Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Getting to Know You: Vaera 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you have certain nicknames that only certain people are allowed to use? How did those nicknames come to be? What is your criteria for allowing a person to call you by those names?

As God sends Moses to confront Pharaoh once again, Moses is reminded that he can address God in a way the Patriarchs never could:

The Pitch: “I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but I did not make Myself known to them by My name YHWH.” – Exodus 6:3

Swing #1: “The element of distinctiveness conveyed through historical reference is necessary for the existence of a nation … [as evidenced by] how God first describes himself to Moses as the ‘God of your father, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’, and not as the ‘creator of the world.’” – Steven Grosby, Biblical Ideas of Nationality: Ancient & Modern

Swing #2: “The proximity of the revelation of the new name to the first occurrence of the family-establishing formula cannot be fortuitous. The more intimate familiar status that Israel now enjoys with the Lord is dramatically expressed by that new first-name basis that the parties now enjoy.” – Yochanan Muffs, Love & Joy: Law, Language and Religion in Ancient Israel

Swing #3: “‘Yahweh’ was not presented as a name they had never heard of before, but as a name representing a function they had not as yet experienced. The god Yahweh who had made promises of land to their forefather was now ready to function in that implied capacity – he was forming a relationship with the family of Abraham and was electing them as a people to populate the land.” – John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators understand God’s “new” name as a reflection of a deeper relationship with the Israelites? Why is it essential for the enslaved Israelites to recognize this name? Is changing a name just a symbol of a new status, or is it something more?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We encourage all of our congregants to vote for the Mercaz (Conservative/Masorti) slate in the upcoming World Zionist Congress elections so that pluralistic voices can be heard loud and clear in Israel. Please visit mercaz2020.org to learn more.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of new names, I find it amusing that when baseball stadiums change their names because a corporation pays the team for naming rights, fans still refer to the park by the old names anyway. For instance, I’ll bet that most White Sox fans still call their stadium “Comiskey” rather than the official moniker, “Guaranteed Rate Field”. At least, that’s what I would do if I were a White Sox fan.

Shabbat Shalom!

Moses Most Wanted: Shemot 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever tried to hide that you’ve done the right thing? Is it because you’re concerned how it may be perceived by others? Is it because you simply don’t want attention?

Years before God encounters him at the Burning Bush, Moses fights for a defenseless Israelite slave – but not without trying to hide it first:

The Pitch: “Some time after that, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his kinfolk and witnessed their labors. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsmen. He turned this way and that and, seeing no one about, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.” – Exodus 2:11-12

Swing #1: “The inner conflict between his status as a free man and his people’s state of slavery leads Moses to slay the Egyptian that he sees striking his fellow Hebrew. After this initial crude act of justice, Moses flees and later returns to finish the task of liberation. In his own story, Moses experiences and bridges the categories of slave and free man, making him an apt mediator for the transformation of his people.” – Ronald Hendel, Remembering Abraham: Culture, Memory, and History in the Hebrew Bible

Swing #2: “Moses’ passivity [as leader of the Israelites] stands in mute contrast to his activity before God revealed Himself. Moses had interceded to prevent the beating of a Hebrew (thereby killing an Egyptian) with more than ordinary deliberation. It was not a purely impulsive man of whom it was reported ‘he looked this way and that way’ [before killing the Egyptian].” – Aaron Wildavsky, Moses as Political Leader

Swing #3: “Extraordinary birth stories [of future heroes] indicate, ultimately, the selection of an individual as part of a preordained divine plan: already in his mother’s womb the child’s lofty destiny was set. Instead, in everything concerning Moses, the Pentateuch prefers to tell a slightly different story in which a human being slowly proves himself worthy of his mission through his actions and confrontations in which he fights for justice.” – Avigdor Shinan & Yair Zakovitch, From Gods to God: How the Bible Debunked, Suppressed, or Changed Ancient Myths & Legends

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators understand Moses’ state of mind as he defends his fellow Israelite? What does it say about his character? Are good deeds worthwhile if we have to go to great pains to explain them?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We encourage all of our congregants to vote for the Mercaz (Conservative/Masorti) slate in the upcoming World Zionist Congress elections so that pluralistic voices can be heard loud and clear in Israel. Please visit mercaz2020.org to learn more.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of hiding righteous acts, there are many great ballplayers who have done countless kind acts without seeking fanfare. Reggie Jackson was not thought to be one of them. His teammate Catfish Hunter once claimed that Jackson would “give you the shirt off his back. Of course he’d call a press conference to announce it.”

Shabbat Shalom!

Here Come the Sons: Vayehi 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you ever have trouble recognizing people you’ve met before? What tricks do you use to aid your memory, if any?

On his deathbed, Jacob appears to be unable to recognize Joseph’s two sons:

The Pitch: “Noticing Joseph’s sons, Israel asked, ‘Who are these?’” – Genesis 48:8

Swing #1: “After seventeen years of living together in Egypt, [Jacob] seems not to recognize his grandsons. Two verses later, his failing vision is offered as a possible explanation … but if blindness is responsible for his question, the Torah should have prefaced the story by telling of his failing vision; instead, it emphasizes that he saw Joseph’s sons.” – Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious

Swing #2: “He recognized them as human beings, but did not recognize them for who they were.” – Sforno

Swing #3: “And Israel looked at the sons of Joseph and said, ‘From whom are these born to thee?’” – Targum Jonathan

Late-Inning Questions: Why do our commentators believe that Jacob seems puzzled about his grandsons’ identity? What, if anything, does this reveal about Jacob’s state of mind at that moment? Does it say anything about his relationship with his family? How do we best dignify loved ones whose memory and/or recognition has worsened?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We encourage all of our congregants to vote for the Mercaz (Conservative/Masorti) slate in the upcoming World Zionist Congress elections so that pluralistic voices can be heard loud and clear in Israel. Please visit mercaz2020.org to learn more.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of being unable to remember someone’s identity, Casey Stengel’s term as manager of the New York Mets was marked by such moments, most famously when he is finally able to recall one of his players, Gus Bell, because he says that his name “rings a bell”.

Shabbat Shalom!

Father Knows Best: Vayigash 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever felt like you were “becoming your parents”? If so, how did you realize it, and how did it make you feel?

When Judah speaks to Joseph in Egypt, knowing that Benjamin’s freedom hangs in the balance, he channels their father’s deepest concerns:

The Pitch: “‘If I come to your servant my father and the boy is not with us – since his own life is so bound up with his – when he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die, and your servants will send the white head of your servant our father down to Sheol in grief.’” – Genesis 44:30-31

Swing #1: “Apparently, the elder sons were not jealous of Jacob’s affection for Benjamin as they had been over Joseph. Perhaps they felt guilty, but their concern and affection for their father is perfectly plain.” – William Graham Cole, Sex & Love in the Bible

Swing #2: “Judah bases his whole argumentation on the legitimacy of [Jacob’s] preference for one son over all others and on the symbiosis of sorts that exists between them both. It is the responsibility of the other sons to protect this intimacy between Jacob and Benjamin.” – Andre LaCocque & Paul Ricoeur, Thinking Biblically: Exegetical & Hermeneutical Studies

Swing #3: “Judah’s words … show how the brothers have changed in their relationship to each other and above all in their relations to their father. Judah now sees the danger completely from his father’s viewpoint and is ready even to surrender his own life in order to protect that of Benjamin.” – Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary

Late-Inning Questions: How do Judah’s words show a newfound appreciation for Jacob? Why does it sometimes take extreme circumstances to relate to the people we love most?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We encourage all of our congregants to vote for the Mercaz (Conservative/Masorti) slate in the upcoming World Zionist Congress elections so that pluralistic voices can be heard loud and clear in Israel. Please visit mercaz2020.org to learn more.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of “becoming our parents”, it’s intriguing how many children follow the teams that their parents follow, and how many others follow the chief rivals of their parents’ favorite teams. Sports can be a fascinating examination of how we wish to both emulate and rebel against our parents.

Shabbat Shalom!

Fuggedaboutit!: Miketz 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: Is there an experience in your life you wish you could forget? Why do you think you’re unable to forget it?

As Joseph starts a family in Egypt shortly after becoming the Pharaoh’s chief adviser, he claims that his past in Canaan is completely behind him:

The Pitch: “Joseph named the first-born Manasseh, meaning, ‘God has made me forget completely my hardship and my parental home.’” – Genesis 41:51

Swing #1: “Implicitly, the word [nashani, the root of Manasseh’s name] suggests dislocation, the discontinuity of a leap into a new place, a new mode of being. There is a clenching, a shrinking, a contraction. The rupture of experience that sets Joseph at a radical distance from his previous life has the virtue of allowing him to concentrate totally on the imperative of his new condition.” – Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, Genesis: The Beginning of Desire

Swing #2: “Joseph was now an Egyptian through and through, and he no longer was haunted by dreams of being abandoned by his brothers nor of his journey to Egypt on the slave caravan which had stayed with him for years.” – Norman J. Cohen, Self, Struggle & Change

Swing #3: “God granted me so much wealth and power that God enabled me to forget all the problems and setbacks I had experienced, and God has even made me forget all the members of my father’s household.” – Radak

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators seem to think Joseph has completely forgotten growing up in his family? Or, perhaps, is Joseph simply wishing that he could? Is it possible that Joseph remembers the good aspects of his childhood but forgets when his brothers had sold him into slavery? What are the benefits and risks of forgetting our past experiences?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We are so proud of our annual Hanukkah tradition known as the “Night of Giving”, taking place this year on Sunday, December 29th, at 6:00PM. Join us at Publix in West Ashley, Mount Pleasant, or Summerville to light the first Hanukkah candles of the holiday, and then purchase a bag of non-perishable groceries to give to the Kosher Food Pantry. It’s a great way to celebrate by giving back.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of forgetting our history, sometimes baseball teams try too hard to put the past behind them. Exhibit A: Disco Demolition Night, July 12, 1979, when Chicago White Sox fans were allowed to buy discount doubleheader tickets in exchange for a disco album. The collected albums were blown up on the field after the first game, causing a riot that forced the White Sox to forfeit the second game.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah!

Hidden Impact: Vayeshev 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: In your formative years, did you have both male and female positive role models? If so, do you think that fact made a big difference in your upbringing? If not, do you regret it?

The reaction to Joseph’s first recorded dreams reveals a bit about the role of women in his family:

The Pitch: “When [Joseph] told it to his father and brothers, his father berated him. ‘What,’ he said to him, ‘is this dream you have dreamed? Are we to come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow low to you to the ground? So his brothers were wrought up at him, and his father kept the matter in mind.’” – Genesis 37:10-11

Swing #1: “Dinah the Wounded One [says]: ‘Foolish Joseph! Had he told his dreams to the women in the family – me, his father’s wives, his sisters-in-law, his nieces – we would have recognized in these fantasies nothing more than the intemperate arrogance of youth. Instead he told my brothers, who interpreted his dreams as an expression of ambition to lord it over them. A different reading of Joseph’s dreams might well have changed the course of our family and thus of national history.’” – Ellen Frankel, PhD., The Five Books of Miriam: A Woman’s Commentary on the Torah

Swing #2: “[Jacob’s] reaction to Joseph’s dreams is as telling of his character as the reactions of his sons are revealing of theirs. He wonders at these dreams; the ten dismiss them with cynical question. In each case we have here the first direct speech of these figures, and it is especially revealing of character.” – W. Lee Humphreys, Joseph and His Family, a Literary Study

Swing #3: “The fact that [Rachel] had died in Chapter 35 does not detract from the symbol of the dream.” – Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses

Late-Inning Questions: Do you agree that, had Joseph told his dreams to the women in his family, his journey might have wound up differently? To what extent, if any, are the reactions of his father and brothers motivated by their gender identity? How are the women of the Torah influential even when not (or barely) mentioned in the text?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We are so proud of our annual Hanukkah tradition known as the “Night of Giving”, taking place this year on Sunday, December 29th, at 6:00PM. Join us at Publix in West Ashley, Mount Pleasant, or Summerville to light the first Hanukkah candles of the holiday, and then purchase a bag of non-perishable groceries to give to the Kosher Food Pantry. It’s a great way to celebrate by giving back.

The Big Inning at the End: Regarding women in baseball, I’ll simply say this: I look forward to seeing the first female player appear in a Major League game in my lifetime – hopefully on the sooner side.

Shabbat Shalom!

I’ve Just Seen a Face: Vayishlakh 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: Is there anything you’ve seen that you wish you could “un-see”? If so, how have such visions haunted you?

After wrestling with a stranger, Jacob insists that his encounter with this unknown being had been fraught with danger:

The Pitch: “Jacob named the place Peniel, meaning, ‘I have seen a divine being face to face, yet my life has been preserved.’” – Genesis 32:31

Swing #1: “Jacob’s interpretation is not necessarily that of the author of the text, who may wish to suggest that Jacob has wrestled with a man and simply spoken of him as God after the fact. The text leaves tauntingly open the question of whether Jacob actually saw the wrestler’s face: The wrestler’s insistence on leaving before dawn may mean that he did not.” – Jack Miles, God: A Biography

Swing #2: “Since this etymology of Penuel (reading it as panei-el, ‘face of God’) relates the name to an encounter involving only visual contract, the tradition is able to say that Jacob met God Himself and not a ‘man.’ Seeing God was dangerous enough, and one who survived such an event unscathed should offer a blessing.” – Avigidor Shinan & Yair Zakovitch, From Gods to God:  How the Bible Debunked, Suppressed, or Changed Ancient Myths & Legends

Swing #3: “In the earlier sources, the danger lay in seeing the form of God and, therefore, perishing. In Deuteronomy, however, the danger lies in hearing the voice of God.” – Peter T. Vogt, Deuteronomic Theology and the Significance of Torah: A Reappraisal

Late-Inning Questions: Based on our commentators, do you think Jacob actually sees God’s face during his encounter with the stranger? Or is this something he imagines? Or, perhaps, does Jacob simply want to believe that he had seen God’s face? How much of what we see is only what we want to see?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We are so proud of our annual Hanukkah tradition known as the “Night of Giving”, taking place this year on Sunday, December 29th, at 6:00PM. Join us at Publix in West Ashley, Mount Pleasant, or Summerville to light the first Hanukkah candles of the holiday, and then purchase a bag of non-perishable groceries to give to the Kosher Food Pantry. It’s a great way to celebrate by giving back.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of remarkable sights, I’m sure many eyes perked up when reading of the gargantuan contracts given to free agents Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole, and Anthony Rendon during MLB’s Winter Meetings. I see a sign of hope: the cooperation between players and management augurs future labor peace.

Shabbat Shalom!

Double Switch: Vayetze 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: What is the most shocking thing you have woken up to discover? Did you try to reassure yourself that you were dreaming it? How did you gather yourself after realizing you weren’t imagining it?

Our portion tells of when Jacob — no stranger to deceiving others — wakes up after his wedding night and realizes that he had been tricked into not marrying the woman of his dreams, but rather her sister:

The Pitch: “When morning came, there was Leah! So he said to Laban, ‘What is this you have done to me? I was in your service for Rachel! Why did you deceive me?’” – Genesis 29:25

Swing #1: “[Jacob] creates his own universe based on lies. Then his world is turned upside down by lies others tell him. The sages deeply believed that each person is, at least to an appreciable extent, the architect of his own world. … That power vested in being human can transform one’s world either for evil or for good.” – Sheldon Lewis, Torah of Reconciliation

Swing #2: “Perhaps Leah herself harbors the fantasy that Jacob will learn to love and appreciate her. Imagine her feelings when, on the morning after her wedding, her husband’s only response to discovering that she, rather than her sister, is his wife is an excruciating mix of outrage and disappointment.” – Rabbi Shai Held, The Heart of Torah, Volume 1

Swing #3: “It is possible that Jacob referred to the humiliation experienced by Leah who now found herself Jacob’s wife and had to expect that her husband would hate her instead of love her. Jacob’s question ‘Why did you deceive me?’ indicates that he had immediately decided not to divorce Leah but to keep her as a wife.” – Or HaChaim

Late-Inning Questions: Do you feel sorry for Jacob after this incident? Or do you think he got what he deserved given his history of deceiving his brother? Was Jacob’s reaction to Laban justified? Do we have a right to our anger even when we have caused others to be angry at us?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: It won’t be long before our JBQ (annual Kosher barbecue competition) — this year, it will take place Sunday, December 15th. Contact the office to buy your tickets and to offer items for our silent auction!

The Big Inning at the End: The NBA reportedly is considering shortening its regular season in favor of creating in-season tournaments, in an effort to disincentivize teams from tanking and to add a bit of spice to a long season. Should Major League Baseball consider something similar?

Shabbat Shalom!

The Weakest Link: Toldot 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: How much of your reputation is based on that of your family? Do you feel a need to live up to your family’s reputation? What happens if you don’t?

Isaac often is seen as the essential yet underwhelming link between Abraham and Jacob, even though the biblical text tries to accord him the same amount of honor as his father and son:

The Pitch: “‘I will make your heirs as numerous as the stars of heaven, and assign to your heirs all these lands, so that all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your heirs …’” – Genesis 26:4

Swing #1: “The military motif can scarcely be disassociated from the divine promise to the patriarchs … that their descendants shall be as numerous as the stars, so that all nations of the world shall bless themselves by their offspring, i.e., that the nations of the world would like to be similar to Israel. … In all probability, this population explosion is envisaged as the prerequisite of military conquest.” – Yochanan Muffs, Love & Joy: Law, Language and Religion in Ancient Israel

Swing #2: “Reiterating many parts of His initial promise to Abraham — the gift of land and countless seed, the source of blessing to all the nations of the earth — God now transfers His promises to Isaac simply because of his father’s obedience.” – Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis

Swing #3: “A man will say to his son, ‘May your seed be as the seed of Isaac.” – Rashi

Late-Inning Questions: Does Isaac have a responsibility to live up to his father’s example? Or, after surviving his father almost killing him, could we understand his reluctance to do so? How much do we need to defend our surname, as opposed to our family name?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: It won’t be long before our JBQ (annual Kosher barbecue competition) — this year, it will take place Sunday, December 15th. Contact the office to buy your tickets and to offer items for our silent auction!

The Big Inning at the End: The Toronto Blue Jays have several talented young players — Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio — whose respective fathers were accomplished big-leaguers. What must it be like for a team to be led by players who grew up watching their dads achieve on-the-field success?

Shabbat Shalom!

Caved In: Chayei Sara 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: What do our possessions say about ourselves? Is it appropriate to evaluate others based on their possessions? Do you agree with the idea that when you own things, the things begin to own you?

For numerous possible reasons, Abraham wants to make sure that, after his wife Sarah’s death, he can purchase and own the Cave of Machpelah for her burial:

The Pitch: “Then Abraham bowed low before the people of the land, and spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, ‘If only you would hear me out! Let me pay the price of the land; accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.’” – Genesis 24:12-13

Swing #1: “It is ironic that much as he used Sarah during her lifetime as the instrument of acquisition, Abraham does so still upon her death. … Abraham uses Sarah’s very body as the means for garnering exactly what he desires. It is as though he is determined to employ Sarah for one last ploy, for old times’ sake. It is for this reason that he is unwilling to gracefully accede to Ephron’s generous offer of a burial plot, for Abraham’s chief interest is not the burial of his wife so much as it is the deed, the contract, the irrevocable ownership of property in the land of Canaan.” – Burton L. Visotzky, The Genesis of Ethics

Swing #2: “The site of the Makhpelah Cave is the gate of [the Garden of] Eden through which all souls ascend, and its light is very great. Even so, for him [Ephron] it was a place of blackness and obscurity. This is why he very happily sold it to Abraham.” – Likutei Moharan

Swing #3: “Our sages regarded [this] incident as constituting one of the ten trials to which Abraham was subjected. The greater the contrast between the promise and the fulfillment, between the vision and the reality, the greater the challenge. ” – Nehama Leibovitz, New Studies in Bereshit (Genesis)

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators evaluate Abraham’s insistence on owning the Cave of Machpelah? Was Abraham’s transaction necessary given that God had promised his descendants the land in the first place? Or was it necessary for Abraham to show outsiders a legacy of ownership in the area? Is it wrong to purchase something mainly to prove something to other people?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: It won’t be long before our JBQ (annual Kosher barbecue competition) — this year, it will take place Sunday, December 15th. Contact the office to buy your tickets and to offer items for our silent auction!

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of ownership, billions of dollars are spent every year on baseball (and, of course, other sports) memorabilia. For many, these purchases are part of a hobby; others, however, see them as a way to prove their devotion to their favorite player or team. How much sports “swag” should a true fan have?

Shabbat Shalom!