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