Friday, December 28, 2018

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Sh’mot 5779—Unsatisfactory Legal Fictions

How could I have missed it? It’s right there in plain sight. I’ve read it many times, yet it never seemed to give me pause until now. Perhaps it escaped my notice because there is so much else to focus on in this parasha? Maybe it’s not as big a deal as I’m making it, but for some reason, this year I couldn’t just breeze past it.

Commanded by G”d to go to Egypt and direct Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go into the dessert so they might worship their G'”d (yet knowing full well G”d’s true intention to totally humiliate Pharaoh by making Pharaoh stubbornly obstinate to the point that he brings about his own fate, while simultaneously promising to bring the Hebrews into the promised land – even though they are, admittedly, even pointedly noted, currently occupied by other tribes) Moshe complains he isn’t up to the task, being an inarticulate speaker. (How’s that for a run-on sentence, eh?)

G”d, perhaps showing some signs of maturity (especially after the antics in B’reishit) doesn’t have a hissy fit when Moshe politely tries to refuse the command. One might almost expect G”d to really lay in to Moshe, but G”d just says “Is it not I that gives humanity the ability to speak or not speak? Now chill, I will be with you.

Moshe, however, is foolish enough to dig himself in deeper, and begs G”d to choose someone else. The text then says that G”d became angry with Moshe. However, I think G”d was showing even greater maturity and patience than just a moment ago, and didn’t display that anger. It’s as if G”d took a deep breath and then said “OK. Your brother Aharon is a good speaker, he’s on his way even now to meet you [More on that in a bit]  and he’ll be happy to see you.” You speak and put the words in Aharon’s mouth – I will be with you and him as you speak, and tell you both what to do…”

And then we get this:

וְדִבֶּר־ה֥וּא לְךָ֖ אֶל־הָעָ֑ם וְהָ֤יָה הוּא֙ יִֽהְיֶה־לְּךָ֣ לְפֶ֔ה וְאַתָּ֖ה תִּֽהְיֶה־לּ֥וֹ לֵֽאלֹהִֽים׃

and he shall speak for you to the people. Thus he shall serve as your spokesman, with you playing the role of God to him,

This year, as I read those words, I thought to myself – WTAF? This Deity, who over the course of the next few books of the Torah will self-define as a merciful yet jealous G”d, and proclaim there shall be no idols or images of the Divine, no worship of others, and even insures later that Moshe is buried in an unmarked grave so he will not become deified uses this particular simile? Seems on odd choice. Perhaps those who believe that G”d has everything all planned out from beginning to end have got it all wrong, and G”d is, just like us, being extemporaneous  (or to be more blunt, making it up as G”d goes along, or, even more blunt, winging it.) For many the idea of a G”d that has a plan and sticks to it is comforting. For me, the notion of a G”d who is just riffing is actually far more comforting. It makes G”d seem more human. Does that make any sense?  Many cultures have certainly imbued their gods with human characteristics.

Speaking of winging it, let’s go back to where this happened:

וַיִּֽחַר־אַ֨ף יְהוָ֜ה בְּמֹשֶׁ֗ה וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ הֲלֹ֨א אַהֲרֹ֤ן אָחִ֙יךָ֙ הַלֵּוִ֔י יָדַ֕עְתִּי כִּֽי־דַבֵּ֥ר יְדַבֵּ֖ר ה֑וּא וְגַ֤ם הִנֵּה־הוּא֙ יֹצֵ֣א לִקְרָאתֶ֔ךָ וְרָאֲךָ֖ וְשָׂמַ֥ח בְּלִבּֽוֹ׃

14. The LORD became angry with Moses, and He said, “There is your brother Aaron the Levite. He, I know, speaks readily. Even now he is setting out to meet you, and he will be happy to see you.

Now let’s skip ahead to this:

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶֽל־אַהֲרֹ֔ן לֵ֛ךְ לִקְרַ֥את מֹשֶׁ֖ה הַמִּדְבָּ֑רָה וַיֵּ֗לֶךְ וַֽיִּפְגְּשֵׁ֛הוּ בְּהַ֥ר הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים וַיִּשַּׁק־לֽוֹ׃

27. The LORD said to Aaron, “Go to meet Moses in the wilderness.” He went and met him at the mountain of God, and he kissed him.

Notice this comes 13 verses later, after the whole bridegroom of blood thing. Now there is plenty of evidence that one should not always think of the Torah as using linear time. Nevertheless, it does raise the question if G”d told a little white lie, telling Moshe that Aharon was already on his way to meet him (verse 14) when in reality at that point, G”d was planning to instruct Aharon to go meet his brother but had not yet done so. Yes, the way this story is told in the text of Torah may be dependent upon the fact the humans experience time in a  linear fashion, and G”d may not be subject to that limitation. G”d had every intention of making sure Aharon was on his way to meet up with Moshe at the moment he told Moshe this is what would happen.

If we want to get picky about the language, then extemporaneity is not exactly the same as being impromptu, off the cuff, or winging it. Extemporaneous, by definition, implies that the individual who is being extemporaneous has, in fact, prepared in advance to be able to do so. Instead of reading from an entire prepared script, they might use a few note cards or an outline. Impromptu implies no advance planning. Winging it. Shooting from the hip. The reality is that all of them require skill. Experts make it look easy, but it’s not easy at all.

In a universe were G”d is omniscient and omnipotent, G”d being able to be impromptu is at once easy yet anathema. The omnipotence enables the unpredictable to actually have been “part of the plan all along” as, when One is the creator of the universe, One can simply instantly change the Universe so that it now conforms to a new reality. Like a time travel story in which you go back, change something (advertently or inadvertently) and when you arrive back in your own time, historical records now reflect the changed reality. The omniscience should render the impromptu unnecessary. If G”d knows all, then everything is as it should be at all times, is that no so?

You see where this is leading, don’t you? We’ve had this conversation before. G”d creates a perfect Universe. G”d is amused and enjoys it for a few minutes and then remains bored for all the rest of eternity. So G”d puts a little chaos and randomness into the system. G”d gives humanity free will. I read incongruent bits of text like the ones we are discussing here as hints left by G”d to clue us in that what we may perceive as completely thought out from beginning to end Divine plan is, in fact, situationally responsive to account for the randomness that has been made part of our reality. G”d adjusts as necessary. As G”d of all creation, G”d can be extemporaneous, impromptu, even just plain winging it. Now with great power comes great responsibility. I’m not entirely sure, based on what I have learned about G”d from the Torah, that G”d is truly not always skilled enough to handle the randomness. G”d has created a stone too big for G”d to lift. So we employ rule number 2. (Rule number one is “G”d.” Rule number two is: If “but…” refer to rule one.)

Referring back to our little possible premature declaration to Moshe about Aharon coming to meet him. We have the non-linear defense, We have the irrelevant defense. We have the G”d changes reality simply by doing things explanation. Oh, wow, I get to quote some Gilbert and Sullivan here, from just before the finale to The Mikado:

Ko-Ko: When Your Majesty says “Let a thing be done,” it’s as good as done—practically it is done—because Your Majesty’s will is law. Your Majesty says, “Kill a gentleman,” and a gentleman is told off to be killed. Consequently, that gentleman is as good as dead—practically, he is dead—and if he is dead, why not say so?”

Mikado: I see! Nothing could possibly be more satisfactory.

The reader of the Torah is merely asked to provide the legal fiction on their own, since the Torah is not explicit about it. G”d said a thing was happening, ergo it must be happening, must have been happening, even though G”d is portrayed as initiating the action at a later time than the pronouncement.

We can invoke more than G&S here, and comnvolute the discussion. Perhaps some Leibniz:

"It is generally agreed that whatever God wills is good and just. But there remains the question whether it is good and just because God wills it or whether God wills it because it is good and just; in other words, whether justice and Goodness are arbitrary or whether they belong to the necessary and eternal truths about the nature of things."

Now my head is spinning.

OK, that G&S quote may or my not get one past the linear time sending Aharon to Moshe issue. Doesn’t quite get me where I need to go on the “Moshe you shall be like a god to Aharon” thing. Why that exact turn of phrase when others could have been equally effective? What does this tell us about the relationship between Moshe and his older brother?

If G”d dictated the Torah, word for word, G”d could certainly have decided to alter reality after the fact and make it as if G”d had never used the “like a god to Aharon” simile. So if Torah mi Sinai is your thing, you’re stuck with this. Enjoy the rabbinical and translator whitewashes on this, because they’re all you’ve got to make sense of it. Or just refer to rule 2. You might find that easier.

If, like me, you’re more inclined to other theories about the origin of Torah, explaining either Divinely-inspired or purely human choice to use that “like a god to Aharon” phrasing remains a puzzlement (or betrays a lack of understanding of the power of using such a powerful simile in such an innocuous manner.)

When G”d says “Moshe, you shall be like a G”d to Aharon” it’s as good as true—practically, it is true—because G”d’s word is law. You say “one human shall be like a G”d to his brother” yet you tell us that we shall have no other G”ds before You.

Nothing could possibly be less satisfactory.

Shabbat Shalom,


©2018 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Sh'mot 5778 - Logic and Metaphysics (Revisited)
Sh'mot 5777 - Free Association V
Sh'mot 5776 - [SPOILER ALERT]
Sh'mot 5775 - Why Us (Redux 5765)
Sh'mot 5774 - Pas De Deux
Sh'mot 5773 - Wicked, Wonderful Moral Ambiguities
Sh'mot 5772 - Is Might Ever Right?
Sh'mot 5771 - Free Association IV
Sh'mot 5767-Logic & Metaphysics
Shemot 5766 - Free Association III
Shemot 5765-Why Us?
Shemot 5764-Uncomsumed-ness
Shemot 5763 - Free Association II
Shemot 5760-Tzaz Latzav, Tzav Latzav
Shemot 5761-The Spice of Life
Shemot 5762-Little Ol' Me?

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayigash 5779—Reconciling: Are You Into It?

I like to keep things balanced in my accounts. So I expect things in Torah to balance as well. But sometimes, when you try and reconcile things in the Torah, it’s not so easy. The numbers don’t always balance out. We have an example right here in Vayigash.

First, we have this:


וּקְח֧וּ אֶת־אֲבִיכֶ֛ם וְאֶת־בָּתֵּיכֶ֖ם וּבֹ֣אוּ אֵלָ֑י וְאֶתְּנָ֣ה לָכֶ֗ם אֶת־טוּב֙ אֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם וְאִכְל֖וּ אֶת־חֵ֥לֶב הָאָֽרֶץ׃

Take your father and your households and come to me; I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you shall live off the fat of the land.’


וְאַתָּ֥ה צֻוֵּ֖יתָה זֹ֣את עֲשׂ֑וּ קְחוּ־לָכֶם֩ מֵאֶ֨רֶץ מִצְרַ֜יִם עֲגָל֗וֹת לְטַפְּכֶם֙ וְלִנְשֵׁיכֶ֔ם וּנְשָׂאתֶ֥ם אֶת־אֲבִיכֶ֖ם וּבָאתֶֽם׃

And you are bidden [to add], ‘Do as follows: take from the land of Egypt wagons for your children and your wives, and bring your father here.


וְעֵ֣ינְכֶ֔ם אַל־תָּחֹ֖ס עַל־כְּלֵיכֶ֑ם כִּי־ט֛וּב כָּל־אֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם לָכֶ֥ם הֽוּא׃

And never mind your belongings, for the best of all the land of Egypt shall be yours.’”


וַיַּֽעֲשׂוּ־כֵן֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיִּתֵּ֨ן לָהֶ֥ם יוֹסֵ֛ף עֲגָל֖וֹת עַל־פִּ֣י פַרְעֹ֑ה וַיִּתֵּ֥ן לָהֶ֛ם צֵדָ֖ה לַדָּֽרֶךְ׃

The sons of Israel did so; Joseph gave them wagons as Pharaoh had commanded, and he supplied them with provisions for the journey.

Then we have this:


וַיִּסַּ֤ע יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְכָל־אֲשֶׁר־ל֔וֹ וַיָּבֹ֖א בְּאֵ֣רָה שָּׁ֑בַע וַיִּזְבַּ֣ח זְבָחִ֔ים לֵאלֹהֵ֖י אָבִ֥יו יִצְחָֽק׃

So Israel set out with all that was his, and he came to Beer-sheba, where he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.


וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ לְיִשְׂרָאֵל֙ בְּמַרְאֹ֣ת הַלַּ֔יְלָה וַיֹּ֖אמֶר יַעֲקֹ֣ב ׀ יַעֲקֹ֑ב וַיֹּ֖אמֶר הִנֵּֽנִי׃

God called to Israel in a vision by night: “Jacob! Jacob!” He answered, “Here.”


וַיֹּ֕אמֶר אָנֹכִ֥י הָאֵ֖ל אֱלֹהֵ֣י אָבִ֑יךָ אַל־תִּירָא֙ מֵרְדָ֣ה מִצְרַ֔יְמָה כִּֽי־לְג֥וֹי גָּד֖וֹל אֲשִֽׂימְךָ֥ שָֽׁם׃

And He said, “I am God, the God of your father. Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation.


אָנֹכִ֗י אֵרֵ֤ד עִמְּךָ֙ מִצְרַ֔יְמָה וְאָנֹכִ֖י אַֽעַלְךָ֣ גַם־עָלֹ֑ה וְיוֹסֵ֕ף יָשִׁ֥ית יָד֖וֹ עַל־עֵינֶֽיךָ׃

I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will also bring you back; and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”


וַיָּ֥קָם יַעֲקֹ֖ב מִבְּאֵ֣ר שָׁ֑בַע וַיִּשְׂא֨וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל אֶת־יַעֲקֹ֣ב אֲבִיהֶ֗ם וְאֶת־טַפָּם֙ וְאֶת־נְשֵׁיהֶ֔ם בָּעֲגָל֕וֹת אֲשֶׁר־שָׁלַ֥ח פַּרְעֹ֖ה לָשֵׂ֥את אֹתֽוֹ׃

So Jacob set out from Beer-sheba. The sons of Israel put their father Jacob and their children and their wives in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to transport him;


וַיִּקְח֣וּ אֶת־מִקְנֵיהֶ֗ם וְאֶת־רְכוּשָׁם֙ אֲשֶׁ֤ר רָֽכְשׁוּ֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן וַיָּבֹ֖אוּ מִצְרָ֑יְמָה יַעֲקֹ֖ב וְכָל־זַרְע֥וֹ אִתּֽוֹ׃

and they took along their livestock and the wealth that they had amassed in the land of Canaan. Thus Jacob and all his offspring with him came to Egypt:


בָּנָ֞יו וּבְנֵ֤י בָנָיו֙ אִתּ֔וֹ בְּנֹתָ֛יו וּבְנ֥וֹת בָּנָ֖יו וְכָל־זַרְע֑וֹ הֵבִ֥יא אִתּ֖וֹ מִצְרָֽיְמָה׃

he brought with him to Egypt his sons and grandsons, his daughters and granddaughters—all his offspring.

Pharaoh clearly instructs Joseph and his brothers to fetch Jacob, but to not bother bringing any of their “stuff” with them, as Egypt will provide all they need. Jacob and his sons clearly ignore (or forget) this admonition and bring with them all of Jacob’s accumulated wealth.

Now, one could argue that Pharaoh was referring only to household possessions. I think that’s a real stretch. So,Egyptian Pharaohs were certainly known for insisting their orders be followed as given. So why did Joseph, his brothers, and father get a pass in this case? Was Pharaoh just being a polite host? Was Pharaoh just trying not to cause any trouble between him and Joseph? Was Pharaoh truly grateful enough to Joseph that he would ignore this outright contempt for his instructions?

Why did Pharaoh issue the instruction in the first place? Was he so certain that Egypt was so cultural superior, that Joseph’s father and extended family wouldn’t miss their ratty old possessions? Perhaps Pharaoh had a hidden motive, seeking to lure the family away from its nomadic shepherding lifestyle? Maybe Pharaoh could steer them into forms of livelihood more suitable to supporting the Egyptian state?

Well, there’s this:


וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יוֹסֵ֤ף אֶל־אֶחָיו֙ וְאֶל־בֵּ֣ית אָבִ֔יו אֶעֱלֶ֖ה וְאַגִּ֣ידָה לְפַרְעֹ֑ה וְאֹֽמְרָ֣ה אֵלָ֔יו אַחַ֧י וּבֵית־אָבִ֛י אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּאֶֽרֶץ־כְּנַ֖עַן בָּ֥אוּ אֵלָֽי׃

Then Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell the news to Pharaoh, and say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me.


וְהָאֲנָשִׁים֙ רֹ֣עֵי צֹ֔אן כִּֽי־אַנְשֵׁ֥י מִקְנֶ֖ה הָי֑וּ וְצֹאנָ֧ם וּבְקָרָ֛ם וְכָל־אֲשֶׁ֥ר לָהֶ֖ם הֵבִֽיאוּ׃

The men are shepherds; they have always been breeders of livestock, and they have brought with them their flocks and herds and all that is theirs.’


וְהָיָ֕ה כִּֽי־יִקְרָ֥א לָכֶ֖ם פַּרְעֹ֑ה וְאָמַ֖ר מַה־מַּעֲשֵׂיכֶֽם׃

So when Pharaoh summons you and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’


וַאֲמַרְתֶּ֗ם אַנְשֵׁ֨י מִקְנֶ֜ה הָי֤וּ עֲבָדֶ֙יךָ֙ מִנְּעוּרֵ֣ינוּ וְעַד־עַ֔תָּה גַּם־אֲנַ֖חְנוּ גַּם־אֲבֹתֵ֑ינוּ בַּעֲב֗וּר תֵּשְׁבוּ֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ גֹּ֔שֶׁן כִּֽי־תוֹעֲבַ֥ת מִצְרַ֖יִם כָּל־רֹ֥עֵה צֹֽאן׃

you shall answer, ‘Your servants have been breeders of livestock from the start until now, both we and our fathers’—so that you may stay in the region of Goshen. For all shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians.”

We’ve been told here in the Torah that Egyptians abhor shepherds, but the facts argue against that. It is true the Egyptians did not, in general, have a lot of sheep, and didn’t make use of their wool – but they did have some sheep, and made extensive use of goats and goat hair. They preferred the lighter, less-itchy feel of linen as clothing as compared to sheep’s wool. They had little use for sheep’s milk, having plentiful goat and cow milk available.  In addition, there are sheep gods in the Egyptian pantheon. The deities Khnum and Amen was portrayed with sheep bodies, and ram were symbols of fertility

If the Egyptians loathed shepherds, maybe it was a result of their distaste for the Hyksos that overran and ruled the upper half of Egypt (and for a short period, lower Egypt as well) between 1650 and 1550 BCE. However, this fanciful notion is somewhat disproven by the generally accepted consensus that in ancient Egyptian, hyksos (heqau khaswet) meant “ruler from a foreign land” but found its way into ancient Greek as a loan word where it came to mean “shepherd King.” Josephus later picked up on this word and it’s connection to the Jewish narrative, and thus instigated the widely accepted (but now disproven) etymology of the word meaning “shepherd rulers.”

So much for Pharaoh wanting to secretly get Joseph’s family to stop being shepherds. However, Pharaoh may still have preferred they engaged in a profession more useful to Egypt. Raising cattle, or goats. Goshen was also very fertile land for agriculture – perhaps these nomads would settle down and bring their expertise to growing crops for Egypt.

I don’t know. I can’t help but think there is a reason that no mention is made of how Joseph ignored Pharaoh’s directions to have his family not bring their belongings, but for the life of me, I can’t suss out what it might be.

Does the Torah wish us to learn something from Pharaoh not bringing up this challenge to his orders? Is it telling us that this Pharaoh knew enough to “choose his battles” and setting that as an example for us? Is it a dig at Pharaoh, either showing that he didn’t notice his order had been disobeyed, or was cowed enough by Joseph success that he dare not speak up?

I may just have to chalk this up to yet another example of the Torah teaching us that we can;t figure out everything. Or of the Torah reminding us “this is just a story, don’t get too wrapped up in the details, and look at the enduring understandings, to use a little edu-speak.

But when you turn it, and turn it again, you really do find everything in it. That everything includes things that don’t reconcile. You’d think that after years of this, I’d have learned to  ignore and accept that. But then again, I’m the stubborn type who, in all his years of keeping his accounts, both manually, and for the last 35+ years, in Quicken*, has only once, in all that time, allowed Quicken to enter a reconciliation transaction to make up for a balance difference he just couldn’t reconcile (and it was only for a few cents.) Torah’s reconciliation issues will always call me to try and balance them. I hope I will continue to opt for trying to balance the accounts. Here’s to reconciliation. Or the lack thereof.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2018 by Adrian A. Durlester

*If you’re a user of this same financial software that I’ve been using since the mid-80s, you might get the joke in the musing title.

Other Musings on this Parasha

Vayigash 5778 - Two Sticks As One (Revised 5766)
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?

Friday, December 7, 2018

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Miketz 5779—Eizeh Hu Khakham (Revisited again)

I wrote just last year about the special haftarah from Zechariah that is read when this Shabbat falls on Hanukkah, so I'll recommend that to you if you insist on being that machmir about things. This year, I'd like to visit a topic I first wrote about in 2005, and then revisited just two years ago, that relates to the regular haftarah for parashat Miketz from I Kings. Even in two years, things have changed. What makes this of particular interest this year that I just finished directing a staged reading last month of an original play about King Solomon called "Philosopher King" which explores Solomon's struggles with ethics, leadership, morality, logic, and reality. It is in that spirit that I revisit the musing.

Eizeh Hu Khakham?

Ben Zoma asks and answers this question in the Talmud (Pirke Avot 3:1) Who is wise? One who learns from every person, as it is said in Torah," from all my teachers I acquired understanding." (Ben Zoma goes on to define might, wealth, and honor in a similar vein.) This same question is asked, in different ways, throughout the Talmud and all of our sacred texts. What, exactly, is wisdom, and how does one acquire it? And how should one use it?

The Haftarah for parashat Miketz is one of the classic example of wisdom, or specifically, Solomonic wisdom, relating the well known exemplar of Solomonic wisdom: whose baby is it?  Two unmarried women living together (most likely prostitutes) give birth within a few days of each other. One claims that the other rolled over on her baby and killed it, and then switched it with the other. Each claim the living child is theirs. Shlomo HaMelekh (King Solomon) orders that a sword be brought forth so that the living child might be divided in half. One mother says "it should be neither yours nor mine, so cut it in two." Of course, the true mother is the one who says to give the child to the other so it might live.

Shlomo relies on his understanding of a mother's connection with her own child. And when the people of Israel learned of his great wisdom, they accept him as their King. Just being a son of David was not enough to insure Solomon's acceptance as King by all the people.

It's a wonderful illustration of using wisdom to bring about justice. And it resonates well with the human experience. Would this Solomonic wisdom work in all situations? It seems logical that it would, yet we know that situations are not always as they appear. There are many in the world who employ great deceits, and weave tangled webs. Perhaps I've been watching too many episodes of Law and Order.

It does seem to be a little harder these days to be sure that one party to a dispute is telling the truth and one is lying. Multiple truths, partial truths, conspiratorial deceptions abound. Where does one get the wisdom to discern wisely? As Ben Zoma said, we get it by learning from everyone. Yet, even armed with such awareness, are we truly prepared to render justice wisely?

Let's take this to another level. In this day and time (though not entirely unique to our time) we Jews seem to question each other as to who the "true Jews" are. The differing sides each question whether the other hasn't rolled over on their own child and stolen theirs, metaphorically speaking.
I have heard it seriously suggested by those from both liberal and traditional camps that we ought to just sever the child that is living Judaism in twain, each becoming a separate (yet ultimately dead) religion.

And many liberal Jews, uncertain of the legitimacy of their own claims, seem perfectly willing to turn the baby and the bathwater over to the traditionalists so that it might live. (Or perhaps so that they might live as they choose, and alleviate their guilt by assuring that somewhere out there are people who are being "real Jews." Or perhaps acknowledging for themselves that they do not need the approval of the other side?)

Similarly, the future of the modern Jewish state of Israel is being debated.  This is true in the diaspora, here in the US, and, of course, in Israel itself. Which mother is Israel in this scenario? It’s not all that clear to me. Both sides could make the case.  It seems easy to argue that the two-state solution is splitting the child in half. However, it’s just as easy to argue that a single-state solution is more likely to lead to the death of the experiment that is modern Israel. I will openly admit to being in the latter camp, and fear Israel’s leaders, and its followers here in the US, are not being very Solomonic in their thinking. Yes, giving up land for peace hasn’t necessarily given the desired result, but it has allowed the baby to continue living.

Yet perhaps there is a basic misconception here (pun intended.) Each sides feels that the other has rolled over on their own child and is attempting to steal theirs. Yet I know that on both sides are many (if not a vast majority) who would willingly turn the baby over to the other so that it might live.
We need to ask ourselves a few questions before we can even attempt to solve this dilemma with anything akin to Solomonic wisdom.

1. Is only one child alive? 2. Was there ever really two children? 3. If there were two, and one died, how did it die? 4. Can one child be shared between two mothers? 5. Is the Solomonic approach always the best choice? 7. Can a Solomonic approach help us determine truths in our own time? Could a Solomonic trick be used to ferret out truths about things like global warming, discrimination, misogyny, et al?  7. Who among us today is wise enough to apply a Solomonic test to determine facts and truths?

Back to our exemplar. What if neither mother had relented? Would Solomon have split the baby assunder? What other tests might Solomon have devised to determine which mother and child were connected? What if the woman who was not the child's true mother proved to be the better parent? Could shared custody have worked? Do the rights of a birth mother always take precedence? These issues play out in our own time with adoptions, surrogate pregnancies, genetic diseases, and more. The issues are much more of a challenge today. WWSD?

In the play whose stage-reading I recently directed, the playwright refers to the story, and later has Solomon musing that he hated having to wield the sword, and figured the entire event would be soon forgotten (which of course received a hearty laugh from the audience.) Solomon sought wisdom, and sought to employ it throughout his life. However, there's a timeline. We have the young, romantic Solomon of Shir Hashirim/Song of Songs, the practical father instructing his son in Mashlim/Proverbs, and the disappointed old man in Qohelet/Ecclesiastes (that is, if we choose to see all three works as a product of Solomon or his descendants/scribal school.) From the blazons of youthful poetry to the pithy aphorisms of parenthood to the jaded musings of an embittered old man. I suspect that Solomon might have had different thoughts and methodologies to employ in dispensing wisdom at different points throughout his life. That even in a time when societal and technological change crept along at a glacial pace compared to our Moore's Law-like reality. With our knowledge changing at a frenetic pace, our philosophy, ethics, and morality can barely keep up. If you think Solomon had troubles, just imagine trying to be wise today.

Just recently, a Chinese scientist announced that he had performed gene manipulation using Crispr-Cas9 on twin embryos to prevent the genetic father's HIV from being transferred to the embryos, and implanted them in the mother who has given live birth to the twins. In addition to all the ethical conisderations, and the protocols that were broken, some others are now claiming he  didn't even give both embryos the same chance - deciding to change both genes on one twin, and only one of the two genes on the other. On yet another aspect of this controversy, one of the critics used the term "monstrous" in describing the experiment - but, as the NY Times pointed out, in this, the 200th anniversary of the publication of Shelley's Frankenstein, such language could easily be though of as describing the two twin babies, branding them with for something over which they had no control.

In the leadership and politics arena, Solomon would find himself equally challenged. In a time when the very concept of objective truth is under siege, how is wisdom obtained? Is true wisdom the ability to discern and acknowledge that there is objective truth, or is true wisdom recognizing that in the observation of objective truth by individual humans, there is in each human an implicit bias on their experience and understanding of that truth?  As uncomfortable as it makes me to say this, there is something to that notion. Additionally, is this borne out by Schroedinger's thought experiment and the notion that observation is part of the reality of quantum physics and mechanics?

What makes a leader wise? How do wise leaders act? Do wise leaders believe only they know what is best? Not according to Ben Zoma. Is Solomon the ultimate exemplar of a wise leader? Do wise leaders take on hundreds of wives and concubine? Do wise leaders kill to settle scores for their fathers? (I'm referring to Solomon here, but I suppose Dubya might be a candidate.) Do wise leaders let their wives and concubines build shrines to their alien gods in his house when he is ruler of a land given to his people by G"d who insists there be no idols? Do wise leaders spare the lives of opponents who have challenged them and might challenge them yet again?

Even the wisest of leaders have flaws and make mistakes. For all the good he did, George HW Bush also did some pretty awful things, too. Is it too much to hope that even the dumbest of leaders might wind up having some positive impact?

WWSD? What would Solomon have made of our current national and world situation? would Solomon simply be able to say "just test the DNA so we know for certain who the real mother of the child is?" Or does a wise ruler know that others factors besides biological parentage are worth weighing?

Have at it, my Solomonic friends. And remember that a good place to start is with Ben Zoma's wise words. Go and learn from everyone.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2018 (portions ©2016 and 2005) by Adrian A. Durlester

Others Musings on this Parasha:

Miketz/Hanukkah 5778 - Yodim Atem Likhvod Mah?
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