised (and perhaps concerned) if my feelings about some of the questions I raise weren’t different now.


Everyone is tippy-toeing around it, but there it is, staring us in the face. We're afraid to say anything lest we be mistaken for certain fundamentalist Christian ministers who have no shame in utilizing a horrid tragedy to bolster their own agendas. And so we look over it, we do not press it (with apologies to Sir W.S. Gilbert. As Tom Lehrer would say, the rest of you can look that up when you get home.) However, the comparison is unavoidable.

Tower of Babel. World Trade Center. Tower of Babel. World Trade Center.

Don't go there, everyone says. And they don't mean actually, physically going there. There's no real comparison between midgal Bavel and the WTC, right?


Well, had ya goin' there, didn't I? I don't think the story of the Tower of Babel and what happened on September 11, 2001 to the twin towers of the World Trade Center have any connection whatsoever that would in any way appeal to my sense of decency, dignity and my understanding of who and what is G”d, and what is our relationship to G”d. Those ministers preaching that the destruction of the towers was Divine retribution for abortion, homosexuality, pornography and anything else on their radar screens are about as far off base and they can be.

At midgal Bavel, G"d perhaps feared that humans were striving to be G”d's equal, building a tower to come up and challenge G"d. And so G"d came down and confounded human speech. (And boy, is it ever still confounded. But a digression-imagine, for example, if we all still spoke the same language, and that was the language of the Torah? Then there wouldn't be much room for the subtleties of interpretation caused by translation. And then where would we be? Interesting question. Are we better off being a Disney-fied “small world?” Send me your answers!)

Note, however, that G"d did absolutely nothing to the tower! Its one of those popular Bible misconceptions. G"d did not destroy the tower or send it crashing to the ground. No, G"d simply confounded the speech of the humans and scattered them around the earth. The tower, perhaps, was just abandoned and never finished and perhaps decayed on its own. But G"d took no direct action against the tower. So the comparison to the WTC is based on the erroneous idea that G"d also struck down midgal Bavel. Didn’t happen.

The rabbis generally maintain that the primary sin of those who built migdal Bavel and the reason G”d confounded the speech of humanity was because by all remaining in one place they were ignoring G”d’ instruction to spread over the earth. Modern Jewish scholarship tends to dispute with the rabbis (surprise, surprise) considering it quite a stretch to consider what was essentially a Divine blessing given to humankind (to become numerous and spread over the earth) to be a Divine commandment. In our own time, I think it’s just as much of a stretch to read into G”d’s blessings to humanity, and to our patriarchs, commandments that encourage really poor and questionable family planning.

Was the tower built simply as a matter of human hubris? Because it could be built? There may have been a very pragmatic reason for building a tall tower. Could it have been a place to find shelter from a future earth-devastating flood? Did humans distrust the covenant that the rainbow represented? (Josephus believed the tower to be an attempt to rise above the level of another flood, and he and other commentators point to the use of bitumen which could be a waterproofing technique.)

It should be noted that, offering some evidence that the story of migdal Bavel is an etiology with origins long pre-dating the Torah, there is a Sumerian story in which the god Enki also confounds human speech.

However, (and you knew that had to be coming, didn't you?) let us examine this story and terms of what is now happening. One lesson it teaches us is that while working together to accomplish a task might isn't always necessarily a good thing. That some in our midst protest the military actions we are taking in response to September 11, that some even see the acts as Divine retribution, that we don't all agree on how we see things even in the light of September 11 is a good thing. It puts a positive frame around G"d confounding human language. We can see differences in language as also being metaphor for differences in viewpoints, desires, goals, interpretations, etc. If we work together too much, we might lose sight of who we are, and try to become gods, and assume that we can take any action we want at any time-that we are invincible, omnipotent, etc. We must value our differences, value the confounding.

And, to flip things around, it also gives us a goal. Perhaps the road to Moshiach or the messianic age is to eventually find a way, despite the confounding of our language and our being scattered all over the earth, to find our way back to a common language, and, metaphorically, back to Gan Eden and our innocence.

The story should also be a lesson to us to think about our relationship to our world and to Gd. Why did we build the WTC (or the Burj Khalifa, the Sears/Willis tower, or the Saturn V booster, or send humans to the moon, or the new One World Trade Center, or, well, you get the drift...?) Is it all about office space, efficient use of land on a crowded island? Or is there still a bit of hubris in it? To someone living in poverty in a 3rd world country, the WTC could be a sign of promise and hope, but it could also look like America giving the finger to the rest of the world, couldn't it? Certainly, the new One WTC structure is, almost intentionally, giving the finger to the terrorists. It certainly wasn’t a necessary building in terms of NYC real estate needs. One WTC is a statement, and a prideful one at that. Not sure there’s any getting around that. I’m not saying it shouldn’t have been built (though, for me, the memorial itself is far more important than a replacement tall building) but in light of the growing discomfort with economic disparity in this country, what does One WTC symbolize, and whose interests does it truly represent?  None of this is to suggest that anything that happened on September 11th was in any way justified. I was angry and sickened, and wanted to see justice done to the perpetrators and their supporters. The frontier justice part of me enjoyed our strong response.  But the Jew in me, the lover of Torah, wants us to ask, when we look at the empty spaces where the towers stood, when we look at the destroyed walls of the Pentagon, what else we might be able to learn from this beside the obvious lesson to be better prepared to deal with terrorism?

Looking back at these thoughts 13 years later, knowing how we were dragged into a war under false pretenses, how we hunted down and killed the mastermind behind the plot yet now face newer and even stronger and scarier threats, how we all too willingly sacrificed our privacy and freedoms in the name of security causes me to want us to look even harder as our stories from the past. G”d did not knock down the original WTC towers anymore than G”d knocked down the tower of Babel. Humans were responsible for the construction and destruction of both. Think about that for a second.

Look at what our ancestors said. "Come, let us build a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves.." )(Gen. 11:4) The tragedy that struck them notwithstanding, are we, too, building towers to the sky, sending rockets into space, just "to make a name for ourselves" ? Are Osama bin Laden and his ilk (and now ISIS/ISIL) doing what they are doing "to make a name for themselves" despite their protestations of religious, ethical and moral underpinnings? (And those are underpinnings, I believe, without a foundation, and I hope they crumble. I've read their holy Quran, and I'm hard pressed to find support in it for their actions.)

I support space research and sending man into space, simply for the sake of exploration, if nothing else. And surely so we can learn, explore, maybe meet other life forms, etc. I support engineers and architects finding clever and better ways to use technology, allowing them to build tall towers into the sky, so that people might live and work in them, and that we might sustain our world. (For I am not so naive as to believe that we could any longer sustain our world in a simple agrarian manner.) I, as an inconsistent pacifist, with great reluctance, can support building mighty structures to house the military that are sometimes needed to defend freedom and liberty. And I, with a great deal of reservation and apprehension, might support the actions that are sometimes necessary to insure that freedom. (The shadow of the Shoah lingers under the surface, challenging my pacifist tendencies.) All these and more, I support. But I would support none of these that were being done just to "make a name for ourselves." There is a part of me that, as a U.S. citizen, is proud of the rebuilt One WTC. I’m equally proud that, as a U.S. citizen, I can also express my reservations about whether we really needed to build One WTC. Symbols have their place, but I wonder how the millions spent building One WTC might have gone to other good and worthy projects – perhaps affordable housing to help reverse the “tale of two cities” that NYC’s Mayor De Blasio says, rightly, that it has become. Is One WTC really just a symbol of politics and corporate hubris? I’m not sure.

It may or may not have been their motivation, nevertheless, we must not make the mistake of having the hubris that might have motivated those who built midgal Bavel. Let us be content to be the humans we are, and let G"d be what G"d will be.

Shabbat Shalom,


©2014 (portions ©2001) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha

Noakh 5774 - Let's Rebuild That Tower
Noakh 5773 - Nothing New
Noakh 5772 - The Long Haul
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 17, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–B’reisheet 5775–One Favorite Things (not a typo!)

A few days ago on Facebook, a friend posted a request for people to list their favorite verses of Torah. It generated many interesting (and many predictable) responses. (The author of the post compiled the answers on Sefaria and you can find them here.

I’m not fond of being asked to name a favorite anything. (The title of this musing is NOT a typo. Read on.)I like many things, even, and especially, in the same genre.(As Oscar Hammerstein II put it, “these are a FEW of my favorite things.” He understood.) Like many things in my life, the things I like, and the order/priority of my liking them can and does change regularly. Some might accuse me of being disloyal. If you won’t pick one, pick a few, and stick with them.Sorry, I can’t (and won’t) do that. Others argue that if I truly liked something, or it made a significant enough impact on me, I would always remember it and it would always appear in my list of favorites. Not so. Our minds don’t work like that. We cannot call up data as directly as we can from a computer’s digital memory. Our memories are more like a web, with all sorts of factors influencing which paths our thoughts travel collecting the data of memories. Internal and external factors can greatly influence how, on any given day, at any given moment, I construct a list of favorite things in any topic.

Luckily for me, I happened upon the thread on Facebook long after others had posted. Some of them posted verses that I would consider among my favorites, and might have posted myself. I decided to behave and not be my usual gadfly self, protesting at being asked to list one favorite. I just listed one. It is, indeed, one of my favorites, and here was the perfect opportunity to share it. In point of fact, there were several occasions over the past few weeks when I referred to this verse – with adults and with youth. I’ve even written about this verse before, back in my 5761 musing.I wrote then:

How ripe Bereshit is.

Simple but powerful messages.

G”d creates. G”d punishes. G”d saves. Failure to obey has a price. Humans can overcome and survive tragedies. Humans can and will kill each other. One day in seven is set aside to honor the one who created us.

But there is for me, no more powerful statement in all of Bereshit than this:

Even after the pain and torture of having one son murder another, Chava was willing to have the faith to have another child.

That simple statement of faith means more to me than almost any other I know of. It is a lesson for all of us.

Here is the verse to which I am referring:

וַיֵּדַע אָדָם עוֹד אֶת־אִשְׁתּוֹ וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן וַתִּקְרָא אֶת־שְׁמוֹ שֵׁת כִּי שָׁת־לִי אֱלֹהִים זֶרַע אַחֵר תַּחַת הֶבֶל כִּי הֲרָגוֹ קָֽיִן

Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and she called his name Seth, because
El-him gave me another seed in place of Abel, because Cain slew him.

We’re told, a few verses later, that Adam later had other sons and daughters, but they are not named. (There’s an opportunity here for a fascinating digression. The Torah is replete with geneaologies, including Cain’s. Why does the Torah only mention Cain, Abel, and Seth? Another story to write some day? Adam’s other children. Rife with possibilities and opportunities for some modern midrash. If I’d thought about it sooner, I might have suggested we welcome Adam and Chava’s other children in our Sukkot as ushpizin! Next year I must remind myself to do just that. For now, we’ll leave this loose thread un-pulled, lest this whole musing unravel.)

(Wait a minute. I can’t do that. I have to stop and imagine for a minute just how Adam and Chava’s other children and their descendants might feel at being left out of the Torah. A chopped liver reference comes to mind.

There is a possible explanation in verse that follows 4:25.

וּלְשֵׁת גַּם־הוּא יֻֽלַּד־בֵּן וַיִּקְרָא אֶת־שְׁמוֹ אֱנוֹשׁ אָז הוּחַל לִקְרֹא בְּשֵׁם יְהוָֹֽה

and to Seth was also born a son, and he called his name Enosh; It was then that he began to call out in the name of Ad”nai.

It was with Enosh’s generation that worship of Ad”nai began. Adam and Chava’s other children don’t matter because they were not among those who did so. At least, that’s one possibility.

But wait! Cain gets a genealogy. He may be cursed, but his line is reported in 4:17-24, just preceding our verses.

The Hebrew of verse 26 is tricky as well. Most translations try to gloss over the Hebrew by translating a verb that is 3rd person masculine singular (i.e., he, or it) as a collective or plural. The implication is that this is the time when all people began to worship G”d. The Hebrew doesn’t quite say that, at least not plainly. Me, I’m all in favor of following the principle of lectio difficilior potior – the more difficult reading is stronger (i.e. preferred.)  Thus I’ve left the translation as “he began to…”  He could refer to Enosh, but one could also substitute “it” giving the words a potentially more universal feeling – as in “It was then that it was begun to call out in the name of G”d.” That leaves a little mystery.

Perhaps we avoid the issue of a genealogy of Adam and Chava’s other children to help us avoid other obvious glaring questions like “where did Cain’s wife come from?” The rabbis answer this by saying Cain had a twin sister and Abel had two twin sisters. Some modern scholars suggest that the “author” of the Torah wasn’t concerned with other “people” that may have already been around when G”d created Adam and Chava. The Torah never specifically states that G”d only created Adam and Chava. This is the creation story of the Israelite community, and only concerned itself with that particular narrative and the people that mattered to it. That’s also another possible explanation for why there are no genealogies for Adam and Chava’s other children. They just weren’t a part of “our” story. This can also be coupled with the argument made by some that Torah does not specifically state that G”d covenanted only with the Abraham and thus the Israelites. Other covenants with other peoples remain a possibility. They are just outside the scope of Torah. This argument is further bolstered by the apparent insertion of a more universalistic creation narrative at the beginning of the Torah before the Adam/Chava creation narrative. Few scholars doubt the Adam/Chava story is the older of the two. Scholars believe the opening creation story was added later. Some are bold enough to suggest that Gen 1:1-2:3a was potentially added during Babylonian exile. I’m not sure I agree, but it is a thought-provoking idea.

So let’s add to our list of missing voices in the Torah those of the other children of Adam and Chava. Time to move on.

Back to Adam and Chava’s choice (hmmm-was it a choice for both of them?) to have another child after Cain slew Abel. This takes tremendous courage. It’s easy to write this off as simply normative in ancient times. (It is still true today among more traditional Jews. Having children is a mitzvah, not to be taken lightly. ) After all, children died all the time. (Wait a minute – if indeed Adam and Chava were the only people on earth, how would they know this? Then again, all they knew as p’ru u’vru.)  However, this was a murder. Their child took the life of their other child. The grief must have been unbearable. Yet they soldiered on.

There are many possible explanations for their choice, some of them quite mundane and pedestrian . The Pollyanna in me wants to hold on to the more beautiful and hopeful understanding of the choice that Adam (and Chava?) made. Adam and Chava could have decided to not have any more children. If their children were capable of such horrible things, why bring more into the world? is this only a modern sensibility? I’m not sure.

This one verse has provided more than ample fodder upon which I can muse. The same could be said about any number of verses in the Torah. I have a whole year of them to which I shall look forward. I can’t wait to get started.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2014 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

B'reisheet 5774 - Toldot Adrian
B'reishit 5773 - Mixing Metaphors
B'reishit 5772 - The Unified Field Theorem of the Twelve Steps
B'reishit 5771 - B'reishit Bara Anashim
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 10, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Hol HaMoeid Sukkot 5775–Gog Me With a Spoon

Torah, indeed all of the Tanakh, is replete with scenarios in which everybody gets the bad end of the deal. The Israelites get thrown out of their land for their insolent ways and their sins against G”d. The enemies of Israel (and thus the enemies of G”d?) get slaughtered for having the audacity to attack G”d’s chosen people and favorite land, even though their attack was part of G”d’s punishment of Israel..

Or,worse yet, G”d causes a people to attack Israel, for the sole purpose of wiping that people utterly, They are evil for attacking G”d’s people, but it was G”d who caused them to attack! What at Catch-22.

Gog and Magog. Pawns in G”d’s plan, to be utterly wiped out for daring to try and destroy G”d’s chosen people. Such a lovely haftarah we read.

To top it off, all of it is for really questionable reasons. Maybe G”d has failed to read Qoholet, for G”d is looking pretty vain.

“Must punish My people for profaning my name and failing to heed my commandments.” “Makes Me look bad to the rest of the world if I don’t punish them, and makes me look weak to My own people.” “Must punish the people who dare to attack and threaten My people, or it will make Me look bad to the rest of the world (and to My own people? But wait, isn’t this a logistical inconsistency?)” “Hmmm. Maybe I should make these people attack my people, and then wipe them out as an example to others. What a great idea!”

Seems G”d wants to have the cake and eat it too. Well, isn’t this something G”d should be able to do? Let’s not go there today.

G”d, apparently, has not heard of or learned about the model of “positive discipline.” G”d, it seems, is into punishing everybody, and then prone to bouts of “this hurts me more than it hurts you” and Divine “guilt.” G”d is not above laying waste to a people just to make a point. Sigh.

You, Master of the Universe, set up the system. You set the bar impossibly high with the certain knowledge that your creations would consistently fail in reaching it. What a Sisyphean universe You’ve given us.

You created all mankind, yet You fail to learn from the stories of Yitzchak, Esav and Yaakov, and Yaakov and his own sons, and You show favoritism upon only one people? You treat those favored people like crap anyway, because they are constantly failing to live up to Your standard.

Let me ask you a question, G”d. Why didn’t you send us a warrior messiah? Do You like inflicting punishment upon us, Your chosen people, and upon the other nations who dare challenge us? There are times when You truly appear sick, twisted, and sadistic. Agreed, there are times when You appear loving, though You must admit that many of those times the loving is a promise for the future rather than a present reality.

My idea of love, G”d, is not You beating our enemies up (or beating us up for that matter.) The classic Jewish apologetics speak of a covenantal love. They teach us that G”d’s love appears in the love that we show for each other, and for G”d. It appears in our just deeds, our love and caring for others. This the Jewish answer to Christians who ignorantly describe their religion as being about the G”d of Love” whereas Judaism is about the “G”d of Law.”

I’m not tempted by the fact the Christianity claims to be all about a “G”d of Love.” I’m quite happy being Jewish. However, I just don’t think we’ve done well in explaining how G”d continues to show G”d’s Love for us. We tend to rely on historical examples, most especially the Exodus.

Miracles abound. I don’t doubt that. I experience them every day when I allow myself to sense, experience, and do love, blessing, loving kindness, justice, compassion, and so much more. These are, surely, examples of G”d ‘s love.

The Judaism of my understanding teaches me to show my love for G”d in all that I do. I show it in how I act and behave and think and do. In these acts, I should sense G”d’s love for me. It’s not that simple. Judaism doesn’t offer the simple faith of “Jesus loves me this I know, ‘cause the Bible tells me so.” That’s too simple, too easy for me. It makes me want to shout “where’s the beef?” As a Jew I am taught to respect the Torah, but also to question it.

That’s what I’m doing now. I’m showing my love for G”d by questioning G”d. Maybe, just ,maybe, it might be enough for me to know that G”d’s love for me is expressed in the mere fact that I can, that I am practically expected, to question G”d.  What greater expression of love could there be?

So this Shabbat, I’m gonna show my deep and abiding love for G”d by doing the thing I sometimes think I do best – asking questions of G”d, questioning G”d’s actions as told to us through our sacred texts, and as experienced through our own history. Answers may come…or not. It’s the questioning that matters.

Ad*nai loves me, this I question,
‘cause the Torah (gives me that impression? gives me indigestion? makes that concession? tells of our freedom from oppression? is our prized possession?

Shabbat Shalom and Moadim L’Simkha,

©2014 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Hol HaMoeid Sukkot 5774 - Godot is Waiting for the Bald Soprano at the Zoo
Sukkot III 5772 - Fragility
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 3, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Yom Kippur 5775-Afflicted

 G”d certainly has a sense of humor. I wake up this morning, ready for Yom Kippur tonight, the day on which I am to afflict myself – and it seems G”d has already chosen to afflict me, no help needed on my part. At school we had our regular all grades RELISH (Ruakh L’Shabbat) program of which I am the musical centerpiece. Guess what – I have been afflicted with a cold, and my voice is pretty much shot and unusable. Gee, thanks, G”d. I manage to force my voice through the 40 minute program (of which 30 minutes is singing.) I think I managed to afflict all with my raspy voice! And I still had to get through the remainder of this half day of school, which I somehow manage, without completely losing my voice.

Thankfully this year, at least, I am directing a HHDays choir for Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur morning services. so I won’t need my voice to be in shape for singing. But for Ne’ilah I am leading a family service, and the hours of self-imposed affliction from the start of Yom Kippur until then aren’t going to help much healing my voice.

In addition, G”d has afflicted me (or perhaps, subconsciously, I have afflicted myself) with a severe case of writer’s block. I’ve made any number of attempts to start and finish this musing, and this is pretty much the best I’ve been able write. Pretty lame. All of you are going to suffer through enough self-affliction in the next day that you don’t need any extra from me, so I’ll spare any further attempt to write anything coherent, and offer up links to previous Yom Kippur musings.

I wish you all a tzom kal and g’mar chatimah tovah.

Shabbat of Shabbats Shalom,

©2014 by Adrian A. Durlester

Yom Kippur 5774 - Blanket Apologies II
Yom Kippur 5772 - Al Khet Shekhetanu
Yom Kippur 5765 - Blanket apologies