Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Month: January, 2020

Quittin’ Time: Bo 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: How quick are you to give up on a task when success seems bleak? Has your level of patience (or lack thereof) evolved over the years?

Prior to the eighth of the Ten Plagues, Pharaoh’s magicians urge their master to let the Israelites depart:

The Pitch: “Pharaoh’s courtiers said to him, ‘How long shall this one be a snare to us? Let the men go to worship the Lord their God! Are you not yet aware that Egypt is lost?’” – Exodus 10:7

Swing #1: “The increasing feebleness of [the sorcerers’] dark arts makes for great black comedy – and hilariously effective testimony for God’s power. [They] are the gangster’s dumb sidekicks … the cringing flunkies who do every tyrant’s dirty work, and it’s wonderful to see them meet the deserved misfortune of flunkies everywhere.” – David Plotz, Good Book

Swing #2: “By the third round of three [plagues], Pharaoh has utterly decayed. He is but holding on by a thread. Still, in his long practiced obstinacy and towering ego, he endures against Aaron, Moses, the Jews, and God. Indeed, by the outset of the eighth plague, Pharaoh’s own courtiers have folded and he stands against them, too.” – Burton L. Visotzky, The Road to Redemption: Lessons From Exodus on Leadership & Community

Swing #3: “[The sorcerers] waited [to accost Pharaoh] until Moses had left, as they did not want to challenge their King in Moses’ presence, and they did not want to give Moses the satisfaction to know that they were afraid of him.” – Tur HaAroch

Late-Inning Questions: Are you surprised it takes Pharaoh’s magicians so long to lose their patience with him? Are our commentators surprised? Under what circumstances is giving up virtuous? Is “Never Give Up” an absolute value?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I’m pleased that two rabbis will be visiting Emanu-El in February to interview to be its next spiritual leader. Please check the synagogue emails, website, and app to find out how you can meet these candidates.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of giving up, Walter Alston was one of the best managers in baseball history, but his big-league playing career left something to be desired: he appeared in one Major League game in 1936, and during the two innings that he played, he struck out and made a fielding error. Maybe I would’ve given up too.

Shabbat Shalom!

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!