Category Archives: Pilgrimage

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

A Cathedral in Time – A Tabernacle in Space

it all starts with the story of two Rebbes in a sukkah…..

 

and here to listen to it on SoundCloud.

or go to the iTunes store and subscribe to the madlik podcast here.

 

source notes

———————-

a cathedral in time – a tabernacle in space

1.

Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time. Unlike the space­minded man to whom time is unvaried, iterative, homogeneous, to whom all hours are alike, quality­less, empty shells, the Bible senses the diversified character of time. There are no two hours alike. Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious.

Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn; a shrine that even apostasy cannot easily obliterate: the Day of Atonement. According to the ancient rabbis, it is not the observance of the Day of Atonement, but the Day itself, the “essence of the Day,” which, with man’s repentance, atones for the sins of man.

——-

Note: Maimonides, Laws of Repentance 1:3

The essence of Yom Kippur brings attonement for thos who repent as it says: “For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall ye be clean before the LORD. Leviticus 16:30

כי ביום הזה יכפר עליכם  עצמו של יום הכיפורים מכפר לשבים שנאמר

——

Jewish ritual may be characterized as the art of significant forms in time, as architecture of time. Most of its observances–the Sabbath, the New Moon, the festivals, the Sabbatical and the Jubilee year–depend on a certain hour of the day or season of the year. It is, for example, the evening, morning, or afternoon that brings with it the call to prayer. The main themes of faith lie in the realm of time. We remember the day of the exodus from Egypt, the day when Israel stood at Sinai; and our Messianic hope is the expectation of a day, of the end of days.

——

Moed – Holiday

Ohel Moed – Ten of Meeting

——

In the Bible, words are employed with exquisite care, particularly those which, like pillars of fire, lead the way in the far­ flung system of the biblical world of meaning. One of the most distinguished words in the Bible is the word kadosh, holy; a word which more than any other is representative of the mystery and majesty of the divine. Now what was the first holy object in the history of the world? Was it a mountain? Was it an altar? It is, indeed, a unique occasion at which the distinguished word kadosh is used for the first time: in the Book of Genesis at the end of the story of creation. How extremely significant is the fact that it is applied to time: “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” There is no reference in the record of creation to any object in space that would be endowed with the quality of holiness.

This is a radical departure from accustomed religious thinking. The mythical mind would expect that, after heaven and earth have been established, God would create a holy place–a holy mountain or a holy spring–whereupon a sanctuary is to be established. Yet it seems as if to the Bible it is holiness in time, the Sabbath, which comes first. When history began, there was only one holiness in the world, holiness in time. When at Sinai the word of God was about to be voiced, a call for holiness in man was proclaimed: “Thou shalt be unto me a holy people.” It was only after the people had succumbed to the temptation of worshipping a thing, a golden calf, that the erection of a Tabernacle, of holiness in space, was commanded.

The sanctity of time came first, the sanctity of man came second, and the sanctity of space last. Time was hallowed by God; space, the Tabernacle, was consecrated by Moses. While the festivals celebrate events that happened in time, the date of the month assigned for each festival in the calendar is determined by the life in nature. Passover and the Feast of Booths [Sukkot], for example, coincide with the full moon, and the date of all festivals is a day in the month, and the month is a reflection of what goes on periodically in the realm of nature, since the Jewish month begins with the new moon, with the reappearance of the lunar crescent in the evening sky. In contrast, the Sabbath is entirely independent of the month and unrelated to the moon. Its date is not determined by any event in nature, such as the new moon, but by the act of creation. Thus the essence of the Sabbath is completely detached from the world of space. The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world.

The Sabbath (FSG Classics) Paperback – July 28, 2005 by Abraham Joshua Heschel

2.

After the destruction of the Second Temple there … was no High Priest, no sacrifice, no divine fire, no Levites singing praises or crowds thronging the precincts of Jerusalem and filling the Temple Mount. Above all there was no Yom Kippur ritual through which the people could find forgiveness.

It was then that a transformation took place that must constitute one of the great creative responses to tragedy in history. Tradition has cast Rabbi Akiva in the role of the savior of hope. The Mishna in Yoma, the tractate dedicated to Yom Kippur, tells us in effect that Rabbi Akiva could see a new possibility of atonement even in the absence of a High Priest and a Temple. God Himself would purify His people without the need for an intermediary. Even ordinary Jews could, as it were, come face to face with the Shekhina, the Divine Presence. They needed no one else to apologize for them. The drama that once took place in the Temple could now take place in the human heart. Yom Kippur was saved. It is not too much to say that Jewish faith was saved.

Every synagogue became a fragment of the Temple. Every prayer became a sacrifice. Every Jew became a kind of priest, offering God not an animal but instead the gathered shards of a broken heart. For if God was the God of everywhere, He could be encountered anywhere. And if there were places from which He seemed distant, then time could substitute for place. “Seek God where He is’ to be found, call on Him’ where He is close” (Is. 55:6) -— this, said the sages, refers to the Ten Days of Repentance from Rosh HaShana to Yom Kippur (Yevamot 105a). Holy days became the surrogate for holy spaces. Yom Kippur became the Jerusalem of time, the holy city of the Jewish soul.

Koren Sacks Yom Kippur Mahzor (Hebrew and English) Hardcover – August 15, 2012 by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks  pp xv-xvi

3.

During Sukkot, we add a prayer: “May the All Merciful establish (raise) for us the fallen Sukkah of David”

הרחמן הוא יקים לנו את סוכת דוד הנופלת

The notion of the “fallen Sukkah” come from the prophet Amos (9:11)

In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof, and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old;

 בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, אָקִים אֶת-סֻכַּת דָּוִיד הַנֹּפֶלֶת; וְגָדַרְתִּי אֶת-פִּרְצֵיהֶן, וַהֲרִסֹתָיו אָקִים, וּבְנִיתִיהָ, כִּימֵי עוֹלָם

4.

From the first day of Elul until the last day of Sukkot we read Psalm 27 every day.

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to behold the graciousness of the LORD, and to visit early in His temple.  or He concealeth me in His pavilion (lit. Sukkah) in the day of evil;
He hideth me in the covert of His tent; He lifteth me up upon a rock.

אַחַת, שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת-ה’–    אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ
שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית-ה’,    כָּל-יְמֵי חַיַּי;
לַחֲזוֹת בְּנֹעַם-ה’,    וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלו

כִּי יִצְפְּנֵנִי, בְּסֻכֹּה–    בְּיוֹם רָעָה:
יַסְתִּרֵנִי, בְּסֵתֶר אָהֳלוֹ;    בְּצוּר, יְרוֹמְמֵנִי

Musical notes:

Achat Sha’alti mei’eit Adonai otah avakeish (2x)

Shivti b’veit Adonai kol y’mei chayai

Lachazot b’no’am, b’no’am Adonai ul’vakeir b’heichalo (2x)

This melody, written by Israel Katz. See The Chazzan’s Tisch here and Velveteen Rabbi here for an Hebrew/English version and some background into Israel Katz the composer.  Here’s the track I play on the podcast 1:10 seconds in and available on iTunes here

Cho Rachman (Rebuilt) composed and sung by Shlomo Carlebach on his 4th LP, In The Palace Of The King (Vanguard, 1965) and available on Amazon here.

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Filed under Bible, Judaism, Pilgrimage, prayer, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, Rosh Hashannah, Sabbath, Shabbat, sukkot, Torah, Uncategorized, yom kippur

what’s in a name

parshat toldot

In a recent post (Isaac’s smile) we explored how Isaac’s name reflected his origins, personality and resolution of the angst in his narrative.

With the birth of Jacob (Yaakov) one has to conclude that the Biblical giver-of-child names deserves an award for choosing the most demeaning and pejorative patriarchal names.  Isaac’s name basically was “joke” and Jacob’s is “heel”….

There has to be something more than malicious name-calling going on here.

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 times 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 later 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 deceptively.

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.  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.


[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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from the land

parshat lech lecha

In a previous post walking without pretext, I explore the lost Jewish gestalt of pilgrimage. It is one of my favorite posts since I was contacted by the author of a book that I quoted (A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful by  Gideon Lewis-Kraus) with gratitude for a “thoughtful blog post” and gladness that I enjoyed his book.  Writers of books and blogs love positive feedback!

In today’s post, I’d like to explore the flip side of lech lecha.  (Genesis 12: 1)

Now the LORD said unto Abram: ‘Get thee out of thy land, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto the land that I will show thee.

וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל-אַבְרָם, לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ

The word “Land” אָרֶץ ‘erets appears twice in the verse. Later in the Hebrew Bible, when the word “land” is used without modification, it refers to ‘erets yisrael, the Land of Israel.  In modern Hebrew, when one makes reference to “b’arets” (in the land) one is referring to Israel.  In this specific verse, clearly the first reference to “land” is to Abram’s land of birth, probably in the modern land of Iraq.  Using a small dose of poetic license, I would suggest that for the lech lecha gestalt to take full effect, one must both leave one’s land and go to one’s land… at the same time.

To really arrive in a new land, or for the Jew or Israeli, to truly arrive in a new Israel, he or she must both move away and towards the land.  When this happens, there is real progress.. there is real lech lecha.

Such a moment happened recently (this week) when Reuven Rivlin became the first President of Israel to attend the annual memorial ceremony commemorating the 1956 massacre at Kafr Kassem.  According to the headline in the Times of Israel “Rivlin condemns ‘terrible crime’ of Kfar Kassem massacre. President says Jews and Arabs must draw lessons from killing of 49 civilians in village by border policemen in 1956.”  It seems to me, that for Israeli leaders to recognize the crimes that were committed while establishing the modern State of Israel is an important step for Jewish Israelis in rejecting bigotry and racism and entering the next stage of redeeming the land.  It also provides a much needed example for Arab Israeli citizens as they create a narrative that both embraces their privileged citizenship in the only true democracy in the Middle East without having to betray their parents and grandparents suffering and victimization.  In order to move on (lech lecha) all Israelis need to recognize a past without artificial sweeteners while embracing a shared future. For more on the importance and implications of Rivlin’s historic act see Daniel Gordis: Israel’s Overdue Reckoning With Its Arab Citizens

In November 0f 2013 I was privileged to glimpse such a future.  I was in Jerusalem with my wife and our good friends Nachum and Chani from Tel Aviv told us about a weekend of tours scheduled in and around Jerusalem called Open House Jerusalem; part of the international movement www.openhouseworldwide.org.  They were going on a tour called Lifta – A Look from Within.  According to the blurb:

The tour will be led by the architect Shmuel Groag, who heads the Conservation Unit at Bezalel`s Department of Architecture. He will examine the village of Lifta from its architectural, anthropological and environmental aspects, as a site earmarked for preservation that is unique not only in Jerusalem, but in all of Israel.

The tour which was conducted in Hebrew and for Israelis (not tourists or a visiting mission) was extremely well attended.  We learnt about the unique architecture of this Arab town and it’s history. Most importantly we learnt of the controversy and legal fights to save Lifts from demolition and to make way for more Jerusalem housing sprawl.  We learnt of the movement by both Arab and Jewish Israelis to preserve the ruins of Lifta as a heritage site. For more (much more) on the history, significance and status of Lifta see: In the Midst of the Ruins: Activists Struggle to Save the Palestinian Village of Lifta, Tikkun Magazine, by Marc Kaminsky, May 2, 2013.  The author of the article took a similar tour as we did.

What I would like to add to the historical record is a video shot by my friend Nachum of the highlight of my tour… a chance meeting between our tour of Israelis and a grown son with his 80 year old father, returning to Lifta on the annual occasion of the father’s birthday.  As I watched, it occurred to me that this father and son were doing what many of us do… going back to the old country to visit the village they were born in… only the residents of Lifta resettled just a few kilometers away.  What struck me was the dignity of both of them, especially the dad who just wanted to get the dust off of his trousers.  These were not people stuck in victimhood.  They were well dressed and had clearly made a new life for themselves, even reestablished a community of Lifta; outside of Lifta.  To my eyes, these two generations of witnesses we met, showed no malice as they pointed out homes of well known families in the town, the mosque, shops and local workshops… all destroyed.  As important was the respect and profound interest of the Jewish Israeli visitors.

To me it was a Lech Lecha moment.  Watch for yourself.

20131108_134231

 

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the children of Israel are perplexed… God bless them

parshat beshalach

The Hebrew word for Perplexed – Nevuchim, first appears in the Torah in the mouth of Pharaoh… Exodus 14:3 who sees that the Jews look confused and perplexed… and are living up to their latter appellation of Wandering Jews…

And Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel: They are perplexed in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in.

וְאָמַר פַּרְעֹה לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, נְבֻכִים הֵם בָּאָרֶץ; סָגַר עֲלֵיהֶם, הַמִּדְבָּר.

Buried in Part III, chapter 32 of The Guide for the Perplexed (Moreh Nevuchim), Maimonides makes a radical suggestion (quoted in full in the footnote[ii]); namely that all the laws of the Temple and Priesthood are only borrowed conventions, designed to move his Chosen People and humanity in a new direction. Maimonides calls this a “gracious ruse” a concept perhaps borrowed from the second-century-C.E. philosopher Alexander of Aphrodisias who developed the theory of divine condescendence (Greek synkatabasis; cf. Arabic talattuf)[iii] where God, in His Torah, not only “speaks in the language of man” but also legislates using existing social norms and customs, as limited as they may be. Similar to the Lurianic Kabbalistic concept of contraction (Tzimzum), God and His Torah, so to speak, descends into the muck of the crooked timber of humanity to enrich the human condition.

Even rituals such as fasting, tzizitmezuzahtefillin, supplications, prayers and similar kinds of worship… even the festivals and the Shabbat, are not the goal… but means to a goal and were ultimately poached, absorbed or modified from existing pagan practices. According to Maimonides, it is our job, 2,000 plus years later to try to discern the direction to which these intermediary steps are pointing. It is our job, nay mitzvah, to study comparative religion of the ancient Near East and to try to distinguish what parts of the teachings and commandments of the Torah are “borrowed” steps and which contain within them ultimate goals.

Maimonides realized the radical nature of such a suggestion.  He writes:

I know that you will at first thought reject this idea and find it strange: you will put the following question to me in your heart: How can we suppose that Divine commandments, prohibitions, and important acts, which are fully explained, and for which certain seasons are fixed, should not have been commanded for their own sake, but only for the sake of some other thing: as if they were only the means which He employed for His primary object? ….. Hear my answer, which will cure your heart of this disease and will show you the truth of that which I have pointed out to you. There occurs in the Law a passage which contains exactly the same idea; it is the following:” God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt; but God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea,” etc. (Exod. xiii. 17). Here God led the people about, away from the direct road which He originally intended, because He feared they might meet on that way with hardships too great for their ordinary strength; He took them by another road in order to obtain thereby His original object. In the same manner God refrained from prescribing what the people by their natural disposition would be incapable of obeying, and gave the above-mentioned commandments as a means of securing His chief object, viz., to spread a knowledge of Him [among the people], and to cause them to reject idolatry.

This is truly a paradigm shift for our task in studying the Torah is now turned on its head.  Not only are we implicitly obligated to use comparative religion, anthropology, archaeology, Near Eastern studies, linguistics, sociology and common sense to understand the context and antecedents of Biblical law and narrative, but we are challenged to discern not the letter of the law but rather the direction in which it points.  Torah is less a book of laws and more a path… an arguably crooked and perplexing path.. but one we are dared to follow.    

Happy are they that are upright in the way, who walk in the torah of the LORD.  (Psalms 119: 1)

אַשְׁרֵי תְמִימֵי-דָרֶךְ–    הַהֹלְכִים, בְּתוֹרַת יְהוָה


[ii] It is, namely, impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other: it is therefore according to the nature of man impossible for him suddenly to discontinue everything to which he has been accustomed. Now God sent Moses to make [the Israelites] a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod. xix. 6) by means of the knowledge of God. …. But the custom which was in those days general among all men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up, consisted in sacrificing animals in those temples which contained certain images, to bow down to those images, and to burn incense before them; religious and ascetic persons were in those days the persons that were devoted to the service in the temples erected to the stars,  It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God (literally “gracious ruse”), as displayed in the whole Creation, that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service; for to obey such a commandment it would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used; it would in those days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present if he called us to the service of God and told us in His name, that we should not pray to Him, not fast, not seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, and not by any action. For this reason God allowed these kinds of service to continue; He transferred to His service that which had formerly served as a worship of created beings, and of things imaginary and unreal, and commanded us to serve Him in the same manner; viz., to build unto Him a temple; … He selected priests for the service in the temple; …He made it obligatory that certain gifts, called the gifts of the Levites and the priests, should be assigned to them for their maintenance while they are engaged in the service of the temple and its sacrifices. By this Divine plan (literally “gracious ruse”) it was effected that the traces of idolatry were blotted out, and the truly great principle of our faith, the Existence and Unity of God, was firmly established; this result was thus obtained without deterring or confusing the minds of the people by the abolition of the service to which they were accustomed and which alone was familiar to them.

I know that you will at first thought reject this idea and find it strange: you will put the following question to me in your heart: How can we suppose that Divine commandments, prohibitions, and important acts, which are fully explained, and for which certain seasons are fixed, should not have been commanded for their own sake, but only for the sake of some other thing: as if they were only the means which He employed for His primary object? ….. Hear my answer, which will cure your heart of this disease and will show you the truth of that which I have pointed out to you. There occurs in the Law a passage which contains exactly the same idea; it is the following:” God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt; but God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea,” etc. (Exod. xiii. 17). Here God led the people about, away from the direct road which He originally intended, because He feared they might meet on that way with hardships too great for their ordinary strength; He took them by another road in order to obtain thereby His original object. In the same manner God refrained from prescribing what the people by their natural disposition would be incapable of obeying, and gave the above-mentioned commandments as a means of securing His chief object, viz., to spread a knowledge of Him [among the people], and to cause them to reject idolatry. It is contrary to man’s nature that he should suddenly abandon all the different kinds of Divine service and the different customs in which he has been brought up, and which have been so general, that they were considered as a matter of course; …In the same way the portion of the Law under discussion is the result of divine wisdom (literally “gracious ruse”), according to which people are allowed to continue the kind of worship to which they have been accustomed, in order that they might acquire the true faith, which is the chief object [of God’s commandments]. …As the sacrificial service is not the primary object [of the commandments about sacrifice], whilst supplications, Prayers and similar kinds of worship are nearer to the primary object, and indispensable for obtaining it, a great difference was made in the Law between these two kinds of service. The one kind, which consists in offering sacrifices, although the sacrifices are offered to the name of God, has not been made obligatory for us to the same extent as it had been before. We were not commanded to sacrifice in every place, and in every time, or to build a temple in every place, or to permit anyone who desires to become priest and to sacrifice. On the contrary, all this is prohibited unto us. Only one temple has been appointed,” in the place which the Lord shall choose” (Deut. xii. 26): in no other place is it allowed to sacrifice: …. and only the members of a particular family were allowed to officiate as priests. All these restrictions served to limit this kind of worship, and keep it within those bounds within which God did not think it necessary to abolish sacrificial service altogether. But prayer and supplication can be offered everywhere and by every person. The same is the case with the commandment of zizit (Num. xy. 38); mezuzah (Dent. vi. 9; xi. 20); tefillin (Exod. xiii. 9, 16): and similar kinds of divine service.

Because of this principle which I explained to you, the Prophets in their books are frequently found to rebuke their fellow-men for being over-zealous and exerting themselves too much in bringing sacrifices: the prophets thus distinctly declared that the object of the sacrifices is not very essential, and that God does not require them. …. Isaiah exclaimed,” To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord” (Isa. i. 11): ….For it is distinctly stated in Scripture, and handed down by tradition, that the first commandments communicated to us did not include any law at all about burnt-offering and sacrifice. ….. …. The Psalmist says:” Hear, 0 my people, and I will speak; 0 Israel, and I will testify against thee: I am God, even thy God. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt-offerings, they have been continually before me. I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he-goats out of thy folds” (Ps. 1. 29).– Wherever this subject is mentioned, this is its meaning. Consider it well, and reflect on it.

[iii] See A New Science: The Discovery of Religion in the Age of Reason By Guy G. Stroumsa Harvard University Press, 2010 page 93

For a source of Temple as gracious ruse in the Midrash, see:

מדרש אגדה תרומה:

“דבר אל בני ישראל ויקחו לי תרומה … ועשית את המזבח עצי שטים” – כל עניין המנורה והשולחן והמזבח והקרשים והאהל והיריעות וכל כלי המשכן – מפני מה? אמרו ישראל לפני הקב”ה: ריבונו של עולם, מלכי הגויים יש להם אוהל ושולחן ומנורה ומקטר קטורת, וכן הוא תכסיסי מלוכה, כי כל מלך צריך לכך, ואתה הוא מלכנו גואלנו מושיענו – לא יהיו לפניך תכסיסי מלוכה, עד שיוודע לכל באי עולם כי אתה הוא המלך?

אמר להם: בני, אותם בשר ודם צריכים לכל זה, אבל אני איני צריך, כי אין לפני לא אכילה ולא שתייה, ואיני צריך מאור, ועבדי יוכיחו כי השמש והירח מאירים לכל העולם ואני משפיע עליהם מאורי, ואני אשגיח עליכם לטובה בזכות אבותיכם.

אמרו ישראל לפני הקב”ה: ריבונו של עולם, אין אנחנו מבקשים את האבות (ישעיה ס”ג), “כי אתה אבינו, אברהם לא ידענו וישראל לא הכרנו”. אמר להם הקב”ה: אם כן, עשו מה שאתם חפצים, אלא עשו אותם כאשר אני מצווה אתכם… שנאמר “ועשו לי מקדש…” “ועשו מנורה… ועשו שולחן… ועשו מזבח מקטר קטרת”.

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the hiker’s guide to zionism

Parshat Vayishlach [i]

Genesis could be read as the recurring tale of exile and return.  Adam and Eve are exiled from Eden, Cain is marked as a wonderer on the earth and the flood removes Noah from the face of the earth and famine causes the temporary migration of both Abraham and Isaac.  Sin is usually associated with, or the cause of exile.  In the case of Adam and Eve and Cain, the sin is Original Sin or fratricide, respectively. In the case of Noah, the sin is of humankind, and in the case of Abraham and Isaac, it is exile itself that makes them into liars as they both claim their wives are their sisters.

If the purpose of a grim fairy tale is to help the reader master a difficult subject, then the repetition of the exile and return motif may be designed to help the reader internalize a core component of the Jewish pathos.

It is with Jacob that the return to the homeland takes gets some meat on its bones.  Maybe because Jacob is exiled as a child, without a wife, without a profession and without any possessions, when he returns with all of the above, it is a true return from exile.  In any case, one could argue that Jacob was the first Zionist.

Zionism as a 19th century movement, was not simply a migration ideology or even as some of it’s critics would argue, a movement of physical or cultural imperialism.  Rather, Zionism, at it’s core, was a 19th century articulation of an earlier Jewish (Hebraic) belief that Judaism could be practiced only in the historical land of Israel and by extension, that Jews (Hebrews) could only be themselves (normal) in the land of Israel.

This view did not emerge in the 19th century, it actually lies at the heart of the word Zion.

Deuteronomy 11, 18 (the 2nd paragraph of the Shma prayer recited twice a day and containd in both the tephilin and the mezuzah):

And you shall set these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes.

 וְשַׂמְתֶּם אֶת דְּבָרַי אֵלֶּה עַל לְבַבְכֶם וְעַל נַפְשְׁכֶם וּקְשַׁרְתֶּם אֹתָם לְאוֹת עַל יֶדְכֶם וְהָיוּ לְטוֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֵיכֶם:

Rashi:    And you shall set these words of Mine: Even after you have been exiled, make yourselves distinctive with My commandments: Put on tefillin and make mezuzoth , so that these will not be new to you when you return. Similarly, it is said, “Set up markers for yourself” (Jer. 31:20). – [Sifrei]

ושמתם את דברי: אף לאחר שתגלו היו מצויינים במצות, הניחו תפילין, עשו מזוזות כדי שלא יהיו לכם חדשים כשתחזרו. וכן הוא אומר (ירמיה לא, כ) הציבי לך ציונים:

There have always been a category of the commandments which are only practiced in the land of Israel (מצוות התלויות בארץ), but Rashi (based on the Sifrei Deuteronomy 43) is saying something much more radical here…. Namely, that Judaism can only be practiced in the land of Israel!

This is also the position of the Ramban which is that the fulfillment of even personal obligations in the Diaspora is meant to serve as training for fulfilling those same mitzvot in Israel; rituals, rites and commandments fulfilled in exile serve as signposts, leading the way back to living in the Land of Israel according to the Torah.  Rabbeinu Bachya similarly holds with regard to all mitzvot for which the essential obligation is in Israel, “These are the statutes and judgments which you shall observe to do in the land” (Devarim 12:1) — for all the mitzvot are the judgments of the God of the land.

It is interesting that none of the commentaries note the play on words of Zion and signposts… markers.

The word Tzion[ii] is usually taken to mean a sunny or parched place… another name for Jerusalem especially in the prophetic books… but as Rashi notes, it can also mean a signpost, monument, market[iii]… some have suggested: migration paths…

Only fro mthis perspective are statements in the Talmud such as:

Whoever lives in the Land of Israel may be considered to have a God, but whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who has no God. For it is said in Scripture, ‘To give you the Land of Canaan, to be your God’ (Leviticus 25:38). Has he, then, who does not live in the Land, no God? But [this is what the text intended] to tell you, that whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who worships idols. Similarly it was said in Scripture in [the story of] David, ‘For they have driven me out this day that I should not cleave to the inheritance of the Lord, saying: Go, serve other gods’ (First Samuel 26:19). Now, whoever said to David, ‘Serve other gods’? Rather, [the text intends] to tell you that whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who worships idols” (Ketubot 110b)

Clearly there are other religions and cultures that have holy sites at which special rituals need be fulfilled.  Think of Mecca for the Hajj.  The Parsis in India who consider certain geographical locations critical to rights such as burial, do not accept converts and have a healthy diaspora.

One can certainly imagine the original Zionism as the belief of a migrating tribe in the holiness of the land of Canaan, where rituals practiced outside of the land were only previews and rehearsals and were the real show opens and runs only in the Holy Land.

Jewish thinkers, leaders and masses carried these notions through two thousand years of diaspora and nineteenth century secular Zionist thinker simply adopted this primal concept into a modern, but unique ideological movement.  Zionism was neither imperialism nor racism.

For those of us who live outside of the land of Israel and consider ourselves Zionists it is humbling to know that Zionism (and Judaism) is not an ideology but rather a zip code but it is also radically exciting.  Location specific Judaism confirms what we feel as we drive around this country and meet Israelis of every variation.  It is confirmed when we take a hike on the clearly marked Israel trail with a secular Israeli pointing out ancient aqueducts, iconic kibbutzim and modern day borders…and without a hidden agenda or political lesson to be learnt. This is truly the holy land and one of the best ways to feel it, breath it and experience it is to follow the markers and take a hike.

israel trail


[i] For a previous Madlik post on parshat vayishlach, see appeasement first.

[ii] Strong’s H6726 – Tsiyown

Tzion-1

[iii] Strong’s H6725 – tsiyuwn

Tzion-2

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kosher sex and jacob’s heel

parshat toldot

“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.


[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.

achilles

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