Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Parshat Yitro, 5773/2013 thoughts

Basics here.

Sh'mot/Exodus chapter 19:

ג וּמֹשֶׁה עָלָה, אֶל-הָאֱלֹ-ים; וַיִּקְרָא אֵלָיו ----, מִן-הָהָר לֵאמֹר, כֹּה תֹאמַר לְבֵית יַעֲקֹב, וְתַגֵּיד לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 3 And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying: 'Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel:

ד אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם, אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי לְמִצְרָיִם; וָאֶשָּׂא אֶתְכֶם עַל-כַּנְפֵי נְשָׁרִים, וָאָבִא אֶתְכֶם אֵלָי. 4 Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto Myself.

The origin of two traditions comes from these verses.  One is that, according to rabbinic interpretation, Bet Yaakov/The House of Jacob refers to the women, B'nei Yisrael/The Children of Israel to the men.  The other is the tradition that G-d bore us on eagles' wings.

Chapter 20

יד וְכָל-הָעָם רֹאִים אֶת-הַקּוֹלֹת וְאֶת-הַלַּפִּידִם, וְאֵת קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר, וְאֶת-הָהָר, עָשֵׁן; וַיַּרְא הָעָם וַיָּנֻעוּ, וַיַּעַמְדוּ מֵרָחֹק. 14 And all the people perceived the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the voice of the horn, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled, and stood afar off.

"Perceived," my foot!  The Hebrew clearly says "saw"!  What's the matter, these people have never heard of synesthesia?

Chapter 23

A maximalist source for Zionism:

לא וְשַׁתִּי אֶת-גְּבֻלְךָ, מִיַּם-סוּף וְעַד-יָם פְּלִשְׁתִּים, וּמִמִּדְבָּר, עַד-הַנָּהָר: כִּי אֶתֵּן בְּיֶדְכֶם, אֵת יֹשְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ, וְגֵרַשְׁתָּמוֹ, מִפָּנֶיךָ. 31 And I will set thy border from the Red Sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness unto the River; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee.

That's good news and/or bad news, depending on your perspective.

"•Having been born and raised in the 20th century, I can't help but be irked by the fact that the text depicts Moshe/Moses apparently spending hours yacking with his father-in-law, but doesn't say a single word about his reunion with his wife and kids.
. . .

•Funny, G-d never said anything about "not coming near a woman" while await the giving of the law. Moshe's a sexist."

"My husband and I are both intrigued by the mystery (to us) of the origins of Jewish Sabbath observance. Though the name Shabbat may be related to the Babylonian bad-luck day-of-rest Shabbatum (here's an explanation, of sorts), the notion of a joyful day of rest seems to have originated with the Jewish People, but the details seem to have been lost in the mists of time. . . .  The whole notion (see chapter 20, verses 7-10 in Parshat Yitro) seems to have sprung up after (during?) our years of slavery in Mitzrayim/Egypt. No matter the origin, I've said for years that the idea of a weekly day of rest is one of the Jewish People's greatest contributions to the human race.

. . .
I should also note that Haftarat Yitro (for Ashkenazim), Isaiah 6:1–7:6 & 9:5–6, contains that phrase made famous by Handel's Messiah ("For unto us a child is born . . .") Our Christian neighbors just translate it differently. They translate "Kel gibor" as, "A mighty G-d," whereas, in this context (which is as a person's name), we would translate it "Mighty is G-d." To them, the child is G-d, whereas, to us, the child's name honors G-d. To say that that's a huge difference in understanding the text is an understatement. That's what happens when the presence tense of the verb "to be" is absent in a language--you either infer "to be's" presence or you don't, and your decision can change your understanding of a text completely. :("

"What an unexpected word I found in verses 22 and 24.

Cohanim (Priests)?!

What Cohanim?!!!

Aharon/Aaron and his sons hadn't been appointed yet!

Yet HaShem Himself gave these instructions!

Who were these priests? How were they chosen? What manner of worship and/or service(s) did they lead and/or provide? How were they compensated? And, as long as HaShem mentioned it specifically (see verse 22), in what manner did they "come near the Lord," and how did they sanctify themselves?"


AnecDatum said...

Rashi (apparently citing the Gemara in Zevachim 115b) says these were the first-borns, who were originally intended to have the job of kohen. (Recall that we just recently read about the 'exchange' of first-borns for Levi'im/Levites.) Avraham Ibn Ezra and Rashbam agree with Rashi.

Rashi and Ramban both state that their "coming close" was to offer korbanot/sacrifices. Ibn Ezra says that it means they would stand closest to the edge of the boundary [around Har Sinai], but also says that these first-borns brought korbanot, (specifically, on the mizbe'ach/altar that Moshe built after the war with Amalek, and the one he built near Har Sinai ("וַיִּשְׁלַח, אֶת-נַעֲרֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיַּעֲלוּ, עֹלֹת; וַיִּזְבְּחוּ זְבָחִים שְׁלָמִים, לַה'--פָּרִים. And he sent the young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt-offerings, and sacrificed peace-offerings of oxen unto the LORD.").)

Even in mid-move, Conservadox manages to post.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Speed vs.spirituality:A relative newbies's perspective

One of my previous rabbis, ordained at the Conservative Movement's JTS but also the graduate of an Orthodox pre-college yeshivah, once complained that, for most Conservative Jews, attending synagogue was almost their only form of Jewish observance, whereas Orthodox Jews and more-observant Conservative Jews practiced Judaism as a regular part of their daily lives, not only in shul but also at home and elsewhere. He had a point, judging by my experience. Sure, we non-Orthos light Chanukah candles and attend a seder or two on Pesach, but seriously, how many non-Orthodox Jews do you know who integrate Jewish practice so thoroughly into their daily lives that they recite a b'rachah/blessing before eating a snack?

And what does this have to do with speed or spirituality? Consider the usual manner of reciting Birkat HaMazon/Grace After Meals.  Judging by my own experience, the question of whether, on occasions when one is not restricted by severe time limitations, one speeds through Birkat HaMazon, reciting only the zimun ("invitation") aloud, or whether one does Birkat HaMazon b'tzibbur (as a community, aloud) seems, sometimes, to depend on whether one is Orthodox (or Orthodox-educated) or non.  I've seen both Orthos and ex-Orthos speed-davven/pray their way through Birkat HaMazon.  I've rarely seen non-Orthos who were not Ortho-educated do likewise.

The same is true of davvening/praying.  I can understand why the pace of prayer at a "commuter" minyan is roughly 90 miles per hour--many of the attendees really do have to catch a train/bus or try to beat the rush-hour traffic to get to work on time.  What I can't understand is why there's sometimes a big hurry to finish the service quickly even when people don't have to rush to work. Yes, there are considerations regarding spending time with the family, but still, can't we stop and smell the roses, or at least slow down a little, if only out of respect for Shabbat (Sabbath) or Yom Tov (holiday), or for a special occasion?

Again, it seems to me that there's an Ortho/non-Ortho divide on speed-davvening on Shabbat or Yom Tov.  (There's also a push-back against speed-davvening among those Orthodox who pray with "Carlebach minyanim.")

My best guess is that speedy davvening is a product of familiarity and consistent observance.  Those for whom daily davvening, bentching (saying Birkat HaMazon), and observance of the mitzvot/commandments are standard operating procedure seem, from my perspective as a relative newcomer to Jewish prayer, to take davvening and bentching for granted, whereas those not accustomed to consistent observance often seem to treat davvening and bentching as more of a privilege.  I'm in the "davvening-is-a-privilege" group--as a member of a shrinking congregation in which, even though we count women for a minyan, we rarely get a minyan except on Shabbat and Yom Tov mornings, I've come to treasure having the opportunity to do a full service or to chant Birkat HaMazon with a complete zimun and aloud, and am particularly unhappy when the davvening or bentching is rushed on those occasions when rushing is unnecessary.

Related:  Al & Larry explain Conservative Jewish practice.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Parhat Beshalach, 5773/2013 thoughts

Basics here.

New thought:

As I posited in my Parshat Bo notes post, ""Check out Parshat Bo, Exodus Chap. 10, v. 8-13: Moshe tells Par'o [Pharaoh] that they're taking the whole gang to make a sacrifice, but when Par'o objects, saying that only the men should go, HaShem sends another plague! So we women are indispensible for worship!"

I would carry that thought forward to the celebration at the Reed Sea in Parshat B'Shalach--it appears that there would have been no true celebration without the women singing and dancing, in addition to the men.  Otherwise, why would the Torah even mention that the women had taken timbrels in hand, and, dancing, had joined in the rejoicing, with Miriam singing to the entire camp?

Sunday, January 27, 2013 update

טו  וַיִּרְאוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל-אָחִיו מָן הוּא--כִּי לֹא יָדְעוּ, מַה-הוּא
 15 And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another: 'What is it?'--for they knew not what it was."

Yeah, right:  A likely story, quoth she sarcastically.  The original Hebrew clearly says Mahn (manna), not Mah (What?).  To me, this seems to be a case of midrash (legend/interpretive story) incorporated into the Torah itself.  It appears to me that the name Mahn/manna pre-existed this story.  It also seems to me that there are two different versions of the story woven together in this single sentence, one in which the Israelites did know, and one in which they did not know, what manna was.  Round up the usual suspect.  :)

"Monday, February 6, 2012 update:

Where the heck did the newly-freed slaves get weapons with which to fight the Amalekim/Amalekites at the end of this parsha? There's no mention of the slaves despoiling their soon-to-be-former masters of weapons."

This year's question:  Where the heck did the newly-freed slaves get military training?

    • Who the heck was Hur?  (See 17:10 and 12.)  We have nothing but midrash to explain his identity--the Torah seems to think it unimportant.
    • What did the Amalekim/Amalekites do to deserve to have G-d wage war against them in every generation?  (See 17:14 and 16.)  They may have been the first to attack the Israelite nation, but they certainly weren't the last.  The tale about them having attacked the ill and weak doesn't appear until a later part of the Torah.  (See the "Round up the usual suspect" link above.) 

  • I should have posted this link on Tuesday, January 22:  Not going there, literally :( (Monday, January 10, 2011). I won't go to Tehillim (Psalms) Group on the day of Parshat HaMan because I refuse to "davven"/pray Parshat HaMan--I don't see any difference between segulot and other superstitious acts.  I just read the text as part of Parshat Beshalach.  Check out that post for interesting links-- DovBear and AddeRabbi aren't too thrilled about this segulah, either, but Rabbi Fink has a rationalist's perspective regarding segulot. 
  • Parsha puzzles: Out of the blue (Thursday, February 03, 2011) 
" .. . . who's this Yehoshua/Joshua fellow who suddenly shows up out of a clear blue in Exodus, chapter 17, verse 9, at the end of Parshat Beshallach? Never heard of him before."

Conservadox weighs in on B'Shalach--twice.

Friday, January 18, 2013

I'm a grown-up, at last :)

I can finally eat plain yogurt without gagging.  It only took me almost 64 years.  :)

P.S.  Adding a teaspoon or so of plain yogurt to a bowl of my homemade butternut-squash-and-Granny-Smith-apple soup makes it nice and creamy, even though my chosen plain yogurt is fat-free.

Losing sleep, literally, over my health

That darned vestibular therapist keeps giving me more and more exercises to do twice a day in order to help me with my balance.  I've always been a literally dizzy dame, and my dizziness problem has got worse within the past couple of years, so, since I've already broken bones enough times from falling, I thought it wise to get some help.  But really, half an hour of exercises every morning and every evening?  No wonder I've been so tired lately--I'm losing an hour's sleep every day!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

"Supersizing," or what are they bragging about?

I can't understand how a fast-food chain can brag about a breakfast that's less than 400 calories.  One egg, one slice of whole-grain bread, and a piece of fresh fruit constitute a much healthier breakfast and probably weigh in at about half to two-thirds of the calories.

Been there, blogged that, and my warning still stands--we Americans, and many others from the so-called "developed" countries, are quite literally eating and drinking ourselves sick.  :(

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Two link-worthy posts by Talia bat Pessi

Parshat Bo, 5773/2013 thoughts

The disadvantage of being a long-time blogger is that I can't always think of new and  (I hope) interesting things to say about a parsha/sedra/weekly Torah reading.  Sigh.  Oh, well, here's last year's link fest.

At least Conservadox has something interesting to say this year.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Parshat Vaera (Vaeira) thoughts, 5773/2013

Basics here.

Nothing new to add, at the moment.  Here are my oldies.
  • A tale of two haftarot (Monday, January 07, 2008)--Yep, Haftarat Vaera is superseded by Haftarat Rosh Chodesh yet again this year.  It's no wonder I'm so out of practice chanting Haftarat Vaera.
  • Parsha catch-up: Vaera (Sunday, January 02, 2011) Included is a link to a DovBear post containing more links than you can shake a stick at.
" . . . is it possible that the area then known as Goshen has or had a microclimate different from the area of Ancient Egypt that was, according to Torah, struck by the plagues, thus accounting for it having been spared most of the plagues? To mix this theory with a more traditional perspective, could HaShem have chosen shepherds to be our ancestors for the purpose of ensuring that, when we went down to Egypt, we'd end up in Goshen and be spared?"

". . . it's all a matter of pollution--once the Nile turns red/becomes polluted, all but the last plague (the death of the firstborn) pretty much follow as a result. It's natural for the frogs to bail out if the water's polluted, then die of whatever got under their skin (literally). The insects follow the mass death of the frogs, and disease results from the insect infestation. Naturally, I can't find the video, but the History Channel telecast a theory that the death of the firstborn was caused when a natural body of water released trapped gas, which killed only those privileged few who slept on close-to-the-ground beds (firstborn sons and high officials) rather than those sleeping higher up on rooftops (the majority of the population), who were at a high-enough elevation that the poisonous gas passed under them. Traditionalists shouldn't be alarmed by this interpretation--all of these natural phenomena could have been caused by G-d."

Conservadox likes naturalistic explanations, too.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

"Jews Keep Rockin" (or more fun with Mark's music)

In the good olde days, when Mark Skier used to post and comment frequently, I clicked through an interesting comment of his to read his blog, and, a bit later, clicked through his blog to his music website.  I've been a fan of his music ever since.    Unfortunately for Mark/Moshe, I've been a rather high-maintenance fan--since my knowledge of Jewish texts is rather limited, I can't tell you how many times I've e-mailed him to ask which text he was quoting in his songs.  Most of the time, he's been kind enough to reply with the information, but sometimes, being a part-time musician, a full-time physician, and the father of six has put a limit on his time, and I've been left to fend for myself.  With the recent release of Jews Keep Rockin, though, and, perhaps, a slight increase in my technical know-how, I decided to try to spare Mark the trouble and see whether I could answer my own question--I typed the first line of "Al Tirah" into a search window, instead.  "Al tira, ish chamudot" yielded this, which, after a bit of reading, led me to Daniel, 10:19.  Cool!

The rest of the lyrics are an entirely different story, literally.  And that story goes back to the days when our local synagogue still had enough congregants who were both alive and well enough to make a minyan every morning.  On Mondays and Thursdays, when one recites the long version of the Tachanun prayer, we would follow a suggestion presented by the old Conservative Silverman Siddur (prayer book) and recite just a selection from the longer section at the beginning.  Never having been either a fast Hebrew reader, as my long-time readers are well aware (based on my numerous published complaints) or a great fan of Tachanun, I found that Selection One was quite enough for me.  But when I tried to duplicate that reading using the Koren Sacks Siddur, I was dismayed to discovered that the second paragraph of the longer section at the beginning was two sentences longer in the Koren Sacks.  Sigh.  So, rather than stopping where I used to stop, I learned the additional two sentences.  It must have been bashert (destined, fated) that I would learn those sentences, because the minute I heard the second sentence of "Al Tirah," I recognized the text immediately--the only place I can remember ever having seen the words "sh'ma-a" and "hakshivah" is in the last of those two additional sentences from the Long Tachanun that I just learned within the past three years or so!

So nu, enough about the lyrics--what about the music, already?  "Al Tirah" is a wonderful song.  Mendel Appel's guitar positively growls, buzzes, echoes, and . . . well, not being a guitarist, I have no idea how he plays what he plays, but it sounds great!  I really enjoy listening to Mark playing under and/or dancing around the melody line on bass.  (Check out the bass line that first appears with the third and fourth "lines" of singing.)  Del Bennett keeps everything moving in the drumming department, and Elana Skier has a delightful short solo on what Mark told me via e-mail me was a "software piano."  (I'm taking a wild guess, here--a software piano is one that's "activated" by "playing" a virtual keyboard that appears on a tablet computer screen?)  And the singing is jolly good.  I think you'll enjoy this song, and for that matter, the others on this, er, in this download.  (The name is already outdated.  :) ) 

Among my other other personal favorites from "Jews Keep Rockin" are Mark's "Hakel," the lyrics to which I know well from hearing my husband chant them as he leads P'sukei D'Zimsrah.  (Of course, I also know the lyrics from when I lead P'sukei D'Zimrah.)  Brian Gelfand, previously known for his work on the "Kabbalah Kollection" and "Rock of Sages" recordings also featured on Mark's website (keep scrolling down to where the page says "Store," or check or iTunes), has a very nice piano solo here, with a touch of electric keyboard at the end, too.  I also enjoy Mendel's "Pella" and "Jews Keep Rockin," both of which feature his signature white-hot guitar playing.  And for something completely different, there's Mendel's "Prelude in E Minor" and Mark's lullaby, "Shomer Yisrael."

While you're checking out CDs or downloads, you might want to consider not only the "Kabbalah Kollection" (a favorite: the outstanding and rockin' "Ashrei") and "Rock of Sages" (containing the gorgeous songs "Ani Maamin" by Mark and "Lecha Ezbach" by guitarist Izzy Botnick), which are quite possibly among the Jewish music world's earliest rock recordings,* but also the Moshe Skier Band's first formal recording, "Light Up the World," which has a knock-your-socks-off version of the previously-informally-released "Shoshanas Yaakov."  My recommendation:  Go there and do that!  And while you're there, don't forget to check out "Mehairo," the "single" that Mark wrote in honor of his daughter's wedding.  Mazal tov!

*See here for a little Jewish rock history from the founder and leader of Shlock Rock.  See here for the history of the Kabbalah Band in Mark's own words.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Parshat Sh'mot, 5773/2013 thoughts, slightly belated

Since I'm a day late, I might as well post the Hillel (standing-on-one-foot) version, which is here--that post contains links to every previous Sh'mot post I've ever written (I think).

Oops, missed this one due to the post's name.  Sh'mot highlight:

"Here's a little something that I spotted this year [2012]: What's the story with Sh'mot/Exodus chapter 6, verse 15's statement that Shim'on's/Shimon's/Simeon's/Simon's son Shaul/Saul is the son of a Canaanite woman? Who the heck did the rest of B'nei Yaakov (the sons of Jacob) marry?"

This year's thought:  My previous assertion to the contrary notwithstanding, maybe G-d didn't lie 100%.  I noticed this time around that there was, in fact, one time when Aharon/Aaron did speak in Moshe's/Moses's place, and that was when Moshe first returned to Mitzrayim/Egypt and appeared before the  elders of B'nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel/Jacob)--see Sh'mot/Exodus chapter 4, verse 30.  My Psychology-101-style interpretation is that Moshe, who'd grown up in Par'oh's/Pharaoh's palace, felt more comfortable speaking to Par'oh than to the Hebrew slaves.

Conservadox posted some interesting historical speculation regarding Par'oh's enslavement of the Hebrews.  (Sigh:  He's so quick on his feet that he's already posted about Parshat Vaeira/Vaera [whatever].)
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