First, I hope those who celebrated Thanksgiving had an enjoyable holiday. If you haven’t read it yet, I posted a pre-Thanksgiving piece. I think it’s worth a read, though you may disagree. (If so, tough patootey, I guess.)
On to other things, then.
The Torah portion this week continues on with the adventures of Jacob and Esau–and adds in the adventures of Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, Zilpah, and Laban. There’s a lot of interesting narrative that deals with the complications of dealing with fathers.
This week is, as far as I’m concerned, momentous. The Torah portion under the traditional reading cycle brings us to Parshat Toledot, which marks the Torah’s transition in Genesis to narrating stories of Abraham and Isaac to the stories of Jacob.
That’s not what makes it momentous to me. Rather (and here I let slip my age), twenty-five years ago, I chanted part of this parashah at my bar mitzvah. At the time, I could chant the Hebrew from memory but didn’t understand it; now, I can understand the Hebrew but I don’t remember the tune.
You didn’t come here to stroll down Memory Lane with me, though. Instead, I’ve got a d’rash for you involving the story of Jacob and Esau.
Actually, I’ve been sitting on the topic for this post for a while; well, not a while, but for a little over a week. But it was in the mental background on some of the other recent posts.
I’ve written before on the Akedah, the story in Genesis 22 that purports to tell of Abraham’s near-slaughter of Isaac because Yahweh said so. (On a related note, we really should be careful of what we think is happening when we hear voices in our heads.) Last week, Rabbi Hannah Dresner wrote a post at the Rabbis Without Borders blog on the Akedah; the post is titled, “God Likes a Counter-Offer,” and views the story of the Akedah as acquitting Abraham of his near-sacrifice of Isaac because he makes a counter-offer in the form of a ram caught in a thicket.
I don’t think the plain sense of the narrative there supports this view. It extends the version of events Rashi and other commentators provide about Abraham forestalling Yahweh’s overtures to sacrifice Isaac by “playing dumb.” It’s a midrashic approach–and that’s fine. But let’s admit that the text doesn’t quite portray that episode as a negotiation.
Readers, it’s been quiet on the blog for another week. Again, I’ve not forgotten you–I’m still plugging away at term papers, and there’s only so much writing one can do. I’m also in the middle of teaching a class on modern Judaism for a group at a local church, so there’s not much time left for the blog.
I do hope that, before too long, I’ll have some material to post. For those interested in what humanistic Jewish Torah interpretation looks like, I do suggest stopping over at Rabbi Denise Handlarski’s blog. She is turning her rabbinic thesis (the big paper you write as a capstone to rabbinical studies at IISHJ) into a series of blog posts on the weekly Torah portions.
One of the biblical texts traditionally read on Yom Kippur is the book of Jonah in its entirety. This only seems daunting; Jonah is four chapters long, and the chapters are really quite short in comparison to the typical chapter in the Torah.
Most people probably know Jonah as the guy who was swallowed by a whale (though the text uses the Hebrew word dag, which means “fish”). But the “point” of Jonah is not the fish tale.
It’s kind of amazing how quickly it feels like we get to the end of each year’s Torah reading cycle. (Cue old-man voice yelling at kids to get off my lawn.) This week’s parasha is the double portion Nitzavim-Vayelech. We’re nearing the end of Deuteronomy, and we are only a few weeks away from starting all over again at Genesis 1:1.
Deuteronomy is a mixed bag in terms of general reading interest. Sometimes it’s a slog, reciting in no particularly obvious order various legal provisions. But Nitzavim, in particular, has some of the most used (abused?) verses: Deuteronomy 30:9-20, part of the book’s beginning-of-the-end oration. Continue reading →