Thursday, January 24, 2019

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Yitro 5779 - Bubble Bursting and a Potential Heresy

Ah, the frustrations of translation. Would that all of our students (and all of us) were versed and skilled enough in biblical and rabbinic Hebrew and Aramaic to attempt to parse words and meanings for ourselves. As I have told many students over the years, this alone, is a good enough reason to want to learn Hebrew. However it can take years, decades even, to achieve even reasonably facile skill at this (and it still will require referencing the translations of others, and other resources that may help contribute to understanding the meanings of a piece of text. This is true whether it is in the context of the (theoretical) historical period in which the text was written/created/given/discovered, the context of some hermeneutical system (literal, moral, allegorical, mystical), the context of Talmudic hermeneutics, the context of contemporary reader response (which I list separately only because it differs from the other standard forms of hermeneutics in that it does not presuppose, require, or insist upon any objective meaning of the text), or some non-biblical hermeneutic (ranging from Folk Etymology to any one of the dozens of modern philosophical hermeneutical systems from folks like Schleiermacher, Heidegger, Dilthey, Gadamer, Benjamin, Bloch, Derrida, Popper et al.)

Given this, some reliance upon the translations of others is almost unavoidable for many, if not most people attempting to interpret biblical text. Our history, sadly, is replete with poor translation. Why, to this day, do so many translations still insist in the inaccurate translation of “In the beginning” when the grammar and syntax of the text more correctly reads “In a beginning” ? (The rest of the verse is generally translated equally inaccurately. If we are as literal as possible, it reads “In a beginning, G”d had created the heavens and the earth.” See the width and breadth of possibilities that opens? (Yes, scholars can quibble about “created” vs “had created” but the verb bara is in qal perfect form (meaning completed action) and to me “had created” is truer to conveying the meaning of the binyan (what we call “conjugation.”)

We’ll get sidetracked if we continue to quibble about this one verse. It is one among many which have common translations that are problematic, inaccurate, or confusing.

I also feel compelled to point out that, when coming at this from a Jewish perspective, it is perfectly reasonable to insist upon some reference to Talmudic hermeneutics. After all, we do have a millennia old tradition of how we understand and interpret the text. Whether you place particular value in the “oral Torah” and the form in which it became semi-fixed by the rabbis of old (and of today) or not, I do believe it is somewhat disingenuous to completely divorce interpretation of the text from this long history. While I might want to embrace systems like “reader response”,  and to some extent feel it may be the only way that some contemporary (and future) Jews might have to find some meaning and value in the biblical text, I am not yet ready to walk away that fully from the idea that, even if we can’t truly discern “original intent” we can at least value the millennia of effort put into that task and grapple with it, if for no other reason (and I believe there are other good reasons) than out of respect for the effort.

All of which has been a rather roundabout journey to what led me to this musing today. It being parashat Yitro this week, I have been discussing with students this (first version of) the aseret ha-d’varim (the term used in the Torah) or the aseret hadibrot (as used in rabbinical writings) which reasonably translates as the ten speakings, the ten sayings, the ten declarations, the ten statements,  the ten words, the ten things, or as we know them, the Ten Commandments.

According to some popular rabbinical understandings (and with the help of a lot of squishing and stretching and morphing) the Ten Commandments are really ten super-categories into which all the other commandments found in the Torah fit. (Now you can see why I qualified this.)  In other understandings, parts of each of the ten find their way into one or more categories.

Parts of each of the ten? Sigh. Here again, though it should be obvious as we hear and read through the commandments (both here and later in Deuteronomy,) except for a few really word-economical commandments, there’s more to each of the ten than we generally think there is. (That’s also another reason with the Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant versions of the Ten Commandments differ. )

We tend to shorten them a bit to make t easier for our students to learn them, but I’m not sure that, in the end, we’ve done them any favor if we haven’t also made it clear to them that these are are shortened versions and there’s more to them. Here are the Ten Commandments as they appear in Exodus 20. Yeah, you forgot about some of that, didn’t you? That’s okay.

Oy, getting off-track yet again. So I’m discussing the Ten Commandments with students, and some of them, knowing that I often like to harp on seeming textual inconsistencies, decided to ask me about one.

[Please note that as I move on, I am writing here in an adult context for you, my readers, not necessarily in the terms or terminology that I was using with my students. Though as I have often remarked, I am not a fan of pediatric Judaism, I do strive to be age appropriate in how I phrase and explain things.]

“Why,” the student asked, “are we commanded to not be jealous of the things that other have, yet G”d is described as being a jealous G”d?” They were so sure they had gotten me with a zinger and I’d run off on some tangent about it. well, they were right that they got me on to a tangent, but it wasn’t the one they were expecting.

“Where,” I asked, “does it say that G”d is jealous?”

“It’s part of the second commandment.”

“Really?,” I asked. “Are you sure about that? Let’s look it up in our chumashim (Plaut, Torah: A Modern Commentary, translation based on new JPS.)  Exodus 20, starting at verse 3, I think.  Let’s read it.”


לֹֽ֣א יִהְיֶֽה־לְךָ֛֩ אֱלֹהִ֥֨ים אֲחֵרִ֖֜ים עַל־פָּנָֽ֗יַ

You shall have no other gods besides Me.


לֹֽ֣א תַֽעֲשֶׂ֨ה־לְךָ֥֣ פֶ֣֙סֶל֙ ׀ וְכָל־תְּמוּנָ֡֔ה אֲשֶׁ֤֣ר בַּשָּׁמַ֣֙יִם֙ ׀ מִמַּ֡֔עַל וַֽאֲשֶׁ֥ר֩ בָּאָ֖֨רֶץ מִתַָּ֑֜חַת וַאֲשֶׁ֥֣ר בַּמַּ֖֣יִם ׀ מִתַּ֥֣חַת לָאָֽ֗רֶץ

You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth.


לֹֽא־תִשְׁתַּחְוֶ֥֣ה לָהֶ֖ם֮ וְלֹ֣א תָעָבְדֵ֑ם֒ כִּ֣י אָֽנֹכִ֞י יְהוָ֤ה אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙ אֵ֣ל קַנָּ֔א פֹּ֠קֵד עֲוֺ֨ן אָבֹ֧ת עַל־בָּנִ֛ים עַל־שִׁלֵּשִׁ֥ים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִ֖ים לְשֹׂנְאָֽ֑י׃

You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I the LORD your God am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me,


וְעֹ֥֤שֶׂה חֶ֖֙סֶד֙ לַאֲלָפִ֑֔ים לְאֹהֲבַ֖י וּלְשֹׁמְרֵ֥י מִצְוֺתָֽי׃ (ס)

but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.

“I see ‘an impassioned G”d.’ So, where, exactly, does it say that G”d is jealous?”

“Well I know I’ve read or heard that somewhere before.”

“You’re right, you probably have. Where this translation says ‘an impassioned G”d’ many bibles say ‘For I the Lord Your G”d is a jealous G”d.’ The King James version, for one. But not just Christian bibles. The older version of the Jewish Publication Society bible, the one with all the thee and thou shalts that we used before this newer version, says ‘jealous.’ Many more traditional versions used by Orthodox Jews say “jealous” although even many of those don’t use that translation anymore.”

I told the students that the Hebrew word in verse 20:5 that was being translated by many as jealous is the word  קַנָּ֔א “kana.” The root of the word is thought to mean jealous or zealous (and in other conjugations envy, and even annoy or hurt.) This form of the word is an adjective. Based on how it is used elsewhere in the bible, scholars believe it to mean zealous, envious, or even fanatical.

Getting off on what I knew was a tangent, I discussed the difference between envy and jealousy Plenty, I suggested, and then again, not so much, as language evolves.  I explained that envy can be defined as

“A feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else's possessions, qualities, or luck. 'she felt a twinge of envy for the people on board' 'Some may even feel envy in that they wish they could feel the same way.' “ Oxford Dictionaries Online.

Jealous is similarly defined, (ibid)

Feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages. ‘he grew jealous of her success’

but also has these meanings:

Feeling or showing suspicion of someone's unfaithfulness in a relationship. a jealous boyfriend’

Fiercely protective or vigilant of one's rights or possessions. ‘Howard is still a little jealous of his authority’ ‘they kept a jealous eye over their interests’

(of God) demanding faithfulness and exclusive worship.

Modern English-language usage guides, while acknowledging that Jealously is coming into more frequent use to mean the same as envy, seek to maintain different conditions for the use of each. Jealously, they suggest, is more generally applicable in situation of love interest, or, in the even older uses of the word, related to the Deity, faithfulness and exclusivity of worship. To me, it feels a bit circular to define jealous by using envy. There’s something very ouroboros here.

Some commentaries and articles I have read suggest that jealously has another component to it. They suggest that one can only be jealous of something one has known or has already had, owned, or experienced. In other words, you can be jealous of the new boyfriend that your old girlfriend has. You can be jealous of the family that now lives in your old house/ You can’t be jealous if you have an iPhone 6 and your friend has an iPhone X. You can be envious of them, not jealous, because you have never known what it is to actually own an iPhone X. Though these same commentaries and articles still tend to argue that jealousy is really reserved for people and relationships, and not objects. Objects are, if you’ll forgive the circularity, objects of desire or envy.

However, this is again, a digression. To get us back on point, I asked the students again, where does us command us to not be jealous?

“Well, we’re not supposed to covet stuff. That means we shouldn’t be jealous of what other people have, right?”

“But you said ‘covet.’ Is coveting really the same as jealousy? Let’s look at the text again. Verse 14.”

לֹ֥א תַחְמֹ֖ד בֵּ֣ית רֵעֶ֑ךָ לֹֽא־תַחְמֹ֞ד אֵ֣שֶׁת רֵעֶ֗ךָ וְעַבְדּ֤וֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ֙ וְשׁוֹר֣וֹ וַחֲמֹר֔וֹ וְכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר לְרֵעֶֽךָ׃ (פ)

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house: you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female slave, or his ox or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

The Hebrew word here is entirely different. It’s תַחְמֹ֖ד “takhmod.”  It comes from the Hebrew root that means “to desire and try to obtain.” It is desire that is the kind that harms a person’s character, rather than a positive desire.

There are other biblical Hebrew word roots that can mean desire. One of them is a negative or even lustful desire like “takhmod.”  Another root has both positive and negative viewpoints of desire. Yet another root views desire in a positive light as a yearning for, with great favor or respect.

Yes, there’s a connection between desire and envy, between desire and jealousy. How they relate is complicated. Must one be jealous or envious to covet something, or can one simply covet or desire something just because it exists?  Is it possible to be envious or jealous of something without having a (negative connotation form of) desire or coveting?

Yes, this particular commandment does start out by speaking of coveting your neighbor’s wife. That means, perhaps, lustfully desiring her. However, in the same verse it goes on to speak of not coveting their male and female slaves (yes, we could make much more of just what that means in terms of coveting,) houses, work animals, and ending with the catch-all of pretty much anything else that belongs to your neighbor and not you. So now the question arises again, can one be jealous or envious yet still not covet or desire? Does one ultimately and invariably lead to the other?

So after all that, I’m sorry to disappoint you. There’s no inconsistency here. I know you want me to find something to rant about here.  Is there maybe a loophole here, since the text isn’t specific about not coveting something that doesn’t belong to a stranger, or someone not your neighbor? That all depends on what “neighbor” means and we could spend hours, if not days or weeks just discussing that. Not to mention the plenty of places in the Torah that remind us that we should treat the strangers among us the same way we treat our fellow Jews.

So again I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but I don’t find an inconsistency here between G”d being described as jealous and our being commanded not to be covetous of that which is not ours. There is plenty of inconsistency in the Torah to go around, but this isn’t one  of them, as far as I am concerned. This is about the importance of translation. This is about recognizing how language evolves, how words in any language can have a multitude of meanings, and why we need to be careful when we are dependent on the translations and interpretations of others.

Learning Hebrew will help. It won’t solve everything, but it will provide some insight. Tzei ulemad – go and learn!

Oh, but wait, dear reader. I’ve one last heresy to hurl your way. Yes, I’ve studied biblical Hebrew at an advanced level. Nevertheless, it is not my native language. At some level, everything I have learned about it gets turned into English in my brain. (Yes, to some limited degree, I can think in Hebrew, however I know my brain is still unconsciously linking that ability to my initially acquired English skills.) So, try hard as I may, I’ll never be able to quite read and understand it in the same way as those who wrote it and for whom it was written. In addition, with each passing year, we continue to acquire knowledge to add to what we already know, believe, and understand about the text. Some day, every scrap of that may be available in our own native languages. Yes, it will still be subject to the vagaries of translation, but, ultimately, aren’t we all subject to that, and won’t we be forever (unless we invent time travel?) So perhaps one day, soon, we will have access to all the relevant material ever written about the Torah in our native languages. Will that totally obviate the need to learn Hebrew? Personally, I think not, as I still believe that will prove useful. However, a solid case could be made that studies in one’s native language might be wholly adequate for both deep scholarly and even religious understanding. Most of the world’s Christians don’t know Aramaic or Koine Greek or Latin. By their religious standards, that is not a handicap to full understanding of the bible. On the other hand, Islam says that the Quran is best read and understood only in its classical Quranic Arabic – this is the mustahab, the preferred religious way to do it. Reading Quran in other languages is not haram – forbidden, but it does not earn one the religious merit of reading it in Quranic Arabic.  (This form of Arabic is considered by some scholars a purposefully basic form using simple words, vocabulary, grammar, and concepts, so that even a non-Arabic-speaking Muslim, say, a Farsi-speaking Persian, or an English-speaking American, can learn it.) Judaism has a more interesting history. The Torah was translated into Koine Greek for the Alexandrian Jewish community in the 3rd century BCE! It was later translated into Aramaic (probably in the 1st century BCE) and Syriac in the 3rd century CE. The Septuagint, the version reportedly translated in 72 days from Hebrew to Koine Greek by a group of 72 Jewish tribal elders appointed by the High Priest in Jerusalem and sent to work in Alexandria (on the island of Pharos with its newly completed lighthouse) was from the time of the reign of Ptolemy II in Egypt (285-246 BCE.)

The Book of Joshua suggests there were public Torah readings during that time but we have no evidence of that. There is evidence of public readings of the Torah in synagogues during the period of the Second Temple though we do not know with certainty if these readings were exclusively in Hebrew. The existence of the Septuagint and other Greek translation made at the request of the Alexandrian Jewish community at least suggest or hint at readings in languages other than Hebrew. We also have the Aramaic targums (translations.)The rabbis, in reconfiguring Judaism after the destruction of the Second temple in 70CE instituted readings only in Hebrew (though there is some evidence that some communities resisted.) During the period from about 500-1100CE,  the geonim who ran the academies in Babylon, providing a period of enlightenment and new scholarship for Judaism while Europe descended into the dark ages,  ruled that as all translations involved making choices, translations were not permitted.  However, during public readings, live translations into the local language were provided to the congregation, as had been done for centuries as Aramaic had become the prevalent language among Jews. In the 8th century CE the need for Arabic translations arose as territories we conquered by Islamists, but they were few and far between. By the 13th century there is evidence of Jewish vernacular translations into Spanish, starting with Megillat Esther. Italian translations date back about as far. German translations (for Jews) can be dated back to the 15th century.  A French version was first published in the 1830s. An English version for use by Jews became available in the 1840s.

It seems to me, based on this history, that Judaism has long recognized that many Jews do not know (and may never learn) Hebrew, and translations (whether live or in print) are necessary. As imperfect as translations can be, why, in this day and age do we insist that the Torah can only be read and understood in the original (?- really? Original? Like we can be sure of that?) Hebrew.

We continue to hold on to the belief, as do our Muslim brothers and sisters, that only in the holy tongue can the very religious essence of our sacred text can be received and understood in all its glory, nuance, and holiness. There’s a part of me that still clings to that idea, but there’s another part of me that wonders if it is past time to give up on that sort of narishkeit?

That heretical enough for you?

Shabbat Shalom,

©2019 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Yitro 5778 - B'khol HaMakom Revisited
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

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Random Musing Before Shabbat-Beshalakh 5779-Whose Fault Is That?

This one kind of wanders around a bit, never quite getting anywhere. Then again, maybe it does get somewhere. Then again, maybe the whole point is that it doesn’t. Figure it out for yourself.

If, from my perspective, the Torah is story and not history, metaphor and not fact, teacher and not dean/administrator, why then do I get hung up on its inconsistencies? They shouldn’t matter, should they? I would argue just the opposite. Just as those who claim Divine origin insist that is is why it has internal consistency even though it may appear differently to us (the “we just can’t understand the mind of G”d theory) I suggest that those who created and shaped the Torah would have even more reason to seek to provide internal consistency. They don’t have the option of blaming our inability to truly understand why G”d does things the way G”d does, so they would likely work to avoid things that might cause us to question the narrative they have created.

I know I have argued in these musings, perhaps frequently, that the inconsistencies are there purposefully, to make us think, to make us not blindly accept the text and what it appears, superficially, to be teaching us. So today I want to argue with myself. In the end, I may come to the usual conclusion that the inconsistencies are purposeful, but for a moment I want to examine that assumption.

It’s a matter of degrees that inspired this little excursion. In this parasha we have the performance of great and awesome miracles – the parting of the sea so that the Israelites could walk on dry land between walls of water. The angel, and pillar of cloud that held the Egyptians at bay while G”d performed the (seemingly taking hours overnight) parting of the waters through the instrument of a strong wind blowing.

Ah, there’s that first crack in the picture. Is G”d able to perform supernatural acts, or is G”d limited to acting through instruments of G”d’s creation and natural forces of the Universe? Why doesn’t G”d just snap G”d’s finger and part the sea?

The verse that actually inspired me to muse upon this topic is this one:

וַיָּ֗סַר אֵ֚ת אֹפַ֣ן מַרְכְּבֹתָ֔יו וַֽיְנַהֲגֵ֖הוּ בִּכְבֵדֻ֑ת וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מִצְרַ֗יִם אָנ֙וּסָה֙ מִפְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל כִּ֣י יְהוָ֔ה נִלְחָ֥ם לָהֶ֖ם בְּמִצְרָֽיִם׃

He locked the wheels of their chariots so that they moved forward with difficulty. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.”

[Sefer HaChinukh, translated by Sefaria, 2018]

G”d locked the chariot wheels to make it hard for them to move forward, yet, according to the text they did still move forward, albeit slowly. Their progress slowed, G”d then released the waters back into the sea as G”d has planned to do all along, killing the Egyptians. So much for that apologetic midrash that has G”d remonstrating the angels for cheering upon the deaths of the Egyptians. Just like we know who is responsible for this government shut down, we know who killed those Egyptians. G”d said “Egypt will pay for that wall” er, I mean “I will harden the Egyptian’s hearts one last time so that I may demonstrate my complete and utter mastery over them and their supposed gods. Nyah, nyah.”

This “locking of the wheels” seems a rather unnecessary supernatural act, and a rather minor one at that. Then again, G”d did think that Pharaoh might be impressed by turning Moshe’s rod into a snake. (Or did G”d know all along that wouldn’t work? Of course G”d did, because G”d tells us, up front when first commanding Moses from the burning bush, that G”d is going to make this extra hard on the Egyptians to prove how mighty G”d is.

Why didn’t G”d just use a pair of angels/pillars of cloud/fire to entrap the Egyptians from both ends while they were in between the walls of water, and let the waters rush back in? Locking the wheels seems so quotidian!

But that’s precisely the point argue the sages. This section from Sefer HaChinukh is a classic example:

Sefer HaChinukh 132:2

From the roots of the commandment, [we need to] preface [that] the thing is known amongst us and among every sage that the great miracles that God does for people in His great goodness, He always does hiddenly. And these matters appear a little as if they were truly done by way of nature, or close to nature. As even with the miracle of the splitting of the sea – which was an open miracle – it is written there (Exodus 14:21), "and the Lord moved the sea with a powerful Eastern wind all of the night, and He made the sea into a dry place and He split the waters." And the enlightened ones will understand that this matter of concealment is because of the loftiness of the Master and the lowliness of the receiver. And due to this matter did He command us to burn fire on the altar, even though fire descended there from the Heavens – in order to hide the miracle. It [also] appears that the fire that came down from the Heavens was not visible when it came down because of the reason that we said – except for the eighth day of the inauguration and that of Gidon (Judges 6:21), Manoach (Judges 13:20) (and of Eliyahu), which was visible.
[Sefer HaChinukh, translation by, 2018]

So G”d is putting it in terms we can sort of understand, even though it’s not the whole story.Pay no attention to the man behind the screen. That works for some people. Not for me. So here’s a gotcha: if G”d wrote the Torah, why would G”d even bother to tell us that things are being “dumbed down” so that we puny humans, who cannot even begin to conceive even the smallest fraction of how G”d really operates, would know that we’re being sold a story? Wouldn’t it be simpler if G”d simply wrote the Torah in an manner to make us not even question or ask about such things? It’s just the way it is, nothing to see here, move along. G”d certainly has the power to conceal G”d’s warts from us, right? G”d certainly has the power to convince us that everything is just as it should be, don’t ask questions. Or was there more to our having gained the knowledge of good and evil through Chava and Adam eating of the fruit? Was G”d really afraid of humans gaining that knowledge? If so, why plant that tree in such an obvious place and make the classic parenting mistake of telling Adam and Chava to not eat from it?

I’m looking at Shirat Hayam and its descriptions of the miracles that G”d performed. Certainly something to sing about. I suppose “well there was a blinding flash, and one moment we were all still in Egypt, baking bread", and the next moment we were at the foot of Mt. Sinai eating matzah” might be a miracle sizably larger yet somehow not as impressive in the end. I get that. We have to earn something before we’ll truly consider it valuable and praiseworthy.

So hey, G”d. After thousands of years trying to figure out this Torah, have we not earned some more help from You, some more revelation from You? Are we no more capable now than we were millennia ago of understanding Your ways? Do we still need this simplified explanation, even when so many of us find it unworthy and unsatisfying? I can tell You right now, if You’re holding out for a time when all of us will accept that we will simply never be able to understand You completely, it may never come. It’s not in our nature to accept things without fully understanding them. Whose fault is that?

Shabbat Shalom,

©2019 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

B'shalakh 5778 - Revisiting G"d's War
Beshalakh 5777 - Moshe's Musings (Revised and Expanded from 5760)
Beshalakh 5776 - Mi Kamonu?
Beshalakh 5775 - I'm Not Doing It Alone
Beshalakh 5774 - A Lot Can Change in 13 Years - Or Not
Beshalakh 5773 - Moshe's Musings (Revised from 5760)
Beshalakh 5772 - Thankful For the Worst
Beshalakh 5771 - Praying That Moshe Was Wrong
Beshalakh 5768 - Man Hu
Beshalakh 5767-March On
Beshalakh 5766-Manna Mania II
Beshalakh 5765-Gd's War
Beshalach 5763-Mi Chamonu
Beshalach 5760-Moshe's Musings
Beshalach 5762-Manna mania
Beshalach 5761-Warrior Gd

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Bo 5779–Adayin Ani Keretz

Still I am a Gadfly. Revisiting a musing from 2004, with new insights into myself and the topics at hand.

In the Haftarah for parashat Bo, which is from Jeremiah 46:13-28, we read of Egypt's punishment for her sins. Jeremiah was predicting Egypt's destruction by Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon. This Haftarah is an interesting parallel to the story of the final plagues that we read in Bo. Jeremiah even compares Egypt's coming invaders to locusts (46:23.)

I love this Haftarah, this passage from Jeremiah a great deal, because of one simple word that appears in 46:20.

עֶגְלָ֥ה יְפֵֽה־פִיָּ֖ה מִצְרָ֑יִם קֶ֥רֶץ מִצָּפ֖וֹן בָּ֥א בָֽא׃

     Egypt is a handsome heifer—
       A gadfly from the north is coming, coming!

That word is keretz.

The word itself is of somewhat ambiguous derivation, and most often thought to be a cognate of karatz, from the root quf-resh-tzadee, קרץ, meaning to nip or pinch. Thus keretz is thought to mean a nipper or biter, i.e. an insect that nips, bites or stings. Of course the reason I like this word so much is because it is translated by the JPS committee as "gadfly."

I have often thought of myself as a gadfly, and one who actively relishes that role. In my original research for this musing back in 2004, I discovered to my chagrin that perhaps "gadfly" is not exactly the right description for what it is I often do. This dictionary definition, courtesy of says:

1 : any of various flies (as a horsefly, botfly, or warble fly) that bite or annoy livestock
2 : a person who stimulates or annoys especially by persistent criticism

Well, that second definition brought me up a little short (no pun intended for those who know me personally.) I do intend to be a person who stimulates, but I certainly don't intend to be one who constantly criticizes to the point of annoyance.

Nonetheless, how I see myself and how others perceive me can sometimes be at odds. I have been told many times over the years that some people find my gadfly nature as obnoxious, offensive, or rude. I used to simply reply “that isn’t my intention” as if that were adequate. I have learned, over the years, to temper both my reaction and my proclivity to be the gadfly. Communication does require that oft overlooked third component of repeating the other party’s response to insure that you understood it. Of course, this can lead into a recursive loop-even more so in a society where most people are listening not to understand, but to be able to respond.

So yes, I’ll take it as a given that at times my gadfly style of engagement can be off-putting, even offensive to some. Since I so easily fall into the pattern of writing/speaking in the manner of a gadfly, I have tried consciously, in recent years, to refrain from putting in my oar too often, and when I do, to not always offer ,my thoughts in the form of a critique or challenge.

Nevertheless, I have a dilemma. Isn’t part of the point of being a gadfly to be persistent to the point of annoyance? To say the things that people don’t want to hear? To speak truth to power (well maybe that’s being a bit too lofty-but then again, maybe not?) Sometimes, gadfly types have to accept the risk of being unpopular. How many times have I referred to the Elie Wiesel story:

One day a Tzadik came to Sodom; He knew what Sodom was, so he came to save it from sin, from destruction. He preached to the people. "Please do not be murderers, do not be thieves. Do not be silent and do not be indifferent." He went on preaching day after day, maybe even picketing. But no one listened. He was not discouraged. He went on preaching for years. Finally someone asked him, "Rabbi, why do you do that? Don't you see it is no use?" He said, "I know it is of no use, but I must. And I will tell you why: in the beginning I thought I had to protest and to shout in order to change them. I have given up this hope. Now I know I must picket and scream and shout so that they should not change me.

I can see/hear the eye rolls now. Am I comparing myself to a biblical prophet? A great tzadik? Of course not. If Wiesel tried to teach us anything, it was about the inhumanity of man, and how we have to fight it. Of our responsibility to not be bystanders. More eye rolls, right? Now I’m drawing a moral equivalence between my being a gadfly and the ethical lessons of the Shoah? No. Many, if not most of the things upon which I comment are quotidian, and do not rise to the level of those actions and behaviors of humanity which compelled the great prophets and tzadikim speak out.

I just want people to think about things, to see and consider viewpoints other than their own, and I genuinely want to help people be better than they already are in everything that they do. I apologize to those who find my methodology off-putting. Aware that some people do, I work to mitigate my tendencies, but I can’t (and won’t) completely eliminate them, and actually do believe they can, at times, serve some greater good. Along with my piano playing, teaching, and other skills I contribute, my gadfly nature is offered in the same spirit in which I offer all those other things with which I have been gifted. Ones gifts, however gladly and freely offered, are not always welcome or accepted. That’s a price and a reality with which I can live. (Damn, just broke my promise to be less of a grammar prescriptivist.)

So let’s turn this back to Torah, and our parasha. From Pharaoh's point of view, even with G”d's hardening of the heart, Moses and Aaron were a bit like gadflies. Persistent little devils. (Or was G”d really the annoying one in this scenario? Would the Hebrew G”d be gadfly-like to Pharaoh if he knew he was being deliberately manipulated so that he and his people would suffer more show that G”d could show off...but that's a musing for another time-continued from last week's musing, perhaps.)

And, although we don't really have records to prove it, it's quite possible that Jeremiah and other prophets were thought of like gadflies. They were persistent, they were critical, and most likely, at times, annoying.

Is there another way to describe or define a gadfly? Must it be in negative terms like “annoying?”

To my rescue in 2004 came traditional American sloppiness with the English language. Merriam-Webster notwithstanding, a search of the web and of current literature reveals that gadfly has taken on a broader meaning. has:

1. A persistent irritating critic; a nuisance.
2. One that acts as a provocative stimulus; a goad.
3. Any of various flies, especially of the family Tabanidae, that bite or annoy livestock and other animals

That somewhat morphed meaning number two is pretty much how I like to see myself. I like to take controversial positions to spark discussion, or to insure that different sides of an issue get heard and considered. It’s as if I am speaking/writing accompanied by a wink or raised eyebrow or other gesture that attempts to communicate that “I might not really believe this, but this ought to spark some discussion.”

In point of fact, there are three biblical citations for this root being used to mean to wink:

1. קָרַץ עַיִן Ps 3519 Pr 1010 and קָרַץ בְּעֵינָיו Pr 613 to screw up one’s eyes, blink (as an expression of derision or mockery).

Koehler, L., Baumgartner, W., Richardson, M. E. J., & Stamm, J. J. (1994–2000). The Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 1148). Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Now, that “as an expression of derision or mockery” ought to give me pause, and may help explain why people often react as they do to my gadfly writings or words. I certainly don’t intend to be derisive or mocking, however I can see how others might interpret me that way. It’s hard sometimes in writing and in electronic media to convey that body language (though emojis have come to fill as significant role in doing so, and I make liberal use of them in that fashion. Yet emojis, too, might be subject to different interpretations. Is always a sign of positive intent? Is always a sign of negative intent? Can an be loving?

When we use these shortcuts in place of body language, when we write in the style of a gadfly, as I do, we must accept the risk that we could be potentially hurtful to someone, even if unintentional. This was brought sharply into focus for me the other day when a friend posted a meme of Facebook seeming to wax nostalgic at parents scolding their crying child with “if you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to stop crying about.” I responded with the comment that I wasn’t sure this was something for which we ought to be nostalgic. Of course I assumed the OP thought of this nostalgically, but they too later commented it brought them up short and made them think.

Also some days ago, I posted about being very offended by a very heightist meme depicting DJT’s head on the body of a little boy and referring to him as a “little man.” I found, and still find the linking of height and maturity in this manner as being yet another form of heightist micro-aggression. Because I’m of extreme short-stature with otherwise normal body dimensions compared to the typical U.S. male (I’m 4’-9” tall) I’m sensitive about this. I think people can see my point, and indeed most of the comments on my post were supportive and understanding. I’m pleased it didn’t attract negative comments and people telling me to stop being a snowflake, though I imagine with wider distribution or the simply luck of exposure, it could have happened.

So that’s an example of when my being a bit of a gadfly seemed to be understood. (It’s gadfly in nature because it’s not something that people usually think about, and because it challenged a meme which mocked someone that I and most of my online friends would normally want to see mocked-although even realizing that ought to give me a little pause, no?)

I do have one online nemesis (but also a friend) who regularly takes me to task for mostly saying and sharing negative opinions of things online, and questioning why. I accept the critique even though I may disagree with it, and sometimes I do argue back. My nemesis’ critique of me may be meant sincerely just as written, but it could also be a bit of the gadfly getting gadflied by another.

I guess I sometimes look at it this way: I have a limited amount of time in my life. If I choose to use that time to post a critique or review of something, it is because I feel the object being critiqued, or those involved in its creation to be worthy of my time to critique it. To critique from a place of disappointment for the efforts of the creators can be a loving act.

In looking over the history of my own work, I perceive that I have often posted praise and positive comments. Many of my critiques are part and parcel of a review or comment that also includes praise. Nevertheless, I recognize my own proclivity to be critical. I work to mitigate it. Yet sometimes it takes over, and I am sometimes not self-aware enough to realize it. It is and always will be a constant struggle for me. Yet I do believe my gadfly nature can be and sometimes is a force for good in the universe.

I have a younger friend, someone with his own share of challenges in life. Decades ago, I played gadfly to his youthful enthusiasm with a little negative psychology and suggesting he wasn’t ready to do something. Of course he rose to the occasion, as I had intended he would. He has come to recognize this, and continues to grow and thrive.

When I first wrote on this topic back in 2004, I neglected to do as much research as I should. As you have read, it can have a broader meaning in some places in the Tanakh as a wink or screwing up of the eyes. I learned that in modern Israeli Hebrew, this root is used to mean “to wink.” לִקְרוֹץ

Now, if that doesn’t fit how I really see myself acting the gadfly, nothing does. There’s a wink accompanying my writing or my speaking at times when I am playing the gadfly.

In 2004, I enumerated these thoughts relative to the parasha and other parts of Torah relative to how I can act like a gadfly.

Like asking if it was really necessary for all the Egyptian first-born sons to die? Laying it on a little thick, aren't you, G”d?

Like asking if verse 12:11 is the first commandment to eat fast-food?

Like asking why strangers in the community will be cut off just as an Israelite would be for eating food with leavening in it during the proscribed time for the Festival in 12:19, yet in 12:43 strangers are prohibited from eating the Passover offering.

Well, you get the idea. There's plenty enough fodder in parashat Bo and all the rest of Tanakh. In daily life. In the world. Help yourself. Go and be a keretz yourself. The world needs more of them.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2019 (portions ©2004) by Adrian A. Durlester   

Other musings on this parasha:

Bo 5778 - Sub-contracting Death
Bo 5777 - Good Loser (Revised 5763)
Bo 5776 - Four Strikes and You're...Well...(a fractured midrashic fairy tale)
Bo 5775 - Teach Your Children Well (Redux 5762)
Bo 5774 - Spellcheck On My hand
Bo 5773 - Dear G"d...Love, Pharaoh
Bo 5772 - Lifting the Cover of Darkness
Bo 5771 - Keretz MiTzafon-Again! (not the same as 5769)
Bo 5769-Keretz MiTzafon
Bo 5768 - Good Loser (Redux 5763)
Bo 5767-Teach Your Children Well (Redux 5762)
Bo 5766 - Random Disjunctions and Convergences (Redux 5760)
Bo 5765-Four Strikes and You're...Well...
Bo 5764-Keretz Ani
Bo 5763 -Good Loser
Bo 5761-Cover of Darkness
Bo 5762-Teach Your Children Well

Friday, January 4, 2019

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Va’era 5779–Yet Again, Crushed Spirits


In 2000, I wrote a musing entitled “Crushed Spirits.” I revisited it again in 2007 during the Dubya years. In these Trumpian times it certainly feels like just the right time to visit it again.


This musing is dedicated to the memory of Art Buchwald, z"l.
And in that spirit, I commend to you my Monty-Pythonesque musing from last year, "
Why Tomorrow?" [2019 note: I have linked to a more recent version of that musing from 2016]

Seven years ago (in 2000,) I wrote a musing for this parasha called "Miqotzer Ruach - Crushed Spirits." At the time, it provided solace for my own crushed spirits, in a world gone far astray. I began: "That's just the way it is; we can't change it!" I can't think of a more depressing sentence in the English language. When spirits are crushed, when hopes are dashed, how does one live each day?"

I face the same question still today, and the fuel and sustenance I provided myself through that musing is wearing thin. So I thought I would take another look, see if I can reinforce my sagging spirits and conquer my rising cynicism.

[2019]  How much more so is this true today. While the restoration of Democratic control to the House of Representatives may mark the beginning of a more hopeful time, these past two years have certainly resulted in more crushed spirits for me.


"Our Holy Torah tells us that when Moshe told B'nei Yisrael that G"d would redeem them, they "would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage." (Ex. 6:9 JTS) (lo sham-u el Moshe miqotzer ruach u-mei'avodah kasha)

וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר מֹשֶׁ֛ה כֵּ֖ן אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְלֹ֤א שָֽׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה מִקֹּ֣צֶר ר֔וּחַ וּמֵעֲבֹדָ֖ה קָשָֽׁה׃.

We live in an era of receding boundaries. Our willingness to stand up for what is right has been hammered into submission through decades of political correctness and tolerance and over-saturation from noise and images, and commercially-induced cynicism. Each and every day our tolerance of bad behavior, poor service, unfair practices, violence, oppression, hate, substandard work and products, etc. increases, dulling our ability, willingness and even interest in working to change what we perceive as immutable.

I, too, despair of the world situation. I, too, have a "crushed spirit" and a cynical attitude. For many, this translates into abandonment of religion, as proof that G"d is powerless to stop the madness. For me, at one time, the effect was exactly the opposite. It had drawn me deeper into Judaism, study, and religious practice."


Once again, I am in despair of the world situation. Our president is practicing escalatio on the Iraqis (it's a Tom Lehrer quote.) I am hoping that by reviewing my own words from 2000, I can help counter the renewed effects of a world gone mad. Then again, that was a pre 9/11 world. A pre war in Afghanistan and Iraq world. A pre Darfur world. A pre nuclear North Korea world. Still, perhaps I can find some hope.


As a friend of mine is fond of remarking, every time she hits a new bottom, that she falls through to find yet a lower bottom. That is what it feels like to me here in January 2019. It goes from bad to worse day by day. Down is up. Black is white. Fiction is fact. Lie is truth. Finding hope becomes increasingly harder. Our country has been hijacked, and its basic values and beliefs are challenged, derided, mocked, and ignored on a daily basis. Add in what Judaism teaches us (or even what Christianity teaches Christians) and it only gets worse. How could we let this happen? I know there are those who believe that invoking a comparison to the rise of Nazi power demeans the utter evil that it was, but what is happening now could lead to a similar evil. Already the cracks are showing, the edges are fraying. The muzzling and derision of a free press. The incitement of hatred against “the other.” The lies told with impunity. It not only can happen here, it is happening. We must stay ever vigilant to insure “never again” (and not just for the Jews, but for everyone.)

Like the Israelites enslaved in Egypt, I am feeling a shortness of spirit that prevents me from hearing the positive messages and calls to action of the prophets among us. What will it take to help me remove the metaphorical cotton from my ears so that I can hear again?

[2000] I wrote:

"Hope. Hope is what religion is all about. A place for hope. A space for hope. I recall a final paper I was required to write for a theology class. As I worked with a TA to help me hone my thoughts, we discussed what I perceived to be the ultimate purpose of theology. In the end, we came to see that, for me, theology is ultimately about providing a place for hope.

Reading how the B'nei Yisrael fail to hear to G"d's promise through Moshe, one sees how hope can easily be strangled. So despairing were the people that they could not even hear Moshe's words. When we close our ears to the din around us, we also close it to that "still small voice" and to the chance of hearing Elijah's voice make that long-awaited announcement. When we close our eyes to the evil that perpetuates in our society, we also close them to visions of a repaired world. Worse yet is when we go about with our eyes open, ignoring what we see, believing we cannot change it, or that it will never change. When we fold our arms tight and turn our backs to all the madness, immorality and lack of righteousness in despair and frustration and hopelessness, we exclude ourselves from participating in the process of tikkun olam. "


I think I'm right. To just sit here and brood over Dubya's war, about genocide in Darfur, about Israel electing a government more inclined to make peace and the Palestinians electing Hamas to lead them, about how Israel has become so like the U.S. that it blew the summer conflict with Hezbollah, and so on and so forth does little except make me more sullen and depressed. There must be a way out of all this mess.


There may be a way out, but it’s a long and winding road. The difficulties of 2007 seem to pale by comparison to how our current reality has been torn asunder. Things in Israel are even worse. Its government is not only corrupt, it has become its own obstacle to peace. Israel’s ruling leadership has become its own worst enemy. Here in this country we pursue a policy – no, strike that – it’s not a policy. We pursue the random gut reactions of a petulant child with the powers of the presidency of the most powerful nation on the planet. Maybe hope is on the horizon. Maybe the Mueller report will give our representatives in Congress the ammunition they need to put a stop to this ongoing coup d’etat.

There is another aspect here – that of the false prophet. Far too many among us seemed to have fallen prey to the siren of this false prophet. No Moses or Aharon he. An ertswhile Korach, perhaps (although I have written before that Korach gets somewhat of an undeserved bad rap. Challenge to authority is not, per se, a bad thing, even if that authority is G”d. The downside is that G”d doesn’t seem to take well to authority challenges. Why, there are times in the Torah that even G”d’s actions seem somewhat-dare I say-Trumpian.  Playing Pharaoh like a yo-yo by hardening his heart feels an awfully lot like the political yo-yo arts practiced by the flipper-in-chief. Ouch.)

[2000] I wrote:

"For those who have given up on G"d, there is naught that I can offer to them.

But for those who still have a place in their theology for hope, look at the Exodus story. Discouraged by decades of slavery and oppression, the B'nei Yisrael were deaf to Moshe's words and G"d's promises. G"d could just as easily have said, "OK, fine. Not interested? I'll just pick some other people and go save them instead." But G"d did not do that. G"d had made a promise to us. And even though we were (and still are) quite remiss in holding up our end of the covenant, G"d still redeemed us. G"d did just as G"d said and brought us out of Egypt with an outstretched arm and wonders. That is a message of hope to the discouraged.

Yes, it has been many thousands of years since G"d did anything like this for us, the covenanted people. History, and particularly that of the last half of the 20th century has seen plenty of opportunity for G"d to work wonders and free Israel from its oppression. Maybe we are looking for the wrong miracles?

We've been pretty destructive as a species-to ourselves, one another, and our planet, and in the midst of it all the children of Israel have suffered greatly. Still, humankind has not blown itself up. The evil that was Hitler was defeated. A new Israel arose and is finally on the verge of peace."


Ah yes, that's me, Mr. Pollyanna. Mr. "Always look on the bright side of life." Mr. "Every cloud has a silver lining." He's always there, inside me, and manages to make appearances when I need him most. Yet I begin to weary of the platitudes. I do not know how much longer my inner Pollyanna will be able to sustain.

[2019] My inner Pollyanna is in very short supply these days. She rarely manages to peek out. So much so, that this is all I’m going to write here.

I would be remiss, however, if I did not take myself to task for saying in 2000 that I could not offer hope to those who have given up on G”d. G”d and religious faith can be a source of hope. G”d is not the sole source of hope in the universe.

Tangential to that notion is growing discomfort I have with those of religious faith who urge calm because all is in G”d’s hands. Yes, I understand that accepting such an idea can bring peace and hope for some. It doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t work for many. Thanks goodness for the rest on Tanakh, because the G”d described in Torah is not often the best place to look for hope.

Saying things are all in G”d’s hands is really a way for us to abdicate our own personal responsibility for what takes place in our world. John Pavolovitz says it best in this recent article: Christian, Stop Telling Me God is in Control

[2000] I wrote:

"Maybe the last 3500 years or so have been an extended version of more plagues being visited upon those who would challenge G"d. Each time, it appears, humanity's heart was hardened, and yet we refused to hear and obey G"d's command. What final plague will it take for humanity to finally acknowledge G"d and let G"d's people go to be what they were intended to be and live in the universe that G"d wants to build for us and with us."


It was a nice idea at the time. Yet the plagues continue. And the source that had become the support beneath my hope, this thing we call Judaism, has started to fail me. Each and every day I wake up determined to work hard to insure the continuity of Judaism and the Jewish people, through education. And each and every day, that task becomes harder. I see the interest of students and adults alike waning. I see their commitment faltering, and the balance shifting ever more towards a life in which Judaism, the synagogue, religious school, etc. play little, if any, part. The in-reach that Arthur Herzberg (z"l) always championed may turn out to be the right way to go. Yet I am not yet willing to give up on stemming the tide of exodus, and trying to reverse it.

Yes, I do have hope. I spend lots of time on the internet and the web. I like to observe the latest trends and happenings. I read blogs, and I blog myself. All around the world, young Jews are finding news ways to be Jewish, new structures, new connections. Though many might hate to admit it, the age of the synagogue, and the big national Jewish organizations may be drawing to a close. What will replace it? Can it be replaced? What would a non-synagogue-centered Jewish religious school look like? How would it work?

Or are the anti-cynics right in saying that when today's generation grows older and has kids, they'll find it easier to fall back on the existing structures within Judaism like synagogue, JCC, and Federations, rather than to try and maintain this new form of Judaism that is evolving. And then I must ask myself the question whether I would despair more at the the failure of the new Judaism or the death of the old? It's a tough question. I make my living in the synagogue world-yet I think I am beginning to champion and espouse a post-synagogue/Federation/UJC Judaism, even though I may never be able to earn a living from it. Still, it is a ray of hope for a different, and possibly brighter, future.

[2019] I’ve grown since writing that. I more openly embrace a present that is change in process and a future that may be very different. I was prescient in suggesting that making a living in the synagogue world has become increasingly difficult. What I didn’t anticipate is how equally difficult it might be for someone of my age, even with my forward-looking worldview to earn a living in this developing new Judaism. Yet there is a flourishing of Judaism in new forms, new places. Synagogues are struggling to keep up, to remain relevant, to find a way to integrate this new Judaism – but they are discovering it may not want to be integrated by them. At least for now, the old and the new must exist side by side. Pieces of the new will find their way to the old, and perhaps pieces of the old will find their way into the new. Nevertheless, I cannot help but believe that what it eventually becomes will not be what either camp expects. Me, I’m going to ride the crest of the wave. There is as much danger in that as there is remaining on shore, but I’d rather be in motion. That feels more hopeful than standing on shore, waiting to get swamped by the tsunami.

That said, I think I was on to something back in 2000. So why, I ask again, does G”d continue to harden all of humanity’s hearts such that we are forced to endure one horror after another? Yes, G”d was trying to make a point with Pharaoh, but it was as much a publicity and marketing stunt as anything else. But at what cost? The midrash tells us that G”d chastised the angels for celebrating the drowning of Pharaoh’s army in the sea of reeds. We shouldn’t need a midrash to do that. G”d in Torah shouldn’t be a sadist. Time after time G”d seems to think that death and destruction are the best tools at G”d’s disposal. This is the lesson that G”d wants humanity to learn? No wonder we are such a violent, war-prone society. Don;t do us any more favors G”d. Stop hardening our hearts. You might actually discover we’ll learn the lesson faster that way. We’ll never know until You try.

[2000] I wrote:

"Hope. What a sweet word. Just like B'nei Yisrael in Egypt, we Jews have suffered from years of oppression. Yet, like them, we are still here. What we are not is "hear," just as they were. The hopeful thing is to believe, as I do, that even when we aren't listening, G"d is there, and G"d will keep the covenant. An even more hopeful (and enterprising) thing to do is to open our eyes, our eyes, our hands, our hearts and, working together with each other as partners with G"d, bring about tikkun olam. If we turn our crushed spirits into hopeful and determined ones, think how much more we might accomplish."


In 2007, the ever more cynical me says "now, G"d, would be a good time to act, do something to reassure my faith. I do not have the patience of my ancestors." But G"d acts on G"d's timetable, not mine. (Yes, I accept that, but it still sucks.)

I'm listening G"d. It's getting harder and harder. I'll keep trying, I really will. Help me find and renew my hope. Help me overcome my crushed spirit. Help us all to overcome our crushed spirits.


By the way, G”d, why DID it take You so long to hear and respond to the suffering of the Israelites in Egypt? You expect us to be listening all the time for your voice, but we cry our for a few centuries and You hear nothing (or chose to ignore what You heard.) OK, I;ve gottent hat off my chest.

I reminded myself this year of something I’ve always known but chose to overlook. “Crushed spirits” is probably not the best or most accurate translation of מִקֹּ֣צֶר ר֔וּחַ. The root קֹּ֣צֶר  more accurately means “short” so this phrase is really “shortness of spirit.” That could indicate a despondency, a lack, an impatience. In fact, I think it represents all that and even more. An inability to maintain? A running short of resolve, of patience? The Hebrews could not hear Moshe and Aharon’s words because their spirits were all these things: short, impatient, disillusioned, despondent, despairing, feed up, hopeless. Surely people found themselves asking “where the eff is G”d?” The apologists and whitewashers would offer the typically placating “ G”d’s time scale is not our time scale” Not buying that anymore. G”d’s time scale is how long it takes for us to realize that we have to do the work and not wait for G”d to do it. That’s not a new viewpoint for me.

[2007, with a little 2019 editing]

in 2007 I wrote: Yet if I'm honest with myself, I know that it's not up to G"d, it's up to us. We must work to turn our crushed, disillusioned, impatient spirits into hopeful ones, as our ancestors did. So, in the end, what I wrote in 2000 remains true:

The choice is ours.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2019 (portions ©2000 and 2007) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Va'era 5778 - Careful the Words You Boast
Va'era 5777 - Alternative Facts (Not What You Think - Or Is It?)
Va'era 5776 - Why Tomorrow (Revised 5757/62/66)
Va'era 5775 - Brighton Beach Last Stop! (Revised)
Va'era 5774 - Tomorrow, Again
Va'era 5773 - Let Our People Go/Rendezvousing With Rama
Va'era 5772 - Got It!
Va'era 5771/5765-Brighton Beach-Last Stop!
Va'era 5769 - Substitute
Va'era 5767-again, Crushed Spirits (Miqotzer Ruakh)
Va'era 5766-Why Tomorrow?
Va'era 5765-Brighton Beach-Last Stop!
Va'era 5764-Imperfect Perfection and Perfect Imperfection
Va'era 5763 - Pray for Me
Va'era 5761-Just Not Getting It
Va'era 5762-Early will I Seek You