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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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Howard's Notes Detail - What Evil?

24 January 2009 – Genesis 6:11:13
• 6:11, ארץ(ה) typically means the land or the earth. In this context, the word applies to the land, not the sea. Consequently, the upcoming flood will destroy the only land animals and sea animals will not be affected.
• In 6:11-13, ת-ח-שׁ (sin, corruption, evil) repeats in various forms in these verses. The root also connotes decadence, perversion, destruction, and damage. What exactly was the “sin?”
- According to Rashi, וַתִּשָׁחֵת is an expression of [sexual] immorality and idolatry (other editions add immorality, “for all flesh had corrupted (הִשְׁחִית) its way,” and idolatry), as in (Deut. 4:16):“Lest you deal corruptly (תַּשְׁחִיתוּן).” - [Sanhedrin 56b, 57a] [underlining is mine based on what Rabbi Marder said]
- The extent of evil was so widespread that God’s actions were justified. Further use of inclusive terms such as שרבּ כל, all flesh, illustrates the worldwide totality of the sin. Fox, using the translation “ruin,” writes that repetition of the word suggests not only the “sorry state of society,” but the justification for appropriate and just punishment, i.e., “bring ruin” on the earth (6:13).
- Sin progressed from private acts to accepted public practices, beginning with covert immorality and idolatry and progressing to accepted norms. While in the private, covert phase, people still had a sense of right and wrong. Once people became accustomed and habituated to this behavior, it eventually became publicly accepted.
- There are many answers to the question of what was the sin. Some say the sin was miscegenation between sons of God and Daughters of humans (6:1-4). For others, it was the refusal to have children until late in life (see Sefer Ha-Yachar below); Noah was 500 before his first son was born. Regardless of what the actual sins were, the flood’s purpose was to “cleanse Creation of the flaw that led to its corruption.”
- The “sin” of not bearing children is derived from Sefer Ha-Yachar, an 11th or 12th century work of mythic history. Sefer Ha-Yachar suggests that the flood occurred because people did not “value children” and in effect contradicted the first mitzvoth of procreation. Furthermore, the Torah’s bias in favor of bearing and raising children actually defines happiness. Drawing parallels with today’s society, not everyone wants to bear and raise children, but that is no excuse for not supporting institutions that nurture children such as schools and synagogues. Noah supposedly refrained from having children so as not to bring them into a cruel, sinful world that might be destroyed. Noah’s world was violent, depraved, without role models, and likely without such nurturing institutions.
- See further discussion of חמס below.
• In 6:11, האלהים לפני, before God, refers to the fact that the sin of people mistreating people (as opposed to sinning against God) was an affront to God. God was offended by human immorality. In other ancient epics, no reason for the flood was given. God took responsibility for His creations and punishes them for their sins.
- God was the “ultimate arbiter of human conduct.” Before, “willful self-interest” determined human conduct. Presumably, such “willful self-interest” brought about the sinful behavior and the flood.
- The behavior could also have been in open flagrant defiance of God.
- God’s is typically seen as “slow to anger and abounding in kindness.” In this case, “humanity exhausted God’s limitless patience.” The corruption was so great that God became thoroughly disgusted.
• “חמס“

- Sarna’s definition: a flagrant subversion of law; an arrogant disregard and indifference to human life; a breakdown of society. Sarna’s actual words are “this term … is a synonym of ‘falsehood,’ ‘deceit,’ or ‘bloodshed.’ In means in general, the flagrant subversion of the ordered process of law [and] refers to the arrogant disregard for the sanctity and inviolability of human life.
- To Rashi, it’s robbery, based on Jonah 3:8 [above] and “dishonest gain … which is in their hands.”) - [Sanhedrin. 108a]. See Zornberg below.
- According to S R Hirsch, corruption was flaunted so much that no human institution was able to deal with it. Only the human consciousness could control the crimes that were committed. Such conditions led to disrespect of the law and norms and eventual breakdown of society. A modern-day analogy is that the IRS or California Franchise Tax Board cannot audit every tax return. Governments rely on honesty and voluntary enforcement in tax paying. If not, governments’ revenue would be severely affected and they would be unable to fund services.
• Hirsch also points out that חמס is related to חמץ, vinegar, in that crimes and sins not caught by the human justice system will continue and lead to the ruin of mankind over time, just as turning of wine into vinegar occurs step by step.
• Hirsch’s steps to death of the human conscience and the burial of human society.
o Corruption of morals through sins that no one believes would affect society as a whole and could not prevent continued commerce and business dealings.
o Human institutions’ could deal with robbery through penal codes and prisons. However, once cunning is added to the picture, i.e., sins that can be controlled only by human conscience and moral scruples (not by human institutions), the foundation for destruction of society is laid.
Rabbi Marder carefully pointed out carefully that חמס, pronounced “Khamas,” has no relation to the similarly pronounced Arabic acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement.

• Rav Abraham Isaac Kook [1865–1935], the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine [under the British Mandate], attempted to bridge the gap between secular and religious Zionists, arguing that he could discern the religious yearnings and sparks of holiness in the work of the young socialist Zionist pioneers. His underlying philosophy was one of "fusion," attempting to heal the rift between heaven and earth, between the sacred and the profane.
Kook applied his view of the secular-religious split in the British Mandate in Palestine to comment on the Noach story. Kook perceived a split between heaven and earth, sacred and secular/profane. He saw it in his own time, he saw it in the behavior of the flood generation, and he believed that the supreme religious effort was to work to mend that split.
In his discussion of the Noah story, Rav Kook argued that this rift originated when Cain slew Abel, and became worse in the generations preceding the flood. The men and women of this era were sexually promiscuous and obliterated all standards and boundaries. In support of this idea, he quoted the midrash in Genesis Rabbah stating that men were married to men and even to animals, and that beasts of different species mated with one another. Rav Kook also citeed another midrash in Genesis Rabbah (and quoted by Rashi) that says: When sexual immorality runs rampant, the innocent were punished along with the guilty. He argued that sexuality is a divine gift, with the potential to bring us closer to other people and also to God. The generation of the flood misused this precious gift, exploiting and harming one another, which led also to their estrangement from God.

• Aviva Zornberg speaks of the “pathology of the flood generation.” This generation’s communication among each other “degenerated into a babble of indiscriminate voices.” If sexuality is a means of communication, then a “sexual pandemonium” reigned in which humans lost the ability to openly communicate their sexual differences. Hence, there were perverse relations between man and beast and between men (Sanhedrin 108b). Humans lost the ability to distinguish among themselves, animals, nature, and God. Passing swept away all boundaries.The sin that resulted in the flood, according to Rashi, was sexual sin and idolatry, but what set the process in motion was robbery. This sounds similar to a court conviction for sexual behavior and idolatry followed by a judge’s discretionary sentence based on the seriousness of the crime -- robbing a rape victim of her identity. In other words, the verdict was sealed with a flood.
Robbery is related to these sexual sins through the theft of a victim’s identity. Zornberg called this sexuality “rapacious egotism” based on divine beings taking daughters that pleased them and on Rashi’s observation of the Lord of the Manor taking brides just before their wedding day. This was robbery of the bride’s sense of self that could not be reconstituted. The divine being or noble waited at the bride’s threshold and snatched her away in a fit of arrogant passion and need to master his world. Instead of erotic love, the incident became robbery, barbarism, and sexual cruelty, characterized by “lack of curiosity.” The perpetrator denied the existence of anything beyond his obsession.

• Other observations:
- Lawlessness was no pervasive and taken for granted that God washed away the deadwood after humans destroyed themselves. In other words, mankind effectively destroyed itself with rampant sexual perversion; all God did was wash away the detritus.
- “Curiosity” as defined above seems to be how you treat others, i.e., one way to learn about the world is to ask questions; if not you are lowered to animalistic behavior: eat, drink, sex and little else.

Artson, Bradley Shavit. The Bedside Torah. Weekly Reflections and Inspirations. McGraw-Hill, 2001.
Artson, Bradley Shavit. The Everyday Torah. Wisdom, Visions, and Dreams. McGraw-Hill, 2008.
Berlin, Adele and Mark Zvi Brettler, eds. The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford University Press, 2004.
Eskenazi, Dr Tamara Cohn, ed. The Torah. A Women’s Commentary. URJ Press and Women of Reform Judasim. 2008
Fox, Everett. The Five Books of Moses. Shocken Books, New York. 1995.
Friedman, Richard Elliot. Commentary on the Torah. Harper San Francisco. 2001.
Hertz, J. H., ed. The Pentateuch and Haftorahs. Second Edition. London: Soncino Press, 1965.
Hirsch, Samson Raphael. The Pentateuch, ed by Ephraim Oratz. Judaica Press, Inc., New York, 1997.
Holladay, William L. A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. E. J. Brill [Leiden, Netherlands]. 1988.
Kaplan, Rabbi Aryeh. The Living Torah. Manzanim Publishing Corporation. Brooklyn 1981.
Sarna, Nahum M. The JPS Commentary. Genesis. Jewish Publication Society. 1989.
Scherman, Nosson. The Chumash. Artscroll. 2003
Zornberg, Aviva Gottlieb. Genesis. The Beginning of Desire. Jewish Publication Society. 5755/1995.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Howard's Notes 1/24/09

Here is a summary of topics covered in Genesis 6:11-13 – notes by Howard!

The word for sin, corruption, evil (root shin, khet, taf) appears many times
these verses. What was the sin that prompted the flood? According to Rashi,
it was sexual immorality and idolatry.

In 6:11, the phrase "before God" refers to the sin of people mistreating
people (as opposed to sinning against God). This was an affront to God; God
was offended by human immorality.

The word "chamas" in 6:11 and 6:13 is typically translated as injustice, lying
in court, evil ways, corruption, violence or lawlessness. According to S R
Hirsch, such corruption was flaunted so much that no human institution was
able to deal with it. Only the human consciousness could control the crimes
that were committed. Such conditions led to disrespect of the law and norms
and eventual breakdown of society.

Rashi further states that it was the sin of robbery, stealing a woman's
identity and sense of self through sexual abuse, that actually got the flood
started. This theme is further elaborated by Rav Abraham Isaac Kook
[1865–1935, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine under the British
Mandate), and Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg in her Genesis. Beginning of Desire
(available in Bet Am library as soon as Howard returns it).

detailed notes posted soon...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Did Noah "Walk" with anyone else?

Summary of Topics: Genesis 6: 9 - 13
(will fill in details soon)

Focus on Noah:

3 Sons: Shem, Ham, Japheth ( youngest listed first )

He walked with God. But did he walk with anyone else?

What did it mean to focus on Noah’s righteousness?

Was it Noah’s ability to maintain his moral standing while surrounded by corruption?

Or was he missing the compassion for others shown by the fact that he didn’t intercede on their behalf?

Contrasting Noah to Abraham and Moses. There is a moral evolution shown in the Bible between these leaders.

“God is learning on the job!”

Next time: what were they were doing that was so bad? Is there absolute evil?

Rabbi Marder Quote of the day: “A flood sweeps away both good and bad indiscriminately. A disturbing story.”

Saturday, January 10, 2009

They were erased!

Summary of Topics: Genesis 6: 5 - 13
(will fill in details soon)

V 5-7 – there are bleak prospects for humans

Book ref: Genesis, the Beginning of Desire, Aviva Zornberg
“Failure of the Divine Project”

Etymology: ‘erase’ ‘blot out’

The word for Noah and for ‘grace’ is a palindrome

“Genesis begins with the light of creation and ends with the light of Hope in Noah” (R. Marder)

Comparison between Noah and Abraham

Floods in different cultures

Description of how Noah was ‘the one’:
Tzedek and Tamim – Tzedek= from the holy realm and Tamim= from the ritual realm
Combines justice and integrity

But we also looked at the flaw in this – Noah didn’t seem to teach others around him to follow the right direction.

Rashi – explains why “generations” used here is plural.

What does “walked with God” mean

Next time: What is missing in Noah’s character!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

God "Saw"...

Torah Study 1/3 - Dedicated to the Memory of : David Malnick

R. Janet Marder

Genesis 6:5-8

Vayar Adonai - "God saw" - (similar to the 7 times in Genesis 1 - BUT)
This time it wasn't so "good"
What God "saw" this time was corruption.

"saw" is more of a judicial reference rather than a physical one - as 'insight' and 'investigation'

Some see this as problematic:
God should just 'know' God doesn't need to investigate
God doesn't have eyes

Talmudic answers include the concept that the Torah is written in human terms to speak the language that will be understood.
Rambam - Torah is written in metaphor to grasp the intellect. (Guide for the Perplexed - the first part is all about language)
Yochanan Muffs - The Personhood of God - Celebrates the personality of God. God learns and is a 'model for man'. The human qualities attributed to God helps to teach us how to be better.

Word: Rabah - to increase - same word used in the begining of the chapter - population increased and wickedness increased.

Key phrase (6:5): "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time."

Yitzer - the two inclinations to goood or evil:

The Evil Inclination

Evil Tendencies

Evil Impulse

All phrases linked to this verse.

The use of the word "heart" here is a reference to 'intelligence' - the heart is seen as the 'cognitive organ' in this reference.

SR Hirsch - on 'yetzer' - derived from the word for 'create'. It is not 'evil' as a force or overwhelming power that makes one do wrong. The term is connected to 'creativity' and implies 'forming' an impulse. His argument is that all energy and drive has potential for either good or evil. (this is an argument against the Christian teachings)

This is not a reference to a judgment of all humans always, only of those at the time before the flood and the time of Noah.

Rabbinic theory: When man was made God gave them two servants - one for good and one for evil. The goal is to strengthen the good and control the evil.

It is all about 'justice' - God has a 'case' against humanity and is implementing the tools of justice.

Life is about learning and channeling our energies in the right direction.

Q: Asked about the timing - people had not been given the commandments and may not have known better...
A: Torah teaches that there are elemental laws of society even before the commandments were given at Sinai.

There is accountability for our actions. Therefore it is important to channel and control what we do.

When people behave badly there is always collateral damage - this is why some innocents may have died in the flood as well.

God admits mistakes?
This is problematic as well.

Rashi ( nun het mem) means 'comfort' but also means 'reversed' - from mercy to justice
6 places where the term is used - "God changes his mind" (Rashi could do this without a computer!)

Can God have regrets?


A gentile asked Rabbi Joshua - Holy one sees the future? Why create man in the first place? How can God have regrets?
Rabbi Joshua answers: "did you ever have children? You know that your child will die and yet you give him life. At the time of joy, experience joy. At the time of mourning, mourn."

God experiments with different strategies.

Transcendent vs Eminent God

God is Sad not Angry.

There is a danger in making God too abstract - it deprives God of a personality!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Our Gift

"The Torah is a present from God."

"A present is best when unwrapped"

~ Rabbi Janet Marder ~

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Giants Did It! (Nephilim)

Torah Study with Rabbi Janet Marder 12/27
Genesis 6: 3-4

We covered a lot of territory in these two verses:
  • Life Span shortened to 120 years – 120 years till the flood. How and why explored!
  • Communication theories of how this concept was conveyed to Noah and others at that time.
  • “Spirit” / Breath / Nefesh– what is it and the connections between life, spirit, soul and consciousness.
  • Why 120? We explore the different theories of the number 120 years.
  • Nephilim – Giants – Their appearance in Genesis and other places in the Bible and the significance.
First we looked at Leon Kass' concept that incorporates 'momento mori' with the idea that a shortened life will make one 'more mindful of how they live'. (explored also last time a bit)

Moving on to the phrase "God said" - it is usually interpreted that God was talking to Noah but since it isn't really explicit it may be that God was reflecting within rather than actually conversing with Noah.

Spanish Commentator from pre-inquisition time: Levi ben Gershom (Hebrew: לוי בן גרשום‎), better known as Gersonides
during the time when Jews were forced to attend Church
He argued that Noah warned the people and they were given ample time to change their ways before the flood. (120 years)

Commentators tend to agree that Noah was given the warning and was instructed to 'spread the word' to people that they need to change their ways. And it is commonly understood that it was 120 years from the time of the warning to the time of the flood.

Va Yitzer - Spirit - Hebrew word analysis
Review where term is used in Genesis 2 - formation of humans

Adonai fashioned a human Va-yyitzer Adonai Elohim et-ha-adam, dust from the ground, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living being.

Va-yyitzer Adonai Elohim et-ha-adam… In this one case, va-yitzer is spelled by doubling the letter yod, or “y”, not with the single yod the word is normally spelled with. A misspelling? A typo? Of course not. Rav Nachman ben Rav Hisda explains: The word va-yitzer is written with two yods to show that God created two inclinations, one tov and the other ra. After all, the word yetzer, or impulse, starts with the same letter — yod — as yitzer.

Reference to Eclesiastes 12:7 "dust returns to the ground. Spirit returns to God"
verse is used in burial services at graveside and give a sense of immortality of the soul.

Then again in Chapter 3 the famous verse implies the same idea in 'dust to dust'

The teaching from this is to live and enjoy the life that you have.

The concept of the 'soul' is one that has evolved and become more complex.
Rabbi Marder said: "The element of eternal is essential to humanity"
it is a value statement now a psychological one.

Nefish / Ruach / Neshema - all words that represent spirit or soul - all words that have a connection to breath and breathing.

Verb: Yadon -
5 tn The verb form יָדוֹן (yadon) only occurs here. Some derive it from the verbal root דִּין (din, “to judge”) and translate “strive” or “contend with” (so NIV), but in this case one expects the form to be יָדִין (yadin). The Old Greek has “remain with,” a rendering which may find support from an Arabic cognate (see C. Westermann, Genesis, 1:375). If one interprets the verb in this way, then it is possible to understand רוּחַ (ruakh) as a reference to the divine life-giving spirit or breath, rather than the Lord’s personal Spirit. E. A. Speiser argues that the term is cognate with an Akkadian word meaning “protect” or “shield.” In this case, the Lord’s Spirit will not always protect humankind, for the race will suddenly be destroyed (E. A. Speiser, “YDWN, Gen. 6:3,” JBL 75 [1956]: 126-29). source

Different interpretations
1. Hirsch - spirit is intended to be the judge inside you - the inner voice.
2. Rashi - spirit is disputing within - there is a conflict. (Samuel 19 uses the same word regarding conflict) thus God is conflicted about the flood and destruction of people.
3. Or Ha-Hyim - Ḥayyim ben Moses ibn Attar - Moroccan scholar - God is no longer in dialogue with humans = 'my spirit will no longer have personal contact'
however, as stated in Isiah (2nd) 65 - the long life spans will return in Messianic times.

About 120 years:
Gematria -illusions to Moses.
Moshe lived 120 years. The Gematria of the Mem is 40. The Mem of Moshe represents forty years in Mitzriam, plus forty years in Midian plus forty years in Midbar {wilderness} for a total of 120 years.

On to the Giants: Nephilim

These giants are linked to the verb to 'fall' and thus are sometimes referred to as 'fallen angels'.
They are referred to again in Torah: Numbers 13:33
and in Joshua 11:21-22 and in 1st Samuel 17:4 where Goliath is a Nephilim.

Richard Friedman connects all these issues together to look at the Bible as a continuous work from Creation through David. Excellent Link

How did the Nephilim survive the flood?
1. one of Noah's sons married a Nephilim
2. Og and Amarite King who lived 3,000 years clung onto the Ark during the flood.

Book Reference: Giants in the Earth was 0. E. Rölvaag's most influential novel. It chronicles the story of a group of Norwegian pioneers who make the long trek from a fishing village in Norway through Canada to Spring Creek, in Dakota Territory.