Thursday, February 22, 2018

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Tetzaveh/Zachor 5778–STFU!

(Maybe the third time is the charm? This musing is a reworking of my 2006/5766 musing for Tetzaveh “Silent Yet Present,” which was a re-working of  my 1999/5759 musing for Tetzaveh, "Someone's Missing." )

Hmm, let' see. Aaron. Nadav and Avihu. (Keep an eye on those two-Game of Thrones has nothing on Torah.)  Eleazar. Ithamar. Again Aaron. More Aaron. Lots more Aaron. More Aaron than we know what to do with.

But one name is conspicuously absent in all these verses. Moshe. Where'd he go? Well, if we go back to the beginning of last week’s parasha, T'rumah, and consider that there is pretty much one continuous discourse by G"d to Moses from Exodus 25:1 to 30:10, we see that Moshe is indeed there, but silent and not mentioned. Why?

Well, there's the explanation of the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Shlomo Zalman, that this is prescient of Moshe's death, which occurred around the time of year Tetzaveh is usually read. Nice idea, if not really provable, but not where I'm headed.

There's always those historical-critical theories, like Wellhausen's JEDP concept of multiple strands of authorship. (Wellhausen’s original concept has undergone lots of transformation over the decades, and is not as popular in scholarly circles as it once was.) That's not where I'm headed either.

We could consider some other possible meanings:

  • G"d reminding us that we wouldn't always have Moshe around to deal with things.
  • G"d reminding us that these instructions aren't just for Moshe, but for all of us.
  • G"d reminding us that no matter how important we think we are, we're not indispensable.
  • G"d reminding us that all of us are important.

All possibilities. But not the one that jumped out at me.

My idea is that G"d is telling us simply to "shut up and listen." Or, as the text-based shorthand that has entered our everyday vernacular says, STFU!

That's one darn long oratory by G"d from the start of T'rumah to the end of Tetzaveh. But Moses says not a word. In this way, he sets a great example for us.

If I were to begin to describe my own faults, one that would leap to the front would be that I'm not a great listener. I often interrupt and can't seem to refrain from "putting in my oar." (If I had to stand around for that whole time, listening to that long set of instructions from G"d, I doubt I could have remained silent the whole time. "But...." I would have said, or "How can we...." or "hang on a second, you want us to what?" or "two rams? why two? wouldn't three be better?" or "a BLUE ephod cover? Blue? Do you know how hard it is to make BLUE?" or "hey, you gotta explain this Urim and Thummim thing to me." I suspect G"d would have grown so annoyed with my constant interruptions, I'd wind up suffering the fate that Nadav and Avihu would soon suffer. (Remember, they get toasted by G"d for a well-meaning but unsolicited sacrifice. Sorry for the spoiler, folks.)

Yet Moshe, he just stood there and listened. Or maybe he was passive-aggressive, and he let his emotions out later? I can just picture it. Moshe takes Aaron and Miriam aside and says to them:

"My G"d, oops, excuse me for that, I thought I was gonna die of boredom from that speech! Could you believe it? Who does he think he is, G"d or something? Whoops, he is...well, NEVERMIND," and thus Moshe goes off muttering under his breath. (Sorry, I got lazy and jus went with the gendered male word.)

I'm rationalizing. I'm trying to picture Moshe as imperfect as myself. Clearly Moshe had his faults. But being a bad listener was, generally NOT one of them. (I can hear the nit-pickers now, citing the struck rock moment - the one thing that gets him in dutch with G"d later. I would argue that it isn't a case of not listening-he heard the instructions quite clearly-it's a case of not following the directions exactly right-doing more/different than told-hmmm-somewhat like Nadav and Avihu. There's a parallel I never caught before. Remind me when we get to Chukat.)

Our sacred texts are not silent about silence.

"Even a fool, if he keeps silent, is deemed wise; Intelligent, if he seals his lips." (Proverbs 17:28)

"The vehicle for wisdom is silence." (Talmud: Avot 3:13)

"When two quarrel, they see which becomes silent first and say: This one is of superior birth." (Talmud Kiddushin 71b)

To expand upon these, we’ve all heard well-worn maxims that are variations of

“the secret to x is not just where the [component of x] is, but as much where the [component of x] is not.

Substitute music for x, and notes for [component of x.] Substitute good lighting design for x and light for [component of x.] So many more possibilities. In publishing, we talk about the importance of the white space.

It’s a lesson we all need to learn when it comes to silence. Always speaking out seems to be about "Me! Me! Me! I want to be heard! I want things to be my way!" Silence is about us, about relationship - both the I-you and the I-You (G"d) type. Yes, there is a time to speak up and speak out. Yet it is, in most situations, t is not all the time.

We live in a crazy, busy, fast-paced society. Sometimes, in order to feel like our voice is being heard, we feel like we have to speak out at the same time as others. And so we have all this babble. (Hmm, here's another parallel...) There's so much going on at once, we can't comprehend it all, can't remember it. If we don't speak out at the exact moment when it is in our mind, we'll forget it. So everybody is talking and no one is listening. No way to run a society. (How much truer are these words here in 2018 than when first written in 1999!)

And how much more so in this day and age need we keep our silence when listening for G"d? I've little doubt that G"d could make G"d's self heard if that is what G"d wanted. After all, G"d gives this whole long diatribe through T'rumah and Tetzaveh! Yet even G"d knows that using the big. booming "voice of G"d" a lot might not be the best thing. When You've got a voice that loud, You really do need to keep silent, not even whisper, if You expect to hear the miniscule utterings of Your creations. So when done talking, G"d shuts up and listens. We'd do well to learn to be b'tzelem El"him, in the image of G”d, in that regard.

As the response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida played out, it was clear that the students had a lot to say, and were saying it quite loudly and persistently. How quickly the adults tried to “help them.” I and a small chorus of like-minded folks led a chorus of “adults-STFU and let the kids do their thing.” We created the mess they’re trying to fix. We allowed our country to be held hostage to the limited interests of a small segment of the population – perhaps even to the very limited set of adults heading the NRA.

As Linda Creed and Michael Masser wrote in 1985:

I believe the children are our are future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier

As an educator, I live by these maxims:

Much wisdom I learned from my teachers, more from my colleagues, more from my pupils the most of all.

It’s a very ancient saying, but a true and honest thought,
That if you become a teacher, by your pupils you'll be taught. (Richard Rodgers)

Our youth may be able to accomplish what we grown-ups have been unable to do in the last  50 years! Let’s give them that chance.

Now, I feel compelled at this point to add (especially in light of last week’s musing that was about the present moment and not the parasha) that silence is not always the best response in every circumstance. We are living in circumstances that call upon us to stand firm, speak openly, even defiantly when necessary. Yet even in the midst of our being outspoken, being actively resisting, and calling “BS!” we ought to heed the lessons of Torah and think about how we need to find the right times and places for silence, for Shutting TFU. Our outbursts might be more effective if we punctuate them with the necessary “white space.”

It’s Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat before Purim, when we read the maftir from Exodus 25:17-19:

זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵֽאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם: אֲשֶׁר קָֽרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל־הַנֶּֽחֱשָׁלִים אַֽחֲרֶיךָ וְאַתָּה עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ וְלֹא יָרֵא אֱלֹהִֽים: וְהָיָה בְּֽהָנִיחַֽ יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ ׀ לְךָ מִכָּל־אֹיְבֶיךָ מִסָּבִיב בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יְהוָֹה־אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַֽחֲלָה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ תִּמְחֶה אֶת־זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם לֹא תִּשְׁכָּֽח:

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt - how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when the Lord your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!

Look at those ever-confusing directions in Torah to utterly blot out the name of Amalek, yet never forget. If we can do that- if we can hold that tension, as we do some many others in Judaism – then surely we can find the balance between knowing when to speak out and knowing when to STFU.

Moshe, and, I presume, the whole of Israel, stood quietly and listened to God's entire discourse through T'rumah and Tetzaveh. It's an example we could do well to follow these days. For only through our own silence will we be truly able to hear what others are saying, and maybe, just maybe, we'll also be able to hear that kol d'mamah dakah, that still small voice. Unlike so many who have abandoned any hope that G"d still interacts with us, I still believe. Maybe if I, if we all, could just STFU, or more politely "shut up and listen" we might have that faith rewarded. Ken y'hi ratson. Ken y'hi ratsoneinu.

To each and every one of you, a quiet Shabbat of listening.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2018 (portions ©1999 and 2006) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Tetzaveh 5777 - A Nation of Priests (and a Shtickel of Purim) Revised from 5770
Tetzaveh 5776 - House Guest (Redux and Revised 5763)
Tetzaveh 5775 - Aharon's Bells (Revised)
Tetzaveh 5774 - It's Not Urim or Thummim
Tetzaveh/Shabbat Zachor/Purim 5773 - Fighting Dirty
Tetzaveh 5772-Perfection Imperfect
Tetzaveh 5770 - A Nation of Priests? (And a Shtickel of Purim)
Tetzaveh 5768-Light and Perfection
Tetzaveh/Purim 5767-The Urim & Thummim Show (Updated)
Tetzaveh 5766-Silent Yet Present
Tetzaveh 5765 and 5761-Aharon's Bells
Tetzaveh 5764-Shut Up and Listen!
Tetzaveh 5763-House Guest
Tetzaveh 5762 (Redux 5760)-The Urim and Thummim Show
Tetzaveh 5758-Something Doesn't Smell Quite Right

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Random Musing Before Shabbat–T’rumah 5778–This Musing Is Not About Parashat T’rumah

I tried, but I just can’t. I read and re-read both the parasha and the haftarah, looking for something to use as a basis for what I know I wanted to write about. I couldn’t find it. (Read through to near the end of this and you’ll find a link to a post by someone who was able to find a connection, however tenuous it might be.)

Aside from the link I mentioned above, I’m mostly writing this for the sake of someone who may be reading this years from now (I can only hope.)  I don’t know what’s been written about the history of this period, but here’s how it looks to me from here.

We are almost a month past the end of the first year of the presidential administration of Tonald J. Drump (that’s as close as I’ll come to writing that name, which, to me, is like writing Haman.) I, along with millions of others in the United States, have been living in a state of utter disbelief and utter despair since election day in November 2016. On a daily basis societal, political, and presidential norms are challenged, overturned, ignored, rewritten.

All U.S. intelligence agencies tell us that the Russians actively worked to influence the results of the 2016 election in favor of the Drump campaign, and that we can expect them to continue their efforts to influence election results in 2018 and beyond. The administration continues to downplay this, attempting to cast doubt on the credibility of the intelligence community, and has given no directives to intelligence and law enforcement to actively work to prevent future interference. An Independent Counsel was empowered to investigate whether there was any cooperation between the campaign and administration to assist the Russians in their efforts. Along the way, actions of the administration have led the Independent Counsel to also investigate the administration for possible obstruction of justice. The administration, aided by the entirely Republican-controlled Congress has sought at every step to undermine the credibility of the Independent Counsel investigation. The administration, which has criticized and thus alienated many world leaders, has not once had anything negative to say about Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

The President has given favor and cover to white nationalists, abusive men, and sexual predators. He has hatefully made scapegoats out of huge segments of the population – particularly immigrants and other non-white male Christian types. He and his representatives lie candidly and openly on a daily basis. The churn and turnover at the White House has risen to unprecedented levels. Hundreds of staff are operating without full security clearances, and some are being allowed to continue working even though it has been made clear to the White House by the FBI that these people simply cannot be cleared for the levels of clearance required for their positions.

If you’re reading this years after 2018, I’ll assume that the United States has somehow survived as a free and democratic country (if it hasn’t you wouldn’t be able to read this anyway.)

This is what has become our new norm. There’s so much more to it but none of this is why I am unable to write a musing about the parasha today.

The reason I can’t write is about the parasha is that there was another mass shooting yesterday at a public High School in Florida. 17 people were killed – students and staff. Once again, we hear of “thoughts and prayers” and how it is too soon and wrong to politicize this by calling for gun control.

Torah commands us clearly that we should not stand idly by the blood of our neighbors. I cannot and will not stand by the blood of all those slain in the name of “second amendment rights.”

I’ll not make my case here. There are plenty who have written eloquently on the topic of gun control, school shootings, assault weapons, the second amendment, the NRA, etc.  With each one of this horrid episodes comes the hope that this will be the one when the dam finally breaks and we the people are able to overcome the financial stranglehold of the NRA over our politicians. Will this be the one? I’m not hopeful, and you, potential future reader will know if it was. (I pray for your sake it was, or it came soon enough to spare your time from this scourge.)

If we couldn’t bring about needed change in this area under Obama, the chances of doing it under and all-Republican congress and a Drump administration are slim to none. In fact, the President actually promised the NRA publicly that in return for their support in his campaign, he would make sure they got what they needed.

I couldn’t do it, but on the RJ site, Rabbi David Wirtschafter was able to use the parasha as a stepping-off point to a post about this latest school shooting. I commend it to you, even though the connection is more tangential than I might consider viable.

I hope that next week I’ll be able to find some thread to pull at in the parasha. I hope that we all find the determination we need to make the changes this country needs to protect our children – to protect all of its citizens.

Ken y’hi ratson. Ken y’hi ratzoneinu. May this be G”d’s will. May this be our will.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2018 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

T'rumah 5777 - You Still Gotta Wanna
T'rumah 5776 - Gift Cards for G"d
T'rumah 5775 - Dis Legonmenon Driving Me Crazy, Mon!
T'rumah 5774 - Dollhouse
T'rumah 5773 - Virtual Reality, Real Virtuality, or Really Virtual?
T'rumah 5772-When Wool and Linen Together Are Not Shatnez
T'rumah 5771 - TorahLeaks
T'rumah 5770 - Finessing Idolatry, or Outgrowing It?
T'rumah 5769 - Planning for Always
T'rumah 5767-You Gotta Wanna - The Sequel
T'rumah 5766-No Tools Allowed
T'rumah 5765-Ish Al Akhiv
T'rumah 5764-Redux 5760-Doing It Gd's Way
T'rumah 5763-Semper Paratus
T'rumah 5762-Virtual Reality or Real Virtuality?
T'rumah 5760-Doing It Gd's Way
T'rumah 5761-You Gotta Wanna

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Mishpatim 5778–To See, To Behold, To Eat, To Drink (Revisited)

This week's parasha, Mishpatim (Ex. 21:1-24:18.) is "chock full o'commandments" and there's plenty upon which one might muse. Near the end of the parasha are two curiosities.

The first begins with 24:3 and continues through 24:7, ending with the well known "na'aseh v'nishma."

וַיָּבֹ֣א מֹשֶׁ֗ה וַיְסַפֵּ֤ר לָעָם֙ אֵ֚ת כָּל־דִּבְרֵ֣י יְהוָ֔ה וְאֵ֖ת כָּל־הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֑ים וַיַּ֨עַן כָּל־הָעָ֜ם ק֤וֹל אֶחָד֙ וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ כָּל־הַדְּבָרִ֛ים אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה נַעֲשֶֽׂה׃

Moses went and repeated to the people all the commands of the LORD and all the rules; and all the people answered with one voice, saying, “All the things that the LORD has commanded we will do!”

וַיִּכְתֹּ֣ב מֹשֶׁ֗ה אֵ֚ת כָּל־דִּבְרֵ֣י יְהוָ֔ה וַיַּשְׁכֵּ֣ם בַּבֹּ֔קֶר וַיִּ֥בֶן מִזְבֵּ֖חַ תַּ֣חַת הָהָ֑ר וּשְׁתֵּ֤ים עֶשְׂרֵה֙ מַצֵּבָ֔ה לִשְׁנֵ֥ים עָשָׂ֖ר שִׁבְטֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

Moses then wrote down all the commands of the LORD. Early in the morning, he set up an altar at the foot of the mountain, with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel.

וַיִּשְׁלַ֗ח אֶֽת־נַעֲרֵי֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיַּֽעֲל֖וּ עֹלֹ֑ת וַֽיִּזְבְּח֞וּ זְבָחִ֧ים שְׁלָמִ֛ים לַיהוָ֖ה פָּרִֽים׃

He designated some young men among the Israelites, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed bulls as offerings of well-being to the LORD.

וַיִּקַּ֤ח מֹשֶׁה֙ חֲצִ֣י הַדָּ֔ם וַיָּ֖שֶׂם בָּאַגָּנֹ֑ת וַחֲצִ֣י הַדָּ֔ם זָרַ֖ק עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּֽחַ׃

Moses took one part of the blood and put it in basins, and the other part of the blood he dashed against the altar.

וַיִּקַּח֙ סֵ֣פֶר הַבְּרִ֔ית וַיִּקְרָ֖א בְּאָזְנֵ֣י הָעָ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה נַעֲשֶׂ֥ה וְנִשְׁמָֽע׃

Then he took the record of the covenant and read it aloud to the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will faithfully do!”

It's a fascinating ritual, and, from what we now of ancient near-eastern culture, no altogether that unusual. It is how the people affirm the covenant that is being given them. First (24:3) Moshe recites all the rules to the people. They answer "All these things that the L"rd has commanded we will do!" Then (v.4) Moshe WRITES down all the commandments. After all, a treaty isn't a treaty unless it is written down and signed (or sealed.)

But hold on there a second. What are today's liberal Jews to make of this? It clearly says that Moshe wrote down all the commandments. [To the (shall remain nameless) Reform rabbi who once remarked to me that one could not consider oneself a Reform Jew while still accepting the literal concept of Torah mi-Sinai: take that!] It couldn't be plainer. Moshe wrote the commandments down. (Of course, what does this do to the concept of oral Torah, and of those mitzvot which do not appear until later in the text? If you're a linear thinker, it's a problem. I cannot even begin to layout the mountains of apologetics that have been written to justify that these words do not say what they plainly say. The simplistic answer is that what is referred to here is only the written Torah as we know it, replete with lots of things that need further explication, thus justifying the need for the oral Torah. But if such a thing were truly needed, why not specify it in the Torah itself? The circular and self-referential logic used here mystifies me. But I digress.

After he has written them down, Moshe does a little ritual blood dashing. And then he AGAIN takes the "record of the covenant" and reads it aloud to the people. And the people answer: "na'aseh v'nishma." We’ll dispense with any discussion of putting carts before horses here.

It's a nice, tidy little ritual (except for the messy blood dashing) that repetitiously affirms the covenant between the people of Israel and G"d. And it was written down! Not these stone tablets of "the ten." Those don't appear until chapter 31, and it says quite clearly that G"d inscribed them. The implication is clear. There was some form of written record of the covenant other than the tablets. Would that we could find it. Would that it obviated the need for this mysterious oral Torah that has been shaped and sculpted by the minds of human beings whilst attributing it to Divine origin. Seems to me if G”d intends to give us something, G”d will tell us about it plainly.

And here's an interesting thought. Later on G"d carves those ten commandments into stone. Here, it is Moshe who has to do the hard work of writing all that G"d has said down, and transmitting it to the people. One could look at this is several ways. G"d was choosing to emphasize those ten. (Not according to the rabbis.) There's the theory I propagated in some sermons years ago that G"d chose these particular ten because they were among the hardest to keep.

Or perhaps G"d figured "if I just carve these 10, that's enough to remind them of all the other rules-the ones which I had Moshe write down anyway. And then I can still catch the heavenly league football game this afternoon." Or maybe G"d thought "if they can't figure it out from these ten, the rest are meaningless anyway."

G"d carving the tablets could be a way of saying "Moshe may get some of the stuff wrong when he writes it down, so maybe I should make sure at least these ten are never disputed." (Jokes on you, G"d. Never disputed? Ha!) Why didn't G"d write all of it down for us. Is G"d making Moshe the Bart Simpson of his time, doomed forever to write on the blackboard? And doomed forever at confessing the sins of the people.

Traditional Judaism would claim that G”d gave us the oral Torah to solve this. It seems like a real stretch to me. Only G"d knows the answer here.

(I do not intend to demean the works of the many rabbis and scholars who ultimately contributed to what eventually became Talmud, Shulkhan Arukh, etc.  There is much to be learned from their writings, thoughts, and ideas. It’s likely a goodly portion of their speculations about the fuzzy parts of the Torah are reasonably accurate. I am happy to have Talmud and so many other commentaries as a part of our tradition. I just wish we didn’t feel a need to attach a Divine origin to the process that created them. )

On to our next curiosity. Exodus Chapter 24 vv. 9-11

וַיַּ֥עַל מֹשֶׁ֖ה וְאַהֲרֹ֑ן נָדָב֙ וַאֲבִיה֔וּא וְשִׁבְעִ֖ים מִזִּקְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadav and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel ascended;

וַיִּרְא֕וּ אֵ֖ת אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְתַ֣חַת רַגְלָ֗יו כְּמַעֲשֵׂה֙ לִבְנַ֣ת הַסַּפִּ֔יר וּכְעֶ֥צֶם הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם לָטֹֽהַר׃

and they saw the God of Israel: under His feet there was the likeness of a pavement of sapphire, like the very sky for purity.

וְאֶל־אֲצִילֵי֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל לֹ֥א שָׁלַ֖ח יָד֑וֹ וַֽיֶּחֱזוּ֙ אֶת־הָ֣אֱלֹהִ֔ים וַיֹּאכְל֖וּ וַיִּשְׁתּֽוּ׃

Yet He did not raise His hand against the leaders of the Israelites; they beheld God, and they ate and drank.

Moshe, Aharon, Nadav and Avihu (we'll be hearing more about them in a while) AND seventy elders of Israel ascended the mountain. And they SAW וַיִּרְא֕וּ (vayiru) G"d, and underneath G"d's feet a pavement of sapphire, as pure as the sky itself. Even though G"d had pretty much said earlier that only Moshe was to ascend the mountain, G"d does not strike down any of the others. So the seventy elders, Aharon, Nadav and Avihu BEHELD וַֽיֶּחֱזוּ֙  (vayekhezu) G"d, and THEY ATE וַיֹּאכְל֖וּ (vayokh’lu) and THEY DRANK וַיִּשְׁתּֽוּ (vayishtu.)

They're in the presence of the almighty, and they make a picnic? Of course, the rabbis of the Talmud put a little spin on it, seeing it as an intellectual encounter with the Divine-that what they were eating and drinking was G"d's presence. A possible and acceptable interpretation. In the presence of G"d there is no need for earthly, quotidian things. G"d provides all that is necessary, and perhaps more. The rabbis say that the elders didn't really "see" (vayiru, from the root resh-aleph-hey, to see) G"d, they "beheld" (vayekhezu, from the root khet, zayin, hey, which also means to see, or perceive, but is cognate with other Hebrew and Arabic words that mean things like "seer" and "vision" and "inner vision") G"d. That is to say, they finally "got it." They understood that G"d was real, and truly could not be represented by idols." The food and drink are perhaps metaphor for "they perceived with all of their senses."

However, it could just as easily be telling us "even in the presence of G"d, you have to meet your basic human needs. It's easy, in the face of something awesome (or awful) to forget all about yourself and your needs. And, with all due respects to the mystics, G"d's presence isn't likely to provide your body with the necessary amino acids and proteins to enable you to survive.

Or think of the Grand Canyon scene in National Lampoon's vacation. "Oh, look, it's G"d. How impressive. OK, gotta go!" It's nice to encounter G"d, but we're hungry and thirsty after that climb.

Of course, the Torah doesn't say who provided the food and drink (though the rabbis were happy to speculate on that.) Was G"d being a good hostess, or did they bring they stuff with them?

Or maybe G"d had a plan after all. Keep the elders happy and sated, while Moshe comes up the mountain to get these tablets that G"d has inscribed. (Curiously, the text says G"d inscribed the tablets with the teaching (haTorah) and commandment (v'haMitzvah), both the teachings, and commandments. Hmmm. OK, we'll overlook the singular-ness of the nouns and view them as collective, therefore implying the plurality of "teachings and commandments." Either way, we have a problem. Because either G"d wrote a teaching and a commandment, or G"d wrote all the teachings and the commandments. Not just ten commandments. Hmmm.)

OK, it's time for me to go now and see, behold, eat and drink. Will they all relate to a common source, or will some needs get fulfilled divinely and some mundanely? Let's all go find out for ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom

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

Other Musings on this parasha:

Mishpatim 5777 - Whjy I'm Still not Unplugging for the National Shabbat of Unplugging Next Week
Mishpatim 5776 - Might For Right
Mishpatim 5775 - Revisiting Situational Ethics
Mishpatim 5774 - Chukim U'mishpatim Revisited
Mishpatim 5773 - No One Mounrs the Wicked
Mishpatim 5772-Repairing Our Damaged Temple
Mishpatim 5771 - Getting Past the Apologetics
Mishpatim 5770 - Divine Picnic
Mishpatim 5769 - Redux 5757/5761 Change from the Inside
Mishpatim 5768 - Justice for All
Mishpatim 5767-To See, To Behold, To Eat, To Drink
Mishpatim 5766 - Mishpatim with a Capital IM
Mishpatim 5765-Eid Khamas (revised)
Mishpatim 5764-Situational Ethics
Mishpatim 5763-My Object All Sublime
Mishpatim 5762-Enron Beware!
Mishpatim 5761-Change from the Inside
Mishpatim 5760-Chukim U'mishpatim
Mishpatim 5759-Eid Khamas-Witness to Violence

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Yitro 5778–B’khol HaMakom Revisited

You know, for such a short parasha, Yitro is sure full of major happenings. Yitro comes to visit his son-in-law, and offers him some friendly advice. His simple advice to Moshe has become the framework for judicial administration for the last few millennia.

Then the people arrive at Sinai. G"d speaks to Moshe, telling him to say to the Israelites:

אַתֶּ֣ם רְאִיתֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשִׂ֖יתִי לְמִצְרָ֑יִם וָאֶשָּׂ֤א אֶתְכֶם֙ עַל־כַּנְפֵ֣י נְשָׁרִ֔ים וָאָבִ֥א אֶתְכֶ֖ם אֵלָֽי׃

‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me. (Ex. 19:4)

וְעַתָּ֗ה אִם־שָׁמ֤וֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ֙ בְּקֹלִ֔י וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֖ם אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֑י וִהְיִ֨יתֶם לִ֤י סְגֻלָּה֙ מִכָּל־הָ֣עַמִּ֔ים כִּי־לִ֖י כָּל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine,(Ex. 19:5)

וְאַתֶּ֧ם תִּהְיוּ־לִ֛י מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּהֲנִ֖ים וְג֣וֹי קָד֑וֹשׁ אֵ֚לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר תְּדַבֵּ֖ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (Ex. 19:6)

After Moshe relates G"d's the words mentioned above, the people respond that they will do what G"d has spoken.

וַיָּבֹ֣א מֹשֶׁ֔ה וַיִּקְרָ֖א לְזִקְנֵ֣י הָעָ֑ם וַיָּ֣שֶׂם לִפְנֵיהֶ֗ם אֵ֚ת כָּל־הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה אֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוָּ֖הוּ יְהוָֽה׃

Moses came and summoned the elders of the people and put before them all that the LORD had commanded him. (Ex. 19:7)

וַיַּעֲנ֨וּ כָל־הָעָ֤ם יַחְדָּו֙ וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה נַעֲשֶׂ֑ה וַיָּ֧שֶׁב מֹשֶׁ֛ה אֶת־דִּבְרֵ֥י הָעָ֖ם אֶל־יְהוָֽה׃

All the people answered as one, saying, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do!” And Moses brought back the people’s words to the LORD. (Ex. 19:8)

These are all well explored words, and, at least for now, do not cry out to me for further elucidation. (Next year, who knows.)

After a little mood setting (three days worth) G"d speaks to the people from Sinai, uttering the famous 10 things, the Decalogue. You know-the 10 commandments. With all the appropriate theatrics.

I'm not at all sure how I might have reacted standing at Sinai for the declaration of the Decalogue. I imagine that by the point we have reached at the end of our parasha, Yitro, I might have been a bit shell-shocked, speechless and experiencing true awe.

Even so, G"d continues without any re-assurances or comforting words, to caution us to not build any metal gods, and instructing us to build instead a simple altar of earth. And then G"d says:

בְּכָל־הַמָּקוֹם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אַזְכִּ֣יר אֶת־שְׁמִ֔י אָב֥וֹא אֵלֶ֖יךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּֽיךָ׃

…in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come to you and bless you. (Ex. 20:21b)

That bears repeating. In every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come to you and bless you.

(I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least question why it need only be in places where G”d causes G”s’s name to be mentioned. Why limit it in that way? But, at this point in the narrative, we are talking about the G”d that had hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Hmmm. Discussion for another time.)

For a time in our ancient history, there were many such places. Yaakov awoke from a dream and declared the G”d was present in that place and he hadn’t realized that.

(I’d be remiss at this point if I didn’t mention the apparent absence of G”d for 400 years of slavery in Egypt. Hmmm. Another discussion for another time.)

G”d was demonstrably with us at the Sea of Reeds, at Sinai, and in the wilderness. We built a portable sanctuary so that G”d could dwell in our midst, wherever we were.

When the Israelites first came into the land, the mishkan, at Shiloh was the center of worship. But in the books of Joshua through Chronicles, as many as 20 other sites or high places are mentioned. With the destruction of Shiloh, it is believed that Israelite worship was again relegated to open-air sites. Sites where either the mishkan or the ark of the covenant resided seemed to have a special place, and pilgrimages to those sites may have occurred. (The Aharonic priests seemed to be wherever the ark was, though that’s not entirely clear.) Pilgrimage, however, was a great hardship on many, if not most Israelites, so worship at local shrines, led by a Levite, were acceptable. Then David had the ark brought to Jerusalem (and who knows what machinations of the Aharonic priesthood were involved with that.) Solomon built the Temple, and then there was only one fixed site for worship and pilgrimage. (There is, however, credible evidence that worship at other sites continued, especially in the northern areas.)

Centuries pass. Then, through our own failures to uphold the covenant, that place was destroyed. Somehow, we found new ways to worship while in captivity (and the non-elite Israelites left behind during the exile somehow managed to keep some of the faith alive.) We may have wept and wondered how we could sing the L”rd’s song in a foreign land, but somehow we managed to do so. We developed institutions to replace the Temple. We found Torah study and prayer as suitable replacements for animal sacrifice. We also blamed ourselves and our failures to keep G”d’s covenant for the fact we were in exile, releasing a strong fervor to once again embrace the commandments (and thus creating a need for some way to explain some of the seemingly unexplainable things, and exactly how to follow these commandments.)

Another Temple is built in Jerusalem. (Oddly, and perhaps ironically, it should be noted that Cyrus’ edict allowing the Jews to return specifically did so for the express purpose of worshipping their G”d. Boy, were we good at finding loopholes.) This time, the business, marketing, and tourism aspects were part of the process. The priests became corrupt and the rulers progressively worse. (Post Maccabean revolt we have the House of Hashmon – among the worst rulers Israel ever had.) We traded Syrian-Greek overlords for Roman overlords. Then we got as tired of the Romans as we had gotten of the Greeks, and we foolishly revolted against them. we lost. Bye bye, Temple number 2.

And now we are scattered all around the world.

There are those who would desire to restore that one place. Seems to me that they're missing the message, and simply desiring to bring back the fabled but failed days of yore. Oh, for one brief shining moment, we had a bit of Camelot in Jerusalem, but it was, alas, short-lived. If we spend our lives merely wishing to bring back that moment, we ignore all that is happening around us.

G"d did not say "in THE place." G"d clearly said "in EVERY place."We figured that out in Babylon.

G”d is with us in the synagogue. Not all inheritors of the rabbinic tradition of the diaspora still desire the rebuilding of the Temple, but they sure seem hell-bent on keeping the synagogue at the center of Jewish life and worship. I do not doubt the power of community, and the power of worship in community. Community is an essential component of Judaism. However, we must not allow ourselves to be caught up in the hubris our ancestors also had, believing that only in those places we designate can we commune with G”d properly. Perhaps the synagogue can be re-invented (or re-invent itself.) Perhaps it can co-exist with alternate form of worship. Or perhaps it may fade into the mists of time. Only time will tell.

What are the alternatives to the synagogue? At home. At work. On the street. On vacation. At the nightclub.  In the park. A flash-mob worship. In large gatherings and small gatherings. At Home Depot learning to build a sukkah. (Actually, now that we know where the funder of Home Depot donates so much of his money, we should switch all our programs to Lowes or Menards.) On a farm. On an ocean liner. Someday, on the Moon or Mars.  Everywhere. B'kol HaMakom. In every place we are, we will be blessed, if we will but harken to G"d's commandments as we understand them.

One of G”d’s appellations is "HaMakom." The place. Effectively then, all places. In whatever makom/place we are in, G"d is that place. Depending on your understanding of G"d, that could be that G"d is physically omnipresent, or it could mean that, because we are in the image of G"d, everywhere we go, G"d goes. Either way, it's in every place. Not just one place, or some special places. For those of you who need a little "fear," you can just look at is as if G"d is there, seeing what you are doing, everywhere, at all times. That’s not my cup of tea, but if it works for you…

Whichever understanding you have, perhaps constant awareness of this might affect how we act and behave - in every place. Not just when we are in any one place. Not little scrolls of parchment in small boxes on our arm and our forehead, nor even in a mezuzah. We become the living embodiment of those words, so the physical artifacts are no longer needed to remind us.  I think G"ds message to us here includes the idea that we need to act holy wherever we are. May we all strive to do so.

Shabbat Shalom,


©2018 (portions ©2008) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Yitro 5777 - Holy Seeds Don't Produce Identical Plants
Yitro 5776 - Top Ten (Revised and Redux 5766)
Yitro 5774 - The Rest of the Ten Commandments (Revisted and Revised)
Yitro 5773 - From Cheap Theatrics to Impossible Possibilities (Revised and Updated from 5761)
Yitro5772 - Why I Won't Be Unplugging on the National Day/Shabbat of Unplugging
Yitro 5771/ Redux Beshalakh 5762 - Manna Mania
Yitro 5770 - Special Effects
Yitro 5769 - Evolution Shabbat
Yitro 5768-B'Kol HaMakom-In Every Place
Yitro 5767-Kinat Ad"nai
Yitro 5766-Top Ten?
Yitro 5765-Outsiders (Updated from 5759)
Yitro 5764-Outsiders II
Yitro 5763-El Kana
Yitro 5762-Manna Mania
Yitro 5761-From Cheap Theatrics to Impossible Possibilities
Yitro 5760-The Rest of the Ten Commandments
Yitro 5759-Outsiders