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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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

David on Trial – Guilty or not?

Noam Zion : David on Trial – Guilty or not?

Torah Study Group - Scholar in Residence 2/23/08

This amazing speaker brings subjects to light and captivates us as his students! Thank You Noam Zion…

First the description of how Jerusalem became the center. It isn’t a port, there is no major water source, it isn’t particularly defensible… then why was Jerusalem the place where David founded the site of the Temple and the center of his kingdom?

He was born in Bethlehem – not Jerusalem – (this could be why the Christian Bible puts Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem – to connect him to David) – David was the underdog, the young boy who slew Goliath, the one we loved because he was an ‘outsider’, short, ruddy complexion, a musician. “If anyone says negative things about King David then they must be against all the people.” (may still be true today).

The story of Batsheva is compared to the loss of Camelot, the looking away from the indiscretions of our heroes such as JFK and even Bill Clinton.

The description of the image from The Surrealistic Bible, 1976 Diedre Luzwick

Batsheva on his left and the sheep from the parable of Nathan on his right. Many mythological images such as the woman statue in the upper left corner the sex goddess, the image n the mirror holding the lantern as Diogenes. (or Nathan judging David) David washes his feet as a symbol of his sexual behavior. The harp and the tiger below are also symbols of David’s character as a young man and his music.

Yes, David was guilty on many counts – but it is amazing that this is accounted for in the Bible and shows the great flaws of this great man and king.

David is guilty –
• he stays behind while he sends his army off to war – he sends the ark along with the army as well.
• Voyeurism – as David watches Batsheva.
• Crimes against women a – as he uses his power to take Batsheva
• Adultery .
• Coveting.
• Betrayal of his comrade and friend Uriah
• Impurity = Rape.
• Coercing Uriah and trying to get him to sin.
• The cover-up and manipulation of Uriah’s certain death.

(At this point Samuel might be saying ‘ I told you so ‘ about kings and power. )

Should he be IMPEACHED?

The Defense –

Noam Zion reviewed 6 possible defense strategies for the case…
1. he was predestined to transgress in this way so he could teach teshuvah.
2. It was a test - the Hubris strategy
3. David spent the rest of his life in repentance and remorse.
4. Deny that the incident really happened.
5. Loophole that changes the order of things to make the connection to Bathseva legitimate.
6. Batsheva was the seductress who convinced David to commit these sins.

What ever the reason, Nathan was there to reprove David of this event and the incident is reviewed each time it is read. Our loyalty to King David as well as to our faith is to a process that involves sin, criticism and allows for teshuvah and correction of our actions.

Source: The King David Report by Stefan Heym

You can contact Noam Zion at his email:

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Five Interpretations

Torah Study with R. Marder, 2/16/08
Deuteronomy 33:26-27

We reviewed 5 significantly different views of these verses from different times and different resources:

1. Rashi - The Sky is the dwelling place for God. Men are the 'powerful' people of the earth but God is above.

2. 19th Century
Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin - Subject goes back to v 26 - Jeshurun is the subject - therefore the people are in the dwelling place of God. *

3. A modern view - The vowels of the Hebrew are amended to actually change the translation to imply in v 27 that God drove away the enemy. And thet intead of 'dwelling' it 'humbles' afflicted divine of old. This implies that God overtook the gods of old.

4. JPS version - God carries us. That man is cared for by God like a parent for their child but more.

5. Talmudic view - R. Avahu - The world endures through those who are humble. The humble people are the pillars of the world. 'the weakest are the strongest'.
36 Righteous people.
The Talmudic concept is that at all times there are at least 36
righteous people. It's because this minimum always exists that
make the world's existance worthwhile. The identity of these
36 is not known. The 36 most righteous people in the world include
people who never became famous. In Chassidic thought, the 36
righteous people are hidden tzaddikim.
more on this at Wikipedia
Also referenced: R. Jonathan Sacks, Cheif Rabbi of England On Humility

* A POEM by Jacob Gladstein,
YANKEV GLATSHTEYN, "Without Jews", was most moving:

Without Jews

Without Jews, no Jewish God.
If, God forbid, we should quit
This world, Your poor tent’s light
Would out.
Abraham knew You in a cloud:
Since then, You are the flame
Of our face, the rays
Our eyes blaze,
Our likeness
Whom we formed:
In every land and town
A stranger.
Shattered Jewish skulls,
Shards of the divine,
Smashed, shamed pots –
These were Your light-bearing vessels,
Your tangibles,
Your portents of miracle!
Now count these heads
By the millions of the dead.
Around You the stars go dark.
Our memory of You, obscured.
Soon Your reign will close.
Where Jews sowed,
A scorched waste.

Dews weep
On dead grass.
The dream raped,
Reality raped,
Both blotted out.
Whole congregations sleep,
The babies, the women,
The young, the old.
Even Your pillars, Your rocks,
The tribe of Your saints,
Sleep their dead
Eternal sleep.

Who will dream You?
Remember You?
Deny You?
Yearn after You?
Who will flee You,
Only to return
Over a bridge of longing?

No end to night
For an extinguished people.
Heaven and earth wiped out.
Your tent void of light.
Flicker of the Jews’ last hour.
Soon, Jewish God,
Your eclipse.


I also find a reference to a children's book he wrote which sounds like a must read:
Emil and Karl

Also mentioned was the novel by George Eliot, MiddleMarch. Here is a link to a summary version if you just want to get a feel for it. The last words from this novel was read..

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Asrei - An Acrostic Prayer

Iyun T'fillah , February 09 - Rabbi Marder

We discussed the verses of psalms that we sing prior to the call to worship and how previous to the development of this part of the service many would go to the synagogue and sit in silence for up to an hour to prepare themselves for prayer. Then they would recited the 150 Psalms. This evolved into a representation using the last 6 psalms along with some songs that link parts of different psalms together. The purpose is to create Kavanah - or the readiness to pray.

Ashrei - Psalm 145 (with the addition of a bit extra) is usually chanted responsively and is an example of an acrostic prayer. Each line starts with a different sequential letter of the Aleph Bet, well, almost.

This is a way to say we are using all of our resources to get ready to pray. It is also a good way to remember the prayer and the soothing repetitive melody allows us to focus on the meaning with less distraction.

There is one letter missing - the nun - there are many explanations but this is one suggested: the letter nun might suggest 'downfall' and the next verse refers to 'God upholds those that fall down' with the next letter followed by the Samech which is round in shape. Some say the Mem and the Samech should be together because the Mem stands for lasting and Samech is round like the ring given in marriage. And it stands for strength and support to uphold each other.
(isn't midrash fun?)

Here is a link to another blog post that explores this question more.

There is another interesting custom when ones gets to the Pey. Some hold out their hand suggesting the open hand to sustain the needs of all life and an expression of gratitude. Some orthodox will touch the teffilin on the hand in a similar gesture.

There is one extra verse added that makes the transition to Psalm 150 to start Hallel - praise Halleluyah!

There is an interesting YouTube I found when researching this a bit... not exactly on this topic but good to set the right mood ...
Mordechai Ben David (MBD) - Shiru Lamelech

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Jeshurun = upright vs Israel = wrestle

Deuteronomy 33:26-29 – Rabbi Marder is back to lead us to the end…

The last words of Moses….

First he blessed each tribe individually, then he addresses the whole people as “Jeshurun”.

The term is from the root that means ‘straight ahead’ or ‘upright’ which is an honorable term. The previous time “Jeshurun” was used was in relation to the term ‘fat and kicked’
(From Wikipedia: Jeshurun appears four times in the Bible — three times in Deuteronomy and once in Isaiah.)

(Interesting side point that ‘fat and kicked’ was the verse we were on on Nov 3rd before Rabbi Marder left for her sabbatical)

The term ‘Jeshurun’ is interesting to refer to the people as it contrasts with the term ‘Israel’ that also refers to the people. One means ‘straight and upright’ and the other means to ‘wrestle with God’. The contrast is evident but it also is a good description of the many facets of our people.

Moses continues his address to the people with a poetic visualization of God ‘riding through the heavens’. While this is drawn from mythological roots, Moses emphasizes, “THERE IS NONE LIKE GOD”. Which we use in our current liturgy many times, Shema, Mi Chamocha, Ein Kamocha, Ein Kilohenu – to mention a few.

We continued the discussion reviewing the similar images in the Psalms: 68, 18, 29, 90. It is easy to understand from this the vision of God in the sky and relating to those signs of power in nature like earthquakes and thunder storms.

Another note – This is where we start reading on Simchat Torah. … we read to the end of Deuteronomy and immediately begin Genesis.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Those Cherubs

Exodus 37:6-9 - A description of those beautiful golden cherubim that are made to 'protect' the ark. What differentiates them from idols? They may look a bit like idols to some.

The cherubim are a symbol of the protection of God's words.

R. Jonathan Sacks of UK said that the two figures with outstretched wings represent the place where God dwells is when two people truly face each other and reach out to each other.

Rabbi Brant Rosen's blog describes this well:

While most of us tend to picture cherubs as cute flying babies, the original cherubim (in Hebrew: “cheruvim”) were often fearful and ferocious creatures. Near Eastern scholars point out that statues of cheruvim were common in the ancient world, and were typically understood to be the guardians of sacred places. They were often represented with the body of an animal (such as a bull or a lion) and the face of a human. (The Egyptian sphinx is probably the most well known example of an extant cheruv.)

In the Torah, there are several important references to cheruvim. It is a cheruv that guards the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden after the expulsion of Adam and Eve. In some prophetic visions, cheruvim guard the Heavenly Throne itself; in Ezekiel they are famously described as creatures with four faces: a human, a lion, an ox and an eagle. Our Torah portion does not identify the precise form of the cheruvim that guard the Ark of the Covenant, but it seems clear that they have a similar protective function - “ancient Israelite gargoyles,” as it were.

If this was indeed the case, the physical stance of the cheruvim seems more than a little curious. As described in our portion, the cheruvim are facing each other, with their wings outspread over the ark. But if the function of the cheruvim was to guard the holy ark, wouldn’t it make more sense that they would face outward (i.e. toward a potential intruder?)

Many commentators suggest that the image of the cheruvim is one of mutuality and intimacy, not vigilance, per se. It is powerful to contemplate this image: the ark, which resided in the holiest of holy places, was “guarded” by symbolic sentries that were turned eternally toward each other. It might be said that only here could there be a place truly worthy of the Divine presence.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Blessing or a Prayer?

Rabbi Adam Allenberg led another great Torah Study Class in a discussion that looked a bit closer at what a blessing really is and how different blessings in Torah are compared.

The blessings of their ‘children’ by Jacob, Moses and David just before each of them died were mentioned – and I still wonder if the blessings by Isaac should also be included in the comparison. Were they truly blessings? Were they prophesies? Were they prayers? Or were they hopes for the future? (all of the above?)

Additionally there was an interesting reflection on the differences between a Prayer and a Blessing. Is a request for God to act with favor a petition prayer or a blessing? Does it depend, in part, on if you are making the request for yourself or another? In most blessings we refer to the fact that God gives us the ‘opportunity’ to fulfill a mitzvah. (ie we are not blessing the candles, we are blessing the opportunity to light the candles that God gave us) In the Priestly Blessing it may be that God gives us the opportunity to bless each other.

There was a joke mentioned about JEPD and authors of the Torah – but my search didn’t find the actual joke... Sorry – if you have it written out please send it.

But wikipedia has an interesting entry about ‘documentary hypothesis’

We all look forward to the return of Rabbi Marder to lead our class next week.