Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

Why Pray?

If it is all in the Torah... why pray? Why not just study Torah?

Actually not everything is in the Torah. At least not direct responses to every issue. There are no 'instructions' for every circumstance. There is, however, the imparting of wisdom to learn to deal with issues in better ways.

We must study Torah... but that is not why we pray - prayer is not a cerebral exercise.

We pray to shift consciousness and focus.

There is more here to explore.

Interesting Link: How Jews Pray

To have a king...

The institution of the monarchy is the subject of Deuteronomy 17:11-13. (one of R. Marders favorite passages - she really likes all the 'justice' parts)

Now that the prophets are really not going to be part of the system, and the system for Judges has been described the people are given the option of appointing a King to rule over them. There are many details suggested to be sure the monarch is just and fair and doesn't take advantage of his power.

And we all know that in many cases this system, even with the warnings, didn't work too well. And there is the reminder that possibly Deuteronomy was written in the 7th Century BCE and therefore presents a critique of the monarchy.

Samuel is set with the responsibility to find the right King and he is not convinced that this is going to work. He warns them about the way monarchs abuse power and tries to convince them not to go that direction - but alas, he relents and does appoint the King.

There are so many treasures of lessons here that were brought out.

Why did they want a king? Well to be like the other communities of the day. And this is the specific reason given for the suggestion in Deuteronomy. So they wanted to be more like their neighbors and actually didn't see or heed the warnings about the drawbacks. This is a reflection on us in the diaspora as well... we take the customs and traditions of our 'neighbors' and implement them within our own community.

Why did the Torah suggest the monarchy when it had such a high probability of going wrong? Maybe it is God "the parent" letting children make their own mistakes so they can learn from them?

Judges had been 'temporary' rulers in more of a military sense - Kings would be more permanent and follow a hereditary line. This proved to be a difficult system with many obstacles. And even conflicted with the secular system of justice that had just been defined in Torah. (1st book Samuel Ch 8) Samuel appointed his sons as judges and they proved to be corrupt which may have started the whole monarchy decision.

There is an interesting translation issue here; In Deut 17:14 the word to appoint a king could be "IF" or it could be "When" because the imperative and future tense of the word is the same. So it is unclear if the monarchy is an option or a requirement.

David Gaskill read a Talmudic Story regarding the transition to secular authority of justice:

Achnai's Oven - Not in the Heavens

Interesting things here... and I only touched on a few of the subjects covered in Torah study this week.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Judicial System
People Decide / Not Prophets

There are several places in the Torah that refer to setting up a judicial system. Exodus when Yitro (Jethro) tells Moses to delegate the hearing of disputes. Deuteronomy where the system of justice is described in more detail. And again in 2nd Chronicles where King Jehosephat, in the 9th century B.C.E., placed judges in all cities of Judah and created a main "referral court" in Jerusalem. This set up a real system for judges of Levites and Priests to represent the law of God.

Sermon on Torah's Justice System

The sages were now the "interpreters" of the law and the time of prophets was over.

Why no more prophets?

Too hard to tell which were real and which were not?
Prophets were socially disruptive?
Prophets were viewed as "crazy" and not taken seriously?

Nevertheless, it makes a bit more sense to follow the advice of learned sages rather than from a prophet that one cannot be sure is really in tune with the wishes of God.

Who were the sages? Levite and Priests - why? Because they were the ones who knew the law of Torah. They were the ones who were to teach others the law. With this system the "people" are to judge based on laws of Torah and not based on the word of a prophet who may be divinely inspired.

The Torah implies that the "law" will evolve with the times and the sages were the ones set with the task of interpreting just how this was to be. Example of the prayer for lighting Chanukah candles: The Torah doesn't "command" lighting these candles and yet the prayer we say implies that it is in fact commanded. This is an example of where the sages have ruled as an 'update' of commandments and therefore have decreed that this is correct.

This is good because it offers a basis for the law to adjust to new circumstances. The idea of an evolving legal base is also evident in the US constitution.

Link: Justice - Levitical Courts

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Torah Given In the Wilderness?

The wilderness - an unlikely place to meet God?

- a reminder that there is no condition, no circumstance, not travail in which people cannot hear the voice of God if they are determined to hear it. (Morris Adler)

- Torah is open a accessible to all humanity (Numbers Rabbah 1:7)

- "Let everyone who is thirsty come for water (Torah) (Isaiah 55:1)

- Torah given in the wilderness because no one tribe would have preferred claim.(Numbers Rabbah 19:26)

-"if human beings do not conquer the desert, it may eventually conquer them" (Pinchas Pell)

- The wilderness - an open place: "we must be open like the wilderness in order to learn Torah" (Talmud Nedarim 55b)

These points of discussion range from the logical to the esoteric.

The connection of Torah to this place where these former slaves were wandering and making their new life is a powerful message about overcoming difficulties and finding solutions in Torah.

Going from the difficult life of slavery and the harsh environment of Egypt to more and different difficulties of forming a community in the environment of the Sinai where there are dramatic mountains is a contrast to give the people a sense of awe and the presence of God. This was when they needed faith and direction from God and it was given.

We need to remember that difficulties should become challenges to overcome and Torah can help. So when we are faced with the wilderness in our lives we can turn to Torah to find direction.

notes and thoughts from Torah Study 6/4/05 with Rabbi Richard Block.

The Overview & The Wilderness - Torah Study with R. Block

First an overview of the 'plot':

Genesis - the 4 generations from creation to Moses
Exodus - Moses from birth to Exodus
All the rest - "IN THE WILDERNESS"

And, of course, Leviticus is all the "nitty gritty" that actually doesn't move the story anywhere so, if you are reading for the plot line... well... you could skip that book and not miss much!

You pick up in Numbers with a census that seems to say there were 603,550 males over 20 in the population - seems incredulous - especially since adding in women and children... well too many for such a small place.

So there are possible explanations: the number in Hebrew might just have referenced a 'sub-group' and therefore the actual number would have been about 10% less. Or it might have been a mistranslation... well that has happened before... maybe.

"a metaphor is one way to overcome difficult text" and this may be one of the cases.


The discussion continued pointing out that some of the detail descriptions "IN THE WILDERNESS" seemed to indicate that it may have been written looking back from an historic perspective. "the sequence of the Torah may not be exact" sometimes it seems more like a reconstruction of the history. The materials used to build the tabernacle, for example, didn't seem to be the type things the former slaves would have brought with them from Egypt. (but you never know) Actually, the materials listed seemed more like something you might find in Solomon's Temple.

And with that reference back to the blog on Deuteronomy : Deuteronomic History - The Setting Explains the Laws

Amazing study session .... continues with more thought provoking questions to be explored further in the next post.

Learned about another interesting link for study of parashot:

more review of BEMIDBAR
explore this site a bit too... interesting commentary by Dr. Larry Hurwitz.... (thanks to Sherry Blumberg for telling me about this site)