Friday, December 29, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayekhi 5778–Unethical Will? (Revised 5761)

Who is he kidding?

This man conspired with his Mother to steal his older brother's birthright.

Early in his life he told G”d he would only be his G”d if everything worked out alright on his journey. And this after experiencing the majesty of the Divine presence and exclaiming "Achein yesh Ad”nai..."

This man, who, when two of his sons executed the entire male population of a town to avenge the rape of their sister, was more worried about how their actions would affect his reputation.

Then he has the unmitigated gall to offer up the first ethical will in history, chastising his sons and citing all their faults? Sheesh!

If ever a man was inflicted with the curse "may G”d grant you children like yourself" then Yaakov surely was.

It starts with the first born, who sleeps with his father's concubine!

Numbers two and three disgrace themselves in a wanton act of supposedly justifiable mass murder.

Number 4 we'll get back to in a minute.

Five and six did nothing much and could expect the same.

Seven, Eight, Nine and Ten are similarly mundane, though apparently deserving of some good fortune. (Maybe Yaakov was just getting a little less particular with his younger kids?)

Number Eleven is successful-but note that it is only with and because of G”d's help-at least the way Yaakov sees it. Did Yosef succeed on his own merits, or was he only, as he himself indicated, a pawn in G”d's little play? Teleology at its best (well, worst, if you feel about teleological explanations as I do.)

And Number Twelve? Well, he's obviously developed a bit of a temper and youngest child syndrome. No surprise there. I’ll bet that if Benjamin had gotten out of town without that golden cup being discovered, he would have kept it and not have told another soul about it.

At this juncture, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the missing child, Dinah. After the brief episode that involves her, she disappears from the biblical narrative – we don’t know what happens to her (as is the case with far too many women in the Torah.) There’s quite a bit of midrashim on the subject. One says that Simeon and Levi buried her. Another posits that she had a daughter, Asenath/Osnot, who became Joseph’s wife. (There’s just something not quite right in all that.) Yet another says that she later married Job (yes, that Job.) Rashi believes she was “that Canaanite woman” who was the mother of Saul, listed among those of Simeon’s family that went down to Egypt with Jacob and settled in Goshen. Rashi suggests that Dinah was reluctant to leave and insisted that Simeon marry her to remover her shame. (yeah let’s have an incestuous brother/sister marriage to remove the stain of rape.) The Ramban offers an apologetic, saying that although Simeon married Dinah, they did not have conjugal relations. Way to make an already bad story worse, fellas. Sigh.

Back we’ve also missed one son. What about Number Four? What makes him so special? Let's remember who he is. He's the one that suggested that they could get rid of brother Yosef and make money on the deal at the same time. Does that make him hero or goat? His act did spare Yosef's life, but was that a righteous act or a side-effect of greed? We'll never know. But he got payback, when he found out he had slept with his own daughter-in-law! (Even stranger, without that incident, there would have been no Davidic line to begin with!) So maybe that evened the score enough to enable Judah to be the son who received the really cool blessing and prediction.

Apparently the other brothers weren't too impressed with Yaakov's predictions. When Yaakov kicked the bucket, the brothers were still worried about what Yosef might do to them. He was the one with the power now. Judah's turn would come later. Much later, long after Judah and his brothers were gone.

Let's put aside the question of authorship and redaction. Yes, perhaps Yaakov's final testament to his sons was a reflection of a later historical reality. But let's assume that these were indeed Yaakov's very words. The question remains-why pick Judah, out of all of them, to be the ultimate long-term success story? What had Judah done to merit the honor?

I have a theory about that. Harken back to parashat Vayeshev and Gen. 38:26 in which Judah plainly admits he had been wrong in dealing with Tamar. The ability to admit when one is wrong - that is worthy of great honor, indeed. Especially among us clearly imperfect human beings.

In a way, Yaakov's ethical will might be his own admission of guilt, of his failures as a father. Favoring one son among twelve. Failing to properly chastise his children when he really needed to. Takes a certain type of person to be willing to lay it all bare like that-for it reflects as much on him as it does on his sons.

So Yaakov's own parting words reinforce my thesis - Judah is honored for his willingness to admit to wrongs. A good lesson for us all this Shabbat.

חזק חזק ונתחזק

Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2017 (portions ©2001) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha

Vayekhi 5777 - It's Our Stew Now
Vayekhi 5776 - Beyond the Threshold
Vayekhi 5775 - Which Last Words?
Vay'khi 5774 - The Puppet's Unritten Lament
Vayekhi 5773 - The Wrong Good (Redux and Updated 5762)
Vayekhi 5772 - A Different HaMalakh HaGoel
Vayekhi 5771-Trading Places (Redux & Updated from 5759)
Vayekhi 5770 - Musing Block?
Vayekhi 5769 - Enough With the Hereditary Payback Already!
Vayekhi 5767-HaMalakh HaGoel
Vayechi 5766-Thresholds (Redux 5764 with Reflections
Vayechi 5761/5-Unethical Wills
Vayechi 5764-Thresholds
Vayechi 5763 - I Got it Good and That Ain't Bad (Redux 5760)
Vayechi 5759-Trading Places
Vayechi 5762-The Wrong Good

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayigash 5778–Two Sticks as One (Revised 5767)

I remember seeing, many years ago, at a CAJE Conference, one of Kenny Ellis' shtick routines - he would hold up a carrot in one hand and say in a thick Israeli accent "one gezer" (gezer is Hebrew for carrot – and pronounced "geh-zair). In his other hand, he would hold up another carrot and say "two gezer" (yes, we know the Hebrew syntax is wrong, but the joke doesn't work without it.) He would bring the two carrots side by side and exclaim "Two gezer as one." (You have to say it out loud to get it.)

Why do I even mention this? Well, to be honest, I have to say it just popped into my head later that same year as I was reading through the haftarah for parashat Vayigash, from Ezekiel 37:15-28. It’s short enough to include all of it:

וַיְהִ֥י דְבַר־יְהוָ֖ה אֵלַ֥י לֵאמֹֽר׃

37:15] The word of the LORD came to me:

וְאַתָּ֣ה בֶן־אָדָ֗ם קַח־לְךָ֙ עֵ֣ץ אֶחָ֔ד וּכְתֹ֤ב עָלָיו֙ לִֽיהוּדָ֔ה וְלִבְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל חברו [חֲבֵרָ֑יו] וּלְקַח֙ עֵ֣ץ אֶחָ֔ד וּכְת֣וֹב עָלָ֗יו לְיוֹסֵף֙ עֵ֣ץ אֶפְרַ֔יִם וְכָל־בֵּ֥ית יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל חברו [חֲבֵרָֽיו׃]

[16] Mortal, take a stick nd write on it “For Judah and Israelites associated with it” and take another stick and write on it “Joseph – Ephraim’s stick – and all the House of Israel associated with it”

וְקָרַ֨ב אֹתָ֜ם אֶחָ֧ד אֶל־אֶחָ֛ד לְךָ֖ לְעֵ֣ץ אֶחָ֑ד וְהָי֥וּ לַאֲחָדִ֖ים בְּיָדֶֽךָ׃

[17] Bring them together, every one of them, as one stick, that they maybe as one in your hand.”

וְכַֽאֲשֶׁר֙ יֹאמְר֣וּ אֵלֶ֔יךָ בְּנֵ֥י עַמְּךָ֖ לֵאמֹ֑ר הֲלֽוֹא־תַגִּ֥יד לָ֖נוּ מָה־אֵ֥לֶּה לָּֽךְ׃

[18] And when any of your people ask you, “Won’t you tell us what these actions of yours mean?”

דַּבֵּ֣ר אֲלֵהֶ֗ם כֹּֽה־אָמַר֮ אֲדֹנָ֣י יְהוִה֒ הִנֵּה֩ אֲנִ֨י לֹקֵ֜חַ אֶת־עֵ֤ץ יוֹסֵף֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּיַד־אֶפְרַ֔יִם וְשִׁבְטֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל חברו [חֲבֵרָ֑יו] וְנָתַתִּי֩ אוֹתָ֨ם עָלָ֜יו אֶת־עֵ֣ץ יְהוּדָ֗ה וַֽעֲשִׂיתִם֙ לְעֵ֣ץ אֶחָ֔ד וְהָי֥וּ אֶחָ֖ד בְּיָדִֽי׃

[19] Answer them, “Thus said the Lord GOD: I am going to take the stick of Joseph—which is in the hand of Ephraim—and of the tribes of Israel associated with him, and I will place the stick of Judah upon it and make them into one stick; they shall be joined in My hand.”

וְהָי֨וּ הָעֵצִ֜ים אֲ‍ֽשֶׁר־תִּכְתֹּ֧ב עֲלֵיהֶ֛ם בְּיָדְךָ֖ לְעֵינֵיהֶֽם׃

[20] You shall hold up before their eyes the sticks which you have inscribed,

וְדַבֵּ֣ר אֲלֵיהֶ֗ם כֹּֽה־אָמַר֮ אֲדֹנָ֣י יְהוִה֒ הִנֵּ֨ה אֲנִ֤י לֹקֵ֙חַ֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מִבֵּ֥ין הַגּוֹיִ֖ם אֲשֶׁ֣ר הָֽלְכוּ־שָׁ֑ם וְקִבַּצְתִּ֤י אֹתָם֙ מִסָּבִ֔יב וְהֵבֵאתִ֥י אוֹתָ֖ם אֶל־אַדְמָתָֽם׃

[21] and you shall declare to them: Thus said the Lord GOD: I am going to take the Israelite people from among the nations they have gone to, and gather them from every quarter, and bring them to their own land.

וְעָשִׂ֣יתִי אֹ֠תָם לְג֨וֹי אֶחָ֤ד בָּאָ֙רֶץ֙ בְּהָרֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וּמֶ֧לֶךְ אֶחָ֛ד יִֽהְיֶ֥ה לְכֻלָּ֖ם לְמֶ֑לֶךְ וְלֹ֤א יהיה־[יִֽהְיוּ־] עוֹד֙ לִשְׁנֵ֣י גוֹיִ֔ם וְלֹ֨א יֵחָ֥צוּ ע֛וֹד לִשְׁתֵּ֥י מַמְלָכ֖וֹת עֽוֹד׃

[22] I will make them a single nation in the land, on the hills of Israel, and one king shall be king of them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.

וְלֹ֧א יִֽטַמְּא֣וּ ע֗וֹד בְּגִלּֽוּלֵיהֶם֙ וּבְשִׁקּ֣וּצֵיהֶ֔ם וּבְכֹ֖ל פִּשְׁעֵיהֶ֑ם וְהוֹשַׁעְתִּ֣י אֹתָ֗ם מִכֹּ֤ל מוֹשְׁבֹֽתֵיהֶם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר חָטְא֣וּ בָהֶ֔ם וְטִהַרְתִּ֤י אוֹתָם֙ וְהָיוּ־לִ֣י לְעָ֔ם וַאֲנִ֕י אֶהְיֶ֥ה לָהֶ֖ם לֵאלֹהִֽים׃

[23] Nor shall they ever again defile themselves by their fetishes and their abhorrent things, and by their other transgressions. I will save them in all their settlements where they sinned, and I will cleanse them. Then they shall be My people, and I will be their God.

וְעַבְדִּ֤י דָוִד֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ עֲלֵיהֶ֔ם וְרוֹעֶ֥ה אֶחָ֖ד יִהְיֶ֣ה לְכֻלָּ֑ם וּבְמִשְׁפָּטַ֣י יֵלֵ֔כוּ וְחֻקֹּתַ֥י יִשְׁמְר֖וּ וְעָשׂ֥וּ אוֹתָֽם׃

[24] My servant David shall be king over them; there shall be one shepherd for all of them. They shall follow My rules and faithfully obey My laws.

וְיָשְׁב֣וּ עַל־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר נָתַ֙תִּי֙ לְעַבְדִּ֣י לְיַֽעֲקֹ֔ב אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָֽשְׁבוּ־בָ֖הּ אֲבֽוֹתֵיכֶ֑ם וְיָשְׁב֣וּ עָלֶ֡יהָ הֵ֠מָּה וּבְנֵיהֶ֞ם וּבְנֵ֤י בְנֵיהֶם֙ עַד־עוֹלָ֔ם וְדָוִ֣ד עַבְדִּ֔י נָשִׂ֥יא לָהֶ֖ם לְעוֹלָֽם׃

[25] Thus they shall remain in the land which I gave to My servant Jacob and in which your fathers dwelt; they and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, with My servant David as their prince for all time.

וְכָרַתִּ֤י לָהֶם֙ בְּרִ֣ית שָׁל֔וֹם בְּרִ֥ית עוֹלָ֖ם יִהְיֶ֣ה אוֹתָ֑ם וּנְתַתִּים֙ וְהִרְבֵּיתִ֣י אוֹתָ֔ם וְנָתַתִּ֧י אֶת־מִקְדָּשִׁ֛י בְּתוֹכָ֖ם לְעוֹלָֽם׃

[26] I will make a covenant of friendship with them—it shall be an everlasting covenant with them—I will establish them and multiply them, and I will place My Sanctuary among them forever.

וְהָיָ֤ה מִשְׁכָּנִי֙ עֲלֵיהֶ֔ם וְהָיִ֥יתִי לָהֶ֖ם לֵֽאלֹהִ֑ים וְהֵ֖מָּה יִֽהְיוּ־לִ֥י לְעָֽם׃

[27] My Presence shall rest over them; I will be their God and they shall be My people.

וְיָֽדְעוּ֙ הַגּוֹיִ֔ם כִּ֚י אֲנִ֣י יְהוָ֔ה מְקַדֵּ֖שׁ אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל בִּהְי֧וֹת מִקְדָּשִׁ֛י בְּתוֹכָ֖ם לְעוֹלָֽם׃

[28] And when My Sanctuary abides among them forever, the nations shall know that I the LORD do sanctify Israel.

It's a powerful metaphor - the sticks representing the peoples of the two Kingdoms - Judah and Israel - with G"d, through Ezekiel, foretelling their return to Zion from exile.

No "lost tribes" in this story. G"d tells Ezekiel that all the people of the covenant will be gathered from where they have gone and brought together in their own land, and make of them one nation, under one King. And then G"d promises (v. 22b) "Never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms."

(I guess we can consider the promise half-true - the people were returned from exile in Babylon and thereafter were one nation, but, in effect, still only the nation that was the southern kingdom, Judah. We don't really know how many, descended from the tribes that made up the northern Kingdom of Israel might have been among those who came back to a restored Jerusalem and southern kingdom - almost 120 years had elapsed between the destruction of the northern kingdom and the exile of the southern tribes around 586. Add to that the 40 years of exile. Were only the descendants of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi among the returned exiles? We may never know for sure.

In Talmud, Midrash and other rabbinic sources, we first learn of the river Sambatyon, the raging river that was only still and crossable on Shabbat. It is said that G"d encircled the lost tribes with the river, and that the retained faith of the lost tribes kept them from violating the Shabbat by crossing the river then. With the coming of Moshiach, the lost tribes will be returned and reunited with all of Israel, it is said.

Needless to say, many Christians went searching for the elusive river and the lost tribes - more Jews to convert. Legends and myths abound in both Jewish and Christian sources.

And according to Church of Latter Day Saints belief, the Bible is the stick of Judah, and the Book of Mormon is the stick of Joseph. (This may offer you some insight as to why Mormons continue to posthumously baptize Jews murdered in the Shoah despite continually agreeing with Jewish leaders to stop the practice.)

Radio evangelist Hebert W. Armstrong claimed that descendants of the lost tribes were spread throughout Europe. This became the underpinning of more contemporary millennialist and apocalyptic expressions of Christianity.

And what of today? If the Samaritans, the Lemba, Beta Yisrael, the Abayudayah, Bukharan, Igbo, Bnei Menashe, Pashtun, et al, are, as they claim to be, descendants of the lost tribes - many of them being allowed to return to Israel and considered Jews - perhaps Ezekiel's prophecy may finally be coming true? There are those who adhere to the Anglo-Israelite theory, claiming the the British, and the royal houses of Britain, are descended from the lost tribes. There are even similar theories about the Japanese and the Kurds.

The whole "lost tribe" thing is a fascinating journey that one could spend an entire lifetime researching. Just Google "lost tribes of Israel" and you'll see what I mean. And all because of these passages from Ezekiel.

Time permitting, I commend to you further investigations into Jewish sources about the lost tribes, and thence to following these threads in Christianity and other religions.

Yet all of this has been one giant digression, for my purpose in referring to these words of Ezekiel from our haftarah for parashat Vayigash is of an entirely different nature.

I want to alter Ezekiel's vision a little bit. I ask pardon of all for the liberty I am about to take with these sacred words from our sacred texts, but for me they express a contemporary hope ultimately more important than the reunification of all 12 tribes of Israel. It is the unifications of all Jews.

From the Book of "I Made it All Up Ezekiel:"

[15] The word of the L"rd came to me: [16] And you, O mortal, take a stick and write on it "Of the rabbis, the Sanhedrin, Tannaim, Amoraim, Geonim, Rishonim, Achronim, and all the Israelites associated with them--strict followers of their traditions and interpretation"; and take another stick and write on it, "Of the Jews who give tradition a vote but not a veto, and all the Israelites associated with them."

[17] Bring them close to each other, so that they become one stick again, joined together in your hand.

[18] And when any of your people ask you "Won’t you tell us what these actions of yours mean?" [19] answer them "Thus said the L"rd G"d: I am going to take the stick of tradition and I will place the stick of liberalism upon it and make them into one stick; they shall be joined by My hand."

And now I offer you a choice of two possibilities-choose that which feels best for you-

[20] You shall hold up before their eyes the sticks which you have inscribed, [21] and you shall declare to them: Thus said the L"rd G"d: I am going to take the Israelite people from among the nations they have gone to, and gather them from every quarter, and bring them to their own land. [22] I will make them a single nation in the land, on the hills of Israel, and one king shall be king of them all. Never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.


[20] You shall hold up before their eyes the sticks which you have inscribed, [21] and you shall declare to them: Thus said the L"rd G"d: I am going to take the Israelite people, wherever in the world they live, [22] and make them again one people, never again to be divided.

and either can end as Ezekiel (really) did:

[23] Nor shall they ever again defile themselves by their fetishes and their abhorrent things, and by their other transgressions. I will save them in all their settlements where they sinned, and I will cleanse them. Then they shall be My people, and I shall be their G"d.

The fractious and ever-widening divisions between liberal and traditional Judaism (and even the divisions within these segments) may be our undoing. Is it foolish to imagine a future where liberal and traditional Jews can sit together under their vines and fig trees unafraid? Cannot these two sticks be joined – if not as one, at the very least, living in respect with each other? A wide G”d accepts that there may be as many true paths to G”d as there are people.

My G"d's sanctuary abide among us all forever, and may we all know that the L"rd sanctifies all the children Israel.

Shabbat Shalom,


©2017 (portions ©2006) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Vayigash 5777 - Orange Default Swaps
Vayigash 5776 - Things Better Left Unsaid (Redux 5763)
Vayiggash 5775 - Rule #2
Vayiggash 5774 - We Are Shepherds
Vayigash 5773 - Let's Be Judah
Vayigash 5772 - Redux & Revised 5760 Teleology 101: Does G"d Play Dice With the World
Vayiggash 5771-Being Both Israels
Vayigash 5769 - He's A-Cookin'-a-Somethin'-A-Up
Vayigash 5768 - G"d By the Light of Day
Vayigash 5767-Two Sticks As One?
Vayigash 5765-One People
Vayigash 5763-Things Better Left Unsaid
Vayigash 5761/5766-Checking In
Vayigash 5762-Teleology 101: Does Gd Play Dice With the World?
Vayigash 5764-Incidental Outcomes and Alternate Histories

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Miketz/Hanukkah 5778–Yodim Atem Likhvod Mah?

I love finding interesting connections/coincidences. (Which of course always make me wonder how coincidental they really are.)

There’s a popular contemporary Hanukkah song,

אָבִי הִדְלִיק נֵרוֹת לִי
וְשַׁמָּש לוֹ אֲבוּקָה –
יוֹדְעִים אַתֶּם לִכְבוֹד מַה?
לִכְבוֹד הַחֲנֻכָּה

Avi hidlik neirot li
V’shamash lo avukah
Yodim atem likhvod mah?
Likhvod HaHanukkah

My father lit some candles for me
With a shamash like a torch
Do you know what this is to honor?
To honor Hanukkah

The words are by C. N. Bialik and set to a folktune. There are four verses, each one asking the same question, which I like to put more simply:  “Do you know what this is for?” 

My father lit candses for me with a shamash like a torch. How come?
My teacher gave me a dreidl cast in lead. Why?
My mother gave me a latke, a warm sweet latke. What’s that all about?
My uncle gave me a gift, a single worn-out coin. Why did he do that?

It’s a great pedagogic technique, this act, question, and explanation.  It is reiterated at other times (notably, a similar technique is used at Pesach, both with the four questions and the four children.) I suspect Bialik was honoring this long pedagogic tradition with his poem. However, I also wonder if consciously or unconsciously, Bialik was making another connection.

The haftarah for Hanukkah is the same as is used for parashat B’ha’alot’kha, taken from Zechariah 2:14-4:7.

Let us places theses verse in context. The period is at the end of the Babylonion captivity. Cyrus the Great issued his 539 BCE edict allowing the Jews to return and rebuild their Temple. Cyrus died and Darius eventually took his place, and re-affrimed Cyrus’ edict. Zechariah, born in exile in Babylon, was among the returnees in the first wave. Work had been started on restoring the Temple, with the cornerstone laid in the second year of the return, but due to some external and internal political pressures*, as well as some ennui on the part of the returnees, work was halted on the Temple for 16 years. Managing the second wave of return are Joshua the High Priest and Zerubabbel, appointed governor of the region of Judah,

(*-It’s important to remember that those exiled to Babylon were the educated, the priests, officials, etc. Your average Ploni ben Ploni had been left behind in Babylonian-controlled Judah to labor and eke out a living in a land that was no longer under Jewish rule. One suspects that those who were stuck in Israel may not have been so gosh-darned eager to have the returnees come back to lord it all over them yet again – simply trading one master for another yet again.)

The prophet Haggai comes along in 520 BCE and gives four sermons exhorting the Israelites to rebuild the Temple. Then Haggai promptly disappears from the scene. Zechariah then takes up the cause. (His exhortations and encouragements eventually proved successful – the rebuilt Temple was done 5 years later in 515 BCE.)

Zechariah’s message to Zerubabbel and Joshua is simple – G’d will insure the Temple is rebuilt. There’s no need to take any rash actions, or fear continuing the restoration. That is essentially the message of the most well-known words from this haftarah, the ones we associate with Hanukkah the most

לֹ֤א בְחַ֙יִל֙ וְלֹ֣א בְכֹ֔חַ כִּ֣י אִם־בְּרוּחִ֔י אָמַ֖ר יְהוָ֥ה צְבָאֽוֹת׃

…not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, says the L”rd of Hosts. (4:6)

But where’s the connection, I hear you ask. I’m getting to that. The first 6 chapters of Zechariah contain eight different visions brought to Zechariah by an angel. The well-known words above are part of the fifth vision – that of a golden menorah framed by two olive trees.

The first three visions: the man among the myrtles, the four horns and four craftsman, and the man with the measuring line all occur before this haftrah starts. The fourth vision, the cleansing of Joshua, is the start of chapter three.

The fifth vision is chapter four. Starting with this vision, Zechariah starts asking questions of the Angel, asking the Angel to explain the meanings of the things he sees in the visions.

In this fifth vision, the Angel asks Zecharaiah: “what do you see?” Zechariah describes the menorah and the olive trees, and then asks the Angel “mah eileh?” literally “what are these?” but elucidated by the JPS committee as “”What do those things mean?”

“Do you not know what these things mean?” asks the Angel. Zecharaiah answers “No, my Lord” and proceeds to answer the question – though not in the immediate verses, starting with 4:6, which seem to be an insertion of some kind – but in the verses that come after the end of this haftarah.

In Bialik’s words, I hear the echo of the Angel asking Zechariah if he knows the meanings of these symbolic visions. Bialik has a child asking “Do you (plural) know what this is for?” Yes, the child is asking for his or herself, to understand why his father, teacher, mother, and uncle have done these things. At the same time, because the you is plural, the child is asking the adults “do YOU know why you’re doing this? Bialik doesn’t make clear who provides the answer – the adult, or the child. I think it’s just as easy to see it either way.

Is it this exchange:

Child: my father lit candles for me with a shamash as a torch.
Adult: Do you know why?
Child: For Hanukkah.

(if so, why would Bialik use the plural You?)

or this:

Child: my father lit candles for me with a shamash as a torch.
Child: Do (any/all of) you (adults) know why?
Adults: For Hanukkah!

or this:

Child: my father lit candles for me with a shamash as a torch.
Child: Do (any/all of) you (adults) know why?
Child: For Hanukkah!

Do you (plural) know why you do these things – light the hanukkiyah? Eat fired foods? play with dreidls?

Do you (plural) know what you are celebrating – religious freedom? The victory of the few over the many?

Let’s face it – there’s a lot about this story that’s unclear. Most modern scholars are fairly convinced that the miracle of the oil story was a later addition (it first appears about 500 years later, but could have originated before that – there’s just no evidence.) The Maccabees were the world first guerilla fighters. Is that something to celebrate? The House of Hashmon, the descendants of the Maccabees who rules over Israel after the Maccabean victory were among the most despotic and ill-suited rulers over Israel (and they even eventually invited the Romans in.) Dreidls are a relatively recent addition to Hanukkah, probablybased on the middle-age teetotum. The Romans and Greeks did not use 4-sided tops, but tops with more sides. Perhaps people played games to stall soldiers looking for people violating Antiochus’ edicts, perhaps not.

However, when I say those blessings, light those candles, sing Hanerot Halalu and Maoz Tzur, eat latkes and soufganiyot, and play dreidl, none of that matters. None of that matters. I know what matters.  I know why I am doing it.

I am doing it likhvod HaHanukkah.

Why are YOU doing it?

Chag Urim Sameakh and Shabbat Shalom,

©2017 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Miketz 5777 - Eizeh Hu Adayin Khakham
Miketz 5776 - Coke or Pepsi? (Or...?)
Miketz 5775 - Assimilating Assimilation
Miketz 5774 - To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
Miketz 5773 - B'li Meilitz
Miketz 5772 - A Piece of That Kit Kat Bar
Miketz 5771-What's Bothering...Me?
Miketz/Hanukkah 5769 - Redux 5763 - Assimilating Assimilation
Miketz/Hanukah 5768 Learning From Joseph and His Brothers (revised from 5757)
Miketz 5767-Clothes Make the Man?
Miketz 5766-Eizeh Hu Khakham?
Miketz 5757& 5761-Would You Buy A Used Car From This Guy?
Miketz 5763/5764/5765-Assimilating Assimilation

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayeishev-Spirals

A decade ago I looked at the words of Amos 3:3 (from the haftarah for this week’s parasha, Vayeishev) and worked to find an expansive meaning in its words:

Can two walk together without having met?

I argued, at that time, that superficially it might seem like bit of a “doh” statement, but if we consider how we define the term “meet” there is lots of room for broader understandings.  I wrote:

It all sort of depends on how you define "meet."

In our increasingly self-absorbed society, now exacerbated through the proliferation of iPods, cell phones, PDAs, etc. it seems perfectly possible to walk together without meeting. Thousands, perhaps millions, do it every day - on sidewalks, buses, subways, airplanes, etc. Not to mention people playing in virtual realities and simulations.

Now let's take it into another setting. Thousands, if not millions, sitting in synagogues, churches, mosques, temples, etc. They are there, ostensibly, to encounter G"d. Yet I've little doubt that, for many, they and G"d might be walking side by side and yet never meeting.

Through the prophet Amos, G"d tries to tell us that we can't really walk with G"d and not meet G"d; still this seems the reality for so many. Why is this so? Is it perhaps because we enclose ourselves in those same little walls, boxes, boundaries that we use on the subway, the bus, the elevators, standing in line, etc.? How else could we wind up not meeting the ones we are walking together with; or the One we are walking together with?

Is it possible one could walk together with the One and not truly meet each other? To make it work, we (and that includes humans and G"d) must be open to the encounter; must be walking unencumbered by distractions, so that one is noticing only their walking partner and the beautiful scenery which surrounds them,

This Shabbat, take a walk together with someone. Truly together, truly "meeting." Try it and see how it feels. Then, perhaps, you might be willing to try the same "one on One."

They say "walk with G"d." Better yet, meet the G"d of your understanding while walking together with the G"d of your understanding. Who knows-your understanding just might change.

It’s always fun to look back at my own thoughts and examine how they shift in an ever spiraling pattern. Over the years,  I’ve protested against the prevailing insistence that smartphones and tablets are the harbinger of the end of civilization, or, at the very least, the idea of face-to-face relationships. I have written, both before and after that musing 10 years ago, that more travels through the ether of the internet than mere bits and bytes, and that virtual community and friendship need be no less real than face to face – and as the technology improves and gets cheaper, this becomes increasingly so. If I look to interpret my own words from a decade ago, I can see that I did, at least at a subconscious level, work to not make technology a villain in the scenario I was creating. I am sure now that all the things I suggested we could do to escape from our “walking together without meeting” are possible not just face to face. but through the use of technology as well.

If we take a Buberian understanding (greatly simplified, I admit) of the value and purpose of relationship to others and to G”d as “I-You” as opposed to “I-It” there is no reason to suppose (or insist) that face-to-face interaction is, perforce, superior in accomplishing this. The medium is not the message here.

I think there is a deep lesson here for all of us to consider in terms of how we dialogue with others – especially those with whom with we disagree – on Facebook, Twitter, et al. I do not have to approve of the beliefs and opinions of others, nor do I even have to accept them, but I should work to treat them not as an object, a foil, a stereotype, but rather as another human being (no matter how deplorable I might find them.)  I will admit that I struggle with this in our present climate. It is difficult, at times,  to respect people who hold views that I find hateful. Words and actions that set off alarm bells ought not to be ignored, Response is effectively obligatory.

This line of thinking, however, leads me to another verse from this haftarah that I wrote about just five years ago.

When a ram’s horn is sounded in town, do people not take alarm? (Amos 3: 6)

When I wrote about this in 2012, I mused that we had become a society that ignores the alarms constantly blaring in our world. I wrote:

Sadly, again, the answer is no longer the obvious one that the haftarah expects. It's due to a combination of factors. First, we have now lived through centuries of people crying "wolf" when there was no wolf, so we have developed a tendency to ignore the warnings.

Second, we have become a society that, at least on the surface, utilizes technology to help insure safety. When fire alarms go off, despite all that was drilled into us as children in school, we don't all drop everything we're doing and go rushing into the street as quickly as we were taught. We have become complacent, arrogantly sure of our own safety. We are convinced that the alarm is meant for others and not for us.

Third, every time an alarm is sounded, there are people who shout loudly that the alarm is premature, or based on inaccurate information, or is unnecessary or reactionary.

And I stated:

Ram's horns are being sounded all around us, every day. Rather than ignore the din because there are so many, because we don't believe it's real, required, necessary, because we don't think it is calling to us, maybe we need to start listening and heeding. Yes, perhaps discernment is needed, or we would spend our entire life responding to alarms. However, our world is pretty messed up, and maybe there's a good reason so many alarms are being raised simultaneously. We ignore them at our own peril.

Dare I eisegete into my own words and suggest I might have been prescient – that the alarms for what is now happening in our country and the world were already ringing back in 2011?

The problem, in our current situation, is that the alarm is being raised on a daily basis (sometimes even several times a day) and this has the effect of our coming to accept them as normal, or to tune them out. Even as outraged and worried as so many of us are, I am starting to see “emergency fatigue” and even a certain fatalism set in. (I was not at all pleased to read a pundit suggesting that the liberal cause has had so much trouble organizing itself effectively that a second orange term is likely.) We must not fall prey to this fatigue. We must be ever vigilant, defenders of truth and righteousness. We must be as Amos assumed we would be and be alarmed whenever the ram’s horn is sounded.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2017 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Vayeishev 5777 - Unspoilers
Vayeishev 5776 - Revisiting Mikol Hamishpakhot HaAdamah
Vayeishev 5775 - Seriously...Who Was That Guy?
Vayeishev 5773 - K'tonet Passim
Vayeishev 5772 - The Ram's Horn Rag
Vayeishev 5771-Ma T'vakeish?
Vayeishev 5768 - Strangers Walking Together
Vayeishev/Hanukah 5767-I Believe in Miracles
Vayeishev 5766-Who Was That Guy?
Vayeshev 5761 - In Gd's Time
Vayeshev 5765-Mikol HaMishpakhot HaAdamah
Vayeshev 5758-What's Worth Looking After

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat - Vayishlakh 5778 - Who Will Say #MeToo for Dinah?

Not surprised that many are choosing to focus on everything but the rape of Dinah this week. It’s hitting far too close to home in these times.

Exactly a decade ago I wrote for parashat Vayishlakh a musing entitled “No One’s In The Kitchen With Dinah.” Just three years back, I revisited it again, in the midst of the period when many were trying to remind us that #blacklivesmatter. Today, it gets revisited and revised from a different perspective.

I started somewhat frivolously with this set of parody lyrics to “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” because of it’s obvious “Dinah” connection:

I've been reading from the Torah,
all the livelong week
I've been reading from the Torah,
in the hopes I'll get a peek
Of the secret hidden meanings
found between the lines
Yet they somehow still elude me,
I can't see the signs

Torah please reveal,
Torah please reveal
Torah please reveal your secret truths
Torah please reveal,
Torah please reveal
Torah please reveal your truths

Shechem thought that Dinah was lovely
Took as if she were a pri – i – i - ize
Dinah's bro's said "this ain't a problem"
If you goys all circumcise," we're singing

Oy, oy, oyddly doy doy
Oy, oy, cut off your diddly oy doy oy
Oy, oy, oyddly doy doy
So the goys got circumcised

While the Shechemite men were healing
While they all were resting in be – e – e – ed
Some of Dinah's brothers came stealing
Into town and killed them dead, they're singing

Oy, oy, we got our revenge
On those lousy Shechemites
Oy, oy, now us all will dread
Mess with us you'll wind up dead

When the deed was done they told Jacob
And an angry scolding to them he gave
For what they'd done to his reputation
And not their murd'rous acts so grave, he's singing

Oy, oy, look at what they've done
How am I supposed to do business now?
My ferkhakhte sons must be crazy
Their deeds I can't disavow

In the sturm und drang of our story
There is one voice that we've not heard
Didn't anyone ask Dinah?
Of what she thought there's not a word, she's singing

Oy, oy, don't they want to know
What I'm thinking, how it makes me fee – ee – ee - eel?
Oy, Oy, they do not seem to know
That a woman's pain is real!

Well, I could go on...but I won't. It's silly, and almost trivializes what is otherwise a most troubling piece of Torah text-the story of the rape of Dinah, and the revenge done by her brothers. It's no laughing matter. Two wrongs simply never add up to a right, and in this case, we have wrongs compounded upon wrongs compounded upon wrongs, ad nauseaum. Over the years, in writing about this parasha, I've taken all the parties to task: Shechem, for his impetuousness, and for being a rapist. Jacob's sons for the deceit, trickery, and murderous deeds. The good people, the Hivites of shechem, for their casual willingness to be circumcised whether it was truly in repentance for what Shechem had done to Dinah, or simply in order to satisfy their own lust. Jacob, of course, for caring not so much about what had happened, and who had done what, as he did about what it did to his reputation, and his ability to conduct business with the people in the region.

I've never tackled Dinah herself. There are interpreters of Torah who fault Dinah by interpreting the text to imply that Dinah was out where she shouldn't be, or being flirtatious. How typical of the generations of misogynist redactors and interpreters of this sacred text to fall back on a "blame the victim" mentality. Others ask us to place ourselves in the values and ethics of the time when the story is taking place. I reject both of these whitewashings categorically. Historically, we're far too good at apologetics.

As you may know, I am particularly fond of working to redeem so-called irredeemable texts. I've found no footholds at all in this story other than the classic "well, it's a great lesson on how not to behave." I don't find that satisfactory. The only place left for me to turn is to Dinah. Yet she is absent from the text.

As our society explodes in new found disgust for sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior that has plagued us for millennia, perhaps the time is ripe to take the task of being Dinah’s voice on.

Prone as I am to inventing creative midrash, as I have done so often in these musings, I do not feel I can legitimately do so in this case. It's not that I can't imagine what Dinah might have felt and thought--I surely can. It's that I don't feel qualified, as a male, to even try to put words in Dinah's mouth, thoughts in Dinah's head, and feelings in Dinah's heart.

The words above are words I wrote a decade ago. Today, it’s even worse. Though I am fairly well convinced that I have not treated a woman in a way that might be perceived as sexual harassment or sexual discrimination, as all these icons fall about me, I am forced to wonder if I am even deluding myself.

Given my predilection for championing those of lower socio-economic standing, I could rationalize that it is very success of these men that is the cause of their treatment of women. I’m not one of these successful men, perhaps because I don’t have their drive, and thus I’m not prone to abuse my power like they are. However, I know this is horsehockey, plain and simple. Men who mistreat and abuse women come from across the socio-economic spectrum. I imagine some men, unhappy with their perceived lack of success even though they have a big male ego, take their unhappiness with their own lot out on the women in their lives.

Maybe, because I am educated, I am better able to control myself, I wonder. Horsehockey again. It’s not education – clearly – for misogynists, rapists, abusers, and their ilk also come from across the educational spectrum.

I am, for all effects, a religious professional. Maybe that’s it. Horsehockey yet again. It’s not religion – that’s more than obvious. There are plenty of pious and righteous sexual abusers out there – including clergy, and candidates for U.S. Senate, and even Presidents of the United States. Some even argue that the sexually-repressed nature of some forms of practiced religions are responsible for creating abusers.

I can say that I strive, daily, to treat all people equally and with respect. I admit that I sometimes do fail to live up to that desire. I can say that, in all honesty, I have never been tempted to ignore anyone’s “no”or “wait” or “stop” (not that I have found myself in that sort of situation that I can recall. I have, however, been on the receiving end of having a please stop this harassment go unheeded. I have hesitated to say this, because, in this moment of “metoo” I did not want to distract from the moment. Women have endured millennia of systematic abuse and mistreatment, and perhaps, now, the time is finally come when we will be forced to deal with this virus infecting humanity.

I am fortunate that I lived a life in my youth in the 60s (and to this day) in which my circle of family and friends included people of all colors, beliefs, sexual preferences, etc. It has sometimes included men that, at least conversationally, talked about women in a way that always made me uncomfortable. I sometimes spoke up about it, but I did not always do so, and I regret that. Yes, I am sure there were moments of “locker room talk.”  I may have spoken words that could be seen as objectifying women. I will not attempt to justify that simply because “times were different then.” This is not only the opportunity for women to speak out about their abusers, it is time for men to change. It is time for society to change.

I cannot speak for women. I cannot pretend to know what Dinah felt. I remain unworthy to even try, even though I can certainly imagine it. So please, men (and women) let’s find ways to give voice to Dinah this Shabbat, and forever on, until we have learned the hard lessons from this story and millennia of abuse and harassment of women.

Great female scholars and writers, Jewish and not, like Anita Diamant, Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Phyllis Trible, Drorah Setel, professor Renita Weems (from whom I was privileged to learn at Vandy) and so many others are far more qualified and capable to imagine Dinah's viewpoint.

So my challenge to myself and to you (whether you are male or female) this Shabbat is to seek out the feminist and women's commentaries and interpretations of this biblical story (along with others) and see if they help bring any greater insight into why this troubling text is part of the canon. (See below for some references.)

Here's a couple of links to get you started:

And of course, there are many, many books like “The Torah: A Women’s Commentary,” "The Red Tent," and even the older the "Women's Bible Commentary." They're in my library along with many others-and should be in yours, too!

Shabbat Shalom,

©2017 (portions ©2007) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Vayishlakh 5777 - My Prayer or Me Prayer
Vayishlakh 5775 - No One's In The Kitchen With Dinah (or Eric or Michael)
Vayishlakh 5774 - Biblical Schadenfreude
Vayishlakh 5773 - That Other Devorah's Tale
Vayishlakh 5772 - One and Many, Many and One
Vayishlakh 5771/5763 - The Bigger Man
Vayishlakh 5769 - A Fish Called Wonder
Vayishlakh 5768 - No One's in the Kitchen With Dinah
Vayishlakh 5767-Wrestlemania
Vayishlakh 5766-Like Deity, Like Deity's Child
Vayishlakh 5765-B'li Mirmah
Vayishlakh 5762-Don't Get Mad--Get Even!
Vayishlakh 5761-No Doubt? No Wonder!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayeitze 5778–Change, In Perspective (Redux 5762)

Taking a writing break over this Thanksgiving weekend, so I offer the musing from way back in 2000/5761

Random Musings Before Shabbat - Vayetze 5761 - Change, In Perspective

There is an African proverb that says:

"If you refuse to be made straight when you are green, you will not be made straight when you are dry."

As we are advancing in our lives to the time that is our dryness, we must strive to remain green. That is, we must remain open to change, be flexible, and be ready to respond to that still, small voice.

As we become comfortable with our lives' routines, we begin to tune out the voices of change calling out to us. Our routines become “. We must find times in our lives when we remove those distractions, and open ourselves up to hear what is out there that may be calling to us. Shabbat affords us just such an opportunity and I urge us all to take advantage of it.

Change continued to come to Yaakov throughout his life. The epiphanal moment we read about in Vayetze was only a beginning. Yaakov's eyes were opened. I am sure that many of us have come to the same realization at some time in our lives as did Jacob on that day:

Acheyn yeish Ad-nai bamakom hazeh v'anochi lo yadati.

Surely G”d was in this place, and I, I did not know it.

I still remember the powerful impression those words made on me the first time I read them. They are no less so each time I read them or hear them, or even think them. They are a constant reminder to try and tune out the background noise of life and truly listen. But I am also reminded that after this "awesome" experience, Yaakov makes only a minimal of fuss, and then moves on to continue his journey. As it was for Yaakov, our realization that G”d is in a place where we are also is only one step down the road of our lives.

G”d is found in many places and many situations. Yaakov was fleeing from his brother after being coerced by his mother to steal the birthright and trick his aging, blinding Father, Yitzchak. Was he motivated by guilt or fear? Who knows. He had barely set out on his journey when G”d stepped in to reassure him that it was through him that the lineage of G”d's chosen was to be continued and made numerous as the dust.

Yet, after recognizing the awesome miracle that G”d had been in that place and with him, he proceeds to have the audacity to tell G”d "OK-if you do what you say you're going to do, then you will be my G”d." This is a hero, a great figure of Judaism, one of avoteinu?

Was Yaakov indeed the better brother? And was Esau all bad? After all, Esau tended to his Father lovingly, whilst Yaakov simply took advantage of his Father's old age. Sure, Yaakov had not only his Father's blessing, but G”d's blessing and promise. Yet that still wasn't enough for him. He wanted proof from G”d in order to allow G”d to be his G”d. His Father's word was not enough, nor his Mother's! (Of course who knew what kind of father Yitchak was to Yaakov after the trauma of his own childhood, and the fact that Yaakov was hardly the he-man of his two sons.) Makes you wonder if, when he went along with his Mother's plan to steal the birthright, he really believed he was destined to rule over Esau, or if was just taking advantage of what he saw as his Mother's foolish belief.

So there you have some examples of "change, in perspective" and a "change in perspective." See the difference one little comma makes? Now tell me that it's insignificant that the Hebrew text says v'anochi lo yadati" with the superfluous "anochi." Superfluous, my foot.

I wish you and yours a pleasant Shabbat, and a safe journey down your road of life. Enjoy a "change in perspective" and have a look at "change, in perspective."

Shabbat Shalom,


©2000 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Vayeitzei 5777 - Being FruitBull
Vayetze 5776 - Now and Then (Redux 5763)
Vayeitzei 5775 - Hapax Shabbat
Vayeitzei 5774 - Terms and Conditions Revisted
Vayeitze 5773 - Mandrakes and More
Vayeitze 5772 - Stumbling on Smooth Paths
Vayeitzei 5771 - Luz is No Loser
Vayeitzei 5769 - Going Down and Loving It!
Vayeitzei 5768 – Encounters
Vayeitzei 5767-Hapax On All Your Hapaxes
Vayetze 5766-Pakhad HaShem?
Vayetze 5765-Cows and Cranberries
Vayetze 5764-Terms and Conditions
Vayetze 5763-Now and Then
Vayetze 5760-Taking Gd's Place

Friday, November 17, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat - Toldot 5778 - Like Father Like Son

This was my very first musing on parashat Toldot, written back in 1998. I thought it was due for a revisit after 19 years. No major changes, just a few edits and edge-smoothing - it still speaks for itself.

Random Musing Before Shabbat - Toldot 5778 - Like Father Like Son

Like father like son.

It wasn't enough that Abraham lied to "protect his wife." Isaac had to do it too. And probably with the same King his father tried to fool. It seems, however, that Isaac is not to be honored and taken care of like his father. For this time, in this version of the thrice-repeated Torah tale) it is not G"d that exposes the lie. It is Isaac's own carelessness, foolish enough to be caught fondling his wife where Abimelech could see them! (Now one could argue that G"d made Isaac deliberately stupid-or excessively horny, but to me that seems unlikely.)

Like father, like son.

Isaac redug the wells at Gerar that had once been his father's. He named them with the same names his father had given them. Surely a symbolic act in many ways. Isaac drinking from his father's wells, carrying on the family traditions. Isaac restoring the good name of his father to these wells, a name taken away when they were stopped up after Abraham's death. Isaac drinking from the same spiritual source as his father.

Do the stopped up wells perhaps represent Isaac's estrangement from his father after what happened in Moriah? And is Isaac's restoring them symbolic of some level of posthumous reconciliation?

Isaac then tried digging some new wells in the same general area, only to have the water rights disputed by local herdsmen. So he moved away to a location nearby and tried again-this time successfully. It is only after all these things that G"d finally speaks and tells Isaac him that G"d is with him.

So Isaac had to both recognize his father, and establish his own identity before G"d would speak to him and remind Isaac that G"d intended to fulfill the promise to Abraham-and that Isaac was an instrument in this.

Much is made of how Isaac seems so insignificant when compared to his father and his younger son. In these simple acts Isaac fulfilled his purpose. To be the son of Abraham. To be the father of Jacob.

Surely there are lessons to be gleaned from this.

We can't all be an Abraham, a Jacob, a Joseph, a Moses. Some of us are meant to be Isaacs. To be that link that maintains continuity in an ever changing universe. It is never an easy role, and not a glorious one. Sometimes this link in the chain bears difficult burdens. But its reward should be clear to each of us today. For were it not for Isaac, we would, none of us, be here today. Though he was not sacrificed to G"d by his father, Isaac gave the ultimate sacrifice-himself-the entirety of his long life-so that the line of Abraham could be carried on and G"d's promises fulfilled.

This Shabbat, dig up a few of your ancestor's wells. Start a few new ones of your own. Perhaps then you too will be ready for G"d to talk to you.
Shabbat Shalom,
Adrian©2017 (portions © 1998) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Friday, November 10, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Chayyei Sarah 5778–Life Still Goes On

In 5762, I pondered on why the Torah includes the speech of Abraham's servant to Bethuel and Laban, explaining all the instructions that Abraham had given him, and relating what had transpired to bring the servant to this point, seeking Rebekkah as a wife for Isaac. After all, the Torah has already told us all of this-why the need to have it repeated, written out, in the Torah?

Something I didn't notice at that time, but which became strikingly apparent to me the following year, in 5763, is this: When Rebekkah and Isaac meet, the Torah states simply that the servant "told Isaac all the things that he [the servant] had done." (Bereshit 24:66.)

[Here I am years later in 5778, and something compelled me to revisit this particular musing this year. While I’m working on this, I also need to figure out why. Why this particular puzzle, and why this particular response to dealing with that puzzle.]

Fascinating, isn't it? We have this elaborate retelling of the servant's story to Laban and Bethuel. A completely redundant passage. It gives us pause, makes us wonder. Our Torah is quite effective at that, isn't it? Seeing this apparently redundant retelling in print, we are given pause. So we stop and look at the text, and ask questions, and wonder why it is the way it is. Exactly as intended. For every time the text gets us to question the text, the text is doing its job well!

So, after wrestling with the question of why the Torah contains the complete text of the servant's retelling, just this short time later the text presents us with another question.

All this elaborate explanation of how Abraham sent his servant, how Gd guided the servant to kin of Abraham there to find a perfect match for Isaac in Rebekkah. 61 verses in all (24:1-61), including the 15 verses of the servant's retelling the tale (vv34-49.)

Yet the entire story of Isaac and Rebekkah’s first meeting, and their becoming man and wife, is told in just 6 verses (24:62-67). Why isn't verse 66 replaced with another 15 verses where the Torah relates in intricate detail what the servant tells to Isaac about his mission? Why is the consummation of the marriage of the second in line of our patriarchs and matriarchs not given more time in print?

סב וְיִצְחָק בָּא מִבּוֹא בְּאֵר לַחַי רֹאִי וְהוּא יוֹשֵׁב בְּאֶרֶץ הַנֶּֽגֶב: סג וַיֵּצֵא יִצְחָק לָשׂוּחַ בַּשָּׂדֶה לִפְנוֹת עָרֶב וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה גְמַלִּים בָּאִֽים: סד וַתִּשָּׂא רִבְקָה אֶת־עֵינֶיהָ וַתֵּרֶא אֶת־יִצְחָק וַתִּפֹּל מֵעַל הַגָּמָֽל: סה וַתֹּאמֶר אֶל־הָעֶבֶד מִֽי־הָאִישׁ הַלָּזֶה הַֽהֹלֵךְ בַּשָּׂדֶה לִקְרָאתֵנוּ וַיֹּאמֶר הָעֶבֶד הוּא אֲדֹנִי וַתִּקַּח הַצָּעִיף וַתִּתְכָּֽס: סו וַיְסַפֵּר הָעֶבֶד לְיִצְחָק אֵת כָּל־הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר עָשָֽׂה: סז וַיְבִאֶהָ יִצְחָק הָאֹהֱלָה שָׂרָה אִמּוֹ וַיִּקַּח אֶת־רִבְקָה וַתְּהִי־לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה וַיֶּֽאֱהָבֶהָ וַיִּנָּחֵם יִצְחָק אַֽחֲרֵי אִמּֽוֹ:

Verse 62-we learn where Isaac is living. Verse 63-Isaac encounters the returning caravan with Rebekkah. Verse 64/65-Rebekkah sees Isaac and asks who he is. The servant tells her it is Isaac, and she veils herself. Verse 66-We learn that the servant tells Isaac all that he had done. Verse 67-Isaac brings Rebekkah into Sarah's tent, consummates the marriage, and finds comfort. All that in six verses? Amazing.

So what is there to be learned from the Torah here giving the Reader's Digest condensed version of the story, yet having just spelled out the events leading up to it in great detail-twice before?

The text, matter-of-factly, proceeds from there to tell us how Abraham took another wife and she bore him 6 more sons.

וַיֹּסֶף אַבְרָהָם וַיִּקַּח אִשָּׁה וּשְׁמָהּ קְטוּרָֽה: ב וַתֵּלֶד לוֹ אֶת־זִמְרָן וְאֶת־יָקְשָׁן וְאֶת־מְדָן וְאֶת־מִדְיָן וְאֶת־יִשְׁבָּק וְאֶת־שֽׁוּחַ:

So what is the lesson here? Perhaps it is "life goes on." Both Isaac and his father Abraham do what they need to do to continue with life after Sarah dies. Isaac mourns the loss of his mother. (How Isaac feels about his father is likely another matter entirely. We've all discussed before the potential mental state of someone whose father tried to offer them up as a sacrifice!)

[I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention how all this might tie in with the thesis of my as yet unfinished biblical fiction book telling the story of how Isaac went to live with Hagar and Ishmael. If my thesis is correct, life for Isaac went on – but away from his parents. With Isaac’s return to the fold after the death of Sarah a new way of making life go on will unfold. I wonder, too, if Isaac would have remained near his father if Rebekkah had not come along while he was back home? The Torah never explicity mentions that Isaac came home to mourn his mother, It only mentions that he had recently arrived from Beer-Lahai-Roi, where he had been settled and living. It doesn’t make clear he has returned to the fold. Is there more to this story than meets the eye. Did Abraham orchestrate all this? Did he time the sending of his servant to find a wife for Isaac with his knowledge that Isaac would be coming to visiting in order to properly mourn his mother? Was this a chance encounter, or an elaborate machination? Was Abraham hoping to bring his son back home through this plan? Had the timing not worked, had Rebekkah not been there for Isaac to see (and vice versa) might Isaac have gone back to Beer-Lahai-Roi and continuing living with Hagar and Ishmael, as I suspect he had been since the akedah?]

Perhaps the Torah omits further detail to illustrate how life must go on. Abraham and Isaac (and Ishmael) must put the death of Sarah behind them. Isaac Must also put behind him the trauma of the akedah, and fulfill his obligation to carry on the lineage by getting married. Not much else needs to be said, so this is perhaps why it isn't said.

Yet, if this is indeed the case, it complicates the question of why the Torah so fully relates the exploits of the servant who retrieves Rebekkah. Why does this aspect of "life goes on" (after all, Isaac had to get married if he was to carry on the story) get so fully explicated when others are not?

It certainly serves to illustrate how and why Rebekkah is really the right person to be Isaac's wife. She and her family demonstrate hospitality much like their kinsman Abraham. However, the Torah could have made this point without all the other details. It could even make the point that G”d clearly had a hand in these events in a lot fewer words. I've taken a stab at a condensation. You might try your own hand at it. It isn't hard to do so and still convey the general story. But what of conveying the message? Could the message the Torah intends to impart truly be conveyed in another way?

It's all a puzzlement. And that's the whole idea. It makes us stop and think. This is not a simple book of history, of stories. The Torah is meant to engage the listener, the reader, to make them wonder why the Torah does one thing in one place and another someplace else. The rabbis worked so hard to try and smooth over the wrinkles in the Torah. And they achieved some amazing results through their midrashim and other interpretations. Yet somehow, I wonder if this misses the point. Need we try to be apologists for these seeming inconsistencies? Do we have to smooth over the rough spots? Are these inconsistencies and rough spots themselves the lessons, the meat of what the Torah is trying to teach us? Life is not perfect. Stories are not perfect. Things happen. Things seem odd. Yet, through it all, life goes on. Sometimes, we learn all the minute details, other times we do not. We simply have to adjust ourselves to this reality and move on.

So, as is often the case, my answer to the question of "what's wrong with the text?" is that nothing is wrong. All is how it is. Let's learn what we can from it and move on with our lives. As did Abraham and Isaac.

[Here I am, in 5778, and I read these words, and can’t believe I was willing to just let things slide like that. On the other hand, maybe the fact that I’m responding with a visceral discomfort to what I had written earlier is really maybe evidence of a current discomfort that I’m failing to recognize. At the same time, there’s a part of me that realizes that “moving on” might be exactly the message I need to hear in my life at the moment, and this why I chose this particular musing to recycle this year.]

Life must go on. Life does go on. Yet we are fortunate in that G”d has given us the vehicle to suspend the inexorable march of life and time-Shabbat. Use it wisely, so that dealing with the reality of life that must go on is made just the little bit easier and sweeter that Shabbat, out of all time and place, can make it.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2017 (portions ©2002) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Chayyei Sarah 5777 - Contentment
Chayyei Sarah 5776 - Still Not Warm (Revisited and Revised from 5767's "Never Warm")
Khayyei Sarah 5775 - Revisiting L'kha Dodi Likrat Kala
Hayyei Sarah 5774 - The Books of Hagar and Abishag
Hayyei Sarah 5773 - Still Tilting at Windmills
Hayyei Sarah 5772 - Zikhnah
Hayyei Sarah 5771 - The Book That Isn't - Yet
Hayyei Sarah 5770 - Call Me Ishamel II
Hayyei Sarah 5769 - Looking for Clues
Hayyei Sarah 5768 - A High Price
Hayei Sarah  5767-Never Warm?
Chaye Sarah 5766-Semper Vigilans
Chaye Sarah 5763-Life Goes On
Chaye Sarah 5762-Priorities, Redundancies And Puzzles
Chayeh Sarah 5761-L'cha Dodi Likrat Kala
Hayyei Sarah 5760 - Call Me Ishmael
Chaye Sarah 5757-The Shabbat That Almost Wasn't

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayeira 5778–The Unintentional Test

The unintentional test was a better test than the intentional one.

The story of the akeidah, the binding of Yitzchak begins with the statement

וַיְהִי אַחַר הַדְבָרִים הָאֵלֶה וְהָאֱלֹהִים נִסָה אֶת־אַבְרָהָם וַיֹאמֶר אֵלָיו אַבְרָהָם וַיֹאמֶר הִנֵֽנִי

Some time after these things, G”d put Avraham to the test, saying to him “Abraham,” and he answered “Here I am.”

So we’re told from the get-go that this whole scenario is devised by G”d to test Avraham. What is not entirely clear from the rest of the story is whether Avraham passed or failed this particular test. It’s easy, perhaps,  to assume he must have gotten a passing grade, because G”d continued to show favor upon Avraham and keep the promises made to him. However, it could just as easily have been that Avraham did not perform as G”d expected, but G”d learned what G”d wanted to learn from the exercise, and decided to go ahead with Avraham despite any disappointment with the result of the test. Since G”d did not make the desired outcome clear, we can only speculate.

One could perhaps bolster the case that Avraham failed, and that G”d stepped in at the last minute to prevent a disaster, in that G”d had set an earlier precedent in choosing Noah, an imperfect and less than ideal choice, but perhaps the best option available at the time. You work with what you’ve got.

It’s a huge leap from there to Avraham assuming that G”d will destroy the people of S’dom and Gomorrah for their evil ways.

I also think it is foolish to divorce the question of passing/failing in the story of the akeidah from the story of Avraham’s argument with G”d over the planned destruction of of S’dom and Gomorrah. The text makes no argument that this was a test by G”d, but it can surely be viewed in that light.

G”d made the conscious (can we apply that verb to G”d?) choice to tell Avraham that he was planning to go check out the wickedness in S’dom and Gomorrah. It should be noted that at no time does G”d say that S’dom and Gomorroah will be destroyed for their sinful ways. Avraham seems to assume that if G”d find S’dom, and Gomorrah to be as sinful as reported, G”d will punish them with death. Ask yourself why Avraham would assume that. So far, the only real punishment that Avraham has seen meted out by G”d are the plagues and affliction G”d affected Pharaoh for messing around with Sarai with when Avraham tried to save his own skin by pretending she was his sister. When Pharaoh figured out the source of the affliction (and we still have no idea how Pharaoh figured it out, which I wrote about last week) and returned Sarai and sent Avram off with gifts and wealth, G”d relented and stop the punishment – no Egyptians were killed as far as we know. So where does Avraham get off assuming G”d is about to destroy the people of S’dom and Gomorrah?

Avraham, of course, has correctly interpreted G”d’s intentions (or has he?) Avraham challenges G”d asking if G”d will sweep away the innocent with the guilty. G”d doesn’t respond to Avraham saying  “Why do you assume I will destroy them all?” G”d seems to confirm Avraham’s assumption, and simply accepts Avraham’s first offer to save for fifty good people.

Is it possible that G”d had never actually intended to destroy S’dom and Gomorrah, but merely use some other form of punishment to send them a message? Did Avraham assuming G”d’s intentions actually precipitate G”d making that choice? Did Avraham force G”d’s hand in this instance? It’s an intriguing possibility.

Consider a potential inner dialogue of G”d. “OK, this schmuck, to whom I have promised things beyond imagination wants to argue with me, when he really has no idea what I’m planning.  I was just going to bring a plague to the towns, and weed out the wicked. OK, Mr. Wise Guy, be careful what you wish for. Just to make a point, I’ll take your assumption and run with it. Now, argue away, you fool!”

I guess we’ll just overlook the issue of omniscient G”d. Is it fair to bet G”d when G”d knows the results of the wager? Yet G”d lets Avraham try. Toying with him, perhaps?

Because S’dom and Gomorrah were destroyed, we readers assume there weren’t ten good people to be found there. What if G”d had decided to ignore the agreement with Avraham? How would we know? There is also a potential issue of sexism or misogyny here.

Some cite as proof that there were not 10 good people in the town from 19:4

טֶרֶם יִשְכָבוּ וְאַנְשֵי הָעִיר אַנְשֵי סְדֹם נָסַבּוּ עַל־הַבַיִת מִנַעַר וְעַד־זָקֵן כָל־הָעָם מִקָצֶֽה

They had not yet lain down, when the townspeople, the men of S’dom., young and old, – all the people to the last man – gathered about the house.  And they shouted to Lot “where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out, so that we may be intimate with them.

However, if you go back and look at Avraham’s negotiations with G”d, neither party specifies that only men count. They reference only the term “tzaddikim” (righteous people) which in that plural form could refer to men and women.

Avraham may have passed this unintentional test by choosing to argue with G”d to spare the city for the sake of a few righteous people. G”d, however, might have failed to hold up the bargain. S’dom and Gomorrah might have been destroyed even though there might have been at least ten tzaddikim present.

When G”d is the house, maybe it’s not wise to make the bet? I am reminded of these lyrics from the song “Gethsemane” fro JC Superstar: “G”d Thy will is hard, but You hold every card…”

When G”d puts us to the test, it’s hard to know the right answer. When we put G”d to the test, it may be equally hard for us to really know our own desired outcome. (And if G”d is truly omniscient, then free will is a chimera, and our efforts to discern are pointless.)  Despite that, it seems to me that the unannounced and unintentional tests may prove a better way of learning about the testee (and the tester.) I know I learn a lot more about G”d and humanity from the story of S’dom and Gomorrah than I do from the akeidah. How about you?

Shabbat Shalom,

©2017 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Vayeira 5777 - He's a Family Guy (?) (Redux and Revised 5769)
Vayeira 5766 - The Price of Giving (Redux/Revised 5766)
Vayeira 5775 - He's a Family Guy (Revised Redux 5769)
Vayeira 5774–Plainly Spoken (Redux & Revised from 5762)
Vayera 5773 - Do Your Own Unpacking
Vayera 5772 - Well?
Vayera 5771 - Density
Vayera 5770 - Not Even Ten?
Vayeira 5769 - He's a Family Guy (?)
Vayera 5767-Revised 5759-Whoops! (or Non-Linear Thinking)
Vayera 5766-The Price of Giving
Vayera 5765-From the Journal of Lot Pt. II
Vayera 5762-Plainly Spoken
Vayera 5760/5761-More From the "Journal of Lot"
Vayera 5759-Whoops! (or "Non-Linear Thinking?")
Vayera 5757-Technical Difficulties