Thursday, August 12, 2004

Ekev: The problem with taking things in context

[Unrelated but important information: The good folks at Blogger Support have informed me that “Currently, there is no way to customize the number of 'Previous Posts' that appear. The default is 10 posts.” To see my posts “So glad you could join us: An egalitarian mom and her toddler are cordially invited to stay home,” and “A discussion of the Book of Job,” please scroll down past the last listed post. Thank you. We now return you to your regularly scheduled program. :) ]

Well, here’s a parsha just chock full of wonderful quotes, and I can’t comment on any of them.

(Please excuse my translations, which are usually part Hertz, part JPS, and part my own.)

How can I comment on “The human does not live by bread alone” (lo al ha-lechem l’vado yichyeh ha-adam, chap. 8, verse 2) without dealing with the rest of the verse? [Note: “Adam” means “the human”—“ish” means “man.”] "And He afflicted you, and made you suffer hunger, and fed you with manna, which you did not know, and which your ancestors did not know, in order to ensure that you would know that the human does not live by bread alone, but by every thing that proceeds from the mouth of HaShem does the human live.” I don’t particularly care for the notion that G-d would go out of G-d’s way to make us suffer just to teach us a lesson. (See my previous post on the Book of Job.) There’s also the problem that, as someone still under the influence of a former rabbi who was a Reconstructionist, I have rather unorthodox, and unOrthodox, views on the concept of G-d that complicate my interpretation of the phrase “everything that proceeds from the mouth of HaShem.”

Here’s another beauty (chapter 8, verses 7-10) (JPS translation): “For the L-rd your G-d is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and lakes issuing from plain and hill; a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and of honey; a land where you may eat food without stint, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper. (Hertz translation, slightly modernized>) And you will eat and be satisfied, and bless the L-rd your G-d for the good land that He has given you.” It’s a great passage, listing the Seven Species of food for which the Land of Israel is traditionally thought to be reknowned, and containing, as well, the halachic/religious-law basis of birkat ha-mazon (grace after meals), which reminds us not to take our good fortune for granted. But considering the current political context of the “matzav”/”situation” in the land in question, this passage is almost as depressing as it is inspiring.

Chapter 10, verse 19: “And you will love the stranger/foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt,” sounds good in theory, but in practice, it’s a lot more complicated. My son has some unkind things to say about our ancestors, biblical and modern, driving out the locals to make room for us, which is certainly in stark contradiction to the aforementioned biblical quote. The problem is that there’s no such thing as “A land without a people for a people without a land,” and there wasn’t one back in the time of Yehoshua/Joshua, either. How do we balance our own people’s needs against the requirement to love other peoples?

Then, of course, there’s the second paragraph of the Sh’ma (chapter 11, verses 13-21), which a former rabbi used to describe as a great example of “meteorological Judaism.” As I said, I’m far from traditional in my beliefs, and I’m disinclined to accept the notion that anything I do can affect the weather. (I davven the second paragraph of the Sh'ma anyway, out of respect for our ancestors and for the sake of Jewish liturgical unity.)

This parsha is full of great quotes, as stated, but . . .



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