(NOTE: This is an expansion and detailing of an earlier article. Enjoy.)
PUT ME IN THE CAMP of those who view the Torah as a largely fictional work.
That said, I do tend to think that some of it actually happened. For example, there’s a passage in Genesis which describes Abraham the Patriarch as leading a commando raid on a group of people who kidnapped his nephew, where he is said to have taken 318 men with him. I don’t think anyone would invent such a specific figure; thus, for this (and other reasons) I do believe Abraham existed, and the tribal elders, and Moses (or someone Moses-like), and Joshua, and a few other people scattered here and there through the text.
I also believe the Sinai event happened. But not for the reasons you’d think.
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WORF: These are our stories. They tell us who we are.
BA’EL: …Are they true?
WORF: I have studied them all of my life, and find new truths in them every time.
– “Birthright,” Star Trek: The Next Generation
Here’s a radical thought: does the story of the Exodus and its miracles — including this week’s splitting of the Sea of Reeds — need to be true in order to be meaningful?
Biblical literalists, who take the Torah to be G?d’s word, see the text as the ultimate truth and the miracles as G?d’s handiwork. Modern critics see the Torah as a unique document compiled from numerous sources, and explain the miracles in terms of natural events. But both may be missing the point.
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OUR TORAH PORTION THIS WEEK begins with God’s famous exhortation to Abram, “Lech Lecha — Go for yourself from your land … I will bless you and make your name great, and you will be a blessing.”
What does that mean, to be a blessing? Rashi says it’s an investment in Abraham of God’s power to bless, to pass along the Divine influence for growth and attainment. According to the Etz Chayim chumash, it means “to serve as the exemplar by which a blessing is invoked.” Rabbi Samson Hirsch, however, sees it as a commandment: to receive the divine rewards, one must live so as to be a blessing to the world.
Perhaps it also means to live in such a way as see the Divine in every moment — to bear witness, however unlikely it may seem, to the action of God as context for our lives (to paraphrase R’ Jack Gabriel). To be a blessing is to sanctify everything within reach — and to learn to extend that reach by joining hands with others. After all, we can’t do it alone!
Neal & Ann’s Torah Study
Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011: 10 am-noonish (RSVP)
Torah Portion: Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27)
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:27-41:16
A SURE TEST OF ANY theology is to ask, “Does God exist before human beings?”
Among other things, the answer can shed light on one’s grasp of science. For if you allow for a God who watched over the dinosaurs, who saw the primordial soup trend toward consciousness on a billion planets, who was delighted by the Big Bang — in short, One who doesn’t need humans to survive and Whom humans can only love fiercely but dimly — you may well be on to something.
“WHEN THE CENTER IS MOVING, no quiet is.
When the center is still, no chaos.
Where is the chaos when there is no center?
Where is the center when there is no motion?”
– From the Red Papyrus in O-kaze Temple, an Egyptian Zen sect nestled in the deepest shadow of Mount Fuji. Follow the Serene Sphinx signs and tell ‘em “Bob” sent you.
THIS PHOTO FEATURES PEOPLE SPELLING out in Hebrew the words “Shanah Tovah,” or “good year.” I like it because it shows us that the year is ultimately made up of the people who live it — of every moment and every second that lives in human consciousness and memory — that everything within eyeshot is to some extent a human creation, even if only through the act of its being perceived. Live it well, live it fully, live it with joy — but live it.
Happy New Year from The Metaphorager!
Among its other directives, Torah contains the seeds of its own begetting — each of us is instructed to write a Torah scroll for ourselves. In that spirit, I would paraphrase one of this week’s verses to say “Torah is not in heaven, for you to say, ‘Who will ascend and get it for us?’ It is not over the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea and get it for us?’ No, the matter is very near to you — two blocks south of Sonoma Plaza and hang a left on most Saturdays — to do it.”
That would, of course, include tomorrow. We’ll leave the light on for you.
Be well, happy autumn, and Shabbat shalom!
Neal & Ann’s Torah Study
Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011, 10 am-noonish (RSVP)
Torah Portion: Netzavim-Vayeilech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30)
Haftarah: Isaiah 61:10-63:9
PROLONGING THE GOD EXPERIENCE INTO every waking moment. (All else — songs, prayers, chants, acts, texts, charity, incense, beads, building fund — is just stage direction. Which is not to dismiss the stage direction, since that’s one of the keys to the Experience. But the key isn’t the lock, and what you really want anyway is to open.)
“What does that song mean?” I asked Ernie once about a particular song.
He thought for a bit and then replied that if I wanted to know what the words meant, he’d be glad to translate them for me. But if I was asking what the song meant, that was different. A song, he explained, carries much more meaning than just its words. For him, for example, a large part of a song’s meaning is about who first taught it to him — a relative? an elder? a friend? What instructions were given with that teaching? Can it be sung in the daytime or only at night? Can it be sung only at one particular season? Is it a public song or private? Can women sing it or only men? Is it spiritual or ‘just for fun?’ Are there dietary or behavioral restrictions placed upon the singer as he prepares to perform? Each time a song is sung, he went on to explain, it accumulates further meaning — from the people he is singing it with, the audience he is singing it to, the circumstances under which it is sung. If a song is brought out at a funeral, for example, the funeral lends a weight and history to the song that is felt each time it is subsequently sung. Even my own curiosity about the song, he smiled, adds to its meaning.
– Malcolm Margolin, The Ohlone Way
(And yes, I excerpted this Friday, but it’s quite too good not to share in full.)
IN THE OHLONE WAY, AUTHOR Malcolm Margolin relates the following story-about-stories asking one of his Native American sources about a particular tribal song:
“He thought for a bit and then replied that if I wanted to know what the words meant, he’d be glad to translate them for me. But if I was asking what the song meant, that was different. A song, he explained, carries much more meaning than just its words. Read more »