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 29, 2011

Religion, Relations and Politics

Torah Study notes by Howard (thanks) for 11/26

Genesis 25:19-23 political background

◊ Esau is considered the father of the Edomites.

◊ Numbers 20 – Moses requests to pass through land of Edom invoking name of Israel.

◊ Deuteronomy 23:8 do not hate Edomites; they are your kin. Yet Edomites may have participated in plunder and massacre of Jerusalem as suggested in Psalm 137 and in the Book of Obadiah. There is a curse on the Edomites for role in Temple destruction. Themes of betrayal and pain, especially since Israel and Edom were family.

◊ Edom is east of Jordan River north of Gulf of Aqaba; separated from Israel by the Aravah [the valley of the Jordan River – the northern portion of the Great Rift Valley -- between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba]. Resource differences led to raids across borders.

◊ These people were later called Idumeans (by Greeks and Romans), of which one descendant is Herod.

• Genesis 25:21 – more on וַיֶּעְתַּר, va-ya-tar and אִשְׁתּוֹ לְנֹכַח, l’no-khakh eesh-toe

◊ Hirsch – related to Machterret, underground or bore into, break in. Isaac’s prayer was powerful and penetrating

◊ Matthew Berkowitz – Isaac is empathetic and composes a prayer to penetrate heaven. He is in pain and prays passionately.

◊ Midrash – Genesis Rabbah – facing on another (like a boxing image, fighters in opposite corners), can be image of confrontation or praying together – an enigma?

◊ Ruth Weiss – a common problem can be solved by either withdrawing in sorrow or work-ing together. In the end it’s the former; each pursues his/her own agenda.

• Psychoanalytic analysis - God accepted his prayer. From Aviva Zornberg’s Murmuring Deep:

◊ Silent prayer was accepted by God; God was entreated.

◊ Talmud Y’vamot – word for pitchfork as the root for prayer

◊ As pitch for rearranges, turns the hay; prayer turns over to mercy, exposing darkness to light. Isaac acts like a pitchfork, enters his own darkness and turns it over.

◊ Isaac remains silent. Brings his inner darkness in prayer and turns it to love. God meets Isaac like a tunnel cut from two opposite directions. Cites Midrash of prince who is tun-neling into a palace to get a treasure while the king (prince’s father) is digging out; King wants prince to enter the palace. Suggests that prayer must be genuine and heartfelt, not perfunctory mumbling of words. [Is this a slap at orthodox services, where much mum-bling occurs?]

• Why were matriarchs barren? From Midrash on Song of Songs

◊ Not to put on airs toward husband; be modest and humble.

◊ Greater part of lives spent without servitude – not be at beck and call of children.

◊ Long to hear prayers – lack of something brings us to God; if you got it all, why pray?

• Genesis 25:22 - God responded … and Rebecca conceived. Word for conceive is related to mountain; woman gets “mountainous belly.”

◊ Sarna [JPS Torah Commentary] – a difficult pregnancy – spasmodic utero movements, not gentle kicking -- image of the twins wrestling in the womb

◊ Rebecca asks, אָנֹכִי זֶּה לָמָּה, “why this I” – a fragment of a sentence; in pain, only incom-plete phrases come out.

◊ Other translations encompass the pain of this pregnancy. It’s a desperate question.

◊ Rebecca seeks meaning, לִדְרֹשׁ (root of Midrash)

• Annunciation scene (Alter) with three steps:

Barren woman

Message from God or an angel

Birth of a son and special name

• Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, others with motif of older wife being barren

• Judges 13 - Samson

• I Samuel 1 on Channah being taunted by Peninah – priest acts as God’s messenger.

• Luke 1 on birth of John the Baptist to previously barren Elizabeth

• Joseph and Mary (cousin of Elizabeth) – subject of much art.

• However, Rebecca’s annunciation comes after she becomes pregnant.

• 25:23 - More on two nations in womb. It’s poetic.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Todlot - 11 times... Chronicles of families

Genesis 25:19 – new Parashah: Toldot

◊ Phrase elle todlot – used 11 times in Genesis

• Typically followed by family tree, such as for Ishmael in Gen ___.

• However, in this case, there is no tree; better translation here is “chronicles.” There is no Isaac “begot” because there is no child yet. Chain of procreation is interrupted

Vav at beginning, why?

• It can mean “and” and a letter that changes verb tense; here it’s “and.” Implies conti-nuity. Isaac will also have two sons, like Abraham, one wicked and one good. Note: Ishmael is portrayed in midrash as “wicked;” Torah doesn’t.

◊ Why are we told Isaac is the son of Abraham? It seems to be redundant.

• Rashi – people still gossiped about Sarah’s pregnancy and her residence with Avimelech. To remove all doubt, God formed Isaac’s face to resemble Abraham and to confirm his paternity.

• Further confirms that Isaac is the sole successor to Abraham’s legacy.

• Isaac’s life is defined by the fact that he’s Abraham’s son.

• Isaac is a shadowy figure in Torah, compared to Abraham and Jacob. There is little infor-mation on him in Torah. Yet there are hints about his nature; he was unique in that:

◊ Only one of patriarchs that was monogamist

◊ He never left Israel

◊ Only patriarch who engaged in agriculture

◊ First mention of husband-wife loving

◊ Didn’t bring concubine to conceive when Rebecca was found to be barren.

• Genesis 25:20 - Isaac was 40; no age information on Rebecca. Some traditions have her very young, 3 to 13.

◊ Munk – married young for Isaac to train her out of the bad habits in her family; Isaac waited for the right person.

◊ Rashi – Rebecca comes from evil family, but did not learn such behavior.

◊ Some use their family as an excuse/rationalization for bad behavior, an excuse for not improving their character. Hardly a valid reason for behaving badly. “It’s not my fault” doesn’t cut it.

• Genesis 25:20, Aramean, where Lavan lived.

◊ “wandering Aramean” probably refers to Abraham, who lived in their territory.

◊ Now part of Hagaddah.

• Genesis 25:21

◊ Elie Munk cites Talmud Bava Batra 110, on fertility problem based on Exodus 6:23 on line of Aaron – most sons take after their mother’s brother (uncle)

◊ Isaac pleads for his wife, who is barren. Continuation of the “barren wife” motif. How ironic in that the last thing said by her family as she rides off: have lots of children.

Va-yah-tar - unusual verb for “pray”, more like supplicate.

• Rashi, prayed a lot, urgently, based on verb for abundance

• This word also appears in Proverbs 27:6

• Munk –idea of insistent prayer, entreaty

• One tradition: they prayed at Mt Moriah

• Rashi: they were praying opposite of one another or facing one another

• Also could mean assuring compatibility with one another; let’s have a child together.

Etz Hayim [Torah Commentary]– Isaac’s prayer is on behalf of Rebecca, for her fulfillment; what it takes to make her happy. Gottman, Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, suggests that people should understand and appreciate spouse’s dreams and goals. Get close to God (and your spouse) by opening your heart.

◊ Isaac and Rebecca do not bring in a concubine, as did Sarah and Abraham. This is inter-preted as a sign of great faith. Sarah and Abraham took matters into their own hands when prayer didn’t seem to work.

◊ Midrash/Talmud – Barrenness suggests that God longs to hear prayers of the righteous.

(notes from Howard -thanks)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ishmael Returns...

Torah study 11-12 Genesis 25:7-19

Abraham content that Ishmael returns. Peaceful end of his life.
Ishmael's sons. Details about his life. End of Ishmael's life.

Gathered to his people. Early reference to the soul lasting and referring to returning to ones ancestors or one's people. Following the path of those before you.

V9 two sons hurried him. Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac mentioned first. Rashi...Ishmael did repentance and allowed Isaac to go first. This is the good old age that Ishmael came back and he deferred to his younger brother. Reunited. A promise of reconciliation.

Book: Self, Struggle & Change .... The Way Into Torah by Norman J. Cohen

Refers to brother estrangement and then a reunion of his father and uncle.

Bury Abraham in the cave of Machpelah. Place bought by Abraham for Sarah's burial place.

Machpelah. Word related to "double" - located in the heart of Hebron on the west bank. Today it is a mosque.

Benjamin of Tudela (a.k.a. the Jewish Marco Polo). Traveler.. 12th century. Book st. Abraham was the place where Abraham Sarah Isaac Rebecca .... Six tombs.

A century later described differently. Jews kept out during the Ottoman period.

Later it was opened and there were many tragic happenings there.

There was a controversy about it being declared as an official holy site.

Sarah died thirty plus years before... She is mentioned here to remind us that they are buried next to each other in the same place Abraham boughtbfor this purpose. Sets president of spouses being buried next to each other.

V11 after the death of Abraham

God blessed Isaac. Same formula in format other places in TANACH

Book of Joshua 1st book... After death of Moses

Judges 1st book... After death of Joshua

First Samuel 1st book... After the death of Saul with David

Literary formula. Consistent way to show the leadership continuity.

Bless Isaac. Rashi ...comforted Isaac as in a shivah minyan. Similar prayer...we need to do this we are emulating the Devine. Similar to visiting the sick.

God had given Abraham the power of blessing ... Now this is given to Isaac.

Eli Munk. Problem of the power of blessing. Parable...Gardner needs to keep the garden. Good tree and bad tree both benefit. Gardner decides to water anyway and leave the decisions to the owner of the garden.... Abraham afraid to bless Isaac because both good and evil will come from him...God. (the owner) comes and blesses Isaac. difficult to bless others.

Ha makom.... God is in the place. Consoled with all mourners...all Jews with you in your sorrow . Link to the larger community in a time of sorrow. Don't feel so isolated.

Later the power of blessing is extended to the priests and to everyone.

Isaac settled near the site of a promise of a son to Hagar. Symbolic.

Lineage if Ishmael... Formula the same...generations of Ishmael. Similar verbiage as previously... Same phrase Happens 11 times in Genesis.

Oldest son. Nebaioth... Nabateans ancient people from Petra. MY be a connection.

Each name relates to a tribe in the Arab world. And are repeated later in Tanach.

V14 three names only.

Book..Crisis and Leadership ..Maimonades...David Hartman.

Shows that suffering has meaning,

Listen, be silent, endure ... Interpretation of the message of the three names in this verse. In Yemen Advising them not to revolt...when being persecuted by Islam.

V 16. End if Ishmael's story.

Shows where they live as nomads... Fulfilled God's promise to Hagar.

Nasies ...word to describe the leaders related to clouds.

Rashi powers will not last forever.

SRH. Clouds represent a model of a good leader

V18. Where descendants dwell ... Or range ... Move around.

They camped along kind their kinsmen... Literal against his brothers he fell.

Ref that Ishmael was a wild man hand against brothers.. Same phrase as used before to describe Ishmael. Rashi... Ishmael...As long as A alive he dwelt.. When A dies he fell.

Next Week start Isaacs family.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Abraham Marries Again - Dies at 175

Torah study 11-5 with Rabbi Marder - Genesis. 25:1-11

Abraham marries Keturah. And the genealogy from there.

Each refers to a place and a connection to the spice trade.

Footnote to his life... Third wife.

Queen of Sheba. Grandchild to Abraham. Unlike the film about Solomon. Not a love situation First Kings ch 10. She tested the king. He knew all she asked showing his wisdom. Presented him with gifts. (no romance.)

Ethiopian story that he has a son with her. And he returns to claim the connection and takes the ark of the covenant.

Who was Keturah? Two schools of thought.

She is Hagar... Isaac had gone to the place where she was. Isaac was looking for a wife for his father while his father was looking for rebecca.

Her name is connected to the word for celibacy. Beautiful as spices. She changed her ways Other thought has to do with the need to protect Isaac.

V5 what about all the new sons needs to secure Isaac.

He formally declares Isaac as the heir.

Later in Torah Deuteronomy the law forbids this action to favor a different child... Priority to firstborns... Throughout Torah second sons displace the older son.

Distinguish between wife and concubine (Rashi. Ketubbah...)

Effects laws of the children's status. Giving of gifts. For goodwill or for payment to satisfy the question if inheritance.

What is the provision for daughters? There is a provision from the story in Numbers. Abraham gives gifts and sends away.

The spiritual inheritance only goes to Isaac. He can bestow God's blessing.

Question v6. Sons by concubines...plural. Rashi. Word is written incompletely missing the final yud. Plural because he was married twice. Indicator that the text Rashi used was different. Variation in text.

If Keturah is not Hagar... She is a Cannanite. Three wives of Abraham.

In three marriages, Sarah, Keturah, and Hagar - Abraham married a daughter of Shem Ham and Yaffed. Each of Noah's sons links to all the families of the earth! In every person is a spark of Abraham.

Sent them away...kedmah... Hey at end of that place. To the east.. Is there a specific place or just a general direction?

Death of Abraham.

175 years old and contented.

How age mentioned written out...different one hundred and seventy and five.

Lived in land for 100 years and when his grandchildren are 15.

The days of the life... He lived every year of his life ... None wasted.

Rashi...when 100 like he was 70. When 70 he was as 5. Innocent.

When first hear of his beginning of chapter...

Book. Growth Through Torah by Zelig Pliskin

Each day is a new experience. Make sure accomplish something each day.

Death. Breathed his last. Vyikvah... Translation. Quick and without pain.

SRH stage of unconsciousness.

Tired or exhaustion...loss of vigor before death.

Satisfied/contented before he dies. That is a sign that he is righteous.

"Good old age". Content and that Ishmael came back to him.

Gathered to his kin. He lay down with his fathers. Term used many times in Torah.

Not related to burial. Sarna - a belief that despite death there is a type of afterlife. A part of you is not perishable.

Usually connected to the concept of the soul. A return to where you began... Soul goes back to it's home. Ecclesiastes ch 12.

(contradiction to the time expelled from garden of Eden )

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Longest Chapter in Torah

Torah study 10-29 With Rabbi Marder - Genesis 24:63-67

Longest chapter in Torah.

R Nachman. Says Isaac was "strolling" in the greenery. Says that everyone should take time to be with nature each day.

Book last child in the woods... Impact of nature on children's development.

Take the veil... When she veiled herself results in the custom of bedekin.

Wedding customs.

End of bedekin parents bless bride and groom

It's untied to show that all other bonds are released

Kittle worn by the groom

Outdoors ceremony remind of promise to Abraham

Chuppah reminder of Ruth and. Put robe over them

Souls of the departed with them under chuppah

Groom waiting for her... Waiting for her to join her in his home.

Lead her to the chuppah with candles.

Seven circles different ways of doing it. Sevenfold bond between couple.

Ring perfect roundness without obstructions or defects and gold.

Guests recite the blessings

Private time after - Silver spoon step over with right foot. (Can't find source.)

Wedding feast duty of the guests to entertain the new couple.

Dance ... Mezinka -

Last child to be married mother dances with broom to sweep away the empty nest.

After seven nights of feasting and parties.

End of story.. Woman's commentary.

1 First time speak of a man loving a woman in Tanach.

2. Naomi Rosenblatt. Romantic literature point of view ... Bridge between the loss of maternal love and new marital love.

Leon Kass. When she arrives Isaac is bereft. In the place where Hagar wept. She has energy and is excited. Rebecca is the strong one and the manipulative one in the relationship.

Rashi... Brought Rebecca into tent and became like Sarah.

Comforted for his mother.. When Sarah dies a man finds comfort in his wife.

Link to all Jewish women.

Eli Munk

Three mitzvot for women Hannah Mitzvot.

Light candles. Challah. Marital purity. (mikvah)

Chapter 25:1-

Abrahams next chapter.

Until he is 175 years.

Marries again and has children...

Sages approve of this remarriage...

First marry off children then should marry again.

Purpose of marriage is more than procreation but also for companionship.

More children. Midrash continue to have children because you don't k ow how they will turn out.

SRH. Over 30 years between Sarah's death and when he remarries.

Some say he marries Hagar... Joseph word that implies he took woman again...could have been a concubine. End of Tanach... 32. Sons of concubine listed again. Concubine - Higher status than a slave.

Who is Katura? Like the word for incense.

Rashi. Confirms it is Hagar. And speaks of her as a beautiful moral character.. Surprising... Previously she was thought to have returned to idolatry...but others say after the encounter with God that she followed the ways of Abraham. And a change of name is indicative of this change in her faith.

Others say she was a Cannanite. Abraham marries a Cannanite woman... Why not problematic? The children would not inherit.

Genealogy. Abrahams story states and ends with genealogy Names listed at the beginning and end of his story. Lineage is showing the fulfillment of God's promise.

Lineage is very old. Maybe about 1000 BCE. Word Arab not included... Mention of Mideonites..they are hostile people..another place they are friendly..Moses marries into them. Speaks of the sons of Ishmael... Not mentioned again.

Names associated with the spice industry.

Next all about Sheeba...