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, January 29, 2008

V'zot Habracha - Moses' Blessings - Not the End

Rabbi Yoshi’s humor keeps us entertained as he struggled not to finish the book!

Alan Podel read the entire poem V'zot Habracha in Deuteronomy 33 – a tribute for his birthday ( happy day Alan)

While this is a poem it is not presented graphically as a poem in Torah like the previous poems it still has the structure and rhythm of a poem. (no reason given)

We discussed the dating of this poem (and Deuteronomy) based on the Hebrew details – the spelling of the name David is an example of how this is done. If it is “dalit vav dalet” as in Samuel and Kings it is older than if it is “dalit vav yud dalet” as in Chronicles. (link on more of this information)

Yoshi Leshem, R. Zweibacks teacher, did a study that questions the theory of Deuteronomy being dated at the time of King Josiah (7th Cen) based on study of only the style of the language and spelling. This study dates the book much earlier.

The discussion then moved to the poem itself. And an interesting view of Moses, the man who we first met as having difficulty speaking, and now as a great orator and poet. How did Moses become “a man of words”? There is midrash referred to that “the Torah itself cured Moses’ speech impediment”.*
There are many sites that speculate about this I did find one theory that when Moses said he was “slow of tongue” it was referring to his lack of fluency in the language rather than an impediment that we more often hear about. (interesting drash on Moses )

The comparison of Moses’ blessing to that of Jacob shows that they are parallel in some ways but not in specifics and tone. Jacob was speaking to his sons as individuals while Moses was referring to the ‘tribe’ or descendents of those sons. Jacob’s blessings were often critical, while Moses is more hopeful and positive. While both felt the anxiety of leaving their ‘children’, they were different in many ways but Moses was more optimistic in his view as expressed in the blessing. Possibly Moses’ blessings were more indicative of the geographic areas where the tribes would settle.

The specific question of “what is thummim and urim” blessed on Levi - was another interesting topic from the blessing – And this brought us to the “magic 8 ball” discussion (that we really didn’t have according to R. Yoshi) But it was explained that this was on the breast plate or special stones of the priests that were to help them understand God’s will.

Side find I thought you would like by by Rabbi Judith Z. Abrams:

If Torah were a person, we would say she was an individual with many interests. She would be interested in history and family, social justice and ritual laws, just to mention a few topics. She would also be able to take into account many different views on the same topic.

(For example, there are two creation stories, two versions of the Ten Commandments, two versions of the Golden Calf story, etc.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

God's Gender

While the word "Adonai" is considered masculine in Hebrew, we work to take that male gender image away from our diety. It is difficult to picture God and it is also difficult "not to picture" God in our prayers and study of Torah.

We discussed this and read about the use of the unpronounceable Hebrew four letters (yud hey vav hey) in the new Woman's Commentary translation of Torah. The book notes that it is not translated in this Commentary because we all 'should struggle with how to approach the divine.'

There was discussion of the Orthodox's use of "Hashem" which means "The Name". As the name of God is only used for prayer and not even for study.

There was some debate as to the significance of God's gender as it is written in our texts. Does it make a difference? While Larry felt that the male gender in the words should not make a difference, Antoinette took the side that the anthropomorphic representation as a male gender does influence people's attitudes.

The visualization of God as a male with tallit and tefillin is not uncommon in ultra-religious communities.

However, a reference to the poem by Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig - made me go look this up - link on title for the whole thing - it is a beautifully written message that was published in 1997:

"God is a Woman and She is Growing Older"
"Turn us, O God, back to You and we shall return."

. . .

Today I invite you to imagine God along with me. I invite you to imagine God as a woman, a woman who is growing older.

God is a woman and she is growing older1. She moves more slowly now. She cannot stand erect. Her face is lined. Her voice is scratchy. Sometimes she has to strain to hear. God is a woman and she is growing older; yet, she remembers everything.

- - - Read the whole thing! - - -


... to add a little humor to the scene IF you have not seen the movie : THE TRIBE it is great! and that image came to mind when I mixed these two concepts...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

punishment or just time for new leaders?

Another WOW day at Torah Study with R. Zweiback as we moved forward to the end of Moses’ Song: Deuteronomy 32:44-52

Much of the discussion centered around the fact that Moses dies before he gets to go into the land that was promised to him.

Was it a punishment? OR maybe it was just what happened and Moses was old and he just died?

We went back to look at the events in Numbers 20 when Moses ‘struck the rock’ to see if it really seems like a sin that warranted a major punishment.

And in this the ‘drama’ of the moment when Moses struck the rock to get the water allows for many different ways of interpretation. It can have different meanings depending on the inflection and way it is said. So it is not really clear what actually happened at that rock. And Jes proved it to us with his acting prowess! (And Bills humorous comment about them wandering in "wine country" which made them whine!)

Larry suggested that Moses really needs a good lawyer to plead his case.

There were many possibilities reviewed with scenarios that set the stage of understanding Moses’ point of view as he was bringing the water to the people. He was mourning his sister’s death, putting up with whining people and dealing with crowd control, it was probably rather frustrating for him at the time.

Bruce mentioned the book: How Good Do We Have to Be? A New Understanding of Guilt and Forgiveness: by Harold S. Kushner.

And as Rachel points out – it gives us the security in knowing that he made mistakes as we all do.

Maybe it was just ‘time’ for the shift from Moses and Aaron to Joshua and this was the ‘excuse’ pointed out for Moses’ death prior to reaching the land.

(and of course there was a short tangent into the debate about whether the book of Deuteronomy was written later than the others or if it was just lost for a few hundred years – and how Hulda, the prophetess, authenticated the scroll – and her husband was a dressmaker! Oh, and there was some reference to sacrificing a goat we were supposed to keep quiet about . . . )
Interesting link on this

As the class ended Rabbi Yoshi told us the midrash of Joshua’s name (his namesake too) and the yud that gave him a connection to God!

I found a couple of interesting references to this on websites:
A Successor for Moses
Adding a Yud

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Rock or Not?

Cantor Lauren Bandman led our class as we read forward all the way to Deuteronomy 32:31

She pointed out the interesting coincidence that while we are studying the Song of Moses, in the annual cycle of reading Torah they are about to reach the Song of the Sea. We read the Song of Moses at the Jewish New Year and The Song of the Sea falls this year on the secular New Year.

We talked about the nature of God and the power of God. Many interesting thoughts . . .

Amy mentioned the terrific midrash: “What does God pray about? That God’s capacity for mercy outweighs that for judgment.
(good start)

Saul reminded us that this poem is older and is indicative of the evolution of the image of God.

We spoke of the image of God as a ROCK or Tzur which is repeated again three times in this part. Victor suggests that it is more a literary device while others note that repetition is considered the way Torah stresses importance of an image. Nevertheless, the image of the rock is one that indicates permanence, solidity, unmoving, and both comforting and frightening.

Jeff told us how the word Tzur is used in the founding documents of the State of Israel to help the potential conflict between the secular Zionists and the religious founders.

Thus much of the class was centered on the image and re-occurrence of “Rock” in our tradition.

Antoinette ended the class with a conflicting image, “God is everything that both is and is not the Rock”.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

God's Feelings

Deuteronomy 32:26-27 R. Citrin led class

God is ‘in a hard place’.
This part depicts our God as having very human feelings: zealous, jealous and wants to be recognized.
The question: Should the Israelis win or loose against their enemies?

God uses the enemies as an instrument of punishment for their turning from God’s teachings. But that might just not work to really show God’s power. And it might work for the enemies to think that God of the Israelites is weak.

OTOH (on the other hand) If they win, then it shows God’s power but fails to punish the Israelites as planned and doesn’t really teach them to mend their ways.

And there is the other question - ‘why should God care what the pagans think?’

As Sandy pointed out this is the dilemma of the ‘carrot and the stick’ concept.
When incentives stop working then will the stick do more to teach the lesson?

James reminded us of all the previous times that Moses came to the rescue of the Israelites when God was about to give up on them. But we know that Moses will not be there next time.

R. Micah noted that the Talmud describes God’s typical day – definitely anthropomorphic - but it makes God one that learns and responds to both God’s needs and the needs of the people.

But this brings more questions:

Why does God need us?
Are we in God’s image? OR is God in our image?

Harve did an analogy to a new start up in Silicon Valley! - those who start the organization sometimes get to a point where they have to get rid of those that are straying from the objectives so that the organization can stay strong and reach the goals.

In our effort to continue to try to understand, as Job tells us in the prophets, we just don’t understand and that is the way it is.

There is the notion of ‘Hope and Despair’ - it is our tradition to maintain the ‘hope’ side of this equation.

And as the discussion came full circle we were reminded that God’s strength is reflected by the strength of the people who follow . . .
We sanctify God through our deeds.