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.

IF you want to be part of our Chavarah email group let me know at

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Reminders Forever

Torah Study with R. Marder 8/25
Deuteronomy 31: 16 -
So Moses is directed to write this ‘poem’ that will be a reminder forever.

Because the people will become very comfortable in the ‘land of milk and honey’ and they will go astray. The poem is a way to remind them not to abandon their beliefs.

We discussed the struggle we have when times are good and we become ‘obese’. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch speaks of the Israelits' "obesity" as a metaphor for affluence and a preoccupation with material gratification. Larry asked, ‘ if God didn’t want us to become ‘obese’ why did we get to go to the ‘land of milk and honey’? Some think it is that we needed to learn control of our ‘appetite’. Others noted that it is most difficult to deal with the ‘top’ of the hierarchy of needs. But the essence is that the ‘people’ must determine their own fate but they need constant reminders to continually renew their faith and loyalty to God’s laws.

There is a reminder here that Deuteronomy is targeted to the collective community and not to the individual.

The other point discussed relates to the directive for Moses to write this poem. There is a mitzvah that each of us should ‘write our own Torah’. This has been interpreted in many different ways as well.

And this is another way to reinforce our connection and to assure there will always be a relationship between us and Torah.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

God Will Hide His Face!

Rabbi Yoshi was in good spirits as he gave us a vivid look at the scene in Deuteronomy 31:16

Moses is about to die when God tells him that his speech was good but not good enough to assure that the people will not go astray. And God is going to be very angry and is not going to keep on coming to their rescue. There is one last thing Moses has to do. That is to document and read the poem that is the next parasha.

So we spoke of ‘going astray’ and what that means.
People will worship the idols and not follow the mitzvot. AND God is not going to be happy about that.

(it was here that an interesting thought about Christianity was inserted: "Christianity is like paganism put through the carwash of Judaism")

And what it means when God says he will ‘hide God’s face’. Which led to a bigger discussion of many mentions of ‘God’s face’ in Torah. Especially the emphasis on it in the Priestly Benediction which wishes for the radiance of God’s face to shine on us.

Hal interjected a comment about the poem that follows: This is God's way of saying "I told you so" whenever the passage is read in the future!

Suggested Book: The Hidden Face of God, by Richard E. Friedman
Amazon description
The Hidden Face of God is a record of biblical scholar Richard Elliott Friedman's attempts to understand why, after God tells Moses in Deuteronomy, "I shall hide my face from them," God proceeds to disappear from the face of the earth. "Gradually through the course of the Hebrew Bible ... the deity appears less and less to humans, speaks less and less. Miracles, angels, and all other signs of divine presence become rarer and finally cease," Friedman writes. This freewheeling work of biblical and cultural criticism considers the ways modern writers such as Friedrich Nietzsche have continued to develop the idea that "we are finally utterly on our own," wrestles with the insecurities, moral ambiguities, and spiritual doubts that modernism has aggravated, and looks to contemporary science and Jewish mysticism for some clues as to how God's absence may in fact be His way of showing His presence. Without ever lapsing into intellectual laziness or maudlin sentiment, Friedman provides an accessible survey of some of this century's biggest moral dilemmas. And within those dilemmas themselves, Friedman finds hope. --Michael Joseph Gross

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Moses' Mortality

In Deuteronomy 31:14-17 as Moses is reminded that he will soon "lie with his fathers" the Torah study session focused on Jewish perspectives of the afterlife.

What does it mean to “lie with your fathers”, to “be gathered to your kin” (Gen:25) , to “lie down with your fathers” (Gen:47)? There is definite reference to a description of death relating to a connection with those who came before us but not many details other than that.

In the time of the Prophets there was more descriptions in Isaiah and Job (examples) that give more of an image of an afterlife. It was in Rabbinic times that the concept of an immortal soul became strong.

Maimonedes tried to lead people away from the belief in an afterlife.

There was much discussion on how each year at Yom Kippur we reflect on this aspect of our lives. And even the connection that as one gets nearer to the end of life there seems to be a stronger long term memory of the past.

There is one consistent thought that Jews do not tie the notion of the immortal soul with a reason to act a particular way in life. That is there is no concept of ‘be good so you go to heaven’ in Jewish thought.