Tag Archives: torah

What If God’s Not One of Us?

3 Mar

I was in high school when that Alanis Morrisette* song came out and I remember being very confused at the positive reaction. Was I slow, or was everybody else?

Like “Isn’t it Ironic”, in “What if God was one of us”, Alanis tries to be brilliant, but comes across more as under-educated. (For the record: rain on your wedding day is not ironic.) The concept of God being one of us is cute but dumb. What I’m saying is obvious, but I think people like the concept as an extension of God’s love and empathy towards us. Personally, I don’t think that’s a very likely concept either.  

Think about it for a minute. Here we have God, an all-powerful, perfect entity. There is nothing that can exist without him, and nothing that can cause him the slightest danger. He, a being needing nothing, decides to create the universe for whatever reason. Not being able to fully understand what an existence like his means, I’ll agree that his reasons can seem unfathomable to us, and still be perfectly logical to him. However, now you say that he understands our problems and then empathizes with us to help us out. Understands? Fine. But feels human feelings? Impossible. He is a perfect being. He has no fear or desire or any other emotion.

(I know it’s getting a little dry, but stay with me here. I’m building up to something at the end.) Continue reading

How Noach Got His Name

30 Oct

noah's ark old art

I have a dvar torah. Sorry, I do that every once in a while here. But don’t worry, it’s short, and I think you might like it. Okay.

The way Noach got his name according to Bereishis was that his father Lemech said “Ze YiNACHameinu…” Borrowed Mechon-mamre translation: “And he called his name Noah, saying: ‘This one shall comfort us from our work and from the toil of our hands, from the ground which the LORD hath cursed.'”

Pirkei d’rabbi eliezer and Abarbanel (and Artscroll, or I’d probably never know this) explain that there was a tradition at the time that the curse given to the ground because of Adam’s sin would end when Adam died.

About 10 verses later (6:6-7), after the Torah says that the world became eviler and eviler, it says:

6 And it repented (“VayeNACHem”)the LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him to His heart.

7 And the LORD said: ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and creeping thing, and fowl of the air; for it repenteth (NECHamti) Me that I have made them.’

Nachem“, “comforted”, is a weird word to use for “regretted”. The commentaries have to explain what it’s used to mean here.

I think that this isn’t a coincidence. The people put too much stock in tradition, instead of learning from history. They said, ‘God cursed us, we’re stuck with whatever He wants, and there’s no way out until Adam’s gone and God stops being angry. Nothing to do but wait till it’s over and everything will be all better.’

That’s why God uses the same word- ironically. “Fools!” -that’s what God usually says at this point in divrei torah- “You’re in charge of the world! Adam sinned and got punished. Keep sinning, and you’ll continue to be punished. You want to change things? Stop having your powerful people oppress the weak, and rape the women (6:1-5). Fix yourselves and be good to each other, and I won’t punish you. Jesus H. Buddha Mohammed, is that so hard?”

Shabbos Chazon Dvar Torah: Jewish History Lesson Time

8 Aug

I don’t usually do Divrei Torah, but Heshy at Frumsatire needed one this week, so I wrote this. And since it’s about Tisha B’Av, I thought I’d put it up here too:

In Parshas Devarim, Moshe retells the story of the travels and tribulations of the Jews in the desert to the Jews before they enter the land. The Haftorah is a scathing rebuke of the hypocrisy of the Jews at the time of the destruction of the Temple by Isaiah. The connection to Tisha B’Av is obvious- that’s why it’s always read this week. But the Haftorah’s main purpose was to evoke the feeling of the Parshah when it wasn’t allowed to be read. So what’s the connection to this week’s Parshah?

I think that we can find it at the end of the Haftorah. After telling the Jews that God is sick of their empty rituals and wants them to act with justice and mercy, the prophet says (translation by Mechon Mamre):

21 How is the faithful city become a harlot! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers.

22 Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water.

23 Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves; every one loveth bribes, and followeth after rewards; they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.

24 Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: Ah, I will ease Me of Mine adversaries, and avenge Me of Mine enemies;

25 And I will turn My hand upon thee, and purge away thy dross as with lye, and will take away all thine alloy;

26 And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning; afterward thou shalt be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.

27 Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and they that return of her with righteousness.

There is a point to the destruction. And that is because there is a point to Creation. God has a plan- to perfect the Jews, humanity, and the entirety of existence. He tells the Jews what to do:

Verse 16: Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes, cease to do evil; 17 Learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

And he wants them to do it on their own, out of their own reason and desire, to be partners with Him:

18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

But ultimately, God knows what’s best and is in control of everything. So if they don’t want to listen, He will force them to:

19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land;

20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword; for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken.

Is this unfair? Is God taking away our freedom? No. We are never played like puppets. That would be pointless. The plan is for people to be partners in creation, through our ability to reason, just like Him. But God can make us see another way. He can show us, by “purging away the dross” of pride and hate, that another way of life exists. One of unity and giving. We can see both ways of living, and choose life. Moshe says later on, in Deut. chap. 30, v. 19: I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed.

Why is Moshe telling the Jews entering the Land of Israel all that happened in the desert? Because he wants them to understand the process they went through to get to this point. They went out of the slavery of Egypt through their faith in God, not through their own fighting or intelligence. They lacked that faith at Sinai with the Golden Calf, with the Spies, at Marah, with the Manna, and other places. Finally, they deserved to go in, but Moshe felt that the lesson needed to be hammered in: Don’t fear. Don’t hate. Don’t fight. Just have faith in God.

Because if you don’t, and you start hoarding your wealth and beating up on the poor, God has a very definite way of getting your attention focused back on Him. And He won’t hesitate to use it over and over and over and over.

Early Bloggers: Dasan and Aviram

29 Jun

It’s only been a few days and already I miss them. What can I say? Good ol’ D ‘n’ A are very likeable guys. In fact, the Medrash says that while Moshe and Aharon were chosen by God, Dasan and Aviram were chosen by the people.

First off, they’re the funniest people in the Torah. The humor really tanks after they go off-screen. Who can forget the classics like, “Were there no graves in Egypt, that you needed to bring us out to the desert to die?”* And after Moshe says, “Is it too small a thing that God has done for you, to do the service…that you also seek the priesthood?”, D&A answer, “Is it too small a thing that you have brought us out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us, that you want to lord yourself over us as well?” Ah, those were some good lines. A little dark, but still pretty good for ad-libbing ex-slaves from 3000 years ago.

They get a bad rap of course, but I think they’re just misunderstood. Sure Moshe is the hero of the Torah, and he’s pretty hard not to like, but I think Dasan and Aviram are easier to relate to. They’re not bad guys, they’re just totally distrustful of authority and have enough guts to say it. When God is helping them, they trust Him- they make it out of Egypt, after all. But they don’t want to put all their cards in anyone else’s basket. When Hashem tells Moshe to make them into bait to trap Pharaoh, they complain. When God says they should trust in Him to give them food every day, they balk and leave over food*. They don’t want to rely on other people’s (or God’s) goodwill.

Apparently they tapped into something that many people were feeling to some extent. They were “Kriai Eidah”, elect members of the congregation and, as such, they became folk heroes, unafraid to stand up for the people. I think that Moshe, “the most humble of all men”, didn’t take offense at their behavior because he understood where they were coming from.

What went wrong? I think that Korach was a good politician and made them believe him. Korach saw that he was being cut out of the privileged caste, and decided he would make his own. But he needed the people on his side to overthrow Moshe. And which better running mates to get than Dasan and Aviram? His platform suddenly became “We’re all equal”. Of course, D&A were interested in that socialist platform. Unfortunately, they got eaten up by something bigger than themselves. That should be a good lesson to all bloggers who support Narcissistic politicians like Al Gore, and the causes they chew up and spit out.

I guess that ruined the mood for some of you. I’m sorry. I’m cynical and mistrustful as well, and I can’t seem to keep my opinions to myself either.

*People blame them for it, so I’ll give them the credit.

Korach And Parsha Names

23 Jun

When I was a kid, I was always curious why the meforshim on the Chumash sometimes used different names for the parshios. They called Acharei Mos, “Acharei”, and Teztaveh was “Veatah tetzaveh”. When did the names we use become standard?

Well, I don’t know exactly when that got hammered down, but one thing I do know is that all the questions of why certain parshios are named the way they are, are most probably baseless. The parshios got their names based on the words in the beginning that can be used to distinguish one parsha from another. Why is Korach named after a bad person? Because the parsha starts with “Vayikach korach” and since “korach” is more memorable than “vayikach”, being a major theme in the parsha and all that, we call it that. Shoyn.

Something For Shavuos

7 Jun

Here’s a nice dvar torah for you to enjoy before shavuos. It’s from Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, the lead editor of Chabad.org, and describes the uniqueness of Torah. I know you don’t usually come here for divrei torah, but he’s good. He’s broad minded (like me! I read stuff from chabad!), entertaining and creative. Plus this piece is not too long.

Tzvi Freeman on ‘Torah’

Anyhow, hope you all have a good time staying up eating cheesecake and coffee with the boys. Or if you’re fleishig, chowing down on some delicious shul spongecake.

Look at that picture. It’s pornographically delicious. Can you taste those blintzes? Me so hungry.