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, November 25, 2008

Prayer OR Idolitry Begins?

Torah Study 11/22 R. Marder

Genesis 4:26 & 5:1

“Call on the name of God”

Different interpretations (of course) but these are almost opposite!

Origins of Prayer vs Origins of Idolitry: the two opposite interpretations from this verse that ends Chapter 4 of Genesis.

On the surface it seems that this was when men started praying to God by the name as covered last time:
This is where it says that from this point people prayed to God using the Tetragrammation – yud hey vav hey

However there is a contrast because other sources point to a much later time when this was the case. That this was the name used after Moses saw the burning bush.

And on the topic of Names for God – I came across this midrash:
According to Rabbi Abba bar Mamal, the Holy Blessed One said to Moses: You want to know My Name. I am called by My deeds, El Shaddai, Tsevaot, Elohim, Adonai. When I judge creatures, I am called Elohim (God). When I wage war against the wicked, I am called Tsevaot (Hosts). When I suspend judgment of a person’s sins, I am called El Shaddai (Almighty). And when I have mercy on My world, I am called Adonai.
Exodus Rabbah 3:6
HOWEVER (they had to set the stage for the Flood that follows and . . .)
Rashi :
“then man began” referring to the Hebrew “Hol” or ordinary as opposed to sacred. Rashi says that this marked the beginning of idolatry because they started to call idols by the name of God.

Maimonades – wrote the Laws of Idol Worship and referred to the ‘foolish council of Enosh’. The explanation follows:
- the stars above are like the royal court of God
- thus the stars deserve honor
- they erected temples to the stars to obtain God’s favor
- this evolved into the root of idolatry because men forgot that the stars and other interpretations were actually representative of the one God.
- false prophets encouraged this practice and furthered the trend into polytheism.

REF: Early history of the Jewish people: a translation of Rambam’s “laws of idolatry”, chapter 1

At this point only a few remembered the one God and not until Abraham were the people again united as true Monotheists.

Monolatry, which is also the worship of one god among many. The primary difference between the two is that Henotheism is the worship of one god, not precluding the existence of others who may also be worthy of praise, while Monolatry is the worship of one god who alone is worthy of worship, though other gods are known to exist.

Henotheism (Greek εἷς θεός heis theos "one god") is a term coined by Max Müller, to mean devotion to a single god while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities.

For Jews it is said that TRUE Monotheism began after the Babylonian Exile. At that time the prophets were instrumental in guiding them back to the belief in a single God.

Rambam – says we began as monotheistic and then became polytheistic and then return to monotheism.

He rationalizes that Abraham concluded that there was only ONE GOD using a logical analysis. Most people had difficulty with this concept – “when God is not front and center they look around for something else” thus the golden calf as an example.

There were many customs and superstitions in the Middle Ages that employed symbolic amulets to either bring good things or to ward off bad things. The images of the 3 angels to help with childbirth or to protect the children with red ribbons. The red strings that are from Rachel’s tomb.

So does the worship of God evolve from polytheism?

In our service we begin with the Shema to declare that God is One…
We end with the declaration of hope that someday God will be one to everyone in the Aleinu …
“The LORD will rule over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name.” Zachariah 14:9

"On Faith" by Diana L. Eck is Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University and Director of The Pluralism Project
interesting article
She describes the opposing views using the image of a mountain where we have an exclusive God as a monotheistic faith. As opposed to a more inclusive view where other deities are accepted.

TO: Chapter 5 And the BOOK OF LIFE

This is a written record of Adam’s line…. Could be just a fragment of an ancient genealogical work showing a sequence of events.

“Life as a book” 18th century interpretation: Book of the Generations of Adam

This could be the errata or corrections to what comes before it. This is the way to make it perfect or to do tshuvah for the mistakes.

When you view life as a book it seems to have a plot and a climax. It may answer the question of life’s meaning and purpose.

There is a midrash about what is most important in Torah. Akiva says “love your neighbor…”

Rabbi ben El'azar said that “the record of Adam’s line” was most important because it shows that we are all related. There is no superiority when all come from the same source.

Rabbi Elie Munk notes that the word for prayer, Toldot, was missing a vav. It is a “defect” That this shows that even though there are defects we are still in the image of God.

To be continued…

Monday, November 17, 2008

Line from Seth and Prayer Begins

Torah Study 11/15 R. Marder
Genesis 4: 25-26
Adam knew his wife again, and she gave birth to a son. She named him Seth - 'Because God has granted (shath) me other offspring in place of Abel, whom Cain had killed.'
A son was also born to Seth, and [Seth] named him Enosh. It was then initiated to pray with God's name.

Rashi’s thoughts include the possibility that there may have been a separation or dispute between Adam and Eve after the death of their son. Rashi proposes the idea that Adam’s affection grew even stronger after this and it marks a new start after a terrible disappointment. The couple are reunited and Seth is the symbol of a fresh start.
This is a theme that recurs often in Torah – new beginnings after Eden, after the death of Abel, after the birth of Seth, after the flood etc.

Side: just a few of the recurring themes in Torah / Genesis
New beginnings, family/community survival, sibling differences, caring for others, fertility and barrenness, jealousy, threats from famine and war, exile
Seth – meaning – To put / to place / appointed / foundation
Eve’s reaction to the birth of Seth as it contrasts her reaction to Cain’s birth
Cain: “acquired a man” Seth: “replacement for Abel”
Cain: Pride Seth: Gratitude

Zohar: Shet made from Shin and Tav the last two letters of the Aleph Bet. Seth represents the last two letters after all the transgressions of the previous letters. Adam repents and makes the way back to the beginning. Add to Seth’s name the Bet from the first word in Torah to make Shabbat (shin bet tav) the ultimate sign of our covenant which is the foundation of the world for Jews.
- from the book
The Zohar by Daniel Chanan Matt

Leon Kass:
‘Eve is now subdued. She has lost both of her sons. She feels only gratitude in the birth of Seth. Seth is less likely to suffer from excessive parental expectations.’

From the book: The Beginning of Wisdom by Leon Kass

We don’t know much about Seth himself but his son ,Enosh, marks the beginning of prayer to God.

ON TO ENOSH Enos or Enosh (Hebrew: (aleph nun vav shin)אֱנוֹשׁ, means "mortal man"; synonymous with Adam…
Reminders of this in the Psalms:
Psalm 103
15 As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;

16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.

17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD's love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children's children-

Psalm 8
O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
above the heavens.

2 From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise [b]
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.

3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings [c]
and crowned him with glory and honor.

6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:

7 all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,

8 the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.

9 O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Contrast of the short life of man and the eternity of God.

Leon Kass contrasts Enosh to Lamech. Lamech is boastful and aspires to greatness (like a Greek god) while Enosh represents humility and marks the beginning of human’s need to call upon God for help.

Thus the beginning of prayer to God.

But there is a contrast as well that is demonstrated by a “yes I can “ attitude within the poem:

Invictus By William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

At the age of 12 Henley became a victim of tuberculosis of the bone. In spite of this, in 1867 he successfully passed the Oxford local examination as a senior student. His diseased foot had to be amputated directly below the knee; physicians announced the only way to save his life was to amputate the other. Henley persevered and survived with one foot intact. He was discharged in 1875, and was able to lead an active life for nearly 30 years despite his disability. With an artificial foot, he lived until the age of 54. "Invictus" was written from a hospital bed. The title is Latin for "Unconquered".

We noticed a difference in our interpretation of this poem after knowing what the background of the poet was.
This same polarity and paradoxical question of our being in control or not is represented by the tradition to have a note in each pocket. One that says “I am but dust” and in the other “for me the world was created”.

Book: Tom Wolfe Master of His Universe

Prayer helps us to align our own feelings and to give discipline to our feelings.

Book: David Grossman Writing in the Dark

His use of writing as a way to bring him back after the loss of his son.

- - - - -

The name of God – V. 26

This is where it says that from this point people prayed to God using the Tetragrammation – yud hey vav hey

However there is a contrast because other sources point to a much later time when this was the case. That this was the name used after Moses saw the burning bush.

More to follow…

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

From Plowshare to Sword

Genesis 4: 19-26 Torah Study with Rabbi Marder 11.08.08

Our Fathers' Wells: A Personal Encounter With the Myths of Genesis (Paperback)
by Peter Pitzele

Link to article about this

Bibliodrama as a way to experience the feelings of Cain. An innovative way to study Torah with acting it out and having an audience to respond.

Peter Pitzele explains his view of the art of Bibliodrama: “Situated somewhere between school and theater, between the pulpit and the stage, Bibliodrama is a form of role-playing that invites participants to find their voices in the text and the text's voice in themselves”.

We discussed how this form of learning inspires more creativity and insight.

Is it true: Disobedience leads to creativity and invention

With the rise of wealth also comes aspiration for supremacy – they seek to outdo each other.

The criminal or murderer can often be found in the world of philanthropy.

Like the character of Magwitch in Great Expectations. The benefactor hides his crimes.

Behind great cities of culture is Cain, the one who murdered his brother.

Books mentioned:
Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich by Robert Frank (Author)

A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World by William J. Bernstein

Jane Austin's Mansfield Park – the great nobleman has a dark side which is the slaves and unethical treatment of people are behind the beautiful city that is portrayed.

Names – Descendents of Cain – Meanings
From Plowshare to Sword

Lamech – Arabic for Strong & Young
The Song of Lamech is a poem with rhythm and structure and is often referred to as the Song of the Sword as it refers back to Cain. And gives a direct link from the ‘plowshre to the sword’ from peace to war.

Said to his wives

“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
Wives of Lamech, listen to my speech!
For I have killed a man for wounding me,
Even a young man for hurting me.
If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold,
Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”

—Genesis 4:19-24

from Wikipedia

When fully translated, the text has a strong resemblance simply to a basic mythology concerning the origin of the various forms of civilisation, the shepherds and musicians being products of the day, and pleasure being a product of the night. Blacksmiths, in carrying out their trade, are also associated with the darkness. Thus, in a sense, Lamech could be interpreted as a culture hero. Some of the names also appear to demonstrate punning - Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal rhyme, and appear to be derived from the same root - JBL (YVL in modern Hebrew): to bring forth, (also) to carry. A similar description existed amongst Phoenicians.
The names are instead interpreted in the Midrash as an attack on polygamy

3 names that sound similar all represent different facets of the Arts:
Jabal – Shephard/Pastoral
Juval/Jubal = Music – rams horn
Tubal-Cain – Blacksmith

Marking the advancement of civilization.

These factors are connected in Torah and also in Greek Mythology.

Leon Kass – connects the rise of culture with the rise of aggression.
With the rise in wealth comes aspiration of supremacy. People seek to outdo each other.

Rabbi Ellie Monk - Cain’s descendents were evil with the exception of Naamah who was ‘sweet’ and became the wife of Noah.

Leads to the concept that it is possible to be good even when descendent from a line that is designated as evil.

Lamech’s song – ties back to Cain and murder and also reflects on the boasting warrior.
(like in David and Goliath) Rabbi Monk also reflected on Lamech’s song as referring to the dark and foreboding world.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

New Generations and the City

Genesis 4:15-24 - Torah Study notes from 11/1 - Rabbi Janet Marder

New generations from Cain

First a brief review of the ‘mark of Cain’ and it’s connection to the expulsion of Jews in Europe in the 13th century. The Mark of some distinguishing clothing or image became a negative ‘stigma’ associated with the Jews going forward in history. This effected laws into the 18th century.

The Mark of Cain change in it’s interpretation from ‘protection’ to ‘punishment’.

In Torah Cain’s wanderings and punishment can be connected to the cities of refuge (to the East).

The challenge to break the cycle of violence.

Arts and civilization are attributed to Cain. He builds a city for his son. His story reflects the evolution of man’s freedom.

Books that are connected to the story of Cain:

The Changes of Cain by Ricardo J. Quinones

Billy Bud by Herman Melville (book/novella and movie)
More Info

Amadeus by Peter Shaffer

Demian by Hermann Hesse

East of Eden: by John Steinbeck

The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad

High Noon - 1952 Movie - Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly

Paradise Lost - by John Milton

Cain a play by Lord Byron 1788-1824

OR you can listen to the ebook:

Each of these books reflects on the story of Cain in different ways.

AND MORE can be found toward the bottom of this link:

V.16 – ‘Cain leaves the presence of God’…

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explores the concept of who actually ‘withdraws’ from whom. He emphasizes that it is the beginning of man’s need to find their own resources.

‘And he settles in the Land of Nod’
Nod means to wander – but there is a contradiction in saying that he ‘settles’ in the land of ‘Nod’.

There was a bit of discussion on the significance of “East” here and in other places in Torah. And there is a connection to the cities of refuge being in the East. (Deuteronomy Ch 4)

Rashi writes of the restlessness and that he could not leave the presence of the Lord.

This theme of wandering continues throughout the Bible. The concept of a lost home and being thrust into a world to wander.

Next – Sex… and children and 7 generations listed.

The whole concept that he had a wife is ‘news’.

While some asked where the wife came from – there are several theories. One is the ‘twin sister’ idea, and in Chapter 5:4 we learn that Adam had other children. And there is other possibilities that there were other children on Adam and Eve prior to Cain and Abel.

The son: Henoch or Enoch

Hebrew Name means to teach or to dedicate.

City is built with his name that marks the beginning of the story of humankind.
The beginning of urban culture.

Notion: “ The greater a person the greater is yetzer hara” (inclination to do evil)
Passion has both a creative and a destructive side.

Cities in Torah become a place of ‘evil’ and have much potential for evil as well as a center of culture and advancement. - - - later we learn more as in Sodom & Gomorrah

Leon Kass

The Hebrew word for “city,” ‘iyr, comes from a root meaning “to watch” or “to wake.” The city, to begin with, is a place guarded by a wakeful watch, a place from which men look out beyond for threats to their security; it is not the market nor the shrine but the watchtower or outpost that first makes a city a city.

Civilization and cities are tainted. Evil’s origins are in the cities. Thus the Torah is given in the wilderness.

Genealogy of Cain is delineated.
There are symbolic meanings of the names

  • Adam - Man
  • Seth - Appointed
  • Enosh - Mortal
  • Kenan - Sorrow
  • Mahalalel - The Blessed God
  • Jared - Shall come down
  • Enoch - Teaching
  • Methuselah - His death shall bring
  • Lamech - The despairing
  • Noah - Rest, or comfort


Seth's son was called Enosh, which means "mortal," "frail," or "miserable." It is from the root anash: to be incurable; used of a wound, grief, woe, sickness, or wickedness. (It was in the days of Enosh that men began to defile the name of the Living God.1 )


Enosh's son was named Kenan, from which can mean "sorrow," dirge," or "elegy." (The precise denotation is somewhat elusive; some study aids unfortunately presume an Aramaic root synonymous with "Cainan.") Balaam, looking down from the heights of Moab, employed a pun upon the name of the Kenites when he prophesied their destruction.2


Kenan's son was Mahalalel, from mahalal, which means "blessed" or "praise"; and El, the name for God. Thus, Mahalalel means "the Blessed God." Often Hebrew names included El, the name of God, as Dani-el, "God is my Judge," Nathani-el, "Gift of God," etc.


Mahalalel's son was named Jared, from the verb yaradh, meaning "shall come down." Some authorities suggest that this might have been an allusion to the "Sons of God" who "came down" to corrupt the daughters of men, resulting in the Nephilim ("Fallen Ones") of Genesis 6.3


Jared's son was named Enoch, which means "teaching," or "commencement." He was the first of four generations of preachers. In fact, the earliest recorded prophecy was by Enoch, which amazingly enough deals with the Second Coming of Christ.4


The Flood of Noah did not come as a surprise. It had been preached on for four generations. But something strange happened when Enoch was 65, from which time "he walked with God." Enoch was given a prophecy that as long as his son was alive, the judgment of the flood would be withheld; but as soon as he died, the flood would be sent forth.

Enoch named his son to reflect this prophecy. The name Methuselah comes from two roots: muth, a root that means "death"5 ; and from shalach, which means "to bring," or "to send forth." Thus, the name Methuselah signifies, "his death shall bring."6

And, indeed, in the year that Methuselah died, the flood came. Methuselah was 187 when he had Lamech, and lived 782 years more. Lamech had Noah when he was 182.7 The Flood came in Noah's 600th year.8 187 + 182 + 600 = 969, Methuselah's age when he died.9

It is interesting that Methuselah's life was, in effect, a symbol of God's mercy in forestalling the coming judgment of the flood. It is therefore fitting that his lifetime is the oldest in the Bible, symbolizing the extreme extensiveness of God's mercy.


Methuselah's son was named Lamech, a root still evident today in our own English word, "lament" or "lamentation." Lamech suggests "despairing." (This name is also linked to the Lamech in Cain's line who inadvertently killed his son Tubal-Cain in a hunting incident. 10 )


Lamech, of course, is the father of Noah, which is derived from nacham , "to bring relief" or "comfort," as Lamech himself explains. 11


This represents SEVEN Generations from Cain and 10 from Adam to Noah. There is a parallel to the creation in 7 days. Implies that humans are here to complete creation.

The number 7 has many symbolic interpretations here.

Two Wives – is polygamy endorsed here?

Rashi explains that it was the custom of the times to have one wife for bearing children and one for sex. But that this was not necessarily the right thing for later generations.

NEXT TIME – Arts and civilization begin…