Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Month: January, 2018

Her Turn: Beshallach 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: How can our society best elevate women into prominence? How have recent events caused us to rethink whether we have properly given women an equal voice in greater conversation?

While the Exodus from Egypt is dominated so much by actions or inactions on the part of men, we get a glimpse of what one woman has to offer after the Israelites cross the Red Sea:

The Pitch: “Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. And Miriam chanted for them: Sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.” – Exodus 15:20-21

Swing #1: “Miriam the prophetess so inspired the other women with her praises of the Holy One, blessed be He, that they all followed her and did likewise.” – Rimzei D’Hokhmoso

Swing #2: “A woman! There’s a woman! For the first time in ages a living, breathing female appears. Moses’s sister ‘Miriam the prophetess’ leads the celebratory singing and dancing when the Israelites cross the sea. Thank goodness for a woman … who’s not merely a wife to be mentioned in passing or a daughter tacked onto the end of a long list of sons.” – David Plotz, Good Book

Swing #3: “Music, or a specific ritual sound, is sometimes represented in a negative way in the biblical record … [but] the combination of dance and song or chant also appears in more-positive contexts, as can be seen in the song of Miriam after the miraculous delivery of Israel by YHWH’s mighty hand. Interestingly, the Hebrew Bible employs the verb ‘ana, ‘answer,’ again in Exodus 15:21, where it may suggest some type of responsive or antiphonal singing.” – Gerald A. Klingbeil, Bridging the Gap: Ritual and Ritual Texts in the Bible

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators explain that Miriam is a leader, not just an individual with talent? What does it say about Miriam that this account, brief though it is, makes its way into the biblical canon? How do we best identify the other Miriams in our world?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Services this Saturday morning will be special; on COSY Shabbat, we’ll get a glimpse of what makes USY — and our USYers — so special. And, at Kiddush, we’ll enjoy a taste of the seven species of Israel in anticipation for Tu Bishvat. You’ll want to get to synagogue early; the closer to 9:30AM that you can be here, the more you’ll be able to experience.

The Big Inning at the End: Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, and Trevor Hoffman were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame this week, and all are deserving. I look forward to the day voters will come to their senses and allow Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens to join them.

Shabbat Shalom!

No Dog in This Fight: Bo 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: Are you more of a “dog person” or more of a “cat person”? What do those terms mean to you? Do you think a person’s choice in pet (or choice to not have a pet) says a lot about that person?

Domesticated pets don’t play a big role in the biblical landscape, but a passage from this week’s Torah portion referring to the forthcoming 10th plague (slaying of the Egyptian firstborns) suddenly refers to “man’s best friend”:

The Pitch: “And there shall be a loud cry in all the land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again; but not a dog shall snarl at any of the Israelites, at man or beast – in order that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.” – Exodus 11:6-7

Swing #1: “Through this statement the Bible means to tell us that the Children of Israel uprooted from their midst the vices of gossip and tale-bearing to which Moses had referred when he said concerning his slaying of the Egyptian taskmaster, ‘Surely the thing is known’ (Exodus 2:14). For had the Children of Israel still indulged in these vices, they would have been subject to the penalty by the Sages according to whom ‘anyone spreading evil gossip is deserving of being thrown to the dogs.’” – Rabbi Mordecai Benet

Swing #2: “No dog: Much less the ‘bringer-of-ruin’ of 12:13!” – Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses

Swing #3: “This was the miracle; normally dogs alert their owners to the presence of the angel of death in their midst. In this instance, not one of the watch dogs wagged as much as a tail to warn their owners of danger.” – Daat Zkenim

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators seem to think that dogs are looked at positively or negatively in our text? Why would the text refer to dogs during this pivotal moment in the story of the Exodus? In what ways might pets play a pivotal role in our lives?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Our Torah Trope class is off to a great start. It’s not too late for you to join; we meet weekly on Tuesdays at 7:00PM. No prior experience necessary!

The Big Inning at the End: I feel for Pittsburgh Pirates fans; losing Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole via trade are big losses. Here’s hoping the young players they received in return are talented – PNC Park is too good of a ballpark to not have postseason play.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rod and Real: Vaera 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: When you recall events in your past, do you tend to exaggerate certain details? Is this an intentional habit, or one that happens naturally or even accidentally?

Many who are familiar with the stories of the encounters between Moses, Aaron, and Pharaoh remember that Aaron’s walking-staff turns into a snake. But that’s not how everyone remembers it:

The Pitch: “‘When Pharaoh speaks to you and says, “Produce your marvel,” you shall say to Aaron, “Take your rod and cast it down before Pharaoh.” It shall turn into a serpent.’ So Moses and Aaron came before Pharaoh and did just as the LORD had commanded: Aaron cast down his rod in the presence of Pharaoh and his courtiers, and it turned into a serpent. Then Pharaoh, for his part, summoned the wise men and the sorcerers; and the Egyptian magicians, in turn, did the same with their spells; each cast down his rod, and they turned into serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed their rods.” – Exodus 7:9-12

Swing #1: “Moses sought to make Pharaoh understand that although they were hated and oppressed in Egypt to such a degree that they had lost all resemblance to human beings, the Jews could become the greatest and noblest among men if only they would be freed from the corrupt atmosphere of Egypt. To accomplish this end, Moses showed him the ‘rod of God’, the rod on which the Ineffable Divine Name was engraved. This was the rod by means of which the greatest miracles of all were performed. When it was cast down before Pharaoh, i.e., when it was placed into the environment of Pharaoh, it turned into a poisonous serpent, but as soon as Moses took hold of it, i.e., as soon as it returned to the immediate environment of Moses, it was transformed once again into a ‘rod of God.’ Such is the strength of the influence of environment on man.” – Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin

Swing #2: “The Vulgate may have added to the confusion by rendering [the reptile a] dragon.” – Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus

Swing #3: “[This serpent is] not a snake. This is different from the snake that Moses’ staff became in Exodus 4:3. Moses performed that miracle for the Israelite elders (Exodus 4:30). Now, in front of Pharaoh, Aaron’s staff becomes a tannin. This is the term that is used for the big sea serpents that God makes on the fifth day of creation (Genesis 1:21). They are not merely snakes, as people have often pictured them. They are extraordinary creatures from a seemingly unearthly realm.” – Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah

Late-Inning Questions: Our commentators indicate that the creature that swallows up the creatures produced by Pharaoh’s magicians was a not lowly snake that miraculously defeats a larger force, but rather an intimidating animal that overwhelms its opponents. How does that change the meaning of this story? Is God trying to demonstrate God’s might in a subtle way, or in a big way? When we exaggerate details from stories of our past, does it hinder or help our memories of true events?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Thank you to everyone for your patience during and directly after our unprecedented snowfall. Our synagogue did its best to make decisions that would keep everyone safe, even though sometimes it needed to err on the side of caution. We’re glad to be back at work.

The Big Inning at the End: As many as 170 Major-Leaguers are headed to salary arbitration hearings today unless they reach agreements with their current teams. Player salaries are absurdly high, of course, but pale in comparison to the wealth of the owners. We can only hope that players and owners will continue to negotiate in good faith, as they have over the last 20 years or so, lest we find our way into labor strife once again.

Shabbat Shalom!

Down in the Mouth: Shemot 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you fear public speaking? If so, what aspects of it concern you most? If not, how might you assist others in overcoming their fears?

As we turn to the book of Exodus, we are introduced to Moses, who is forthright with his reluctance to lead the Israelites:

The Pitch: “But Moses said to the LORD, ‘Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’” – Exodus 4:10

Swing #1: “Moses was created a stammerer to make it known that the influence he wielded and the fact that he gave the Law to the Jewish people were not due to any talent of his but only to the spirit of prophetic vision with which he was endowed, for ‘the Shekhina spoke from within his throat.’” – RaN

Swing #2: “I am not experienced in knowing how to address people in authority, such as kings.” – Sforno

Swing #3: “Moses’s reluctance [is] all obviously told so as to make them agree with the ideas about prophetic call current in the narrator’s own time. It is amazing to see such a wealth of psychological and theological nuance in ideas which may well belong to the ninth century, and it is equally amazing that the question of legitimation was even then given such importance, though, of course, it is only with Jeremiah, of the writing prophets, that the question becomes acute.” – Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Volume II

Late-Inning Questions: Our commentators offer different reasons for Moses’s fear, suggesting that he may have had a speech impediment, or that he was afraid to speak to other leaders, or that he (like most other prophets) are reluctant to inhabit the role of God’s messenger. Which suggestion makes the most sense to you? Does this passage from the Torah make Moses more relatable? Can it teach us to sympathize with those who must step out of our comfort zone to do important work for others?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We hope you’re staying safe and warm during this rare dose of winter weather in Charleston. Please continue to check your email for any relevant weather-related announcements from our synagogue.

The Big Inning at the End: Seventeen years ago today, Ichiro Suzuki signed a contract with the Seattle Mariners to become the first Japanese position player in Major League history. Ichiro’s success helped launch the careers of dozens of Asian ballplayers, enriching the talent at baseball’s highest level.

Shabbat Shalom!