Posts Tagged ‘Moses’

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.

Pirkey d'Rabi Eliezer

The 1st installment in a series examining whether Pinechas (aka Pinchas or Phineas) of the Torah is same personage as Eliyahu ha-Navi (Elijah the Prophet) of the book of Kings and later Jewish traditions.

Pirkey d’Rabi Eliezer, ch. 47:

Rabbi Yehudah says: …Through the counsel of Bilam (Balaam) that he advised Midyan (Midian), 24,000 Israelites fell. Bilam said to them: ‘You cannot overcome this people unless they have sinned before their Creator.’ They immediately made shops outside the camp of Israel, and [the Israelites] could see the daughters of Midyan adorning their eyes (with makeup), and [the Israelites] strayed after them… Shimon (Simon) and Levi had been zealous regarding sexual impropriety, as it says (regarding the incident with Dinah in Genesis 34): ‘Shall he make our sister like a harlot?’ (v. 31). But the nasi (prince) of the tribe of Shimon did not remember what his ancestor had done, and he did not rebuke the men of Israel. Rather, he himself publicly had relations with the Midianite woman. All the nesiim (princes) and Mosheh (Moses) and Elazar and Pinechas saw the angel of death, and they were sitting and crying, and they did not know what to do. Pinechas saw that Zimri was having relations publicly with the Midianite woman, and he was filled with a great zeal. He grabbed the spear from the hand of Mosheh, and ran after [Zimri], and stabbed him. Therefore the Holy One Blessed is He gave him priestly gifts… [Pinechas] stood up as a great judge for Israel… and he struck the men of Israel, and dragged them to every corner of the camp of Israel so the people would see and fear. The Holy One Blessed is He saw what Pinechas had done, and He stopped the plague from upon Israel… Rabbi Eliezer says: The Holy One Blessed is He considered the name of Pinechas like the name of Eliyahu of the inhabitants of Gilad, who cause Israel to repent in the land of Gilad… and He gave him life in this world and life in the World to Come, and He gave him and his children good reward for the sake of eternal priesthood.

While Eliyahu and Pinechas are here equated with one another, it appears clear that they are distinct individuals, compared for similar deeds.

Click here for the next installment.

“All of the assembly in its entirety are holy and G-d is among them!” shouted Korach, poised at the head of the mob of rebels who had gathered to challenge Moses and Aaron. “Why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of G-d!” (Numbers 16:3).

The Talmud records that Korach’s attacks against Moses were not merely political, but far sharper and more personal. According the Talmudic account, among other criticisms, Korach actually accused Moses of the crime of adultery!

While attacking Moses on the basis of his position of authority seems understandable, to malign a man of Moses’ inimitable character and reputation with intimations that he had committed adultery enters the realm of the ridiculous! What is the meaning of this strange Talmudic teaching?

The answer to this mystery, as with many mysteries of the Torah, lies at the core of the history of Man.

“Let Us make Man…” (Genesis 1:26). The Almighty consulted with his council of spiritual ministers before creating Mankind. Our tradition teaches that these heavenly ministers objected to the Almighty’s plan, explaining that Man, as a being with physical elements, may succumb to material temptation, polluting the universe with sin. Man, therefore, deserves not any place in the kingdom of the Almighty. G-d overrides the opinion of his ministers and proceeds with the creation of Adam. Thenceforth, throughout history, as mankind failed to live up to the course of holiness prescribed for them by the Almighty, the angels would continually remind the Lord of their initial objection and His failure to heed their counsel.

Subsequent to Adam’s fall from grace, the Torah describes how Adam’s sons Cain (Kayin) and Abel (Hevel) vie for the Almighty’s favor. While Abel brings an offering from the fattest of his flock, Cain offers only the cheapest of his crop. The Almighty favors Abel’s offering, and in a fit of jealousy, Cain murders his brother Abel.

“G-d said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel, your brother?’ [Cain] said, ‘I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’ [G-d] said, ‘What have you done! The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to me from the earth! And now you are accursed from the earth that opened its mouth to take your brother’s blood from your hand!’” (ibid 4:9-11).

Our tradition further teaches that Cain’s jealousy of Abel stemmed not only from the Almighty’s reaction to their offerings, but from a number of other factors as well. Among them, Cain was born together with a twin sister who would become his wife, while Abel was born with two twin sisters who would become his wives. Cain thought, “Should the younger have two while the elder has but one?”

Subsequent to Abel’s murder, the Almighty’s heavenly ministers seize the opportunity to brag that they were right once again about mankind. “Look how this one murdered because of jealousy over such material desires!” G-d replies to them that so long as they, as spiritual beings, cannot be tempted by physical desire, they have no right to criticize those who suffer from such temptation. The Lord’s ministers, disgusted at the suggestion that something so lowly as the material could offer any allure to beings so pure as themselves, urge G-d to offer them the opportunity to prove themselves. The Almighty obliges, sending two of these spiritual beings to earth in physical form.

What follows? “The Sons of Eloh-im saw that the daughters of Man were good, and they took for themselves wives from whomever they chose” (ibid 6:2). According to Rashi, these “Sons of Eloh-im” were, “the ministers who act in the agency of the Lord,” i.e. G-d’s spiritual ministers who had been sent to the earthly realm. According to mystical tradition, the “daughters of Man,” here mean not merely women of the human persuasion, but the actual daughters of Adam, i.e. the two sisters of Abel. G-d tests those spiritual ministers who criticized Cain’s actions with the exact same stimulus that led Cain himself to commit his jealous murder. These spiritual beings too, now susceptible to material temptation, succumb to their newfound urge to take these woman as wives.

The visitors from the spiritual realm solicit the daughters of Adam for marriage. These holy women, not wanting to enter such an ill-conceived relationship, but knowing these beings hold the power to force the issue, concede, but on condition. The daughters of Adam stipulate that as these spiritual visitors hold the option to return to the heavenly realm at any time, they must teach these women the Name of G-d that would allow them to do the same in such an eventuality. The spiritual beings comply, teach them the Name, and immediately the daughters of Adam use the Name to ascend to the heavenly realm before any union can be realized. While the spiritual ministers remain below, wreaking the havoc that the Almighty predicted, these holy women remain above, seeking asylum from these destructive creatures.

According to mystical tradition, many generations later, during the ascendance of the Pharaohs of Egypt, these two women are brought back into the earthly realm, one as Bithyah, daughter of Pharoah, the other as Tziporah, daughter of Jethro. At that time as well, the souls of Cain and Abel are brought back into the world as Korach and Moses, respectively. The daughter of Pharoah, one of Abel’s former wives, rescues Abel, now Moses, from the Nile River, and raises him as a son. Moses later marries Tziporah, also his wife during his previous incarnation.

As Moses achieves ascendency over Israel, the soul of Cain, now Korach, undergoes the same trial of spirit to overcome his jealousy that he failed during his first incarnation. The Almighty has granted Korach the opportunity to achieve rectification for his tainted soul, yet Korach tragically allows his millennia-old jealousy to overwhelm him, mounting a rebellion against the man that G-d has favored once again.

But how does this help us understand Korach’s shocking accusation against the humblest of all men?

According to Torah law, if a man dies childless, his brother should marry the widow in order to grant continuity to the deceased brother’s legacy. In the case of Cain and Abel, since Abel died childless, the rights to marry Abel’s wives belonged to Cain. This was the substance of Korach’s accusation. As the reincarnation of Cain, these rights now belonged to him! Tziporah, then, formerly the wife of Abel, should be the rightful wife of Korach, not Moses. Ergo, Moses’ marriage to Tziporah constituted an adulterous relationship!

Korach erred in his calculation, however, his raging jealousy blinding him to the elementary precept that, “one cannot fulfill a commandment through transgression of another commandment.” Since Cain’s obligation to marry Abel’s wives only came about through the murder of Abel, no such obligation actually took effect! In this case, Cain had no legitimate claim to Abel’s wives, nor did Korach have any legitimate right to marry Tziporah. Moses escapes any calumny laid upon him by Korach, while Korach must face the consequences of his missteps once again.

We can now gain a deeper appreciation of Korach’s bizarre demise. “The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them” (Numbers 16:32). Why was this the form of Korach’s destruction? Remember the words of the Almighty to Cain after the murder of Abel: “The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the earth! And now you are accursed from the earth that opened its mouth to take your brother’s blood from your hand!” Just as the earth opened its mouth to absorb Cain’s original sin, so would the earth open its mouth again to claim the perpetrator of that sin. And indeed, according to mystical tradition, the place where the earth “opened its mouth” to swallow Korach was the same exact spot where Cain had murdered Abel millennia earlier.

The Torah instructs us not to be like Korach and his assembly. Korach’s character flaws plagued him not only through two lifetimes, but for all eternity. Our Sages teach us that Korach remains forever suspended in the endless chasm born of his reticence to accept reproof for his recalcitrance, eternally declaring his regret. Learning not from his errors, he doomed himself to repeat them. Let us not be like Korach. Let us assert ourselves in a genuine effort to perfect our character, and instead of the legacy of strife left behind by Korach, may we merit to bring a legacy of everlasting peace to our world, to our posterity, and to all Israel.