Posts Tagged ‘God’

In Yesterday’s post I shared from Nefesh haChayim the reason our bodies produce physical waste, that is, that most foods have a component that nourishes the spirit, and elements that do not. The body absorbs that which nourishes and excretes the rest. As a result, the generation that ate manna in the desert did not “go to the bathroom” since the manna from heaven was all nourishing.

Nefesh haChayim goes on to explain the connection between this concept and the worship of the idol known as Baal Peor. According to our traditional sources, Baal Peor was worship by performing one’s bathroom functions onto the idol. What is the reason for this bizarre (and disgusting) practice? How could this be a form of worship?

According to the above, however, the answer is understandable. The physical waste of the body represents everything that is completely of this physical world with no spiritual connection, no connection to the soul. Those who worshipped Baal Peor engaged in the most extreme form of hedonism, indulging the body only, with no limitations of the soul, no connection to God, no obeisance to a Higher Power. That is why those who worshipped Baal Peor (the daughters of Midyan) engaged in immoral sexuality and seduced the Israelites to do the same. They worshipped only the physical, with no spiritual component. So their form of worship involved the act revolving around that substance that has no spiritual component — excrement.

I have rendered Jeremiah Chapter 1 into a flowing English narrative incorporating selections of classic commentaries, primarily Rashi, also drawing from Targum and Radak. I would love for this to be a springboard for discussion.

Jeremiah, Chapter 1

Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, a Kohen (priest) from Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, was descended from Rahab the harlot. Despite his humble lineage, he was more righteous than those in his generation who were of prestigious lineage, and therefore was chosen by God to rebuke his generation. Jeremiah began prophesying in the 13th year of King Josiah son of Amon, when the Divine Presence (Shechinah) began to dwell upon him. He prophesied throughout the rest of Josiah’s reign, and throughout the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, and the reign of Zedekiah son of Josiah, until the 11th year of Zedekiah, in the 5th month, when Jerusalem was exiled.

God said to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. I had already revealed to Adam, from the beginning of time, who the prophets of each generation would be for all time, including you. Before you emerged from the womb, I prepared you for this purpose. I already told Moses, ‘I will raise up a prophet for them… like you’ (Deuteronomy 18:18). This prophecy refers to you, Jeremiah. You are a prophet like Moses, for just as Moses rebuked Israel, so shall you rebuke Israel. Just as Moses prophesied for forty years, so shall you prophesy for forty years. I have made you a prophet who will prophesy to Israel, a nation that behaves as though it is the same as the other nations of the world, not fulfilling the unique mission that I have commanded them. You will also prophesy regarding the calamities that will befall the nations of the world because of their wickedness.”

Jeremiah said to God: “But Lord, behold, I am unable to rebuke the people, for I am yet a lad. Moses rebuked the people close to his death. By that time, Israel already regarded Moses highly because of all the miracles he had performed for their benefit throughout many years. He took them out of Egypt and split the sea for them. He brought down the manna and swarms of quail for them to eat. He gave them the Torah and drew water from the rock. Therefore he could also rebuke them and they would listen. But you ask me to rebuke them at the very beginning of my career!”

God said to Jeremiah: “Do not say, ‘I am a lad,’ for you shall go to the nations of the world if I send you to them, and you shall speak to the people of Israel the words I tell you. Do not fear them, for I am with you, to save you.”

God sent His prophetic words and arranged them in Jeremiah’s mouth. God said to Jeremiah: “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms to uproot and to smash and to annihilate and to destroy, for as you prophesy regarding them, so shall befall them. But as for Israel, you are appointed to build and to plant, if they listen and repent.”

God spoke to Jeremiah, saying, “What do you see, Jeremiah?”

Jeremiah said, “I see an almond branch, representing a king who is quick to do evil, as the almond tree is quicker to blossom than other trees.” 

God said to Jeremiah, “You have seen well. Just as this almond blossoms more quickly than other trees, so am I quick to carry out my word. It takes twenty-one days for the almond to ripen, just as there shall be twenty-one days from the 17th of Tamuz, when the walls of Jerusalem will be breached, until the 9th of Av, when the Temple will be destroyed.”

God spoke to Jeremiah again, saying, “What do you see?”

Jeremiah said, “I see a boiling pot, bubbling up on the north side.”

God said to Jeremiah, “From Babylonia, which is in the north, shall the evil come forth upon all the inhabitants of the land. For behold, I am calling to all the families of the kingdoms of the north, and each man shall set his seat at the opening of the gates of Jerusalem, and upon all its walls around, and upon all the cities of Judah. And I shall pronounce judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem for all their evil, for abandoning me and burning incense to other gods, and bowing to the works of their hands. And you, Jeremiah, brace yourself, and rise up, and speak to them all that I shall command you. Do not fear them, lest I break you before them. Behold, today I have made you strong as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as copper walls to pronounce retribution against all the inhabitants of the land: the kings of Judah, its officers, its priests and the common people. They will judge you and strive against you to suppress your prophetic words, but they will not succeed against you, for I am with you, to save you.”

To the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon,” these new lyrics (by me) capture the Biblical and midrashic stories about the enigmatic giant known as Og.

Og, the mighty giant, tall as he could be,

He held on tight to Noah’s Ark, to survive the mabul sea.

 

In the rain Og traveled, as the Teivah sailed,

It bobbed and rocked and shook and lurched, what a whale of a tale! Oh…

 

Og, the mighty giant, tall as he could be,

He held on tight to Noah’s Ark, to survive the mabul sea.

 

Og, the mighty giant, tall as he could be,

He held on tight to Noah’s Ark, to survive the mabul sea.

 

When Lot was living in Sedom, the Five Kings went to war,

Lot was captured when the five kings lost against the four.

 

Og tried to be clever, came and told Avram,

He hoped Avram would die but Avram fought with dirt and won.

 

Og, the mighty giant, tall as he could be,

He held on tight to Noah’s Ark, to survive the mabul sea.

 

Og, the mighty giant, tall as he could be,

He held on tight to Noah’s Ark, to survive the mabul sea.

 

Mighty King of Bashan, later Og became,

Everyone would tremble at the mention of his name.

 

Old King Og would try to destroy Avraham’s children,

Tried to squash B’ney Yisrael with a big mountain.

 

Humble Moshe jumped and struck Og’s ankle with his staff,

That’s how Og met his mighty end, he had not the last laugh.

 

Og, the Mighty Giant, thought that he was brave,

He didn’t know only Hashem has the power to save. Oh…

 

Og, the mighty giant, tall as he could be,

He held on tight to Noah’s Ark, to survive the mabul sea.

 

Og, the mighty giant, tall as he could be,

He held on tight to Noah’s Ark, to survive the mabul sea.

tent

“For pass over to the isles of the Kittites, and see, and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there has been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, which yet are no gods? But My people has changed its glory for that which does not benefit.”

Jeremiah 2:10-11

“The Kittites and Kedarites are tent dwellers and cattle herders. They travel nomadically from pasture to pasture, from wilderness to wilderness, carrying their gods with them to the place where they encamp. I, however, carried you until I established you firmly, but you abandoned me.” (Commentary of Rashi)

As I heard Rabbi Berel Wein once say (though I’m sure he’s said it many times), “Tanach (Bible) is not a history book, it’s today’s newspaper.”

I have been energized by Israeli MK’s Naftali Benet’s recent initiative to have as many Israelis (and Jews generally) learn one chapter of Tanach a day, in order to strengthen our understanding of our historic mission and unbreakable link to our destiny in the Land of Israel. Nonetheless, I haven’t been following the daily prescription according to the “new order,” that is, starting all together from Chapter 1 of Genesis and proceeding forward. Since, as a Torah-observant Jew, I read the weekly Torah portion, I will complete the Five Books of Moses once annually anyway. So, in addition to my weekly “dose” of Torah, I am adding one chapter a day of the books of the Prophets.

That said, I have been, for years, trying to make slow progress through these books, and have already completed Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Isaiah. (I skipped Kings because I had intended to learn that together with a study partner, though that didn’t materialize, so I started it on my own after finishing Isaiah.) I am now completing the 20th chapter of I Kings (Melachim Aleph), and I have some thoughts to share.

We live in a time in which Israel’s continued existence constantly comes under threat from its enemies (who are everywhere, not just in the Arab countries surrounding the Land of Israel, or within its tiny borders). And despite our efforts to “defend ourselves,” our issues of security never seem to become resolved.

What can we learn, or shall I say, what are we CALLED UPON to learn from our holy books? (For that is their purpose, is it not? To learn from them, not to coldy read from them as some kind of quiet entertainment.)

Here is what I found in my reading for today. In short, Ben-Hadad, the king of Aram (modern-day Syria), wages war on Israel time and again, continuously seeking its destruction, but is thwarted again and again, not because of the righteousness of its kings, but because of the mercy of the great G-d of Israel. Before Ben-Hadad can attack Israel again, a prophet comes to the king of Israel and tells him (I Kings, 20:28):

Melachim20

“The Man of G-d (i.e. prophet) approached and said to the King of Israel, and said, “Thus said the Almighty (HaShem): Since Aram said that the Almighty is a G-d of mountains (only), but He is not a G-d of valleys, I have given all this great multitude (the army of Aram) into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Almighty.”

Did you catch it? No, it was not a typo, because it’s in the Hebrew, too. That’s right — the verse says “and (he) said” twice. “The Man of G-d (i.e. prophet) approached and said to the King of Israel, and said…” Why twice? What does this add?

Rashi’s comments are illuminating.

Melachim20-28Rashi

Rashi points out that there must have been a SECOND statement, in addition to this one, that the text does not record. Based on a comparison with later context, Rashi concludes that the second statement was that once the king has Ben-Hadad in his grasp, he should NOT show him any mercy! As we will see, the king will be reprimanded for not following this dictate (yet if the prophet had not said it, it would not have made sense later for the king to be taken to task for this, as we shall see).

So, of course, G-d was right and Israel defeats Aram again, and this time, the King of Aram is desperate for his own survival. Of his army of over one hundred thousand men, only he and a few close servants survive and find hiding.

Melachim20-31

“[The king of Aram]’s servants said to him: ‘Behold now, we have heard that the kings of Israel are kings of kindness. Let us please put sackcloth upon our loins and ropes upon our heads and go forth to the king of Israel. Perhaps he will allow you to live.”

Isn’t it amazing how our reputation as kind and merciful (and our predilection to be duped by our enemies’ false sincerity) hasn’t changed in three millenia? But you don’t think the King of Israel falls for this one, right?

Melachim20-32

Wrong! “They girded sackcloth upon their loins and ropes upon their heads, and they came to the King of Israel and said: ‘Your servant Ben-Hadad said: ‘Please allow me to live!” [The King of Israel] said: ‘Does he yet live? He is my brother!'”

At the first sign of a peaceful overture, the Jewish king is filled with nothing but love for his former enemy.

The King of Israel then makes a pact with his newfound “brother,” and sends him peacefully back to Damascus to his rule.

The prophet then disguises himself and appears to the King of Israel on the road, and asks him to resolve a dilemma:Melachaim20-39-40

The prophet in disguise tells the king that he was among the soldiers of Israel who had gone out to war with Aram. While at war, another soldier brought him a prisoner, telling him to guard the man with his life, or deserve a penalty. Nevertheless, the prisoner escaped. The king replied, “You decided your own sentence!” I.e. You accepted upon yourself the terms when you agreed to guard the prisoner, now face the penalty!

The prophet then reveals himself and explains that this was a metaphor for the king’s own actions.

Melachim20-42 Melachim20-42b“[The prophet] said to him: ‘Thus said the Almighty: Since you sent away My enemy from your hand, your life shall be in place of his life, and your nation in place of his nation.”

This confirms Rashi’s explanation earlier that the King of Israel must have been likewise commanded to “guard his hostage” and not let him go as he did, just like the man in the prophet’s parable.

So as Berel Wein said, these scriptures are today’s news. Will we learn from history and cease to accept the false promises of those who have sworn to destroy us? As Rashi has explained, sometimes the seemingly merciful course of action is that which is most unwise.

J-Street needs to read the Tanach.

[Paranthetically, I think it worthwhile to examine one more of Rashi’s comments to this passage. HaShem calls the king of Aram “איש חרמי,” which I have translated, based on Rashi, as “My enemy.” Rashi offers an alternative translation of the word חרם, that is, “entrapment.”

Melachim20-42Rashi

It was as if HaShem was saying to the King of Israel: “How many traps did I set for you until [the king of Aram] fell into your hands!” Over and over HaShem offered the King of Israel divine assistance in entrapping his enemies to that he may be victorious over them, yet the King of Israel has squandered all these efforts. Will we make the same mistakes? It appears to me that, G-d forbid, we are.]

TYYIntro2

ToledothYaakovYosephIntroduction

It is known that the soul of man is hewn from the four spiritual elements from which all the upper realms were formed, and they are the four letters of the Tetragrammaton (the four letter Name of G-d)… So too, the body of man is formed from the four elements of the lower realm, that are comprised of both good and evil, owing to the sin of Primordial Man (Adam), and they are fire, wind, water and earth. All of (man’s) attributes, both good and evil, are rooted in the four elements of the body, as [Rabbi Chayim Vital] wrote in the 2nd Gate (ש”ב) of the Gate of Holiness (שער הקדושה): ‘Therefore, all the wicked attributes are divided into four types, according to the following particulars. From the element of fire comes forth arrogance, since this elements is higher and lighter than the rest, and included in it are anger, and the desire for office in order to lord over and hold oneself higher than others, as well as hatred of others. From the element of wind comes forth that speech which is called vain chatter, and it includes flattery and lies and slanderous speech (לשון הרע) and boastful speech. From the element of water comes the desire for enjoyment, for the water causes all sorts of enjoyable things to sprout, and included in it are greed and jealously. From the element of earth comes the attribute of sadness in all its particulars, and included in it are slothfulness in the fulfillment of the Torah and the commandments because of one’s sadness over one’s [lack of] attainment of material acquisition… All these [wicked attributes] are on the side of the evil inclination, the evil component of the four elements. The good component is their opposite. The first is humility, which is the distancing from all anger and arrogance. The second is to be silent as a mute, not opening one’s mouth except out of necessity or [words of] Torah or [fulfillment of] commandments. The third is one who detests worldly pleasures other than those that are necessary for upholding one’s bodily existence. Fourth is joy in the service of the Creator… and being happy with one’s lot. All these [good attributes] on the side of the good component of the four elements.’

-from the Introduction to Toledos Yaakov Yoseph, by Rabbi Yaakov Yoseph of Polnoye, disciple of the Baal Shem Tov