Friday, March 11, 2016

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Pekudei 5776–Metamorphosis

If you’re a fan of Star Trek TOS (the original series) then you are likely familiar with the episode which is the title of this musing. The episode introduced an important character in the Star Trek canon, that of Zephram Cochrane, inventor of the “warp drive.”

For this week’s parasha, Pekudei, the second half of what is more often read as a double parasha along with the preceeding parasha Vayakhel) there is a clear connection between the parasha and the haftarah which accompanies it. Haftarot were generally chosen in this way.

(I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the popular explanation for the existence of the haftarot, that they were created during a time when public reading of the Torah was prohibited is probably more of a midrash than a reality. Scholars, these days, are more convinced that the readings from the prophetic books of the nascent Hebrew canon were added to exclude Samaritans and others who accepted only the Torah as the basis for Judaism. It’s an analysis with which I tend to concur. Yet another bit of pediatric Judaism debunked. The haftarot were not some brave attempt to stick it to our oppresors, and get around their restrictions. They were a product of internecine struggles between streams of Jewish practice and belief in ancient times. Not at all unlike the differences we see today between the various streams of Judaism. And yes, even in our own time, there are those who use this same tactic – finding ways to exclude those who fit a particular stream’s norm. Sigh.)

Pekudei is about the completion and assembling of the Mishkan. The haftarah, from I Kings, speaks of the completion of the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem by King Shlomo (Solomon.)

So, if I wanted to find a way to exclude non-lovers of Star Trek from Jewish worship, a perfect way might be to use the story of the Star Trek episode “Metamorphosis” as the haftarah for Pekudei. (And, if you wanted to buy in to the pediatric midrashic explanation for the origins of the haftarot: if we were living in times when public reading of the Torah ahd been prohibited, and we wanted to choose an appropriate substitute, for this parasha, I’d nominate “Metamorphosis.”

Here’s a bit from the Torah reading:

וַיְכַל מֹשֶׁה אֶת־הַמְּלָאכָֽה:  וַיְכַס הֶֽעָנָן אֶת־אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וּכְבוֹד יְהֹוָה מָלֵא אֶת־הַמִּשְׁכָּֽן:  וְלֹֽא־יָכֹל מֹשֶׁה לָבוֹא אֶל־אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד כִּֽי־שָׁכַן עָלָיו הֶֽעָנָן וּכְבוֹד יְהֹוָה מָלֵא אֶת־הַמִּשְׁכָּֽן: וּבְהֵֽעָלוֹת הֶֽעָנָן מֵעַל הַמִּשְׁכָּן יִסְעוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּכֹל מַסְעֵיהֶֽם: וְאִם־לֹא יֵֽעָלֶה הֶֽעָנָן וְלֹא יִסְעוּ עַד־יוֹם הֵעָֽלֹתֽוֹ: כִּי עֲנַן יְהֹוָה עַל־הַמִּשְׁכָּן יוֹמָם וְאֵשׁ תִּהְיֶה לַיְלָה בּוֹ לְעֵינֵי כָל־בֵּית־יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּכָל־מַסְעֵיהֶֽם

When Moshe had completed the work, the cloud covered the entrance to the tent of meeting, and the glory (presence) of G”d filled the Mishkan. Moshe could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud was dwelling upon it. and the weightiness (presence) of G”d filled the Mishkan. when the cloud went up from upon the Mishkan, the children of Israel went out on their journeys. If the cloud did not go up they would not go forth until a day when it went up. Because the cloud of G”d was upon the Mishkan during the day, and fire came at night, in the eyes of all of the children of Israel on all their journeys. (Exodus 40: 33b-38)

And here’s a bit from the Haftarah:

 וַיְהִי בְּצֵאת הַכֹּֽהֲנִים מִן־הַקֹּדֶשׁ וְהֶֽעָנָן מָלֵא אֶת־בֵּית יְהֹוָֽה: וְלֹֽא־יָֽכְלוּ הַכֹּֽהֲנִים לַֽעֲמֹד לְשָׁרֵת מִפְּנֵי הֶֽעָנָן כִּֽי־מָלֵא כְבֽוֹד־יְהֹוָה אֶת־בֵּית יְהֹוָֽה: אָז אָמַר שְׁלֹמֹה יְהֹוָה אָמַר לִשְׁכֹּן בָּֽעֲרָפֶֽל: בָּנֹה בָנִיתִי בֵּית זְבֻל לָךְ מָכוֹן לְשִׁבְתְּךָ עוֹלָמִֽים

When the priests came out from the Holy (sanctuary) and a cloud filled the house of Ad”nai, the priests were unable to perform their service in front of (because of) the cloud, because the glory (presence) of Ad”nai filled the House of Ad”nai. Then Solomon declared: “G”d said/expressed (a desire) to dwell in the thick darkness. I (i.e.Solomon) have surely built this lofty abode for you, a place to dwell forever.”

The cloud imagery is vivid (and we’ve encountered this cloud imagery before.) Cloud are ethereal things. Yet they can also be dark and foreboding things. Notice the change in nouns in the haftarah, which first speaks of a cloud עָנָן, and then a dark thick mass/cloud, עֲרָפֶֽל. I think we need to have both of these ideas of cloud in order to truly consider the idea of a cloud that fills up a room such that humans cannot also occupy it. Surely, the priests (and others) could stand amidst fluffy white clouds. Those have little substance – we can pass right through them. (It is even an almost quotidian experience, when you consider low-lying fog.) Surely that is not the cloud that is the in-dwelling presence of Ad”nai?

Our Torah portion makes no distinction, and the same word is used for cloud throughout this section. Yet this cloud, too, was of enough physical presence to keep Moshe from entering the Mishkan. (Perhaps the very reason the vocabulary in I Kings is different is precisely because people asked that question, and the authors wanted to clarify the point?)

Now, as to our Star Trek episode – the parallels are not all so clear. It’s not really a cloud. It’s more of an energy lifeform. It is, however, a presence, and it can and does interact with the physical world. “The Companion,” as this lifeforce is known, has rescued an aged, dying Zephram Cochrane, who had wanted to end his amazing life with one last journey out among the stars. The Companion discovered Cochrane’s  repaired Zephram’s body, and restored Zephram’s youth and vigor. She (and The Companion is revealed to be a she, as much as a non-corporeal lifeform can be said to have gender) has grown attached to Zephram, and the sudden appearance of a standed Captain Kirk, Mr, Spock, Dr. McCoy, and a dying female United Federation of Planets comissioner Nancy Hedford threaten the situation. The Companion wants the newcomers to remain to help keep Cochrane happy and have company of his own kind. The Companion prevents Spock from attacking it. Spock cobbles together a way to communicate with The Companion, learns that it is a she, that she can (and will) keep Zephram, and all of them young and alive forever. When the female UFP commissioner is near death, Cochrane pleads with The Companion for help. The Companion changes from her energy lifelorm and occupies the body of Comissioner Hedford to save her. Cochrane is now excited to dream of a life roaming the galaxy with his Companion, but alas, her lifeforce is bound to the planetoid they are on. Cochrane agrees to remain with The Companion where they will both live out a normal human lifespan.

Maybe it’s just me, but every time I think about G”d appearing as a cloud, this episode comes to mind. There are connections, and there are differences. G”d cares for human beings, The Companion cares for Cochrane. The Companion did not, however, create Cochrane, and is just his rescuer, in a way. Hmmm. Rescuer – savior. Kind of the same. Savior is defnitely part of G”d’s job description. The idea and terminology may feel uncomfortable for some Jews, but when it comes down to it, G”d as savior is not alien to Jewish thought.

The Companion appears as a sort of cloud, as does G”d. The Companion incarnates, a theologically problematic idea for Jews for the last 2000 years. On the other hand, The Companion’s act of incarnation dooms it to no longer be a being with an infinite lifespan, which might be a very Jewish attitude. The Companion seeks to create an Eden for Cochrane just as  G”d created an Eden for Adam and Chava. Are the passengers of the shuttle Galileo (Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Hedford) the serpent that tempts Cochrane to give up his Eden? Or is this more of an anti-Eden tale in which the pseudo-deity gives up being a deity for the sake of the limited-life being with which it has fallen in what can only be thought of as love?

Imagine, for a moment, the Christian story in an alternate history: For G”d so loved the world, that G”d gave up being G”d to live out life as a human being. That would be the ultimate, permanent form of tzimtzum, would it not? (Tzimtzum is the kabbalistic notion that in order to allow space for creation of the physical universe, G”d constricted G”d’s-self. And, though I am certain the Lurianic Kabbaliksts did not mean it this way, tzimtzum could just as easily be translated as “withdrawal.” G”d withdrawing from the universe. The Companion withdrawing from her eternal existence to a finite one. (A concept also later explored in Star Trek:The Next Generation, through the character of Q from the Q continuum.. There’s an awful lot to be mined from those episodes featuring Q for future musings.)

All of these thoughts are, at their best, just barely tangential to our parasha and haftarah. But it’s fun to think about such different things together. (And there are those for whom ST:TOS scripts are as holy as we hold the Torah. Sounds blasphemous, perhaps, but who am I to judge.) We can insist on studying Torah and our sacred texts only within their own contexts, and only within their canon. Or we can expand our horizons and allow our explorations to touch upon other things which might inform our understanding of our own sacred texts. These things could be texts sacred to others, or they could simply be secular sources.

And I haven’t even mentioned how (I Kings 8:13) Solomon declares that he has built a house for – addressing G”d as “you” - second person singular, feminine (Go back and look, if you must.)

I’ve offered no scholarly treatises or exegesis. Just a few random musings on my encoutner with this parasha and haftarah this year. If these musings provide a starting point for any one of my readers, I will comsider my effort worth it. Go forth and muse.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2016 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Pekudei 5774 - Pronouns Revisited
Pekude/Shabbat Sh'kalim 5771 - Ideas Worth Re-Examining
Pekude 5765-Redux 5760-Pronouns

Vayakhel-Pekudei-Shabbat Parah 5775 - New Heart, New spirit
Vayakhel-Pekudei 5773 - Craftsman. Artisan. Artist. Again.
Vayakhel-Pekude 5772 - Vocational Ed
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5770-Corroborative Detail
Vayakhel-Pekudei 5769 - There Are Some Things You Just Have To Do Yourself
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5767-Redux 5760-The Lost Episodes: Too Much of a Good Thing
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5766 - So How Did Joseph Get Away With it?
Vayakhel/Pekude 5764-Comma or Construct?
Vayakhel/Pekude 5762-Sacred Work
Vayakhel/Pekude 5761 (Revised from 5758)-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.
Vayakhel/Pekude 5758-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.


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