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Archive for the ‘Weekly Parasha’ Category

Parasha Re’eh – “other gods whom you have not experienced”

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on August 6, 2007


Parasha Re’eh Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17 – Haftarah (Readings from the Prophets): Isaiah 54:11-55:5

 

“In this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, Moses warns the Israelites against giving in to the temptation to worship “other gods whom you have not experienced” (elohim acherim asher lo-y’datam.) Even if that urging comes from “your brother, your own mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your closest friend” — if any of these dear people entices you to worship another god “whom neither you nor your fathers have experienced,” Just Say No.Like most of Torah, this text presumes that other gods exist; they’re just not appropriate loci for worship. (Ah, monolatry.) “Pray to the God you know,” Moses seems to be saying. “Pray to the God Who brought you out of Egypt — the one your ancestors knew, the one you know so intimately and so well.””(The God we know- Radical Torah)


It’s good to see that there are others that acknowledge the idea of Judaism originally being Henotheistic or Monolatrist.To me that is the solution to a problem that originally cause me to seek out Judaism – it makes it possible for me to be tolerant.Here’s an essay I wrote on the matter of Henotheism in Tanakh. It falls right into the above quest and this weeks Parasha.

Is there support for Henotheism in Torah and Tanakh?

My Problem

When G-D speaks about ‘other g-ds’ at Har Sinai He says:” Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” (Ex. 20:3) This sentence presents me with a logical problem – why would G-d command Israel not to worship other g-ds, if in fact no such g-ds exist? Why would worship of other g-ds be the major Problem G-d is faced with throughout the History of His People? If you were G-d, and the only existing at that, would you worry about sharing the devotions of your People with something that does not exist?

My intention

I have no illusions about coming up with any revolutionary findings or theories about G-d – my sole intention with this is to attempt to show that while Judaism today may be considered Monotheistic, it has not always been so, and that there is room in Torah and Tanakh for a Henotheistic view of G-d. A view that accepts the existence of other G-ds, but in practice excludes those other G-ds from personal belief and worship.

My search for answers

Five years ago, I was studying on-line with a Rabbi on-line – he suggested I study the 613 mitzvot and explain them one by one, to formulate my own understanding of the Foundation of Jewish Law and Thought. The first Positive Mitzvah (According to Maimonides Sefer HaMitzvot) is: “Know that there is a G-d” – this comes in Rambam’s list with a reference to Ex. 20:2; and Deut. 5:6: “I am the LORD thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” – I wondered how this could be read as a command to know/believe that there is a G-d, and started searching for more appropriate references – I eventually found Devarim 4:39 “know this day, and lay it to thy heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath; there is none else.”. While I was searching the Scripture I discovered that Torah and Tanakh again and again make references to ‘other g-ds’ – in reference as well as by name – and it wasn’t random, it was systematic. It seemed to me that Torah and Tanakh were suggesting that Judaism was not entirely, what we would call Monotheistic.

Could it be that Judaism, despite its Monotheistic coat, had room for the acceptance, even acknowledgment, of the existence of other G-ds than Hashem?

To answer the question I had to look at the context – where did the Jewish People originate? What were its cultural and sociological roots? What was the religious soil like, in which the seed of Judaism was planted and grew to fruition?

Most scholars agree that the area, which we today call the Middle East, was comprised of loosely connected City States and Nomadic Tribes that each had their own pantheons of deities that varied in function and in importance. Some were powerful Head Deities that were worshiped by a larger number of people, others were very localized Semi-deities that drew a few worshipers. We know their names, both from Biblical accounts and extra-Biblical accounts.[1]

Having this in mind I was struck by another question: Is it logical to draw the conclusion that a small, nomadic People in an area that is full of Deities, would come up with the novel Idea that there is One Single Deity that Rules the entire Universe and no other Deities exist at all? It did not seem logical to me – on the contrary, it became highly unlikely that such a clearly Monotheistic thought would spring out of such a religiously diverse area. Furthermore – if Judaism and the Tanakh were strictly Monotheistic, why would Tanakh give account of the very names of these Deities? Especially since Torah actually prohibits the mentioning of the names of ‘other g-ds’. “And in all things that I have said unto you take ye heed; and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.” (Ex. 23:13)

The Shema (Devarim 6:4) states: “Hear Israel, the LORD OUR G-D (Adonay Eloheynu[2]) is One!”[3] – It would have been sufficient to state – The LORD G-D (Adonay Elohey/Elohim) is One! It would still have been a valid ‘preamble’ to the Treaty between G-D and the Jewish People, so why this emphasis on making sure Israel HEARD that G-D is OUR G-D, if there exists only ONE G-d? There would be no reason, unless this was not true in the mind of Tanakh.

There I was, trained to think of Judaism and the Tanakh as strictly Monotheistic – “One G-d, One People, One Twofold Law”, and it did not make sense to me.

This confusion was further elevated when I read Maimonides 13 Principles of Faith:

2. I believe with perfect faith that G-d is One. There is no unity that is in any way like His. He alone is our G-d. He was, He is, and He will be.

“He alone is our G-d” – I noted this ‘alone is our’ and thought it odd that Maimonides would say this – it would have been sufficient to simply state: “G-d is One. There is no unity that is in any way like His. He was, He is, and He will be.” So why emphasize that G-d alone is our G-d, unless it has some sort of significance?

Judaism is fundamentally Henotheistic or least Monolatrist! Well, at least it has been during some time of its history, and that is why Tanakh refers to ‘other g-ds’.

Henotheism/Monolatrism suggested within the Tanakh

Tanakh uses two words to designate ‘g-ds’: Elim and Elohim (and forms of these two) – the latter is also used to designate G-D – especially throughout Torah (Bereshit/Genesis – Devarim/Deuteronomy).

“Who is like unto Thee, O LORD, among the mighty? Who is like unto Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? (Ex. 15:11)

Mi-chamocha ba’elim Adonay mi kamocha ne’edar bakodesh nora tehilot oseh-fele.”[4]

Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” (Ex. 20:3)

“Lo yihyeh lecha elohim acherim al-panay”[5].

It is clear from the text that Tanakh differentiates between ‘g-d, g-ds’ (el, elim, elohim, eloheyhem) and ‘idols’ (el-ha’elilim – lit ‘a nothing’, giluleychem – lit. ‘logs’, etc) or ‘images of these ‘g-ds’ (matsevoteyhem – lit standing [sacred] stone or pillar). The repeated warnings against worshipping ‘other g-ds’ cannot have been warnings against merely ‘inanimate things’. Tanakh clearly reckognizes the REALITY behind those ‘inanimate things’ – this becomes clear in f.i Ex. 23:24 where the text first speaks about ‘g-ds’ (eloheyhem) and then goes on to enumerate the practices surrounding these ‘g-ds’:

“Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their doings; but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and break in pieces their pillars.”

“Lo-tishtachaveh le’eloheyhem velo to’ovdem velo ta’aseh kema’aseyhem ki hares teharsem veshaber teshaber matsevoteyhem”[6]

Some translators make a couple of additions, that seems to be intended as clarification with a theological slant –

“Do not bow down to their gods and do not serve them. Do not follow the ways of [these nations]. You must tear down [their idols] and break their sacred pillars.”

I might be wrong, but it seems to me that the text is speaking not about the ‘ways of the nations’ worshiping these g-ds, but about the religious practices associated with the ‘g-ds’ mentioned at the beginning of the verse. I am basing this on how it reads. The first ‘their’ is referring to ‘the Seven Nations’ enumerated in verse 23, but the rest is logically referring to the ‘g-ds’.

Before Har Sinai

The first time we encounter a G-d that is revered, but not worshipped, by anyone significant in the Tanakh, is in the story of Avraham and Melchizedek. It says:

“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine; and he was priest of God (the) Most High. And he blessed him, and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God (the) Most High, who hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand.’ And he gave him a tenth of all. (Gen 14:18-20)

“U’Malki-Tsedek melech Shalem hotsi lechem vayayin vehu chohen le-El Elyon. Vayevarechehu vayomar baruch Avram le-El Elyon Koneh shamayim va’arets. Uvaruch El Elyon asher-migen tsareycha beyadecha vayiten-lo ma’aser mikol.[7]

Who is this El-Elyon – G-d Most High? It’s not Avraham’s G-d, the One that introduces Himself as El Shadday in Gen. 17:1 and Who has been spoken to as Y-wh, by Noach in Gen. 9:2 – but He is clearly someone Avraham or at the very least the Text of Tanakh accepts as a Deity to be revered. It is also interesting to note that El Elyon is mentioned in a way that does not entail the usual paraphernalia associated with ‘other g-ds’ in Tanakh, standing stones, pillars, trees and such, yet is explicitly said to have a ‘resident priest’ who speaks and acts on his behalf. A Deity that is significant enough to be mentioned together with the Greatest of the Patriarchs. However, He is not the same as Avraham’s G-d:

Gen 17:1 states:

“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him: ‘I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be thou wholehearted.”

“Vayehi Avram ben-tish’im shanah vetesha shanim vayera Adonay el-Avram vayomer elav ani El-Shadday hithalech lefanay veheyeh tamim.”[8]
He specifically says, “I am G-d-Almighty.” Ani El-Shadday.

From the text about Noach and later text we are informed that the G-d calling Himself G-d-Almighty is identical with the G-d that introduces himself to Moshe as Y-wh, so who ever wrote the text thought of or knew El-Shaday and Y-wh to be the same G-d – but not El-Elyon – what makes me draw that conclusion? Through context and the explicit text.

In Gen 14:18-20 El-Elyon is spoken of in third person as an entity that is being referenced in association with a priest that is clearly not of the Hebrew tribe – while in Gen 17:1 and Ex 3:6, 14, El-Shaday/Y-wh is an active speaker, interacting directly with the person He is speaking to, and that person is a Hebrew. Moreover, in Ex.3 the G-d speaking is identifying as the G-d of Avraham, whom we already know to be El-Shaday, and he later also identifies as Y-wh. The two G-ds El Elyon and El-Shaday/Y-wh, are very clearly two different Deities. Another thing that differentiates these two is the fact that, at least as much as I can deduce from context, is that the former is resident in Shalem, while El-Shaday/Y-wh appears to different persons at different locations.

It is interesting to see how some translators have sought to obscure the textual fact that we are looking at two different Deities. King James Version render Gen 14:18-20 like this:

“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.”

At first glance, it does not seem that much of a difference – but it is in fact an act of transformation – by changing ‘most high’ to an adjective form and putting ‘the’ in front, the translator has changed what is obviously a NAME to an ATTRIBUTE ascribed to this G-d. King James Version does the same to Genesis 17:1

“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.”

Thus making it appear as if El Elyon and El Shadday are one and the same – which they are not.

Jewish translations from Hebrew to English takes this into consideration and does render, in most cases, the NAME as a NAME without the addition of “the” or a reversal of the order of the words.

As I went about exploring Tanakh for references to ‘g-ds’, ‘idols’, I also decided to look for references to ‘false g-ds’, because this was what I had been trained to think that ‘other g-ds’ meant. The funny thing was I found none – not in JPS nor in King James version – despite their obvious ‘attempts’ to, through the translation of the text, teach that any reference to ‘other g-ds’ automatically meant those were not g-ds in the Hebrew mind and therefore the Hebrews were Monotheists. I did find ONE such reference – in the American Standard Version – Jer. 18:15! That does speak volumes, at least to my mind.

At Har Sinai

As I said in the beginning of this document, what caused my problem was the statement made by G-d in Ex 20:3 :”Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” – so who were those ‘other g-ds’? I have identified one: El-Elyon. But there are more, throughtout Tanak. Here is a list of some of them:

Baal and Aserah (a g-d and consort) – Num. 25:3, 5; Deu. 4:3; Jdg. 2:13; 6:32; 8:33; 9:4; 1Ki. 16:31, 32; 18:21, 26; 19:18; 22:53; 2Ki. 1:2, 3, 6, 16; 10:18, 19, 20, 23, 28; 17:16; 21:3; 23:4, 5; 1Ch. 4:33; 9:36; Psa. 106:28; Jer. 7:9; 11:13, 17; 12:16; 19:5; 23:27; 32:29; Hos. 2:16; 9:10; 13:1. Many place names in Tanakh starts with ’Baal-’ which could be either an indication that a ’Baal-’ was worshiped there, or that Baal is just a Title and the second part is the actual name of the g-d – in that case the list of references is not complete, as I have removed those references that ‘seemed to be’ a place name.

Moloch – Lev. 18:21; 20:2, 3, 4, 5; 1Ki. 11:7; 2Ki. 23:10; Jer. 32:35.

Chemosh – Num. 21:29; Jdg. 11:24; 1Ki. 11:7, 33; 2Ki. 23:13; Jer. 48:7, 13, 46.

It is also clear from the references that these g-ds were the g-ds of the peoples living either with the People or in the neighboring Nations, such as the ones mentioned in Ex 23:24.

Those were regarded as REAL g-ds by the People and their neighbors at one time or other – and they were definitely considered ’competition’ by G-d.

So when G-d says:” Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” He is demanding that The People reserve their devotion for Him alone – as He consider Himself to be THEIR G-d.

“And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be My People” (Lev 26:12)

And the Jewish People have since then answered: HEAR, O ISRAEL: THE LORD OUR GOD, THE LORD IS ONE.

How to reconcile…

How does one reconcile other passages in Tanakh, that speak of G-d’s Omnipotence, describe Him as the Creator of the Universe and so on and so forth?

There are several options available.

One is to read the Tanakh in its cultural/sociological and religious/geographical context, and assume that when Tanakh f.i speak of ‘Elohim’ in Genesis as the Creator, it is in fact speaking of a congregation of g-ds, all somehow participating in the creation process. Which then would be indicated by the use of words like ‘Let us’,‘our image’ and ‘our likeness’ (Gen 1:26) This way of reading could also be supported by Psa 82:1 which states: “God stands in the assembly of the mighty; He judges in the midst of the gods.”. And Y-wh then becomes another Tribal G-d among other Tribal G-ds, Whose quest for a People to call His Own ensues straight after Man is expelled from Gan Eden.

Another is to see the text of the Tanakh as an account exclusively meant for the Hebrews – and that they, just as the other peoples did with their g-ds, viewed G-D, by Avraham, Yitzchack, and Yaakov known as El-Shadday and by Moshe as Y-wh as their National G-D, and to them there is no other G-d worthy of their devotion and worship – they all have ‘Property of Y-wh’ stamped on their foreheads and wrote the account from that perspective. This would account for f.i the pasuk (verse) in Deut 4:39. “…there is noone else…” (‘for us…’ is implicit.)

A third is to accept that both Henotheism and Monotheism is present in the Tanakh and thus equally as true, which is, in my thinking, always the case when Tanakh ‘contradicts’ itself – this is after all not uncommon in Judaism. Talmud are full of Sages that contradict each other yet are held as equals in their rulings. This way the Tanakh leaves room for those of us who are faint at heart and prefer not to offend others with claims that our G-D is the Only One Universally – just the Only One for us.

Finally let’s contemplate what the prophet Micah says about what it will be like when the Moshiach comes:

Micah 4:5 “For let all the peoples walk each one in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.”

Shema Yisrael, Adonay Eloheynu, Adonay ECHAD! Amen!

Dov



[1] http://www.class.uidaho.edu/ngier/henotheism.htm

[2] Hebrew text and transliteration: http://bible.ort.org

[3] שׁמע ישׂראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה אחד

[4] מי־כמכה באלם יהוה מי כמכה נאדר בקדשׁ נורא תהלת עשׂה פלא

[5] לא יהיה־לך אלהים אחרים על־פנ

[6] לא־תשׁתחוה לאלהיהם ולא תעבדם ולא תעשׂה כמעשׂיהם כי הרס תהרסם ושׁבר תשׁבר מצבתיהם׃

[7]ומלכי־צדק מלך שׁלם הוציא לחם ויין והוא כהן לאל עליון

ויברכהו ויאמר ברוך אברם לאל עליון קנה שׁמים וארץ׃

וברוך אל עליון אשׁר־מגן צריך בידך ויתן־לו מעשׂר מכל׃

[8] ויהי אברם בן־תשׁעים שׁנה ותשׁע שׁנים וירא יהוה אל־אברם ויאמר אליו אני־אל שׁדי התהלך לפני והיה תמים׃

Posted in Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17, Haftarah, Henotheism, monolatry, other gods..., Parasha Re'eh, Torah, Weekly Parasha | 4 Comments »

Parasha Ekev – “If…then…”

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on July 31, 2007


Deu 7:12 If only you listen to these laws, safeguarding and keeping them, then God your Lord will keep the covenant and love with which He made an oath to your fathers.”

והיה עקב תשׁמעון את המשׁפטים האלה ושׁמרתם ועשׂיתם אתם ושׁמר יהוה אלהיך לך את־הברית ואת־החסד אשׁר נשׁבע לאבתיך׃

Vehayah ekev tishme’un et hamishpatim ha’eleh ushmartem va’asitem otam veshamar Adonay Eloheycha lecha et-habrit ve’et-hachesed asher nishba la’avoteycha.

The Covenant of The Land between G-d and Israel is a conditional covenant that is dependent on the People’s conduct. If the People keep their part of the bargain, then G-d will keep his part of the bargain.

If we look through history we will see that the borders of The Land have been directly connected to The People’s level of Torah Observance. The better People have been at Observing Torah, the more of The Land promised to Avraham Avinu they have been in possession of. G-d has NEVER specified the borders of The Land.

Edit Addition:

“The Historical Jewish people, despite all its contradictions and despite all the divisions that arose within it, never considered the state apparatus – that is, the force of organized power under which the people live – as one of the constitutive elements if its national essence. The same holds true with regard to the land. Contrary to what is claimed in our Declaration of Independence: “The Jewish people has emerged in the Land of Israel,” eighty or hundred generations have kept rooted in their consciousness, the memory of the fact that a people – which already existed – had invaded the land of Canaan and had made of it the Land of Israel…In its historical consciousness, the people existed outside all territorial attachments. It remembered – and was reminded – that it had been a stranger in Egypt…Later it was to become independent, not in a State, but in a desert, something without defined borders…The historical image is clear: it is the people who created the State, and not the State, not the land, which has created the people… It is thus quite clear, with respect to the Jewish people, that it was not a state apparatus, not a framework for the wielding of power, nor a given territory, not even a language that brought it into being and kept it in existence. Its national identity is incarnated in one specific, immanent element – Judaism.” (Leibowitz p 95-96)

 

The direct consequences of not Observing Torah has always been loss of The Land. Always. Loss of The Land and Exile. Why? Because Torah is directly imprinted on The Land. Remember the part in Devarim where G-d command The People to read the Curses and Blessing from Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal?

Deu 11:29-32 And it shall come to pass, when the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, that thou shalt set the blessing upon mount Gerizim, and the curse upon mount Ebal. Are they not beyond the Jordan, behind the way of the going down of the sun, in the land of the Canaanites that dwell in the Arabah, over against Gilgal, beside the terebinths of Moreh? For ye are to pass over the Jordan to go in to possess the land which the LORD your God giveth you, and ye shall possess it, and dwell therein. And ye shall observe to do all the statutes and the ordinances which I set before you this day.

Deu 27:1-7 And Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying: ‘Keep all the commandment which I command you this day. And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over the Jordan unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaster them with plaster. And thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over; that thou mayest go in unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of thy fathers, hath promised thee. And it shall be when ye are passed over the Jordan, that ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in mount Ebal, and thou shalt plaster them with plaster. And there shalt thou build an altar unto the LORD thy God, an altar of stones; thou shalt lift up no iron tool upon them. Thou shalt build the altar of the LORD thy God of unhewn stones; and thou shalt offer burnt-offerings thereon unto the LORD thy God.
And thou shalt sacrifice peace-offerings, and shalt eat there; and thou shalt rejoice before the LORD thy God.

There’s your imprint. The Land has its own Mezzuzot. The Land is Bound to Torah and its Observance – there really is no way around this.

So how to tie this to current events – to our modern historical reality?

I strongly believe that the Settlements in the West Bank are illegal, not only from a perspective of International Law, but from a Torah Perspective.

Let’s look at what has happened at other times when The People has been exiled and has lost The Land – Nebuchadnezzar overran Judah and brought The People into Exile in Babylon 2Ch 36:13. 70 years later Cyrus let The People return 2Ch 36:22-23. Someone, not of the People worked as G-d’s hands and brought The People back. Now let’s go forward – to 1947. Now to my mind the basic pattern of Possession-Exile is that for exile to end, someone not of The People has to intercept on the People’s behalf, and bring them back. Wasn’t that what happened 1947? Didn’t an International Community make it possible for The People to return? I think that’s what happened.

This would mean that The Land which G-d gives to The People, at this point in Time is the portion that was partitioned to the Jewish people as “Israel” in 1947. This would also mean that any expansion outside those borders are illegal, since The Land is bound to Torah, and its extension is directly connected to what G-d gives.

There’s another thing – that my Wife pointed out: “Why has the People been doing all those “Forth and Back”? Because G-d said so and someone listened.

The People was in peril – Yossef listened to G-d and brought the People into Egypt. Moshe listened to G-d and brought them out of Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar listened to G-d and brought the People into Exile – Cyrus listened to G-d and brought the People back.

The cycle of Possession-Exile have always been directed by “because G-d said so, and someone listened…”

So the possession of The Land is in this time limited by the borders determined at a time when someone listened to G-d.

306px-un_partition_plan_for_palestine_1947.png

The only way, according to Torah and Tanakh, the only way The People can come into possession of The Land as promised by G-d to Avraham Avinu, is by accepting the provisions of the Covenant – “Keep all the commandment which I command you this day.”

Now, that is hardly what the State of Israel is doing at the moment, and honestly it’s not what the Settlers, who claim religious rights The Land are doing either. The Settlers are occupying Land out-side the borders set up, ultimately by G-d, in 1947, and the only reason they can do that is because the secular State of Israel is helping them by deploying military force to keep them there.

“And thou shalt sacrifice peace-offerings…”

שׁלם

shelem
BDB Definition:
1) peace offering, requital, sacrifice for alliance or friendship
1a) voluntary sacrifice of thanks

Note that shelem could easily be written shalom…

The Sages stipulated that since the Temple is destroyed – in substitution of actual sacrifices, we are to offer up our prayers, and recitations of the Texts that directly deal with the different sacrifices stipulated in Torah. That is all well, but since the sacrifices in Torah is also connected to acts of contrition and thanks, i.e return to compliance with Torah, just reading them thrice a day is not enough – our actions have to reflect the inner content of the sacrifice.

How is accepting land that belongs to someone else, acting on a sense of wishing them peace? Fact is it’s not. In fact it’s a violation of Torah, because it means removing my neighbor’s landmarks:

Deu 19:14 Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour’s landmark, which they of old time have set, in thine inheritance which thou shalt inherit, in the land that the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it.

Deu 27:17 Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour’s landmark. And all the people shall say: Amen.

Since the entire Earth belongs to G-d, any person living next to me is my neighbor – G-d is the one setting the boundaries, and since the boundaries for The Land is set by G-d according to how well the People Observe His Torah, Land adjacent to that of Israel must belong to the neighbor.

Neighbor:

ריע / רע

rêa‛ / rêya‛
BDB Definition:
1) friend, companion, fellow, another person
1a) friend, intimate
1b) fellow, fellow-citizen, another person (weaker sense)
1c) other, another (reciprocal phrase)

Can’t really get around that – any other person is my neighbor – whose landmark I may not remove.

Posted in Deuteronomy 11:29-32, Deuteronomy 27:1-7, Deutoronomy 7:12, Israel, Mount Ebal, Mount Gerizim, Parasha Ekev, Torah, Weekly Parasha | Leave a Comment »

Parasha Va’etchanan – Devarim 3:23-7:11

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on July 27, 2007


tzitziot.jpg

The Shema – What is it?

Devarim 6:4-9, 11:13-21, Bamidbar 15:37-41

Devarim 6:4-9

HEAR, O ISRAEL: THE Adonai OUR GOD, THE Adonai IS ONE.

And thou shalt love Adonai thy G-d with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates.”

Devarim 11:13-21

“And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto My commandments which I command you this day, to love Adonai your G-d, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, that I will give the rain of your land in its season, the former rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil. And I will give grass in thy fields for thy cattle, and thou shalt eat and be satisfied. Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; and the anger of Adonai be kindled against you, and He shut up the heaven, so that there shall be no rain, and the ground shall not yield her fruit; and ye perish quickly from off the good land which Adonai giveth you. Therefore shall ye lay up these My words in your heart and in your soul; and ye shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them your children, talking of them, when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates; that your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, upon the land which Adonai swore unto your fathers to give them, as the days of the heavens above the earth.”

Bamidbar 15:37-41

“And Adonai spoke unto Moses, saying: ‘Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them throughout their generations fringes in the corners of their garments, and that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread of blue. And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of Adonai, and do them; and that ye go not about after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go astray; that ye may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your G-d. I am Adonai your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your G-d: I am Adonai your G-d.'”

What does it mean…

Thou shalt love Adonai thy G-d

“You shall love the Lord your God”: means that because of you the Name of Heaven will become beloved. That is, when a person studies Bible and Mishnah and ministers to the needs of the teachers of Torah, and speaks gently with other people, and deals properly with others in the marketplace, and conducts his business honestly, what do people say about him? “Happy is the one who studied Torah; happy is the teacher who taught this one Torah…”

Abaye, in the Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 86a.

Rashi: And you shall love [the Lord] Perform His commandments out of love. The one who acts out of love cannot be compared to the one who acts out of fear. If one serves his master out of fear, when the master sets a great burden upon him, this servant will leave him and go away [whereas if out of love he will serve him even under great burden] (Sifrei 6:5).

With all thy heart – my spiritual/emotional being

This is a command to love G-d with that which is innermost in me, my essence, my person, my passion, my driving force. I suspect this command is tied to the command to cleave to G-d. Devarim 10:20 Adonai, your G-d, shall you fear, Him shall you serve, to Him shall you cleave, and in His Name shall you swear. Devarim 11:22 For if you will observe this entire mitzvah that I command you, to perform it, to love Adonai, your G-d, to walk in His ways and to cleave to Him.

“The Sages explain that the way to cleave to G-d is by attaching oneself to Torah scholars (Rashi). By this injunction we are commanded to mix and associate with wise men, to be always in their company, and to join with them in every possible manner of fellowship: in eating, drinking, and business affairs, to the end that we may succeed in becoming like them in respect of their actions and in acquiring true opinions from their words. The wise man, or as he is called in Hebrew talmid chacham, ‘the disciple of a wise man’, interpreting and exemplifying as he does the word of G-d, is regarded in Jewish thought as being nearest to Him. To cleave to the wise man is thus to cleave to Adonai (Berachot 10b; Pesachim 22b)”

RaMBaN interprets “cleaving” as the duty to avoid the temptation of idol worship by always remembering G-d and inspiring oneself to love Him.

My spiritual being is that which connects with G-d on an immediate level. Loving G-d, and cleaving to Him through prayer and meditation – through spiritual exercise is what will keep me centered and grounded when all else fails. So my love for G-d, the command to love G-d with my innermost being is a command to stay connected to G-d.

With all thy soul – my mind/intellectual being

The human mind is very flighty – it’s easily distracted, so loving G-d with all my soul/mind/intellectual being might not be as easy as directing my spiritual being, because my mind will pick up this and that from what is around me. So in order to direct my mind towards loving G-d, I need to occupy my mind with things that keeps it focused on G-d. Here Torah Study is a very good Task Master. I need both my own thoughts and others to accomplish this. Asking questions, getting answers and exercising my mind around matters of Torah not only focuses my mind on G-d, it increases my knowledge, and my sense of clarity.

“She is more precious than rubies; and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her, and happy is every one that holdest her fast. HaShem by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens. By His knowledge the depths were broken up, and the skies drop down the dew. My son, let not them depart from thine eyes; keep sound wisdom and discretion; So shall they be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck.” (Mishlei/Prov. 3:15-22)

The Rabbis taught: Once the evil kingdom [of Rome] decreed that the Jews may not engage in Torah study. Pappus ben Yehudah found R. Akiva teaching Torah in public to large groups. He said to him, “Akiva, are you not afraid of the authorities?”… When the Romans took R. Akiva to execute him, it was time for the reading of the shema. They were tearing his flesh with iron combs, and he was reciting the shema. His students said to him, “Master, must one go so far?” He said to them, “All my life I was troubled by the verse ‘With all your soul,’ which I understood as ‘even if God takes your soul,’ and I wondered about when I would have the opportunity to fulfill it? Now that I have the opportunity, shall I not fulfill it?

(Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 61b)

With all thy might – my physical/social being

How do I love G-d with my physical being? My immediate response is “through the rituals”. From washing hands in the morning to reciting the Evening Shema, the Jewish daily life is full of physical expressions. And then of course there is the ‘shockling’ while praying…

There is something profoundly comforting in wrapping oneself in Tallit Gadol every morning, but it is also a profound reminder of being a person who directs oneself towards G-d, seeking G-d’s Presence through both physical and spiritual means.

But it doesn’t stop at me. Loving G-d physically will eventually reflect a deeper level of commitment, in a sense ‘kavanah’ through how I conduct myself among my friends as well as among strangers – eating kosher, reciting Motzi before meals, saying grace after meals, is in a sense a pure physical way of worshipping and loving G-d, who commanded us to do those things.

Rashi: and with all your means Heb. וּבְכָל- מְאֹד‏ֶ, uvechol me’odecha, with all your possessions. There are people whose possessions are more precious to them than their own bodies. Therefore, it says,”and with all your means.” (Sifrei) Another explanation of וּבְכָל- מְאֹד‏ֶ is: You shall love God with whatever measure (מִדָּה, mi’dah) He metes out to you, whether it be the measure of good or the measure of retribution. Thus also did David say: “I will lift up the cup of salvations [and I will call upon the name of the Lord]” (Ps. 116:12-13); “I found trouble and grief [and I called out in the name of the Lord]” (Ps. 116:3-4).

This calls for loving G-d through my financial self and with what I own. To be willing to share what I have with those who have not – even if what I have is little.

“Justice, Justice, shall you pursue…” – “The double emphasis means: Justice (Tzedek) under any circumstances, whether to you profit or loss, whether in word or action, whether Jew or non-Jew. It also means: Do not use unjust means to secure justice(Bachya ben Asher’s Commentary on Parashas Shoftim 16:20)

“Tzedakah” is the Hebrew word for the acts that we call “charity” in English: giving aid, assistance, and money to the poor and needy or to other worthy causes. But the nature of tzedakah is very different from the idea of charity. The word “charity” suggests benevolence and generosity, a magnanimous act by the wealthy and powerful for the benefit of the poor and needy. The word “tzedakah” is derived from the Hebrew root Tzade-Dalet-Qof, meaning righteousness, justice, or fairness. In Judaism, giving to the poor is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and righteousness, the performance of a duty, giving the poor their due, achieving just distribution of what this world and G-d has to offer.

Bind them for a sign upon thy handAction.

Torah, G-d’s Commandments, all 613 of them are all opportunities to speak the language of Torah and G-d’s love in a physical manner. Every time I put a coin or a bill in my tzeddaka box, I am loving G-d with my physical resources, and if I have nothing to put in my tzedakah box, maybe I can pledge an hour of Torah study or kindness to a stranger in need? Through my actions I either show the presence of Torah or I don’t, which it is is completely up to me.

Which ever I choose – I am commanded by G-d to let my Actions be guided/controlled by Torah. But there is also the actual physical binding of Tefillin on my hand. Which in itself carries a commitment to G-d through the prayer said as the Tefillin shel yad is strapped around the middle finger and hand:

“I will betroth you to me forever, and I will betroth you to me with righteousness, justice, kindness, and mercy. I will betroth you to me with fidelity, and you shall know Hashem” (Hos 2:19)

And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine arm.

Rashi: And you shall bind them for a sign [ot] upon your hand These are the tefillin of the arm.

Devarim 10:19 – “Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt

Some times refraining from physical action is the fulfilment of this mitzvah – Devarim 24:19;

“When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands.”

They shall be for frontlets between thine eyesMy Views/My Perceptions of the World

New Age speak of the ‘Third Eye’, as placed right in the middle of one’s forehead – it is that whith which we see that which cannot be seen, only sensed. I imagine G-d’s Torah as being placed right there, between my eyes, to let me ‘see’ the World through the eyes of G-d. This commandment also speaks of what is supposed to be at the foremost front of my mind. G-d’s Commandments. Every day I am commanded to let that which happens around me be ‘filtered’ through the Eye of Torah, so I can judge Right from Wrong and be aware of the world from a perspective of G-d’s Torah. I have some times wondered if the ‘mark’ G-d put on Kayin to protect him from those who would kill him for his murder of Hevel, in some way resembled the Tefillin shel rosh…

Rashi: and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes לְטֹטָפֹת. (le’totafot)These are the tefillin of the head, and because of the number of the Scriptural sections contained in them [namely four], they are טֹטָפֹתtotafoth, for טַטtat in Coptic means”two,” פַּתpat in Afriki (Phrygian) [also] means”two.” (San. 4b)

Then there is off course the actual putting on of Tefillin shel Rosh – to dedicate myself every morning to Torah and to G-d.

““You have a brain. It is in one world. Your heart is in another. And your hands often end up involved in something completely foreign to both of them. Three diverse machines.

“So you put on tefillin. First thing in the day, you connect your head, your heart and your hand with these leather cables — all to work as one with one intent. And then when you go out to meet the world, all your actions find harmony in a single coordinated purpose…”

How to lay tefillin

Therefore shall ye lay up these My words in your heart and in your soul;

Torah, as a cloak, enclosing my innermost person. Note however that this requires action on my part – I have to lay Torah in my heart and in my soul – Torah will not protect my spirit or my mind unless I actively put it there! Active continuos Torah study and practice of Mitzvot, both alone and with others will not only eventually saturate/permeate my inner being, it will also teach me more about what G-d requires and what G-d has promised me as His Child.

Here is the last paragraph of the Shema

“And Adonai spoke unto Moses, saying: ‘Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them throughout their generations fringes in the corners of their garments, and that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread of blue. And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of Adonai, and do them; and that ye go not about after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go astray; that ye may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your G-d. I am Adonai your G-d, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your G-d: I am Adonai your G-d.'”

This is the command to don tzitzit – usually the tzitzit (the corner fringes) are carried on a Tallit Gadol (large prayer shawl) during morning prayers – but they can also be carried by a Tallit Katan (smaller tallit worn as an extra garment under regular clothes) all day.

Tradition has it that one of the various ways to tie the tzitzit makes up the number 613 – the number of Mitzvot commanded us by G-d in Torah.

To me, this is the Torah Cloak – I see the tzitzit and I am reminded of who I am, Who commanded me and why.

So each morning, I accept the Yoke of Heaven both physically, by actually putting on the Tallit and the Tefillin, and emotionally/spiritually by devoting myself to the practice of Torah.

Shabbat Shalom!

Posted in Bamidbar 15:37-41, Devarim 11:13-21, Devarim 3:23-7:11, Devarim 6:4-9, Parasha Va'etchanan, Tallit Gadol, Tallit Katan, Tefillin shel rosh, Tefillin shel yad, The Shema, Torah, Weekly Parasha | Leave a Comment »

Parasha Devarim 1:1-3:22

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on July 20, 2007


Finding the Book…

Moshe and Joshua didn’t have the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) – it wasn’t discovered until 2 Kings 22-23…so this Dvar Torah is not based in Devarim – it’s based in the story about Devarim.

Finding the Book…

Each of us have to discover Torah for ourselves. Yes, yes, you are Jewish because your mother was/is or because you converted to Judaism…and still just like King Josia needed the Book to set things right, so do we, each one of us.

Despite our collective relationship with G-d, we still need a personal point at which we relate to what it means to us to be Jewish. We need to find that Book.

Where we find it is not important. But we need to find it, because without it we remain children, just as a Jewish Youth is before his or her Bar/Bat Mitzvah. The young have received teaching in Torah (Talmud Torah) and so discovers the Book little by little until he or she is 12-13 years old and becomes an adult in relation to Torah. But this relationship doesn’t stop there – it needs to be re-established over and over. So each day we need to find that Book.

Now, go find that Book.

Posted in Parasha Devarim, Torah, Weekly Parasha | Leave a Comment »

Parasha Matot – Bamidbar 30:2-32:42

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on July 12, 2007


Numbers 30:2-6

2. Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the children of Israel, saying: This is the thing the Lord has commanded.

3. If a man makes a vow to the Lord or makes an oath to prohibit himself, he shall not violate his word; according to whatever came out of his mouth, he shall do.

4. If a woman makes a vow to the Lord, or imposes a prohibition [upon herself] while in her father’s house, in her youth,
5. if her father heard her vow or her prohibition which she has prohibited upon herself, yet her father remains silent, all her vows shall stand, and any prohibition that she has imposed upon herself shall stand.

6. But if her father hinders her on the day he hears it, all her vows and her prohibitions that she has imposed upon herself shall not stand. The Lord will forgive her because her father hindered her.

This is interesting – because it is frequently used as a proof text that Judaism is misogynist, the text is mistakenly read, also by the Sages, to mean that a woman’s oath is null and void if her father or husband says it is – but what does the text actually say?

We need to examine exactly what is meant by “a woman” according to Torah:

Rashi says: 4. while in her father’s house. Under her father’s jurisdiction, even if she is not [actually] in his house. – [Sifrei Mattoth 12] in her youth. Neither a minor nor an adult [above the age of twelve and a half], since a minor’s vows are invalid, and an adult is not under her father’s jurisdiction to revoke her vows. What is considered a minor? Our Rabbis said: A girl of eleven years and a day-her vows are examined. If she knew in whose name she vowed, or in whose name she consecrated something, her vow stands. From the age of twelve years and one day, she does not need to be tested. — [Niddah 45b]

Now, children do not have legal obligation anyway, not even in our Society, so why should Jewish Law look at it any different? So is it misogynist to stop one’s under age child of making a binding oath, which she (or he, as the same goes for boys) might not have understood the seriousness of? I don’t think so. So this is put there to safe-guard both the validity of oaths and the legal integrity of children

Just because something is in Torah, doesn’t mean Torah agrees with it or promotes it – it means that Torah takes such things into account, and then it’s up to us to derive the core of it – and as with everything else Torah, we have to that in context of the entire Torah/Tanakh. And we need to know in what context, under what cultural and societal conditions Torah was given.

It is fully possible to arrive at largely the same conclusion by simply reading the text:

6. But if her father hinders her on the day he hears it, all her vows and her prohibitions that she has imposed upon herself shall not stand. The Lord will forgive her because her father hindered her.

The provision for the oath to be null and void – i.e G-d will forgive if it is not fulfilled – is that there’s an obstruction – in this case her father, for whatever reason, stops her from making and fulfilling the oath. And the woman is blameless, because she was not the one breaking the oath, her father was.

Here Torah takes into account that some times men do crazy things in relation to women, and states that women should not be held responsible for the actions of men.

Note that no such provision is made for men – they make an oath and they are bound to keep them. Also note that this only covers oaths made to G-d, not oaths and promises between people. So Torah actually takes human relations more serious than relations between G-d and human.

Novel thought, huh?

Shabbat Shalom!

Posted in Misogyny, Numbers 30:2-9, Oaths, Parasha Matot, Shabbat, Torah, Weekly Parasha | 6 Comments »

And you shall live in terror? – Parasha Ki Tavo

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on July 8, 2007


Because these ideas have been on my mind – I am bumping this Dvar Torah up to visibility.

“And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over the Jordan unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaster them with plaster. And thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over; that thou mayest go in unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of thy fathers, hath promised thee.” (Devarim/Deu 27:2-3)

I’d like to connect this Parsha to what I wrote on Parasha Shoftim about Israel’s responsibility and obligation to Live by Torah’s Ethical Imperative in respect to the Stranger.

When Moshe is about to die, and he instructs the People one last time about what they are to do when they have entered the Land that G-d has given them: First they are to offer thanks to G-d for the Land, for the Covenant and for personal privileges and accountability, but before they do that they are to make sure that the Covenant and the Laws of that Covenant are visible to all who come to dwell there – and then the consequences of adhering or not adhering to the Laws of that Covenant is to be read out loud – as a consecration of the Land. It is as if G-d wants to make sure that His Torah is thoroughly imprinted, not just in the People, but in the very Land. Violating Torah means Violating the Land, because Torah is imprinted on the Land.

While each Jew is certainly personally responsible for obeying Torah, and are asked to affirm this in Devarim/Deu 26:2-10, this Parasha clearly speaks about the ENTIRE people as a Collective – and not just the People, but the stranger as well – Devarim/Deu 26:11. If they fail to observe the statutes of Torah, horrible things will happen to them.

This is where Judaism gets its idea of Reward and Punishment from. The first time Torah speaks of Reward for obedience is in Shemot/Exo 20:12 – “Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the L-RD thy G-d giveth thee.” The implication of a Punishment if disobeyed is also there. Violating Torah means Violating the Land.

People don’t want to hear about the consequences of disobeying Torah – they would much rather hear about the Blessings enumerated in the chapter following the Curses – yet the Curses (Deu 27:15-26; Deu 28:16-19) come before the Blessings (Deu 28:3-6) thus somehow spelling out that we should be aware more of the negative consequences of our actions, rather than what we can gain from acting right.

In Deu 28:66, G-d admonishes in a manner that connects to the present situation in Israel:

The life you face shall be precarious; you shall be in terror, night and day, with no assurance of survival.” (Deu 28:66)

Over and over Israel is warned that forgetting the Stranger, the Widow and the Orphan will put her in the dog-house with G-d. Over and over, also in this Parasha, is she admonished that wrong-doing has its price. So why does she insist on wronging the Stranger? Why does the Modern State of Israel keep forgetting the Holy Charge given to her in ancient times? Deu 1:16 (2), Deu 10:18-19 (2), Deu 14:29, Deu 24:17, Deu 24:19-21 (3), Deu 26:11-13 (3), Deu 27:19, Deu 31:11-12 (2) – to treat the Stranger equal to the Home-born?

This makes me think that the consequences of not caring for those, also those not Jewish, that need it or to wrong ANY human being, is the terror wrought on Israel today. Deu 27:19 is tied to Deu 16:20 by the word JUSTICE – the promise of life and prosperity for the pursuit of Justice is echoed in Deut 28:66, in a manner that almost makes my skin crawl. How can she not see this, and what will it take for her to wake?

Posted in Deuteronomium 27:2-3, Dvar Torah, Holy Charge, Israel, Judaism, Justice, Modern State of Israel, Parasha Shoftim, Reward and Punishment, Torah, Weekly Parasha | 1 Comment »

Broken Peace – Parasha Pinchas

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on July 7, 2007


One of the most powerful commentaries on Pinchas’ act is written into the very fabric of Torah itself. The Masoretes – the 8th and 9th century rabbinic sages who codified the written Torah into the version we know today – instructed that the word “Shalom” in the term “Brit Shalom” should be written with a broken letter vav. As a result, every Torah scroll now bears this inner message: peace achieved through zealotry and violence is an incomplete peace – a “broken peace,” as it were.For an era beset by growing violence committed in “the name of God,” this one small pen-stroke makes a profound statement indeed… From Radical Torah

I cannot help but feel that this ties in with what I wrote last year on Parasha Shoftim and Parasha Ki Tavo.

If a Peace achieved by zealousness is considered a Broken Peace by Torah itself, then it raises the question what is a WHOLE Peace?

Perhaps the answer lies in what Pinchas failed to recognize in his zealousness – Chessed – Compassion – Justice, the righteous punishment for a crime cannot be meted out without Compassion. A willingness to look beyond the actions of the other and consider all the details of his or her motivations, rather than assume the actions are all there is to a person, or a nation.

Perhaps we need to step away from “G-D” for a while and not assume that just because we read it in Torah it’s the entire Truth? Or maybe we need a new way of reading Torah?

Again I am reminded of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov: “there is truth, the truth of the truth, and peace. Truth is: a kid stole an apple. The truth of the truth is: the kid was hungry. Peace is: Nobody stole anything; give the kid an apple!” (Heard from Reb Shlomo Carlebach)

Zealousness, like anger and love has a tendency to cloud our judgment. We are so caught up in the feelings of the moment that all we see is that something dear to us is being violated, and while Pinchas was right on principle, by the Letter of the Law, he lost sight of the Spirit of the Law, and that’s where his peace became a broken one – he forgot the truth of the Truth and Peace in his fervor for G-d.

In my later Blog Entries I have gone after Israel pretty badly. Quite honestly I feel that she deserves it. I love her, she is my Home, though I don’t live there, she is the one place in the World where I know I have a place, should I ever need it. But I also think she is way off base. There’s nothing wrong with her zealousness. She’s got Chutzpah alright – but she is forgetting Compassion. She has gotten stuck in the role of Pinchas, and while it might bring some sort of Peace and Salvation for the Jewish People, it won’t be a whole, lasting peace.

Shalom Shabbat!

Posted in Chessed, Compassion, Israel, Numbers 25:10-30:1, Parasha Pinchas, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Torah, Weekly Parasha, Zealousness | Leave a Comment »

Without Justice there can be no Peace

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on June 30, 2007


 

Justice, justice shall thou pursue!” (Devarim/Deut 16:20 – Parasha Shoftim)”By three things the world is preserved, by Justice, by Truth and by Peace, and these three are one: if Justice has been accomplished, so has Truth and so has Peace” (JT Taanit 4:2, after Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel and Rav Muna)

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said: there is truth, the truth of the truth, and peace. Truth is: a kid stole an apple. The truth of the truth is: the kid was hungry. Peace is: Nobody stole anything; give the kid an apple!” (Heard from Reb Shlomo Carlebach)

Justice – tzedek (righteousness) means that something is right or has been righted.
Truth – emet (truth) means the stability of facts. That the facts are reliable and accurate.
Peace – shalom (perfection), means that nothing is missing, that all is well.

When all that is wrong has been righted and there are no more needs, because all is well, then there is also Peace.

That is why Torah tells us to pursue Justice. We are obligated to seek out that which is wrong, imbalanced, unequal, and make it right, and when we do, we bring Peace.

Jewish Justice is not blind it is said that when G-d had just created the World He had a conversation with Torah:

“Nor is this world inhabited by man the first of things earthly created by G-d. He made several worlds before ours, but He destroyed them all, because He was pleased with none until He created ours. But even this last world would have had no permanence, if G-d had executed His original plan of ruling it according to the principle of strict justice. It was only when He saw that justice [tzedek] by itself would undermine the world that He associated mercy [chessed] with justice, and made them to rule jointly.” (Legends of the Jews – Creation)

Thus tzedek – righteousness was born. When applying Justice, setting things right, we, like G-d, must take into account ALL circumstances present before passing judgement, without consideration to anything but what is right AND compassionate.

When one considers the situation in Israel/Palestine, it becomes clear that both parties must practice Tzedek and Chessed (Righteousness and Mercy) Justice with Compassion.

Both must do away with lawlessness and consider the other with compassion and seek what is right for both. The only way to do that, in my mind, is to look for the Truth [emet] and the Truth of the Truth – i.e honestly state what is happening and acknowledge the causes for those events on both sides. That is hard, because it means putting stop to the blame game – on both sides. It means being responsible and accountable.

It pains me that Israel is failing to heed the words in Shoftim “Justice, justice shall you pursue!”, because by failing that she has failed to live up to Torah’s admonition:

I the L-RD have called thee in righteousness, and have taken hold of thy hand, and kept thee, and set thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the nations; ” (Yisheyah/Isa 42:6)

Torah True Justice doesn’t mean letting criminals get away – it means making sure that all be brought to court and given an unbiased hearing. It doesn’t mean not defending oneself or those dependent on you from attack, it means going after the criminals AND showing compassion towards those that are not criminals.

Torah clearly teaches that in war, there are certain Laws that must be followed, and I don’t think anyone denies that Israel is in a state of War. Destroying land, trees or peoples’ livelihoods are not permitted. Peace must be offered and clearly be declined before any attack. Also in a war of defense there are Laws that must be followed:

One may not:

1] Kill an innocent third party to save a life;

2] Compel a person to risk his life to save the life of another;

3] Kill the pursuer after his evil act is over as a form of punishment.

4] Use more force than minimally needed.

More on Jewish Law and the matter of War

It doesn’t serve Israel to go after the Palestinian PEOPLE for the criminal actions of Palestinian terrorists – it would be more fruitful to try and get the Palestinian People’s co-operation through aiding them in achieving prosperity and well-being independently from the criminal terrorists, including the Palestinian Governmental branches that actively endorse terrorism.

In the end this would inspire the Palestinians to start policing themselves, because co-operating with Israel in good things, such as not harboring criminals, not accepting and encouraging violent attacks on Israel and not destroying what help they recieve from Israel and the International Community, is more profitable than the opposite.

Will taking out the criminals with one hand and helping the non-criminals with the other achieve Peace? In the end it will – Chicken Soup goes a long way in hungry hearts, minds and stomachs.

It irritates the drek out of me that there are religious Jews that shrug over this and “hide” behind “Moshiach will sort it out…!” The Jewish People have been charged with the task of being a Light to the Gentiles NOW, not shockling for the coming of the Moshiach. Moshiach will come when it is time, but Justice, Truth and Peace is for the now.

It also aggravates me enormously that some Jews seem to regard Gentiles as some sort of lower class of people, and therefore do not practice Tikkun Olam and Tzedakah in relations to non-Jews. Especially since Torah clearly states that the Law is the same for the Jew and the Gentile and that the Stranger must not be wronged. (Vayikra/Lev 24:22; Shemot/Ex. 22:21; 23:9; Vayikra/Lev 19:33 etc…)

It seems that the idea that Gentiles are lesser people, that reside with some, is connected to the idea of Israel’s Chosenness, that somehow, because we are Chosen we are also above the Law – it is the very opposite. We are Chosen because G-d decided to charge us with the obligation of the Law. G-d gave us the Law so we should LIVE it and pass it on in actions. This is our Holy Duty.

It hath been told thee, O man, what is good, and what the L-RD doth require of thee: only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy G-d“. (Mic 6:8)

The fact that others do not live this way, does not free Israel from her Holy Obligation of pursuing Justice nor does it give Israel a mandate to disregard the plight of others, when there is a need or when there is an opportunity to practice Torah. How can Israel be a Light to the Nations if she does not Shine?

Justice, justice shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the L-RD thy G-d giveth thee.” (Deu 16:20)

In fact this pursuit of Justice [tzedek] guarantees that Israel (and Palestine) will eventually live in peace.

Dov

Posted in Jewish Law, Justice, Moshiach, Peace, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Righteousness and Mercy, Torah, Truth, Weekly Parasha | 3 Comments »

To Stand Before G-d – Parasha Nitzavim

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on September 11, 2006


Devarim 29:9 – 30:20

 

 

“The Torah reading of Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29-30) is always read on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, as we prepare to stand before G-d to be judged for our deeds of the bygone year. These closing days of the year are a time for self-examination, for a thorough assessment of our mission in life and the steps we have taken—and need yet to take—toward its realization.

Nitzavim thus opens with Moses’ statement to the people of Israel: “You stand today, all of you, before G-d your G-d: your heads, your tribal leaders, your elders, your officers, and all men of Israel; your children, your wives, and the stranger in your camp; from the hewer of your wood to the drawer of your water.”” (Wisdom Reb)

This Parasha asks us to do the almost impossible – it asks us to be personally responsible as individuals on a collective level. This is the “We” of all the prayers in the Siddur – the moment when we are both completely transparent to G-d as individuals and as a People. G-d is counting His Children – this is a census. Do we count ourselves among “the hewers of wood and the drawers of water”, and consent to be counted or do we prefer that G-d didn’t SEE us?

Judgement. To most of us it sounds harsh, cold and final. Everything we are or have done, are not and have not done is being scrutinized – or so we think about “Judgement” – but is that truly the point of Rosh ha-Shana? Is that why G-d is holding a census?

Perhaps what G-d wants more than anything is to SEE us there, before Him, like any Father would want to SEE his family, his children? Perhaps that is the purpose of this Holy Day – a Feast Day when G-d is celebrating with His Children up close and personal. A Feast Day when we look forward to the new coming year with hope that it will bring us joy, growth, life and more opportunity to make Dad proud. G-d wants us to Meet Him face to face, trusting that He, like the King in the Midrash will meet us on the Road – knowing that what we lack He will add, so that we meet the Family Standard.

“All Present and Accounted for!”

Rosh HaShana kicks off those days leading up to Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement – The Day of Awe – when we clean house, make sure that those things we failed at during the past year gets a re-view and a re-newed committment – and not just for those who are actually there, but also for those who are absent, either in mind or body. On Rosh HaShana we start over, with a full deck – and those who are not there in some way, will be counted as if they were – G-d takes one look at “us” and says: “All Present and Acounted for” – in many ways Rosh HaShana is a repeat of The Revelation on har Sinai – we were all there – now we are being counted again, and deemed accountable.

I like being seen as accountable, I like being responsible, being part of that “We”, that regardless of personal culpability is being counted as responsible for those who are not counting themselves as we move towards Yom Kippur.

Do you count yourself?

May we all have a good and sweet year ahead of us, come Rosh HaShana. May we all be Present and Accounted for!

Shabbat Shalom!

Posted in Day of Atonement, Deuteronomy 29-30, Midrash, Parasha Nitzavim, Rosh HaShana, Torah, Weekly Parasha, Yom Kippur | Leave a Comment »

And you shall live in terror?

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on September 7, 2006


“And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over the Jordan unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaster them with plaster. And thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over; that thou mayest go in unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of thy fathers, hath promised thee.” (Devarim/Deu 27:2-3)

I’d like to connect this Parsha to what I wrote on Parasha Shoftim about Israel’s responsibility and obligation to Live by Torah’s Ethical Imperative in respect to the Stranger.

When Moshe is about to die, and he instructs the People one last time about what they are to do when they have entered the Land that G-d has given them: First they are to offer thanks to G-d for the Land, for the Covenant and for personal privileges and accountability, but before they do that they are to make sure that the Covenant and the Laws of that Covenant are visible to all who come to dwell there – and then the consequences of adhering or not adhering to the Laws of that Covenant is to be read out loud – as a consecration of the Land. It is as if G-d wants to make sure that His Torah is thoroughly imprinted, not just in the People, but in the very Land. Violating Torah means Violating the Land, because Torah is imprinted on the Land.

While each Jew is certainly personally responsible for obeying Torah, and are asked to affirm this in Devarim/Deu 26:2-10, this Parasha clearly speaks about the ENTIRE people as a Collective – and not just the People, but the stranger as well – Devarim/Deu 26:11. If they fail to observe the statutes of Torah, horrible things will happen to them.

This is where Judaism gets its idea of Reward and Punishment from. The first time Torah speaks of Reward for obedience is in Shemot/Exo 20:12 – “Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the L-RD thy G-d giveth thee.” The implication of a Punishment if disobeyed is also there. Violating Torah means Violating the Land.

People don’t want to hear about the consequences of disobeying Torah – they would much rather hear about the Blessings enumerated in the chapter following the Curses – yet the Curses (Deu 27:15-26; Deu 28:16-19) come before the Blessings (Deu 28:3-6) thus somehow spelling out that we should be aware more of the negative consequences of our actions, rather than what we can gain from acting right.

In Deu 28:66, G-d admonishes in a manner that connects to the present situation in Israel:

The life you face shall be precarious; you shall be in terror, night and day, with no assurance of survival.” (Deu 28:66)

Over and over Israel is warned that forgetting the Stranger, the Widow and the Orphan will put her in the dog-house with G-d. Over and over, also in this Parasha, is she admonished that wrong-doing has its price. So why does she insist on wronging the Stranger? Why does the Modern State of Israel keep forgetting the Holy Charge given to her in ancient times? Deu 1:16 (2), Deu 10:18-19 (2), Deu 14:29, Deu 24:17, Deu 24:19-21 (3), Deu 26:11-13 (3), Deu 27:19, Deu 31:11-12 (2) – to treat the Stranger equal to the Home-born?

This makes me think that the consequences of not caring for those, also those not Jewish, that need it or to wrong ANY human being, is the terror wrought on Israel today. Deu 27:19 is tied to Deu 16:20 by the word JUSTICE – the promise of life and prosperity for the pursuit of Justice is echoed in Deut 28:66, in a manner that almost makes my skin crawl. How can she not see this, and what will it take for her to wake?

Shalom Shabbat!

Dov

Posted in Torah, Weekly Parasha | Leave a Comment »

 
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