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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Monday, March 30, 2009

Remembering Noah

Torah Study with Rabbi Sarah Wolf

Noah is in the ark with all those animals and it says in Chapter 8:1 that God remembered them.

This sparked a rather lengthy discussion on what this could mean.

Remember as in ‘take notice’ or ‘pay attention’.
Does this imply that God might have forgotten about them during those months they were afloat in the ark?

There are other times in Torah when “God remembers…” like Rachel when she wanted a child, Abraham when his nephew would have been caught in the destruction of Sodom, or in Exodus when “God remembered the Hebrews and His covenant with Abraham…”

Some say that God ‘closed His eyes’ or ‘hid His face’ during the Holocaust.

Then the discussion turned to the fact that God is referred to as Elohim in this part.
Elohim is often used to reference the God of Justice in contrast to Adonai – the God of Mercy. In the case of remembering Noah – it relates to the actions of the righteous.

But memory is an act of both justice and mercy. It is noted that they must balance each other in application.

Memory of a Righteous Person = Blessing
Memory of Justice = Accountability or Revenge

The influence of Justice or Mercy does influence how you view an event in memory.

We are commanded to remember.

We make remembering a ritual . NOTED Passover especially.

Joseph Yerushalmi, who wrote a book called Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory

NEXT: God caused a wind to blow so the waters would receed

Ruach of Elohim – Spirit of God

There are several connections between ‘breath’ or ‘ruach’ to ‘life’ and now it is a connection to the ‘rebirth’ of life again as the ark holds the animals and people who will start the next ‘beginning’.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What to think of Lot & Family!

Dr. Dvora Weisberg from Hebrew Union College -
Los Angeles
A visiting scholar to Congregation Beth Am

An exploration of the story of Lot and his daughters and the rollercoaster of opinions about him and the situation. Was Lot saved because he really was righteous or was it because he is related to Abraham?

To decide if Lot is “righteous” or “wicked” takes exploring what we know about him from his traveling with Abraham and their split to different directions. The choice he makes of where to settle and also the choice he makes when guests arrive in Soddom.

As we reviewed the scenes we are not sure whether to be outraged or to think of Lot as a truly honorable person who protects his guests at a terrible cost.

And as the story progresses to the scene of Lot’s incest with his daughters, it becomes even more of a dichotomy. There is a blur between right and wrong here. Did the daughters truly think that they were alone in the world and the only option to have children was to lie with their father? And in that situation and in their time, was that an ethical choice?

And then what to make of their descendents, the Ammonites and the Moabites, who were later the enemies of the Israelites. However it again becomes blurry when you continue to focus on the genealogy to discover that Ruth and thus David fall in this lineage. And according to the teachings this is the same genealogy that will lead to the Messiah.

What does this tell us about ourselves and what happens in in genealogy. Do the children truly reflect the parents?

An excellent session with a wonderful scholar!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Was Esther Really a Blonde?

Francesco Caucig (Austro-Hungarian, 1755–1828)
Queen Esther Before King Ahasuerus, ca. 1815

Article by Howard Selznick ( thanks for the notes )
Based on Study Session with Rabbi Janet Marder 3.9.09

“Therrrrre she is, Miss Shoooo-shan!”

Contrary to the sanitized Sunday School Purim stories, the choice of Esther as Ah-hash-vey-rosh’s queen was not the result of a beauty contest. Esther’s ascension to the Persian throne is not exactly the Cinderella tale that we once learned.

In fact (actually in Midrash and commentary), Esther’s story in the Megillah is much more complex. The Purim tale for adults is more sinister and full of court intrigue, according to Rabbi Janet Marder’s study session on March 9, 2009.

After Queen Vashti was exiled for the unforgivable crime of disobeying Ah-hash-vay-rosh’s drunken order to appear before him (he was one party animal!), the king was angry for nearly four years; compare Esther 1:3 and 2:16 and do the math. When he began to question his banishment decision, his servants quickly suggested a nationwide search for a new queen.

Here’s where you send the kids to another room. The search was really about finding virgin concubines for the king. These would be women who were less reluctant than Vashti about presenting or submitting (you should excuse the expression) to the king on his command.

At the palace harem, these women underwent twelve months of “treatment” with fragrant oils and perfumes. Once prepared, each was taken to the king in the evening along with anything she wished from the harem; use your imagination of what these women took. The next morning, she would be relegated to a second harem. Implication: the king raped her and sent her to the “discard” harem.

Esther apparently received the same treatment, but a different verb is used to describe how she came to the harem: “taken” instead of “assembled.” “Taken” implies that women selected had little choice. Yet, Esther quickly won the admiration of the Heggei, the king’s guardian of the harem, who gave her special cosmetics and treated her kindly.

When it was Esther’s turn to appear, on the advice of Heggai, she took nothing from the Harem. She got the king’s favor not only by her beauty, but also by being plain, wholesome, honest, modest, and naturally beautiful. She follows a line of other biblical characters whose success is (at least) partially determined by good looks, such as Rachael, Joseph, and Abigail.

However, Esther was no dumb blonde. Her preparations to appear before the king showed her wile and shrewd character. She clearly took Heggai’s advice on how to please the king. And it worked. She became queen to replace Vashti.

The rest of the story is not really history but a continuation of this marvelous fictional tale of Persian court intrigue. Esther rose from obscurity to fame while Haman did just the opposite. The Jews survived and today, we party on.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Seven and Forty and Floods

Torah Study 3/7/09– with Rabbi Janet Marder

Genesis 7 – The Whole Thing! (almost)

So much to cover in one hour... Wow.

The focus on SEVEN is interesting because it is the 7th chapter and there is a lot to say about 7

This led to a full discussion about the number 7 and it’s significance... (not a product or factor of other numbers)

They enter the ark – the family and all the animals
Reference to Noah as Tzedek (leaving out the Tamim from previous) we learn that you don’t ‘over-praise’ a person when speaking directly to them.

v2: Review of pure animals (7) vs not pure (2) – the animals that might be used for sacrifice. Not referring to kosher / ‘ritually pure’

Numbers – 7 and 40 are numbers repeated in the story. Shevah - (masculine and feminine versions) - a special number in many traditions
symbolism – in Jewish tradition – 49 important 7’s - listed -
shabbat, 7 wks betw Passover and Shavuot, 7 year fallow, Shivah year, shivah of mourning period, Moses born died on 7 of Adar, Menorah, 7 major holidays, 7 blessings at a wedding, 7 alliyot to Torah each week, 7 words in the first verse of Torah, Rosh Hashanah in 7th month, seven species in Israel, ... And more... 392 (sum of square and cube of 7) times in Tanach and in 343 (7x7x7) verses verses in Torah use the word ‘seven’ - sevenfold occurs 7 times – 595 times in any form in Torah (in new Testament it is 105 times that adds to 700) - the numerology significance continued to be discussed.

Seven is symbol for completeness and wholeness.

In this chapter of Genesis the word ‘seven’ occurs seven times
- - -
v4: There is a 7 day warning before the rain starts to fall... Shivah period for Methuselah - one last chance after this great man dies.
also anticipatory mourning for those who will die in the flood.

40 days / 40 nights
like Moses on Saini, in desert, 40 days in supplication, Elijah 40 days in wilderness, Ezekiel 40 days on his side.
“Number 40 is Associated with Sin Atonement and Purification.”
Rashi says it is the # days to form a fetus in the womb – flood is like a rebirth.

40 years – a person reached the age of understanding.

v9: Animals come to the Ark voluntarily

v11: Time: There are 2 systems for time
1. Interval between events
2. This day of this month (but not tell which month)
Two possible conclusions – could be Spring or Fall – Spring is the time of new agriculture and Fall is the time of rain.

Cosmology of this – Water surge from below AND the Floodgates of the sky surge down from above.

Book : Richard Friedman Commentary on the Torah

World returns to primal chaos.

v12: Much Repetition in this verse

v13: Noah mentioned 3 times. - seems excessive! Sign of God’s affection.

v15: Animals come to the Ark – Samuel Raphael Hirsch – “Humanity in its most noble aspect” he saves and protects the animals - Miraculous part of the story! (the value of animals – midrash – even included the insects – all species have value)

v16: “God closed the door to the Ark” Friedman’s book points out that this is a point of intimacy with the people but all after that God recedes from connection with people.

Picture what it is like when they are closed in and other people realized what is happening!
The crowds might have begged to be saved at that time. But it was too late.

A dramatic scene...

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Time on the Ark...

Genesis 6:19-21 – with Rabbi Sarah Wolf

Summary of topics covered Torah Study 2.28.09
  • “Ark” also means “Word”
  • The moral question of the story of the flood
  • Questions and possibilities regarding the animals
  • A little on the sex angle and who was saved
  • When and why humans were allowed to eat meat
  • Teva – the etymology of the word ‘ark’
  • ‘Noah studied Torah’ - how they know that.
  • Repetition in verse 21
  • Food on the Ark
  • The “Lion and the Lamb” moment on the ark
  • The ‘miraculous’ aspects of the story
  • Humans must start the effort but God can add the ‘miracle’ that leads to success!