Random Musing Before Shabbat – Tol’dot 5779—Redux 5769–Alternate Histories, Alternate Shmishstories

A musing from 2007, just slightly revised.
Alternate histories have become a popular form of fiction these days. As I’ve already taken the liberty of creating modern midrashim to enhance my understanding of the Torah, why not go that one step further? I was sort of on the cusp of doing this with my recent musing based on the “Diary of Terakh.” Imagine, perhaps, a world in which Terakh was the one first called by G”d to go forth, and had completed the journey all the way to the promised land, becoming the progenitor of the Jewish people.
If you can imagine that, why not imagine other scenarios?
Rebekkah, already unhappy with Esav for marrying outside the clan, and clearly favoring Yaakov, overhears her feeble old husband Yitzkhak say to Esav that he wanted to give Esav his blessing, and asked him go out, hunt some game, and prepare his favorite dish, after which time he would give Esav the “blessing of his soul.”
She hurries to Yaakov, and instructs him to essentially deceive his father so that he might receive the blessing instead of Esav.
Yaakov may be studious and a mama’s boy, but upon hearing this suggestion refuses to do as his mother asks, and even chastises her for being so duplicitous.
Rebekkah’s response:
Alternate 1) She tells Yaakov to not be such a hypocrite – after all, he had already tricked his brother out of the birthright! Yaakov is chagrined and decides to go along with his Mother’s plan after all.
Alternate 2) Rebekkah recognizes the enormity of what she has asked Yaakov to do, and asks forgiveness from Yaakov and G”d. Esav returns home, prepares a meal for his father, and receives his father’s blessing.
OK, now we have a weird situation. Yaakov has the birthright, but Esav has the blessing. So what happens? Maybe G”d invents lawyers?
Let’s try another.
Rebekkah holds her tongue and says nothing to Yaakov. Esav returns and receives his father’s blessing. OK, we’re back to that same weird situation. Call in the lawyers.
And another.
Yaakov agrees to go along with Rebekkah’s plan. However, Yitzkhak discovers Yaakov’s deception and angrily denounces him. Yaakov says “it was all my mother’s idea.” Yaakov sends Yitzkhak and Rebekkah away (and they go off to live with Hagar and Yishmael – there’s a whole story in itself. Does Hagar at first refuse to take them in and is later persuaded by Yishmael to do so?) Yitzkhak gives his blessing to Esav, and the Jewish people are stillborn. G”d looks for another lineage to carry on (perhaps Yishmael?)
[Note from 2018 – as you may know, the untold story of the time between the akeidah and Yitzchak’s return to bury his father, a time I speculate he spent in the company of Hagar and Ishmael, has become a project I’ve been playing with for some years. I am pleased to say, it is actually starting to take shape! It’s not, technically an alternate history – more like midrash to fill in the blanks. Yet I am still drawn to writer about it. I’ll note too, in the past few years, we’ve been treated to two of the most amazing speculative (if not truly alternate) biblical fiction works by Israel author Yochi Brandes, ably translated into English. “The Secret Book of Kings” explores the United Monarchy through the perspective of the northern tribes. “The Orchard” explores the rabbis and personas of the 1st and 2nd century CE, largely through the eyes of Rabbi Akiva’s wife, Rachel. I heartily recommend these books to you.]
The possibilities are endless. entire books could be written of alternate biblical histories. (Note to self – see if there’s a market for this.) [Note from 2018 – it seems there is – now for me to grab a piece of it.]
In the end, however, all this is just mental self-gratification (I’ll use that euphemistic substitute for decorum’s sake.) Whatever happened then, whatever happened at Sinai, whatever happened at a thousands other instants in history – none of that changes the fact that we are here, now. The Jewish people survive – mir zenen do, as the Partisaner Leid says. As I’ve said a thousand times to students, teachers, and others – unless your a literalist fundamentalist, it doesn’t really matter if things happened exactly as related in the Torah. If the rabbis could view the Torah’s stories of creation as metaphoric, the rest of the text is no less suspect. Speaking for myself, the historical accuracy of the text makes little difference. Whatever really happened, I am here now. I accept that I, as a Jew, have been charged with certain obligations and responsibilities. Our heritage provides me with ethical guidance, suggestions on how to live in this world, how to interact with others, how to build a better world. It also provides me with plenty of examples of how not to do that. Whatever choices my ancestors made, the choices are now mine to make. And if Coca-Cola can use it in a commercial, why can’t I. As the knight guarding the grail said to Indiana Jones, “choose wisely.”
Hmmm – didn’t I read something like that somewhere in the Torah?
This Shabbat, and every Shabbat, the choice is mine, the choice is yours, and the choice is ours. Let us pray that we all choose wisely.
Shabbat Shalom,
Adrian
©2018 (portions ©2007) by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
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Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayeira 5779—(Redux 5760) From the “Journal of Lot” – Part II

A prolonged bout with a cold, now turned into bronchitis, has been draining my energy and alertness, so, with apologies, I offer this recycled musing from 1999.

Random Musings Before Shabbat – Vayera 5760- From the “Journal of Lot” – Part II

It has been many, many days since I have been able to record my thoughts. I’m not even sure I want to continue because about all I would have to say is “life really sucks.” But I guess, deep inside, I don’t really believe that. I’m not the brash young man I used to be, but I still think I’m a good man. Not perfect, G”d knows, but good.

Anyway, you just wouldn’t believe all that has happened since I last wrote in this journal. Remember those visitors I told you about? Seems they were more than ordinary visitors. Turns out they had just come from visiting uncle Avi and aunt Sara. Said they had brought my uncle a message from this one G”d he’s been all in a dither about since we left Haran. Get this…they told him aunt Sara would have a baby. Now there’s a laugh. In fact, I can just hear my aunt snickering when she heard that. Probably made her angry to, because uncle Av had knocked up auntie’s maid Hagar. See, I keep tabs on my relatives. After all, uncle Av rescued me from those heathen kings. What a guy. Now, if I were my old self, I probably say “what a sap.” But hindsight has, alas, proven me quite wrong. Guess uncle Av made the right choice after all back in those hills when we parted. The wicked city is just no place to live, raise a family, etc. I mean, these people were wicked. I think I’ve told you about the total debauchery that went on. If I had been smarter, I would have left that place. But you know how it is…I had a family to support, and working all those years in the city I had lost my shepherding and ranch management edge-I’d grown soft and I guess part of me even liked a little bit of indulgence, Sodom style, now and then. That’s me-always taking what looks like the easy path – only to discover anything that looks too good to be true usually is.

Well, no sooner do we finish feeding these visitors when there is this insistent banging on the door. I guess half the town was out there, shouting for us to send out the visitors so they could have their way with them. Well, I hadn’t been corrupted that far. Unlike most of the people of Sodom, I still welcomed visitors, shared my food and things, and played it pretty straight. OK, so occasionally I went to a party or two, got a little drunk, and wound up at an orgy. Just don’t tell the wife…oops, I forgot. No wife. I’ll get to that in a minute.

So I try to persuade my fellow townspeople to give it a rest, but they just won’t quit, and they start tugging at me trying to pull me out of the way and grab the strangers. Next thing I know there is this blinding white light, and I’m being dragged back inside by the visitors and the door gets slammed shut and bolted.

Well, nobody says anything for a minute – heck, you’d be speechless too. My wife and daughters are standing there agape. (There’s a little biblical joke in there, but, oh well, never mind, that’s thousands of years later and if you’re descendants of uncle Avi, you won’t get it anyway…) Even I am too stupefied to speak. So one of the visitors pipes up and comes clean. Says they’re angels sent by this G”d of uncle Avi, here to destroy Sodom and that stinkpot Gomorrah because they are just so utterly wicked. “Gee, thanks uncle Avi,” I mouth silently but one of the angels, who I guess can read lips (or minds?) retorts loudly – “Hey look. Your uncle actually had the nerve to argue with G”d and tell him it wasn’t right to destroy these cities, because there were righteous people in them too.” He turns to his partner and says “Can you believe that? He actually argued and then bargained with the boss-not like that Noah fellow-there was a good chap, just did what he was told.” His partner replied “Yeah, pretty unbelievable. But you know what I can’t believe even more? The boss actually bargained with him. I guess it’s kind of unfair, since the boss knew the outcome already, it was kind of an unfair bargain. Oh, well. What’s done is done. Now, look here Lot ben Haran, you need to get you and your family ought of here. By tomorrow.”

He said it with such authority I couldn’t help myself but to obey. I told the wife to start packing, and ran out of the house to find my daughter’s husbands. I was a little worried as I opened the door, but enough time had passed that the crowd had lost interest, and they were busy frolicking away. I found my sons-in-law inflagrante delicto with a couple of cult prostitutes. I told them I was taking my family – including there wives, out of this place tomorrow morning. They couldn’t seem to care less so I left them and ran home to pack.

I was up half the night getting ready, and finally fell asleep on the sacks. No sooner had morning light crept in the windows than these angels were up and dressed and waking up me and the family and telling us to hurry and get the heck out. I was so darn tired I just couldn’t make myself move very fast, so the next thing I know, one of the angels are dragging us out of the house, through the streets and out the main gate. “Hurry!” they said to me. “Get up into the hills, get out of this valley, or your gonna get caught in the shock wave.” I protested. All the way up into those hills with all this stuff? They had to be kidding. “Look,” I said, “how about we just go to that little village at the foot of the hills?” The angel takes something from out of his pocket and pokes at it and holds it up to his face and says something unintelligible into it. Then, wonder of wonders, I hear the voice of the other angel coming from this little thing – but I know we left him back in the city – and he was nowhere nearby us. Anyway, the angel shoves the thing back in his pocket, sighs, and says, “OK. Head for that little village. We’ll make sure you’re safe there. Now go.” So me and the missus and daughters start walking. “Oh wait, I almost forgot,” says the angel. “Whatever you do, don’t stop walking until you reach the village, and, for G”d’s sake, (forgive me, boss) whatever you do, don’t look back!” “OK, OK. Whatever you say. Thanks for the help” I say with a big phony smile pasted on my lips. I’d have sooner hauled off and smacked that angel with that smarmy look on his face. But no time. We gotta keep moving.

It was a long trek, but just as the sun was rising the next morning we were on the outskirts of the little village. All of a sudden, bada-bing, bada-bang, bada-boom, all heck breaks lose around Sodom and Gomorrah. “Don’t look” I said half to myself and half out loud. I shooed my wife and daughters in front of me. The it happened. That wife of mine, who never did listen to anything I said, stopped in her tracks and craned her neck around to see what was happening. I shouted to stop her, but it was too late. Before my eyes she turned into a pillar of salt! Well, I have to be honest and say that at that moment regret for my wife was the last thing on my mind. I was just plain scared. So I grabbed the daughters and we ran inside the village gate.

It was that evening before the enormity of what had happened dawned on me. My wife was gone. My home, my adopted city. Gone. Poof. Wiped out. We could see the smoking ruins from atop the village wall. We cried, all three of us, and hugged and held each other. They had lost their husbands. No goodniks that they were, they were still my daughter’s husbands and providers. And their Mother.

We stayed in the village a few days, but we really didn’t like it there, and being so close to the valley we could still see the smoking ruins. So I took the girls and headed up further into the hills and found us a nice cave to live in.

It was a pretty miserable existence, and frankly, I was feeling pretty miserable. Luckily, I had thought to stash some wine and beer in the sacks, and I started to drown my sorrows. Sometimes, I would wake up not remembering what I had done the night before. My daughters both had these mysterious looks on their faces. I finally figured out what had happened a few months later. They must have taken advantage of my drunken stupor and each of them must have lain with me and gotten pregnant! As if things weren’t bad enough, now I was as bad as those wicked Sodomites. Oh, sure, fathers sometimes slept with their daughters, but in our family it just wasn’t right, and we never did it. Until now, I guess. I feel so icky. And Yom Kippur won’t be invented for quite some time to come, so how am I supposed to deal with all this guilt? I’ve still got some wine left…

Tell me mazal tov! I’m a grandfather. Twice. Yeah, so I’m also their father… I’m learning to get over that. Although it’s a little hard to forget. Those daughters of mine, never could resist playing a cruel joke on me. Naming the kids Moab and Ben-ammi. Oy!

But the shame of it all keeps me a prisoner here in our little cave. Soon, I’ll send my daughters and grandsons on their way. I’m gonna stay here because I just can’t face my relatives…especially uncle Avi and aunt Sara. I just don’t want to have to explain these two boys. So I guess I’ll never get to see my kinfolk again…but I imagine my grandsons and their grandsons will be messing around with the grandsons of my kinfolk and their grandsons’ grandsons. Hope they get along with each other. And I hope they learn to trust uncle Avi. Try to put one over on him like I did and you’ll wind up paying the price.*

Well, gotta go. There’s a cute little redhead back in the village I’ve had my eye on for a while.

Epigraph

There ends Lot’s Journal. For some reason, it never made it into the holy stories. Not sure why. That’s why I’m publishing it now. Maybe people will like it. Sure, it’s cynical and self-indulgent. But heck, there’s plenty of that in the holy stories already, fer cryin’ out loud.

Me? I’m a distant descendant of Lot. My ancestors learned the hard way that the descendants of Lot’s uncle Abraham were not to be messed with. They practically wiped us out. Those of us who survived decided “if ya can’t beat ’em, join ’em” so now we’re all worshipping this El Gd. Supposedly, he’s THE Gd. But we keep a few statues of Baal and Ashtarte around just in case. Outside, in the nearby square, I can hear this Elisha fella warmin’ up the crowd. He’s supposed to be pretty good, although I hear he’s not too keen on us keeping idols around. Same old, same old, just like his teacher Eliyahu. Anyway, I got nothing better to do, guess I’ll go give him a listen.

Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian

© 1999, 2004 by Adrian A. Durlester

And now, for those who wanted the first part of the story…..see my musing from Lekh-Lekha 5765.

Other Musings on this parasha:

Vayeira 5778 – The Unitentional Test
Vayeira 5777 – He’s a Family Guy (?) (Redux and Revised 5769)
Vayeira 5766 – The Price of Giving (Redux/Revised 5766)
Vayeira 5775 – He’s a Family Guy (Revised Redux 5769)
Vayeira 5774–Plainly Spoken (Redux & Revised from 5762)
Vayera 5773 – Do Your Own Unpacking
Vayera 5772 – Well?
Vayera 5771 – Density
Vayera 5770 – Not Even Ten?
Vayeira 5769 – He’s a Family Guy (?)
Vayera 5767-Revised 5759-Whoops! (or Non-Linear Thinking)
Vayera 5766-The Price of Giving
Vayera 5762-Plainly Spoken
Vayera 5759-Whoops! (or “Non-Linear Thinking?”)
Vayera 5757-Technical Difficulties

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Random Musing Before Shabbat–Noah 5779—The Loud, Large Voice

Warning: another one of my truly random musings. No destination in mind, so it went where it went.

Go ahead. Read it. Read the Haftarah for parashat Noakh, from Isaiah. Here’s a link to the text in Hebrew and English from Sefaria: https://www.sefaria.org/Isaiah.54.1-55.5?lang=bi

Come back here when you’ve finished reading it. I’ll wait.

Okay. what did you think? Did it seem sincere, truthful, uplifting, encouraging? What words would you use to describe it? Did these words make you want to return to G”d?

Here’s my take, and my problem with this haftarah. Our tradition teaches us that we judge a prophet by whether or no their prophecies come true. Now look at all those promises G”d make to us in these verses. Were any of them truly kept?

Some of them were. For a time. Our numbers did increase, and we did indeed spread out over the earth (though some of that spreading out was the result of our being dispossessed of the land of our covenant and  inheritance.
Have we been devoid of shame? Again, for brief periods yes. However, losing possession of your ancestral land is sort of shaming in and of itself.

Now, we all know the stock answers to this litany of complaints. Our arrangement with G”d was/is covenantal. When we don’t keep our end of the bargain, G”d doesn’t keep G”d’s end either. Except that Isaiah doesn’t say that.

According to Isaiah, G”d admits to turning G”d’s back on us, to hiding G”d’s face from us. Now G”d is apologizing for doing that, inviting us back, and promising not to do it again, and to be always faithful. Verses 54: 5-11, with the key words coming in verse 10:

כֵּ֥ן נִשְׁבַּ֛עְתִּי מִקְּצֹ֥ף עָלַ֖יִךְ וּמִגְּעָר־בָּֽךְ׃

So I swear that I will not Be angry with you or rebuke you.

Right….(oh, damn you, Bill Cosby! Now I can never use that amusing reference again in good conscience. Teaching about Noah will forever be changed.)

G”d doesn’t say “if you continue to follow My ways, then I will not be angry with you, and my loyalty to you should not be shaken.” No conditions are stated. “But they are implied!” I hear you cry. Are they?

Look, I’ll be up front here. Why this matters to me at all is because it impacts on my understanding of G”d. It impacts on my belief as to whether there really are truths. And at this time and in this place, that matters a lot. Things are not normal. The notions of truths and facts is becoming increasingly hazy. My Judaism, my faith, is one thing that helps me to get through the craziness that is happening all around me. It is, even at the best of times, a tenuous faith. Not for lack of belief. Unlike some, I have no need for the biblical accounts to be factual, or the Talmudic discourses to be based on some mythical oral Torah. The world is not 5,779 years old. There’s little archaeological evidence for anything in the Torah, and not as much as one might think to support the books of Nevi’im and Ketuvim. However, since I don’t think of those works as histories, that doesn’t trouble me.
Accounts of G”d’s behavior are another matter. Torah is replete with accounts of an impetuous, temperamental, jealous G”d with really poor parenting skills. It is also replete with a few accounts of a loving, caring, G”d (though not as many as one might think, if you actually count them.) Here in Noakh we have a G”d who, through inattention or happenstance (or deliberate intent, or even just bad planning) winds up having created really wicked, evil humans. So G”d just wipes them out. Then, regretting that, G”d promises not to wipe humankind out again…by flood. Here we have a G”d that is threatened by humankind and so confounds their speech. Etiologies are useful things, but do we really need to drag G”d into all of them? Ah, but G”d is the explanation for all the things we can’t explain or wonder about, right? So for our ancient ancestors, G”d (or gods) became central characters in etiological stories.

Does G”d need to be the Creator of all things? Couldn’t G”d just be a force for “x” in the universe? I say “x” because I tried a lot of different words in there, and each and every time I found a reason why that word didn’t really work. For example, I tried “good.” But if G”d is only a force for good, what balances that? In a universe that is only good, is there a need for G”d? It seems our ancestors did see how everything seemed to be made of opposing things – dark-light night-day, good-evil, sun-moon, land-sky, etc. Creation in Torah is very much about these categories.

On the other hand, gan eden is paradise – until Adam and Chava eat from the tree “of the knowledge of good and evil.” So knowledge is the root of good and evil? Without this knowledge, what, exactly, where Adam and Chava supposed to do in Gan Eden, besides tend it?

I’ve gone quite far afield, I fear. I’m just trying to assemble the many pieces of our tradition into something that I find reasonably satisfactory as support for getting through crazy times like these. Lately, G”d has become an increasingly troubling part of that process. I’m having difficulty finding support froma  G”d that let us suffer centuries of slavery in Egypt. The G”d that sat by during the Shoah. (Yes, I know, I am very much in Eli Wiesel’s camp here in blaming humanity and not G”d, but still…) The rabbis teach us that G”d allowed the destruction of the second Temple and the eventual diaspora due to senseless hatred among the Jewish people.

But where is the G”d that promised to never turn G”d’s face away from us again, to not be angry with us, to be ever faithful to us? If You are out there, I’d love to hear from You. You’ve been awfully quiet these last few millennia. Every so often I hear the faint murmurings of the kol d’mamah daka, the still small voice. These few precious moments had been enough to help me get through. Now, though, things are pretty bad around here, on this planet, G”d. It may be time for the return of the big, loud voice – the one that was more than we could bear at Sinai. The Loud, Large VOICE.  I know that many humans are losing their ability to remain calm. If you don’t speak up loudly, G”d, then we may have to do it ourselves. It won’t be pretty. Without Your help, we might not succeed in saving our society and our planet.  Are You listening, G”d? Speak up.

Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian
(c)2018 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:
Noach 5778 – Armageddon, Loopholes, and Theisms
Noah 5777 – Tzur Yisrael and Standing Rock
Noakh 5776 – Two Short Thoughts on Noah
Noakh 5775 – To Make a Name For Ourselves (Revisited)
Noakh 5774 – Let’s Rebuild That Tower
Noakh 5773 – Nothing New
Noakh 5772 – The Long Haul
Noakh 5771 – Redux 5765 – A P’shat in the Dark
Noakh 5770 – Don’t Ham It Up
Noah 5768 – Redux 5761 – Getting Noticed
Noakh 5766-What A Nimrod! (Revised)
Noakh 5765-A Pshat In The Dark
Noach 5764-Finding My Rainbow
Noach 5763-Striving to be Human
Noach 5762-To Make a Name for Ourselves
Noach 5761-Getting NoticedNoach 5760-What a Nimrod!

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Random Musing Before Shabbat–Lekh Lekha 5779—Here’s a How-De-Do

As someone who regularly works to help people understand that the Bible is not a history textbook, I can find myself awfully caught up in trying to figure out historical and similar puzzles presented to us by the text.
One such question is brought to the fore by the words at the very start of this parasha.

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ׃

The LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

The words translated as “your native land” are actually two separate words meaning “from your (masculine singular) land and from “your (masculine singular) birthplace. The trope (cantillation) in the two words connects one to the other, so “you native land” is not an unreasonable way to translate the phrase. However, it obscures what would otherwise be problematic if the two separate words and their meanings were not conflated into the single phrase. One’s birthplace and native land can be, and usually are, distinct things. The United States is my native land, but the place of my birth is in the Bronx borough of the City of New York, which is also Bronx County of the State of New York. I could even get more specific and mention the neighborhood or phone exchange to even further isolate my exact birthplace.
Pride of place is nothing new. It existed as much in ancient times as it does now.  We have national pride, state pride, hometown pride, and place of birth pride. So did they. which makes this situation even more confusing.
Where Avram was born is never mentioned in the Torah. The text tells us only that Terach had three sons, Avram, Nahum, and Haran. It tells us that Haran was born in Ur Kasdim, where he also died, leaving behind a son named Lot. Terach was most likely a nomad, so who knows if Avram and Nahor were also born in Ur Kasdim.
Ur Kasdim, Ur of the Chaldeans. Who were the Chaldeans? They were the people that occupied the southeastern end of Mesopotamia centuries later. Oops. Anachronism. The “kasdim” or Chaldeans were tribes of Arabic origin that migrated up to Mesopotamia in the early 9th century BCE. They were either absorbed by or became the roots of the second (neo) Babyloniona empire. So “Ur Kasdim” is clearly an anachronistic reference.
Ur Kasdim is likely located at the site of Tell el-Muqayyar in southern Iraq. In ancient times, it would have been a coastal city, but now it’s about 10 miles inland. At that time, the Gulf extended much further into the land, and the Tigris and Euphrates didn’t meet and merge as they do today.
Now look at a map and you’ll see another problem. Latitudinally, it’s almost a straight line to Canaan from Ur. Yes, through what is now part of the Arabian desert, but back then it was a more reasonable journey to make. So why would someone traveling from Ur Kasdim to the land of Canaan travel northwest along the Euphrates about 750 miles to Harran and then head southwest through Damascus and down into Canaan? It’s a journey that takes one almost 550 miles out of the way.
Why would nomads settle down near a large urban center like Ur or Harran in any case? Seems uncharacteristic.
(Why does the Torah love to confuse us with people and places with the same name? Terach’s deceased son Haran, and the city of Haran -or Harran. Don’t even get me started on the Dinah story.)
Muslim tradition, and some Jewish and Christian scholars believe that Avram came from somewhere near Harran, in what is now southern Turkey, on it’s border with Syria. There is a town not 20 miles from Harran named Urfa.
The Torah is clear that Avram receives his direction to lekh lekha, go forth for yourself while in Harran. But Harran was clearly NOT Avram’s birthplace, perhaps not even his land. Do nomads even have a sense of home land or birthplace? Not to mention that the area of Harran was of a different social and cultural  community than that of southeastern Mesopotamia, and it’s towns and city-states (including Ur.) So why does the Torah use those spefic words referring to Avram’s land and birthplace when it was not the place from which he would be going forth?
Was G”d (or the Torah’s authors) simply engaging in some rhetorical arts here?
Is it merely coincidental that the place that G”d reveals to Avram as the place to go, Canaan,is the same place the Torah tells us that his father Terach had started out for decades earlier? More rhetorical arts? Is the journey truly a mystery if it’s the continuation of the one started by Avram’s dad?
[As a side note, I should mention that the Rambam -Maimonides- was convinced that Avram came from a place called Kutha, and was convinced that he was living in a Sabean star-worshiping culture. (The Sabean culture is probably the biblical Sheba, an community that originated on the Arabian peninsula but had practices that took hold among many Mesopotamian communities, including as far north as Harran.) The Rambam goes on at length about this in his “Guide to the Perplexed.” Yet another party heard from in this debate.]
If it’s not important to the story, why mention it? Do we need to know that Terach came from someplace they labeled Ur, and settled in Harran? Other than the fact that it places Avram in Harran to receive G”d’s call, it’s not particularly useful information. It distracts from the narrative, and adds needless confusion to it. Noah begot…blah, blah, blah… and Avram was living with his nephew Lot in Harran when G”d spoke to him. Stick is a genealogy and you’re done. Enough said. But no. They have to add some corroborative detail.
Just four years ago I updated a musing I wrote about this parasha ten years ago, and called it “More Nodding Heads, Whistling Airs, and Snickersnees.” Though in it I focused on different pieces of text from the parasha, how interesting it is that I find myself, in reference to this bit of text from the parasha, inclined to reference  a follow-up scene to the section from “The Mikado” that was the basis for those musings in 5769 and 5775. So I ask:  Is the Torah guilty of what is referenced by this exchange from Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Mikado.”

Ko-Ko. Well, a nice mess you’ve got us into, with your nodding head and the deference due to a man of pedigree!
Pooh-Bah. Merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.
Pitti-Sing. Corroborative detail indeed! Corroborative fiddlestick!
Ko-Ko. And you’re just as bad as he is with your cock-and-a-bull stories about catching his eye and his whistling an air. But that’s so like you! You must put in your oar!
Pooh-Bah. But how about your big right arm?
Pitti-Sing. Yes, and your snickersnee!

In attempting to shore up a thin narrative with some detail, did the Torah merely create more confusion? Corroborative fiddlestick indeed!
Why does it matter? The story really begins here with G”d’s call to Avram. All before is preface, genealogy, and etiology. Right? I just can’t let it go. I know the Torah isn’t history. However it is a story with a narrative. That narrative ought to make some sense, have some logic. It needs only a basic framework in which to do so.
So why confuse the reader with unnecessary corroborative detail that is as apparently inaccurate as that offered by Pooh-Bah, Pitti-Sing, and Ko-Ko?
Here’s a How-De-Do!
When I say to you
Go forth for yourself today
To whence I’ll state another day
Bring your whole family, too!
Here’s a how-de-do!
Here’s a how-de-do
Here’s a pretty mess!
And I must confess,
Started off in Ur Kasdim!
Wound up in Harran ‘twould seem
Witness our distress,
Here’s a pretty mess!
Here’s a pretty mess
Here’s a state of things
In our brains it rings!
Seems Chaldeans lived there later
A mistake wrote by Creator?
Blasphemy that brings!
Here’s a state of things!
Here’s a state of things!
With a passion that’s intense
Torah I worship and adore,
But the laws of common sense
We oughtn’t to ignore.
If Torah seems un-true,
Then what are we to do!
Here’s a pretty state of things!
Here’s a pretty how-de-do!
Here’s a pretty state of things!
A pretty state of things!
Here’s a how-de-do (Here’s a how-de-do) (Here’s a how-de-do)
For if what Torah says is not true,
It makes it hard to be a Jew,
Here’s a pretty, pretty state of things!

Here’s a pretty how-de-do!

(With apologies to Sir William Schwenck Gilbert)
Shabbat Shalom,
Adrian
(c)2018 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:
Lech Lecha 5778 – Take My Wife -Please
Leck Lekha 5777 – Embracing the Spirit of Avram
Lekh Lekha 5776 – The Other Siders (Redux 5766)
Lekh Lekha 5775 – More Nodding Heads, Whistlign Airs, and Snickersnees
Lekh L’kha 5774 – Theistic Singularity: Revisiting the Intellectual Ekhad
Lekh Lekha 5773 – The Journey Continues
Lekh Lekha 5772 – Out of Context
Lekh Lekha 5771 (5765, 5760) Things Are Seldom What They Seem An Excerpt from the “Journal of Lot”
Lekh Lkha 5770 – Revisiting the Ten Percent Solution
Lekh L’kha 5769 – Of Nodding Heads, Whistling Airs, and Snickersnees
Lekh Lekha 5768 – The Covenant That (Almost) Wasn’t – Excerpts from the Diary of Terakh
Lekh Lekha 5767-Penile Pilpul
Lekh Lekha 5766-The Other Siders
Lekh Lekha 5765 – Redux 5760
Lekh Lekha 5764-Ma’aseir Mikol-The Ten Percent Solution
Lekh Lekha 5763-No Explanations
Lekh Lekha 5761-The Intellectual Echad
Lekh L’kha 5758-Little White Lies

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Random Musing Before Shabbat–B’reishit 5779—From Chava’s Faith to Fan Fiction

I started writing these weekly musings in 5757 – late 1996. Within a few years, my life had turned upside down. Though, in hindsight, I can view the rejection of my candidacy for rabbinical school at HUC-JIR in the mid-90s as a positive, one that put me on a path that I now realize is more suitable (if somewhat less remunerative) to who I am, at the time I was still somewhat stunned to have my perceived ambitions thwarted. In hindsight, I can now accept that this significantly contributed to the end of my first marriage, however it also led me to a different path to find the fuel to stoke the burning Jewish fire within me. In 1998 I became a student at Vanderbilt University Divinity School. While not necessarily a traditional path for one seeking to become a Jewish educator, it was the opportunity that presented itself to me, and I gladly took it. I was one of only a few Jewish students in the program, and the school was particularly open to allowing me to shape a program of study appropriate to my Jewish path.I was able to simultaneously appreciate the uniqueness of my Judaism while being given the tools to understand and engage with faith traditions other than my own.

I relate this now to provide some context to the reality in which I wrote the words of my musing from 5761 – late 2000, just a few months after completing my MTS degree at Vanderbilt, and at the time I started teaching at the Akiva Day School in Nashville. The spiritual aspects of my faith were strong at the time, despite just having spent so much time engaged in academic biblical criticism. Perhaps, having spent so much time engaging with Torah, Talmud, and Judaism from an academic and critical perspective, my brain and heart were longing for some emunah sh’leimah, complete faith, some simple faith. The intervening years between then and now have been a constant wearing of potentially conflicting hats – of faith and scholarship, and, on the whole, I think I have managed to navigate through it rather well, albeit  there has been a growing tendency away from simple faith to more complicated negotiations between the two hats. If I look through my musings over these last 21 years, the sine wave is apparent.

This year, a fortuitous circumstance offered me the opportunity to revisit the words of the musing I wrote for B’reishit in 5761 (late 2000.) It is certainly not the first time I have worked with a student preparing to observe becoming bar mitzvah on the Shabbat when Bereshit is read, but it was the first time I was working with a student named Seth at the same time. As is being done in many (Reform) congregations these days, where students reading an entire parasha, let alone a single complete (non-triennial aliyah) is less common an expectation,  students are being given the opportunity to indicate an interest in chanting from a particular set of verses in their parasha that is of interest to them. I will admit that, in this case, sensing an opportunity, I put my thumb on the scale to encourage the student to read verses that included the story of the birth of his biblical namesake. I think the words I wrote back in 2000 will explain why:

Random Musings Before Shabbat
Bereshit 5761- Chava’s Faith

How ripe Bereshit is.

Simple but powerful messages.

Gd creates. Gd punishes. Gd saves. Failure to obey has a price. Humans can overcome and survive tragedies. Humans can and will kill each other. One day in seven is set aside to honor the one who created us.

But there is for me, no more powerful statement in all of Bereshit than this:

Even after the pain and torture of having one son murder another, Chava was willing to have the faith to have another child.

That simple statement of faith means more to me than almost any other I know of. It is a lesson for all of us.

Now, the student in me wonders if the redactor/author of that particular piece of, in shaping that story, thought about that intentionally. (yes, there are lots of other practical and philosophical reasons why Adam and Chava had to have another son…but that’s not the hat I’m wearing now.) Well, since I know in my heart who the ultimate redactor/author was, I’m sure of it.

May the One who gave Chava the courage and faith to bear Seth, give to all of us that same courage and faith.

Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian
© 2000 by Adrian A. Durlester

I’ve left the text intact, not changing the “Gd” to my now preferred G”d (the ” between the letters resembling  יי , the  abbreviation which we use to represent the tetragrammaton,the usage of which was an evolutionary process for me over the years.)

Here in 2018, my feelings about Chava’s choice are pretty much the same.  Notice, too, my reference to which “hat” I was wearing, a clue to the developing significance of that dichotomy.

Now, I’ll admit that I’m being a little eisegetical here (exegesis is the process of drawing meaning from the text, eisegesis is the opposite, attempting to implant meaning into the text) as the Torah says nothing about why Adam and Chava had another child. They simply did.

After G”d calls Cain to account for his murderous act and sends him off to wander the earth, we get a genealogy of Cain, leading to his great-great-great-great grandson, Lamekh, the first person noted as being a polygamist. One of Lamech’s wives bore two sons, and the other bore a son and a daughter. Then Lamekh makes a strange pronunciation in verses 23 and 24.

And Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; O wives of Lamech, give ear to my speech. I have slain a man for wounding me, And a lad for bruising me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”

It’s necessary to recall that in punishing Cain, G”d said that punishment will be delayed until the seventh generation, so that Cain’s suffering should be prolonged. That’s the point of the mark of Cain which told people that Cain should not be killed, so his suffering would last longer. Sigh.

There’s a really fun rabbit hole to wander down here, if you’d like. The rabbis had a field day with these two verses trying to explain them and because there is none in the Torah. Not just the rabbis and commentators were intrigued by this mystery. The Christian’s even named the two verses “Lamech’s Song of the Sword,” a reference connecting these words to one of his sons being the “father” of the forging of metal implements (and thus the sword.) Lamekh’s sons by his other wife were the fathers of musical instruments and shepherding. Remember that Lamekh is the first polygamist. Dialectic, thy name is Torah. 

Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, even embellished the story with further speculation in his Book of Moses, now considered LDS scripture. Wait until you see where he took it. That’s just a peek into what’s beyond the event horizon of this wormhole, and that’s all I’m going to give you. Enter beyond, if you dare.

So, after these two strange verses, we get to the meat of this act which I consider so important and which most people, I think, overlook:

וַיֵּ֨דַע אָדָ֥ם עוֹד֙ אֶת־אִשְׁתּ֔וֹ וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֔ן וַתִּקְרָ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ שֵׁ֑ת כִּ֣י שָֽׁת־לִ֤י אֱלֹהִים֙ זֶ֣רַע אַחֵ֔ר תַּ֣חַת הֶ֔בֶל כִּ֥י הֲרָג֖וֹ קָֽיִן׃

Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, meaning, “God has provided me with another offspring in place of Abel,” for Cain had killed him.

Now, in typically misogynistic fashion, Torah gives credit to Adam for the fathering of Seth (though crediting Chava with the naming and it’s explanatory rationale.) It makes no mention of how Chava might have felt. In an attempt to right this wrong, I named my original musing “Chava’s Faith” for I truly believe it likely that Chava put more thought into it than Adam.

Of Seth we know little other than he was born. But he carried with him all the hopes and dreams of Adam and Chava that must have been shattered when Cain slew Abel, and G”d issued protracted punishment to Cain. We know only that Seth fathered Enosh.

וּלְשֵׁ֤ת גַּם־הוּא֙ יֻלַּד־בֵּ֔ן וַיִּקְרָ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ אֱנ֑וֹשׁ אָ֣ז הוּחַ֔ל לִקְרֹ֖א בְּשֵׁ֥ם יְהוָֽה׃ (פ)

And to Seth, in turn, a son was born, and he named him Enosh. It was then that men began to invoke the LORD by name.

And in later verses, we learned that Seth lived  912 years, and had many sons and daughters.

I thought about it then in 2000, and I still think about it today. How many couples, having lost one child to murder by another one of their children, would go ahead and have another child? Yes, I can imagine the dogged determinism of some couples leading them forward in this. Even so, it is a risky choice. A choice that really does require faith (or a fatalistic acceptance?)

And what of Cain? A murderer of his own brother, doomed to wander the earth for seven generations. I think I’ve another potential book to be written here to add to my list that also includes the story of the period of time after the akeidah (binding of Isaac) that Yitzchak spent living with Ishmael and Hagar. Here’s the other book I now contemplate: the imagined story of later in life encounters between Adam, Chava, and Seth with the wandering Cain. Did Cain ever openly seek forgiveness, and repent for his crime? Could parents and younger sibling ever forgive Cain? Could Cain have gone on to realize the utter foolishness of responding to G”d with “am I my brother’s guardian?” Of attempting to lie to G”d? Did/could Cain ever feel remorse? Or we can have the imaginary scenarios of Abel not dying of his wounds, or of Abel, full of pride at G”d’s acceptance of his offerings and sick of his brother’s jealousy, strikes and kills Cain? Is it out of the realm of possibility?

Now, some would suggest these are pointless speculation – the stories are what the stories are. A four-five-thousand-year-old tradition has been built upon this story as it was recorded in the Torah. However, if the Torah was not intended to spur speculation, how do we explain the many holes, ambiguities, and conflicting accounts it contains? (Yes, for some, that answer is the oral Torah, but I’m not in a place where I can accept that as being received simultaneously with Torah at Sinai.)

The story of Cain murdering Abel itself begins with an ellipsis:

וַיֹּ֥אמֶר קַ֖יִן אֶל־הֶ֣בֶל אָחִ֑יו וַֽיְהִי֙ בִּהְיוֹתָ֣ם בַּשָּׂדֶ֔ה וַיָּ֥קָם קַ֛יִן אֶל־הֶ֥בֶל אָחִ֖יו וַיַּהַרְגֵֽהוּ׃

Cain said to his brother Abel … and when they were in the field, Cain set upon his brother Abel and killed him.

What, exactly, did Cain say to Abel? The Torah practically cries out for readers to play mad-libs here and in so many other places. Or, try this on for size: the Torah was written to encourage the creation of fan fiction. (Perhaps that’s what the oral Torah ultimately is – lovingly drafted fan fiction?) Call it midrash or fan fiction as you please. Come, join me. Let’s play Torah’s game.

Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian
©2018 b y Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

B’reishit 5778 – Last Week’s Thoughts (for Hol Hamoied Sukkot)
B’reishit 5777-Something Good (Redeeming Cain?)
B’reisheet 5776 – Temptation
B’reisheet 5775 – One Favorite Things (not a typo!)
B’reisheet 5774 – Toldot Adrian
B’reishit 5773 – Mixing Metaphors
B’reishit 5772 – The Unified Field Theorem of the Twelve Steps
B’reishit 5771 – B’reishit Bara Anashim
B’reishit 5770 – One G”d, But Two Trees?
B’reishit 5769 – Do Fences Really Make Good Neighbors?
B’reishit 5767-Many Beginnings
Bereshit 5766-Kol D’mei Akhikha
Bereshit 5765 (5760)-Failing to Understand-A Learning Experience
Bereshit 5764-Gd’s Regrets
Bereshit 5762–The Essential Ingredient
Bereshit 5763–Striving to be Human
Bereshit 5761–Chava’s Faith
Bereshit 5760-Failing to Understand

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Random Musing Before Shabbat–Ha’azinu 5779-A Still Insincere Hymn

I’m recycling this musing from six years back because of my recent encounters with this text while working with a student preparing to celebrate becoming a bat mitzvah this Shabbat. As I sought to find ways to help the student engage with this particular haftarah, I really struggled. Cherry-picking out a few good nuggets entirely out of context seemed the only thing that worked. Well, sort of. I don’t really think it worked for her, and I know it didn’t work for me. This haftarah deserves being in the list of potentially irredeemable texts. So I share with you my thoughts from six years ago with a little updating, editing, and a few additions.

Whether you’ve known me for a while, or are new to my musings, I do believe my penchant for redeeming so-called irredeemable texts is evident. Well today, this week, this month, this year, this annual repetition of the parasha, this hafatarah I may have met the limits of my passion for trying to redeem a portion of sacred Jewish Biblical text.

It’s not that this text is particularly heinous, perverse, bloody, or any such thing. It’s just that, in my encounter with the haftarah for parashat Ha’azinu this year, which comes from II Samuel chapter 22, I did not feel that usual tug that often draws me to look for something redeemable in an otherwise troubling text. I read it, repeatedly, waiting for the moment when something would jump out at me, or an idea would form in my mind that could lead me into potential ways to redeem the text. A few times a verse, or a part thereof, grabbed my attention, but alas, in moments the “aha” feeling was gone, my hopes for a path to redemption for the text dashed yet again.

Part of what troubles me with this haftarah is its focus. It is essentially a hymn of praise from David, thanking and praising G”d for helping David to defeat his enemies. In contrast, in parashat Ha’azinu, Moshe is praising G”d for all that G”d has done for the all the children of Israel. From what we know of these two great, yet flawed leaders, I suppose we should not be surprised that Moshe’s hymn is community-themed whereas David’s hymn is more individual.  Moshe certainly managed to stay a lot less self-focused throughout his life than did David.

David (if indeed, he is the author, and even existed)  paints a very anthropomorphic picture of G”d is his hymn.

וַתִּרְעַשׁ֙ הָאָ֔רֶץ מוֹסְד֥וֹת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם יִרְגָּ֑זוּ וַיִּֽתְגָּעֲשׁ֖וּ כִּֽי־חָ֥רָה לֽוֹ׃ עָלָ֤ה עָשָׁן֙ בְּאַפּ֔וֹ וְאֵ֥שׁ מִפִּ֖יו תֹּאכֵ֑ל גֶּחָלִ֖ים בָּעֲר֥וּ מִמֶּֽנּוּ׃ וַיֵּ֥ט שָׁמַ֖יִם וַיֵּרַ֑ד וַעֲרָפֶ֖ל תַּ֥חַת רַגְלָֽיו׃ וַיִּרְכַּ֥ב עַל־כְּר֖וּב וַיָּעֹ֑ף וַיֵּרָ֖א עַל־כַּנְפֵי־רֽוּחַ׃ וַיָּ֥שֶׁת חֹ֛שֶׁךְ סְבִיבֹתָ֖יו סֻכּ֑וֹת חַֽשְׁרַת־מַ֖יִם עָבֵ֥י שְׁחָקִֽים׃מִנֹּ֖גַהּ נֶגְדּ֑וֹ בָּעֲר֖וּ גַּחֲלֵי־אֵֽשׁ׃ יַרְעֵ֥ם מִן־שָׁמַ֖יִם יְהוָ֑ה וְעֶלְי֖וֹן יִתֵּ֥ן קוֹלֽוֹ׃ וַיִּשְׁלַ֥ח חִצִּ֖ים וַיְפִיצֵ֑ם בָּרָ֖ק ויהמם [וַיָּהֹֽם׃] וַיֵּֽרָאוּ֙ אֲפִ֣קֵי יָ֔ם יִגָּל֖וּ מֹסְד֣וֹת תֵּבֵ֑ל בְּגַעֲרַ֣ת יְהוָ֔ה מִנִּשְׁמַ֖ת ר֥וּחַ אַפּֽוֹ׃ יִשְׁלַ֥ח מִמָּר֖וֹם יִקָּחֵ֑נִי יַֽמְשֵׁ֖נִי מִמַּ֥יִם רַבִּֽים׃

8 Then the earth rocked and quaked,
The foundations of heaven shook —
Rocked by His indignation.
9 Smoke went up from His nostrils,
From His mouth came devouring fire;
Live coals blazed forth from Him.
10 He bent the sky and came down,
Thick cloud beneath His feet.
11 He mounted a cherub and flew;
He was seen on the wings of the wind.
12 He made pavilions of darkness about Him,
Dripping clouds, huge thunderheads;
13 In the brilliance before Him
Blazed fiery coals.
14 The Lord thundered forth from heaven,
The Most High sent forth His voice;
15 He let loose bolts, and scattered them;
Lightning, and put them to rout.
16 The bed of the sea was exposed,
The foundations of the world were laid bare
By the mighty roaring of the Lord,
At the blast of the breath of His nostrils.
17 He reached down from on high, He took me,
Drew me out of the mighty waters; (JPS, 1985)

I admit that I don’t take to anthropomorphism well, so that prejudices me from the start. This text also strikes me as one of the least sincere hymns of praise I’ve ever read. I don’t, for one second, believe that David really believes what he is writing. It is all poetic imagery for the masses. It is all metaphor and simile. It is contrived, superficial, and not that well written. To me, it has the feel of David thinking to himself “hmmm…I won. I guess I’d better write a nice hymn of praise to G”d so I can appear humble and not be perceived as believing the victory was because of what I did and not what G”d did. Yeah, that’s what the people and the priests will like.” Very political. Crafted of sound bytes.

David (or the David created by the authors of this text) reveals bits of his smarmy self:

וַיֹּצֵ֥א לַמֶּרְחָ֖ב אֹתִ֑י יְחַלְּצֵ֖נִי כִּי־חָ֥פֵֽץ בִּֽי׃ יִגְמְלֵ֥נִי יְהוָ֖ה כְּצִדְקָתִ֑י כְּבֹ֥ר יָדַ֖י יָשִׁ֥יב לִֽי׃ כִּ֥י שָׁמַ֖רְתִּי דַּרְכֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה וְלֹ֥א רָשַׁ֖עְתִּי מֵאֱלֹהָֽי׃ כִּ֥י כָל־משפטו  לְנֶגְדִּ֑י וְחֻקֹּתָ֖יו לֹא־אָס֥וּר מִמֶּֽנָּה׃ וָאֶהְיֶ֥ה תָמִ֖ים ל֑וֹ וָאֶשְׁתַּמְּרָ֖ה מֵעֲוֺנִֽי׃ וַיָּ֧שֶׁב יְהוָ֛ה לִ֖י כְּצִדְקָתִ֑י כְּבֹרִ֖י לְנֶ֥גֶד עֵינָֽיו׃

20 He brought me out to freedom,
He rescued me because He was pleased with me.
21 The Lord rewarded me according to my merit,
He requited the cleanness of my hands.

22 For I have kept the ways of the Lord
And have not been guilty before my God;
23 I am mindful of all His rules
And have not departed from His laws.
24 I have been blameless before Him,
And have guarded myself against sinning —
25 And the Lord has requited my merit,
According to my purity in His sight.

To quote Bill Cosby: “….riiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.”  (Can’t use that one anymore.)

Oh, to be sure, there are some wonderful, sweet snippets that can be taken from this hafatarah. Yet only out of context do they appear as sweet and wonderful.

כִּֽי־אַתָּ֥ה נֵירִ֖י יְהוָ֑ה וַיהוָ֖ה יַגִּ֥יהַּ חָשְׁכִּֽי׃

29 You, O Lord, are my lamp;
The Lord lights up my darkness.

says David. only to spoil it with:

בְכָ֖ה אָר֣וּץ גְּד֑וּד בֵּאלֹהַ֖י אֲדַלֶּג־שֽׁוּר׃

30 With You, I can rush a barrier,
With my God, I can scale a wall.

We can pretend this may refer to other situations, but we know David is talking about war and battle. This is no Romeo hoping to scale Juliet’s balcony.

David even seems confused about where the credit belongs. One moment it is all “I” as he is saying:

אֶרְדְּפָ֥ה אֹיְבַ֖י וָאַשְׁמִידֵ֑ם וְלֹ֥א אָשׁ֖וּב עַד־כַּלּוֹתָֽם׃ וָאֲכַלֵּ֥ם וָאֶמְחָצֵ֖ם וְלֹ֣א יְקוּמ֑וּן וַֽיִּפְּל֖וּ תַּ֥חַת רַגְלָֽי׃

38 I pursued my enemies and wiped them out,
I did not turn back till I destroyed them.
39 I destroyed them, I struck them down;
They rose no more, they lay at my feet.

Yet in the following verse it is the capital y You

וַתַּזְרֵ֥נִי חַ֖יִל לַמִּלְחָמָ֑ה תַּכְרִ֥יעַ קָמַ֖י תַּחְתֵּֽנִי׃

40 You have girt me with strength for battle,
Brought low my foes before me,

In the following verse both sentiments mix:

וְאֹ֣יְבַ֔י תַּ֥תָּה לִּ֖י עֹ֑רֶף מְשַׂנְאַ֖י וָאַצְמִיתֵֽם׃

41 [You] Made my enemies turn tail before me,
My foes — and I wiped them out.
(the insertion is mine for clarity)

So which is it? “Thank G”d for doing it” or “I Did It…with a little help from G”d, of course.” Those are different sentiments indeed. Can you think of anyone that seems to be suffering from this same problem these days. Here’s a hint: “I alone can….”

Even the one bit of text in this haftarah that I like, and which has some seeming possibilities for redemption and use—

עִם־חָסִ֖יד תִּתְחַסָּ֑ד עִם־גִּבּ֥וֹר תָּמִ֖ים תִּתַּמָּֽם׃ עִם־נָבָ֖ר תִּתָּבָ֑ר וְעִם־עִקֵּ֖שׁ תִּתַּפָּֽל׃ וְאֶת־עַ֥ם עָנִ֖י תּוֹשִׁ֑יעַ וְעֵינֶ֖יךָ עַל־רָמִ֥ים תַּשְׁפִּֽיל׃

26 With the loyal You deal loyally;
With the blameless hero, blamelessly.
27 With the pure You act in purity,
And with the perverse You are wily.
28 To humble folk You give victory,
And You look with scorn on the haughty.

—is an inaccurate description of the reality of life ,even as it is described on our holy Jewish texts, for sometimes G”d is disloyal to the loyal, faults the blameless, is impure to the pure, is hard on the humble and is nice to the haughty. Would that G”d’s actions were always as balanced as David says. The very existence of Theodicy as a discipline/philosophical concept says otherwise.

If only David had stopped after these initial 7 verses:

וַיְדַבֵּ֤ר דָּוִד֙ לַֽיהוָ֔ה אֶת־דִּבְרֵ֖י הַשִּׁירָ֣ה הַזֹּ֑את בְּיוֹם֩ הִצִּ֨יל יְהוָ֥ה אֹת֛וֹ מִכַּ֥ף כָּל־אֹיְבָ֖יו וּמִכַּ֥ף שָׁאֽוּל׃ וַיֹּאמַ֑ר יְהוָ֛ה סַֽלְעִ֥י וּמְצֻדָתִ֖י וּמְפַלְטִי־לִֽי׃ אֱלֹהֵ֥י צוּרִ֖י אֶחֱסֶה־בּ֑וֹ מָגִנִּ֞י וְקֶ֣רֶן יִשְׁעִ֗י מִשְׂגַּבִּי֙ וּמְנוּסִ֔י מֹשִׁעִ֕י מֵחָמָ֖ס תֹּשִׁעֵֽנִי׃ מְהֻלָּ֖ל אֶקְרָ֣א יְהוָ֑ה וּמֵאֹיְבַ֖י אִוָּשֵֽׁעַ׃ כִּ֥י אֲפָפֻ֖נִי מִשְׁבְּרֵי־מָ֑וֶת נַחֲלֵ֥י בְלִיַּ֖עַל יְבַעֲתֻֽנִי׃ חֶבְלֵ֥י שְׁא֖וֹל סַבֻּ֑נִי קִדְּמֻ֖נִי מֹֽקְשֵׁי־מָֽוֶת׃ בַּצַּר־לִי֙ אֶקְרָ֣א יְהוָ֔ה וְאֶל־אֱלֹהַ֖י אֶקְרָ֑א וַיִּשְׁמַ֤ע מֵהֵֽיכָלוֹ֙ קוֹלִ֔י וְשַׁוְעָתִ֖י בְּאָזְנָֽיו׃

1 David addressed the words of this song to the Lord, after the Lord had saved him from the hands of all his enemies and from the hands of Saul. 2 He said:

O Lord, my crag, my fastness, my deliverer!
3 O God, the rock wherein I take shelter:
My shield, my mighty champion, my fortress and refuge!
My savior, You who rescue me from violence!

4 All praise! I called on the Lord,
And I was delivered from my enemies.

5 For the breakers of Death encompassed me,
The torrents of Belial terrified me;
6 The snares of Sheol encircled me,
The toils of Death engulfed me.

7 In my anguish I called on the Lord,
Cried out to my God;
In His Abode He heard my voice,
My cry entered His ears.

Not great, but not bad for a short hymn. Now, to be fair to David, Moshe also praises G”d as a warrior G”d – though Moshe also dwells on G”d’s treatment of the Israelites when they disobeyed, before he moves on to G”d’s vengeance upon the enemies of Israel. Moshe offers a reminder that perhaps David could have heeded:

מגדיל יְשׁוּע֣וֹת מַלְכּ֑וֹ וְעֹֽשֶׂה־חֶ֧סֶד לִמְשִׁיח֛וֹ לְדָוִ֥ד וּלְזַרְע֖וֹ עַד־עוֹלָֽם׃ לוּלֵ֗י כַּ֤עַס אוֹיֵב֙ אָג֔וּר פֶּֽן־יְנַכְּר֖וּ צָרֵ֑ימוֹ פֶּן־יֹֽאמְרוּ֙ יָדֵ֣ינוּ רָ֔מָה וְלֹ֥א יְהוָ֖ה פָּעַ֥ל כָּל־זֹֽאת׃

Deut 32:26 I might have reduced them to naught,
Made their memory cease among men,

27 But for fear of the taunts of the foe,
Their enemies who might misjudge
And say, “Our own hand has prevailed;
None of this was wrought by the Lord!”

Moshe’s hymn in parashat Ha’azinu is also a troubling text, for many reasons, but I have and still feel compelled to try and redeem it. The passion to do so with David’s hymn in the haftarah still remains absent for me at this time.

So again I ask myself “why is that?” There are far more troubling pieces of texts than this haftarah. Is it simply because the hymn feels disingenuous to me? Is it all just gut feeling? Is it the warrior G”d? (That’s certainly not unique.) Is it my discomfort with G”d as “rock?” Many like that image-I find it troubling. A rock may be strong, and last seemingly (but not at all in reality) forever, but all a rock does is sit there. That’s a bit too passive a G”d for me. I need a G”d that is both rock and Jell-O. Luckily for me, while Judaism doesn’t exactly provide a G”d who is like Jell-O, it certainly allows for a G”d who can be be firm and steadfast as well as soft and pliable.

Is it my disaffection for the monarchy? The haftarah ends with David thanking G”d with :

מגדיל יְשׁוּע֣וֹת מַלְכּ֑וֹ וְעֹֽשֶׂה־חֶ֧סֶד לִמְשִׁיח֛וֹ לְדָוִ֥ד וּלְזַרְע֖וֹ עַד־עוֹלָֽם׃

51 Tower of victory to His king,
Who deals graciously with His anointed,
With David and his offspring evermore.

As I have imagined G”d saying: “You Israelites wanted a monarchy despite My misgivings about that? OK, you got one. Deal with it.” Wasn’t such a successful experiment, was it. If David’s rule was the apex-and we can’t be sure it was-was it really that great? It was certainly pretty much all downhill (with a few, brief shining moments) after Solomon. It ended with the Hasmoneans. Need I say more?

I am still not sure what about this haftarah troubles me so. I still cannot say why I feel no compulsion to try and redeem it.

Others do not see the haftarah as I am experiencing it this year, this month, this day. Obviously, those choosing to connect this haftarah to the Torah paratha, with Moshe’s truly amazing speech in Ha’azinu didn’t see this text from II Samuel as that problematic. However, I have to ask: what were they thinking?

The ancient rabbis seem to be victims of the same willful blindness that today is leading our world astray. This haftarah, being held up as a polemic against bad religious practice instead seems to be a justification for narcissistic behavior on the part of rulers. As Mel Brooks put it “it’s good to be the King.”

In the JPS Haftarah Commentary, Michael Fishbane, in connecting and contrasting the parasha and haftarah, criticizes the people that Moshe is addressing as ones who turn against G”d and suffer for it. He lauds David as being faithful to G”d and constant in that faith even when success could lead him to do otherwise. He redeems the haftarah by having it illustrate clear choice in religious practice, G”d-centered or self-centered. I do agree with Fishbane’s assertion that all religious people confront this choice:

“a God-centered way of remembrance and humility, and a self-centered way of forgetfulness and pride.”

Fishbane, M. A. (2002). Haftarot. The JPS Bible Commentary (324). Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society.

I’d like to agree with Fishbane’s assessment of David’s humility and faithfulness, as it would give me a path to redemption for this haftarah. Alas, I do not. David’s own words (if they are indeed so, yet even if they are not) betray him. There is an awful lot of self-congratulatory lauding mixed in with David’s praise for G”d. David, in this chapter, in this haftarah,  sounds like a certain orange-toned demagogue that is currently plaguing our country.

Perhaps another week, another month, another year, another annual repetition of the parasha and this hafatarah I may yet find a way to redeem, at least for myself, this portion of sacred Jewish Biblical text. Not today. Not in today’s reality. The journey continues.

Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian
©2018 (portions ©2012) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Shabbat Shuvah/Ha’azinu 5778 – Random Rant
Ha’azinu 5776 – Still Not Trifling
Ha’azinu-Shabbat Shuvah 5775 – Who’s Got the Last Laugh Now
Ha’azinu/Shabbat Shuvah 5774 – 5774: A Torah Odyssey
Ha’azinu 5772 – An Insincere Hymn?
Ha’azinu/Shabbat Shuvah 5570-Pur Prayers Aren’t Bull
Haazinu 5766-Trifles (Updated from 5762)
Haazinu 5765/5763-How would It Look If…
Haazinu 5764-More Bull From Our Lips
Haazinu 5762–Trifles
Haazinu 5760-Bull from Our Lips

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Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayelekh-Shabbat Shuvah 5778—Return?

Return.
Again.
Land.
Soul.
What.
Who.
Where.
Born.
Reborn.

Return. But how can I go back?
Again. Have I been there before?
Land. Which land?
Soul. What is a soul? Do I have one? Is it me?
What. Am I?
Who. Am ?
Where. Am I?
Born. Once.
Reborn. Not yet.

Return. For a visit, an extended stay, forever?
Again. Isn’t once enough?
Land. I’m a renter. I don’t have a land. I grew up in apartments.
Soul. Like the soul music of my teen years, or the soul music of today?
What. No human being is a what.
Who. Every human being is a who.
Where. Every human being is some where.
Born. Every human being was born.
Reborn. Some human beings claim to be reborn. Me, I’m a skeptic.

Return. What if going forward rather than back is the better option?
Again. Is there any way out of this circular path?
Land. If my soul has a land, how do I find it?
Soul. Ditto.
What. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Who. Is my soul my who, or just part of it? Or is my who my soul, or part of it?
Where. Sometimes, even going back somewhere you don’t really know the destination.
Born. I come from a womb. Did my soul come from their as well?
Reborn. Doesn’t being reborn require death first? That sounds scary.

Return. Again you ask me to return. How can I return if I’m not sure where I’ve been?
Again. Mustn’t I have gone at least once in order to return yet again?
Land. Is real. It is earthy. It can be held in one’s hand. From it we were fashioned.
Soul. Is ethereal. It is heavenly. It is Dulcinea. It was breathed into us (and therefore not ours?)
What. Is what truth? Or can an untruth be a what? If so, what is what? Nothing? Everything?
Who.Who in a physical sense, or who in a conceptual sense?
Where. Quantum physics tells us there is no where. Only possibilities.
Born. Quantum physics tells us that birth results from observation/interaction. (Particle physics might say that birth results from annihilation.
Reborn. What particles collide, that’s exactly what happens. Their constituents parts are reborn as other things. Other whats, perhaps? Other wheres?

Return. Borrowed things are returned. Are we borrowed things, borrowed entities?
Land. Is land a place? A real place? An imaginary place?
Soul. Essence?  Sparks? Spice?
What. Must I become what I was before if I did not like what I was? Is such return mandatory?
Who. Must I become who I was before? Couldn’t I be someone else? Can I return to who I was not?
Where. How much does the where interact with the what and the who? I’m not clear on that.
Born. Is a soul born? Does a soul die? Same for whats and whos and wheres.
Reborn. I’m thinking I like recycle better than reborn. Allows for more options.

Return. A coin return gives us back our change. Is return change?
Land.  Does each soul occupy a different land?
Soul. Does each land host a different soul?
What. I may prefer: what? I like to question things. I was what?
Who. Who was that? Was that who me?
Where. Where? Right here of course. Hineini.
Born. Borne? Bourne? I think they’re all related somehow.
Reborn. Still struggling with this one. And yet I have justified my returning to the use of the words “m’chayyei hameitim” when I pray as I have come to a different understanding that is not physical resurrection, but of continued life through continuation of a persons values, gifts, etc. However, this is still in relation to dead people. How can the living be reborn. That’s still not clicking. It’s one thing to metaphorically put a new heart in someone (although we can do it physically, too!) If my soul is reborn is it still the same soul? Am I still the same person, or has a new life been created? I get lost in these thoughts. I can easily drown in them. So now I say to you: your turn.

Return.
Land.
Soul.
What.
Who.
Where.
Born.
Reborn.

Shanah Tovah, Tzom Kashe (it’s not supposed to be easy) and Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian
(c)2018 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Vayeilekh/Shabbat Shuvah 5776 – Cows and Roses
Vayeilekh_Shabbat Shuvah 5769 – Cows and Roses
Vayelekh 5765-The Time Is Still Now

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