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The Torah describes the patriarch Yaakov in his youth as ish tam yoshev ohalim, “a simple [tam] man, residing in tents" (Genesis 25: 27).
The adjective tam expresses a notion of integrity, but also of simplicity and even naivety. It would thus be an almost childlike integrity, which arises from a very simplified and reassuring view of reality. Integrity and simplicity are defined by the same adjective, tam, which seems to suggest that only a naive view of reality would allow to maintain complete integrity, whereas when reality is contemplated in all its complexity, integrity become only an ideal. Yaakov is also portrayed as "residing in tents," someone who prefers an intimate atmosphere, protected from the outside world. His life will lead him to resort to questionable tricks and stratagems, in several pivotal moments. In one of these episodes, after having worked many years for his uncle Lavan, Yaakov needs to increase his livestock of cattle before leaving him uncle Laban. He proposes to Lavan to keep for him only the speckled, spotted, and dark sheep and goats, whose quantity and value are minor. But Yaakov peels white streaks in dark wood rods, and set these rods in a place where the flocks would see them while mating. Yaakov lays the rods before the eyes of the stronger sheep mating, but not before the feeble. So the stronger sheep brings forth speckled and spotted. In this way, the feebler sheep become Lavan's, while the stronger will be Yaakov's. The patriarch flocks and wealth are thus strongly increased (Genesis 30:27-43).
However the action of laying bare the white core into the dark wood has a deep symbolic value. This episode is a symbol of Yaakov’s maturation, with the awareness that not everything is black or white, as the nuances of reality are much more complex. Yaakov has always maintained and nurtured a perception of himself as a victim of others, initially the aggressiveness of his brother Esau, then the deceits of his uncle Laban. He needs to discover that everything that appears to be of a single color, often contains other opposite nuances. The offender has sometimes unsuspected qualities, the victim is not always entirely innocent. The discovery of this reality, that life is not necessarily populated by heros and villains, but it is the difficult interacting between the wants and sufferings of complex human beings, will guide the third patriarch to a deeply different, and more balanced, perception of things.
This aspect will be crucial in his construction, and in his transformation from Yaakov to Israel. And this aspect remains a very important point in the building of any of us. And this aspect remains pivotal in the development of every one’s personality.
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The narrative of the Creation is a text rich in teachings, but extremely delicate. Let’s read the very known opening of Genesis:
“In the beginning of Elohim's creation of the heavens and the earth (Now the earth was astonishingly empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep, and the spiritual breath of Elohim was hovering over the faces of the waters) And Elohim said, "Let there be a light," and there was a light.” [Genesis 1:1-3]
Rashi, the great medieval French commentator, already observes that in the beginning the Torah describes the creation of heavens and earth, but the account assumes the existence of primeval waters whose creation is not told, for the spiritual breath of Ha-Shem is hovering over their surfaces. Rashi therefore concludes: " Perforce, you must admit that Scripture did not teach us anything about the order [of the creation]." (Rashi on Genesis 1:1).
Let us notice the expression of the French master. He is not just saying that the Torah does not explain exactly how things happened, rather he is saying that the Torah does not indicate at all the order of creation! Therefore the Torah is not a chronicle, let alone a history book, but rather a reflection on the meaning of creation and human existence in relation to Transcendence. It does not teach us when or how, but rather invites us to ask ourselves which is the meaning of things.
Starting from there we can try to imagine how we could in our turn create our inner and outer universe, how to give life, harmonizing heaven and earth, thought and feeling, ideal and reality.
Therefore, it seems that any debate or discussion about the account of creation as scientific or pseudo-such is unnecessary and useless, "Vapor and striving after wind." [Ecclesiastes 1: 14].
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Like all the festivals in the Torah, Shavuot has a double meaning. On one side it is an agricultural festival, on the other side an historical/religious one. According to the first meaning, in biblical times the wheat harvest was celebrated on Shavuot, through the offering of the first fruits that were brought to the Temple. At a later date this day was identified as the day where Ha-Shem gave the Torah to Israel through Moses.
On the other hand, the peculiarity of Shavuot is that its date is not specified at all in the Torah, which merely asks to count seven full weeks from “The day after the Sabbath" [Leviticus 23:15]. The day following the end of the count, i.e. the fiftieth day, is Shavuot. Thus its date depends on a count. The issue is that the biblical expression “The day after the Sabbath" is not so clear. The previous passage speaks about Pesach, so the Sages Pharisees interpreted this expression as meaning the day after the first day of Pesach. The Halacha follows this interpretation, but this line of reasoning was not shared by all. In the age of the Second Temple the Sadducees, a very conservative group close to the aristocracy of the priestly families, believed that the biblical phrase needed to be read literally, therefore the counting were to be made from the first Sunday after Pesach (the literal reading of “The day after the Sabbath"). Since the counting lasts seven full weeks, for the Sadducees Shavuot would always fall on a Sunday, maybe a way to extend its length by the Shabbat immediately preceding Shavuot , which in itself was shorter than the others festivals [cf. Bavli Menachot 65a ]. But behind the controversy over the date there is something more profound. Passover can be seen as simple a celebration of liberation, an historical fact which allows a people to escape oppression. Shavuot, whose only the agricultural meaning is specified in the Torah, can therefore be seen as a celebration of the independence achieved through this freedom, that allowed the Jewish people to have a country. Moreover, it is quite unlikely that the Sadducees identified the giving of the Torah with Shavuot. The Pharisaic idea that the counting of the Omer should begin the day immediately following Pesach, shows that in their view the giving of the Torah, and the alliance with Ha-Shem, was the only reason and the only real purpose of the exodus from Egypt. We could think that the purpose of the exodus was just to live in freedom, while in the Pharisaic vision we leave Egypt only to undertake a training towards responsibility, a training whose ethical center is the gift of the Torah at Sinai. From this perspective, even the idea of ??harvesting and the offering of the first fruits get transformed, because there is a switch from a relationship to the land based on exploitation and domination, to the idea of man as creature placed on a particular land with the purpose of choosing to use his freedom at the service of an ethical project outlined in the Torah.
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PESACH - OUT OF EGYPT ?
In the Pesach Haggadah we find the quotation and commentary of a Torah verse which says: "And the Egyptians mistreated us?? [ vayareu ] ..." ( Deuteronomy 26:6)” However, the root of the word vayareu , an expression often translated as "to hurt" or “to mistreat”, according to some is not the same of the word rah, "evil" , but rather that of reah , "friend" or "neighbor" , as in v 'ahavta et reacha camocha , "you will love your neighbor [ which is ] as yourself " ( Leviticus 19:18). If we read our verse in this sense, one could understand that before moving on to more violent ways, Egyptians had first established a soft and friendly contact with the Hebrews, and then they would have this relationship to better manipulate the Benei Israel.
We have a certain idea of Egypt: the slavery, the violence, the children thrown into the Nile. In our imagination Egypt becomes sometimes absolute evil, an evil that comes from an unknown place, an evil which we undergo as victims. When we see things in this way, it is easy to develop a somewhat Manichean picture of Pesach. But, as this reading suggests, the loss of freedom does not always manifest itself by violent imposition. Rather, it easily occurs in the softness and comfort of habit. The results, in terms of enslavement, are the same. But the difference is that this kind of loss of freedom is sweeter, and it makes our life easier. We sometimes prefer to slide smoothly into dependence, let down our guard and let ourselves be carried by habit, which eventually dominate us after having been so comforting at first. The loss of freedom does not always happen by violence and abuse, otherwise it would be paradoxically easier to recognize its signs. Sometimes there is nothing sweeter than the loss of freedom and of the responsibility that freedom entails. It is not by chance that the generation coming out of Egypt will spend a great deal of time in the desert dreaming of returning to Egypt. Did we change so much ?
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