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, April 30, 2008

Gan Eden and Being Human

It must have been somewhere near this spot... (my 'eden' in Jerusalem)

From 4/26 – Genesis 2: 8-9
R. Marder led a detailed discussion.
(I know my notes are a bit spotty on this one but I hope I got the essence of some of the discussion)

The discussion started with the image of God as the ‘potter’ forming man and then breathing the spirit into the formed dust to represent both the “Glory and fragility of being human”.

Samson Raphael Hirsh: How man is set apart. The spirit preserves life.

This led to a discussion on the Reform movement’s position on life after death as noted in both the 1885 Platform that dismissed ceremonial laws but emphasized moral law and mentions the concept of afterlife. And then in the revised platform from 1999 that does note trust in the promise of an eternal spirit.

Various mentions and interpretations were reviewed from the concepts of how a spirit lives in others to how the spirit leaves us when we are asleep and how even our Amidah prayer mentions and afterlife in some way even if only metaphorically. The topic of afterlife is so complex with so many different views I am sure this will come up again and again.

And then an important reminder from Rambam : it is “foolish to imagine what happens in ‘paradise’, it is far more productive to focus on the ‘here and now’”

On to Gan Eden... And the Tree of Life / Tree of Knowledge

Another complex concept with many interpretations.

There are some indications of the roots of the idea in mythological imagery as noted later in Isaiah and Ezekiel as referenced as the “Garden of the Lord” and full of precious gems. However, the description in Genesis is more simple and basic.

The concept of a garden would have greater impact when considering the arid desert climate. Translation of Eden = delight or pleasure.

This place as described cannot be found from the description. Possibly not intended to be thought of as a ‘real place’ but a symbolic reference. Man was ‘placed’ in the garden ‘from’ the world of ‘thorn and thistles’. Thus man knew the difference between these worlds and was able to make informed decisions. We need to know the contrast in order to appreciate the differences.

Samson Raphael Hirsh on the ‘beauty of Eden’:
Man’s capacity to feel and observer beauty ahead of nourishment sets him apart. This pleasure from the order and harmony in the world is related to ethics and offers a connection to the moral and ethical realm we live in.

Is art a civilizing element? The question was asked in relation to the art that was created during the Shoah.

NOTED: Poet, Wallace Stevens, in describing the quest for “nobility” in poetry, called it
“…a violence from within that protects us from the violence without. It is the imagination pressing back against the pressure of reality.”

NEXT – The Serpent.... Found interesting link on this

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Second Creation Story

Last week we focused mostly on Genesis 2: 4-7 – The second version of the creation story. Some contrasts and comparisons were discussed.

In the first version humans were created last and in the second version humans were created first. This most significant difference is certainly a point for much interpretation.

The first version starts with an abundance of water and the second version starts with barren earth.

There is a theory that one of the versions is an interpretation from Babylon and the other is from Jerusalem.

The midrash on the second version emphasizes that humans are an important factor to help in the creation. Man is an integral part in making the world a better place. Man can make the world ‘more perfect’.

Rashi writes that God needed the prayer of man and a relationship with humans.

And another midrash notes that God created man because God likes “stories” and man provides them in abundance.

This is a key tension between science and religion. In the scientific interpretation we are not evolving toward anything specific. Religion opens a sense of purpose and a mission for man. Religion’s goal is a messianic time of peace and more, where lions lie down with lambs. The Jewish goal also includes sovereignty in Israel.

Then we moved on to focus on v.6 and the phrase “a mist went up”

R. Marder quoted from a book – she gave me more info on it:

It's called "Ed Ya'aleh" (in English, "Rising Vapor"). It is not readily
available -- it was printed in Israel, I think, and is entirely in Hebrew.
It's the Torah commentary of Rabbi Eliezer Davidovitz, a relative of Rabbi

The concept that the whole world is nourished from the waters of the oceans is a beautiful one elaborated in this concept. This happens as the waters change from the salty undrinkable state and become sweet in the clouds.

This concept is tied to immortality of the soul and rebirth.

Genesis 2:7 – Vayitzer with 2 yuds:
There is much commentary on the formation of man from the earth ‘like pottery’ - and the term vayitzer that is used and how it is spelled with 2 yuds.
One of hundreds on the internet:
When God made humans, the Torah spelled the word vayitzer with two yuds. Animals have one inclination. Humans have two inclinations. And it is through two inclinations that we humans are different from the animal world.

Rashi also focused on the dual nature of humans.

It was also pointed out the two yuds often refer to God and it is important for that to be included in the word to carry the meaning of creation of humans.

Further discussion of Rashi’s commentary on the ‘from dust’ concept:
the dust was taken from all parts of the earth which is important to connect all people from all over the earth. It is a focus on cultural diversity!

Last we focused on the concept of creation of only ONE man and ONE woman. Thus we all descend from the same source and there is no superiority of one over the other based on our origin.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Trip Summary - Poland Israel

Beth Am Trip to Poland & Israel

Just a tiny glimpse of our trip in 11 of 1,000s of photos:

Learning of life in a Shtetle of Poland

Into Majdanek Memorial – the cold day was appropriate.

 Learning of Jewish life in Lublin that is now gone.

Tribute to Children Lost.

We got to leave Auschwitz

A hiding place in the Warsaw Cemetery for children.

 Memorial at Treblinka – there is nothing left but stones of remembrance

 Butterfly of hope at Treblinka

On to Jerusalem

 Beautiful service near the Kotel in Jerusalem – a high point.

 Learning about the Yemenites Culture and all the diversity in Israel.

 The Peaceful and Interesting Places to learn with Rabbi David Wilfond on Shabbat in Jerusalem.

We all look forward to sharing this experience with you.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Howard's Notes 4/12/08 Genesis 1

(thanks for sharing)
• Summary of The Beginnings of Wisdom by Leon Kass, a philosophical reading of Genesis, Chapter 1…
◊ The cosmos in non-divine; the sun is demoted relative to other creation stories.
◊ Man is closest to God, but people still look to the heavens with awe; it’s a natural tendency to view the sun and other “heavenly” objects as divine.
◊ What is the problem with revering nature in this manner?
• It’s a moral vacuum; nature (science) teaches us the “is” of the universe, not what “ought to be”. Science offers no moral guidance, which could lead to despair; nature and science don’t care about human nature; there is no moral impaertive.
• Nature, i.e., heavenly bodies, can be seen as idols.
• However, nature’s beauty can bring out blessings. There are blessings for seeing a rainbow or a storm, tasting the first fruit of a tree. There is a sense of smallness and awe, a lack of hubris, ego, arrogance; a sense of modesty and humility.
• Genesis 2:4-7, “… אֵלֶה תוׁלְדוׁת “, “these are the generations…” is a chronicle or family story, a genealogy.
◊ “… הַשָמַיִם וְהַאָרֶץ “ – order is reversed from Genesis 1:1, so that earth is now the focus. The anthropomorphic image of God now prevails compared with Genesis 1.
◊ 2:4, first mention of יהוה; up to now it’s been אלהים, the cosmic creator.
• According to Rashi, יהוה is His name. אלֹהִים [means] that He is the Ruler and Judge over the entire world, and so is this defined everywhere according to its simple meaning: the Lord (אלֹהִים), Who is Ruler and Judge (יהוה) .
• According to Plaut, יהוה and אלהים are two sides of the nature of God, the former representing the quality of mercy and the later, justice. According to Midrash, אלהים created the world but with out the quality of mercy or compassion, creation would not have endured.
יהוה along with אלהים 20 times in this narrative and signifies compassion, protection, and personal relationship. Combined with אלהים, יהוה stands for compassion, protection, and personal relationship and further represents two aspect of the one God.
יהוה refers to a close relation with men or nations, stressing God’s loving-kindness, mercy, condescension, and revelation. אלהים is used for God as “the Creator and Moral Governor of the Universe”, emphasizing justice and rulership.
• On the other hand, Hirsch states that translation of יהוה as “the eternal” is inadequate because “eternal is a metaphysical and transcendental concept that has little practical significance.”
“ ‘Eternal’ describes character but not behavior… and tells us nothing more about him or it; it does not give us the slightest indication of the manner in which that being acts. The concept ‘eternal’ leaves our heats cold; it is meaningless to us and hence has nothing whatever to do with [God’s quality of compassion].”
◊ Rabbi Eliyahu Munk - Genesis Chapter 1 is about justice and the immutable rules of nature, i.e., אלהים. It’s the same numerical value (gematria) as טֶבַע , nature. In Genesis 2, there is a new notion of God involving compassion and mercy. Humans are not as predictable as nature…While apples always fall toward the earth in a gravity field, humans can (for example) choose to be either stingy or generous.
• Genesis 2:5, expansion of 1:10-11 in that shrubs did not appear because of lack of rain and no one available to till the plants that were already in the ground. This was vegetation in the same state as on the day of Creation in 1:11. This implies a partnership with God to care for God’s creatures. God first created an environment then mandated that we care for it.
• Gen 2:6 - Rashi commentary on “And a mist ascended from the earth and watered the entire surface of the ground”:
And a mist ascended Concerning the creation of man, He brought up the [waters of the] deep and watered the clouds to soak the earth, and man was created; like the baker, who puts water [into the flour] and afterwards kneads the dough. Here too, “He watered,” and afterwards, “He formed” [man]. — [from Exod. Rabbah 30:113; Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 5]