Category Archives: humor

Lost in Translation – Toldot

This week’s madlik podcast:

Join us as we learn to listen to the Hebrew Bible… not just read it. Following the advise of Haim Nachman Bialik and using tools provided by Everett Fox we listen to the names and name games played by the Biblical author as we unravel the characters of Noah, Isaac and Jacob.

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“Reading the Bible in translation is like kissing your new bride through a veil.” famously quipped Haim Nachman Bialik.

I would love to see this quote as Bialik as published or documented verbatim and in the original Hebrew. I’m suspicious that what I find attributed to Bialik as it may just be a translation or paraphrase:

תרגום דומה לנשיקה מבעד לצעיף

I’m sure that reading Bialik in translation is a similarly less-than sensual experience.  Did he say bride or girl, did he mean just a kiss or was he suggesting something more intimate and finally was it a veil or the proverbial sheet?  In any case, I do agree with Bialik that learning Torah can be like sex and in this regard it should not be practiced safely with an interfering translation… it should be done … in the original Hebrew.

While we’re on the subject of kosher sex, let’s consider one of the best examples of lost-in-translation in the Bible.

Genesis 26 sets the stage wherein Isaac fibs about his wife and tells Abimelech that Rebecca is his sister.

8 And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife.

וַיְהִי, כִּי אָרְכוּ-לוֹ שָׁם הַיָּמִים, וַיַּשְׁקֵף אֲבִימֶלֶךְ מֶלֶךְ פְּלִשְׁתִּים, בְּעַד הַחַלּוֹן; וַיַּרְא, וְהִנֵּה יִצְחָק מְצַחֵק, אֵת, רִבְקָה אִשְׁתּוֹ.

The Hebrew word that the text uses for “sporting” is metzahek which comes from the same Hebrew root as does Isaac’s name: listen: “Yitzhak metzahek”.  It is clear that the biblical writer, along with Isaac, was having some fun here. This is the only place[i] in the Bible that metzahek is used to imply sexual activity…. Unless, of course, we now re-read the texts associated with the original association of Yitzhak’s name with the laughter of Sarah and Abraham ….. and realize that his parents laughed at the thought of procreating a child…. (see Gen 17:17, 18:12,13 and 15 and 21:6).  So maybe Yitzchak’s “sporting” makes us realize that there was always sexual innuendo in the glee, gaiety, and amazement with a-touch-of-self-mockery that his parents, he and maybe we feel at the joy of sex. Hey.. It’s not me… it’s the Hebrew talking.

The modern day scholar who focuses most closely on the original Hebrew sounds of the biblical text is Everett Fox, who has written a translation of the Torah following on the heels of Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig.  Fox takes the Bible, if not as an oral document, certainly as an aural one.  Fox believes that using echoes, allusions, and powerful inner structures of sound, the text of the Bible is often able to convey ideas in a manner that vocabulary alone cannot do.  Fox argues that virtually every major (usually male) character in Genesis has his name explained by a play on words many time hinting at an eventual fate or character trait.

Let’s listen to the story of Jacob in Genesis 25:26

26 And after that came forth his brother, and his hand had hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob. And Isaac was threescore years old when she bore them.

וְאַחֲרֵי-כֵן יָצָא אָחִיו, וְיָדוֹ אֹחֶזֶת בַּעֲקֵב עֵשָׂו, וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ, יַעֲקֹב; וְיִצְחָק בֶּן-שִׁשִּׁים שָׁנָה, בְּלֶדֶת אֹתָם

The association of Jacob – Yaakov with a heel is strange.  Jacob is not the only mythical hero with a famous heel, but in Achilles case, he was the owner of the heel.  Jacob’s relationship with his brother’s heel is vicarious.  If the biblical author, let alone his parents, want to be flattering, they do a lousy job.   Jacob is to be known, at best, as a “hanger on”. Fox’s translation: “Heel-Holder”

Even if we choose to think of Jacob as a bootstrapper, we can’t forget that he pulls himself up by a bootstrap attached to his brothers heal.  And let’s not forget that Esau’s heal, like Achilles, is his most vulnerable body part. Metaphorically, the heel[ii] is the exposed rear of an army (see Joshua 8:13 and Genesis 49:19).  When God curses the snake for tempting Eve, it is on the snake’s metaphorical heel that man shall forever stamp (Genesis 3:15).  Attacking an enemy’s heel is an insult to both the attacker and the victim.

Our unflattering association is echoed by Esau himself latter in the story.  After Jacob steals the birthright, Esau taunts (Genesis 27:36):

And he said: ‘Is not he rightly named Jacob? for he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing.’ And he said: ‘Hast thou not reserved a blessing for me?’

וַיֹּאמֶר הֲכִי קָרָא שְׁמוֹ יַעֲקֹב, וַיַּעְקְבֵנִי זֶה פַעֲמַיִם–אֶת-בְּכֹרָתִי לָקָח, וְהִנֵּה עַתָּה לָקַח בִּרְכָתִי; וַיֹּאמַר, הֲלֹא-אָצַלְתָּ לִּי בְּרָכָה.

Here Ekev-heel is used in the sense of “to throw one down, to trip one up, to supplant, to circumvent, to defraud.[iii]  Fox’s translation: “Heel-Sneak”. Check out Jeremiah 9:3

Take ye heed every one of his neighbour, and trust ye not in any brother; for every brother acteth subtly, and every neighbour goeth about with slanders.

אִישׁ מֵרֵעֵהוּ הִשָּׁמֵרוּ, וְעַל-כָּל-אָח אַל-תִּבְטָחוּ:  כִּי כָל-אָח עָקוֹב יַעְקֹב, וְכָל-רֵעַ רָכִיל יַהֲלֹךְ

Jeremiah is pulling no punches, he uses “ekov Yaakov” the “heel of Jacob” as a synonym for acting subtly.

What kind of parents would the biblical author have Isaac and Rebecca be?  Who gives a child such a name?

Clearly, Jacob is in need of a name change… and in fact, this is what happens after he wrestles with the Angel at the River Jabbok (literally: wrestling river).

There is nothing flattering that one can say about Yaakov’s name.  His name can only portend a change.  A change from a swindler, a scrapper, a kniver… someone who by choice or circumstance is forced to steal his blessings and eke out a living and a life.  Yaakov is the outsider, the Ghetto Jew, but his name portends another name, where he crosses the river into his homeland and can stand on his own feet and pull himself up from his own bootstraps … attached to his own heel.  This is what hopefully lies ahead for him in his future name and this is what presumably is up for grabs in the blessing that he steals.

So far in the text, you don’t have to listen to the Hebrew words of the text, you can look the words up in a dictionary or Biblical Lexicon… but when it comes to the patrimony and blessing that Jacob coveted… you have to listen: (Genesis 26: 3-5)

3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore unto Abraham thy father;

4 and I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these lands; and by thy seed shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves;

5 because that Abraham hearkened to My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.’

גּוּר בָּאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת, וְאֶהְיֶה עִמְּךָ וַאֲבָרְכֶךָּ:  כִּי-לְךָ וּלְזַרְעֲךָ, אֶתֵּן אֶת-כָּל-הָאֲרָצֹת הָאֵל, וַהֲקִמֹתִי אֶת-הַשְּׁבֻעָה, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי לְאַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ.

וְהִרְבֵּיתִי אֶת-זַרְעֲךָ, כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְנָתַתִּי לְזַרְעֲךָ, אֵת כָּל-הָאֲרָצֹת הָאֵל; וְהִתְבָּרְכוּ בְזַרְעֲךָ, כֹּל גּוֹיֵי הָאָרֶץ.

עֵקֶב, אֲשֶׁר-שָׁמַע אַבְרָהָם בְּקֹלִי; וַיִּשְׁמֹר, מִשְׁמַרְתִּי, מִצְו‍ֹתַי, חֻקּוֹתַי וְתוֹרֹתָי.

The word translated as “because” is our old friend “ekev”[iv]. Used in this fairly rare sense, it has the sense of “as a consequence, a gain, a reward, end”.  It is that which results from a long, tedious, painful, tortuous and circuitous journey. A pilgrimage full of blisters and maybe a touch of plantar fasciitis.  Esau, might have been, like Achilles, the golden boy and favorite son and Yaakov, the parasite, but Yaakov struggled with what little he had.  Esau may have been well heeled, but Yaakov had the fortitude and faith in a God of history to grab steadfastly for a better future[v].  He deserved the blessing… it had his name on it.

Listening to the lyricism of the words in the original Hebrew and opening our ears to the playful and suggestive way the writer weaves one word; ekev into the narrative, we can do what Fox[vi] suggests we do; move explanation and commentary from the footnotes, back to the body of the text and in so doing.. we can finally… kiss the bride.

Music

lyrics: http://www.hebrewsongs.com/song-eliezerbenyehuda.htm

Zeh hab’chor, ekra lo Ben Yehuda, Itamar’

Shemiyankut v’ad k’mila,

Miyom bo’o bivrit mila

v’ad moto –

K’ruta lo brit im ha’ivrit,

From the day of his entering the covenant
(brit-milah) until his death
Will have a covenant, with Hebrew

 


[i] See Strongs Biblical lexicon tsachaq H6711

Lexicon :: Strong's H6711 - tsachaq

Lexicon :: Strong’s H6711 – tsachaq

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[ii] See Strongs Biblical lexicon aqeb H6119

Lexicon :: Strong's H6119 - `aqeb

Lexicon :: Strong’s H6119 – `aqeb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[iii] See Stongs Biblical Lexicon aqab  H6117

Lexicon :: Strong's H6117 - `aqab

Lexicon :: Strong’s H6117 – `aqab

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[iv] See Strongs Biblical Lexicon 86118

Lexicon :: Strong's H6118 - `eqeb

Lexicon :: Strong’s H6118 – `eqeb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[v] It is no surprise that this last sense of Ekev, came to represent the promise of the future and messianic times.  The bad times and trial preceding the coming of the messiah were referred to as the “footsteps [heel steps] of the messiah”  Sotah 49a-b
R. ELIEZER THE GREAT SAYS: FROM THE DAY THE TEMPLE WAS DESTROYED, …. THERE WAS NONE TO ASK, NONE TO INQUIRE. UPON WHOM IS IT FOR US TO RELY? UPON OUR FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN. IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE MESSIAH   עקבות המשיח  INSOLENCE WILL INCREASE AND HONOUR DWINDLE;  …  THE GOVERNMENT WILL TURN TO HERESY  AND THERE WILL BE NONE [TO OFFER THEM] REPROOF; THE MEETING-PLACE [OF SCHOLARS] WILL BE USED FOR IMMORALITY; …. THE WISDOM OF THE LEARNED6  WILL DEGENERATE, FEARERS OF SIN WILL BE DESPISED, AND THE TRUTH WILL BE LACKING; YOUTHS WILL PUT OLD MEN TO SHAME, THE OLD WILL STAND UP IN THE PRESENCE OF THE YOUNG, A SON WILL REVILE HIS FATHER, A DAUGHTER WILL RISE AGAINST HER MOTHER, A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW, AND A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD;  THE FACE OF THE GENERATION WILL BE LIKE THE FACE OF A DOG,  A SON WILL NOT FEEL ASHAMED BEFORE HIS FATHER. SO UPON WHOM IS IT FOR US TO RELY? UPON OUR FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN.

[vi] Although I must admit that Fox does not pick up on the ekev of the blessing, possibly because it does not appear directly in the blessing, but in the patrimony preceding and in the narrative.  I would argue that it is nonetheless intentionally placed in the literary piece.

 

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Filed under Bible, Hebrew, humor, Martin Buber, Pilgrimage, Torah

wonder of wonders

I was privileged to see the new production of Fiddler on the Roof Starring Danny Burstein and Jessica Hecht. Adam Kantor is amazing as Motel the tailor and when he sang Miracle of Miracles I realized that this song was a direct rendering of a favorite Midrash, which I am happy to share.

Rabbi Yehudah bar Simon began: (Psalms 68:7) “God maketh the solitary to dwell in a house, He bringeth out the prisoners into prosperity”*. A matron asked R. Yosi bar Halfa, saying to him: “How many days did it take the Holy One Blessed be Him to create the world?” He said to her: “[to] Six days, as it is written (Exodus 20) “Because six days God made the heavens and the earth.” She said to him: “What has He been doing since that hour and now?” He said to her: “The Holy One blessed be He sits and matches matches; the daughter of this one to this one, the wife of this one, to this one, the money of this one  to this one.”  [ed sounds like Tevye wrote that],  She said to him: “And this is His occupation! Even I could do so! How many servants, how many maidservants do I have.  In an easy moment I could match them.” He said to her: “If it is easy in your eyes, it is as difficult in the eyes of the Holy One blessed be He as splitting the Red Sea.”

‘If that is difficult,’ she gibed, ‘I too can do the same.’ She went and matched [her slaves], giving this man to that woman, this woman to that man and so on. Sometime after those who were thus united went and beat one another, this woman saying, ‘I do not want this man,’ while this man protested, ‘I do not want that woman.’ (Straightway she summoned R. Jose b. ,Halafta and admitted to him: ‘There is no god like your God: it is true, your Torah is indeed beautiful and praiseworthy, and you spoke the truth!’)1 Said he to her: ‘If it is easy in your eyes, it is as difficult before the Holy One, blessed be He, as the dividing of the Red Sea.’ What is the proof? ‘God maketh individuals to dwell in a house’; He bringeth out the prisoners into prosperity (ba-kosharoth). (What does ‘ba-kosharoth’ mean? Weeping (beki) and song (shiroth): he who desires [his companion] utters song: and he who does not, weeps.)

B. Sota 2a; Genesis Rabbah 68:4; Zohar 3:45b;

אמרה לו: לכמה ימים ברא הקדוש ברוך הוא את עולמו
אמר לה: לששת ימים, כדכתיב (שמות כ): “כי ששת ימים עשה ה´את השמים ואת הארץ.”
אמרה לו: מה הוא עושה מאותה שעה ועד עכשיו
אמר לה: הקב”ה יושב ומזווג זיווגים, בתו של פלוני לפלוני, אשתו של פלוני לפלוני, ממונו של פלוני, לפלוני.
אמרה לו: ודא הוא אומנתיה?! אף אני יכולה לעשות כן! כמה עבדים, כמה שפחות יש לי, לשעה קלה אני יכולה לזווגן.
   אמר לה: אם קלה היא בעיניך, קשה היא לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא, כקריעת ים סוף.

הלך לו ר’ יוסי בר חלפתא. מה עשתה? נטלה אלף עבדים ואלף שפחות, והעמידה אותן שורות שורות. אמרה: פלן יסב לפלונית, ופלונית תיסב לפלוני, וזיווגה אותן בלילה אחת. למחר אתון לגבה, דין מוחיה פציעא, דין עינו שמיטא, דין רגליה תבירא. אמרה להון: מה לכון? דא אמרה: לית אנא בעי לדין. ודין אמר: לית אנא בעי לדא. מיד שלחה והביאה את ר’ יוסי בר חלפתא אמרה לו: לית אלוה כאלהכון, אמת היא תורתכון, נאה ומשובחת! יפה אמרת! אמר: לא כך אמרתי לך: אם קלה היא בעיניך, קשה היא לפני הקב”ה כקריעת ים סוף. הקדוש ברוך הוא מה עושה להן? מזווגן בעל כרחן, שלא בטובתן, הה”ד (תהלים סח): אלהים מושיב יחידים ביתה, מוציא אסירים בכושרות. מהו בכושרות? בכי ושירות. מאן דבעי, אומר שירה! ומאן דלא בעי, בכי! אמר רבי ברכיה: כלשון הזה השיבה ר’ יוסי בר חלפתא, הקב”ה יושב ועושה סולמות, משפיל לזה ומרים לזה, ומוריד לזה ומעלה לזה. הוי אומר (תהלים עה): אלהים שופט, זה ישפיל וזה ירים, יש שהוא הולך אצל זיווגו, ויש שזיווגו בא אצלו. יצחק בא זיווגו אצלו, שנאמר (בראשית כד): ויצא יצחק לשוח בשדה. יעקב הלך אצל זיווגו, שנאמר: ויצא יעקב מבאר שבע

Lyrics to Miracle of Miracles
music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick

Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles-
God took up Daniel once again,
Stood by his and side and- miracle of miracles-

Walked him through the lions den!

Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles-
I was afraid that God would frown,
But like he did so long ago, at Jericho,
God just made a wall fall down!
When Moses softened Pharaohs heart, that was a miracle.
When God made the waters of the red sea part, that was a miracle too!
But of all God’s miracles large and small,
The most miraculous one of all
Is that out of a worthless lump of clay,
God has made a man today.

Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles-
God took the tailor by the hand
Turned him around and- miracle of miracles- Led him to the promised land!

When David slew Goliath (yes!), that was a miracle.
When God gave us matter in the wilderness, that was a miracle too.
But of all God’s miracles large and small,
The most miraculous one of all
Is the one I thought could never be:
God has given you to me.

L’Chaim!
—————-
* The first clause refers to marriage-making, the second to the release of prisoners. Therefore the two are declared identical as regards difficulty. (see)
Adam Kantor
 According to the Talmudic version, God’s miraculous efforts regarding arranging marriages only applies to second marriages:

R. Samuel b. R. Isaac said: When Resh Lakish began to expound [the subject of] Sotah, he spoke thus: They only pair a woman with a man according to his deeds;17  as it is said: For the sceptre of wickedness shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous.18  Rabbah b. Bar Hanah said in the name of R. Johanan: It is as difficult to pair them as was the division of the Red Sea; as it is said: God setteth the solitary in families: He bringeth out the prisoners into prosperity!19  But it is not so; for Rab Judah has said in the name of Rab: Forty days before the creation of a child, aBath Kol20  issues forth and proclaims, The daughter of A is for B;21  the house of C is for D; the field of E is for F! — There is no contradiction, the latter dictum referring to a first marriage and the former to a second marriage.

א”ר שמואל בר רב יצחק כי הוה פתח ריש לקיש בסוטה אמר הכי אין מזווגין לו לאדם אשה אלא לפי מעשיו שנא’ (תהלים קכה, ג) כי לא ינוח שבט הרשע על גורל הצדיקים אמר רבה בר בר חנה אמר ר’ יוחנן וקשין לזווגן כקריעת ים סוף, שנאמר (תהלים סח, ז) אלהים מושיב יחידים ביתה מוציא אסירים בכושרות איני והא אמר רב יהודה אמר רב ארבעים יום קודם יצירת הולד בת קול יוצאת ואומרת בת פלוני לפלוני בית פלוני לפלוני שדה פלוני לפלוני לא קשיא הא בזוג ראשון הא בזוג שני

 

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Filed under Bible, humor, Judaism, miracle

wise guy

Blessed is God, Blessed is He; Blessed is the One who Gave the Torah to His people Israel, Blessed is He. Corresponding [lit. against or opposite] to four sons did the Torah speak; The wise, the evil one, one who is innocent and one who doesn’t know to ask. (see  Sefaria )”

בָּרוּךְ הַמָּקוֹם, בָּרוּךְ הוּא, בָּרוּךְ שֶׁנָּתַן תּוֹרָה לְעַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל, בָּרוּךְ הוּא. כְּנֶגֶד אַרְבָּעָה בָנִים דִּבְּרָה תוֹרָה: אֶחָד חָכָם, וְאֶחָד רָשָׁע, וְאֶחָד תָּם, וְאֶחָד שֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל.

Contrary to popular opinion, the Four Children is not a popularity contest.  The Wise Son is not meant to be a role model and the Wicked Son is not the big loser.

Against Four Sons against the Torah speaks   כנגד ארבעה בנים דיברה תורה

Think of “against” כנגד as in opposition. Against – כנגד asks us to engage in discourse and debate these personality types; to confront, admonish, affront…  Think of it as a pedagogic teaching-moment.  Think of the friction and counter-balance in a healthy relationship. Think of the first relationship, of Eve with Adam:

And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man is alone; I shall make him a helpmate opposite him.” Genesis 2:18

וַיֹּאמֶר הֹ אֱ-לֹהִים לֹא טוֹב הֱיוֹת הָאָדָם לְבַדּוֹ אֶעֱשֶׂה לּוֹ עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ

Rashi: a helpmate opposite him: If he is worthy, she will be a helpmate. If he is not worthy, she will be against him, to fight him. — [from Gen. Rabbah 17:3, Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer , ch. 12. See also Yev. 63a]   זכה עזר, לא זכה כנגדו להלחם  עזר כנגדו

The type of relationship and conversation demanded by the Torah for the Four Children is the same type of interaction associated with a marriage… If the child is missing the point of the Seder, you need to speak up for both your sakes.

When you think of “against” you can also think of  מתן תורה the Revelation at Sinai… This is after all how the haggadah introduces the Four Sons.

Blessed is He that gave the Torah to His People Israel    ברוך שנתן תורה לעמו ישראל

The Torah uses the same word כנגד when talking about the Children of Israel in juxtaposition to Mt. Sinai.

They [the Children of Israel] journeyed from Rephidim, and they arrived in the desert of Sinai, and they encamped in the desert, and Israel encamped there opposite the mountain [Mt. Sinai]. Exodus 19:2

וַיִּסְעוּ מֵרְפִידִים וַיָּבֹאוּ מִדְבַּר סִינַי וַיַּחֲנוּ בַּמִּדְבָּר וַיִּחַן שָׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל נֶגֶד הָהָר

When the Torah confronts the four children think of a revelation, think of a life changing moment, an epiphany, an intervention.

Getting back to the Four Children,  let’s begin by leveling the playing field.  Each of these children desperately needs a wake-up call.  A gentle caress for some, a jarring blow for others… but trust me, all are missing the point of the Exodus/Seder.

And lets keep to the facts.  We know nothing about all of these types besides the one character trait which stands between them and an Exodus.

All we can say of the Wise son is that he is Wise.  He might be a bore, a miser, a fornicator, a dead-beat, or an arrogant son of a bitch.

The Simple Child might be an artist or clairvoyant.  The child who doesn’t know how to ask might be a survivor… Who are we to say?

And the Evil Child. The Evil child, besides the one character fault impugned,  might be or appear for all intents and purposes, a tzadik (righteous man).. more about that in my next post…

The personality trait that requires an intervention is the only one to which the Torah and by extension, we, the participants in a Seder, are meant to address.

The character deficit we are meant to address lies exclusively in his question and our answer.

I will focus only on the Wise son (in this post) and the Evil son (in my next post) because …. They interest me (and my guess.. you) the most and because it is these two that the text of the Haggadah singles out.

It is only for these two that we are told “and even you” אף אתה   should respond.  “And even you” is not simply emphatic, it is reflective and reflexive.    “And even you” is a tagline that we should recognize and that challenges us to venture a comparison.

Hama son of R. Hanina further said: What means the text: Ye shall walk after the Lord your God?( Deut. XIII, 5) Is it, then, possible for a human being to walk after the Shechinah; …But [the meaning is] to walk after the attributes of the Holy One, blessed be He. As He clothes the naked, … so do thou also clothe the naked. The Holy One, blessed be He, visited the sick, …  so do thou also visit the sick. The Holy One, blessed be He, comforted mourners, …  so do thou also comfort mourners. The Holy one, blessed be He, buried the dead, …  so do thou also bury the dead. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 14a)

להלך אחר מדותיו של הקב”ה מה הוא מלביש ערומים דכתיב ויעש ה’ א-להים לאדם ולאשתו כתנות עור וילבישם אף אתה הלבש ערומים הקב”ה ביקר חולים דכתיב ירא אליו ה’ באלוני ממרא אף אתה בקר חולים הקב”ה ניחם אבלים דכתיב ויהי אחרי מות אברהם ויברך א-להים את יצחק בנו אף אתה נחם אבלים הקב”ה קבר מתים דכתיב ויקבר אותו בגיא אף אתה קבור מתים

The expression אף אתה  “Even You” is used to dare us… in the one case to dare us to try to imitate God and likewise, in the Haggadah’s case, to dare us to find the “wise” and “evil’ child in ourselves.

The Haggadah is telling us “grownups” that you need this medicine too אף אתה.  You’re more similar to this child than you think אף אתה. You share the malady more than you might be willing to admit…. EVEN YOU.. need to speak this question and listen to the answer.

What does the wise [son] say? “‘What are these testimonies, statutes and judgments that the Lord our God commanded you?’ (Deuteronomy 6:20)” And accordingly [and even] you will say to him, as per the laws of the Pesach sacrifice, “We may not eat an afikoman [a dessert or other foods eaten after the meal] after [we are finished eating] the Pesach sacrifice.”

חָכָם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מָה הָעֵדוֹת וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֶתְכֶם. וְאַף אַתָּה אֱמוֹר לוֹ כְּהִלְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח: אֵין מַפְטִירִין אַחַר הַפֶּסַח אֲפִיקוֹמָן

It seems to me that the Wise child has all the book knowledge and knows all the facts. But he’s missing something.  He like the Wicked child distances himself from the participants by saying “you” and not “us”. In the answer we are to give, we get a sense of exactly what he is distancing himself from.  We are to discuss the Passover Sacrifice – a historical artifact of a temple no-more and it’s replacement; the Afikomen replete with its folklore, superstition, and childish hide-and-go seek game to which it owes its brand identity…

We are to discuss with this Wise Guy son the cultural, emotional and historical baggage that our people, his people, carry.  And we are to discuss with him the unwritten, undocumented and unquantifiable, sometimes child-like, sometimes humorous, sometimes superstitious and sometimes ahistorical parodies and cultural tics that enable us to survive.  Most of all we confront him with two emotions not found in any text book.  Compassion and wonder.

Here’s where I leave you to your own wise guy answers and imagine how some of my favorite thinkers and story tellers might have answered

Abraham Joshua Heschel

 “ Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin.”

(God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism, Abraham Joshua Heschel  p. 43) (see here)

Shlomo Carlebach

“Our holy Rabbis teach us that the chacham, the clever boy, is very beautiful as long as you think that being clever is everything.  The chacham is intellectual, he needs to be taught.  How about stopping being only intellectual? How about tasting the Afikoman, tasting the depths of life, feeling deep emotion and serving god with it? The clever person isn’t far away from the wicked person. “ 

“The Koznitzer Maggid says about Yachatz [the broken Afikomen], “The world is so broken, but our children can make the world whole again. We break the matzah; the small piece we keep, and the big piece – the bigger brokenness – our children take away.  Then they bring it back to us whole, to serve as the Afikomen at the end of the seder.” Our children they are the ones that are taking brokenness away from us.”

  The Carlebach Haggadah: Seder Night with Reb Shlomo by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach p 39-40 and 19-20

And best for last…

Chaim Potok in the Chosen when Reb Saunders explains why he stopped talking to his son Danny…

The Chosen 1The Chosen 2

The Chosen By Chaim Potok pp 285-6

 

Benson3

 

 

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introducing the LoBa Bramulke by Vashti®

Shushan, New York – 15 Adar II 5776

(for press release click here)

799_yarmulkebra

In a move that took fashion industry pundits by surprise, LoBa Kippa today announced its entry into the lingerie market.  Noticing a spike in sales of its popular Loba Kippa 3-pack the Loba Google analytics team realized that women were buying one loba Kippa for their husbands and keeping two for themselves. A closer reading of Megillat Esther confirmed what women have known for over two thousand years… That “Lo” means “Lo” and when a woman says she’s not coming she means Lo Ba.. I’m not coming!  Taking the LoBa message to feminists and cross-dressers, the LoBa Bramulke supports an individual’s inalienable right to stand up to sexual exploitation and to anointed kings and saviors.

הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ אָמַר לְהָבִיא אֶת-וַשְׁתִּי הַמַּלְכָּה לְפָנָיו–וְלֹא-בָאָה

The king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought before him, but she came not (Esther 1:17)

The LoBa spokesperson would not reveal any further details relating to the bramulke other than to say that due to the organization’s aversion to magical thinking  Loba intimate wear would provide a stark alternative to the Miracle Bra™ and would provide consumers with extra support and lift using hard work, sustainable materials and other natural means.

Furthermore the bra like the loba movement itself will reveal universalism and visions of eschatological harmony as no longer fashionable. The loba bramulke will lift up the related parties while enthusiastically preserving and accentuating the natural contours and healthy cleavage necessary for independent movement and divergent activities.

Asked if there is any competition, the spokesperson recalled that in the’60s there was a lobra movement, but that today LoBa is in a world unto itself.

——

About LoBa Kippa – LoBa is the next big movement in Judaism.  It’s a growing group of thought leaders who believe that while the idea of a Savior and Final Redemption have played a role in the past, in today’s world of religious fanaticism, Messianism has become the most destructive concept shared by the world’s monotheistic religions.

LoBa  (לא בא) is Hebrew  for “not coming” and the LoBa store is for those of us who are not waiting. We’re not waiting for the Mashiach, the Messiah, the Second Coming, the Caliphate, the hidden Mahdi, hidden Imam or any other end-time magical solution.

Based on lyrics from a popular Israeli song our products proclaim that the Mashiach isn’t coming, he’s not even calling…   משיח לא בא – משיח גם לא מטלפן

LoBa customers reject any theology or ideology that wishes to change the world with a bang.

We’re not a negative group, we just reject those who feel empowered to disregard the rules of society and rights of others in order to bring a new age or end-time. Rather than wait, we engage in making the world a better place one step at a time and for its own sake.

Our products make a great gift for a loved one.. including yourself.  And you don’t have to be Jewish to love LoBa.  It’s just that we Jews introduced the world to Messianism, so it’s only fair that we lead the way in getting rid of this unhelpful and oh too many times, destructive idea.

Web site: www.lobakippa.com
Contact: info@lobakippa.com

LoBa Logo

 

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graven images and caricatures of the prophet

You don’t hear of Jews blowing up giant Buddhas.  It’s not as though their sacred texts don’t rail against such graven images.  In fact, we invented idol smashing.  You remember. It was Abraham, the founder of those so-called monotheistic religions who, when left alone in his father’s idol shop, slashed inventory.

3rd -4th century A.D, 37 meter high,(Shakyamuni) Buddha demolished by Taliban with 50,000 kilograms dynamite on March 12, 2001 in Karachi, Afghanistan.

3rd -4th century A.D, 37 meter high,(Shakyamuni) Buddha demolished by Taliban with 50,000 kilograms dynamite on March 12, 2001 in Karachi, Afghanistan.

The midrash is so well known that most Hebrew-School graduates think it’s part of scripture and not simply a literary fiction of the Midrash (B’reishit Rabbah 38:13).  The Midrash is so well known that it appears in the Quran (Qur’an 21:51-70).  Both renderings have Abraham leaving the largest idol untouched to support his claim that “the big guy did it”. (see comparison of the midrash and Quranic accounts here).

So why don’t Jews smash idols?

It may be that we have bigger problems and it’s just low on our punch list. It may be that smashing idols beloved by billions is not prudent for those whose numbers are counted in decimal points…

It may also be that Jews don’t believe that these images represent real idols and correspondingly, that Jews don’t believe that worship as practiced by Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists etc, corresponds to the idol worship portrayed in the Bible.  This last approach is the one offered by Classical Rabbinic texts. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 102b) which argues that the idolatry referenced in the Bible had a force and efficacy that no longer exists and which we moderns have no way of comprehending. “The drive for idolatry was so strong in my [ancient] time that, had you been there, you yourself would have caught up the skirt of your garment and done the same!” (see)  Mosts Buddhists and Hindus will tell you that they are worshiping the spirit through the lens of a visual image.

A variation on this view is echoed by iconic Hebrew University Biblical scholar Yehezkel Kaufmann (1889 -1963) who argued that the Ancient Hebrew’s paradigm shift to monotheism was so complete that: What idol-worship the Scriptures speak of was only “vestigial fetishistic idolatry,” and not a genuine attachment of the people to such forms of worship… (see)

So why don’t Jews blow up Buddhas?  Is it because they have more pressing matters? Is it because we would prefer not to antagonize billions of believers?  Is it because the worship of images of Buddha, Brahma, Vishnu,  Shiva,  etc do not constitute the Idol worship of ancient Old Testament times?

Or, is it because we actually don’t take our monotheism that seriously?

Let’s face it, Jews (and Christians, for that matter) may wail against graven images, but whether it be widespread reference to God’s human features (outstretched arms, face, image etc.) and emotions (anger, jealousy etc) or calling the Godhead by different names (as in El, Yahweh, Shadai, or respectively; Father, Son, or Holy Ghost).. there are plenty of images in our texts and liturgy to go around.

I admit that in our daily speech, we Jews don’t refer to God by any of His given names.  We use a moniker: “Hashem” in the daily vernacular, but by the familial way we use it, you’d think that “Hashem” was a Jew’s best friend.

If you want to take the no-name approach seriously, you should follow our Abrahamic brothers and sisters in Islam.

Muslims do not use “Allah” the way Jews use the “Hashem”, in fact proper muslim practices suggests that one should use the word “Allah” only when speaking Arabic.  When one speaks English one should use the word “God”.  “Allah” is simply the Arabic word for “God”.. not the name of the Muslim God.

It is surprising to notice that many Muslims do not realise that the word “Allah” is simply the Arabic word for the word “God”.  Many of them believe that “Allah” is the actual name of the Muslim God! They do not realise that it is wrong to “personalise” God as He is not a person. God is much greater than to be confined to a single name.

Neither do they realise that the word “Allah” does not belong exclusively to the Muslims and that it has always been used before (and after) the revelation of the Quran by the Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians when they speak about God.

Talking to English speaking people about God using the word “Allah” is very much the same as speaking to Arabic speaking people about “Allah” using the word “God”. It makes better sense to use the equivalant word of each language. (see)

So if we Jews took our no-name approach more seriously, we would say “The Name” instead of “Hashem” when speaking English.. But let’s face it “Hashem” is so much more personal and Haimish.

So let’s be real….  we Jews don’t take our Monotheism that seriously… Baruch Hashem.

Our’s is a monotheism, full of anthropomorphisms and warmth.  It is what I like to call “Monotheism with a wink”.

As the author of a book on the Big Ideas responded when asked by a NY Times reporter what was the single worst idea in history?

Without question, ethical monotheism. The idea of one true god. The idea that our life and ethical conduct on earth determines how we will go in the next world. This has been responsible for most of the wars and bigotry in history. (see)

Monotheism with a wink, maintains that duality in thought (if not in action) is not only possible, but to be encouraged.  According to the Talmud in Eruvin 13b the Schools of Hillel and Shamai argued the law for three years until a voice from heaven issued announcing, “These and these are the words of the living God … but the practical law follows Hillel

(אלו ואלו דברי א-להים חיים הן, והלכה כבית הילל (ע’ש

Monotheism with a wink supports a radical pluralism of opinions and interpretations.

The Midrash said it this way: there are 70 “faces” to the Torah (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15 and Talmud Sanhedrin 34a  see)

שבעים פנים לתורה . מה פטיש זה מתחלק לכמה ניצוצות – אף מקרא אחד יוצא לכמה טעמים

Jewish humor summarized it this way:

Max and Isaac come to the Rabbi’s study to settle a dispute.  The Rabbi’s wife is also seated in the room.

Max explains his complaint to the Rabbi:  …. The Rabbi declares, “You’re right, Max.” Next, Isaac presents his side.  He speaks with such passion and persuasion that the Rabbi says to him, “You’re right, Isaac.” After they leave, the Rabbi’s wife is distraught and says to her husband, “..  How can you say that both of them are right?  … The Rabbi thinks long and hard and finally says to his wife, “You know, you’re also right.” (see)

Monotheism without a wink is a most dangerous thing.
But monotheism with a wink leads to humor, caricature, satire, curiosity, experimentation, innovation, invention, accommodation, conciliation, compassion, compromise and probably mixed dancing… and Baruch Hashem for that.

May the memory of those killed in the name of a monotheism without a wink, be forever a blessing.

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