Admiration and Rejection: In the beginning – Ba Reshit בְּרֵאשִׁית Genesis 1:1-6:8

The first chapter of B'reshit, or Genesis, wri...

The first chapter of B’reshit, or Genesis, written on an egg, in the Jerusalem museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a week when the former Pope Benedikt calls Richard Dawkins a man of science fiction we can only marble by the arrogance that religion has shown across the board towards evolution.

The story B’reshit to me is both testimony to the anti-thesis to religion, as much as it owes the greatest respect for attempting a an admirable explanation of how the world came to be.

What I like most about it is the concept of stages, and the elements being there first, not that far from what we later new about evolution.  Yet this story is 1000s of years old, testimony to the human genius and in this case of Jewish  thought and tradition.

It also stands at the foundation of something one may still wish to call godly, the miraculous and rare accident of the solar system with the very rare blue planet.

But of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it, for on the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die.

But for a secular Jewish person, this is where it ends.  In god’s image we are all, because we are all components of biochemistry and atoms, along with all things in the universe.

Neither does God care, but more so, we should.  The accident is rare and so great, that we carry all God like responsibility to keep and maintain the blue planet.

“And the Lord saw that the evil of man was great in the earth, and every imagination of his heart was only evil all the time.”

To put human conflict and lie right at the beginning of the story, first with Adam and Eve, and then with Cain and Able, the Torah puts much of the essence of human existence at the beginning of the book.  Another symbolic great strength.

It is also very interesting to learn that Adam may have been man and woman united and thst the word “rib”is a false translation.. Rather a whole psrt of Adam’s side became the first woman. Also that nowhere the Thora speaks of original sin. Adam and Chava receive their consequences equally, punished is only the snake. Chava does not get “painful pregnancies” but hard work in general and many pregnancies of sorrow ( suggesting all: a painful birth process, still-birth and child mortality before children live)..

Also fascinating are traces of Iraqi mythology (world created by a murder of a Goddess (Hebrew uses the word to translate as wild waters) and Greek mythology (divine beings mate with pretty human women, causing a reduction of human life expectancy in off spring in Greek mythology humans become superhumsn through the same – if only Chava had eaten from the tree of life rather from the tree of knowledge) read mor: Eskenazi & Weiss: The Thora, A Woman’ Commentary)

We also hear about one of Edens rivers coming from Kush, putting possible African locations (Nile) on the map next to the Euphrat, though there are big debates about Edens true locations not made easier by two streams in Israel having biblical names.

Overall we see that in the beginning there was peace and order, and then humans came along….

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Earthquakes are supposedly God’s rage. Kol Ha Moeid Sukkot. Ezekiel 38:18-39

English: earthquake focus

English: earthquake focus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So natural phenomena are assigned to godly powers, which are instituted against the invasion of Gog’s troops:

38:18 “On that day when Gog attacks the land of Israel, the heat of my rage will boil over…..  I declare there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel…”

Put in the context of its time, they may have had no other explanation for earthquakes, in deed most human societies had similar explanations.  So I take it as an anthropological and historical curiosity how ancient people understood this.  I am adamant that we as know better today how earthquakes come to be that we completely reject any claims on complete truth here.  We are in touch and privileged to consider ancient civilisations thoughts, but it is not more than that.

In deed the argument is continued n 38:22 when we read how troops will encounter torrents of rain, hail, fire and brimstone.  Not the least we know that earthquakes did occur and that volcanic activity was known of course also in ancient times.  To assume that God would just kill in order to prove himself, even would put the sword of each brother against brother,  or give the killed as food to the birds and others rather than make beautiful wonders to win people over is a rather disappointing thought.

Perhaps after wars and pests in deed birds and animals would pick on dead bodies.

We are then reminded again in Ezekiel 39 about the historicity of this passage.  The talk of bows and arrows can not be held accurate for some time and at best be understood metaphorical.  But clearly there was a time of bows and arrows.

One could imagine a competition of interpretation of natural phenomena.  Israel’s preferred way it is God’s punishment or rage against somebody.

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Jonah and the Whale.

Detail from a relief showing the story of Jona...

Detail from a relief showing the story of Jonah and the fish/whale. From the tomb of Albrecht Thumb von Neuburg (1554–1613) at the north side of the choir of the Peter- und Pauls-Kirche (Saints Peter and Paul church) in Köngen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. About 1615, artist unknown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The story of Jonah is finally a story we can say is but a story for telling sake.  We know that there could never have been a whale swallowing a man, not the least spitting a person out.  Whilst to some desert folk perhaps the story may have been credible, I think we can take the story as a metaphorical story, one that was not meant to be taken literal, but symbolical, such as our contemporary fairy tales, perhaps.

In such the story has great value. The fact that Christianity, Islam (Yanus) and Judaism value the story is no mistake.   Jonah is too self conscious.  He fears wat people may say should he say what God, after all had tasked him with.  God is taken as the certain truth.

He hides on a boat and a storm breaks out.  Only when he admits to his identity and asks as such to be thrown over board does the bad weather end, but he is subsequently swallowed by the whale.

Self-searching in complete darkness he comes to the conclusion to come true to himself and God.  This results in him being spit out, and he proclaims the message he is tasked with to Niniveh.

Yet after this the city repents, and his vision does not come true.

ג  וְעַתָּה יְהוָה, קַח-נָא אֶת-נַפְשִׁי מִמֶּנִּי:  כִּי טוֹב מוֹתִי, מֵחַיָּי.  {ס} 3 Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech Thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.’ {S}
ד  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, הַהֵיטֵב חָרָה לָךְ. 4 And the LORD said: ‘Art thou greatly angry?’
ה  וַיֵּצֵא יוֹנָה מִן-הָעִיר, וַיֵּשֶׁב מִקֶּדֶם לָעִיר; וַיַּעַשׂ לוֹ שָׁם סֻכָּה, וַיֵּשֶׁב תַּחְתֶּיהָ בַּצֵּל, עַד אֲשֶׁר יִרְאֶה, מַה-יִּהְיֶה בָּעִיר. 5 Then Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.
ו  וַיְמַן יְהוָה-אֱלֹהִים קִיקָיוֹן וַיַּעַל מֵעַל לְיוֹנָה, לִהְיוֹת צֵל עַל-רֹאשׁוֹ, לְהַצִּיל לוֹ, מֵרָעָתוֹ; וַיִּשְׂמַח יוֹנָה עַל-הַקִּיקָיוֹן, שִׂמְחָה גְדוֹלָה. 6 And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his evil. So Jonah was exceeding glad because of the gourd.
ז  וַיְמַן הָאֱלֹהִים תּוֹלַעַת, בַּעֲלוֹת הַשַּׁחַר לַמָּחֳרָת; וַתַּךְ אֶת-הַקִּיקָיוֹן, וַיִּיבָשׁ. 7 But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd, that it withered.
ח  וַיְהִי כִּזְרֹחַ הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, וַיְמַן אֱלֹהִים רוּחַ קָדִים חֲרִישִׁית, וַתַּךְ הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ עַל-רֹאשׁ יוֹנָה, וַיִּתְעַלָּף; וַיִּשְׁאַל אֶת-נַפְשׁוֹ, לָמוּת, וַיֹּאמֶר, טוֹב מוֹתִי מֵחַיָּי. 8 And it came to pass, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and requested for himself that he might die, and said: ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’
ט  וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֶל-יוֹנָה, הַהֵיטֵב חָרָה-לְךָ עַל-הַקִּיקָיוֹן; וַיֹּאמֶר, הֵיטֵב חָרָה-לִי עַד-מָוֶת. 9 And God said to Jonah: ‘Art thou greatly angry for the gourd?’ And he said: ‘I am greatly angry, even unto death.’
י  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה–אַתָּה חַסְתָּ עַל-הַקִּיקָיוֹן, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-עָמַלְתָּ בּוֹ וְלֹא גִדַּלְתּוֹ:  שֶׁבִּן-לַיְלָה הָיָה, וּבִן-לַיְלָה אָבָד. 10 And the LORD said: ‘Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow, which came up in a night, and perished in a night;
יא  וַאֲנִי לֹא אָחוּס, עַל-נִינְוֵה הָעִיר הַגְּדוֹלָה–אֲשֶׁר יֶשׁ-בָּהּ הַרְבֵּה מִשְׁתֵּים-עֶשְׂרֵה רִבּוֹ אָדָם, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדַע בֵּין-יְמִינוֹ לִשְׂמֹאלוֹ, וּבְהֵמָה, רַבָּה.  {ש} 11 and should not I have pity on Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also much cattle?’

These are some great lines addressed to the self pity in all of use, the depressions of minor vulnerabilities that are blown out of proportion.  It is not unknown that people will act exactly as Jonah does.

 

 

 

 

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Moses dies וְזֹאת הַבְּרָכָה Ve Zot HaBeraha Deuteronomy 33:1-34:12

The story of Moses ends here.  He can see the land promised to his forefathers but not enter it.  Once he has seen the land he dies, aged 120 years.

Mythology has it that we do not know his burial place.  One of the Rabbis I once listened to thought of this as wise.  Moses grave would have been subject to worship and battle.    One only thinks of the grave of Abraham.

Another point to is that great deeds like the exodus must not depend on personal finish, but the greater finish of the good for all.  One day perhaps we will see human missions to planets  that may advance humanity, but may not bring personal fulfilment to those embarking on the project.  But in much smaller ways too personal initiative should not be measured by personally getting to the finished accomplishment, if the direction taken can help many others.

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Re’he: ( רְאֵה ) Destroy those of other faiths in your land? Kill your family or friend?

You may look at those old texts of inspiration.  Little of that can be said of the passages in this weeks parasha, truly troublesome passages, which are showing clear bias and intolerance of others.  What’s more a licence to murder even one’s own daughter, wife or friend, or even slaughter the inhabitants of an entire town for the crime of worshipping other gods.

Once again we get a divine instruction to behave beyond acceptable norms.

We read in Deuteronomy 12.2 and 12.3

You must  destroy all the places where the nations, that you shall possess, worshipped their gods, upon the lofty mountains and upon the hills, and under every luxeriant tree. ב. אַבֵּד תְּאַבְּדוּן אֶת כָּל הַמְּקֹמוֹת אֲשֶׁר עָבְדוּ שָׁם הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם יֹרְשִׁים אֹתָם אֶת אֱלֹהֵיהֶם עַל הֶהָרִים הָרָמִים וְעַל הַגְּבָעוֹת וְתַחַת כָּל עֵץ רַעֲנָן:
3. And you shall tear down their altars, smash their monuments, burn their asherim with fire, cut down the graven images of their gods, and destroy their name from that place. ג. וְנִתַּצְתֶּם אֶת מִזְבְּחֹתָם וְשִׁבַּרְתֶּם אֶת מַצֵּבֹתָם וַאֲשֵׁרֵיהֶם תִּשְׂרְפוּן בָּאֵשׁ וּפְסִילֵי אֱלֹהֵיהֶם תְּגַדֵּעוּן וְאִבַּדְתֶּם אֶת שְׁמָם מִן הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא:

and then most astonishing: 13.7 a licence to kill family that goes to worship other gods:

7. If your brother, the son of your mother, tempts you in secret or your son, or your daughter, or the wife of your embrace, or your friend, who is as your own soul saying, “Let us go and worship other gods, which neither you, nor your forefathers have known.” ז. כִּי יְסִיתְךָ אָחִיךָ בֶן אִמֶּךָ אוֹ בִנְךָ אוֹ בִתְּךָ אוֹ | אֵשֶׁת חֵיקֶךָ אוֹ רֵעֲךָ אֲשֶׁר כְּנַפְשְׁךָ בַּסֵּתֶר לֵאמֹר נֵלְכָה וְנַעַבְדָה אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדַעְתָּ אַתָּה וַאֲבֹתֶיךָ:
8. Of the gods of the peoples around you, [whether] near to you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; ח. מֵאֱלֹהֵי הָעַמִּים אֲשֶׁר סְבִיבֹתֵיכֶם הַקְּרֹבִים אֵלֶיךָ אוֹ הָרְחֹקִים מִמֶּךָּ מִקְצֵה הָאָרֶץ וְעַד קְצֵה הָאָרֶץ:
9. You shall not desire him, and you shall not hearken to him; neither shall you pity him, have mercy upon him, nor shield him. ט. לֹא תֹאבֶה לוֹ וְלֹא תִשְׁמַע אֵלָיו וְלֹא תָחוֹס עֵינְךָ עָלָיו וְלֹא תַחְמֹל וְלֹא תְכַסֶּה עָלָיו:
10. But you shall surely kill him, your hand shall be the first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. י. כִּי הָרֹג תַּהַרְגֶנּוּ יָדְךָ תִּהְיֶה בּוֹ בָרִאשׁוֹנָה לַהֲמִיתוֹ וְיַד כָּל הָעָם בָּאַחֲרֹנָה:
11. And you shall stone him with stones so that he dies, because he sought to lead you astray from the Lord, your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. יא. וּסְקַלְתּוֹ בָאֲבָנִים וָמֵת כִּי בִקֵּשׁ לְהַדִּיחֲךָ מֵעַל יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ הַמּוֹצִיאֲךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים:
12. And all Israel shall listen and fear, and they shall no longer do any evil such as this in your midst. יב. וְכָל יִשְׂרָאֵל יִשְׁמְעוּ וְיִרָאוּן וְלֹא יוֹסִפוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת כַּדָּבָר הָרָע הַזֶּה בְּקִרְבֶּךָ:

not satisfied with that the passage gives licence to kill an entire town, starting at 13:

If you hear in one of your cities which the Lord, your God, is giving you to dwell therein, saying, יג. כִּי תִשְׁמַע בְּאַחַת עָרֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ לָשֶׁבֶת שָׁם לֵאמֹר:
14. “Unfaithful men have gone forth from among you and have led the inhabitants of their city astray, saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods, which you have not known.’ “ יד. יָצְאוּ אֲנָשִׁים בְּנֵי בְלִיַּעַל מִקִּרְבֶּךָ וַיַּדִּיחוּ אֶת ישְׁבֵי עִירָם לֵאמֹר נֵלְכָה וְנַעַבְדָה אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא יְדַעְתֶּם:
15. Then you shall inquire, investigate, and ask thoroughly, and, behold, it is true, the matter is certain, that such abomination has been committed in your midst: טו. וְדָרַשְׁתָּ וְחָקַרְתָּ וְשָׁאַלְתָּ הֵיטֵב וְהִנֵּה אֱמֶת נָכוֹן הַדָּבָר נֶעֶשְׂתָה הַתּוֹעֵבָה הַזֹּאת בְּקִרְבֶּךָ:
16. You shall surely strike down the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroy it with all that is in it and its livestock, with the edge of the sword. טז. הַכֵּה תַכֶּה אֶת ישְׁבֵי הָעִיר הַהִוא לְפִי חָרֶב הַחֲרֵם אֹתָהּ וְאֶת כָּל אֲשֶׁר בָּהּ וְאֶת בְּהֶמְתָּהּ לְפִי חָרֶב:
17. And you shall collect all its spoil into the midst of its open square, and burn with fire the city and all its spoil, completely, for the Lord, your God; and it shall be a heap of destruction forever, never to be rebuilt. יז. וְאֶת כָּל שְׁלָלָהּ תִּקְבֹּץ אֶל תּוֹךְ רְחֹבָהּ וְשָׂרַפְתָּ בָאֵשׁ אֶת הָעִיר וְאֶת כָּל שְׁלָלָהּ כָּלִיל לַיהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְהָיְתָה תֵּל עוֹלָם לֹא תִבָּנֶה עוֹד:

Debt remission is to occur after seven years, however the passage takes exception to foreigners:

Deut 15. 3 “From the foreigner you may exact; but what is yours with your brother, your hand shall release.

Haftarah Isaiah 54:11

The kind of talk in any religious texts, follow me and any one who attacks you wil fall and be defeated.

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More rebellion! Num: 16:1- 18:32 Korach | קֹרַח

English: Destruction of Korah Dathan and Abira...

English: Destruction of Korah Dathan and Abiram, illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not surprising, following the former chapters, even the biblical characters question MosesKorah, Abiram  and Dathan went to Moses and said:  You have gone too far!  We are all holy, why do you raise yourself above anyone else?

“We will not come! Is it not enough flowing of milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, that you would also lord it over us? Even if you would have brought us to a land flowing with milk and honey, and given us possessions of fields and vineyards, should you gauge out those subordinate eyes?  We will not come!” 16:12-14

 

Moses orders the community congregate for the next day.  There he holds a speech how wicked the three are and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up  with their households, all of Korah’s people and all their possessions.  They went down alive into Sheol

There are a few things here,  Significantly Moses has one night to prepare perhaps a covered ditch of some sort, or to set up a camp in a place of quick sand where the accused are asked to stand. Another problem here is the word Sheol.  It means underworld.  It stems from a time when people believed in a heaven above and hell below.

The story continues with the killing of another 250 people through the incense fire, and then a plague comes over the people killing 14700 people.

The passage ends with specialness relating to first born male children. This can not be deemed appropriate given the achievements of equality in modern times.

Haftarah is Samuel I 11:14-12:22

In this reading Samuel prays to God for rain, to proof God exists, and “the eternal sent thunder and rain that day!” You better believe it!

 

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שְׁלַח-לְךָ Shlach L’cha Num. 13.1-15.41 Moses: Do as I say!

English: Moses and the Messengers from Canaan,...

English: Moses and the Messengers from Canaan, by Giovanni Lanfranco, oil on canvas, 85-3/4 x 97 inches, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Emissaries are sent into the promised land by Moses to inspect it.

After the emissaries return from their inspection of the promised land the message is mixed.  The first message is that the people who live there (Nephilim, Anakites) are too strong to enable the Israelites to settle there without being defeated (“we look like grasshoppers to ourselves”).

As a result of this message there is a night of moaning and crying amongst the entire people:

“if only we would have died in Egypt or in the wilderness.  Why is the Eternal one taking us to a land where we will die by the sword?  Our wives and children will be taken off!  It would be better if we go back to Egypt! And they said to another, let’s go back to Egypt! And Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembled Israelites” (14.1-15.1)

When other emissaries Nun and Caleb state that the land is good, one of milk and honey (indicating good pasture and agriculture riches) the anger of the Israelites remains standing, and they threaten to stone the two men.

Moses pleads with God whose patient has run out.  God wants to leave the people, but Moses says of you do that then all will say there is no God behind their names, or not a strong one.  God, slow to anger, it says here, pardons the people, but punishes them with the penalty of that nobody of the entire generation is to see the promised land except Caleb and Nun.

But when Moses announces this to the Israelites it sounds like his speech rather than Gods (it was presumably all along, with God being the metaphysical metaphor or authority).  He says that God says:  None of you shall enter the land in which I swore to settle you, but your carcasses shall drop in the wilderness, and your children wonder for 40 years because of your inequities, a year for each day that you scouted the land.

The emissaries who reported about the land as being difficult to take then die of the plague, whilst the others survived.  Punishments by God. But more probably they were poisoned to deal with voices that fall out of line.  Nun and Caleb are the only who are left.  Supposedly the picture was one of people that were settled in the ancient land and it was much more forest about than the current contemporary landscape that was to become biblical Israel, and other parts were desert.

Moses using fear rather than persuasion through logic and information.

Somehow the speech and poisoning seem to have worked.   Now a group of Israelites want to go right now to take the land.

Moses warns them.  This he calls a transgression of the Lords words just uttered, and he warns them you will die at swords of the Amalkites and Caanites.  And this is what happened.

Presumably putting things together Moses did think moving into the land was too early.  Presumably the perished emissaries were correct and what we see here is

1.) An attempt to buy more time in order to prepare for the taking of the land and 2.) an attempt to restore authority and control. If this is true, Moses is not an honest leader but relies on leading by decree and fear rather than by informed and wise consent, like saying:  “OK the land is good but the people are strong, lets prepare!”

Presumably Moses does not know exactly what lies ahead.  His reliance on fear is perhaps an expression of his own insecurity.  As long as people fear me as the prophet of God they will do as I say, because perhaps the most logical and certainly most popular demand here is to go back to Egypt.

Yes its a Jewish story from the Tanah:  Another Stoning!

The reading ends with an episode no better than what was said of the fundamental ways of the Taliban not so long ago.  A man is found collecting wood on Shabbat:

15.35 – 36:  “Then the Eternal said to Moses:  “This fellow shall be put to death:  the community leadership shall pelt him with stones outside the camp! So the community leadership took him outside the camp and stoned him to death – “as the Eternal had commanded Moses.”

The Eternal One is so powerful he needs man to punish another man?  Surely this is a human killing another human on his own behalf, washing his conscience clear by claiming it was God’s will.” If God is all powerful surely he would not need a human to do the job of killing on his behalf?

At th every end comes the instruction for tzizit, fringes at the need of the garment, throughout the ages.  This simple custom of dress code, important in days of cultural distinction in the Middle East (there are other examples of tassels worn by people there) is taken as as divine decree by religious Jewish people until today.

Haftarah: Joshua 2:1

Joshua son of Nun (see earlier) sends two spies to explore Jericho.  The kind of Jericho somehow hears about this and looks for the men.  These seek refuge with Rahab, a prostitute, who hides them, and lies to the kings troops.   The story here seems to be that a prostitute, even though biblically illicit, can still be worthy of noble acts. It is a contradiction with regard to the laws of the Israelites, but because Rahab is not an Israelite but a stranger.  She is heard saying that we have heard that this land is promised to you by your God and how the eternal one dried up the Sea of Reeds when you were leaving Egypt.  She bargains, that when the Israelites take over Jericho, her family be spared in return of her hiding the men.

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B’Haalot’cha Numeri 8:1 – 12:16 בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ

English: Moses Prays for Miriam To Be Healed, ...

Caught in the limitations of the mid-ages! It seemed hard for Hesdin of Amiens, the creator of this depiction, to imagine a scene where the characters are Middle Eastern and Sudanese.  Instead they all look like mid-age Europeans.  “Moses Prays for Miriam To Be Healed, circa 1450-1455 by from a Biblia pauperum, at the Museum Meermanno Westreenianum, The Hague. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)”

Complaints and Moses the Man:  I’d rather go home!  At the beginning Moses’ father Law Reuel the (Sudan) is saying he is not coming along Moses and the Israelites, but rather returns to his country (Artzi) and birth-land (Moladeti).  This is possibly the first warning of things not being so great.  Moses asks him to come along to share the riches of the promised land, but we lack Reuel’s response.

After after a long walk through the desert (three days) the people complain.  A fire breaks out “ravaging at the outskirts of the camp” and the reason for that is assigned to be a punishment of God for rebelling and the place named Taberah.

Perhaps the people do not accept the explanation that the fire was cause by God, we do not know, but we read, that the complaints or whining continues.  The dietary riches of the Egyptian days are recalled with the words:  “If only we had meat!  We remember the fish that we used to eat freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, melons, leeks onions and the garlic.”

What follows is a moment of resignation of Moses. We get an admission of his inability to cope at this moment to lead the people through the desert:  11:11-15:

11. Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill your servant? Why have I not enjoyed your favour you placed the burden of all these  people upon me? יא. וַיֹּאמֶר משֶׁה אֶל יְהֹוָה לָמָה הֲרֵעֹתָ לְעַבְדֶּךָ וְלָמָּה לֹא מָצָתִי חסר א’ חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ לָשׂוּם אֶת מַשָּׂא כָּל הָעָם הַזֶּה עָלָי:
12. Did I produce all these people? Did I give birth to them, that you would say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a caretaker carries an infant,’ to the land you promised their forefathers? יב. הֶאָנֹכִי הָרִיתִי אֵת כָּל הָעָם הַזֶּה אִם אָנֹכִי יְלִדְתִּיהוּ כִּי תֹאמַר אֵלַי שָׂאֵהוּ בְחֵיקֶךָ כַּאֲשֶׁר יִשָּׂא הָאֹמֵן אֶת הַיֹּנֵק עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתָּ לַאֲבֹתָיו:
13. Where can I get meat to give to all these people? For they are whining at me, saying, ‘Give us meat to eat.’ יג. מֵאַיִן לִי בָּשָׂר לָתֵת לְכָל הָעָם הַזֶּה כִּי יִבְכּוּ עָלַי לֵאמֹר תְּנָה לָּנוּ בָשָׂר וְנֹאכֵלָה:
14. Alone I cannot carry this entire people for it is too hard for me. יד. לֹא אוּכַל אָנֹכִי לְבַדִּי לָשֵׂאת אֶת כָּל הָעָם הַזֶּה כִּי כָבֵד מִמֶּנִּי:
15. If this is the way you treat me,  kill me rather, I beg you, so that I do not see any more of this wretchedness.” טו. וְאִם כָּכָה | אַתְּ עֹשֶׂה לִּי הָרְגֵנִי נָא הָרֹג אִם מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ וְאַל אֶרְאֶה בְּרָעָתִי:

Following instructions to gather the elders and a promise of  meat, migrating birds arrive in great numbers (a natural occurrence rather than a metaphysical occurrence) and the Israelites “are fed.”  Presumably some of the animals were ill, carried salmonella or any other type of disease, and given the apparent hunger, it is possible that there was not enough care taken in preparing them. .  We read God put a plague upon the Israelites (a punishment for doubting the lord) as some died “with the meat still between their teeth.”

Moses, confronted about his Cushite wife

Moses, confronted about his Cushite wife (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Against prejudice on grounds of skin colour:  In the end Aaron and Miriam, Moses brother and sister, rebel “because of Moses’s wife being a Cushite (Ibn Ezra says it was Ziporah, others talk of a second wife, in any case Ziporah or the other woman were likely of North East African background (Sudan / Eritrea)”:

1. Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses regarding the Cushite woman he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. א. וַתְּדַבֵּר מִרְיָם וְאַהֲרֹן בְּמשֶׁה עַל אֹדוֹת הָאִשָּׁה הַכֻּשִׁית אֲשֶׁר לָקָח כִּי אִשָּׁה כֻשִׁית לָקָח:
2 They said, “Has the Lord spoken only to Moses? Hasn’t He spoken to us too?” And the Lord heard. ב. וַיֹּאמְרוּ הֲרַק אַךְ בְּמשֶׁה דִּבֶּר יְהֹוָה הֲלֹא גַּם בָּנוּ דִבֵּר וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהֹוָה:
3. Now this man Moses was exceedingly humble, more so than any person on the face of the earth. ג. וְהָאִישׁ משֶׁה עָנָיו מְאֹד מִכֹּל הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה:
4. The Lord suddenly said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Go out, all three of you, to the Tent of Meeting!” And all three went out. ד. וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה פִּתְאֹם אֶל משֶׁה וְאֶל אַהֲרֹן וְאֶל מִרְיָם צְאוּ שְׁלָשְׁתְּכֶם אֶל אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וַיֵּצְאוּ שְׁלָשְׁתָּם:
5. The Lord descended in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the Tent. He called to Aaron and Miriam, and they both went out. ה. וַיֵּרֶד יְהֹוָה בְּעַמּוּד עָנָן וַיַּעֲמֹד פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל וַיִּקְרָא אַהֲרֹן וּמִרְיָם וַיֵּצְאוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם:
6. He said, “Listen to my words. If there be prophets among you, [I] the Lord will make myself known to them in a vision; I will speak to them in a dream. ו. וַיֹּאמֶר שִׁמְעוּ נָא דְבָרָי אִם יִהְיֶה נְבִיאֲכֶם יְהֹוָה בַּמַּרְאָה אֵלָיו אֶתְוַדָּע בַּחֲלוֹם אֲדַבֶּר בּוֹ:
7. Not so is my servant Moses; he is trusted throughout my household. ז. לֹא כֵן עַבְדִּי משֶׁה בְּכָל בֵּיתִי נֶאֱמָן הוּא:
8. With him I speak mouth to mouth; in a vision and not in riddles, and he beholds the image of the Lord. So why were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses ? ח. פֶּה אֶל פֶּה אֲדַבֶּר בּוֹ וּמַרְאֶה וְלֹא בְחִידֹת וּתְמֻנַת יְהֹוָה יַבִּיט וּמַדּוּעַ לֹא יְרֵאתֶם לְדַבֵּר בְּעַבְדִּי בְמשֶׁה:
9. Still incensed with them of the Lord flared against them and He left. ט. וַיִּחַר אַף יְהֹוָה בָּם וַיֵּלַךְ:
10. The cloud departed from above the Tent, and behold, Miriam was stricken with tzara’ath (scales as white] as snow. Then Aaron turned to Miriam and behold, she was stricken with tzara’ath. י. וְהֶעָנָן סָר מֵעַל הָאֹהֶל וְהִנֵּה מִרְיָם מְצֹרַעַת כַּשָּׁלֶג וַיִּפֶן אַהֲרֹן אֶל מִרְיָם וְהִנֵּה מְצֹרָעַת:
11. Aaron said to Moses, “O my lord do not put sin upon us for acting foolishly in your folly. יא. וַיֹּאמֶר אַהֲרֹן אֶל משֶׁה בִּי אֲדֹנִי אַל נָא תָשֵׁת עָלֵינוּ חַטָּאת אֲשֶׁר נוֹאַלְנוּ וַאֲשֶׁר חָטָאנוּ:
12. Let her not be as a stillbirth, which comes out of his mother’s womb with half his flesh eaten away!” יב. אַל נָא תְהִי כַּמֵּת אֲשֶׁר בְּצֵאתוֹ מֵרֶחֶם אִמּוֹ וַיֵּאָכֵל חֲצִי בְשָׂרוֹ:
13. Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “I beseech you, God, please heal her.” יג. וַיִּצְעַק משֶׁה אֶל יְהֹוָה לֵאמֹר אֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ:
14. The Lord replied to Moses, “If her father were to spit in her face, would she not bear the same for seven days? She shall be confined for seven days outside the camp, and afterwards she may enter. יד. וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֶל משֶׁה וְאָבִיהָ יָרֹק יָרַק בְּפָנֶיהָ הֲלֹא תִכָּלֵם שִׁבְעַת יָמִים תִּסָּגֵר שִׁבְעַת יָמִים מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה וְאַחַר תֵּאָסֵף:
15. So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not travel until Miriam had entered. טו. וַתִּסָּגֵר מִרְיָם מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים וְהָעָם לֹא נָסַע עַד הֵאָסֵף מִרְיָם:
Mapa de Kush al 400 a.C.

Map of estimated Kush region c.a. 400 a.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These are powerful word that both deal with prejudice, and for speaking out against the leader Moses in jealousy.  The punishment of being prejudiced against the darker skinned woman Moses married, is a skin disease with white flakes.  Interesting the prescribed cure is separation from the camp, which we read about in Exodus as one of the ways of dealing with that, possibly also not to spread the disease.  After seven days the disease is cured.  The story wants us to believe it was because of Moses prayers.

Metaphysical references:  There is continued appearance of the God’s presence inside the cloud.  I have dealt at length already with the fire and smoke cult that is central to the claim that God rises in the cloud, yet we know that the cloud is most often create by the burning of substances through the priests and Moses himself.  Thus as master of smoke Moses is in charge of when the people move (no cloud) and when they remain encamped.

Use of Trumpets.  Interesting in context of Yom Kippur.  We read that long blows meant that the military force ought to gather, and that short bursts meant to get active.

Haftarah (Zehariah 2:14 -4:7): This is basically a long winded text praising the menorah, but it contains the much used sentence:

Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit (ruahi)!”

Zechariah 4:6

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Naso נָשׂא Numbers 4:21-7:89,Judges 13. 2-25 שֹׁפְטִים and Shavuot

The priests good life. 

 

 

In previous chapters where the sacrifice procedures are  describes it is evident that the priests are benefiting from their service.  Some of the servings are explicitly to be eaten by them fully or in part, others burned.  It ensures that priests will always have to eat.  Now we read that compensation that can not be given to the party afflicted because he or she may be dead and there are no relatives ought be given to the priests and that these possessions are to be considered theirs (the priests);

 

 

 

Tell the children of Israel: When a man or woman commits any of the sins against man to act treacherously against God, and that person is  guilty, ו. דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אִישׁ אוֹ אִשָּׁה כִּי יַעֲשׂוּ מִכָּל חַטֹּאת הָאָדָם לִמְעֹל מַעַל בַּיהוָֹה וְאָשְׁמָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא:
7. they shall confess the sin they committed, and make restitution for the principal amount of his guilt, add its fifth to it, and give it to the one against whom he was guilty. ז. וְהִתְוַדּוּ אֶת חַטָּאתָם אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ וְהֵשִׁיב אֶת אֲשָׁמוֹ בְּרֹאשׁוֹ וַחֲמִישִׁתוֹ יֹסֵף עָלָיו וְנָתַן לַאֲשֶׁר אָשַׁם לוֹ:
8. But if the man has no kinsman to whom to make restitution, the debt which is restored to the Lord, [is to be given] to the kohen. [This is] besides the atonement ram through which expiation is made for him. ח. וְאִם אֵין לָאִישׁ גֹּאֵל לְהָשִׁיב הָאָשָׁם אֵלָיו הָאָשָׁם הַמּוּשָׁב לַיהוָֹה לַכֹּהֵן מִלְּבַד אֵיל הַכִּפֻּרִים אֲשֶׁר יְכַפֶּר בּוֹ עָלָיו:
9. Every offering of all the children of Israel’s holy things which is brought to the kohen, shall be his. ט. וְכָל תְּרוּמָה לְכָל קָדְשֵׁי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר יַקְרִיבוּ לַכֹּהֵן לוֹ יִהְיֶה:
10. Everyone’s holy things shall belong to him; whatever a man gives to the kohen shall be his.

 

Also much of chapter 6 and 7 talks about the many offerings handed over to the priests including gold and silver.

 

 

 

Ch 5 11-31

 

 

 

Hocus-pocus in the tabernacle for jealous men

 

 

 

This is a rather odd passage.  A man is jealous or suspects a wife to have an affair but has no witnesses.  If so he is to make an offering and bring it together with his wife to the priests. They will perform an oracular ceremony where bitter water will either give her pain (then she is guilty) or absolve her of her sin. Clearly it is the man who has the problem of suspecting something or being insecure, and yet it is the woman who is subjected to a procedure.  There is no counselling and reflective practice helping the couple  to deal with their problem, nor is there a procedure interrogating the man.  In a world where the tabernacle and God are the centre of life, it is the priest who has the magic power to judge.

 

 

 

6.1-27 describes a form of abstinence and spiritual withdrawal tied in with sacrifices towards the end of the period.

 

 

 

The Haftarah I rather like, it contains this passage:

 

 

 

“And the woman came and said to her husband, saying, “A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of an angel of God, very awesome; and I did not ask him from where he was and his name he did not tell me.”

 

The story starts telling us the woman is barren.  She sees an angel and gets pregnant.  Perhaps it was after all the man who was infertile, but the patriarchal world did not have the language for that, it was the woman’s fault if no child came in a relationship.

The story is the ultimate way out for women in superstitious families to have an affair with a man who looks like an angel.  It goes on how the husband Manoah confronts the angel and asks his name.  He then offers him food and the angel declines and takes the food as an offering and disappears in the flames.  The boy that is born thereafter is Samson.

 

 

 

Interesting are the regulations towards the pregnant woman, not much different from advise to women today though it is wrapped up as if it is only a law for people performing the withdrawal.  In a nutshell don’t drink alcohol and don’t eat dirty or soiled food.

 

 

 

“From all that comes out of the grapevine she shall not eat, and wine or strong drink she may not drink, and any unclean (thing) she may not eat; all that I commanded her, shall she observe.”

 

Bikkurim offerings on Shavuot holiday in Nahalal

Bikkurim offerings on Shavuot holiday in Nahalal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Non religious reasons behind shavuot.

 

 

 

Shavuot has a backgrounds relating to the harvesting cycles, tied in in a religious wrapping.  The grain harvest lasted about seven weeks. The first crops were harvesting of barley during the Pesach time and ended with the yielding of wheat during the Shavuot season.  Shavuot symbolizes the end of season festival (and of grain harvesting), and relates in this sense to Shavuot and Sukkot.

 

 

 

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The Bride and the Maniac: Hosea 2:1-22 B’Midbar בְּמִדְבַּר – Numeri 1:1 – 4:20

The Prophet Hosea, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, i...

The Prophet Hosea, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, in the Siena Cathedral (c. 1309-1311) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

It is refreshing that after all the laws and prescriptions the first chapters of B’Midbar bring us back to more mundane matters, namely the counting of the men of fighting age.  Very interesting is the interpretation of the word elef, which means in contemporary Hebrew 1000.  However it is said that in ancient Hebrew it may have meant something like units or contingents.   Why is this significant?  Because it reduces an unimaginable number of people in the Wilderness, 2 million with 10s of thousand fighting men.  However using units we arrive at less than 6000 men which is much more in accordance to what is known of this time and age (The Torah, A Modern Commentary p. 912).

 

Haftarah: Hosea 2:1-22

 

This is the love story between God and his bride the Israelites.  The Israelites betray God.  God deprives his bride of all he gave her, and lets her stand naked and without possessions.  Now she comes to her senses and comes back to him.  I find it curious how the convincing argument is one of deprivation and punishment.  It is the negative that is to lead to God rather than a positive. It is not that nobody is as kind,  enriching and good as he, but he is “putting thorns in her way,” starves her, takes away her clothing, show her children no love,  so she says “I was better off than now.”  The man is omnipotent and the bride has no right.  Why would she have an affair in the first place one wonders, is it because he acts like a complete maniac, according to the imagination of this prophet.  He is God, no it must be rather Hosea’s rather abusive way of thinking about male / female relations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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