Friday, January 12, 2007

Thoughts on Parashat Shemot

הַרְפּוּ וּדְעוּ כִּי־אָנֹכִי אֱלֹהִים
Slack off, and know that I am God (Psalms 46:11)

וַיֹּאמֶר נִרְפִּים1 אַתֶּם נִרְפִּים עַל־כֵּן אַתֶּם אֹמְרִים נֵלְכָה נִזְבְּחָה לַיהוָֹה
And he said "Slacking! You've been slacking, therefore you say 'Let us go offer to Adonai.'" (Exodus 5:17)

וּמֹשֶׁה הָיָה רֹעֶה אֶת־צֹאן יִתְרוֹ חֹתְנוֹ כֹּהֵן מִדְיָן וַיִּנְהַג אֶת־הַצֹּאן אַחַר הַמִּדְבָּר וַיָּבֹא אֶל־הַר הָאֱלֹהִים חֹרֵבָה: ב וַיֵּרָא מַלְאַךְ יְהוָֹה אֵלָיו בְּלַבַּת־אֵשׁ מִתּוֹךְ הַסְּנֶה וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה הַסְּנֶה בֹּעֵר בָּאֵשׁ וְהַסְּנֶה אֵינֶנּוּ אֻכָּל: ג וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אָסֻרָה־נָּא וְאֶרְאֶה אֶת־הַמַּרְאֶה הַגָּדֹל הַזֶּה מַדּוּעַ לֹא־יִבְעַר הַסְּנֶה

And Moses was shepherding the flock of Yitro, his father in law - the priest of Midian and he had driven the flock beyond the wilderness and he came to the mountain of God, to Horeb. And the angel of Adonai appeared to him in the heart of the fire from within the bush, and he looked and behold, the bush burned in the flame and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said "let me turn away and I will look at this great sight - why won't the bush burn up?" (Exodus 3:1-3)

Moses doesn't just notice the burning bush - anyone could notice the burning bush - he stops and turns away from his task to look at the bush. He is curious, and outside of Egypt, away from the pressures of the court and the hurry of urban life he stops just to check out something cool. And from the freedom to stop and look comes a relationship with God. Freedom is the key to this - had a Hebrew slave in an Egyptian chain-gang hauling bricks to the builders seen this, he may have indeed been every bit as curious as Moses was. But he would not have been able to relent, to turn away, to "slack off" as it were from his task. He is giving himself permission to do this, hence the combination of a jussive form with the supplicative particle נא. He can - a slave cannot.

This distinction is not lost on Pharaoh who, when the Hebrew representatives ask him why he is overworking them notes that when they had slack-time, time for reflection, time for a kind of spiritual healing (the root רפה giving us the word for healing as well as the word I here render as slacking), it occured to them to go offer to Adonai. Leave them no time for a thought other than that of work, and thoughts of the holy would be banished from their minds. This root shows up in Psalm 46:11 as well, in a phrase generally translated as "Be still and know that I am God," but which I rendered with "slack off" so as to underscore the commonality.

It is the quiet moments available for reflection, contemplation, contact with something bigger than ourselves that make any kind of mystical experience possible. Our days amuse us to death with trivia, and separate us from the reality that the world is a far larger system than we can control. The sabbath, "first among our sacred days," is a reminder of that, and the creation of a sacred space in time to allow us the opportunity to slack off, turn from our often all too narrow paths, and take the time to indulge our curiosity and in so doing open ourselves to a relationship with God.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Thoughts on Parashat Vayechi

Blessing Menasseh and Ephraim

Morgan suggests that this is done in order to legitimize them in the eyes of the rest of the family despite his mother's heritage. This seems likely.

Jacob says they will be like Reuben and Simeon to him. Does he mean in place of? He has few kind words for his eldest sons.

His blessing of the lads finds its way into the Bedtime Shema, as does the "Adonai, I long for your salvation."

The image of Judah being a lion, with his hand on his enemies' scruff, delights me.

Two deaths - Jacob and Joseph.

Midrash maintains that up until his reunion with Joseph in Egypt, his life sucked. Hence "Jacob LIVED 17 years in Egypt." This was also the age Joseph was when his brothers, er, sold him down the river.

Jacobs Funeral - Women, Children, and Flocks are left behind. Compare with later departure from Egypt.

Joseph - asks that his bones return to Canaan. He was in Egypt on account of his brothers. His brothers descendants, in particular the Levite Moses, takes him out. Why a levite?