Tag Archives: Dualism

Parshat Vayigash (2012)


Parshat Vayigash (2012)
Genesis 44:18 – 47:27

Who is afraid of the big, bad wolf known as Satan?

The Red DevilSometimes I wonder what people believe in more sometimes, G-d or “the devil.” No honestly, when I hear Bible-beaters talk sometimes I almost hear in their voice a fearful conviction and reverence for Satan that is on par, if not greater, than their belief in G-d. This is a mentality I find confusing, and wholly illogical.

Not that I don’t hear religious Jews bring up the topic of “haSatan / the Satan” from time to time. But rarely does this conversation come up. And even when it does it is raised almost ironically. Example, once during a disagreement between two old men who had tangled with each other over some charged opinion it ended with one of them telling the other to “go to the devil.” We all kind of laughed and shrugged it off as hotheaded speak. It was no less dramatic than someone telling another to “go to hell,” as that’s another topic that we don’t necessarily talk about much; the reason is both “hell” and “the devil” are concepts that we don’t put a whole lot of stock into as Jews.

Though from time to time we do have these ideas raised in our tradition. We find both of these topics brought up here in this weeks parsha. When Benyamin, the youngest son of Yaakov Avinu – Jacob our Father, also named Israel – was about to be taken down to Egypt at the request of the concealed Yosef, who was the lieutenant in charge of the Egypt, we find find Yaakov lament in this way:

Lekach’tem gam et zeh me’im panei vakarahu ason vehoradaetem et seivati bera’ah she’olah/ Now if you take this one away from me also, and harm fall upon him, my gray haired head will go down to my grave in bitter sorrow.” – Genesis 44:29

Having already lost his son Yosef, and then loosing his beloved wife Rachel who mothered him, all he had left was Benyamin who was the second and last remaining person of that line and union. He is so distressed that the text says that if anything harmful comes upon the lad that he will go down into Sheol in terrible grief.

Sheol is a concept that we more often talk about in our tradition. Aside from being present various places throughout the Hebrew scriptures, it is also a readily used form of imagery employed in the poetic books such as Tehillim – the Psalms. We don’t often shrink away from discussing this term, because the majority of the time in the context of the scriptures it is clearly symbolic of “the grave” and nothing more. Only over time and layered under a lot of foreign influence would the term come to be understood more as a concept of “hell” or “gehinnom,” a sort of afterlife purgatory. This imagery seeped into rabbinic literature and debates through the influences of dualistic world views common to the outside world. But for us Jews the term was never so greatly charged as among the gentiles.

But it is actually kind of shocking when among the classical rabbis we hear something about “haSatan.” This is something the standard rabbis present in our Chamush don’t often concern themselves with. But here in the commentary for this text we see even Rashi go out on a limb and discuss the Satan:

And harm befall him: For the Satan accuses at the time of danger” – Rashi to Genesis 44:29

The fact that we don’t talk about haSatan much doesn’t detract from the reality that we do have a place for this character in our tradition. However it must be stated that us Jews, even the most conservative among us, do not hold by a concept of Satan in the same manner as fundamentalists of other religions.

This might be confusing to some people how we can sidestep such a discussion when this is something clearly talked about in the Tanach itself, most notoriously in the book of Job; and furthermore it manifests in the Chumash, even if only spoken about through inference and never directly. However it is not avoidance of these texts that makes this character such a minor player in our tradition, it is actually careful consideration of these biblical sources that brings us to this conclusion. And understanding the context of these sources also brings us to the understanding of the above commentary by Rashi.

In the Torah references, from the Chumash itself, it is only used in the general sense as a description of a state of action and less as a possible noun. In Numbers 22 we find the only two Mosaic references, in verses 22 and 32 in the middle of the story of Balaam and his talking ass.

“… and the angel of Hashem placed himself in the way as an adversary (l’satan) against him.” – Numbers 22:22

and

“And the angel of Hashem said to him: ‘For what do you beat your ass these three times. Behold, I have come forth to be an adversary (l’satan), because your way is contrary to me.” – Numbers 22:32

In this text we see clearly that to l’satan means to be an adversary, an opponent, and to stand contrary to another. Most people know this part of the terminology, however somehow read ever the obvious point that is being made here. The “Angel of the L-rd” is said to be the one that is standing here in opposition with his sword against Balaam in verse 22, and then in verse 32 he actually speaks out as a spokesman for G-d Almighty. This might seem curious to some who hold on to complex mythologies of Satan as a counter demi-god to the Almighty.

This is better clarified for us by the text of Job that uses the term Satan as a proper noun and as an apparent name:

“And it happened that on a day that the sons of G-d came to present themselves before Hashem, the Satan (haSatan) also came among them.” – Job 1:6

Here in this text we find a very hard to explain position for the radical fundamentalists to explain away, those who see the Satan as synonymous with concept of “the Devil.” If the text already explored didn’t make it clear who the boss of this spiritual or angelic opponent is, here it directly states that haSatan is summoned among the “sons of G-d,” a biblical term most often used in mystical interpretations as applying to mere angels. As we continue through this chapter and explore the text we see that this character is not profiled as an adversary to G-d. In fact haSatan’s presence and role seems to be ordered by G-d, as one in His employ, bound to answer and act only on the order of the Almighty. The Satan’s role is as an adversary against man, but it can not be credibly posited as so in opposition to G-d and His will.

As we further explore this text the bounds of this role are more revealed to us. G-d asks him to consider His servant Job, and in character haSatan stands as an accuser and opponent, in the role to try to convict the righteous Job; he is the minority and negative report. He lives up to the role “devils advocate” in the literal sense. But Satan as the devil, in the popular sense as understood by the gentile culture, does not jive with a historic or biblical understanding.

I say historic because we must first understand that Job is categorized among the minor prophets, with most of them clearly dating from the late biblical era. Though traditionalists often tend to see Job as an early and ancient book taking place before the Mosaic era, this view is not supported by scholars. The book of Job in both reference and philosophical approach reflects the understanding of a later time. The often cited Sabean context of the book (see Job 1:15) can place this text within either the early biblical period or the late-kingdom era, as this culture and religious manifestation did span a great 1,300 year period. However it is more sensible that this book arose later than sooner.

The reason, aside from basic language and tone, is that this book reflects the attempt to explain for Jews how they can understand a rising influence of dualism among themselves. It is this dualism that is key to understanding what era the book of Job comes from. Dualism was only something that had become to influence Israelites in the wake of the Babylonian and Persian exiles (7th to the 6th century BCE).

Dualism, the idea that good and evil are balanced and contrary to another, is something that Torah true Judaism rejects on all levels as being un-biblical and illogical. Dualism is defined as a “co-eternal binary opposition;” it is a philosophy where good and evil are always in an opposing struggle, where spirit and body are contrary to another, where light and darkness are in constant battle. This ying vs. yang view is something that the Tanach makes great pains to oppose as soon as it is introduced, G-d choosing to quash this mentality by taking issue with it and directing a rebuff of this philosophy to the Emperor Cyrus (Koresh) of Persia. The words of the prophet Isaiah to Cyrus read as follows:

“I am Hashem, and there is nothing else, besides Me there is no G-d; I have girded you, though you have not known Me; that they might know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none besides Me; I am Hashem, there is none else; I form light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil; I am Hashem, that does all these things.” – Isaiah 45:5-7

In a striking blow G-d Almighty proclaims that there is nothing else in the entire world, in fact no other deity nor any other power in the universe aside from Him. He stands alone as the One who creates and orders all the happenings of the heavens and earth. The G-d of Israel defies the mentality of the pagans that hold by the conviction that there are gods and autonomous spirits of evil that bring hardship and calamity upon the world.

This text is often passed over in shame by the fundamentalists of many world religions, clearly because it is convicting of an error in their mentality. But for us Jews it is something that is enshrined in the introductory blessing for the Shema – our most holy confession – said every morning before we take up our day. It is unavoidable for us, we cannot shy away from this truth of the holistic approach of spirituality and congruent reverence for G-d. As monotheists logic demands, and the voice of G-d declares, that there is no such thing as demi-gods or counter deities. Logic dictates that the belief in anything aside from the Entirety of G-d as being a compromise of monotheism.

Our faith and His word stands against the errors of Christian philosophy that yet claims that G-d is the One and Only, but then double talks behind accommodations for a devil not just as a fallen angel according to their oral tradition, but the Torah stands contrary their very religious texts that calls their devil (aka Satan) “the god of this world.” (2 Corinthians 4:44) Our scriptures also bear witness against the superstitious among our Muslim brothers who overly reverence “the Sheitan” as one of the Jinn (genies) and live in fear regarding this character. Either G-d is truly Elohim, the sum of all spiritual powers in the universe, or He is not; we cannot have it both ways. Any fragmented view of the spiritual or physical world into domains outside of G-d’s complete will and direction is heretical. Indeed to reverence or fear anything aside from Hashem is idolatry no matter how we qualify it.

As we look at this weeks parsha, and as we further explore the rabbinic interpretation for this text, we should not be troubled as we see the rare reference to haSatan made. We are not at all suggesting that there is a devil out on the prowl to get us, with the authority to act against us. We need to calm our souls and look at the text in context of a truly biblical world-view.

Instead the Torah here is revealing a different truth to us, pointing out the actual purpose of haSatan, not as a fearful or omnipresent devil stalking us in order to bring harm upon us, but as a merely finite tool in the charge of the Almighty. The Satan is the negativity experienced when we find ourselves in times of danger and harm, the thing that makes the argument that the calamitous situation is befitting us and that we will not be able to rise above the trial of it all in order to stand strong by G-d’s standard of righteousness for our lives and conduct.

Take comfort my friends, that like Job, most often for the people of G-d the claims of this “devils advocate” are merely false and an argument entertained merely for the purpose of proving unequivocally and through actual life example that we are truly righteous people. Like in the life of Job who was tested so harshly with hardship in health, wealth, family and comfort, we can be found blameless and worthy of all the favor that G-d shows us in this world. It may feel like these misfortunes are taking our souls down to a helpless and dark place, as fearful as the grave. But these trials are merely a mock trial for arguments sake, one that we will surely overcome with the help of The Almighty G-d.

Related Articles:


Parshat Bechukotai (2012)


Parshat Bechukotai (2012)
Leviticus 26:3–27:34

Answering the Question: “Why did G-d make this happen to me?”


And you will flee when no one is pursuing you” (וְנַסְתֶּם וְאֵין רֹדֵף אֶתְכֶם, Lev. 26:17) – we become overwhelmed by our own sense of paranoia. Instead of being driven out, we run ourselves off from a state of blessing by our own guilt, shame and fear of repercussions of our actions.

With this weeks parsha we are completing the Book of Leviticus. This year this parsha is paired together with Parshat Behar as a double-parsha. This entire book of Leviticus has been related to the establishment of the Miskhan (the Tabernacle) and detailing the service and expectations that was laid upon the people of Israel. As we start this parsha we notice that all of a sudden the tone switches from talking about the responsibilities of the nation, to stating what the benefits and consequences of adherence to the Torah’s commandments are.

This parsha is quite short, less than two complete chapters in it’s entirety. And the aliyot (the individual readings) are also quite short as well. Normally people would be thrilled that they have a shorter section to learn to lein (Yiddish meaning cantillation, read in its proper melody from the Torah scroll), but this is not an easy reading. The sections that detail the curses and judgments are most often read by the most competent reader, because according to our tradition it is to be delivered in a very different fashion from any other Shabbat Torah reading; it is to be read in a whispering tone, and as quickly as possible. We read it this way in order to not arouse or incite judgment, and so that we do not dwell on negativity.

Though the differences become apparent even before the reading begins. Normally being called up to the Torah is the greatest honor one can have. In our tradition we are so repulsed by the idea of leveling judgment against people that the person who is called up to read these sections of curses does not allow themselves to be customarily called up by name to honor them for their reading. No matter how “qualified” one is in Torah learning, we are never to take pride in being associated with the calamity that befalls someone for their wrongdoing.

The world-over it is the general custom of the religious leaders to make themselves famous for preaching fire and brimstone. People literally yelling from the rooftops, with great satisfaction in themselves, all the ways that one can be harmed and punished. But here when it comes to delivering the tragedy of punishment we as Jews are not allowed to raise our voices, nor are we to linger upon the suffering of the sinner. We discuss it because we must, but G-d forbid that this happen to someone. We mildly and quickly get through this task as we take no joy in it.

The difficulty of reading this parsha though really is more in the message, more so than being an issue of skill. It is especially difficult for the Jewish people because it really does seem to begin going through a point-by-point presentation of the sufferings Jews have experienced, even though this was written long before the expulsions and persecutions in exile.Sadly we know the Torah is right about this because it really happened, and so recently in our history that it pains people greatly still to this day in a very raw way. These things can happen, it’s a tragic truth. In light of this the discussion then naturally seems to lead to asking “why,” instead of debating the “if.”

But if we are to answer the question that is expressed as “Why did this happen? Did we really deserve this?” we must first deal with an even less sophisticated question that goes, “How can a good G-d do this? Why did He make this happen?” It’s almost seems like a fair question because the horrors in this parsha are so extreme it seems inconceivable that G-d would do these things to His people. The key error lies in the understanding of the words “do” and “make,” implying such calamity is the work of G-d.

But unsophisticated questions tend to demand equally ill-formed answers. The way the gentile nations have generally answered this question is by turning to polytheism, good gods do good and bad gods cause evil. Their attempts at monotheism are still even colored through this perception, in which evil is personified in “the devil.” However, as Jews we are not permitted this luxury of dualism. We are challenged to have to deal with G-d’s role in all this because the scriptures clearly tell us that both good and evil are caused by Him alone. We read in book of Isaiah the profound declaration:

“From the rising of the sun and from the west

there is nothing besides Me

I am Hashem, there is nothing else.

I form light and create darkness,

makes peace and creates evil;

I Hashem do all these things.”

| “Mimez’rach shemesh umima’aravah

| ki-efes bil’adai:

| ani Hashem v’ain od

| yotzer or uvorei chosech,

| oseh shalom uvorai ra;

| ani Hashem oseh kol eyleh”

Isaiah 45:6-7

Traditional Judaism has always maintained this understanding of G-d, because logic naturally dictates that if G-d is omnipotent (all powerful) then everything must be ordered by Him alone. However, orthodoxy is neither naïve nor trite. It does not place G-d in the position of a tit-for-tat enforcer nor does it over simplify the nature of individual suffering, our tradition can’t because the scriptures do not suggest this at all.

I don’t want to spend too much time on this point, because it really is basic Judaism; but something I can go into volumes with. Verse 7 above is paraphrased as part of our liturgical reading of the morning, it is said daily as part of the blessings to the Shema (our most holy confession). We recognize that G-d creates the world daily. G-d is active in the world, not in just some distant point in history but still today and everyday renewing the act of creation. However this is a distinct difference between what is formed and made, and that which is merely created. In the void He formed the world, fashioning it; G-d made the universe. And when He formed it He created it in a balanced state of fullness and light, He provided everything that was needed to sustain that world. However, evil and woe are like darkness. They not necessarily a thing, it’s the void and aftermath that is left as a result in the breakdown of the proper function and order in our lives. Other times its just a the absence of the good stuff getting to that place yet. There are two lessons in that: 1) that just like life has good times, there are also bad times, 2) woe and hardship are not a formulated response, but merely the unfortunate result of things not going according to ordered plans.

G-d as creator made us to function well, under good and optimum circumstances just like any good designer would. G-d created this world as a brilliant form of craftsmanship, with all the features and accessories needed to help us get the job done. For us to be mad when life breaks-down is like being upset with a manufacturer because our plans for using their product didn’t pan out or we just didn’t use it properly. It isn’t realistic or proper for us to look at the world that way. The responsibility of the Divine was to give us the best chance in real situations, not to vow to save us against from every possible annoying fluke.

When we comprehend that, then we can be a bit more adult in our ways of looking at the words “do” and “make.” G-d doesn’t do anything to us, any more than He makes us do anything; those are very childish words if we use them in this tone. Instead G-d takes responsibility in being the creator who created us to function best when in line with His instructions. He should not been seen as a manufacturer who is designing a product to blow up in our faces at the first wrong step.

So in this mentality G-d nonetheless takes responsibility. He stands behind His product, disclosing what it takes for it to perform properly and warning us of how to troubleshoot when things go wrong. Because things most certainly do have a habit of going wrong at some point, that is the nature of life.

Troubleshooting Life

Do you need to troubleshoot life? I know I do, and often. Any of you who have ever worked for a help-desk know troubleshooting skills not just requires the knowledge of the complex, but also attention to the subtle. The range of what someone points to as “wrong” can span from a total malfunction to merely just someone’s baseless dissatisfaction.

One of the first tedious parts of troubleshooting is to have to go over the instructions. Are we doing everything that we are supposed to do in order to get the appropriate results? Our text explains to us as follows:

“And if you do not listen to Me,

and do not do all these commandments,

and if you grow tired of My orders

and if you loath My laws

so that you will not do all My commandments

and thus break My covenant,

after that I will make this to happen to you…”

| V’im lo tish’mu li;

| v’lo ta’asu et kol ha mitzvot ha’eileh

| v’im bechukotai tim’asu

| v’im et mishpatai

| tig’al nafshechem l’vilti asot et kol mitvotai

| l’hafrecheim et briti,

| Af ani ei’eseh zot lachem

Leviticus 26:14-16a

The Torah warns us if we do not abide by all these ways we are breaking our “terms of service agreement.” If we do this we are gonna break our lives! No really, look at the text again. It first wants to make sure that we understand the seriousness of what we are doing.

Then the text goes into explaining what to look out for, the warning signs of malfunction:

“I will appoint upon you panic;

with consumption and fever,

and I will completely destroy your sight,

and make you depressed,

and you will sow your seed in vain,

and your enemies will eat it.

|

And I will set my face against you

and you will be defeated before you enemies;

and you will flee

when no one is pursuing you

| V’hifkadeti aleichem behalah

| et ha’mishachepet ve’et hakadachat

| m’chalot einaim,

| umedivot nafesh;

| uz’ra’tem larik zar’achem

| va’achaluhu oi’veichem.

|

| V’natati panai bachem,

| v’nigaf’tem lifnei oi’veichem;

| v’radu vachem son’eichem

| v’nas’tem v’ain rodeif at’chem

Leviticus 26:16b-17

The first troubles that the Torah presents us with as signs of judgment are subtle and mild, but can easily be mistaken for something else all together.

This first wave of curses is very perplexing and even troublesome. What are we saying about G-d; that He causes us to have panic, depression and such? Are we saying that G-d takes control of our emotions in order to wreck them? And these inflictions, are we suggesting that G-d causes illness in us?

In our tradition the points of free-will and the fairness of such a course of actions is not even an issues to grapple with. The Rambam interprets Midrash Rabba concerning creation to be surmised in the idea that “only good descends from G-d above.” (Rambam, Guide For The Perplexed, III:X; concerning Midrash Rabba Chapter 1, p. 266). When G-d creates He makes everything good, just as we read in the creation story the continual phrase is used “and G-d saw all that He created and behold it was good.” And we firmly believe G-d does not give illness nor does He impose on our emotions. How can it be that here we have G-d being described as causing both physical and mental inflictions?

The Rambam, as a physician, gave us a unique perspective in how to interpret this. In fact he gives us one of the only interpretations from among the classics that we have to examine. That is not to say the commentators didn’t deal with these verses, they wrote lengthy commentary on these sections. However, they could only give us a description of what the symptoms were. The Rambam was more concerned with what the cause was. As a physician he realized that in order to bring remedy we must first recognize the cause, as a condition is not merely a set of symptoms that need to be alleviate. The symptoms of illness are merely a reflection of the extent to which disease has advanced.

As pointed out the world was created “good,” and in fact when all the living creatures were created He declared that everything was “tov me’od / very good;” (Genesis 1:31). He created life and the world good, and then some. Nonetheless as we have learned from Isaiah, G-d does say that He causes ra – harm, evil, and calamity. However, as the Rambam point out early on in the Guide, things such as good and evil are only descriptions in relations to something. He says this is like saying “round” or “flat.” Not either physical property is good or bad necessarily, it is just a description of how we perceive something. How it looks to us. Such words are very similar in meaning and relation to the terms emet and sheker; true and false. It’s a description and qualification, not a judgment or characterization.

The Rambam explains to us that this similarly can also be applied to the words oseh and bara; makes and created. When G-d created to world He created, meaning he made something from nothing. There was nothing, no universe or anything to function. Then He created the world purposefully, everything He made has a function. He points out that that G-d also created things such as the mouth, eyes and ears so that we can speak, see, and hear. Though the Rambam points out the following verse to demonstrate his philosophical view of what happens when something goes wrong in this natural world:

“And Hashem said to him:

Who places a mouth in man,

or who makes one mute,

or deaf

or see

or blind;

I Hashem.”

| Vayomer Hashem elav

| mi sam peh la’adam

| o mi-yasum ilem

| o cheresh

| o fike’ach

| o iver halo

| anochi Hashem.

Exodus 4:11

The Rambam explains that this verse teaches that each of the body parts were created for their function. That when the function is withheld it merely means that the body part doesn’t work properly, we don’t jump to the odd suggestion that a person must not have a mouth if they can’t talk, or eyes if they can’t see, nor ears if they can’t hear. But that G-d as maker of those body parts is the one who takes responsibility for the issue as He is he only thing in the universe, He is solely its creator, there is no one else to blame; He is responsible by default and does not shirk that in any way. Then He sums it up with “I am Hashem,” its okay to hold Me responsible; I’m big enough to take it.

But if we consider it, the above mentioned maladies are examples of things that are not necessarily inflictions, but withholding of an appropriate function; example, He gave a mouth but didn’t give the speech. We need to see the terrible things mentioned in our parsha as a mere result of G-d withholding blessing – and not necessarily imposing a causative and active role of punishment. He just isn’t providing what we need for our lives to work right. Nachon, got it?

Not Being Run Out: Sometimes we run from blessing, instead of being driven

I know I have kept you for a long study, with me ranting on. But it is very important for us to look at the symptoms, the characteristics of these maladies caused by us not living properly and according to the rules set out for our lives in Torah. And by looking at them we will also see that they are really things that have their root more in us than in G-d. They are:

Panic (בֶּהָלָה) – literally fear, and sudden terror. Panic and terror will begin to consume you. One will begin to be overcome by fear and frenzy.

Consumption (הַשַּׁחֶפֶת) – literally wasting disease and emaciation. One’s health looks swept away, they being to look anguished. Rashi says this means consumption of the face, so that one begins to look sad in the face due to wasting. People often used this term historically to describe illnesses like tuberculosis, wasted away and pained to that point.

Fever (הַקַּדַּחַת) – this is very simple to understand, it simple means fever, and the results of sever illness like malaria. But the Radak tells us this can be understood as “fire in the bones;” that is how intense the effects are. Rashi also sees this connotation, and says furthermore it can be understood as being fired up to the point one is enraged, and furious (citing Deut. 32:22) The fire inside, be it in our body or emotions, burns too hot and to our detriment. Fever like fury can overwhelm a person to the point of an overwhelming trembling and loss of control over their functions and composure.

Destroy your sight (מְכַלּוֹת) – G-d will allow our outlook to be destroyed. (Rav Hirsch) We begin to experience impairment of our faculties. As we look into our future all we will see is uncertainty and doubt, which leads to the next infliction…

Depression (וּמְדִיבֹת) – we will become overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness (Rav Hirsch). We will be overcome by debilitating depression and sorrow.

The parsha continues on describing other things that are less easily understood as being rooted in our own defect; that we will sow in vain, our enemies will reap from our hard work instead of us. But in the last clauses of verse 17 we see G-d does have a undeniable hand in all of this, because He sets His attention towards us and yet we are defeated by our enemies. G-d watches on, as we fall into calamity; not coming to our aid.

But before we get carried away and try to relieve ourselves of responsibility the Torah continues and shows a truly tragic truth of what happens when we live a life outside of Torah blessing, we aren’t run out from blessing; quite to the contrary.

And you will flee when no one is pursuing you (וְנַסְתֶּם וְאֵין רֹדֵף אֶתְכֶם) – we become overwhelmed by our own sense of paranoia. Instead of being driven out, we run ourselves off from a state of blessing by our own guilt, shame and fear of repercussions of our actions.

In the end, the yeridah – the descent and fall into bondage and foreign oppression is of our own doing. Often times we aren’t carried away, no one forces us out of a place of peaceful living; we are so haunted and hunted by our avoidance of our Torah responsibilities that we run from ourselves until we find we are not longer free to return on our own terms. It further describes this type of paranoia in verses 36-37, that we will become overwhelmed by insecurity, that even the rustling leaves will send us running in fright, like being chased by a sword though no one is there; that we are so overcome by our invisible fears that we, and those that accompany our descent, stumble over each other; running from insecurities rooted in our own conscience.

Luckily, the story doesn’t end there. Though there are all kinds of unspeakable things displayed for us as hardships for improper living and not honoring the Torah, G-d still holds out to us a hand of mercy. Though we might get worse, and worse, and worse yet the more we run from ourselves; in the end G-d says that He will not just write us off. No, instead He declares that no matter how far we run, He is intent on setting us right in the end; not to leave us ultimately to our disrepair.

“Yet even after all that, even

when they are in the land of their enemies

I will not reject them, nor abhor them,

nor grow tired of them

and then break my covenant with them –

for I am Hashem, your G-d

|

But I will for their sakes remember

the covenant of their ancestors,

whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt

in the sight of the nations,

that I might be their G-d:

I am Hashem.”

| Ve’af-gam-zot

| biheiotam be’eretz oiveihem

| lo-me’astim velo-ge’altim

| lechalotam

| lehafer briti itam

| ki ani Hashem Eloheihem.

|

| Vezacharti lahem

| brit rishonim

| asher hotzeti-otam me’eretz Mitzrayim

| le’einei hagoyim

| lihiot lahem le-Elohim

| ani Hashem

Leviticus 26:44-45

Though G-d does not write us off, and promises to ultimately grant redemption to use all, liberating us eventually; it does not necessarily say this life, though. It is true that all Israel has a share in the world to come (Pirkei Avot). But ignoring Torah has consequences. G-d does not cast people out of His kingdom for their humanity and faults; He will make a place for us all, in a way only He understands. It will come about by Him remembering His promise and the merit of our ancestors. This should comfort us. But on the other hand we should be a bit saddened by this explanation; because the truth is the suffering and being run amok could end at any time if we just decided to remember His covenant and the meritorious lives displayed by our Jewish ancestors.


Parshat Acharei Mot – Kedoshim (2012)


Parshat Acharei – Kedoshim
Leviticus 16–20

Goats or Pan: Hairy interpretations of the naturalist vs. the phantasmal

pan-also-known-as-faunus-pipes-and-dances-with-nymphs-and-satyrsSometimes biblical interpretations clash when it comes to explaining certain terms in the scriptures, namely because of one’s preconceived world view. Very rational people will see everything as something naturally occurring and a person given to belief in the supernatural can tend to see all things as providence. I tend to be somewhere in the middle, not completely given to either school of thought. I think most of us are. Now, I do have many friends that are very prone to loving fantastical interpretations of the Torah. Interestingly, not all of them are necessarily religious people or partial to the miraculous. They just like the thrill of keeping the story larger than life.

Most often this becomes an issue when people have to translate the unknown or ambiguous. Believe it or not the supernatural sounding interpretation usually wins out. We have no better example of that than in the over-killed discussion of “the sons of G-d conceived with the daughters of men,” and the whole nephilim debate. (see Genesis 6) One of the others is found here in this parsha. The Torah reads:

“And they shall not sacrifice anymore

their sacrifices for the Se’irim

after which they still stray after;

this is an eternal statute

for them, and for [all their] generations.”

| Velo-yizbechu od

| et-zivcheihem lase’irim

| asher hem zonim ach areihem

| chukat olam tihieh-zot

| lahem ledorotam.

Leviticus 17:7

We aren’t exactly sure what the term se’irim means. But for the most part this is translated as demons, as is seen in the King James Bible and is thus the most widely received understanding. Even bible skeptics will insists on this translation, in the same manner they insist the nephilim references only be understood in light of the folklore simple because it’s juicy material; they rather debate with stuff fit for Ancient Aliens as its a better straw-man, easier to quash than serious scholarship.

What is perplexing to some very rational minded Jews is that this understanding is not without precedence even in our own tradition. This is the understanding of the Chazal – our rabbinic sages from the age of the prophet Ezra until the end of the 7th century that formulated the foundations of Jewish tradition. This in agreement of the midrash, Sifra, and the opinion of geniuses such as S’forno (9th century). So it should come as no surprise that even Rashi holds by this:

LeSe’irim: to sheidim [Heb. demons]

as in “the se’irim dance there.”

(Isaiah 13:21)

לשעירם: לשדים, |

כמו, “ושעירים ירקדו שם:” |

(ישעיה יג כא) |

Rashi to Leviticus 17:7, 11th Century

Now the rationalists among us can find a alternative meaning presented to us by citing this same verse. Here it will be understood by our tradition to mean demons as well, that dwell in the ruins of a fallen city, encroached upon by the animals of the wilderness. And on this note the naturalist will point out that the se’irim are mentioned in the middle of a long list of desert animals; wild-cats, ferrets, and ostriches before it (Isaiah 13:21); then jackals and wild-dogs after it (Isaiah 13:22). It is therefore very logical for us to assume this is some sort of animal, there is nothing to suggest otherwise.

This would actually be a very logical assumption. It is also suggested by examining the word itself. Se’irim in their few references, just like the mere two references of sheidim in the Tanach, are always spoken of in the plural and without definition. But in the singular we get a obvious hint about the entomology; a sa’ir is a buck, a he-goat. Though we have a clear word for goat in Hebrew, אז – instead we find here in Leviticus the need to be very specific. Instead of merely referring at an animal by species it prescribes them by gender and stage of development. Whereas here in Parshat Acherie it uses the term sa’ir for a male-goat, earlier on in this book we will also see used the gender appropriate term for female-goats; in fact used in combination with a clear mention of the species of which animal we are talking about to prove the point:

“… and he shall bring his offering

a female-kid of the goats.”

| …vhai’va karbano

| s’irat izim

Leviticus 4:28

We could try to dig deeper for a linguistic understanding. However, in our attempts to simplify the language it becomes apparent to us that we are often talking about nicknames; not genus (species) or taxonomic qualities. However, nicknames just like classifications often lend descriptive hints to the subject at hand. Just like hares are so named because they are hairy even at birth, unlike their cousins the rabbits who are born hairless; so too in Hebrew are the goat’s so descriptively nicknamed. The root of the nicknames seir, seirim , seirah, seirat are given because they are hairy. As in the scripture:

“Look, Esau my brother is a hairy man

and I am a smooth man.

| Hain, Eisav achi ish sair

| vanochi ish halach

Genesis 27:11

When we look at this evidence and work our way backwards linguistically it seems like the issues is settled. The case is closed. Until we look at the scholarly translations of the Torah, again we turn to the JPS. Now note that Jewish Publican Society is the standard of Jewish academic scholarship. While giving a hearty helping of tradition it loves to wax poetic, but not as often at the expense of reason. So it is intriguing to some, and seemingly justifying to others, when the JPS translates our verse out for Leviticus 17:7 as:

And they shall no more sacrifice

their sacrifices

unto the satyrs,

after whom they go astray.”

וְלֹא-יִזְבְּחוּ עוֹד, |

אֶת-זִבְחֵיהֶם, |

לַשְּׂעִירִם, |

אֲשֶׁר הֵם זֹנִים אַחֲרֵיהֶם: |

Leviticus 17:7 (JPS Translation – 1917)

What are we talking about when we use the word satyrs? We are talking about something like fawns (as in The Lion and the Witch and the Wardrobe), however more precisely this term goes all the way back to ancient Greece where the god Pan is described as being half-man, and yet half-goat on the lower half of his body. panfixPan being the god associated with nature, fertility and spring became so recognizable as symbolic of the ancient gods that he became the universal symbol of Greco-Roman romanticism several times throughout history. Interestingly this symbol has also been similarly associated with classical satanism (belief in devil worship, the concept of a personified evil as prescribed by religious dualism), as the satyr’s form is clearly unnatural and pagan. But given the options you would wonder why JPS would give such an exotic translation.

Truth be told, even though JPS does not mind saying they don’t know what the meaning is many times when the text is unclear, they too follow the rabbinic and midrashic tradition of interpretation. To some extent it is also true that they have tried to not make waves with the “Authorized Version” (meaning King James Bible) that English speakers were accustomed to use before it. But this choice here is in keeping with our tradition, and for this reasons not completely unfounded.

We will find another reference to the satyrs which also sheds some more light on the subject:

“For the Levites left

their open land and their possession,

and came to Judah and Jerusalem;

for Jeroboam and his sons cast them off,

that they should not execute the priest’s office

to Hashem.

_

“And he appointed priests

for the high places

and for the seir’im and the calves

which he made.”

כִּי-עָזְבוּ הַלְוִיִּם, |

אֶת-מִגְרְשֵׁיהֶם וַאֲחֻזָּתָם, |

וַיֵּלְכוּ לִיהוּדָה, וְלִירוּשָׁלִָם: |

כִּי-הִזְנִיחָם יָרָבְעָם |

וּבָנָיו, מִכַּהֵן |

לַיהוָה.|

|

וַיַּעֲמֶד-לוֹ כֹּהֲנִים, |

לַבָּמוֹת |

וְלַשְּׂעִירִים, וְלָעֲגָלִים, |

אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה. |

2 Chronicles 11:15

There are two suggestions being made to us here; that they made sacrifices of seirim (goats) and calves. But not only that, that in the days of the revolt of northern Israel from the kingdom of Judah they rejected the religion of Israel and the Levitical priesthood, with the people once again degenerated into worship of idols of calves and goats; “asher asah” which they made, which they crafted.

This meaning might be news to most of us, and I admit it seems like I’m going out on a limb here, but its not if we really consider it for a minute. If we look at this verse from our parsha it tells us that the people are to no longer offer sacrifices unto the satyrsgoat beings. Not to just not stray after them, but “asher hem zonim ach areihem / after which they still stray.” How can they still be straying after this type of idolatry when we have never heard of it before in the Torah?

My suggestion is this, we actually have heard of it before, but indirectly. When before have we read in the Torah of people making an idol of an animal and then offering sacrifices before it? That’s right, the egel ha-zahav the golden calf. (see Exodus 32:4) Thought we don’t hear of the people worshiping and sacrificing goats before, especially to idols made in their likeness, it appears that the children of Israel did in fact do so or they wouldn’t have been prohibited from continuing to do so. Its not hard to imagine, they did exactly this for calves. The reason why we probably never hear of this before, is because the exodus story so far is trying to deal with primary topic at hand; that of removing the people from slavery, and removing the symbols of that slavery from their mindset in the wilderness journey. The symbol of the calf represented an obvious old way of thinking, but the goat less so. If we examine them both the insight enlightens us to the meaning of this verse.

In the case of the calf, it’s not so hard for us to understand why they worshiped it. The entire economy of the Egypt they left surrounded the calf. They were essential for use in labor; both construction and agricultural. They were essential to the diet of Egypt by producing not only meat but also dairy that was a much needed staple. So much was the economy and diet dependent on the calf that when Yosef interprets the dream of famine for the Pharoah his vision is in the form of cattle; both fat and lean, respectively representing years of fortune and famine. (see Genesis 41)

But there was more than just a secular mental connotation, the symbol of the calf was intertwined with the symbol of Hathor (and intern, Isis) – the mother goddess who carried the sun disk between her horns – she was a symbol of rebirth and fertility. According to their mythology, from this cow deity the Pharaohs would suckle nutrients and intern (in a trickle-down effect) these blessing and providence would flow to the people under him. For the Egyptian the calf was central in offerings for worship and in being worshiped. In worshiping the calf the children of Israel were resorting to the old ways of thinking, finding comfort in the old religion and mindset. This was the primary theme of the exodus story, that the children of Israel come out from under that both physically and mentally.

Now if we examine the Egyptian significance of the goat, we are not left without some pretty good examples of goat worship. In fact there was an entire cult centered around worship of the goat and the satyrs in the north Egyptian town of Mendes. There the satyr would become associated with the symbol of Zeus there as well, to whom they would adorn with the head and pelts of a ram. These associations will grow with the more north and the more to the present we come with our mythology (example, the mascot of Thor is the goat). But at the time period of the exodus this symbol of the goat is not yet synonymous with norther paganism.

It goes back to something older, and something they apparently came in contact with again once they reached the highlands of Sinai. You see, unlike in the case of the Egyptians the goat was the central economic currency and lifeblood of the Bedouins who traveled with their flocks of goats. Unlike Egyptians the Bedouin could not herd cattle on huge tracks land, without land they raised hearty animals they could keep on the move. You can’t push goats, but they migrate quite well. And when I say goats are hearty, I mean they are tough. They eat almost anything (don’t leave out a tin can or they might even eat that, really). They can even be outright mean. No matter how small their horns are, they can get you something fierce!

Its the fierceness of the goat symbol that seems to prevail, and in each incarnation going forth we are going to see a scary symbolic nature of this animal taking shape. The reverencing of goats does not stem from or lead to a gentle and nurturing concept of the divine. Instead the apparent reverence towards this concept of deity is going to be based on fear and terror. So much so that going on through out the books of the Neviim and the Ketuvim – the Prophets and the Writings – the symbol of the goat is going to be irreversibly intertwined with the symbol of devils and demons in folklore. This idea is compounded as Edom, the Greeks, the Romans, etc. all continue to be epitomized by the symbol of the goat; people who worshiped idols we do not mind calling false gods, and demons. We only need to look at the capriciousness and inhumanity of their gods to validate why we can so easily can call them devilish. So much has happened to the children of Israel since their days of simple and tranquil goat herders like Yaakov Avinu – Jacob our Father – that now at this point in history the goat is a symbol of fright.

Though there are among our sages those that say the reverencing of the goat in the mind of some people was not necessarily occultic idolatry, they suggests that the cult of the goats was just another way of people trying to connect to the spiritual for protection. (Sforno) In the same way the people didn’t necessarily worship the calf, they just used it as a medium to direct their worship towards the Divine (Rambam, Guide for the Perplexed); so too it was with the goat. This might hold some truth to it, because we do see this come up after the mentions of the different sacrifices that include the goat, including the atonement sacrifices of Yom haKippurim – the Day of Atonements. The symbols and elements of the holy worship of G-d became mingled with the fears and ferocity of the new desert experience. They reverenced it; but maybe a little too much, to the point that the new situation they were in reawakened a primitive fear that had be there under the surface for a while.

During this Omer period I hear a lot of people talking about getting over the tendency to “golden calf it,” to rely on our old comforts and ways of doing things that hold us back from really being free people. But I think its also important that we don’t try to “buck” our spirituality either; that we not give in to fear, fierceness and ferociousness that twists it around. Most certainly we shouldn’t give in to fear that makes us want to see something as ugly, harsher and more unnatural than it really is.


Parshat Haazinu (2011)


Parshat Haazinu
Deuteronomy 32:1 – 32:52

Does Mosheh Really Call Us Fat Cats During the Holidays?

I know this is coming at you kind of late, but as I was sick and with the holiday coming up I didn’t have a chance to put a learning into words for us. But we have made a good trek all the way through Devarim (Deuteronomy), so I’m passing this on now to keep us up with our study schedule.

Here we are, we have come upon the Jewish New Year and we begin weeks of recognition and celebration of the High Holidays. We are also wrapping up the annual Torah reading, this week being assigned a short parsha that is merely one chapter long. Though it is short it is a deeply powerful display of Jewish scripture, tradition, liturgy and language. The whole chapter being a song that was sang by Moses.

This week is a big deal, being Shabbat Teshuvah – the Shabbat of Repentance, that comes between Rosh Hashanah – the New Year and Yom HaKippurim – the Day of Atonements. This is this big one, one of the two Sabbaths where people tend to attend services more often than any other time of the year (the other being Shabbat HaGadol – before Pesach).

This parsha really works in very well with the program. Most American shuls, especially among the progressive and the “established” movements, charge big money for high holiday tickets. So many people want to attend services, and it costs money to roll all that out; people pay, and your expected to put on a good show! A congregation also hope to impress people to join the shul, making regular members out of just holiday attendees. You really bring out the best you’ve got, this is the time to shine.

And everything goes well, until you hear Mosheh’s (Moses) song. It starts out nice, and it does have some wonderful poetry woven through it. But Mosheh picks a moment, here when he has all the people together, to tell it like it is. As beautiful as his words are, they are equally indicting of the people of Israel. They are not necessary the most flattering words. Had Mosheh been a congregational rabbi like today the board members would have freaked out at the message he had in mind and would have his contract up for review. I gotta wonder how uncomfortable some people feel when they hear this message during our season of celebration today. I can almost hear people saying “hey, this isn’t the right time!”

The message of Haazinu comes in three parts. First, that the perfect G-d chooses an imperfect people in order to bless them beyond their imaginations. Secondly, the people would forget about G-d and rebel, bringing judgment and disaster upon themselves. And third, that G-d would rise up and bring justice and restore His people.

Now I don’t want to make Mosheh’s message sound negative, because it isn’t. It’s simply honest, and sometimes honesty can be less than flattering. Mosheh is not necessarily making a statement about any one generation or age. Surely it can’t apply to the generation at hand, because they had not even completed Step One, by inheriting the land and being made prosperous. He speaks of the people not as individuals but as a “dor / generation;” meaning society or an age in general; which is a poetic way of saying this applies to all generations and ages. He’s speaking to society at large. Any generation can take heed of this message; thus the reason it is commanded to be memorized from that time on.

There is so much I would love to say about this the structure and the tradition of reciting Haatzinu, but it must wait until another time. I really think we will get the most out of looking at the message that Mosheh is trying to give. It is important for us to understand that this is his last statement, immediately prior to his final blessing before his death and the ascent of the people to the Land. This song is Moshe’s grand finale.

And the song he sings starts out beautifully. Mosheh, yet with a tender heart tells us that it his desire that his words and teaching fall upon the world like life giving water. (v. 2) He calls us to declare the greatness of G-d and reverence to the name Havayah – YHVH, Hashem our G-d. (v. 3)

His song starts out with a common message we all relate to, the reason why even the “non-religious” stop to worship at this time of year, because we relate to this wholesome image of G-d:

“The Rock, His work is perfect;

for all His ways are justice;

a faithful G-d, and without injustice;

just and right is He.”

| Hatzur tamim pa’olo

| ki chol-drachav mishpat

| el emunah ve’ein avel

| tzadik veyashar hu.

Deuteronomy 32:4

Even the most hostile and jaded, even ambivalent and ambiguous of us Jews can find a reason to stop and recognize our Judaism to hear this message. It’s because we associate the Divine and Torah with justice and doing what is right. We see godliness as a means to Tikkun Olam – perfecting the world; remedying what is not right in the world.

This song also begins to detail the typical Jewish way of looking at the why things are wrong in the world:

“Is corruption His? No!

It’s His children’s blemish,

a warped and twisted generation.”

| Shichet lo lo

| banav mumam

| dor ikesh uftaltol.

Deuteronomy 32:5

Haatzinu has some hard hitting theology. Mosheh pushes us to recognize we as a society are responsible for the wrongs of the world, who warp the world after our own personal faults. He also pushes forward the reasons why we as Jews cannot belong to the religions of the world, if we skip forward a bit into the song (end of fifth reading):

“You, take notice;

that I, I am He

and there is no other god with Me

I kill and make alive;

I have wounded, but I heal;

and there is none that deliver from my hand”

| Re’u atah

| ki ani ani hu

| ve’ein elohim imadi

| ani amit va’achaieh

| machatsti va’ani erpa

| ve’ein miyadi matzil.

Deuteronomy 32:39

The world religions, with their trinities and pantheons, do not hold up to the charge that we as Jews must take notice that there is no one else aside from our G-d. No mother or father, son or grandson, sister or brother; no multiple personalities; as the Adon Olam beautifully states “hu echad vain shaini / He is One, there is no second / l’hamshil lo l’hach’birah / to compare Him to, to associate Him with.” There is no dualism, no devil; no divine conflict; we are not a smudge on the looking-glass. There is merely a reality of a fierce, yet still nurturing nature presented in the image of the G-d of Israel. The Divine, like nature, encompasses life and death; but unlike nature G-d has a plan, to cause pain in order to heal in the end, and not to cause harm.

We as reasonable Jews take pride in the philosophical maturity of our religion. No matter what grudges we have against the institutions, once a year many of us come out of the closet as Jews to take notice. And see, we have some great material here to work with to make people feel good about themselves.

But here Mosheh decides to do something else instead, he decides to turn his last message to the people in order to ask them if they are doing enough for G-d. Not bad to start, but he does kinda goes about it in a crotchety way.

“Is this how you repay Hashem,

foolish people and unwise?

Is He not the father who has taken you;

the One who made you and established you?”

| Ha le’Hashem tigmelu-zot

| am naval velo chacham

| halo-hu avicha kanecha

| hu ascha vayechonenecha.

Deuteronomy 32:6

Mosheh’s message, no matter how ornery the wording might be on the surface, still shows a certain tone of sensitivity. He begins to speak like the stubborn old grandpa; nothing more, nothing less. But he begins to show G-d in a tender fashion, calling G-d our Father who has rescued us to be His.

Moshe’s words can be overlooked, probably not offending too many people so far. He shows his old fashioned ways by telling us to consider the old days, take a look at every generation, ask your parents and the old people and they will have wise council for you. This we can all pretty much agree on, and relax when we consider it.

Then Mosheh goes into speaking of Israel in personal and affectionate terms. Not at a Nation, Israel; but as a person, Yaakov (Jacob); and by the tribal term of endearment, Yeshurun. Mosheh beings to talk how G-d has made all the nations, but set aside Israel as a special portion. (v.8-9) Moses talks about G-d rescuing His people from the wilderness, showing compassion on them and treasuring them as the apple of His eye. (v.10) He presents Hashem as an eagle, protecting us under-wing as his chicks. (v.11) This beautiful imagery melts ones heart.

Mosheh describes G-d again as being the only One for us, that “Hashem badad yanchenu ve’ein imo el nechar / Hashem alone did lead him, there was no foreign G-d with Him.” (v.12) We hear a description of how G-d elevated us, even made our lives sweet and met our natural needs. (v.13) How sweet was life? We read a lush description of G-d nurturing us with honey, oil, butter, cream, the finest of meats, the finest of grains and the sweetness of wine. (v.13-14).

Such beautiful imagery is used, we almost forget Mosheh’s sharp words early on. We can all agree, even the most impoverished and sad luck cases, that we as humans have a lot to be grateful for. But here is where the gauntlet falls, this is where the song starts getting extremely uncomfortable. This is where the message is less than savory, and turns critical.

“Yeshurun has grown fat, and kicked;

you grew fat, thick and gross;

and he forsook G-d who made him,

and scorned the Rock of his help.”

| Vayishman Yeshurun vayiv’at

| shamanta avita kasita

| vayitosh Eloha asahu

| vayenabel tzur yeshu’ato.

Deuteronomy 32:15

And this is where the board members and fund-raising staff of the shul gasps. Here Mosheh rabbeninu, during this sensitive season calls us a bunch of fat cats that have forgotten G-d who has been our yeshuah – our help, our support, our salvation. Wow. He went there!

Then Mosheh makes a charge in his defense it seams for something that is sure to upset all these holiday attending yidden:

“They roused his jealousy

with strange things

they provoked Him with vile things.”

| Yakni’uhu

| bezarim

| beto’evot yach’isuhu.

Deuteronomy 32:15

This is actually a really serious charge. One thing that Jews at this point in history are not know for is “idolatry.” We classify so many things as avodah zarah, that literal idolatry is something easily avoided by the most distant Jew. Though we might not be all that wild about our faith at times, we are proud that we do no follow any other religions. But before anybody thinks Mosheh is off his rocker and walks out, he clarifies for us:

“They sacrificed

to sheydim [Heb. demons, genies],

to no-gods,

to gods that they did know know,

new ones that recently came about,

ones that you forefathers would never consider.”

| Yizbechu

| lashedim

| lo eloha

| elohim lo yeda’um

| chadashim mikarov ba’u

| lo se’arum avoteichem.

Deuteronomy 32:15

And here my friend, is where the charge by Moshen rabbeinu quite often rings true! Actually, more so today than at the time he delivered this song. The people had not yet prospered in his day, it surely did not apply to them at that time, as I have pointed out. If it stands to offend anyone, it stand to offend us today.

Truth be told us Jews today have a problem not necessarily with other gods, as much as our no-gods. We put so much energy into the things that aren’t deities at all, but we obsess over them in more than a religious fashion. Many of us are really guilty of this, whether we like it or not; and the more its true in our lives, the less we like it. We can give so much time and money to our politics, but often give so little of these resources to our Jewish community. We can spend so much effort on our bodies and diets, but we can ignore nurturing ourselves and our families souls. So caught up in philosophies, but dispassionate about yiddishkeit (Jewishness).

This charge hurts to people who can drag themselves out of work and leisure time for yoga and chanting several times a week, but can’t be bothered with Shabbat or holidays normally. Us Jews often times can tell you just about anything concerning sociology, ethnology and world religion but can’t be bothered to learn anything beyond a dangerously childish view of our own Judaism. Proud of our fad diets, but resenting other people’s kashrut. Willing to fly 15 times zones to the latest guru to come up, but something simple like lighting a couple candles is too much to ask for.

These are our no-gods, these are the things we are more than willing to sacrifice for. But sadly, many of us would never even consider giving a portion of that dedication to a culture and a religion that has given us the richest heritage that we can possibly experience. A heritage that has benefited us, and served us well. Instead we get can so often get caught up on mishagas (craziness) our forebears would never even imagine, nor would they ever consider revering.

The reason we are considering these holy convocations, and even go through the effort of considering this Torah as we are now, is because we have do in fact revere our heritage that has given such a good start at life. We want to do whats right, even if we are the most despondent or dissatisfied of Jews, we are doing this because it is the right thing. Even more so because it will make us better people, its not petty as some people suppose; just time to shmooze, see the relatives and share IPOs. In respect of our heritable the average Jews can stomach an almost fire and brimstone rant by Mosheh this shabbat; even if only we just smile and shrug off his wisdom like we do rants of a wise old grandfather (the general way most of us modern, Israeli-minded types treat religion).

Moshe here at the ripe age of 120 years old is giving his last words of advice. He’s not so much accusing as stating a general fact, that when people get comfortable and well off they often forget the aid that helped make them who they are. I don’t have to state the things we are benefactors of my friends; the respect for scholarship, the pursuit of justice, the honoring of ethics, the insistence on logic and the determination to being one’s true self that is embodied in Judaism. Moshes doesn’t have another chance to ask us, us Jews of all generations, if we really showing due respect and gratitude for this treasure. It’s just as important not to pass over for a congregational rabbi too, we might not see many of you for another year (G-d forbid)! We don’t accuse or beg, but ask you to consider for yourselves.

I can only say this because I’m pretty confident in this richness from hearing the peoples of all nations of the world who marvel and are in awe of the faith and culture that us as Jews have so been gifted to be partners in. While we run around after every exotic thing, the nations marvel at the birthright we have been given in this Torah and brit (covenant). But don’t just take my word, or the word of people that you would consider mere hysterics; the scriptures attest that this is true. There isn’t anything out there “better” to be offered to you.

The prophet Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) states that at the end of this age, the following would happen:

“The nations

(Heb. goyim; also meaning gentiles, non-Jews)

shall come from the ends of the earth

saying: ‘Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies;

vanity and things that do not profit.’”

| Elecha goyim

|

| yavo mei’afsei-aretz

| yomru af-sheker nachalu avoteinu

| hevel v’ain bam moil.

Jeremiah 16:19

On a heart level, we all know this to be true or we wouldn’t be bothering with this at all. An amazing thing, this pintele yid – the spark of Judaism that hold us together and drives this desire to care for something better. It was good for us, it’s still good for us even with hang-ups, and its a good thing that future generations need to benefit from as well.

We all love John F. Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Maybe Mosheh didn’t say it as smoothly, but he did say it quite poetically and accurately; so can we give the 120 year old guy a break?


%d bloggers like this: