Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Month: February, 2020

Learning Their Keep: Terumah 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: What kind of learner are you? Do you learn best by watching, hearing, or doing?

As God gives Moses instructions for building the Tabernacle, a solitary verse is included to encourage Moses to follow through with what he has learned:

The Pitch: “Note well, and follow the patterns for them that are being shown you on the mountain.” – Exodus 25:40

Swing #1: “[The Law itself] is the transcendental basing of life in symbolic actions. Transcendental reality can be portrayed in human reality.” – Hartmut Gese, Essays on Biblical Theology

Swing #2: “This reference to Moses’s being show the pattern on the mountain reflects an effort to anchor the instructions for the Tabernacle, which look like an independent literary unit, in the narrative context that in effect they disrupt.” – Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation With Commentary

Swing #3: “This visual resource [of being shown] is found, as [Umberto] Cassuto points out, ‘in the very passages where the lack of details is most noticeable.’ ‘Much of what is essential [for the purpose of fashioning the Tabernacle] is not in the Book.’” – Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Particulars of Rapture

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators seem to think that words alone are enough to instruct the Israelites how to build the Tabernacle? Is it possible that God showed them how to do so through other means? How do the best teachers get their points across?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: This year’s Purim celebration will have a truly international flavor. Join us for Purim Around the World on Monday, March 9th, starting with food from various countries at 6PM, then our Megillah reading featuring customs from different communities starting at 7PM. And don’t forget to bring items for the Kosher Food Pantry — you’ll get a raffle ticket for every item you bring!

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of learning and teaching, it’s interesting that very few Hall of Famers have become successful Major League managers. Stan Musial, for instance — one of the all-time greats — was an ineffective batting coach, allegedly because he wasn’t able to convey what made him so special as a hitter. This, of course, takes nothing away from his on-field greatness.

Shabbat Shalom!

Double Standard: Mishpatim 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: Is it reasonable to judge previous societies by modern standards? How can we learn lessons from previous societies without compromising the ideals we have come to accept today?

As God continues a list of rules that had started with the 10 Commandments, the patriarchal nature of ancient Israel is evident from the beginning:

The Pitch: “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not be freed as male slaves are. If she proves to be displeasing to her master, who designated her for himself, he must let her be redeemed; he shall not have the right to sell her to outsiders, since he broke faith with her. And if he designated her son, he shall deal with her as is the practice with free maidens. If he marries another, he must not withhold from this one her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. If he fails her in these three ways, she shall go free, without payment.” – Exodus 21:7-11

Swing #1: “In general, few restraints were placed upon man’s sexual urges. He could not violate the right of another man: the father, the betrothed, or the husband of a woman; but no limit was placed upon the number of women he might keep in his household as wives or concubines or slaves.” – William Graham Cole, Sex & Love in the Bible

Swing #2: “Our Mothers add: So at worst, a daughter sold into indentured service could ultimately regain her freedom and go out into the world penniless – no worse off than before; at best, she could gain a home, a husband, and children. Many poor parents, even now, can offer far less.” – Ellen Frankel, Ph.D., The Five Books of Miriam

Swing #3: “This case may refer specifically to girls handed over as wives (not concubines), with the possibility of servitude for unmarried daughters precluded. The rulings have an interest in the welfare of such a female as the secondary wife for a man or his son.” – Carol Meyers, Exodus

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators do a good job of understanding these rules of the Torah as typical of, or even superior to, the times in which they were written? Must we apologize for ancient texts we don’t agree with? Or simply put them in the context of their times?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I know the Emanu-El rabbinic search committee appreciated the excellent turnout for the first of its candidates. I hope that congregants continue to stay engaged this weekend while its second candidate visits.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of putting things in the context of ancient times, it’s comforting to know that, even as the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal is casting a dark shadow on the modern game, people have been predicting the imminent demise of professional baseball ever since the 1880s. And when you consider that the first professional team didn’t start playing until 1869, we know that the game has survived much in its history, and will continue to do so.

Shabbat Shalom!

Stressed Out: Yitro 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: How do you know when your energy has reached its limits? What happens when you go beyond those limits?

When Jethro sees Moses leading the Israelites in the wilderness, he fears that his son-in-law will become overwhelmed:

The Pitch: “But when Moses’ father-in-law saw how much he had to do for the people, he said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone, while all the people stand about you from morning until evening? Moses replied to his father-in-law, ‘It is because the people come to me to inquire of God.’” – Exodus 18:14-15

Swing #1: “God is the origin of the requirements and instructions, so God must give the explanatory application of them, and Moses is the medium of access by whom the people may approach God with problems of this kind. …[N]o one but Moses has had the privilege of such consultation.” – John Durham, Exodus

Swing #2: “It is not surprising that Moses felt compelled to manage Israelite affairs in person. We should also note that much of Moses’s prior ‘leadership’ experience consisted of overseeing sheep. While he no doubt learned many important lessons doing this, one cannot delegate to sheep!” – Duane A. Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus

Swing #3: “What did [Jethro] see? He saw him sitting like a king sitting on his throne and all paying attendance upon him, whereupon he said to him: ‘What is this that you are doing to the people? Why are you sitting alone?’” – Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishmael

Late-Inning Questions: Jethro insists that Moses delegate his responsibilities more to prominent Israelites. Based on our commentators’ understanding, is this a worthy solution, or a naive recommendation given Moses’s place in the community? Is Jethro thinking more out of concern for Moses’s well-being or the Israelites’ well-being? How is self-preservation and communal concern the same?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I know the Emanu-El rabbinic search committee appreciated the excellent turnout for the first of its candidates. I hope that congregants continue to stay engaged as the process continues.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of becoming overwhelmed, the time between the end of the World Series and the start of Spring Training is always overwhelming for fans. Thank goodness that’s over!

Shabbat Shalom!

Shooting at the Walls of Heartache: Beshallach 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: How would you define the idea of “fighting spirit”? When have you needed to display it? Is it difficult for you to conjure it up, or does it happen naturally?

When the Israelites celebrate their exodus after the miracle at the Sea, they attribute their victory to God’s fighting spirit:

The Pitch: “The Lord, the Warrior – Lord is His name!” – Exodus 15:3

Swing #1: “Mercy is the deepest expression of the divine essence. This startling verse above associating God with warmaking begins and concludes with that Name of God as if to say that God remains in essence the same before and after wartime. A human being cannot but be changed after involvement with violence. Only God can emerge on the other side of violence unscathed.” – Sheldon Lewis, The Torah of Reconciliation

Swing #2: “Within the book of Exodus, the author ponders the destructive nature of Israel’s God, who is described as both warrior and healer. … The rest of the story of YHWH’s interaction with the chosen people in the Pentateuch shows how mercy trumps justice as an exiled people is finally poised to enter the land of promise.” – James L. Crenshaw, Defending God: Biblical Responses to the Problems of Evil

Swing #3: “Read in the context of the Ancient Near East, where battles were won because the deity was on one’s side and battles were lost as punishment from the god or goddess for offenses, the presence of Yahweh as divine warrior in the conquest narrative is reasonable. … This bold statement is the first explicit mention in Scripture of the warlike nature of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” – Helene M. Dallaire, “Divine Violence in Joshua”, from Wrestling with the Violence of God: Soundings in the Old Testament, M. Daniel Carroll R. and J. Blair Wilgus, Ed.

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators understand the Israelites’ recognition of God as a warrior? To what extent does God’s fighting spirit define God? Is it possible for us to imitate God in mastering both justice and mercy? Must fighters always embrace conflict?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: As Emanu-El welcomes a rabbinic candidate this weekend, it also should be noted that COSY Shabbat will take place at Saturday morning services this week. It’s always worthwhile to celebrate the everything our USY teens bring to the congregation.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of fighting, the fighting spirit of the World Champion 2004 Boston Red Sox is often traced back to a brawl started by Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek against New York Yankees third-baseman Alex Rodriguez. Should a team’s inspiration come from a violent start?

Shabbat Shalom!