Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Month: July, 2019

Bull-ions: Pinhas 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: What is your favorite Jewish holiday? Why is it your favorite?

There are many people who love Sukkot more than any other Jewish festival — perhaps because it emphasizes time outdoors, perhaps because it is associated with joy, or perhaps because it is particularly meaningful right after the completion of Yom Kippur:

The Pitch: “On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. – Seven days you shall observe a festival of Adonai. – You shall present a burnt offering …” – Numbers 29:12-13a

Swing #1: “Just as the dove makes atonement for the pilgrims, so Israel makes atonement for the other nations, since the seventy bullocks that they offer on Tabernacles correspond to the seventy nations, and are brought in order that the earth may not be left desolate of them.” – Song of Songs Rabbah

Swing #2: “Seventy bullocks were sacrificed on the festival, for the seventy nations of the world.  One bullock and one ram on Atzeret, for Israel being the one nation in the land. Just as the bullocks decreased in number as the festival progressed, thus the Canaanites are diminished, but Israel is not diminished.” – Pesikta Zureta

Swing #3: “On the first Holy-day of the Festival of Tabernacles there were there thirteen bullocks and two rams and one he-goat. There still remained (there) fourteen he-lambs for the eight Watches. On the first day six offered two each, and the rest one each. On the second day five offered two each, and the remainder one each. On the third day four offered up two each, and the rest one each. On the fourth day three offered two each, and the others one each. On the fifth day two offered two each, and the remainder one each. On the sixth day one offered up two each, and the remainder one each. On the seventh day all were equal. On the eight day they reverted to the casting of lots as on all other Festivals. They said, the one that had offered bullocks on one day should not offer them on the next day but must take it in turns.” – Sukkah 5:6

Late-Inning Questions: What seems to be the significance of the decreasing number of bulls offered on each day of Sukkot? Is it, perhaps, a symbol of decreased joy as the holiday ebbs away? Is a diminishment in one aspect of our lives an opportunity for an increase in another?

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of favorite holidays, Major League Baseball seems keen on creating variations of team uniforms on Memorial Day weekend, Fourth of July weekend, and other occasions as well. Shouldn’t a uniform actually be, um, uniform?

Shabbat Shalom!

Home Sweet Home: Balak 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: When have you looked at your life differently because of the perspective of someone outside your immediate social circle? How can an “outsider’s perspective” help us gain valuable insight of our own challenges?

The prophet Balaam may have been hired to curse the Israelites, but some of what he says about our ancestors are as thoughtful as anything we say about ourselves:

The Pitch: “How fair are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel!” – Numbers 24:5

Swing #1: “What is the difference between a true prophet and a false one? The true prophet can be identified in most cases by their scoldings. They point out the blemishes and defects and want to break the measure. The false prophet flatters the people with sweet talk and sees none of the low land. ‘Peace, Peace, everything’s fine and there’s no need for correction.’ But true prophets, genuine loves of the people, they scold. Balaam, however, does not sing from any great love of Israel, even though he has many songs and praises for Israel. On the contrary, he intends to entice Israel so that they will not do anything, so that they will no longer yearn to ascend higher and higher up the ladder. They are absolutely perfect; they are blessed with every good quality. And just this is the difference between him and the prophets of Israel.” – Toldot Yaakov Yosef

Swing #2: “What did Balaam see that caused him to say, ‘How fair are your tents, O Jacob …’? He saw their schools.”  – Targum Yonatan

Swing #3: “Instead of reading ‘your tents’ (mishk’notecha), you might read ‘your forfeits’ (mashkanotecha), for tent and temple were to be forfeited when they sinned.” – Numbers Rabbah

Late-Inning Questions: Even though he says many positive things about the Israelites, Balaam is not looked upon fondly in the Jewish tradition. How much, then, should we take his words to heart? Can infamous people still impart wisdom? Or should we attach a big proverbial asterisk on their words?

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of outside perspectives, many traditional scouts bristle at analytically-based baseball theory, particularly from scholars who never played the game professionally. Is that a fair critique?

Shabbat Shalom!

You Shall Not Pass: Hukkat 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you have many adversaries? Do you find yourself finding ways to work with them cooperatively when necessary? Or do you sometimes feel the need to be confrontational when advocating what you need from them?

When the Israelites aim to pass through the Amorite land, Moses asks kindly first — but not a second time:

The Pitch: “Israel now sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, saying, ‘Let me pass through your country. We will not turn off into fields or vineyards, and we will not drink water from wells. We will follow the king’s highway until we have crossed your territory.’ But Sihon would not let Israel pass through his territory. Sihon gathered all his people and went out against Israel in battle. But Israel put them to the sword, and took possession of their land, from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as [Az] of the Ammonites, for Az marked the boundary of the Ammonites. Israel took all those towns. And Israel settled in all the towns of the Amorites, in Heshbon and all its dependencies.” – Numbers 21:21-25

Swing #1: “It is interesting to compare the version of the encounter with Sihon found in Deuteronomy 2 with that of Numbers 21:21-25. The Numbers version also makes the case for the reasonableness of Moses’ appeal to Sihon. Moses promises more briefly that his people will not disturb vineyards or native wells, but Sihon refuses and is put to the the sword, his land taken by Israel. No ban is invoked or implemented, however. In the Numbers version, the ban is not a form of punishment, a way in which judgment is imposed upon the inhospitable resister of Israel’s divine destiny.” – Susan Niditch, War in the Hebrew Bible

Swing #2: “Moses did not add the word ‘please,’ as he had done in the case of Edom, as he did not really want to make peace with Sichon. This is why the messengers he sent delivered the most succinct messages possible. This is also why Sichon did not bother to send a reply to Moses, as opposed to the King of Edom who had sent Moses a warning not to set foot on his land.” – Rosh

Swing #3: “Israel is said to be like sand and the nations like the sea: They take counsel against Israel, but the Holy One depletes their strength. … Should not Sihon and Og have learned from Amalek? Still, ‘Sihon … went out against Israel’, and ‘Og … went out against them’. Balak, likewise. Should he not have learned from Sihon and Og? Yet Balak was determined to wage war against Israel, and so he sent for Balaam to come and curse Israel.” – Yalkut

Late-Inning Questions: Do you think the Israelites fought with the Amorites too quickly? Was there a better alternative? Or did the ends justify the means? How do you know when confrontation is necessary? 

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of confrontation, a recent study by FanGraphs found that Major League managers are ejected from games less often as they age. Is it because they grow more passive as they get older, or perhaps they understand better the futility of losing their temper with umpires?

Shabbat Shalom!

Levi’s Leftovers: Korah 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever given up certain privileges so that you could gain other privileges? If you have, do you feel it was worthwhile? Do you have any regrets?

Our Torah portion describes both the extent and limitations to the role of the Levites, the assistants to the Israelite priests:

The Pitch: “And to the Levites I hereby give all the tithes in Israel as their share in return for the services that they perform, the services of the Tent of Meeting. Henceforth, Israelites shall not trespass on the Tent of Meeting, and thus incur guilt and die: only Levites shall perform the services of the Tent of Meeting; others would incur guilt. It is the law for all time throughout the ages. But they shall have no territorial share among the Israelites, for it is the tithes set aside by the Israelites as a gift to Adonai that I give to the Levites as their share.” – Numbers 18:21-24a

Swing #1: “[The Levites] are to relate to God all the material elements of the people’s lives; this is their office and task in the nation. The flourishing of this relationship in understanding and in practice is their portion, their share in the nation’s achievements, and handing down these spiritual achievements from the parents to the children is their inheritance, their spiritual heritage. Both together – the portion and the inheritance – are the basis of their existence and of their material prosperity.” – Samson Raphael Hirsch

Swing #2: “The regulation concerning the Levitical tithe recalls Nehemiah’s concern for the economic maintenance of this ancillary clerical order on which he could count for support in his often acrimonious relations with the priesthood.” – Joseph Blenkinsopp, The Pentateuch

Swing #3: “How do we reconcile this repetition of the same legislation? It appears that there are two aspects to the tithes with God assigned to the Levites. One reason they receive the tithes is in compensation for the Levites not having received a share of the land. The second reason is to save them having to till the land, i.e. the seven stages of work until the farmer’s wheat is finally ready to be milled, etc. This is the reason the Torah gives a different reason in verse 21, i.e. that it is given to them in exchange for the service they have to perform in the Tent of Testimony.” – Or HaChayim

Late-Inning Questions: Do you think it was worthwhile for Levites to not own land in exchange for their ritual privileges? Must all positions of power have limitations? If so, how do we determine which limitations are reasonable?

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of exchanging privileges, there are numerous American League pitchers who wish they could play by National League rules so that they have the opportunity to hit, even though doing so increases the risk of injury. Isn’t it odd that the two leagues still have such divergent rules in this matter?

Shabbat Shalom!