Category Archives: divine right

Two State Solution – Earliest Mention in the Bible

Parshat Lekh Lekha

Rav Shai Held has written a breathtaking commentary on the Five Books of Moses, two succinct commentaries for each weekly portion.

The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion Do yourself a favor, and run (don’t walk) and buy it.

I have been fortunate to have studied at Machon Hadar, where Held is President and Dean (aka Founder and Mashgiach Ruchni).  At the book launch, we were encouraged to study a single weekly entry, in detail, with a study partner and then as a group in a class (Shiur). In my opinion, each of the two weekly pieces justify such intensive learning, not only because of the message that Held wishes to convey, but because, hidden, and sometimes overtly exposed in the short 4-5 page treatments are insights worthy of a screeching halt and complete change in travel plans. The second article on Lech Lecha is a fine example.

The article is titled: Between Abram and Lot Wealth and Family Strife and is focused primarily on the potentially corrosive nature of wealth acquisition. But segued into the discussion is a clear and powerfully suggestive reference to the dialectic between sharing/splitting the Promised Land in two and fulfilling the divine promise of a complete and Greater Israel. Abram and Lot have returned from Egypt richer and estranged. Abram offers a solution. Held writes:

… in his offer to Lot, Abram is “magnanimous in the extreme”: “Is not the whole land before you? Kindly part from me: If you go north, I will go south; and if you go south, I will go north” (Genesis 13:9). Abram’s magnanimity is enormously important and instructive: “His trust [in God’s] promise makes him gracious and generous.” Abram believes what God has told him—the land will one day belong to him and his descendants—but he does not insist that the promise must be fulfilled in its entirety at the present moment. Some modern Jewish thinkers insist that the religious person “discerns in every divine pledge man’s obligation to bring about its fulfillment, in every promise a specific norm.” [ Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, 100.] But Genesis 13 has other ideas, emphasizing instead that sometimes the appropriate religious posture is patience and a willingness to wait. Abram understands that, ultimately, the land is a gift, not an earthly possession—and so he refuses to grasp it too tightly. The land has been promised to Abram by God, and yet he is willing to let go of part of it in the interest of peace. Abram treasures the land, but he trusts in God so deeply and values family concord so highly that he lets go of precisely what is so precious to him. Strikingly, Bible scholar Victor Hamilton notes, Abram “is prepared to sacrifice what has been promised to him, as he will later willingly offer Isaac who has been promised to him.” Jon Levenson insightfully adds: “Since Abraham is finally again promised the lands he ceded to Lot, the chapter has a certain parallel with the Akedah, in which Abraham gets back him whom he gave up and receives anew the promises that depend on the would-be offering.” [Jon D. Levenson, personal communication {with Held}, October 12, 2014. Levenson’s comments are in some ways reminiscent of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.] Immediately after Abram and Lot part ways, God reiterates the promise of land and even intensifies it. Abram is to receive “the whole land . . . through its length and its breadth.” And now it is Abram himself, and not just his descendants, who will inherit the land (Gen. 13:14–17). Bible scholar Gordon Wenham observes that “the reiteration of the promises puts the divine seal of approval on Abraham’s treatment of Lot.”

Held, Shai. The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Genesis and Exodus (Kindle Locations 999-1019). The Jewish Publication Society. Kindle Edition.

Held’s profound insight and implied critique of those who practice Greater Israel activism in order to comply and fulfill a divine promise needs no embellishment, certainly not by me. “the enlightened will understand” המשכיל יבין


I should note that this vote for restraint by Held, could be  mistakenly construed to echo the Babylonian Talmud at the end of Ketubot (111a) which was and is used by the ultra-Orthodox to argue for quitism and against the entire Zionist project of actively repatriating the Land of Israel.

… it is written: “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and by the hinds of the field, that you not awaken or stir up love, until it please” (Song of Songs 2:7). Rabbi Yehuda derived from here that no act of redemption should be performed until a time arrives when it pleases God to bring about the redemption. And Rabbi Zeira maintains that the oath mentioned in that verse means that the Jews should not ascend to Eretz Yisrael as a wall, i.e., en masse, whereas individuals may immigrate as they wish.

ורבי זירא ההוא שלא יעלו ישראל בחומה

While the reference to a wall is ironic, I think it safe to say that Held is not anti-activist in any sense of the word, certainly not when it comes to fulfilling the moral mission of the Hebrew Bible, nor the manifest destiny contained in God’s, and prophetic promises. It is only when nationalist activism conflicts with  “the interest of peace”, “family concord” or kavod habriut … respecting the human dignity of the other, that Held would argue for patience relating to God’s promises and activism towards God’s creations.

 

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Filed under Bible, Chosen People, divine right, Hebrew, Israel, Judaism, Religion, social commentary, Torah, yeshiva

What’s New with the Jewish New Year

Welcome to the new Madlik Podcast!

Soon you will be able to subscribe to the podcast at the iTunes Store, but for now, please click on this link.

The Source Sheet is below:

What’s new about the Jewish New Year

The three components of Rosh HaShannah

Malkhiot – Kingship – מלכיות

Zikhronot –  Remembrances – זכרונות

Shofarot – Shofar Blast – שופרות

1.

Source in the Mishnah

one says avot and gevurot and kedushat Hashem, and [then] includes malkhiot with kedushat hayom, and [then] blows [the shofar; then] zikhronot and [then] he blows; [then] the ‏shofarot‎ and [then] he blows [a third time];

We may not have less then ten [verses] of malkhiot‎, ten of zikhronot‎ and ten of shofarot‎‎.  (Mishneh Rosh Hashanah 4: 5-6)

2.

Source in the Torah

Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall be a solemn rest unto you, a memorial proclaimed with the blast of horns, a holy convocation.

 דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר:  בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ, יִהְיֶה לָכֶם שַׁבָּתוֹן–זִכְרוֹן תְּרוּעָה, מִקְרָא-קֹדֶשׁ

Leviticus 23:24

Rashi: a remembrance of Scriptural verses dealing with remembrance and Scriptural verses dealing with the blowing of the shofar (R.H . 32a)

זכרון פסוקי זכרונות ופסוקי שופרות

Where is the source for Malkhiot – Kingship – מלכיות ?

Where is the source for the New Year?

Where is the source for repentance and new beginnings?

 

Review of Last year’s session….

The Kingship of God is the core message of Judaism.

3.

מודה אני לפניך מלך חי וקים

I give thanks before You, Living and Eternal King

4.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱ-להֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעולָם

Blessed art You Lord our King

5.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ הא-ל הָקדוש

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ המֶלֶךְ הָקדוש

  1. The 9th and 10th proof text for Malchiyot:

The 9th proof text brought for malchuyot (kingship) is the verse from Zechariah  14, 9 used to close the Aleinu prayer. [Some believe Aleinu was written by Tanna Rav in 3rd century Babylonia for Rosh Hashanah services.]

 וְהָיָה ה’ לְמֶלֶךְ, עַל-כָּל-הָאָרֶץ; בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, יִהְיֶה ה’ אֶחָד–וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד

And the LORD shall be King over all the earth; in that day shall the LORD be One, and His name one.

The 10th and last proof text:

שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל: ה’ אֱ-לוהֵינוּ, ה’ אֶחָד

Hear Oh Israel the Lord your God, the Lord is one.

7.

the whispered [subversive] proclamation said out loud…

ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד

Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever.

8.

אבינו מלכנו א’ן לנו מלך אלא אתה

“Our father. our king we have no king other than you.

[author: Rabbi Akiba – Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 25b  highpoint of Selichot services leading up to Yom Kippur and of the Yom Kippur service itself and the closing prayer at the Neila service]

9.

Biblical rejection of a human king

But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said: ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.
And the LORD said unto Samuel: ‘Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not be king over them.
According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, in that they have forsaken Me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.
( see Samuel I 8: 4-22)

כִּי לֹא אֹתְךָ מָאָסוּ, כִּיאֹתִי מָאֲסוּ מִמְּלֹךְ עֲלֵיהֶם. כְּכָל-הַמַּעֲשִׂים אֲשֶׁר-עָשׂוּ, מִיּוֹם הַעֲלֹתִי אוֹתָם מִמִּצְרַיִם וְעַד-הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, וַיַּעַזְבֻנִי, וַיַּעַבְדוּ אֱלֹהִים

10.

The New Year

The four new years are: On the first of Nisan, the new year for the kings and for the festivals; On the first of Elul, the new year for the tithing of animals; Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Shimon say, on the first of Tishrei. On the first of Tishrei, the new year for years, for the Sabbatical years and for the Jubilee years and for the planting and for the vegetables. On the first of Shevat, the new year for the trees according to the words of the House of Shammai; The House of Hillel says, on the fifteenth thereof.

[Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 1:1]

Rabbi Chisda said, ‘They only taught [that the year begins in Nissan] this in regard to Jewish kings. But for the kings of the nations of the world, we count from Tishrei, (Babylonian Talmud 3a)

   א”ר חסדא

לא שנו אלא למלכי ישראל אבל למלכי אומות העולם מתשרי מנינן

 

11.

Babylonian New Year – Akitu – Akkadian: rêš-šattim, “head of the year”) 21 Adar – 1 Nisannu.

There were twelve days of public ritual which according to Henri Frankfort in his seminal work: Kingship and the Gods, was a time of purification, of renewal of the vegetation. It was also a time of dramatic reenactments, it was at this time that the destinies of both gods and mankind were fixed, and the king began his reign on new year’s day.

Highlights:

4th day – During the day the Epic of Creation Enuma Elish would be recited. The Enuma Elish, is most likely the oldest story concerning the birth of the gods and the creation of the universe and human beings. It then explains how all the gods united in the god Marduk, following his victory over Tiamat. The recitation of this Epic was considered the beginning of preparations for the submission of the King of Babylon before Marduk on the fifth day of Akitu.

5th day – The submission of the king of Babylon before Marduk. The king would enter to the Esagila accompanied by the priests, they would approach all together the altar where the high priest of the Esagila impersonates Marduk then he approaches the king, begins to strip him of his jewelry, scepter and even his crown then he would slap him hard while the altar would kneel and begins to pray asking for Marduk’s forgiveness and submitting to him saying: “I have not sinned O Lord of the universe, and I haven’t neglected your heavenly might at all”… Then the priest in the role of Marduk says: “Don’t be afraid of what Marduk has to say, for he will hear your prayers, extends your power, and increases the greatness of your reign”. The removal of all worldly possessions is a symbol of the submission the king gives to Marduk. After this the king would stand up and the priest would give him back his jewelry, scepter and crown then slaps him hard again hoping for the king to shed tears, because that would express more the submission to Marduk and respect to his power. When the priest returns the crown to the king that means his power was renewed by Marduk, thus April would be considered not only the revival of nature and life but also to the State as well. [i]

12.

Egypt there was theSed Festival

The Egyptian Sed Festival held in the Fall and celebrated the continued rule of a pharaoh. The ancient festival might, perhaps, have been instituted to replace a ritual of murdering a pharaoh who was unable to continue to rule effectively because of age or condition. … They primarily were held to rejuvenate the pharaoh’s strength and stamina while still sitting on the throne, celebrating the continued success of the pharaoh.   The Sed-festival developed into a royal jubilee intended to reinforce the pharaoh’s divine powers and religious leadership.

13.

When was Kingship introduced to the Jewish New Year?

In the critical view, the Pentateuchal legislation in which the festival appears belongs to the Priestly Code (P) and, therefore, to the post-Exilic period, when the Babylonian influences had become particularly pronounced. The older critical views consider the whole institution to be post-Exilic, pointing out, for instance, that there is no reference to it in the lists of the feasts in Deuteronomy (16: 1—17). More recently, however, Sigmund Mowinckel has advanced the suggestion that there existed in pre-Exilic Israel an autumnal New Year festival on which God was “enthroned” as King (analogous to the Babylonian enthronement of *Marduk).

(Encyclopedia Judaica; Louis Jacobs article “Rosh Hashannah’)

14.

Earliest significance to Tishrei 1 -10 (Leviticus 25)

  1. Then shalt thou make proclamation with the blast of the horn on the tenth day of the seventh month; in the day of atonement shall ye make proclamation with the horn throughout all your land.
    15. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof; it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.
  2. And if thy brother be waxen poor with thee, and sell himself unto thee, thou shalt not make him to serve as a bondservant.
    40. As a hired servant, and as a settler, he shall be with thee; he shall serve with thee unto the year of jubilee.
    41. Then shall he go out from thee, he and his children with him, and shall return unto his own family, and unto the possession of his fathers shall he return.
    42. For they are My servants, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as bondmen.
  3. For unto Me the children of Israel are servants; they are My servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
  4. In the Talmud Tishrei 1 -10 (Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashana 8b)

According to the Talmud, servants were formally freed on the 1st of Tishri, but were allowed to remain on the homesteads of their former masters and to enjoy themselves for ten days, until Yom Kippur, when the trumpet was blown (Lev. xxv. 9) as a signal for their departure, and for the restoration of the fields to their original owners (R. H. 8b).

15.

Significance of remembering the sound of the Shofar (Exodus 21)

2. If thou buy a Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve; and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.
5. But if the servant shall plainly say: I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free;
6. then his master shall bring him unto God, and shall bring him to the door, or unto the door-post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.

Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 22b

Now, why was the ear chosen to be bored out of all the organs of the body? According to Rabban Jochanan ben Zakkai The Holy One Blessed be He said said: The ear that heard on Mount Sinai, “For the children of Israel are slaves to Me ” (Lev. 25:55) and not slaves to slaves… and [then] went and acquired a master for himself, [this ear] shall be bored.

“You shall not steal” (Exod. 20:13) and [then] went and stole, shall be bored. And if [the text is referring to] one who sold himself [into servitude, the reason is that]

רבן יוחנן בן זכאי היה דורש את המקרא הזה כמין חומר מה נשתנה אזן מכל אברים שבגוף אמר הקב”ה אזן ששמעה קולי על הר סיני בשעה שאמרתי (ויקרא כה, נה) כי לי בני ישראל עבדים ולא עבדים לעבדים והלך זה וקנה אדון לעצמו ירצע

Conclusion

17.

Eric Fromm – You Shall be as Gods pp 73 – 75

“Obedience to God is also the negation of submission to man.”

“The idea of serfdom to God was, in the Jewish tradition, transformed into the basis for the freedom of man from man.  God’s authority thus guarantees man’s independence from human author

——

[i] Compare to the accounts of the High Priest in the Holy of Holies:

The first mishna in Yoma stipulates that the Kohen Gadol must be sequestered for one compete week prior to Yom Kippur to purify himself and prepare for the holiday.

Prior to entering the Holy of Holies the Kohen Gadol removed his golden garments, immersed in the mikvah, and changed to a new set of linen garments, again washing his hands and feet twice.

There was good reason for the High Priest’s decision not to elongate his prayer at this particular time: many a High Priest was struck down dead while in the Holy of Holies. Although the First Temple stood for 410 years, in all there were only 12 High Priests during that entire period; because they were very righteous, they were blessed with longevity. However, the Second Temple, which stood for a total of 420 years, was presided over by more than 300 High Priests. This is because in the spiritual decline of those days, many of these men were corrupted, and bought their office through influence. The Zohar, mentions that a rope was tied around his foot, to drag him out in case he dies.

Additionally, if he would change any detail of the incense service within the Holy of Holies (as we mentioned with regard to the Sadducees), he would also die. With this is mind, it is understandable that the eyes of all Israel awaited the exit of the High Priest with bated breath. Being aware of his people’s agitation, the High Priest’s first concern was that he should not cause them any unnecessary anxiety… and the longer he stayed within, the more Israel’s apprehension grew. Thus the High Priest saw fit to forego the opportunity to engage in a long personal prayer, and recited the shorter version so as to exit the Sanctuary with reasonable speed.

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October 1, 2016 · 11:13 pm

the chosen blessing

parshat Vayechi

Given the choice between an heir and a spare, God will always pick the spare.  If the theme of the first book of the Hebrew Bible is the election of the twelve tribes of Israel then the sub-plot is the rejection of the first-born.  Unlike Greek mythology and its oedipal complex, the story of the choosing the tribes of Israel revolves around sibling rivalry more than parental passion/aggression.

God chooses Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s, Isaac over Ishmael[i] and Jacob over Esau.  Going forward, Moses is selected over Aaron and David over a bunch of older siblings. To paraphrase Adam Sandler: “all spares”.

The first choice of Abel over Cain ends in the first genocide, the last choice of Joseph’s second born is  recounted at the end of Genesis and provides a welcome conflict resolution and a valuable lesson.

The lesson is clear.  The opposite of chosen is not rejected.  The opposite of Chosen is Entitled.  If the Jews were singled out as a Chosen People, it is not because they were exceptional; it was because they lacked all class title or land title, all prior rights or natural rights.  The Chosen People are the personification of the unentitled and dispossessed.

In our liturgy, we recite many blessings, but besides the Priestly Blessing, there is only one blessing that is of biblical origin.  It is the blessing which parents bless their children on a weekly basis and it makes no sense unless one understands it within the context of entitlement reform.  It is a blessing that contains within it the simple message to every child (and therefore, I suggest, appropriate for daughters too).

“Child, nothing in this wonderful world is yours by right or by privilege.  You must earn your blessings and learn to respect those who earn their blessings, even if they outperform you”  “God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh”

Here’s the back story of this simple blessing in Genesis 48

1 And it came to pass after these things that someone said to Joseph: ‘Behold, thy father is sick.’ And he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. [in that order]
5 And now thy two sons, who were born unto thee in the land of Egypt before I came unto thee into Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh, even as Reuben and Simeon, shall be mine.
10 Now the eyes of Israel [Jacob] were dim for age, so that he could not see. And he brought them near unto him; and he kissed them, and embraced them.
13 And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near unto him.
14 And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly (literally; with Sechel – common sense); for Manasseh was the first-born.
15 And he blessed Joseph, and said: ‘The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God who hath been my shepherd all my life long unto this day,
16 the angel who hath redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named in them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.’
17 And when Joseph [Firstborn of Rachel and apple of his father’s eye] saw that his father was laying his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it was evil in his eyes, and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head.
18 And Joseph said unto his father: ‘Not so, my father, for this is the first-born; put thy right hand upon his head.’
19 And his father refused, and said: ‘I know it, my son, I know it; he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; howbeit his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.’
20 And he blessed them that day, saying: ‘By thee shall Israel bless, saying: God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh.’ And he set Ephraim before Manasseh.

וַיְהִי, אַחֲרֵי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, וַיֹּאמֶר לְיוֹסֵף, הִנֵּה אָבִיךָ חֹלֶה; וַיִּקַּח אֶת-שְׁנֵי בָנָיו, עִמּוֹ–אֶת-מְנַשֶּׁה, וְאֶת-אֶפְרָיִם

וְעַתָּה שְׁנֵי-בָנֶיךָ הַנּוֹלָדִים לְךָ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, עַד-בֹּאִי אֵלֶיךָ מִצְרַיְמָה–לִי-הֵם:  אֶפְרַיִם, וּמְנַשֶּׁה–כִּרְאוּבֵן וְשִׁמְעוֹן, יִהְיוּ-לִי

  וְעֵינֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כָּבְדוּ מִזֹּקֶן, לֹא יוּכַל לִרְאוֹת; וַיַּגֵּשׁ אֹתָם אֵלָיו, וַיִּשַּׁק לָהֶם וַיְחַבֵּק לָהֶם

וַיִּקַּח יוֹסֵף, אֶת-שְׁנֵיהֶם–אֶת-אֶפְרַיִם בִּימִינוֹ מִשְּׂמֹאל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶת-מְנַשֶּׁה בִשְׂמֹאלוֹ מִימִין יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיַּגֵּשׁ, אֵלָיו

וַיִּשְׁלַח יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת-יְמִינוֹ וַיָּשֶׁת עַל-רֹאשׁ אֶפְרַיִם, וְהוּא הַצָּעִיר, וְאֶת-שְׂמֹאלוֹ, עַל-רֹאשׁ מְנַשֶּׁה:  שִׂכֵּל, אֶת-יָדָיו, כִּי מְנַשֶּׁה, הַבְּכוֹר

וַיְבָרֶךְ אֶת-יוֹסֵף, וַיֹּאמַר:  הָאֱ-לֹהִים אֲשֶׁר הִתְהַלְּכוּ אֲבֹתַי לְפָנָיו, אַבְרָהָם וְיִצְחָק–הָאֱ-לֹהִים הָרֹעֶה אֹתִי, מֵעוֹדִי עַד-הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה

הַמַּלְאָךְ הַגֹּאֵל אֹתִי מִכָּל-רָע, יְבָרֵךְ אֶת-הַנְּעָרִים, וְיִקָּרֵא בָהֶם שְׁמִי, וְשֵׁם אֲבֹתַי אַבְרָהָם וְיִצְחָק; וְיִדְגּוּ לָרֹב, בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ

וַיַּרְא יוֹסֵף, כִּי-יָשִׁית אָבִיו יַד-יְמִינוֹ עַל-רֹאשׁ אֶפְרַיִם–וַיֵּרַע בְּעֵינָיו; וַיִּתְמֹךְ יַד-אָבִיו, לְהָסִיר אֹתָהּ מֵעַל רֹאשׁ-אֶפְרַיִם–עַל-רֹאשׁ מְנַשֶּׁה

וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל-אָבִיו, לֹא-כֵן אָבִי:  כִּי-זֶה הַבְּכֹר, שִׂים יְמִינְךָ עַל-רֹאשׁוֹ

וַיְמָאֵן אָבִיו, וַיֹּאמֶר יָדַעְתִּי בְנִי יָדַעְתִּי–גַּם-הוּא יִהְיֶה-לְּעָם, וְגַם-הוּא יִגְדָּל; וְאוּלָם, אָחִיו הַקָּטֹן יִגְדַּל מִמֶּנּוּ, וְזַרְעוֹ, יִהְיֶה מְלֹא-הַגּוֹיִם

יְבָרְכֵם בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, לֵאמוֹר, בְּךָ יְבָרֵךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר, יְשִׂמְךָ אֱ-לֹהִים כְּאֶפְרַיִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה; וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת-אֶפְרַיִם, לִפְנֵי מְנַשֶּׁה

The truth is that the blessing: “God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh” is a culmination of all the blessings of the Book of Genesis.  Ephraim and Menashe were two nondescript kids who are never mentioned again in the Holy Text but who are linked together more than any siblings in the Bible.  Unlike their predecessor siblings there is no record of a rivalry.  While their father Joseph[ii] complains, they do not.  I suggest that their mutual respect elevated the simple mention of their names into a blessing.  In a meritocracy, titles are awarded to those like Ephraim who are deserving, by a society which rewards achievement and whose members each individually., like Menasheh, share an aspiration to achieve.  A Start-Up Nation is powered by audacious and rogue entrepreneurs who are rewarded and funded by the landed gentry of the day.  Everyone benefits. Ephraim and Manasseh is a win win… it’s a blessing.

Rashi, the great Medieval commentator in his first comment to the Bible asks why this Code of Law (Torah means Way or instruction) begins with the narrative of Genesis and not with the first commandment given to the generation of the Exodus in the book of that name?

He answers, that unlike every other nation which lays claim to its homeland because of prior and uninterrupted title, the Jews unabashedly admit that they have no entitled claim to their Promised Land.  Abraham came from the other side of the “tracks” or in his case “river” and was the personification of the “other”.  Abraham was the first Hebrew which means Other. (Ivri – Hebrew as in Me’ever HaNehar ).

It is God, as introduced in Genesis, who provides the even playing field.  Just as the opposite of Chosen is entitled, so the opposite of the Promised Land is a Land with a Title.

Since God created the Universe, it is God, not nature, not title, not bloodline and not incumbency which awards the Promised Land.

Here’s the text of that first Rashi:

In the beginning: Said Rabbi Isaac: It was not necessary to begin the Torah except from “This month is to you,” (Exod. 12:2) which is the first commandment that the Israelites were commanded. Now for what reason did He commence with “In the beginning?” Because of [the verse] “The strength of His works He related to His people, to give them the inheritance of the nations” (Ps. 111:6). For if the nations of the world should say to Israel, “You are robbers, for you conquered by force the lands of the seven nations [of Canaan],” they will reply, “The entire earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it (this we learn from the story of the Creation) and gave it to whomever He deemed proper When He wished, He gave it to them, and when He wished, He took it away from them and gave it to us.

אמר רבי יצחק לא היה צריך להתחיל [את] התורה אלא (שמות יב ב) מהחודש הזה לכם, שהיא מצוה ראשונה שנצטוו [בה] ישראל, ומה טעם פתח בבראשית, משום (תהלים קיא ו) כח מעשיו הגיד לעמו לתת להם נחלת גוים, שאם יאמרו אומות העולם לישראל לסטים אתם, שכבשתם ארצות שבעה גוים, הם אומרים להם כל הארץ של הקב”ה היא, הוא בראה ונתנה לאשר ישר בעיניו, ברצונו נתנה להם וברצונו נטלה מהם ונתנה לנו

Ironically, if the Jews as the Chosen People and the Land as the Promised Land, have a message to mankind, it is not that one people has inalienable privileges and natural rights to a piece of real estate but to the contrary. The election of a chosen people for a promised land is a declaration that “The earth is the Lord’s” and no man, woman or child has a claim or right to any land or social title.  (The flip side for the Jews, as the Hebrew Prophets never tire of repeating, is that if they forget that the Earth is the Lord’s they will be spit out to wander the world dispossessed and stateless).

It was in Jewish Learning, scholarship and intellectual inquiry that this rejection of entitlement and genetic patrimony paid its biggest dividends.

The story of a young Akiva as an ignorant  laborer (am haAretz) who works his way up to lead the academy is legend.  Other stories of Talmudic scholars who started out dirt poor, as converts or as petty criminals are common.  There are no glass ceilings in the pursuit of knowledge and it is this chosenness that we celebrate when we bless Torah Study.

In their reading, the First Century Rabbis insinuate that what set apart the second-born of our patriarchs wasn’t their birth-order but their dedication to learning.  According to Babylonian Talmud Yoma 28b Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all were part of a certain Scholar’s Council.

According to Genesis 25: 27 “Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.”

וַיְהִי עֵשָׂו אִישׁ יֹדֵעַ צַיִד, אִישׁ שָׂדֶה; וְיַעֲקֹב אִישׁ תָּם, יֹשֵׁב אֹהָלִים

For the Rabbis, the tents in which Jacob sat (ישב) were the academies (ישיבות) of Shem [Noah’s son] and Eber [Noah’s grandson]. Genesis Rabbah 63:10 b. Yoma 28b)

Similarly in Genesis 47:1 (above) when it says that [someone] said to Joseph that Jacob was ill Rashi comments: Some say, however, that Ephraim was accustomed to study with Jacob, and when Jacob became ill in the land of Goshen, Ephraim went to his father to Egypt to tell him.

ויש אומרים אפרים היה רגיל לפני יעקב בתלמוד, וכשחלה יעקב בארץ גושן, הלך אפרים אצל אביו למצרים והגיד לו

For the Rabbis, the selection of Israel and a dedication to unconstrained study were one and the same.

The Rabbis elevated study to a religious obsession.

There are five separate blessings said over the public reading and study of Torah.

The first three are for the study of Torah and found in the introductory portion of the daily prayer service and the second two are recited before and after the public reading of the Torah on Sabbaths, Holidays and market days (Mondays and Thursdays).

Uncharacteristically, the Talmud does not pick and choose between blessings offered by different sages but includes them all… “Let us recite them all” [Bab Talmud Berakhot 11b] When it comes to study, the more blessings the better….

לימרינו לכולהו

See Daily Torah Blessings in Sim Shalom pp 6-8

Blessed are You Lord God King of the world Who has commanded us to engage (לעסוק) in the words of Torah.

And make sweet Lord God your words of Torah in our mouth and in the mouths of your nation the House of Israel and let us and our children all know your name and learn your Torah for its name sake (לשמה).  Blessed are You our God Who teaches Torah to his people Israel.

Blessed are You Lord God King of the world Who has chosen us from amongst all the nations and given us His Torah.  Blessed are You of God Who gives the Torah.

ברוך אתה ה’ א-לוהינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצוותיו וציוונו לעסוק בדברי [על דברי]  תורה

והערב נא ה’ א-לוהינו את דברי תורתך בפינו ובפיות עמך בית ישראל, ונהיה אנחנו וצאצאנו כולנו יודעי שמך ולומדי תורתך לשמה, ברוך אתה ה’ המלמד תורה לעמו ישראל

ברוך אתה ה’ א-לוהינו מלך העולם אשר בחר בנו מכל העמים ונתן לנו את תורתו, ברוך אתה ה’ נותן התורה

As is the custom with any blessing, the blessing must be followed immediately by the action which it sanctifies, so these blessings are followed by a short passage from the Torah, Mishneh and the Gemara (Bab Talmud Shabbat 127a) ending with:

And the study of Torah is equal[iii] to them all

וְתַלְמוּד תּוֹרָה כְּנֶגֶד כֻּלָּם

And the study of Torah is equal to them all

The word לעסוק is translated by Sim Shalom as “study” but this robs it of all meaning.  The word “asok” means to work.  In Modern Hebrew the word means “business” so it contains also the sense of struggle (for one’s daily living) as well as barter and the give and take of the marketplace of things and ideas.

There is something revolutionary going on here in the daily prayers. Not only does the blessing celebrate the competitive exchange of ideas and opinions so characteristic of Jewish Learning but also insures that every peddler, baker, banker and blowhard had to study a text every morning or be guilty of reciting a blessing in vain.  In Judaism study has never been limited to the academy or to the scholars.[iv]

The word לשמה is translated “on its own merit” but is alternatively translated “for its own sake” or literally “for its name” and traditionally has been understood to mean to do something without looking for a reward, or in the case of scholarship, pure research without any intended outcome or obvious practical application.  All characteristics of inquiry that lead to paradigm shifting discovery.

Here too.. the revolutionary element of Jewish learning is in view, where no opinions or conclusions are out of bounds… as radical, unforeseen or even unorthodox (or should we say heterodox) that they might be.

And finally we have mention of the election of Israel, both in this daily blessing and the blessings before and after the public reading of the Torah.

The only other blessings to include mention of Israel’s selection is the blessing relating to Israelite national holidays which is to be expected.  But the mention of Israel’s choseness with regard to Torah study and public reading is less obvious… unless one appreciates the connection the Rabbis made between the entitlement reform inherent in choseness and the entitlement reforming potential of unfettered intellectual inquiry.

The Talmud asks the standard “who do you save first” question normally prefaced by “a boat-is-sinking” or “a house-is-burning” but in a nod to Jewish history is rephrased:  Hostages-have-been-taken, who do you save first?”

To release from capture, a Cohen (priest) comes before a Levi, a Levi before a Yisroel and a Yisroel before a Mamzer (bastard).  When?  When they are equal.  But if the Mamzer is a Talmud Hacham and the [even] a High Priest is an ignoramus… the Mamzer (bastard) Scholar takes precedence over a High Priest ignoramus.

Mishneh Horiot, 3, 8

ולהוציא מבית השבי

… כוהן קודם ללוי, לוי לישראל, ישראל לממזר … אימתיי, בזמן שכולן שווין

 אבל אם היה ממזר תלמיד חכמים, וכוהן גדול עם הארץ–ממזר תלמיד חכמים קודם לכוהן גדול עם הארץ

מסכת הוריות פרק ג, ח

Judaism recognized and celebrated the power of scholarship, learning and critical thinking to break all social strata, caste systems and tribal barriers.  Learning was the ultimate equalizer, the ultimate title reformer.

One final phrase of interest found in the blessings of the Torah is included in the blessing after the public reading of the Torah.

Where we bless God who has “given us the Torah of Truth, planting within us life eternal.

חיי עולם נטע בתוכנו

There is something adversarial and combative about Torah learning.  The Rabbis are always counterpointing it to something else.  Above, against (כנגד) all the commandments and here, against prayer…. The Rabbis associate “temporal life” (חיי שעה) with prayer and eternal life (חיי עולם) with study.

Raba saw R. Hamnuna prolonging his prayers. Said he, They forsake eternal life and occupy themselves with temporal life. But he [R. Hamnuna] held, The times for prayer and [study of the] Torah are distinct from each other. R. Jeremiah was sitting before R. Zera engaged in study; as it was growing late for the service, R. Jeremiah was making haste [to adjourn]. Thereupon R. Zera applied to him [the verse], He that turneth away from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. [Bab Talmud Sabbath 10a]

This is a variation on the famous line attributed to Louis Finkelstein: “When I pray I speak to God; when I study, God speaks to me.”

Study is our link with eternity because knowledge is truly the only thing that we pass on to future generations.  This is the true eternal life (חיי עולם).

Maybe that explains why the blessing that parents give their children every week is actually not a parental blessing at all…. It’s a grandparental blessing originally given by Jacob/Israel to his grandchildren Ephraim and Menasha! The blessing celebrates multigenerational aspect of living a life not based on a static patrimony but on an active and chosen engagement.

And maybe that’s why, of all the Rabbis and Midrashim that Rashi quotes in his commentary, scholars have been unable to find the source of this first midrash, nor have they been able to identify this certain Rabbi Yitzchak to whom Rashi refers.  Could it be that this Rabbi Yitzchak was not a Rabbi of Midrashic times, but was actually Rashi’s own father?[v]  “Rashi” is an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo ben Itzchaki and after all it is only in learning that we honor and preserve the memory of our parents, grandparents and teachers…

[adopted from a kavanah study session at The Conservative Synagogue of Westport, CT]

——————-

[i] Abraham is an interesting possible exception. See Genesis 10: 27

[ii] The truth is, that the resolution of the birthright/chosen conflict at the end of Genesis includes not only Ephraim and Menasha, but Joseph as well.  Joseph, who as the first-born of Rachel, Jacob’s chosen first-born wife gets the double portion due a first-born by receiving two tribal portions (Ephraim and Menashe) in the promised land.

[iii] נגד as in a scale where all the commandments are on one side of the scale and the study of Torah is on the other.  Compare also נגד as in the exchange of opposite or differing opinions אזר כנגו, כנגד ההר, כנגד ארבה בנים

[iv] As Nahum Sarna writes: “the conventional treaty provision requiring periodic public reading of the treaty’s stipulations was expanded in Israel and transformed into a wholly new category: the obligation, oft repeated, to disseminate the law among the masses; that is, the universal duty of continuous self-education.” [Exploring Exodus: The Origins of Biblical Israel, Nahum M. Sarna, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Aug 10, 2011 p. 143

[v] “His impressive commentary of the Bible starts with a question asked by a Rabbi Yitzhak: ….. for some exegetes, this Rabbi Yitzhak is none other than the author’s father. If this assumption is correct, it would mean that we know at least one thing about Rashi’s father: he was himself a rabbi who posed questions worthy of contemplation. But beyond the fact that he was the father of one the greatest scholars of the biblical and Talmudic literature, we know very little.”

Wiesel, Elie (2009-08-06). Rashi (Jewish Encounters) (p. 11). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

blessing-ephraim and Menasha

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Filed under Bible, Chosen People, divine right, Hebrew, Israel, Judaism, prayer, Religion, Shabbat, Torah, tribalism

Fight your own battles

Rosh Hashanah

The message of Rosh Hashanah is that God and only God is our King.   –  א’ן לנו מלך אלא אתה – No human official will fight our battles; no flesh and blood savior will come to our rescue. Given that the New Year festivals in ancient Babylonia and Egypt made kings into gods, the Hebrew New Year is a disruptive paradigm shift which constitutes a rejection of any authority-figure other than God.  In the Hebrew New Year it is God who is annually crowned as King. Ultimately, if God is the only external authority, that leaves ultimate responsibility for the failures and successes of each and every one of us squarely on our own shoulders and souls… God help us!

Our father our king, have mercy upon us and answer us for we have no deeds; do us right and kindly and save us.

אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ חָנֵּנוּ וַעֲנֵנוּ כִּי אֵין בָּנוּ מַעֲשִׂים עֲשֵׂה עִמָּנוּ צְדָקָה וָחֶסֶד וְהוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ

Here’s the backstory:

God’s Kingship is so fundamental to Judaism that the first prayer of the day (said before the Lords name can even be mentioned), uses “King” as the primary place-holder:

מודה אני לפניך מלך חי וקים

I give thanks before You, Living and Eternal King

Elsewhere God is referred to as a father, spouse and creator amongst other metaphors, but it is as King that He greets us every morning and….. in every benediction.  The seminal importance of God as King is part and parcel of the formula for a standard blessing:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱ-להֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעולָם

Blessed art You Lord our King of the universe

The emphasis on God as King increases as we approach the New Year. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we substitute “King” for “God” in the third blessing of the Amidah.  Kingship takes precedence over Godship

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ הא-ל הָקדוש

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ המֶלֶךְ הָקדוש

 

The first section of the Musaf Amidah on Rosh Hashanah is called Malchuyot  מלכויות   (Kingship) and provides ten citations from Scripture, all of which contain a reference to Kingship.. except the last which is the Shema

שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל: ה’ אֱ-לוהֵינוּ, ה’ אֶחָד

Hear Oh Israel the Lord your God, the Lord is one.

This is surprising, because the 10 verses brought as proof-texts for the other sections of the service (   זכרונות ושופרותzichronot and shofrot) have 10 proper proof texts which all contain a reference to “memory” or “shofar” as would be expected.

The 9th proof text brought for malchuyot (kingship) is the verse from Zechariah  14, 9 used to close the Aleinu prayer.[1]

 וְהָיָה ה’ לְמֶלֶךְ, עַל-כָּל-הָאָרֶץ; בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, יִהְיֶה ה’ אֶחָד-וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד

And the LORD shall be King over all the earth; in that day shall the LORD be One, and His name one.

The verse from Zechariah is used to deliver a radical message.  We were all taught to believe that the Jew’s greatest contribution to the history of ideas was the concept of monotheism – God is one as branded in the iconic Shema affirmation. In fact, the utilization of the Shema as a proof-text to God’s Kingship introduces the Shema in a new light.  God’s oneness is not a theological declaration as much as it is a political and moral affirmation… there is only one King, one ruler, one external authority that we are bound to.  The flip-side of God’s oneness has always been that we shall take no other gods.  And this negative-affirmation is central to our theology.  The flipside of God’s Kingship is that we shall take no other kings or authorities or saviors. This negative is also a positive…

Similarly, the verse that is whispered all year after the recitation of the Shema, is enunciated out loud during the High Holidays.

ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד

Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever.

All year we encounter God’s Kingship is hiding in plain sight.  On Rosh Hashanah we are obliged to re-affirm what should be obvious. We answer only to God.  God’s Oneness is powerless unless it translates into a kingship that suffers no other kings.

The high point of the daily Selichot services leading up to Yom Kippur and of the Yom Kippur service itself is the Avinu Malkeinu prayer.  The Avinu Malkeinu is actually the closing prayer of the Neilah service and was composed by Rabbi Akiva to break a drought.  The original was considerably shorter than our version:

ירד רבי עקיבה אחריב ואמר
אבינו מלכנו א’ן לנו מלך אלא אתה
אבינו מלכנו רחם עלינו
וירדו גשמים

Rabbi Akiva led after him (the previous Rabbi Eliezer) and said:
“Our father. our king we have no king other than you.
Our father, our king, have mercy on upon us.”
And the rain fell. [Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 25b)

Over the generations, many other stanzas have been added, but the core of this iconic prayer is not so much that God is King… as much as that we shall take no other Kings.  We have only ourselves and God’s grace to save us.

If God’s Kingship is the Bible’s core message, it befits us to aticulate the attitude towards Kingship in Scripture itself.

(Samuel I 8: 4-22)

Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah.
And they said unto him: ‘Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways; now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.’
But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said: ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.
And the LORD said unto Samuel: ‘Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not be king over them.
According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, in that they have forsaken Me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.
Now therefore hearken unto their voice; howbeit thou shalt earnestly forewarn them, and shalt declare unto them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.’
And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king.
And he said: ‘This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: he will take your sons, and appoint them unto him, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and they shall run before his chariots.
And he will appoint them unto him for captains of thousands, and captains of fifties; and to plow his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his chariots.
And he will take your daughters to be perfumers, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. …..
And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king whom ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not answer you in that day.’
But the people refused to hearken unto the voice of Samuel; and they said: ‘Nay; but there shall be a king over us; that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.‘ And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he spoke them in the ears of the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel: ‘Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king.’ And Samuel said unto the men of Israel: ‘Go ye every man unto his city.’

(Samuel I 8: 4-22)

 וַיִּתְקַבְּצוּ, כֹּל זִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל-שְׁמוּאֵל, הָרָמָתָה. וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו, הִנֵּה אַתָּה זָקַנְתָּ, וּבָנֶיךָ, לֹא הָלְכוּ בִּדְרָכֶיךָ; עַתָּה, שִׂימָה-לָּנוּ מֶלֶךְ לְשָׁפְטֵנוּ–כְּכָל-הַגּוֹיִם. וַיֵּרַע הַדָּבָר, בְּעֵינֵי שְׁמוּאֵל, כַּאֲשֶׁר אָמְרוּ, תְּנָה-לָּנוּ מֶלֶךְ לְשָׁפְטֵנוּ; וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל שְׁמוּאֵל, אֶל- וַיֹּאמֶר ה’, אֶל-שְׁמוּאֵל, שְׁמַע בְּקוֹל הָעָם, לְכֹל אֲשֶׁר-יֹאמְרוּ אֵלֶיךָ:  כִּי לֹא אֹתְךָ מָאָסוּ, כִּי-אֹתִי מָאֲסוּ מִמְּלֹךְ עֲלֵיהֶם. כְּכָל-הַמַּעֲשִׂים אֲשֶׁר-עָשׂוּ, מִיּוֹם הַעֲלֹתִי אוֹתָם מִמִּצְרַיִם וְעַד-הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, וַיַּעַזְבֻנִי, וַיַּעַבְדוּ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים–כֵּן הֵמָּה עֹשִׂים, גַּם-לָךְ. וְעַתָּה, שְׁמַע בְּקוֹלָם:  אַךְ, כִּי-הָעֵד תָּעִיד בָּהֶם, וְהִגַּדְתָּ לָהֶם, מִשְׁפַּט הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר יִמְלֹךְ עֲלֵיהֶם. וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל, אֵת כָּל-דִּבְרֵי ה’, אֶל-הָעָם, הַשֹּׁאֲלִים מֵאִתּוֹ מֶלֶךְ. וַיֹּאמֶר–זֶה יִהְיֶה מִשְׁפַּט הַמֶּלֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר יִמְלֹךְ עֲלֵיכֶם:  אֶת-בְּנֵיכֶם יִקָּח, וְשָׂם לוֹ בְּמֶרְכַּבְתּוֹ וּבְפָרָשָׁיו, וְרָצוּ, לִפְנֵי מֶרְכַּבְתּוֹ. וְלָשׂוּם לוֹ, שָׂרֵי אֲלָפִים וְשָׂרֵי חֲמִשִּׁים; וְלַחֲרֹשׁ חֲרִישׁוֹ וְלִקְצֹר קְצִירוֹ, וְלַעֲשׂוֹת כְּלֵי-מִלְחַמְתּוֹ וּכְלֵי רִכְבּוֹ. וְאֶת-בְּנוֹתֵיכֶם, יִקָּח, לְרַקָּחוֹת וּלְטַבָּחוֹת, וּלְאֹפוֹת.  וְאֶת-שְׂדוֹתֵיכֶם וְאֶת-כַּרְמֵיכֶם וְזֵיתֵיכֶם, הַטּוֹבִים–יִקָּח; וְנָתַן, לַעֲבָדָיו. וְזַרְעֵיכֶם וְכַרְמֵיכֶם, יַעְשֹׂר; וְנָתַן לְסָרִיסָיו, וְלַעֲבָדָיו. וְאֶת-עַבְדֵיכֶם וְאֶת-שִׁפְחוֹתֵיכֶם וְאֶת-בַּחוּרֵיכֶם הַטּוֹבִים, וְאֶת-חֲמוֹרֵיכֶם–יִקָּח; וְעָשָׂה, לִמְלַאכְתּוֹ. צֹאנְכֶם, יַעְשֹׂר; וְאַתֶּם, תִּהְיוּ-לוֹ לַעֲבָדִים. וּזְעַקְתֶּם, בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, מִלִּפְנֵי מַלְכְּכֶם, אֲשֶׁר בְּחַרְתֶּם לָכֶם; וְלֹא-יַעֲנֶה יְהוָה אֶתְכֶם, בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא. וַיְמָאֲנוּ הָעָם, לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹל שְׁמוּאֵל; וַיֹּאמְרוּ לֹּא, כִּי אִם-מֶלֶךְ יִהְיֶה עָלֵינוּ. וְהָיִינוּ גַם-אֲנַחְנוּ, כְּכָל-הַגּוֹיִם; וּשְׁפָטָנוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ וְיָצָא לְפָנֵינוּ, וְנִלְחַם אֶת-מִלְחֲמֹתֵנוּ. וַיִּשְׁמַע שְׁמוּאֵל, אֵת כָּל-דִּבְרֵי הָעָם; וַיְדַבְּרֵם, בְּאָזְנֵי ה’. וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל-שְׁמוּאֵל שְׁמַע בְּקוֹלָם, וְהִמְלַכְתָּ לָהֶם מֶלֶךְ; וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל אֶל-אַנְשֵׁי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְכוּ אִישׁ לְעִירוֹ.

See also I Samuel 12 where the people beseech God to stop a destructive rain storm during the wheat harvest… and notice how it connects the concept of God saving his subjects for His name’s sake as does Akiba’s prayer…

And all the people said unto Samuel: ‘Pray for thy servants unto the LORD thy God, that we die not; for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king.’ And Samuel said unto the people: ‘Fear not; ye have indeed done all this evil; yet turn not aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart; and turn ye not aside; for then should ye go after vain things which cannot profit nor deliver, for they are vain. For the LORD will not forsake His people for His great name’s sake; because it hath pleased the LORD to make you a people unto Himself. Moreover as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and the right way. Only fear the LORD, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider how great things He hath done for you. But if ye shall still do wickedly, ye shall be swept away, both ye and your king.’

וַיֹּאמְרוּ כָל-הָעָם אֶל-שְׁמוּאֵל, הִתְפַּלֵּל בְּעַד-עֲבָדֶיךָ אֶל-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ–וְאַל-נָמוּת:  כִּי-יָסַפְנוּ עַל-כָּל-חַטֹּאתֵינוּ רָעָה, לִשְׁאֹל לָנוּ מֶלֶךְ. וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל אֶל-הָעָם, אַל-תִּירָאוּ–אַתֶּם עֲשִׂיתֶם, אֵת כָּל-הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת; אַךְ, אַל-תָּסוּרוּ מֵאַחֲרֵי יְהוָה, וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֶת-יְהוָה, בְּכָל-לְבַבְכֶם.  וְלֹא, תָּסוּרוּ:  כִּי אַחֲרֵי הַתֹּהוּ, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יוֹעִילוּ וְלֹא יַצִּילוּ–כִּי-תֹהוּ הֵמָּה. כִּי לֹא-יִטֹּשׁ יְהוָה, אֶת-עַמּוֹ–בַּעֲבוּר, שְׁמוֹ הַגָּדוֹל:  כִּי הוֹאִיל יְהוָה, לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶתְכֶם לוֹ לְעָם. גַּם אָנֹכִי, חָלִילָה לִּי מֵחֲטֹא לַיהוָה–מֵחֲדֹל, לְהִתְפַּלֵּל בַּעַדְכֶם; וְהוֹרֵיתִי אֶתְכֶם, בְּדֶרֶךְ הַטּוֹבָה וְהַיְשָׁרָה. אַךְ יְראוּ אֶת-יְהוָה, וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֹתוֹ בֶּאֱמֶת–בְּכָל-לְבַבְכֶם:  כִּי רְאוּ, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-הִגְדִּל עִמָּכֶם. וְאִם-הָרֵעַ, תָּרֵעוּ–גַּם-אַתֶּם גַּם-מַלְכְּכֶם, תִּסָּפוּ.

 

As presented in I Samuel, the rejection of the Kingship of God was the penultimate failure of the Exodus-Sinai Project.  The Hebrew word for “rejected” (מָאֲס ) means “despise” “reject” “abhor” .  According to Strongs Lexicon  H3988 “מָאַס is a primitive root; to spurn; also (intransitively) to disappear:—abhor, cast away (off), contemn, despise, disdain, (become) loathe(some), melt away, refuse, reject, reprobate, utterly, vile person.”.  It is the root of the Yiddish word for real ugly – meeskite.  God was taking this real personally.  The rejection of God as King and the acceptance of other authority is THE piece of unfinished business and reconciliation that stands in the way of the Israel Project.  This acceptance of God as King and this radical rejection of any other human authority is the work of Rosh Hashanah.  Rejecting God as King comes from a smallness of spirit born out of a desire to have others to fight our battles.  Accepting God as the only authority, places the obligation and responsibility to make ourselves and the world a better place squarely on our own shoulders.

 

Epilogue

In rejecting human kingship as a rejection of Divine Kingship, we cannot ignore the organic connection between a human king and a human savior… the “anointed” king and the Messiah  מלך המשיח :

Then Samuel took the vial of oil, and poured it upon his head, and kissed him, and said: ‘Is it not that the LORD hath anointed thee to be prince over His inheritance. (1 Samuel Chapter 10, 1)

וַיִּקַּח שְׁמוּאֵל אֶת-פַּךְ הַשֶּׁמֶן, וַיִּצֹק עַל-רֹאשׁוֹ–וַיִּשָּׁקֵהוּ; וַיֹּאמֶר–הֲלוֹא כִּי-מְשָׁחֲךָ יְהוָה עַל-נַחֲלָתוֹ, לְנָגִיד.

And Samuel said unto Saul: ‘The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over His people, over Israel; now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD.  (I Samuel 15-1)

וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל, אֶל-שָׁאוּל, אֹתִי שָׁלַח ה’ לִמְשָׁחֳךָ לְמֶלֶךְ, עַל-עַמּוֹ עַל-יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְעַתָּה שְׁמַע, לְקוֹל דִּבְרֵי ה’.

The anointed savior – Mashiach – was Kingship Ver 2.0.  The Mashiach as the Savior was a perversion of the early institution of human Kingship, which itself was a terrible perversion of the greatest and most liberating idea that Judaism introduced to humanity.  God is King, God was King and God will be King for ever and ever….

————-

[1] Some believe Aleinu was written by Tanna Rav in 3rd century Babylonia for Rosh Hashanah services.

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Filed under Bible, divine right, Israel, prayer, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, social commentary, Torah

it’s just a story

parshat vayetze

In a previous post (first refusnik) I explore how Jacob was the first Refusnik… in the fullest sense of the word.

I make reference to a seminal concept in the way the rabbis read the Bible, especially Genesis: The stories of our predecessors are a sign for future generations.

מעשה אבות סימן לבנים

Normally this concept is translated as “the narrative of the Patriarchs is a sign for their children”. So that if Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all were individually exiled because of a famine and ultimately returned to the promised land, so too would their progeny many years latter… and as a people.

But a more radical understanding could certainly be: All those stories about our patriarchs, matriarchs.. our origins, are nothing more than symbolic.

Afterall, the word avot (אבות), especially in Rabbinic usage means origin or sources (e.g. the 39 core forms of work prohibited on shabbat ל״ט אבות מלאכות )

After All, Maimonides in his Guide for the Perplexed II, 42 states unequivocally that many of the iconic stories in the Bible were just dreams….

the appearance or speech of an angel mentioned in Scripture took place in a vision or dream; it makes no difference whether this is expressly stated or not, as we have explained above. This is a point of considerable importance. In some cases the account begins by stating that the prophet saw an angel; in others, the account apparently introduces a human being, who ultimately is shown to be an angel; but it makes no difference, for if the fact that an angel has been heard is only mentioned at the end, you may rest satisfied that the whole account from the beginning describes a prophetic vision.

What this means is that not only is the story of Jacob struggling with the Angel just a vision… never happened.. but so is the story of the Fall which ends with Angels guarding the entrance to Eden…. and so is the sacrifice of Isaac which ends with an angel calling out to Abraham to lay off the boy.  (so it turns out that the sacrifice of Isaac was not only a dream… it was a particularly bad dream… a nightmare..)

In my mind, to say that much, if not all of the bible is merely a dream, a vision, a sign is not a defect.  The Hebrew Bible contains the dreams, visions and nightmares of my people… ones that have impacted humankind in ways unimaginable.

But when it comes to impacting the lives of other human beings, created in the image of the divine… let’s remember… it’s just a story.

 

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you are not my boss

parshat shoftim

When the month of Elul arrives, the Jewish High Holidays are soon to follow, but what is so Jewish about these High Holidays (ימים נוראים lit. Days of Awe)?  Unlike the three pilgrimage holidays (שָׁלשׁ רְגָלִים ), Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur don’t celebrate the Exodus from Egypt or the giving of the Torah to the Jewish People.  Their only commonality shared by all Jewish holidays is that they are an adaptation of earlier Pagan holidays. Unlike Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot which were originally agricultural and harvest holidays, Rosh Hashanah is a deeply political holiday and it’s adaptation was not so much a transition as it was a radical paradigm shift.

As we shall see, the most important holiday celebrated in both Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia was the annual New Year rebirth, judgment and coronation of the King as god. So the best introduction to Judaism’s rendition of this king-making celebration is to understand Judaism’s love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with kingship.

When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein; and shalt say: ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are round about me’;
thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose; one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee; thou mayest not put a foreigner over thee, who is not thy brother.
Only he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses; forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you: ‘Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.’
Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away; neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.
And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book, out of that which is before the priests the Levites.
And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them;
that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left; to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the midst of Israel. Deuteronomy 17: 14-20)

 כִּי-תָבֹא אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ, וִירִשְׁתָּהּ, וְיָשַׁבְתָּה בָּהּ; וְאָמַרְתָּ, אָשִׂימָה עָלַי מֶלֶךְ, כְּכָל-הַגּוֹיִם, אֲשֶׁר סְבִיבֹתָי
שׂוֹם תָּשִׂים עָלֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ בּוֹ:  מִקֶּרֶב אַחֶיךָ, תָּשִׂים עָלֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ–לֹא תוּכַל לָתֵת עָלֶיךָ אִישׁ נָכְרִי, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-אָחִיךָ הוּא
רַק, לֹא-יַרְבֶּה-לּוֹ סוּסִים, וְלֹא-יָשִׁיב אֶת-הָעָם מִצְרַיְמָה, לְמַעַן הַרְבּוֹת סוּס; וַ ה’, אָמַר לָכֶם, לֹא תֹסִפוּן לָשׁוּב בַּדֶּרֶךְ הַזֶּה, עוֹד
וְלֹא יַרְבֶּה-לּוֹ נָשִׁים, וְלֹא יָסוּר לְבָבוֹ; וְכֶסֶף וְזָהָב, לֹא יַרְבֶּה-לּוֹ מְאֹד
וְהָיָה כְשִׁבְתּוֹ, עַל כִּסֵּא מַמְלַכְתּוֹ–וְכָתַב לוֹ אֶת-מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת, עַל-סֵפֶר, מִלִּפְנֵי, הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם
וְהָיְתָה עִמּוֹ, וְקָרָא בוֹ כָּל-יְמֵי חַיָּיו–לְמַעַן יִלְמַד, לְיִרְאָה אֶת- ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ, לִשְׁמֹר אֶת-כָּל-דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת וְאֶת-הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה, לַעֲשֹׂתָם
לְבִלְתִּי רוּם-לְבָבוֹ מֵאֶחָיו, וּלְבִלְתִּי סוּר מִן-הַמִּצְוָה יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאול–לְמַעַן יַאֲרִיךְ יָמִים עַל-מַמְלַכְתּוֹ הוּא וּבָנָיו, בְּקֶרֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל

The institution of the monarchy was the ultimate divine concession to the shortcomings and shortsightedness of the chosen people.  This same sentiment is presented in the Book of Samuel (Samuel I 8: 4-22)

Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah.
And they said unto him: ‘Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways; now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.’
But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said: ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.
And the LORD said unto Samuel: ‘Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not be king over them.
According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, in that they have forsaken Me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.
Now therefore hearken unto their voice; howbeit thou shalt earnestly forewarn them, and shalt declare unto them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.’
And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king.
And he said: ‘This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: he will take your sons, and appoint them unto him, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and they shall run before his chariots.
And he will appoint them unto him for captains of thousands, and captains of fifties; and to plow his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his chariots.
And he will take your daughters to be perfumers, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. …..
And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king whom ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not answer you in that day.’
But the people refused to hearken unto the voice of Samuel; and they said: ‘Nay; but there shall be a king over us;

We should keep in mind that the appointment of a human King and the appointment of a human Messiah are one and the same.. both are a major concession to the lack of vision and faith by God’s flock.  Both a King and the Messiah are the anointed of God [1]

The monarchy was accepted, with legal restrictions and much of the prophetic tradition represents a check and balance on the monarchy [2]

Getting back the New Year’s Coronation Festival in the Ancient Near East, the Classical study was written by Henri Frankfort and called Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of Society and Nature and is available for download here.

Frankfort details how in Mesopotamia the festival of the new year lasted twelve days; it was a time of purification, of renewal of the vegetation. It was also a time of dramatic reenactments, the most important of which were the rites of the Sacred Marriage, and the recitation of the Sumerian creation epic, Enuma elish. It was at this time that the destinies of both gods and mankind were fixed, and the king began his reign on new year’s day.  (see)

One fascinating aspect of the Akitu involved a kind of ritual humiliation endured by the Babylonian king. This peculiar tradition saw the king brought before a statue of the god Marduk, stripped of his royal regalia and forced to swear that he had led the city with honor. A high priest would then slap the monarch and drag him by his ears in the hope of making him cry. If royal tears were shed, it was seen as a sign that Marduk was satisfied and had symbolically extended the king’s rule. Some historians have since argued that these political elements suggest the Akitu was used by the monarchy as a tool for reaffirming the king’s divine power over his people. (see)

Likewise in Ancient Egypt there was the Sed Festival held in the Fall hat celebrated the continued rule of a pharaoh. The ancient festival might, perhaps, have been instituted to replace a ritual of murdering a pharaoh who was unable to continue to rule effectively because of age or condition. … They primarily were held to rejuvenate the pharaoh’s strength and stamina while still sitting on the throne, celebrating the continued success of the pharaoh.   The Sed-festival developed into a royal jubilee intended to reinforce the pharaoh’s divine powers and religious leadership.

Writes Frankfort: “

The Egyptian calendar started with the first day of the first month of the Season of Inundation (1 Thoth), a day originally coinciding with the beginning of the rise of the Nile.  But four months later there was another new beginning: the inundation ended the Nile returned to its bed, and the new crops were sown.  The first day of the first month of the “Season of Coming Forth” (1 Tybi) was consequently celebrated as a rite de passage appropriate to a new beginning, although it was not the Calendrical New Year’s Day.  This “New Year’s Day” in autumn was presided over by a snake-demon called Nehebkau, a name which can be translated as “Bestower of Dignitaries” or as “Uniter of the Ka’s” (of Horus and Osiris), and we have , in both cases, an illusion to the definitive assumption of power by the new king.  … it was fitting that a king should be crowned to re-establish harmony between nature and society which had been shattered by the death of the previous ruler.  Hence it is said of Tuthmosis I, when he indicates the date for the coronation of Hatshepsut: “He knew that a coronation on New Year’s Day was good as the beginning of peaceful years.” (pp 103-4). [3]

This understanding of the context of the New Year’s Festival in the Ancient Near East, radically changes our understanding to the Jewish New Year holiday, Rosh Hashanah.  What Rosh Hashanah becomes is a radical statement of independence of all human rule.

On Rosh Hashanah we declare God King as a direct and vocal rejection of the widespread and widely known (at the time) traditions of making a human of blood and flesh… into a divine king.

Although God as king always enters into our prayers (e.g. Blessed are You King of the Universe…), it is on Rosh HaShanah that we have the focal point on Malchiot – Kingship, culminating at the end of the Neilah service where we end the service with the threefold repetition of “Praised is His name, whose glorious kingdom for ever and ever,” that recalls the threefold declaration: “The Lord is king (present), the Lord was king (past), and the Lord will be king (future).”

Ultimately, it is in our New Year’s Festival that we reject our people’s request for a human king (and a human anointed one) as we reject the rule of any human being and we declare God is King.  For a humanist… it doesn’t get any better, because the emphasis is not that God is King… but that no human can rule us.  We say to all tyrants and others attempting to form our opinions and curtail our actions and imagination… you are not my boss.

——————-

[1]

To-morrow about this time I will send thee a man out of the land of Benjamin, and thou shalt anoint him to be prince over My people Israel, and he shall save My people out of the hand of the Philistines; for I have looked upon My people, because their cry is come unto Me.’ (Samuel I 9: 16)

 כָּעֵת מָחָר אֶשְׁלַח אֵלֶיךָ אִישׁ מֵאֶרֶץ בִּנְיָמִן, וּמְשַׁחְתּוֹ לְנָגִיד עַל-עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְהוֹשִׁיעַ אֶת-עַמִּי, מִיַּד פְּלִשְׁתִּים:  כִּי רָאִיתִי אֶת-עַמִּי, כִּי בָּאָה צַעֲקָתוֹ אֵלָי

And the spirit of the LORD will come mightily upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man. Samuel I 10:6

וְצָלְחָה עָלֶיךָ רוּחַ ה’, וְהִתְנַבִּיתָ עִמָּם; וְנֶהְפַּכְתָּ, לְאִישׁ אַחֵר

[2]

As Frankfort, Wilson, and Jakobsen write in The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: An Essay of Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East (p348)  “A jealous concern for their traditional prerogatives was kept alive among the people by various agitators, notably the prophets.  Nathan’s rebuke of David, as Elijah’s of Ahab, was a direct denial of the assumptions of divine right and a bold affirmation of the principle that the king was amenable to the same standards of right, the same pervasive natural law as his humblest subject.  Here, too, it is apparent, was the principle basic to the entire attitude of the prophets and other progressive thinkers toward the monarchy: the king ruled, not by divine right, but under divinely imposed responsibility”

[3]

For further reading regarding Nisan and Tishrei as Kinmaking New Year’s festivals including actual Mesopotamian liturgy that has striking parallels to the Rosh Hashanah liturgy see Kingship and the Gods chapter 22 The New Year’s Festival pp 313-) here

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