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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Friday, December 28, 2007

Howard's Notes-12/22
Torah Study & Iyun Tefilah

These notes are from Howard who also takes even more detailed notes during our classes... thanks for the addition for the blog...

BOOK Mentioned: World to Come by Dara Horn; it was mentioned by Rabbi Micah during Iyun Tefilah

22 December 2007 - Rabbi Zweiback

RJZ: There is a change in tone between Deut 32:26 and 32:27.
Before, the poem is about the disloyalties of the Israelites. After, the focus is on Israel’s enemies. God wants to be clear on this: defeat of Israel is not through the enemy efforts but part of His divine plan. If Israel loses on the battlefield, it’s not because their God is weak, but God’s decision to punish because of sins, transgressions, violation of the covenant and laws, etc. A whole theology is represented by these verses, i.e., God the omnipresent is always watching and deciding what’s best for the people.
“Instead of regarding Israel’s disappearance from human history as an indication of the workings of the one sole god in world history, of His will and His sovereignty, the nations would view it as a triumph of heathen delusion over the truth of Judaism. They would consider God’s judgment up9n Israel not a s the judgment of god, but as a triumph of their own human might. Therefore in order to disabuse the nations of such illusions, Israel must endure, suffer, and, with it all, survive.”[1]

“Having concluded the chilling litany of suffering that Jews will suffer because of their sins, God pauses. He said that He would scatter them and bring an end to them – a fate that they would deserve because of their sins. But that would cause the Name to be desecrated, because the enemies of Israel would believe that they overcame God’s opposition and prevailed with their own strength; they would never believe that they succeeded only because God used them as His rod. To prevent this from happening, God will stay their hand.” [2]

Ramban’s explanation is that God would not permit his name to be desecrated by the annihilation of the Israelites, his people. The issue was not salvaging God’s prestige. Instead, if God created the world for humanity to know Him. However, as other nations sinned, only Israel remained to remember the creation. If Israel was destroyed by others, who would retain this memory? Future generations should think that Israel became extinct through natural means, not by God’s hand. [3]

On the other hand, Alter states that in God’s fury over Israel’s disloyalty, He expresses no compassion; however, concern for divine reputation prevents Him from destroying Israel.[4]
à Rashi [from ] - 27. Were it not that the enemy's wrath was heaped up, lest their adversaries distort; lest they claim, "Our hand was triumphant! The Lord did none of this!"

Were it not that the enemy’s wrath was heaped up Heb. אָגוּר. Were it not that the enemy’s wrath was heaped up (אָגוּר) against them to destroy them, and if the enemy would succeed in overtaking them and destroying them, he would attribute the greatness to himself and to his deity, but he would not attribute the greatness to Me [says God]. This, then, is the meaning of…

lest their adversaries distort Heb. פֶּן יְנַכְּרוּ צָרֵימוֹ, lest they misconstrue the matter by attributing their might to an alien (נָכְרִי) , to whom the greatness does not belong. Lest they claim, Our hand was triumphant…!

RJZ: This theology colors people’s view of the world. Early Zionists were ridiculed by rabbis because they believed Israel would get its homeland when God says so. Also, the Holocaust was God’s answer to Israel’s sins; the Nazi were agents of God. As repugnant as this seems, it does conform to some people’s ideas of the nature of God.
•The discussion then digressed into various topics such as free will vs foretelling, historical explanations of Hanukah, prophecy and false prophets, prayer and study in Judaism compared to other religions, and divine justice in this and the next world.
•We may have free will, but God is watching and judging. There may be no divine justice in today’s world but it will occur in the next world. Some would say that we have free will to choose living by the Covenant or not.
•In Genesis through Deuteronomy, God spoke directly to people (such as Moses). God spoke to the Prophets through dreams and visions. After then, it became too easy for someone to proclaim that he is a “prophet”. As a protection against false prophecy and prophets, the early sages declared the end of the prophetic era. Today, God speaks to us through words of the Torah and its many interpreters.


Hirsch, The Pentateuch, page 807

Scherman, page 1105 [Stone edition Chumash]]

Referenced in Scherman, page1106; see also Weissman, The Midrash Says. The Book of Devarim, page 371-372, who states simply “the gentiles would attribute the demise of the Jewish people to the power of their gods and thus G-d’s Great Name would be desecrated. “

Alter, The Five Books of Moses, page 1043

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Not by Might?

Deuteronomy 32:25-43
Rabbi Zweiback led an adventure into many topics this week at Torah Study.

There is a new focus in this part of the Song of Moses – it switches in v. 26 from a focus on the history of their relationship with God to a focus on their enemies. There is a definite concern about ‘what others would say’ if there is any doubt about God’s power. There is the emphasis on “not by might and not by power, but by God’s spirit” will they prevail.

This led to a discussion of different theologies offered within the Torah. And the sociological view vs the theological view.

And then the philosophy of Rabbi Akiva: “Everything is determined and yet you have free will.” (the 'God wanted you to say that' theory)

So is everything that happens because God makes it happen? Probably not, but there are those who do believe that way. Some might say we have to learn from the bad things that happen. Some of the early Rabbis said that the land was taken away because of our sins and they thought that the early Zionists were heretics. They also would have thought that the Macabees were wrong to use might and power to fight the Hellenist Romans in 165 BCE.

Hannukah Theology was discussed:
This is why the Rabbis set the Haftorah for Hanukkah to include the message that the Macabees won by “Spirit and not by might”.
It is (in R. Yoshi’s terms)
“the little jar that could” vs “the military victory over the Hellenists”
and he noted that in Israel they tend to celebrate the military victory much more than the ‘miracle’ of the oil. We also noted that the story of this victory is not in the Bible... But that was canonized before the destruction of the Temple so it was not a decision of the rabbis who emphasized the ‘miracle’ rather than the ‘might’ in this victory.

This led to the question: Does God take sides in human wars?

And that led to the question: How does God ‘talk to us’?

And that led to the reminder that there are no more prophets. This helps avoid the temptation to believe in false prophets.

And that led to the comment that Jews pray less than any other religion. (maybe because we say that God doesn’t talk back?) But we are a people of the Book and stress that the way to know God is to study. (reinforced by Maimonades) And that is our tendency. But some feel that spirituality is still a key goal.

We covered a lot of territory in that hour last week – I hope I covered it in this summary!

References from the lesson:
R. Yoffie’s sermon at the Biennial

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Rabbi Zweiback on Free Will

Here is a 3 minute segment of our Torah Study Class on Free Will:

I will post the notes from this class later - it covered all types of topics from God is watching and free will to 'the little jar that could' and Hanukkah Theology. Watch for it!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


notes from Torah Study Class 12/15

We are still on the same chapter verse – Deuteronomy 32:15-24

It was pointed out that it seems we don’t want to go forward until R. Marder returns. But I really think she expects us to at least progress a little bit!

Nevertheless, it was another spirited session this time with Sol Wasserman directing the traffic.

The question of the Holocaust being a ‘punishment’ as predicted from these verses was brought up and quickly (ok not so quickly) determined that it is not a direction we want to address from our perspective. But we do recognized that there are some who do think that way.

Rather, the discussion turned to the issue of ‘other gods’ and what influence they might have had on our people as they went into the land. The ultimate question was brought up, “WHY is ONE GOD important?” and “What does it mean to worship other gods?” Comments ranged from the need to be loyal to one teaching as not to get mixed messages to reference to concepts that God is within ourselves rather than an outside force.

And then there was also the message that “We are all in this together and responsible for our world”. Environmental issues are on our minds too.

Interesting Dvar Torah on the Song of Moses

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What's Wrong With Idols?

Deuteronomy 32:15-25 Rabbi Adam Allenberg led the class last week to review the “notion of idolatry” as referenced in the poem.

Reminders about the mention of idols back in Genesis with Rachel ‘stealing’ her father’s idols and then again in Exodus with the ‘Golden Calf’ episode where Aaron was a key instigator but later becomes the high priest.

And then there is some confusion about what is an idol versus what is an artistic adornment or representation rather than an ‘idol’.

This is clearly not a ‘cut and dry’ issue. Why by the time we get to Deuteronomy 32:15-25 the whole concept of ‘other gods’ becomes the absolute worst sin?

Moses uses every tactic known to convince the people that the worst thing they can do is to follow those other gods they will find in the land. Here he uses fear tactics to warn them of the dire consequences if they don’t heed this message.

Hal pointed out that this is really more about gods than about idols.
Randy notes that it appeals to our ‘guilt’ complex.
Haya points out that this is not necessarily the best parenting style to use fear of failure approach.
Then Sol brings up the issue of Particularism vs Universality and the tensions between these ideas.

The discussion asked ‘what is wrong with those other gods?’

And the answer was something like - ‘they are ok for others but not for us!’

An idol creates a problematic view would put a boundary around God which is not appropriate for us.

The practices of the Canaanites were abhorrent and completely against the values of the Israelites. This is the main warning – not to be influenced by these people who live by a different set of values. It is a strong message to keep the ritual system they know to reinforce their values and system of ethics and justice.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Reaction

Deuteronomy 32:19-27

In his usual gestalt style R. Yoshi encouraged the class to step back and look at the broader picture of this climatic part of the poem as it fits in the whole.

The beginning of the poem invited us to pay attention.
Then there was a review of what the history of our relationship with God was all about and all the good things that were done for us.
Next is a vivid description of our disloyalties to God followed by the turning point that shows the ‘deservedly harsh’ reaction to our disloyalty.

God “Hid His Face”!

A book reference here:
The Hidden Face of God
by Richard E. Friedman (Author)
Good article LINK:

Interesting intersection here regarding the mention of women:
“God spurns the sons and daughters”

The discussion continued with the question “is God responsible for what happens in modern history?”

Nevertheless it is clear that the REAL sin here is IDOLATRY.

Therefore next Torah Study session we will explore what this sin is really all about both then and now! AND HOW did idolatry become “The Sin”?