March 20th, 2007
|05:04 pm - Some thoughts + class notes|
I was idly doing a websearch while waiting for this thing to build, and I think I came across the obituary of a bedrock of my childhood. I say, I think, only because, the woman in the obit had a last name, and I'm not that this constant soothing presence in my life ever did. She was just Paula. And everyone knew her. Usually even-tempered, always found behind the information desk at the JCC. It hasn't been the same since you retired, and now it will be less than ever. The holidays won't be the same without you.
I'm not a big credit card user, but I was thinking about credit card recursion this morning and wondering what's the longest chain of credit card payments. Like when you get a credit card bill and pay it with a credit card, and then pay that bill with another credit card, etc. How long could you get away with that? My personal longest is zero. I've never used a credit card to pay off another credit card. Am I typical?
This is last weeks's class notes. I'm hoping to get to this past Sunday's tonight.
3/11/07 - Rabbi's class
Chacham, Ma who omer?
In Likutei Sichot, the Rebbe had a perspective on Purim where he contrasts the holiday to Channukah. They're both modern day stories, not specifically in the first Temple era, but two stories that transition from Judaism in the land of Israel to Judaism in exile.
The difference between Channukah and Purim is that Channukah, if you read the rabbi's writing, it was not a destruction of the Jewish people, but a spiritual destruction, where the enemies wanted to eradicate the spiritual and create a life where everything is built around wisdom and art, and so the Jews become assimilated.
The opposite is true of Purim, Haman didn't mind the Jews being spiritual. He didn't mind them having their great mystical soulful moments and their belief in a superior being. He didn't like that their day-to-day living was different. Okay, so you have this spiritual thing periodically, but that should be enough, don't see godliness in your daily living. Accept that things happen by chance, and work on a natural level and don't interpret every detail of life as spiritual. He had no problem with scheduled, designated spirituality within a framework. But that every moment of a moment of a normal day, you're different because you don't believe that each moment is by chance, that he didn't like.
So the struggle of Haman and the Jewish community about seeing life in it's normal day, is there something beyond it, or is it all just by chance?
So we come to our favourite son, the wise son, first in the Haggadah, although in the Torah the verses which are used to establish the four sons show the wise son last. The Torah order is different than the Hagaddah order. The Torah just simply says four different times, you should tell your children (and 3 times, your child will ask). The Hagaddah adds the interpretation of who is wise, etc. The wise son's verses appear in Deuteronomy. The other three children are spoken about before the Exodus from Egypt, when G-d is talking to Moses about how the Exodus is going to happen (in Parshat Bo).
It wasn't written the way in the Torah the way Hagaddah wrote it: like - You have a wise son and he'll ask....It wasn't like that. We could discuss each son individually and ask "look how the Torah said was it says and how does it fit with the Hagaddah construct?" For example, with the evil son, the Torah speaks about a law that you should redeem the first born of your cattle, if your donkey gives birth, the first one must be brought as a sacrifice. And if your child will ask, why you're redeeming the donkey, you'll tell him that you were slaves in Egypt and you were redeemed and this is why we redeem it. This is the wicked son. What's so strange about the conversation that makes the child evil? He watches the sacrifice of the donkey, and wants to know why? And the Torah says answer him, and gives an answer. The first born Egyptians died and the first born Jews were saved, and we commemorate that. So the Haggadah comes along and says this son is wicked and you should punch his teeth out. So we decided there's an evil son and we want to pick on him, but why use this verse which is very simple and self-explanatory?
And each son's verse is contained in context, and the context is the Torah context, and when the Rabbis removed the verses from context, how do they make it work?
The wise son. What does the wise son say? What are these testimonies, statues, and laws that G-d commanded. Also, you should shall say to him the laws of Passover and that you don't eat desert after you each the Pesach sacrifice.
Who spoke before we did? What's the also? What are we adding? What are we adding to?
And what we're adding is that after eating the sacrifice we can't have desert, and now we expect the oldest son to totally understand the laws of Passover.
In the source, Moses is repeating Jewish history and he's admonishing the Jews to behave themselves. "Do not test G-d as you tested him in Massah." This test was right after they cross the Red Sea, between the Manna incident and the war with Amalek. This was the water thing, where they complained about the lack of water. And you should listen to G-ds command, and do what is right and good, to drive out your enemies before. And if your child is going to ask you what are these statutes...etc. Then you shall say to your son, "we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and G-d took us out with a mighty hand."
Moses says to the Jews, I don't want you to continue this weird relationship of testing G-d like you did in Massah. Do his commandments, be kind and gentle, and when you educate your children, don't teach them a relationship that continually tests G-d, teach instead that he brought us out of Egypt and did great miracles for us. Don't bring them up to test to G-d so if they're directly getting something from G-d they're happy and if they don't get it, they complain.
And the Hagaddah decides this is about a wise son, and you should teach him about desert?
Why not use the verses from the Torah about redemption?
So let's see if there are any hints in the story of Massah. (Exodus 17:2-8)They get the manna from Heaven, and are in the desert. And they camped in Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink, and they fought with Moses, and they said to him, "give us water to drink" and he said back, "Why are you fighting with me and why are you testing G-d?" And they were thirty for water and they turn back and complain to Moses, why did you bring us from Egypt to kill us in the desert?
Moses says to G-d, What do I do with them, in a short time they'll stone me?
So G-d says to Moses take your stick and hit the rock and water will come out of it. And they named the city of Massah because they complained to Moses and tested G-d.
And in the next verse (8)
it says, Amelek comes to Rephidim. Didn't we just change the name? And now we have a war.
In the Talmud tractate Sanhedrin, there's a story in Numbers about how Midiyan was nervous about how people were going through their lands. But Balak, the king, was nervous that they wouldn't go through it, instead, they would conquer it. Billiam was hired to curse the Jews and he failed, so he had an idea, instead of trying to get a spiritual act against the Jew. He decides they should corrupt them morally so they fall apart. He suggests lining the streets with Prostitutes. Like a mini Las Vegas and once they go through that, they'll never be the same.
This happened when the Jews encamped at Shittim. Rabbi Eliezer says that's the name of the place. Rabbi Yehoshua says it means they were "shtus", foolish. They were already a weak group of people, not just ones who had the bad luck to be in bad situation; they were already into foolish things (shtuyot).
Rabbi Eliezer says that the girls met the Jews naked, and it was external forces that weakened them.
Rabbi Yehoshuah says there were weak and they became aroused because they were weak and they were involuntarily overwhelmed (and had emisions) and became impure. It wasn't the naked women that got to them, they already had low moral standards and were weak.
They have a similar discussion about Rephidim. Rabbi Eliezer says it's the name of the place. And Rabbi Yeshuah says, the Jewish people were weakened "riphu" as in the verse "fathers did not turn to their sons because of the weakness of hands" from Numbers 25:1
The story of the manna, they were in the city of Sin and they complained to Moses, we want food. When they had a problem with Miriam speaking bad about Moses and there was this whole issue, it says the name of the city, after the story it says they left Chazerot. When they out the spies, they were in Paran. And there's another story about how they didn't have water in Sin. The Jews came to Edom, and again had no food and water, and G-d sent snakes to the camp to complain about. They're all named, but in no other story did the name of the place change. And no other stories, besides Shittim and Rephidim are mentioned in the Gemorah as providing difficulty with the names. And here's the other thing, why not handle them in the chronological order in which they happened? Why deal with the Moabite girls first instead of the water?
Rabbi Yehoshuah says, "They came to Shittim and they were weakened." What was their weakness "Baal Kerin" Kerin comes from the word "mikrah" by chance. And that's how they were weakened. They began to lose perspective. They began to believe that things were by chance. They only believed in G-d when G-d was manifesting Himself actively. And that was a weakness in their relationship, they should have realized that every moment of every day radiates G-dliness and that it has purpose. It isn't just random. That's a weakness. There's where you start losing your relationship with G-d. They walked in the Vegas, and they said, right now, lets live and let the day be a day without G-d, it's a normal day of the week, and we can schedule our time with G-d. When they walked into the city they became this group that believed in involuntary things, they just happen.
And if you recognize that weakness, then you can understand that in Rephidim, the Amalekites came, and they happened to bump into your along the way. The Jews perceived that it was a happenstance, "that you happened into them along the way." The Amalekites saw that the Jews had a moment of weakness, where it wasn't revealed as a moment of G-dly truth, but rather the Jews thought it was coincidence. The Amalekites sensed that the connection was weak, that the Jews didn't recognize the work of the Divine and they attacked. So they weakened by not recognizing it as something greater, that Amalek might have a history, might have sought them out. Might be in context, it's not just happenstance. It's purposeful. The only times the Jews related to G-d were when G-d made himself obvious.
When they complained about water, Moses asked two questions: why do you fight with me? And why do you test G-d? So why this twofold argument? Isn't it enough that they're testing G-d? Why does Moses even mention himself when the real problem is the fighting with G-d. If your hand is broken, you forget about the splinter in your toe, so why does Moses mention the splinter first? Or at all?
Most commentaries see this as there was no water.
The Ibn Ezrah's commentary picks up on some language. The scripture mentions "the people" rather than "all the people" as it does in the story of manna. He suggests that there were two groups of people, one group that had no water to drink and they fought with Moses. There was another group who brought water from Alush and they wanted to test G-d to see if He would provide water. They themselves didn't have a problem. The already had figured out the solution, we can live normally, without dependence on G-d because we brought our own water. So the only time we need G-d is when we actually have no water, right now, we don't need water. So under normal circumstances, we're okay. We'll need you at the designated spiritual times, or when things get rough, but until then, we're quite content to live a normal life without acknowledgement of G-d. The only time they sought a relationship with G-d was when it was obvious they needed the relationship. (We want to) Live by chance, by nature, by coincidence within a natural system. We'll be G-dly when we have to be serious about G-d, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Passover, but for the average day, we have our water and we're living, what more do we need?
This took place in the city of Riphidim, a weakness. The weakness wasn't just the lack of water, but in fact, the presence of water where people don't need G-d and only watch to see if G-d will take care of the others and prove himself for the weak people, not for the strong, they're already taken care of.
So in the Megillah of Esther, Mordechai hears about the Haman thing, and Mordechai parks himself on Pennsylvania avenue and paces in front of the white house. The first lady hears about it and sends her attendant to find out what's up. Her attendant, by the way, is Hatach, who, according to the Midrash, was really Daniel about 30 years after the lion's den story. And knowing that Hatach is the emissary of Esther, he tells him to tell Esther "everything that happened to him."
So in one of the Targum on Esther (The Aramaic translation of the Bible and when they used to read the story, the Meturguman would repeat the stories in Aramaic. Many Sephardic communities still do that in Farsi), one of the first interpretations - Mordechai told him everything that happened to him, "that he didn't bow to Haman, and did not worship is his idol and the fixed sum of ilver….which Hamen had promised to weigh into the hands of…the king." and that's what Mordechai is really telling Esther, the root of what's going on here is because I stood up to Hamen and that's what he's doing to us.
The Alshick's commentary states what is happening to him - Mordechai hired a legal team to go through the documentation of how the Jews were treated and he was breaking it down to find loopholes to save the Jews. And one of the loopholes was that the Jewish people are never mentioned specifically in the extermination order.
The Midrash says the grandson of the famous person who "karachu" happened to us, our enemy Amalek, Haman is a descendant. Haman has found a level of weakness in the Jews, the same weakness as the Amalekites found; that we've become complaisant. Things are happening to us, and we're not seeing G-dliness in our daily life. And he picked a day randomly, by chance, because you are people who are by chance, I will destroy you by chance. Look what's happening, Mordechai says to Esther, we are a people who don't see G-d in our lives every day, things are just happening to us, and they're no significance.
And they fasted on Passover, the day that we think is G-dly by instruction, a designated time for G-dliness, and we want to say "we're holy!" We think of you beyond the prescribed measure. Tonight, we're going to fast, we're going make it a normal night, without a seder, because living as Jewish means you can't select a night to be holy, G-d has to be in your life all the time. The problem isn't Passover, it's the rest of the year, so if we don't have Passover, maybe it will serve as a wake up call. By depriving you of this scheduled spirituality, it will inspire spirituality in the daily living.
So in Genesis, Abraham sends Eliezer to find a wife for his son. So Eliezer doesn't know who to look for, so he prays to G-d, let me know her by her deeds. I'll stand here by the well, and she'll be the one who offers to draw me water for me and my camel. "Hakreh" (mikrah) "Let it happen" that I'll find this girl who my master's son will marry. Make it happen (by chance). I know you're not going to magically make her appear in front of me. I want to know that you made it happen in the natural order by making her pass this test. As soon as he requests that this happen by chance, it does. He asks to follow her home and meets the family and he tells Bethuel the story. And he tells him how he prayed that G-d graciously make him successful, so it's not exactly by chance. Why did he make G-d more active in the retelling?
Eliezer recognized that Bethuel wouldn't recognize the G-dliness in the the language of chance, so he changed the language to active work by G-d and G-d makes it happen, it becomes a spiritual moment in which G-d took the time to make this abnormal thing happen. And therefore, since G-d manifested himself in this action, so okay, Bethuel is willing to send her. If Eliezer had said that it was by chance, maybe Bethuel would have rejected this opportunity, would have said, it was just chance, and There's no significance to it. But Eliezer recognized that there is no chance, it's all divine providence. If you truly understand things happening by chance, then you understand that it is from G-d, even if it appears random. It may look normal, it may seem to appear naturally according to the rules of nature, but in reality, it's the by the guidance of G-d.
When the Jews lose that perspective, and realize they don't have to wait for a designated time to be Jewish and that G-d reveals himself even in the natural world daily, then they have a perfect relationship. If they don't have that, they have a weakness in the system; a weakness that can be exploited by Haman, and Amalek, and Midyan.
Rab Yehusah Tzadka asks how the answer relates to the wise son. "Why are you dealing with the detailed laws of the Passover sacrifice when you can't offer a sacrifice?" It doesn't apply anymore.
The answer is that in the past we ate the Passover offering before midnight so the taste would stay in our mouths all nights. So we remember during the long night of exile the taste of the sacrifice of the Temple.
So the wise son says effectively: When things are obviously G-dly and we have a relationship with G-d and we have a Temple to offer sacrifices, then I'll do it. But now, where things are dark, and we're in exile, we're no different than anyone else. And if we're no different, how do I connect?
The answer is to figure out how in an average day you see yourself as in the day when things weren't average. Your relationship with G-d on the average days can be just like that if you keep the taste of holiness in your mouth. You can be G-dly, even in a world with no Temple.
The wise son sees his days as "mikrah" things that are happening. G-d isn't performing things out of the ordinary. When I see that, then I'll be Jewish. It feels like everything is by chance. How do I live in a state of by chance and connect to G-d?
The answer is that you have to reconnect to G-d and refine your understanding to recognize that there are no such things as average days, all days are intrinsically tied to G-d. The people in the desert imported water and didn't need to think of G-d in the average normal day. But in reality, even this comes from G-d.
And in that context, comes the wise son's question.