The Return of Random Musings Before Shabbat–The Hiatus Is Ending–Nitzavim 5776

I’ve stayed away as long as I can. The itch to start writing my Random Musing Before Shabbat has overcome my fatigue and much-needed rest and hiatus after 19 years of regular writing. While I’m re-sharpening my keyboarding skills, and preparing for new adventures in writing. I’d like to start out out with this classic from 1997 for Nitzavim. Look for all new content and musings starting with Rosh Hashanah.

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Nitzavim 5775-Lo Bashamayim Hi

(Revised Classic from 5757)

This is one of my earliest musings, written in 1997. I’ve shared it again a few times over the years, though the last time was in 2004. I’ve done little editing, updating, and adding thoughts (indicated by being in [brackets]) here and there, but it’s mostly the same (perhaps naïve) as it was 21 years ago.

כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָֽנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם לֹֽא־נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ וְלֹֽא־רְחֹקָה הִֽוא: יב לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם הִוא לֵאמֹר מִי יַֽעֲלֶה־לָּנוּ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ וְנַֽעֲשֶֽׂנָּה: יג וְלֹֽא־מֵעֵבֶר לַיָּם הִוא לֵאמֹר מִי יַֽעֲבָר־לָנוּ אֶל־עֵבֶר הַיָּם וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ וְנַֽעֲשֶֽׂנָּה: יד כִּֽי־קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָֽבְךָ לַֽעֲשׂתֽוֹ

Lo bashamayim hi. It is not in the heavens, it is not beyond the sea. It is close to us.

However, it is not (necessarily) physical distance we are talking about. It is telling us that Torah is not beyond our intellectual reach – beyond our understanding. I think that is a very important point to remind ourselves about, for several reasons.

I know, for myself, that each time I delve into Torah, I can get more confused and baffled than I was before. This problem is exacerbated as I strive to wear my two hats– as a student of religion [as I was in 1997, and now, in 2015, as a full-time Jewish professional] and as a practicing, believing Jew. [Perhaps, in 1997, in my naiveté I could just leave that statement there. Today, I feel compelled to expand that statement with words to the effect of “whatever that means to me at any given moment in time.” In all honesty, my relationship with my faith and religious practice was no less complicated 21 years ago than it is today, or it was 40 years ago when I was an eager, yet confused college student. Am I a practicing, believing Jew? By the standards of some, I’m not. Even by my own standards, I sometimes wonder. I do know that my Judaism is precious enough to me to continue to compel me to work to insure a Jewish future through teaching, music, and any other area where I have been bestowed with the gifts to share my knowledge.]

When reading Torah, it is still a continual questioning: “What does this mean, what does that mean?” It can be awfully frustrating at times. Then I remind myself – yes, it may have layer upon layer of meaning, but we are told straight out that it is within our understanding. At each level we approach it, it’s meaning can become clear, but it may be very difficult to understand it at different levels all at one time. The meaning becomes clear within the context of our approach, our path to understanding. I wonder, sometimes, which comes first – our level of knowledge and then our understanding — or our understanding then determining our level? I have seen, heard, read, or experienced brilliant insights from those with little knowledge and expertise, and the most unenlightening and empty homiletics from the truly learned.

Sometimes, the text itself is my teacher in spite of myself. I can plug away at trying to understand the text, only to have an insight come to me that is totally alien to the paradigms with which I was viewing the text. The text itself took me to another level.

It is wise to remember that Torah is accessible for all of us – we do not have to wait for great scholars and mystics to impart its wisdom to it. (Nor should we blithely ignore the teachings and traditions of our past, our great scholars, even our not so great scholars.) [I hesitate to suggest that every single interpretation and understanding of Torah is worthy of consideration, but I also find my feeling that way utterly contemptible. Who am I to make such a determination? I try, I really do, to be open to all interpretations, and some of the best come from the most unlikely sources. I have learned, when I find an interpretation lacking, to ask myself to consider what I myself may be lacking. In reality, I don’t live up to this ideal as often as I’d like.]

However, it’s not about the interpreter. Torah imparts itself. If we do not study it for ourselves, we shall never have our own understanding of it-only someone else’s. [This has become a centerpiece of my answer to questions like “why learn Hebrew?” or “why read the Torah?” Yes, reading it in only in translation imposes a layer of interpretation, and I do believe reading it in the original enhances the possibilities of understanding. At the same time, the original Hebrew can also make the text more difficult to understand. Also, let’s face it. What we have is a text filtered through the particular lenses of the Masoretes. We have no access to the urtext, so, in reality, what we perceive as the original may in fact differ from the original and in so doing alter the meaning. It could simply be argued, well, this is the text we’ve got, so we might as well work from there. At times I find that acceptable, at others times I want to scream at the rabbis who usurped the power of interpretation for themselves with Talmudic screeds like the debate about the oven at Akhnai. Then again, I need to remind myself that the rabbis were only claiming what the Torah itself said “it is not in Heaven.” Still, that’s a pretty cheeky kiss-off to G”d! ]

Sometimes, analysis of the text as an academic interferes with the process, as I study the reflections of others. [Just see all the comments I’ve been adding to the original version of this musing!]  At other times the study helps create fresh opportunities for Torah to speak to me on a new level and gain my own new understanding. [Ditto to my previous insert.]

It is also important that all of us remember, particularly in these trying times, that understanding of Torah is not the private secret of any one group of people-not just scholars, rabbis, kabbalists – that understanding is open to all Jews, be they Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, secular, et al. For, as we are told at the very beginning of Nitzavim:

אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶם רָֽאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם זִקְנֵיכֶם וְשֹׁטְרֵיכֶם כֹּל אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל

“You are standing this day, ALL OF YOU, before the L”rd your G”d…” (Deut 29:9, JPS)

And that is including children, wives, and strangers dwelling among us. We are, all of us, party to the covenant to which our Torah attests. So, when later on the text says:

כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָֽנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם לֹֽא־נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ וְלֹֽא־רְחֹקָה הִֽוא

“Surely this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not to baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach.” (Deut 30:11, JPS)

the YOU refers to all – men, women, children, strangers, and, by extension to present times Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, secular Jews, et al.

There is, however, a flip side to this good news. Because Torah is within our reach we have access to some parts of the text that challenge us. G”d tells us, quite plainly that the text is within our understanding, yet also asks us to do things which baffle us.

“Nothing baffling about that” an Orthodox friend once told me. “Just do what it says.”

“Not as easy as it sounds,” I reply. “My challenge is to come to understand that particular piece of text.”

“But you already understand it,” my friend says. “You just want to ignore it.”

“No,” I reply. “I’m waiting for the moment when the text speaks to me and raises me from my present level of understanding to the level on which it is imparting to me another meaning.”

This is what the Torah means about it being reachable to all of us. Coming to our own understanding, not someone else’s.

Ki karov eilecha. It is close to us. In OUR mouths, OUR hearts. But also in EACH of our mouths, EACH of our hearts. As individual as G”d made us.

May this Shabbat and the New Year offer you peace, rest, and a chance to let Torah startle you with new insights and fresh perspectives on old insights. May you be open to these insights no matter from where and from whom they come.

Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah,

Adrian

©2014 (portions ©1997, 2004) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Nitzavim-Vayeilekh 5774 – Even Lola Doesn’t Always Get What She Wants
Nitzavim-Vayeilekh 5773 – Opening Our Own Hearts
Nitzavim 5772 – Where or When?
Nitzavim/Vayeilekh 5770 – Flawed, Schmawed
Nitzavim/Vayeilekh 5769 – Disconencting the Reconnecting the Dots
Vayeilekh_Shabbat Shuvah 5769 – Cows and Roses
Nitzavim/Vayeilekh 5766 – Keep Looking
Vayelekh 5765-The Time Is Still Now
Nitzavim 5765-To Lo Or Not To Lo
Nitzavim/Vayelekh 5763-Connect the Dots
Nitzavim 5757/5759/5764-Lo Bashamayim Hi
Nitzavim 5758-Not By Ourselves
Nitzavim/Vayelekh 5760/67-L’eyd B’vnei Yisrael-The Real Denouement
Nitzavim 5761 was the week of Sept. 11, 2001. There was no musing.

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Random Musing Hiatus

Friends:

After almost 19 years of writing my Random Musings on an (almost) weekly basis I need to step back a bit and take a break. I may take a few weeks,or a few months off, and then resume. Or I might not resume at all (though this seems unlikely.I derive therapeutic and spiritual value from the process.) I’ve written these as much for myself as for my readers, and I hope I have given you some food for thought over the years. You can always find my archive of musings on my website at www.durlester.com/musings.html

In the interim, I may use my blog to write, on an irregular basis,  about other things of interest to me or that I think might interest others. I hope you’ll check my posts out. www.migdalorguysblog.blogspot.com

Shabbat Shalom to All

Adrian

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Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayikra 5776–Stuff That’s Still Bugging Me

Nine years ago I wrote about a bunch of things in this parasha that bugged me. Many of them still do, so I thought I’d revisit it.

Harkening back to my earlier days and my truly “random” musings, this musing is just that. Random. I call it “stuff that’s bugging me about our parasha,” which is Vayikra – the start of the priestly instruction manual that somehow found its way into the Torah. And so here we go. Stuff that’s bugging me:

Why must an animal die for the sins of a human being? Yes, if we place these rituals within their own context, we can understand why humans thought G”d would want animal sacrifices, and we can understand how the sacrifice of an animal was a meaningful act for our ancestors.

I’m such a hypocrite. I eat meat and poultry and fish. The vegetarian or vegan lifestyle is not for me. If I truly think about it, I give but a fleeting thought to the animal deaths that are required to satisfy my desire for meat, poultry, and fish meals. Yet I have cared for pets as if they were family members. I have ordered some “eco-suede” kippot made from recycled cardboard to replace some of the suede kippot that I had worn. If I had to kill me own food before eating it, I’m not sure I could. (However, that’s still not enough to make me stop eating meat.)

Clearly, Torah teaches us to have proper respect for all life, including animals. We are asked to treat them respectfully, and when we slaughter them, to do so a manner that was believed to be quick and minimize the animal’s pain. We are not to abuse or mistreat our animals, and even our work animals get off for Shabbat. Still, we eat them, as did our ancestors. And they also sacrificed them to G”d. We (currently) do not.

In our parasha, we read of the mincha sacrifice, the meal offerings – bread, griddle cakes, pancakes, matzah. Couldn’t those have been enough? Yet in this odd and ironic twist, while most of the animal sacrifices (at least the sin offerings and offerings for inadvertent transgressions) were wholly consigned to the altar, often only a portion of the mincha offerings were sacrificed and the rest eaten. (Yes, this is also true of animal sacrifices, but to a somewhat lesser degree in this particular parasha and the particular types of sacrifices it mentions.)

Well, it makes some sense. G”d provided us with the animals to eat, yet the curse of Cain is upon us and we must work hard to produce crops from the soil. Yet wouldn’t G”d prefer the toil of our own efforts be sacrificed rather than G”d’s animal creations? I guess our ancestors didn’t think that was the case. Our work is tainted from the get go. Not so the animals. And those we sacrifice must be from the choicest of our flocks and herds.

And something else that’s bugging me. The children of Israel are a stubborn lot. It seems transgression (both advertant and inadvertent) is more norm than exception. That means that either a whole lot of animals got sacrificed-did they really have that many to spare?-or most people just weren’t honest in admitting when they had committed a sin which required an atonement in the form of an animal or pancake sacrifice. Neither of those is a particularly heartening reality.

Perhaps, early on, G”d, in G”d’s innocence, didn’t realize just how troublesome this free will thing was, and how prone it made us to transgress. Yet, by the time of Sinai, it had surely become apparent to G”d that we were gonna screw up a lot. So why insist on animal sacrifices?

In fact, why this whole system of atonement at all? G”d could have kept it simple. You sin, you die. You sin inadvertently, maybe you get a second chance, but then you die if you do it again. But noooooooo. We’re stuck with this system of ritual sacrifice to atone. The Christians solved the problem by envisioning the ultimate sacrifice, permanently absolving us of our wrongs. We Jews have attacked the problem somewhat with Yom Kippur. Yet the problem remains-we screw up a lot when it comes to G”d’s laws. Sometimes without realizing it, but most of the time, quite brazenly open about it.

And you know what? This substitution of the offerings of our hearts and our lips-I don’t think it really cuts the mustard. Animal and bread sacrifice is so much more visceral (and smelly-thank goodness for frankincense and other aromatics.) I’m certainly not in favor of returning to animal sacrifice, but I’m not so sure that what we’ve substituted is truly as meaningful and efficacious, with all due respect to the prophets.

I’m not sure what a meaningful sacrifice would be anymore. Words are cheap. Actions speak louder than words, and I suppose I can accept the idea that not doing something sinful the next time the situation arises is a meaningful act. But is it a sacrifice? Are words of prayer, heartfelt or not, a sacrifice? (Well, the way some people feel toward prayer these days, and in particular toward learning the Hebrew to pray without the influence of the subtle interpretations that result from translation, some might consider it a sacrifice. No comment.)

Since this is Shabbat Zakhor this year, here’s another thing that’s bugging me. why is G”d so upset with Saul for not killing all the animals of the Amalekites. (It’s bad enough he killed all of the Amelikate people, but it’s for not killing All the Amalekite’s animals, and keeping the best of them as spoils of war, that Saul is taken to taks by Samuel (and G”d.) Putting aside the fact that G”d just commanded the death of innocent civilians along with warriors (and believe me, it’s not that easy to put it aside) why would G”d want to see all these animals wasted? Yes, Saul and his troops did not follow G”ds instructions to the letter. Since when is it a crime to argue with G”d? Is that not something that Abraham (and others after him) did? Ah, but there are more levels here, are there not? The heart of the issue might be that Saul states that they did proscribe all the Amelikte animals except for the best of them, which they brought back to sacrifice to G”d. So I guess we have a sort of Nadav and Avihu situation here. G”d said kill all the animals, G”d didn’t ask for an extra sacrifice. So Saul screwed up.

Samuel says to Saul:

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obedience to the Lord’s command? Surely, obedience is better than sacrifice, compliance than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, Defiance, like the iniquity of teraphim. Because you rejected the Lord’s command, He (sic) has rejected you as king.” (Samuel 15:22, JPS)

Really, G”d? That’s a pretty odd standard. Borderline hypocritical. Especially when your command is to commit genocide. Now, Saul did not fail to carry out G”d’s command for any altruistic cause, or because he thought it wrong to slaughter innocents – I’d feel a lot better if Saul had objected on humaitarian grounds. Is it entirely objectionable that Saul’s concern was (theoretically) to offer thanks to G”d? (The reality of what was in Saul’s mind may have been different – it may ultimately have been truly selfish.) The Saul wavers, and blames it on the troops, saying he did it for them, because he feared his own troops. Oh, please.

G’d was not always equally insistent for blind obedience from every King who reigned after Saul. A lot of them got away with quite a bit. I suppose on G”d’s time scale they paid for their disobedience, but from a human perspective, it’s a shaky proposition.

Another, thing that bigs me is, of course, that little additional reading from Deuteronomy 25:17-19 that we read on Shabbat Zakhor right before Purim. It’s that insane remember to not forget to forget commandment.

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt — how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when the Lord your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! (Deut. 25:17-19, JPS)

[Shock alert for those who revere sacred text] If there was ever a candidate in the Torah for a “wtf?” this one is right up there. Actually, there’s no shortage of “wtf?” moments in Torah. This is just a particularly egregious example.

Loose ends. I’ve left a lot. Some of these meanderings start nowhere and end up nowhere, or are off in Yennensvelt. Why should what I write be any different than what we often encounter in our sacred texts? You don’t like loose ends, fell free to fritter away your Shabbat trying to make sense of it all. Me-I think I’ll try and spend Shabbat not thinking about things, and giving not just my body, but my brain, a rest. Yeah, right. As if that’s gonna happen…

Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian

©2016 (portions ©2007) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Vayikra 5775 – Meaningful Gifts II
Vayikra 5773 (Redux 5761) – Mambo #613: A Little Bit Of Alef In My Torah
Vayikra 5772 – Confession: Not Just for Catholics
Vayikra 5771 – I’d Like To Bring To Your Attention…
Vayikra 5770 – You Can Fool Most of the People Most of the Time
Vayikra 5768 – Redux 5763 – Kol Kheilev
Vayikra 5766 – Osymandias
Vayikra-Shabbat Zachor 5765-Chatati
Vayikra 5763 – Kol Cheilev
Vayikra 5759 & 5762-Salvation?
Vayikra 5760-Meaningful Gifts
Vayikra 5764 and 5761-Mambo #613: A Little Bit of Alef in My Torah…

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Random Musing Before Shabbat–Pekudei 5776–Metamorphosis

If you’re a fan of Star Trek TOS (the original series) then you are likely familiar with the episode which is the title of this musing. The episode introduced an important character in the Star Trek canon, that of Zephram Cochrane, inventor of the “warp drive.”

For this week’s parasha, Pekudei, the second half of what is more often read as a double parasha along with the preceeding parasha Vayakhel) there is a clear connection between the parasha and the haftarah which accompanies it. Haftarot were generally chosen in this way.

(I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the popular explanation for the existence of the haftarot, that they were created during a time when public reading of the Torah was prohibited is probably more of a midrash than a reality. Scholars, these days, are more convinced that the readings from the prophetic books of the nascent Hebrew canon were added to exclude Samaritans and others who accepted only the Torah as the basis for Judaism. It’s an analysis with which I tend to concur. Yet another bit of pediatric Judaism debunked. The haftarot were not some brave attempt to stick it to our oppresors, and get around their restrictions. They were a product of internecine struggles between streams of Jewish practice and belief in ancient times. Not at all unlike the differences we see today between the various streams of Judaism. And yes, even in our own time, there are those who use this same tactic – finding ways to exclude those who fit a particular stream’s norm. Sigh.)

Pekudei is about the completion and assembling of the Mishkan. The haftarah, from I Kings, speaks of the completion of the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem by King Shlomo (Solomon.)

So, if I wanted to find a way to exclude non-lovers of Star Trek from Jewish worship, a perfect way might be to use the story of the Star Trek episode “Metamorphosis” as the haftarah for Pekudei. (And, if you wanted to buy in to the pediatric midrashic explanation for the origins of the haftarot: if we were living in times when public reading of the Torah ahd been prohibited, and we wanted to choose an appropriate substitute, for this parasha, I’d nominate “Metamorphosis.”

Here’s a bit from the Torah reading:

וַיְכַל מֹשֶׁה אֶת־הַמְּלָאכָֽה:  וַיְכַס הֶֽעָנָן אֶת־אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וּכְבוֹד יְהֹוָה מָלֵא אֶת־הַמִּשְׁכָּֽן:  וְלֹֽא־יָכֹל מֹשֶׁה לָבוֹא אֶל־אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד כִּֽי־שָׁכַן עָלָיו הֶֽעָנָן וּכְבוֹד יְהֹוָה מָלֵא אֶת־הַמִּשְׁכָּֽן: וּבְהֵֽעָלוֹת הֶֽעָנָן מֵעַל הַמִּשְׁכָּן יִסְעוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּכֹל מַסְעֵיהֶֽם: וְאִם־לֹא יֵֽעָלֶה הֶֽעָנָן וְלֹא יִסְעוּ עַד־יוֹם הֵעָֽלֹתֽוֹ: כִּי עֲנַן יְהֹוָה עַל־הַמִּשְׁכָּן יוֹמָם וְאֵשׁ תִּהְיֶה לַיְלָה בּוֹ לְעֵינֵי כָל־בֵּית־יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּכָל־מַסְעֵיהֶֽם

When Moshe had completed the work, the cloud covered the entrance to the tent of meeting, and the glory (presence) of G”d filled the Mishkan. Moshe could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud was dwelling upon it. and the weightiness (presence) of G”d filled the Mishkan. when the cloud went up from upon the Mishkan, the children of Israel went out on their journeys. If the cloud did not go up they would not go forth until a day when it went up. Because the cloud of G”d was upon the Mishkan during the day, and fire came at night, in the eyes of all of the children of Israel on all their journeys. (Exodus 40: 33b-38)

And here’s a bit from the Haftarah:

 וַיְהִי בְּצֵאת הַכֹּֽהֲנִים מִן־הַקֹּדֶשׁ וְהֶֽעָנָן מָלֵא אֶת־בֵּית יְהֹוָֽה: וְלֹֽא־יָֽכְלוּ הַכֹּֽהֲנִים לַֽעֲמֹד לְשָׁרֵת מִפְּנֵי הֶֽעָנָן כִּֽי־מָלֵא כְבֽוֹד־יְהֹוָה אֶת־בֵּית יְהֹוָֽה: אָז אָמַר שְׁלֹמֹה יְהֹוָה אָמַר לִשְׁכֹּן בָּֽעֲרָפֶֽל: בָּנֹה בָנִיתִי בֵּית זְבֻל לָךְ מָכוֹן לְשִׁבְתְּךָ עוֹלָמִֽים

When the priests came out from the Holy (sanctuary) and a cloud filled the house of Ad”nai, the priests were unable to perform their service in front of (because of) the cloud, because the glory (presence) of Ad”nai filled the House of Ad”nai. Then Solomon declared: “G”d said/expressed (a desire) to dwell in the thick darkness. I (i.e.Solomon) have surely built this lofty abode for you, a place to dwell forever.”

The cloud imagery is vivid (and we’ve encountered this cloud imagery before.) Cloud are ethereal things. Yet they can also be dark and foreboding things. Notice the change in nouns in the haftarah, which first speaks of a cloud עָנָן, and then a dark thick mass/cloud, עֲרָפֶֽל. I think we need to have both of these ideas of cloud in order to truly consider the idea of a cloud that fills up a room such that humans cannot also occupy it. Surely, the priests (and others) could stand amidst fluffy white clouds. Those have little substance – we can pass right through them. (It is even an almost quotidian experience, when you consider low-lying fog.) Surely that is not the cloud that is the in-dwelling presence of Ad”nai?

Our Torah portion makes no distinction, and the same word is used for cloud throughout this section. Yet this cloud, too, was of enough physical presence to keep Moshe from entering the Mishkan. (Perhaps the very reason the vocabulary in I Kings is different is precisely because people asked that question, and the authors wanted to clarify the point?)

Now, as to our Star Trek episode – the parallels are not all so clear. It’s not really a cloud. It’s more of an energy lifeform. It is, however, a presence, and it can and does interact with the physical world. “The Companion,” as this lifeforce is known, has rescued an aged, dying Zephram Cochrane, who had wanted to end his amazing life with one last journey out among the stars. The Companion discovered Cochrane’s  repaired Zephram’s body, and restored Zephram’s youth and vigor. She (and The Companion is revealed to be a she, as much as a non-corporeal lifeform can be said to have gender) has grown attached to Zephram, and the sudden appearance of a standed Captain Kirk, Mr, Spock, Dr. McCoy, and a dying female United Federation of Planets comissioner Nancy Hedford threaten the situation. The Companion wants the newcomers to remain to help keep Cochrane happy and have company of his own kind. The Companion prevents Spock from attacking it. Spock cobbles together a way to communicate with The Companion, learns that it is a she, that she can (and will) keep Zephram, and all of them young and alive forever. When the female UFP commissioner is near death, Cochrane pleads with The Companion for help. The Companion changes from her energy lifelorm and occupies the body of Comissioner Hedford to save her. Cochrane is now excited to dream of a life roaming the galaxy with his Companion, but alas, her lifeforce is bound to the planetoid they are on. Cochrane agrees to remain with The Companion where they will both live out a normal human lifespan.

Maybe it’s just me, but every time I think about G”d appearing as a cloud, this episode comes to mind. There are connections, and there are differences. G”d cares for human beings, The Companion cares for Cochrane. The Companion did not, however, create Cochrane, and is just his rescuer, in a way. Hmmm. Rescuer – savior. Kind of the same. Savior is defnitely part of G”d’s job description. The idea and terminology may feel uncomfortable for some Jews, but when it comes down to it, G”d as savior is not alien to Jewish thought.

The Companion appears as a sort of cloud, as does G”d. The Companion incarnates, a theologically problematic idea for Jews for the last 2000 years. On the other hand, The Companion’s act of incarnation dooms it to no longer be a being with an infinite lifespan, which might be a very Jewish attitude. The Companion seeks to create an Eden for Cochrane just as  G”d created an Eden for Adam and Chava. Are the passengers of the shuttle Galileo (Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Hedford) the serpent that tempts Cochrane to give up his Eden? Or is this more of an anti-Eden tale in which the pseudo-deity gives up being a deity for the sake of the limited-life being with which it has fallen in what can only be thought of as love?

Imagine, for a moment, the Christian story in an alternate history: For G”d so loved the world, that G”d gave up being G”d to live out life as a human being. That would be the ultimate, permanent form of tzimtzum, would it not? (Tzimtzum is the kabbalistic notion that in order to allow space for creation of the physical universe, G”d constricted G”d’s-self. And, though I am certain the Lurianic Kabbaliksts did not mean it this way, tzimtzum could just as easily be translated as “withdrawal.” G”d withdrawing from the universe. The Companion withdrawing from her eternal existence to a finite one. (A concept also later explored in Star Trek:The Next Generation, through the character of Q from the Q continuum.. There’s an awful lot to be mined from those episodes featuring Q for future musings.)

All of these thoughts are, at their best, just barely tangential to our parasha and haftarah. But it’s fun to think about such different things together. (And there are those for whom ST:TOS scripts are as holy as we hold the Torah. Sounds blasphemous, perhaps, but who am I to judge.) We can insist on studying Torah and our sacred texts only within their own contexts, and only within their canon. Or we can expand our horizons and allow our explorations to touch upon other things which might inform our understanding of our own sacred texts. These things could be texts sacred to others, or they could simply be secular sources.

And I haven’t even mentioned how (I Kings 8:13) Solomon declares that he has built a house for – addressing G”d as “you” – second person singular, feminine (Go back and look, if you must.)

I’ve offered no scholarly treatises or exegesis. Just a few random musings on my encoutner with this parasha and haftarah this year. If these musings provide a starting point for any one of my readers, I will comsider my effort worth it. Go forth and muse.

Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian
©2016 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Pekudei 5774 – Pronouns Revisited
Pekude/Shabbat Sh’kalim 5771 – Ideas Worth Re-Examining
Pekude 5765-Redux 5760-Pronouns

Vayakhel-Pekudei-Shabbat Parah 5775 – New Heart, New spirit
Vayakhel-Pekudei 5773 – Craftsman. Artisan. Artist. Again.
Vayakhel-Pekude 5772 – Vocational Ed
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5770-Corroborative Detail
Vayakhel-Pekudei 5769 – There Are Some Things You Just Have To Do Yourself
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5767-Redux 5760-The Lost Episodes: Too Much of a Good Thing
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5766 – So How Did Joseph Get Away With it?
Vayakhel/Pekude 5764-Comma or Construct?
Vayakhel/Pekude 5762-Sacred Work
Vayakhel/Pekude 5761 (Revised from 5758)-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.
Vayakhel/Pekude 5758-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.

 

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Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayakhel 5776–An Imaginary Community? (Redux and Revised 5768)

Everyone contributed to the building of the tabernacle. Each brought his/her own gift/skill/talent to the process. Each gave freely of his/her personal possessions. And they weren’t even building something fixed and permanent-it was portable.

You don’t see it much anymore. Whole communities working together, each contributing of their talents, to build something. Oh, there are still Amish barn-raisings, and Yachad and Habitat for Humanity projects. There are even some communes, co-housing, and similar ventures still around. For a time, in Israel, chalutzim built kibbutzim, villages, factories, and more. The spirit endures. Yet it is diminished.

Our country’s infrastructure is crumbling We geshry about the taxes required to fix all of it. Yet we need look not that far back in our own U.S. history to find another approach. Remember the WPA?

It’s no so easy today to get people to contribute to projects directly. And for those who contribute financially, imagine trying to get one of them to underwrite a structure that wasn’t fixed or permanent, and upon which they could not have a plaque or name affixed. (Actually, I am sure there are philanthropists out there who might do so, but my point is more about having the whole community contribute.) (Another aside – have you how some cities are confiscating and removing those 6×10 tiny houses for the homeless. They are a great example of someone with a dream being willing to build something temporary and not fixed in order to help those most in need. Naturally, the NIMBY syndrome is rearing it’s ugly head.)

Most of us don’t slaughter our own animals. Lots of us don’t even prepare our own meals anymore. Our homes, towns, villages, synagogues are built and maintained for us by others. (I wrote, in another musing years ago for a different parasha, of what it might be like if each member family of a synagogue shared the responsibility to actual come in and kindle the ner tamid a few days each year?)

How odd we have become. Think of the irony. We’re all too lazy, or too haughty, or think ourselves too important to take on menial tasks. So we relegate these tasks to others. They build our homes, clean our homes, sweep our streets, cook and serve our meals. Then we complain that they are stealing our jobs, and build big fences to keep them out.

Sure, some take pride in keeping up our own homes – mowing, raking, repairing. It’s a drop in the bucket, and it is ultimately a selfish act, not a communal one. What can we do together, as a community? Build a playground? Pave our streets? Build a schoolhouse?  (Remember, communities used to have to build one in order to have one.) Consider that a Jewish cemetery was often one of the first communal things Jews help create when they moved into a new community. We take so much for granted these days.)

Imagine, for a moment, a world in which all the inhabitants contributed some talent to the building of the United Nations. Imagine, for a moment, a synagogue built from scratch by the members of its congregation, and maintained by them as well. Imagine a synagogue with no need for maintenance and janitorial staff. (Actually, there sre some congregations out there already employing such a model.)

What about thinking even more globally?  Most of us rely upon others to solve the threats to our planet from global warming, sea rise, species extinction, habitat destruction. Oh, we may contribute in some small way – like recycling, conserving water, etc. And yes, little contributions count. However, the day may ciome when it will really take all of us, actively engaged, to stem the tide of reckless plundering of our planet.

Science fiction authors have long suggested scenarios in which humankind all worked together as onme for the common good. Sometimes, it was in the face of an external threat, like an alien race, or an ELE meteor strike. Other times, it was simply for the sake of getting humanity out into the universe.

I have always preferred to believe in humankind as essentially caring, communal, and contributing. It gets harder every year. The disparity between haves and have-nots, even in so-called first world countries is staggering. There are ocassional moments of uplift. We need more of them. Ther only way they are going to happen is if we make them happen.

If we are going to eliminate (or at least deal with) homelessness, malnutrition, the rape of our planet, etc. we are all going to have to pitch in, just like our Israelite ancestors did for the building of the Mishkan.

So, imagine a world where someone actually had to say “Stop! You’re all being too generous.”

Ken Y’Hi Ratzon. Ken Y’hi Ratzoneinu.

Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian

©2016 (portions ©2008) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musing on this Parasha:

Vayakhel-Pekudei-Shabbat Parah 5775 – New Heart, New spirit
Vayakhel 5774 – Is Two Too Much?
Vayakhel-Pekudei 5773 – Craftsman. Artisan. Artist. Again.
Vayakhel-Pekude 5772 – Vocational Ed
Vayakhel 5771 – Giving Up the Gold Standard
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5770-Corroborative Detail
Vayakhel-Pekudei 5769 – There Are Some Things You Just Have To Do Yourself
Vayakhel 5768-An Imaginary Community?
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5767-Redux 5760-The Lost Episodes: Too Much of a Good Thing
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5766 – So How Did Joseph Get Away With it?
Vayakhel 5765-The Wisdom of the Heart
Vayakhel/Pekude 5764-Comma or Construct?
Vayakhel 5763-Dayam V’hoteir
Vayakhel/Pekude 5762-Sacred Work
Vayakhel/Pekude 5761 (Revised from 5758)-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.
Vayakhel/Pekude 5758-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.
Vayakhel 5760-The Lost Episodes: Too Much of a Good Thing

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Random Musing Before Shabbat–Ki Tisa 5776– It Didn’t Matter

A very short musing this week. In our haftarah, Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet) challenges the priests of Ba’al to prove which G”d is really G”d. Jezebel had convinced her husband King Ahab to allow her religion to be practiced among the Israelites, and Eliyahu was going to prove to the Israelites, once and for all, that Baal was no G”d. Eliyahu wins, convincingly. It’s a pretty impressive display, too. The Priests of Baal fail miserably, but not G”d, Eliyahu lays it on thick, putting roadblocks in G”d’s way (i.e.having all the wood on the altar drenched in water. This giv es G”d the opportunity to double down and perform an evenb moreimpressive feat.

Guess what? It didn’t matter. Elijah still spent the rest of his life (well, we’re not really sure it ever ended, are we?) trying to convince the Israelites and their leaders to live by G”d’s commandments.

This haftarah is a classic example of theatrical razzle-dazzle. The reader is blinded with the miracle, and fails to realize that, in the end, it didn’t really have much effect upon the intended targets. Eliyahu and Jonah must had experienced some similar feelings at some point.

Nice try, rabbis that assembled the haftarot. Pair this story with the story of the golden calf. Taken out of the rest of its context, it works great. Taken in context, it’s weak tea.

There is much to admire in Eliyahu and how he fulfilled his role as a Prophet of G”d. He really was the ideal gadflyish, pesky prophet, In the end, however, all his efforts produced little result. Perhaps that’s why we keep waiting around for him to come and finish things up.

I told you it was a short musing.

Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian
© 2016 by Adrian A, Durlester

Other Musing on this parasha:

Ki Tisa 5775 – Shabbat Is A Verb II
Ki Tissa 5774 – Faith Amnesia (and Anger Management)
Ki Tissa/Shabbat Parah 5773 – Fortune and Men’s Eyes (Redux and Revised)
Ki Tisa 5772 – Other G”d?
Ki Tisa 5771 – Still Waiting for the Fire
Ki Tisa 5770 – A Fickle Pickle
Ki Tisa 5768-Not So Easy? Not So Hard!
Ki Tisa/Shabbat Parah 5767-New Hearts and New Spirits
Ki Tisa/Shabbat Parah 5766-Fortune and Men’s Eyes
Ki Tisa 5765-Re-Souling Ourselves
Ki Tisa 5764-A Musing on Power Vacuums
Ki Tisa 5763-Shabbat is a Verb
Ki Tisa 5762-Your Turn
Ki Tisa 5760-Anger Management
Ki Tisa 5761-The Lesson Plan

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Random Musing Before Shabbat–Tetzaveh 5776–House Guest (Redux and Revised 5763)

 

 וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְהָיִיתִי לָהֶם לֵֽאלֹהִֽים:  וְיָֽדְעוּ כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֵיהֶם אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִי אֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לְשָׁכְנִי בְתוֹכָם אֲנִי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹֽהֵיהֶֽם

“I will dwell among the Israelites, and I will be a G”d for them. They will realize that I, G”d their L”rd, brought them out of Egypt to make My presence felt among them. I am G”d their L”rd.” (Ex 29:45-46)

What a great deal. We get a live-in G”d. That’s probably well worth the price of this b’rit we’re entering into with G”d. Or so it would have seemed. Yet we’ve not done so well with our end of the b’rit (and some might question whether G”d has upheld G”d’s end of the deal all that completely either–true, perhaps–but, as I’m fond of pointing out, “mir zeynen do”-we’re still here.)

It’s a pretty amazing privilege to have the G”d of all creation dwell amongst us. And how have we treated this live-in? Images of Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers, Jack Gilford and Buster Keaton singing “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” flow into my mind. (As Tom Lehrer used to say, the rest of you can look that up when you get home.) I fear at times that the answer to how we have treated our live-in G”d has been “as a servant” or a “maid” or a “plaything” when perhaps the answer should be “as an honored guest.” We treat G”d as a great djinn–we rub the lamp and insist on our three wishes. And if we don’t get them, we boot the djinn out of the house.

There are those among who believe that this live-in is a “stranger among us” and therefore to be feared. Yet, even if G”d is a stranger to us, should we not treat G”d with the hospitality due to any visitor, stranger, enemy, or friend, as exemplified by Avraham? G”d may be unknowable, but that doesn’t mean G”d can’t be treated as a proper guest–albeit it would be a bit harder to try and please an unknowable guest. Still, we are called upon to be hospitable. And so we should be.

Like any live-in, be it relative, friend, significant other, domestic help, nanny, there are certainly going to be times when we get on each others nerves. And when one of the people living in the house is the Creator of the Universe, there’s bound to be tension, problems, and issues.

Sometimes, a little “private” or “alone” time helps. Giving people “their space.” Yet how can one find either time or place to be apart from G”d? Would one want to? Should one? Is it truly possible? Can G”d ever be truly alone?

As I’ve often said, being b’tzelem Elokim (in the image of G”d) works both ways. Characteristics that we have are just as likely to be characteristics that G”d has. So, like us, maybe G”d can have annoying habits, do troublesome things. But like the roommate you got stuck with in college, your spouse or partner, some co-worker at the office, some friend or family that has overstayed their welcome, you have to find a way to work it out. I’ll give you a hint I’ve found from my own experience.

It is true that sometimes that a little distance, a little separation, can help strengthen a relationship. Sometimes, however, the secret is not separation or time apart…sometimes clinging even harder to each other works out better. When you get “apart” time, you can forget and “get over” those petty annoyances. But do they ever really go away, or do they just lie dormant, awaiting some other issue to bring them rising to the surface in resentment, anger, jealousy? Yes, maybe sometimes some apart time allows both parties to get rid of some of the baggage. Sometimes, however, I think it might just give them time to stuff the baggage deeper into the closet. Avoidance or confrontation – must it be all one or the other?

When you cling even harder, those pesky annoyances are there all the time, staring you in the face-you can’t get over them. You face them. You work through them. You get beyond them. That’s a whole other way of looking at dveykut, the idea of clinging to G”d.

We have sometimes pushed G”d away–and at times, it seems G”d has pushed us away. We give each other the silent treatment. We ignore. But when do we get to the hug or kiss and make-up stage?

Honored as we are to have G”d dwell amidst us, let us make G”d a welcome presence. As with any relationship, it will have its ups and downs, its times for togetherness and its time the separateness. The trick is knowing when each is appropriate.

When we want to push G”d away, maybe clinging on tighter might bring better results than time apart. We won’t know until we try. There’s rarely ever just one way to solve a problem. Sometimes, the solution to getting on each other’s nerves could be separation, sometimes it might be holding tighter and pushing on through. We can’t assume one method is always better than the other. So we simply have to take a chance and see what happens. All relationships require risk and trust. Yes, some of us have been so hurt that it is hard to ever trust again. I dare suggest it may be no different whether we were hurt by another human or hurt by G”d. If we ever want to fix a relationship, or even be in another one, we have to try a little trust and take a little risk. I think it’s unavoidable. With human beings, and with G”d.

I’ve stuck it out sometimres, and at other times I’ve tried the geographical cure. I cannot say for certain whether either method is more efficacious than the other. Surprise, surprise. Yet another thing in this universe that is about balance. (And, I might add, I am referring to both my relationships with other human beings, and my relationship with G”d. No, make that relationships with G”d. I’m not afraid to say that.)

I don’t know about you, but I think I’m ready for another round of kiss and make up with G”d. We get the chance to do that every week on Shabbat. Let’s take advantage of it. Sure, we’ll probably get into more arguments and fights, but isn’t it nice to know that a time for kissing and making up is built into the system? (Alright, you don’t always have to kiss your roommate, but, when you fight with them, you should at least make up with them.)

Go on now…invite G”d back to be your houseguest. Then go and give G”d, your houseguest, your friend and neighbor, a great big hug and a smile. You might get one back, and won’t that feel good?

When G”d gets on your nerves, or does something to upset you, as will invariably happen, look carefully at your options for dealing with it. Don’t assume that separation or clinging tighter is THE solution. Choose the one that seems appropriate.

This particular Shabbat, I’m choosing to cling and tough it out. What about you?

Shabbat Shalom,

Adrian

© 2016 (portions ©2003) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings On This Parasha

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

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