Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Month: December, 2018

How to Save a Life: Shemot 2018 II

Pre-Game Chatter: How far would you go to preserve the life of a loved one? Are there things you could never bring yourself to do, even if a loved one is in danger?

In one of the most curious episodes in the story of Moses, Zipporah saves a life (which one, we’re not quite sure) by circumcising her son:

The Pitch: “At a night encampment on the way, Adonai encountered him and sought to kill him. So Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched his legs with it, saying, ‘You are truly a bridegroom of blood to me!’ And when [God] let him alone, she added, ‘A bridegroom of blood because of the circumcision.’” – Exodus 4:24-26

Swing #1: “The narrator also does not give any indication why God attacked. Was the noncircumcision of his son the reason that Moses (or the son) got into danger? This is the suggestion of the Targumim and midrashim, but God knew that the son was not circumcised when God commissioned Moses. God may have attacked Moses or the uncircumcised son so that Zipporah would save with blood, thus foreshadowing the way Israel would save their firstborn children in Egypt with the blood of the lamb.” – Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories

Swing #2: “Many modern scholars have suggested that the function of Exodus 4:24-26 within its redactional context is to have the redemption of the Israelite first-borns, and indeed of Israel itself, God’s first born (Exodus 4:22). Zipporah’s first-born is redeemed from death through the blood of circumcision; the Israelite first-borns are redeemed from death through the blood of the Paschal sacrifice.” – Shaye J. D. Cohen, Why Aren’t Jewish Women Circumcised?: Gender and Covenant in Judaism

Swing #3: “According to the opinion that it was Moses who was attacked, when Zipporah saw him swallowed by the angel leaving his genital organ exposed, she understood that it was because of this organ, but she was not sure why. It could have been because Moses had married her, and it was not proper for him to be intimate with the daughter of a man who had been an idolator. On the other hand, it could have been because he had neglected to circumcise his son. Not taking any chances, she immediately circumcised the child. When the angel did not release Moses immediately, she cried out, ‘You are a husband of blood because of me! It is because you married me that your blood is now being shed! I have circumcised the boy, but you are still being killed.’ The angel then released Moses. Relieved, Zipporah said, ‘A husband of blood because of circumcision! My husband was not in blood danger because of me, but because of circumcision.’” – Hizkunei

Late-Inning Questions: Do you believe that God is trying to kill Moses or his son? How would you evaluate Zipporah’s actions in this episode? It is more an extraordinary act of courage or an ordinary act of defending one’s family? What causes you to shift from ordinary activity to extraordinary action?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Tickets are going fast for our 8th annual Jews, Brews, and Ques Kosher Cookout! Please join us to be a part of one of the great programs in Jewish Charleston.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of extraordinary achievement in high-pressure circumstances, one name that always comes to mind is Jack Morris, who pitched a 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Morris was inducted this year into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and although his case for being in the Hall is borderline at best, the way he pitched that one game was probably the deciding factor in the minds of many voters.

Shabbat Shalom!

The Remains of Someday: Vayehi 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: What do you want people to remember about you hundreds of years from now? Is it a particular idea, a particular memory, a particular object, or some combination thereof?

At the end of Joseph’s life, his last request is to be buried in the Promised Land:

The Pitch: “At length, Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die. God will surely take notice of you and bring you up from this land to the land promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.’ So Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘When God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here.’ Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.” – Genesis 50:24-26

Swing #1: “Rashi, quoting the midrash, sees the pakod pakadti [‘taken note’] formula as the linguistic key to redemption: ‘In this wording, they are redeemed.’ These are, in fact, the key words used twice by Moses to signify God’s promise of redemption: ‘God will surely take note of you and bring you up from this land to the land that He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.’ So Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘When God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here.’” – Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Particulars of Rapture

Swing #2: “The contrast between Jacob’s state funeral and his burial in the ancestral vault at Machpelah, and the quiet burial of Joseph in Egypt is most striking. One can sense the deterioration in the situation of the Israelites that had taken place in the intervening 54 years. Both Jacob and Joseph die with the divine promise of redemption on their lips. The patriarchal period thus opens and closes on the same note.” – Nahum M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis

Swing #3: “And he lived 110 years and then died at a good old age, having enjoyed the greatest perfection of beauty, and wisdom, and eloquence of speech. The beauty of his person is testified to by the violent love with which he inflamed the wife of the eunuch; his wisdom by the evenness of his conduct in the indescribable variety of circumstances that attended the whole of his life, by which he wrought regularity among things that were discordant. His eloquence of speech is displayed in his interpretation of the dreams, in his affability in ordinary conversation, and by the persuasion that followed his words; in consequence of which his subjects all obeyed him cheerfully and voluntarily rather than from any compulsion.” – Philo

Late-Inning Questions: What does Joseph’s last request say about him and his priorities? Do the things we desire after death reflect our values in life? Can we trust those who live after us to carry our wishes out?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: It’s a pleasure to host high-schoolers from the Seaboard (mid-Atlantic) region this weekend. They will take a large part in leading our services this Shabbat, and we invite you to be with us to experience the ruach that only USY can bring.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of how we wish to be remembered, Ted Williams famously said that the only thing he ever really wanted was for people who passed him on the street to say, “There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived.” More than 15 years after his death, we’d probably still say it.

Shabbat Shalom!

Joseph Stallin’?: Vayigash 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you have a particular political leaning? Do you think your philosophy — be it liberal, conservative, or middle-of-the-road — should be applied to every society, or do different societies need different approaches to running their respective governments? Can we apply modern political ideas to stories of ancient communities?

As Joseph wields his power over Egypt during seven years of famine, his strategy for keeping the people fed is bold, and perhaps controversial:

The Pitch: “And Joseph said, ‘Bring your livestock, and I will sell to you against your livestock, if the money is gone.’ So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for the horses, for the stocks of sheep and cattle, and the asses; thus he provided them with bread that year in exchange for all their livestock. … And they said, ‘You have saved our lives! We are grateful to my lord, and we shall be serfs to Pharaoh.’” – Genesis 47:16-17, 25

Swing #1: “We have here the first example of land nationalisation or as a contemporary writer expresses it (‘State Communism,’ Dr. Israel Eldad: Hegyonot Ha-mikra), control, centralisation of food supply, and equal distribution accompanied by the nationalisation of private property, first of money, then cattle, and finally, land. Henceforth all the lessees of Pharaoh’s lands pay him ‘the state’ ground rent, and live on the residue.” – Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Bereshit – Genesis

Swing #2: “While there is no way to cultivate identity without making distinctions, the danger of distinctions is that they may breed contempt for others. That disdain confronted our ancestors when they moved into ancient Egypt, where Joseph reported to his brothers that ‘all shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians.’  … While we can accept the fact of their scorn, Joseph never explains why the shepherds were the objects of Egyptian hatred. … [A] possible reading of Joseph’s warning is that Joseph sees that his brothers are now wealthy because of his gifts. Wealth often brings unexpected tensions. Worried that his brothers might feel the pressures of their wealth, and therefore begin to quarrel about how they live together, Joseph urges his brothers not to allow money to divide them.” – Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, The Bedside Torah

Swing #3: “The events of this section are not attested historically in Egyptian records. Perhaps they have been included here to confirm Yosef’s stature as Rescuer, not only of his family but of all Egypt as well. The description of Yosef’s power is now complete: just as the brothers were ready to ‘become my lord’s servants’ (Genesis 44:9), so now are the Egyptians (47:25). Some have seen the episode as an ironic reversal of what is to come in Exodus, with the Egyptians’ enslavement of the Israelites; if so, this interlude may have been an amusing one to ancient Israelite audiences.” – Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses

Late-Inning Questions: Are Joseph’s actions ruthless, wise, or both? What does this episode say about his character? Can we admire difficult decisions even if they are unfair to some people?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: If you haven’t already done so, check out our CinEmanu-El video and let me know other topics you’d like to see on the screen. One way to do that is to take our Adult Education survey.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of political stances, earlier this year, the Atlanta Braves co-hosted a campaign event for Brian Kemp, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Georgia. The Braves, who said they would also make a contribution to Kemp’s Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, claimed that this was not a political endorsement. Is it wise for sports franchises to align themselves with political candidates? What are the potential rewards and risks of doing so?

Shabbat Shalom!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Busted: Miketz 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: How did you learn to hold yourself accountable for your deeds? Did certain life events help you to learn this skill? Or did you learn it more from the example of people in your life?

When Joseph’s brothers meet Joseph in Egypt but cannot recognize him, they finally begin to realize the mistakes they have made over the years:

The Pitch: “Joseph said them, ‘What is this deed that you have done? Do you not know that someone in my position practices divination?’ Judah replied, ‘What can we say to my lord? How can we plead, how can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered the crime of your servants. Here we are, then, slaves of my lord, the rest of us as much as he in whose possession the goblet was found.’” – Genesis 44:15-16

Swing #1: “Upon the discovery of the goblet in Benjamin’s possession, the brothers rent their clothes, demonstrating the pain they truly felt. Benjamin’s siblings, the same ones who ripped the coat off Joseph and caused their father Jacob to rend his garments in mourning over the loss of his son, now appear before Joseph in tattered garments. Yet, at the same time they are moving towards a greater sense of themselves. Precisely at this point the brothers collectively admit their guilt …” – Norman J. Cohen, Self, Struggle & Change: Family Conflict Stories in Genesis and Their Healing Insights for Our Lives

Swing #2: “‘What shall we say unto my Lord?’ – referring to the first money (in Benjamin’s sack). ‘What shall we speak?’ – referring to the second money (in Benjamin’s sack), ‘or how shall we clear ourselves?’ – with the cup. ‘What shall we say unto my Lord?’ – referring to the incident of Tamar, ‘What shall we speak?’ – referring to the deed of Reuben [sleeping with Bilhah], ‘Or how shall we clear ourselves?’ – referring to the deed of [pillaging] Shechem. ‘What shall we say unto my Lord?’ – what shall we say to Father in the land of Canaan regarding Joseph? ‘What shall we speak?’ – with reference to Simeon, ‘Or how shall we clear ourselves?’ – regarding Benjamin.” – Midrash Rabbah

Swing #3: “‘What is this deed you have done?’ [Joseph] asks the brothers when they are brought back under arrest to the palace, and the general terms in which he couches the accusation touch all the way back to their criminal act against him two decades past. ‘Didn’t you know’ – and of course there was all too much they did not know – ‘that a man like me would certainly practice divination [or, would certainly manage to divine it]?’” – Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative

Late-Inning Questions: Is holding oneself accountable a learned trait or a natural inclination? Did Joseph’s brothers take too long to recognize their missteps?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We are thrilled to honor Charlot Karesh for her years of service to our synagogue and community. Please join us at services Saturday at 9:30AM to celebrate her presence in our lives.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of accountability, my all-time favorite manager was Jim Leyland. I was most impressed with how he led the Detroit Tigers to an improbable American League pennant in 2006, only to lose to an inferior St. Louis Cardinals team in the World Series. After the Tigers won the pennant, he deflected credit to his players and coaches. But after losing the World Series, he insisted on taking all the blame. That’s leadership.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah!