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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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Doubt and Faith

Torah Study 3/27
Genesis 15:2-11
The Covenant Between the Parts - Brit bein HaBetarim

Avram has doubts and anxiety
Avram is reassured by God and this brings a bit of tranquility.

But in V 7-8 Avram is once again questioning God

God announces: I am Adonai who brought you out of Ur (parallel to what is to come later)

This is four Hebrew letters (Yod, He, VaV and He) called the "Tetragrammaton" relates to the verb TO BE.

Reference to Ur – Reference to Avram’s previous test in the furnace -
SR Hirsch – says that this is a foretelling of the future that Avram’s descendants will be enslaved. Just as he escaped from that furnace the decendants will escape from slavery.

Name of God: Adonai Elohim – why the Hebrew is said this way – the vowels in the tetragrammation say Elohim. These two major names for God only appear together 4 times in the Torah.

Teaching that these refer to the two aspects to God’s mastery:
  1. God can override the laws of nature.
  2. God’s power is seen through natural law.

Elohim – associated with Justice
Adonai – associated with Mercy
And the dual name shows the balance that must exist.

Time is united within God – God sees things in all points of time and thus sometimes we don’t see the balance of Justice and Mercy even if it is there.

When bad happens to you – consider what you might learn from it.
When bad happens to others – consider how you can help.

Avram is a questioner.

Genesis: The Beginning of Desire by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg
Explores the character of Abraham in depth.
  1. he is praised for his ‘perfect’ faith
  2. he is always expressing doubts and questions.

The Jewish notion of faith – to question then to accept.

Faith is the dynamic process of wrestling with doubt

“Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light.”
Helen Keller

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” Voltaire

“Any belief worth having must survive doubt”. Isaac Bashevis Singer

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Avram Distressed Under the Stars

15:4-8 Avram is a bit distressed

He is reflecting on his life.

A sudden interruption in his thoughts – God talks to him.

Taken outside – a change of place under the stars.
A place that can calm his despairing soul

There is a different type of communication with God that he has not had before.

Poems: Walt Whitman: WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer
Edward Hirsch: In Spite of Everything the Stars
Like a stunned piano, like a bucket
of fresh milk flung into the air
or a dozen fists of confetti
thrown hard at a bride
stepping down from the altar,
the stars surprise the sky.
Think of dazed stones
floating overhead, or an ocean
of starfish hung up to dry. Yes,
like a conductor's expectant arm
about to lift toward the chorus,
or a juggler's plates defying gravity,
or a hundred fastballs fired at once
and freezing in midair, the stars
startle the sky over the city...

Rashi- not astrology – but destiny changes with his name
Eli Munk – no power from stars – nothing irrevokable
Saperstein – can make life worthwhile despite bad that might happen

Book: Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

On Descendents & Destiny
Zuta – about eternity – no nation will conquer the Jews.
Change perspective - “all is foreseen yet free will is given”
The opposite of destiny is freedom

Rambam - Believe with perfect faith

Syntax ambiguity – not positive who is the subject in the sentence – Avram or God?
Leon Kass – says it is avram because the Bible usually doesn’t change the subject mid sentence.
Brad Artsen – compares Biblical faith with Modern faith. While Avram had doubts he still had faith. Today faith is the absence of doubt.

Book: Why Faith Matters: , by David J. Wolpe
Faith is built on searching as well as finding.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Rewards and Promises of Children

“Sometime later” - a reminder that the episode continues.

Abram has mortality on his mind – he starts to contemplate that he has no children.

The first time Abram actually SPEAKS to God and he expresses his doubts.

(Robert Altar) - it is typical that we respond to God’s requests with doubt.

Abraham is ‘human’ he is motivated by fear.

(Eli Munk) - up till now Abraham’s life was a continuous ascent – his character is growing as he encounters adversity.

God acknowledges Abraham’s anxiety and reassures him that his “reward will be great”, meanwhile Abraham has just turned down rewards from the King.

(Samson Raphael Hirsch) Compensation can be the by-product of mitzvot but not the motivation. As it says in Pirke Avot: The good that we do should be the reward.

In other philosophies (like Buddhism) the reward is in the ‘next’ life or the afterlife. Some later Jewish sources note this idea but it is not a popular concept.

Pirke Avot: “don't be a like a servant who serves for the sake of a prize – serve for love.”

On Rewards: Intermittent reward is best as incentives for one to form good habits and lifestyle. (children for example)

Goal: A relationship with God – every mitzvah brings us closer to that.

Abraham is feeling anguish at his lack of children.
(Rashi) being childless is like having your line extinguished.
(Eli Munk) this is a cry of dispair. There is no one to continue his work. In other cultures of the time there was little importance placed on children, in the Jewish culture children were the focus.

Children is God’s way to give opportunity for improvement.

Motivation to have children: loneliness and fear of extinction.

Book: Swimming in a Sea of Death by David Rieff A memoir about Susan Sontag’s death
Poses the question of accepting our mortality.

Everyman by Philip Roth

Conquering Fear by Rabbi Harold Kushner
s on the attitude of the artist Marc Chagall, who just before his death at age ninety-seven completed his last painting entitled Towards Another Light

And Spinoza’s focus on life not death.

Verse 4: God promises Abraham that his heir will be from ‘his own seed’
Brings up the question of how important it is that the children must be from your own biological line.
Why is this important?
What does it mean to go outside?
(next week)