Share your thoughts and let's all learn.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Notes on Psalm 82 (responding to christian interpertations)

Random notes/thoughts on Psalm 82 Here is the text, (Revised Standard Version):

1: God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
2: "How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? [Selah]
3: Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
4: Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked."
5: They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6: I say, "You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you;
7: nevertheless, you shall die like men, and fall like any prince."
8: Arise, O God, judge the earth; for to thee belong all the nations

Psalms are always a little tricky for me because it seems that they only make sense if viewed as man's expression to God, rather than God's commandment to man. Not the word of God so much as the yearning of man. Here's what I know about Psalm 82 based on Rashi's commentary (I am using the Judacia Press translation) and my reading of Sarna (sp?)'s book on the Psalms:


Psalm 82 should be called the lawyer's pslam. THe opening verse sets the Courtroom motif: "God stands in the divine assembly; among the divine beings He pronounces judgment."

The Hebrew uses the same term for God and "divine beings." "Elohim" is used as a general term for supernatural beings. Psalms 42-83 are known as the "Elohistic Psalter." They use Elohim much more often than YHVH. The rest of the pslams use YHVH more than Elohim. Why? Who knows. But it is clear the the opening of Pslam 82 refers to "the Lord."

We see God standing in the middle of a celestial assembly.

Why is God standing? Judges are traditionally represented as sitting. Jethro finds Moses seated when he's judging. Deborah would sit under a plam tree when she judged. Isaiah 28:6 refers to the one who "sits in judgment." etc. So why is GOd standing in this psalm?

Because the psalm takes place after the legal proceedings are over. After the judging has been done and only sentencing remains. God stands (or rises) to pronounce the sentence because His word is self-fullfilling. The Hebrew words for standing or rising express imminent action. This is why God is often called to "arise" -- i.e., execute judgment.

What is the situation in the Psalm that requires divine judgment?

"How long will you judge perversely, showing favor to the wicked?
Judge the wretched and the orphan,
vindicate the lwoly and the poor,
rescue the wretched and the needy;
save them from the hand of the wicked."

The corrupt judicial system and decline of morality in society require God to intervene with the celestial court.


The first line: A song of Asaph. God stands in the congregation of God; in the midst of the judges He will judge.
God stands in the congregation of God to see whether the judges judge fairly

2 How long will you judge unjustly and favor the wicked forever?
(This is God asking the question)

3 Judge the poor and orphan; justify the humble and the impoverished.
(if the poor man is right, don't rule against him in order to favor the wicked/more powerful)

4 Release the poor and the needy; save [them] from the hands of [the] wicked.

5 They did not know and they do not understand [that] they will walk in darkness; all the foundations of the earth will totter.

(The judges who pervert justice do not understand that because of this iniquity, they will walk in the dark (See Exod. 23:8 regarding "bribery blinds"), The perversion of justice is such a serious offense that it will cause all the foundations of the earth will totter.
This is a central belief of Judaism -- that the world is sustained by Justice).


6 I said, "You are angelic creatures, and all of you are angels of the Most High."
(God is saying "When I gave you the Torah, I gave it to you on the condition that the Angel of Death should not rule over you.")

7 Indeed, as man, you will die, and as one of the princes, you will fall.
(Indeed, like Adam, you will die since you corrupted your deeds as he did. And as one of the princes the first princes, who died, so will you fall.)

8 Arise, O God, judge the earth, for You inherit all the nations.
(Here Asaph commences to pray that God rise and cut off the corrupt judges from Israel. For everyone is in God's hands to judge.

the word Elohim, the root of which is used in this psalm, can be used for Gods, angels, judges, princes, etc. Even if one interperts it to mean "gods" in Psalm 82, I would think that a jewish reading of the Pslam would simply mean that we are all "gods" a/k/a all God's children. But my understanding is that the word is meant to refer to Judges.

If you look at the song Moses led the people in when the crossed the sea of reeds, the same root word is used: "Mi Kamocha B'aylim Hashem" - Who is like You among the Elim, God.

It not asking who is like you among the the Gods. Rather, it means Mighty, Powerful. "Who is like You amongst the Mighty"?

when used to refer to God, "Elohim" means Almighty, or
the Judge of all.

When used to refer to Judges, the same word simply means mighty as in powerful.

In Hebrew, it is common to use the plural of a word when using it as a title of respect.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

7 Rabbinic Commandments not found in Torah

Seven Rabbinic Commandments ordained by the Rabbis and not Torah:

1. Benediction, or thanksgiving for each enjoyment (Ber. 35a)

2. The ablution of the hands before eating (Ed. V, 6).

3. Lighting of the Sabbath lamp (Shab. 20b).

4. The Erub, i.e. an expedient for permitting a wider interpertation of the Sabbath laws concerned with limitations of movement of persons and transfer of objectss (Er. 21b)

5. Hallel servics (Ps. CXIII-CXVIII) on festival days (Ber. 14a; Pes. 117a);

6. Kindling of the Chanukah lights (Shab. 23a);

7. Reading of the Scroll of Esther on the Feast of Purim (Meg. 7a).

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Church and the Holocaust Note 3

Paraphrased from the conclusion of Susan Zucotti's "Under his very Window".

It is true that, following the liberation f Rom, Jews began to acknowledge the compassion and help provided by Pope Pius XII during the Shoah. And this continued after the war ended. And while Golden Meir praised the Pope after his death for having "raised his voice in favor of the Jews", she must have been referring to the claims of papal intervention on the Jew's behalf. Because there had been no meaningful protest.

Whenever there's a discussion on the Church's responsibility for the Holocaust, all these and more are rightly mentioned by its defenders. However, expressions of gratitude are not proof of the truth of the Church's claims. Just proof that jews believed those claims. The gratitude, I am sorry to say, was largely misplaced. While individual men and women of the Church deserve thanks, the pope had very little to do with they actions.

Jews who took shelter in Church institutions could not know why they were allowed to enter. They naturally assumed it was due to the pope's intercession. It was not. Many would assume that no individual monastary, hospital or school would act without prior papal approval, etc., who, perhaps embarassed by the popes silence during the holocaust, were eager to share their credit with the Vatican.

The pope did not speak out against Italy's anti-jewish laws.
The Vatican did almost nothing to provide extra food or medicene to the refugees of Ferramonti. Thank God for Father Lopiniot, not Pope Pius. Lopiniot did what he had to do to get private donations to help. Lopiniot did it all but gave credit to the pope when the truth was the pope had done nothing.

Just one example.

Also, it was good politics to thank the pope after WWII -- to foster good will between jews and non-jews. After all, non-jews had almost succeeded in completely destroying us.

Gratitude from Jews after WWII proves nothing.

Friday, August 04, 2006

More notes on the Church, Jews and the Shoah

I understand how difficult it is for Catholics to deal with the Holocaust, the role played in it by Catholics and their Church, and how the Catholic history of antisemitism contributed to it all.

As James Carroll states in his book "Constantine's Sword", Church failures in the Holocaust are only the most recent and violent part of the story - the death camps are a culmination of two thousand years of entrenched anti-Judaism.

The problem originally was anti-Judaism - not a racial or political anti-semitism. Rather, a strong opposition to the religion of Judaism.

You can follow the trail... The anti-Jewish statements in the Gospels to Constantine’s transformation of the cross into the primary Christian symbol, and then transforming it further into a sword. The blood libels, scapegoating the jews. The ghettos.

Much of Christian history was based on a belief that Jesus was in conflict with the Jews, which easily fueled persecuation against Jews. However, Jesus and his disciples were themselves Jews, making any conflict not a struggle between “you” and “us,” but an internal disagreement among us (Jews). Moreover, the Christians failed to realize that there was no single religious entity known as “the Jews.” We have always been a wide variety of groups, with may different perspectives. Yet the Church insisted on perpetuating the myth that the jews, as a people, killed Christ. You can argue now that it was "only a few,' etc., but that is not what the party line was for the 1900 years leading up to the holocaust. We were never a single force for any one group to oppose.

So, Christians turned what was a sectarian conflict among Jews, into something describedin the gospels as "the Jews” -- a single group, wholly blameworthy, in an apparent attempt to gain favor among the Romans, the most likely group to have had any great interest in getting rid of Jesus. ONce this particular perspective was in place, later Christians were able to scapegoat “the Jews” over and over:

In addtion to being made into a historical enemy, the Church made "the Jews" into the enemy of God. The negative against which every positive aspect of Christianity is defined. This demonization of Jews by the first-century followers of Jesus - themselves mostly Jews - and the sanctioning of that demonization in the canonizing of the Scriptures are what made this story murderous down the centuries.

Notes on the Church and the Holocaust.

Just some notes I don't want to lose regarding this subject. Comments are always welcome:

In July 1943, Mussolini was removed from power. In September, Germany occupied Italy and began deporting Jews to Auschwitz. THere were 45 days between Italy's announcement of armistice and Germany's occupation of Italy. During that time, many thought the repressive anti-Jewish laws that Mussolini had instituted would be revoked. During this time Father Tacchi Venturi met with the new Italian minister of the interior to propopse changes in the laws to benefit Jewish converts to Catholicism.

In his report of the meeting to Cardinal Magilone, Venturi explained that he had not "alluded in any way to the total abrogation of laws which, according to the principles and tradition of the Catholic Church, have some dispositions that should be abrogated but contain others worthy of confirmation."

This statement was made after millions of Jews had already been murdered in Poland and in the Soviet Union, a fact that the Vatican was aware of. Yet somehow, they still approved the denial of full civil rights to Jews and their legal seperation from Christians. See ADSS, IX, doc. 317, Tacchi Venturi to Maglione, 8/29/43, 458-59.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Relevance of Judaism

There is an obligation to make judaism relevant every 50 years or so (witness Steinsaltz English translation of Talmud). For me, Judaism is an open ended discussion. A mythic structure through which to access the Divine. It is not an answer to ultimate questions but rather a method of dwelling on ultimate questions. All I can say is that if you feel that it is not relevant to you, you need to come at it another way. Have you studied Torah? Talmud? Have you done so with a rabbi or a study group? Have you committed to bringing awe and wonder into the world? As for Halacha, I view the commandments like religious speed bumps. They cause us to pause throughout the day and remember that this is sacred time. That even while doing the mundande -- driving the kids to school, working, etc., ever moment is, as Heschel describes, a small mosaic of infinity. Each mitzvah is an opportunity to appreciate the fact that you stand for something greater than yourself and to recognize the ineffable mystery of existence.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

An Inconvenient Opportunity

An Inconvenient Opportunity

Tikkun Olam is often used to explain the Jewish concept of social justice. Actions done to benefit the community. The obligation of each of us to do what we can to repair the world. I consider myself an optimist. That’s why, after seeing Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” I was able to thank God for giving us the opportunity to truly engage in Tikkun Olam. If you haven’t seen the movie or read his book, you should. After being told for years that global warming “may or may not” be a problem, “An Inconvenient Truth” is a much needed wake up call. The film makes a compelling, factual argument that global warming is a reality, it is happening faster than most scientists anticipated and the results will truly be catastrophic if we continue to ignore the problem.

We’re already seeing some of the results of global warming. Stronger and more frequent hurricanes, resulting in part from warmer waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Polar bears drowning in significant numbers because they can no longer reach ice flows, as the ice caps continue to melt. The snows from Mt. Kilmanjaro all but gone. But there was one particular event that was disturbing enough to convince me to make some changes in my life.

In May, 2005, my shul, Sha’ar, participated in the Save Darfur Rally in Washington, D.C., to protest the Sudanese government’s campaign of genocide against its citizens in the Darfur region. We’ve been told that the explanation for these horrendous acts is that many of the rebel forces that oppose the Sudanese government come from the Darfur region. But I recently learned of another contributing cause.

40 years ago Lake Chad was as large as Lake Erie. It was the sixth largest lake in the world. But due to declining rainfall and increased human use, Lake Chad is now 1/20th its original size. As Lake Chad dwindled, periods of intense drought set the stage for the unimaginable violence that is still taking place in neighboring Darfur. People are dying from lack of water and killing to protect the water they have.

One of the effects of global warming is to redistribute weather patterns, so that while precipitation may increase worldwide, some of it is relocated. And a lot of that relocation seems to be moving away from Africa.

According to “An Inconvenient Truth,” the United States is responsible for about 30% of all the greenhouse gas emissions in the world. The continent of Africa is responsible for about 5%. The inescapable conclusion, I think, is that Americans bear a degree of moral responsibility for what is happening in Darfur. And we have a moral obligation to take the lead in solving the planetary crisis. We already know what to do. We just need the collective will to do it.

At the end of his book, Mr. Gore lists ways individuals and governments can help halt global warming. I’d like to just describe two things that each of us can do immediately. First, check out the website www.nativeenergy.com. There you will find a “Carbon footprint calculator,” which will calculate the amount of carbon “short tons” your household emits each year – the amount of carbon dioxide that you are responsible for putting in the atmosphere each year. It then offers you the opportunity to “green up” your energy by purchasing “offsets” in wind power or methane power. By donating $12.00 per “short ton” of carbon dioxide you put into the atmosphere each year, you will effectively have neutralized your family’s effect on the climate. For example, my family of five generates about 20 short tons of carbon dioxide a year. By donating $240.00 toward wind power, I helped reduce my household’s contribution toward global warming by helping build renewable, cleaner energy sources. I effectively removed my “carbon footprint”. I consider it the best investment I ever made. As I side note, I realize that I spent more money on beany babies in the 1990s. Not such a great investment.

The second website I urge anyone living in New Jersey to visit is http://www.njcleanpower.com/. The CleanPower Choice Program is a statewide program that allows you to support the development of clean, renewable sources of energy. When you make the CleanPower choice, electricity is generated from clean, renewable energy sources located in New Jersey and the mid-Atlantic region. It takes about two minutes to make the switch and does not involve actually changing your utility carrier. For most people, the additional cost will be between $7 and $10 a month. The charge is simply added as another line to your existing utility bill.

Finally, I urge everyone to educate themselves about global warming and to educate others. If there was ever a grass roots campaign worth getting involved in, this is it. Tikkun Olam needs to be implemented today. We either repair the world or we lose it.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Appearances Are Everything

To truly repair the world, it is imperative that each of us enroll others to the possibility that they can actually repair the world. To do so would have a greater effect that the most charitable act.

Each charitable act and good deed can enroll others into the possibilty of taking action to repair the world.

To pursue a relationship with God in a truly meaningful way, it is perhaps necessary to first understand that you are not doing so primarily for your own benefit, but for the benefit of others. It is impossible to approach God with an open heart -- to experience radical amazement -- and not have it alter how you view your neighbor or yourself. I believe this is the primary purpose of dwelling on God: To see the divine revealed in your neighbor. From that point, it is inevitable that one finds God in themselves.

To put it another way, you open yourself to God (you reveal yourself to Him) so that others can see, through your actions, the stamp of God on your life. By doing this you give others the opportunity to open their own hearts to the Divine and, by their actions, they will reveal to you the Divine in each of them. This will have the effect of "reenergizing" and inspiring you to pursue your relationship with God. A true circle of faith.

The Creative Process

There can be no creative process without discipline and order. Intention and Imagination are like the chaos preceding the ultimate creative act in Genesis, in that they require the imposition of order/structure before they can become a creative act. It is discipline and order that brings the creative act into being -- that calls it into existence.

So we are indeed created in God's image, in that, like God, we have the ability to impose order in our lives -- to create new worlds from our own being. Moreover, we know from Talmud that each being is its own world. "He who saves a life it is as if he saved the world." Why is this so? Because we are all creators. And each day that we live is a day that bestows on us the power to create our world anew.

"The Lonely Man of Faith" Part 2

If we are created in God's image, and the desire to be "closer" to God is the driving force behind the creative process. And if we all have the potential to be prophets -- that is, the ability through the desire to be near God to create new worlds through our speech, then there seems to be a few inescapable conslusions that follow:

i. Every human being must be treated with an element of dignity, respect and awe.

ii. We are not capable of doing the above on a consistent basis.

iii. We are commanded to spend our lives overcoming this flaw. We must strive to "create" a world where we are indeed capable of treating each other with dignity, respect and awe, and that doing so becomes a central pillar of our existence.

Notes and Thoughts on "A Lonely Man of Faith" Part 1

Solovetchik (sp?) in his book, Lonley Man of Faith, describes two "Adams". Adam 1 and Adam 2. Essentially, he states that there are two creation stories, each one focusing on a different aspect of man.

*Adam 1. We are created in God's image. Our likness to God is expressed in our strving and ability to become a creator. Speech is what allows us to develop a relationship with the Creator.
Question: Do we create out of an innate desire to become closer to God? Is the desire for God the creative force which drives the world? If so, then the creative process itself is a link to the Divine.

*If longing for God is the source of creative energy, then what is responsible for destructive energy?

Did the prophets, filled with the deisre to be near God, use speech as a creative tool? As a means of "speaking" new worlds into existence? We know that words can change the world. Look at Ghandi or Mandela, for example. M.L.K.. In effect words change our reality/world all the time. Perhaps this is what Solovetchik means when he discusses the the ability of the righteous person to create worlds. That speaking the Truth of God actually changes the world, or even creates a new world, for both the prophet (the speaker) and those who hear:
a. The prophet creates the world [Self-enrollment];
b. He then enrolls the people/audience in his new world;
c. He brings the world into being through speech.
Such an act of creation is done in partnership with God.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Justice of Zionism

The day after 'Nakba Day'Monday, May 15, 2006 By: Amnon Rubinstein
from The Jerusalem Post

For many in the media the words "justice" and "Zionism" seldom go together. The world prefers to think about the "justice" that needs to be done for the Palestinians.
Granted, the Palestinians are deserving of self-determination in a political entity of their own and to live in a free and democratic society, even if most of them have opted for rule by a fanatical, anti-democratic and racist movement.

But on this, the day after what the Palestinians call Nakba Day (when they mark the catastrophe of the creation of Israel), we should not forget that the Palestinians' suffering has been caused by their own leadership, the Arab countries, and, in particular, because so many of them continue to cling to the futile idea of destroying Israel.
True, the Israeli-Palestinian case is sui generis, with the occupied denying the right of the occupier to even exist, and the occupier feeling that it is a threatened minority and the occupied part of the threatening majority. This is a situation unparalleled anywhere.
Those surveying the history of Eretz Yisrael and of the two nations living in it must conclude that there is no solution other than compromise - that is, to divide the land between the two peoples that view it as their homeland.

The Zionist national movement agreed to this division, with the exception of the period when it became drunk with its ostensible power following the Six Day War. The Zionist movement in 1947 was prepared, and today's State of Israel is prepared to make this compromise.
The Palestinian national movement, on the other hand, has not agreed to any such compromise. It did not agree to it in 1947, and it does not agree to it today. It is not a question of borders, or of drawing the line dividing the two states; rather of the very principle of two states for two
peoples.

IT IS A historic crime that the Palestinian leadership did not agree to this concept in the debates that preceded the United Nations resolution regarding partition, which came in the wake of the recommendations made by the majority in the special committee established by the United Nations General Assembly.

Few recall that this Palestinian leadership opposed not only the majority view, which favored partition into two states, but even that of the pro-Arab minority in that committee.
The minority view proposed the establishment of a single federative state having two cantons, Jewish and Arab; the independence of the Jewish canton would be more limited and matters of immigration - the existential matter that the Jews fought for - would be removed from its authority.

With the minority proposal it would not have been possible to save the majority of displaced Jews, Holocaust survivors, from their shameful existence in DP camps on German soil.
The recommendations of the pro-Arab minority nevertheless recognized the existence of a Jewish national entity, and it was this idea that was anathema to the Palestinian leadership and Arab countries. That is why they opposed both the minority and majority recommendations in the committee.

Most of the delegates to the UN General Assembly took a negative view of this recalcitrant and extreme position, as well as of the leadership of the Nazi mufti, Haj Amin el-Husseini. Had the mufti had his way, the Jewish population of Eretz Yisrael/Palestine would also have been exterminated in death camps - a small addition of 10 percent to the number of Jews murdered by his Nazi partners.

FROM THE moment the decision in favor of partition was made, the Palestinian Arabs and Arab nations rose up against the Palestinian Jews. Instead of accepting the compromise decided upon by the supreme international organization, which also had the authority to decide on the future of the areas under the Mandate of the League of Nations, the Arab countries made a declaration of war and began to plan their invasion of the Jewish state by regular Arab armies and a Palestinian Arab army led by the mufti.

There had been no more terrible, hostile invasion since the Nazi invasion than that of the Arab forces into the territory whose fate had been determined by the UN. Yet it did not succeed. The small, barely armed Jewish population succeeded in repelling the invading armies at a terrible cost in human life.

It is true that in this war, which we remember on Israel Independence Day along with its victims, terrible things were done, and Arab residents were also driven out of their homes and villages - alongside the masses that left of their own free will, following the advice of their leaders in the hope that they would soon return as victors. But where justice is concerned, we must not forget that if the Palestinian Arab leadership and Arab countries had accepted the United Nations' compromise resolution, the Palestinian people would have been saved much suffering, and justice could have been done to both peoples.

Similarly, we must remember that if the Arab countries had treated the Palestinian refugees who came to their countries as human beings rather than as bargaining chips, the refugees would have been saved considerable suffering and deprivation.

WHERE DOES this Arab refusal come from? It comes from the same argument that the president of Iran is now making - that the Jews are not a people, and therefore not entitled to a state; and that the Middle East is Muslim and has no place for a state that is not Muslim.
The majority in the UN General Assembly became convinced of the justice of the Zionist claim: that a persecuted nation was entitled to a homeland, that the establishment of a Jewish state would prevent further Jewish suffering, that the Palestinians could enjoy self-determination in a state of their own where they would be protected from becoming a minority, and that there was no other place in the world for Jewish independence than the Land of Israel.
That is the justice of the Zionist cause. It remains far stronger than any pro-Arab claim.
The writer is president of the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Thoughts on Psalm One

Notes/drash prepared for Shavout

Happy is the one who has not followed the
counsel of the wicked.
or taken the path of sinners,
or joined the company of the insolent;
rather, the Teaching of Hashem is his delight,
and he studies that teaching day and night.

He is like a tree planted beside streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season,
whose foliage never fades,
and whatever it produces thrives.

No so the wicked;
rather, they are like chaff that wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not survive judgment,
nor will sinners, in the assembly of the righteous,
For the Lord cherishes the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked is doomed.

There are a couple of interesting things about this Psalm.
Considering it is the opening Psalm, you would think it would be one that had a "Psalm for David" heading. But this is one of the few psalms that are not attributed to him..
Also, it isn’t a "devotional" psalm on its face. There’s no outpouring of emotion. No outcry to God. The Psalm focuses on the human, not the divine. Even the style of writing isn’t like the usual Psalm. It reads like something from proverbs.

So why was this piece chosen to begin the (first) Book of Psalms?

Its job is to establish right off the bat, certain fundamental ideas.

1. Torah is indispensable in the individual’s attainment of righteousness. And its rewards are immediate.

2. It mirrors the "conversation" that is seen in Torah. Torah is a revelation, or reaching out from God to man. The Decalogue opens with I am the Lord your God," and closes with "your neighbor". Divine to human. The Book of Psalms opens with "Happy is the one" and ends with "Let every soul praise God. Hallelujah" Human to Divine

3. The study of sacred text, of God’s word, is a holy act and a form of worship.

4. It establishes the assumption of a divinely ordained, universal moral order. You can’t cry out for justice, or mercy, for righting wrong, without a grounded conviction about the nature of God and his involvement in our world.

5. It embraces faith in the individual human to transform society..

"Happy is the one..." This is not some fuzzy promise of a future reward. It’s a description, an observation of the psalmist of an existing reality. The observer is expressing wonderment and admiration over the individual’s state of being. It isn’t "happy" as we generally tend to think of the word. It is a more intense and sustainable form.

The state of happiness is not a natural one. It is not something that you can "fall into". It requires specific actions on the part of the individual. Essentially, one has to avoid harmful social situations. But this by itself is insufficient. "Happiness" demands that we be proactive by focusing our energies on God’s Teaching, on Torah.
"Rather, the Teaching of the Lord is his delight."

The way one "studied" the teaching of God in biblical times was through memorization, oral recitation and repetition. So one would actually utter the words of Torah, and to do so was to not only engage in study but to engage in worship.
So the first part of the Psalm shows us how the individual is to attain "happiness". The second part expands on the perks of embracing the Torah and rejecting the ways of the wicked.

He is like a tree planted beside streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
who’s foliage never fades,
and whatever it produces thrives.

The use of the tree as a metaphor was common and is used elsewhere in the Tanach. There are also ancient egyptian writings that compare man to trees. But as we’ve seen time and time again, judaism adopts something from another culture and makes it uniquely its own.
The image of the tree itself suggests regeneration. And the tree in our psalm is a fruit laden tree.

So immediately, the image of this fruit laden tree invokes images of usefulness, of enriching the lives of others.

The word "planted" is really inadequate. My understanding is that the Hebrew word used suggests "well-rooted". Meaning its roots run deep. It is not susceptible to the whims of wind. And like a well-rooted tree, the righteous individual in our psalm is rooted in Torah. And this gives him the strength to withstand the storms that inevitably visit each of us.
Our tree has a constant source of water. It is not dependent on rain. It is nurtured at all times. By studying Torah, we are constantly nourishing our spirits. We are not dependent on the moral climate of our times. The righteous man in the Psalm will not wither even when surrounded by wickedness, because he has his own source of nourishment.

Unlike most fruit trees, this tree is always green. So its leaves are always there to provide shelter to others. Its fruit is always available to provide sustenance to others. And so to, does the individual devoted to Torah provide blessings to others. I would guess both as a role model and by how he or she interacts with their community based on having a firm grounding in Torah.

I like the line "and whatever it produces thrives" because this can be describing either the tree or the person in the first verse of the Psalm. Specific measurable results for our righteous person. Prosperity.

The wicked, apparently have no roots. They will not thrive. They are chaff that the wind blows away. This is a difficult statement to take literally today, where there seem to be many examples of the wicked thriving.

The assembly of the righteous. Now our individual has company. He is no longer the a lone tree withstanding the winds of adversity. How he has a membership in the righteous club. No sinners allowed.

Psalm ends with "For the Lord cherishes the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is doomed." Cherishes is more accurately translated as "know". How is knowing the righteous a contradiction to the wicked being doomed. Apparently, the word "know" had a technical meaning in treaties and similar texts. When a superior "knows" one that is under him, it meant that he placed that individual under his protection and care.
So here we have God protecting the righteous, while the wicked, who spurn His protection, are doomed.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Torah and Pslams

Conversing with God: Torah and Psalms.
It seems that while the Torah is a conversation initiated by God to man, the Psalms are a conversation initiated by us to God. To that end, I note that the Decalouge starts with "I am the Lord, your God" and ends with "your neighbor." While the book(s) of Psalms open with "The praises of man" and ends with "Hallelujah! Praise God in His holy place, praise Him in the firmament of His might." God to man and Man to God.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Darfur, Genocide & Judaism

What follows is a letter my 11 year old girl wrote after attending the Save Darfur Rally in Washington DC on April 30, 2006. Stand up or stay slient. Your choice.During the Holocaust, while the Jews were being lined up to be deported and being tortured simply because of their religion, the world was standing in the sidelines and watching. While millions of us were killed in gas chambers and sent out to camps the world didn't make an effort to stop the genocide. Now, the citizens of Darfur are having their houses burned down and being forced to live in houses made out of whatever scraps or garbage they can find. All the world has done is sit there and watch history repeat itself. So if it is possible for anyone to feel the pain that the citizens of Darfur are feeling, it would be us. The Jews. Darfur is the first example of genocide in the 21st century and with your help we can make it the last. This is not about skin color or religion, this is about genocide. Make a contribution. Visit http://www.savedarfur.org/. Don't keep quiet about genocide, reach out to the government. This time, an 'A' for effort is not enough. 'Instead of mourning a genocide, stop one.'Dear President Bush, During your first year in the White House, you wrote in the margins of a report on the Rwanda genocide, "Not on my watch." I urge you to live up to those words by using the power of your office to support a stronger multi-national force to protect the civilians of Darfur.~Emma~

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Conversing with God: Torah and Psalms.

It seems that while the Torah is a conversation initiated by God to man, the Psalms are a conversation initiated by us to God. To that end, I note that the Decalouge starts with "I am the Lord, your God" and ends with "your neighbor."
While the book(s) of Psalms open with "The praises of man" and ends with "Hallelujah! Praise God in His holy place, praise Him in the firmament of His might."
God to man and Man to God.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Judaism & Revelation

Revelation is one of the more difficult concepts to put into words. Possibly because revelation itself occured (and continues to occur) at a pre-conceptual level, in a realm where langauge is simply inadequate. As a conservative jew, I believe that all of Torah is an attempt to express and describe the experience of divine revelation. And one does not describe such an experience with a list of facts, but rather with poetry, metaphor and simile. Often the deepest truth is found in story, not in "fact." To paraphrase Elie Wiesel, Everything that is true did not necessarily happen.

Having siad that, I think Torah is the closest thing we have to a "blueprint" of God's mind. It is, in a very real sense, the method of revelation from God.

God is revealed through Torah. The gift of Torah is an expression of His desire to initiate an intimate relationship between Him and us. Through Torah, God chooses to reveal himself to us-- an integral condition of any intimite relationship. After all, no relationship can be "intimate" without both parties being willing to reveal their true selves to each other.

So Hashem reveals Himself through Torah. But relationship is a two way street. How are we to reveal our true selves to Hashem? It is up to each of us to embrace Torah if we want to experience the revelation of God, to engage in an intimate relationship with the Holy. Study it, discuss it, live it.

And so, in the end, revealation is not simply a unilateral revelation of God's glory. Like so much of judaism, it is a form of covenant, requiring our own reciporcal revelation of our own glory, as creations of God. And as God reveals Himself though Torah, we reveal our true selves through embracing Torah. And so both God and the self are revealed.

Torah was not simply revealed at Sinai. Its revelation is a process that did not end at Sinai, but continues today. Similarly, Israel did not simply reveal themselves to God or the world at Sinai. That is also a process that continues throughout time.

Final thought. In order for something to be revealed, it must first be concealed. So we must always ask:

What God is hiding from us? What we are hiding from God?
By dwelling on these two questions, I believe that divine revelation will occur again and again in our lives, at various levels. Shalom.

Monday, March 27, 2006

"It is in the hands of every individual, if he desires, to direct himself to the good path and be righteous; it is in his hands. This is what is written in the Torah, 'And he shall be as one of us, knowing good and evil.'... That is to say that the human species is unique in the world; there is no other species like him in this matter - that he himself in his knowledge and thought knows good and evil and does all that he desires; and no one can force him to do good or evil. " - Rambam.