RABBI ARTHUR SEGAL
Via Shamash Org on-line class service
Jewish Renewal www.jewishrenewal.info
Jewish Spiritual Renewal
Hilton Head Island, SC, Bluffton, SC, Savannah, GA
"Jive Talkin' "
Who wrote the Book of Deuteronomy? What can we learn from its inconsistencies with the first Four of the Five books of Moses? Was King Og really a giant who survived the great Flood? Did the Second Temple really get destroyed over a party invitation? Were Moses and the Israelite soldiers really allowed to eat pork? Are we causing blindness if we do not share Jerusalem? To learn these answers, and even more, we
invite you to read further.
As we move into the final months of our summer we begin the last of the five books of Moses. The Hebrew title "Devarim" means "words." An older Hebrew name for this book was "Mishna Torah" which means "the repetition of the Torah." The English language title of this book is Deuteronomy which is derived from Greek and Latin and means "second law."
As the Jews are camped on the east bank of the Jordan River ready to cross over into the promised land under Joshua's command, Moses begins his final discourses. In this parasha, Moses reviews the journey from Sinai to Kadesh and gives a veiled rebuke with an "exhortation to obedience" to God's laws, as Rabbi J. Hertz writes. The laws of the court system of judges are reviewed. Moses retells of the spies' mission but blames Israel for sending them. In the original story Moses makes the
decision to send the spies. The encounters with the tribes of Esau, Seir, Moab and Og are reviewed. The inheritance of the
tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Manesseh, who will live in what is now known as Jordan, are recounted.
Any honest reading of this last book will lead to difficulties, as there are so many inconsistencies with wordings and historic details as told in the first four books of Moses. Not only are laws reviewed with new wordings but more than 70 new laws are introduced. Modern critical biblical theorists conclude that this text was written at a different time, perhaps even in Ezra's era, after the return from exile in Babylon. Traditionally these problems are handled differently.
Traditionally these inconsistencies are answered by saying that Moses held back laws dealing with farming until we were ready to conquer the land of Israel. Even the Talmudic sage Abaye , when trying to explain God's different rebukes in Leviticus chapter 26 and Deuteronomy chapter 28, says that Leviticus' rebuke is God's words and that Deuteronomy's rebuke is Moses's words (Tractate Megillah 31B). The Vilna Gaon (genius Rabbi Eliyahu Zalman of the eighteenth century) says that the first four books were heard directly from God on Sinai by Moses and that Moses quoted God's words to Israel.
This fifth book was heard by Moses on Sinai and told to Israel 40 years later in Moses's own words. This is why, according to the Vilna Gaon, there is inconsistency. Onkelos in his 90 C.E. Aramaic translation of the Torah (the Targum) calls this book a "copy" of the Torah, but not an exact copy. He explains that where in the first four books we read the phrase repeated so many times "God spoke to Moses saying...," we read in
this fifth book the phrase "God spoke to me saying...." The Talmudic rabbis go further. They say that these 70 new laws were really part of the Oral Law and that Moses decided to select these 70 and write them down as it was a good time to do this. This is how the rabbis allowed themselves permission 1,700 years later to redact and write the rest of the Oral Law in what is called the Mishna and its Gemorra (discussions).
Those two combined eventually formed the Talmud. The rabbis never write that if in just 39 years laws could get reworded by even Moshe Rabbanu (Moses our Teacher) perhaps the Oral Law--which they claim is also the word of God--may also be reworded 1,700 years later as well.
The sages teach that the Book of Deuteronomy was taught by Moses during the last five weeks of his life. They say he died on Adar 7 (Tractate Kiddushin 38A). Moses started teaching this book, the rabbis say, on the first of Shevat. This leads to a voracious debate about who wrote the last eight verses of Deuteronomy. They agree that Joshua did but that Moses, who could foresee the future, told him what to write.
In verses 1-5 Moses mentions places but not the events that took place there. The sages teach that Moses, not wanting to embarrass the Israelites, did not mention their sins directly but only the locations of the sins. This is why these first five verses are labeled the "veiled rebuke." Yet the Talmudic rabbi Yochanan says he "has reviewed all of the scriptures but has not found any place named Tophel or Laban" (Deut 1:01). His colleagues answer that Tophel can be rendered "tephel" (complaint) and that Laban means "white." Therefore,
Moses was secretly rebuking the Israelites for complaining about the manna. Yet another rabbis posits that Tofel refers to the sin of the golden calf (ha Egel). The rabbis cannot decide where Arabah is. They decide it means the plain where the Midianite women seduced the Israelite men. And the unknown place of Di-zahab refers to the gold (Hebrew zehav) that God let the Jews take with them from Egypt. The rabbis agree that Paran is mentioned to remind us of the sin of the spies as they began
their journey from Paran.
The rabbis learn from this rebuke that "any leader who does not chastise his community is held responsible for their sins" (Tractate Shabbat 54B). They go on to say that properly criticizing a person is a lost art and that "in the days preceding the arrival of Moshiach...there will not be any criticism" (Tractate Sotah 49B). Rashi says that this means that no one could criticize another now, as we all sin to one degree or another, so no one has the right to point fingers. On the other hand, we are to "love criticism, for as long as there is criticism in the world, pleasantness comes to the world, good and blessing come to the world, and evil is removed from the world" (Tractate Tamid 28A).
In Deut. 01:6-8 we are told of Israel's boundaries, which are in
conflict with the boundaries given only days before in the last parasha of Numbers. Our land now extends to the Euphrates River in modern Turkey or Iraq. Rashi tries to explain that this means that Israel will have this land when the Messiah comes. No one dared to ask Rashi why we would need any land borders during the messianic age if we were all to be at peace. Perhaps some lions will miss the message and want to eat lambs instead of sleeping with them.
In Deut. 01:9-18 the laws of judges are reviewed. I invite you to turn to Exodus 18:13-26 and compare the two sections. When the Torah repeats these laws it adds and subtracts details. Jethro is not mentioned. Jethro was a Midianite. Forty years before, the Midianites were our allies. Even Moses's wife was a Midianite . Now they are painted as idol worshippers and seductresses. In Exodus Jethro gives Moses the idea for the use of judges. The parasha in Exodus is named for him. In Deuteronomy it is God
who gives this law. Did Moses forget about his father-in-law Jethro? Or was Deuteronomy composed 800 years later?
When you study Devarim this summer please keep a lookout for
inconsistencies. Note how the story of the spies in Deut. 01:19-46 is retold with subtle twists. Moses blamed the Israelites for sending the spies when it is clear in Numbers that God left the choice to Moses. And what is even more amazing is that Moses in 01:37 blames Israel for his own punishment of not being allowed to go in to the Promised Land. But we were just told that Mt. Nebo is within the borders of the Promised land and that Gad and Reuben are living there.
Note also that in verse 01:44, the story of the battle with the Amorites is retold. This battle took place after the Jews' moxie returned after they first lost faith while listening to the spies . The text says that the Amorites pursued the Israelites "as the bees would do." What is the Hebrew word for these flying stinging insects? "Devarim!" Is the author trying to say (as we learned about the "grasshopper eyes" [Num. 13:33]) that our own words defeated us?
The defeated King Og, given only a few words in Numbers, is now described at a giant with an "iron bed" nine cubits in length and four cubits in width measured by "the cubit of that man" (Deut. 3:11). Targum Yonatan (another Aramaic translation of the Torah by a student of Rabbi Hillel)
writes that Og was one of the race of giants that survived the flood. The Rashbam (Rabbi Shlomo ben Meir, Rashi's grandson, of twelfth-century France) says that when Og was a baby he was so big he broke his wooden cradle. Does Deuteronomy differ with the Noah story as well?
The rabbis had a tough time with reconciling the different wording of the histories in Deuteronomy and the rest of the Chumash (Five Books of Moses). The battles and the spoils of war are described differently. In Talmud Tractate Chulin 17A, when comparing Numbers 31:3-14 and 31:31-41
to Deuteronomy 3:01-11, the rabbis go so far as to say that God gave permission during the war with King Sichon and his Amorites for the Jews to eat "katlei de chaziri--dried pork rinds."
They are forced to this conclusion because in Deut. 6:10-11 God says that the Jews can use the houses that they did not build and the food and supplies found within them when they conquer
the land. Since King Og's and King Sichon's land is listed as part of the inheritance of the Jewish people, everything we took from them, including their non-kosher foods and utensils was able to be eaten or used "as is." It was only after these wars that Elazar gave the rules about koshering pots and pans.
For millennia no rabbi was able to state publicly a critical theory of this book's authorship. Tractate Sanhedrin 90A warns that "one who says Torah is not from heaven is a heretic and will have no share in the world to come." The fact that this was written shows that some rabbis must have thought about what we have the luxury today to call "the critical theory of biblical authorship." The Ramban (the thirteen-century Spanish Nachmanides) was forced to conclude that non kosher food captured while conquering Israel was permissible based on his reading of Deuteronomy. The Rambam (the twelfth-century Spanish and Egyptian Maimonides) says that non kosher food is only allowed if the Israelites are hungry. Conquering a land can certainly build-up one's appetite for pork rinds.
The authors of Deuteronomy--and perhaps the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings as well--emphasized centralization of worship and governance. In 622 BCE the High Priest Hilkian found the book of Deuteronomy while the Temple was undergoing restoration. This prompted King Josiah to undertake a major religious reformation. He purged Israel of paganism and centralized all sacrifices in Jerusalem. He also re-instituted Passover, which had been neglected since the days of the
Judges (2 Kings 22:23).
Rabbi Jeffrey Tigay writes that some scholars thought that Deuteronomy was written during King Josiah's reign. He suggests that it was written in King Hezekiah's term a century or two before. Hezekiah also was antipagan. There is a vigorous monotheistic antipagan theme in Deuteronomy. However, much of this book dates back to the ancient times of farmers and herders. There are no city-type laws for merchants, artisans, commerce or even real estate. Tigay believes that some sections
of this book go back to the united monarchy in David's time of 1000 B.C.E.
Because Deuteronomy places emphasis on rituals taking place on Mt. Gezirim and Ebal, near Shechem, Rabbi Tigay believes that it was written in the north, and not written in Jerusalem. He believes that refugees from the northern kingdom of
Israel fleeing to the south during the Assyrian invasion brought this book with them. The fall of the northern kingdom lead to some serious soul-searching in Jerusalem and Tigay believes that King Hezekiah used the text with its rebukes of paganism in order to reform and centralize worship in his southern kingdom of Judah.
Regardless of its authorship, we can agree that this book of Deuteronomy was inspired divinely and we can learn much from it. This parasha is always read in coordination with the fast day of Tisha B'Av. This is the ninth day of Av. The fast is in
commemoration of the destruction of both Temples. It is recorded that other sad events also took place on this same date in history, such as the date the Jews were ordered to leave Spain during the 1492 Inquisition. (Columbus in his diary complains of the unusual amount of traffic in the harbor on the day of his departure due to the expulsion.)
The Talmud teaches that the Second Temple was destroyed because Jews hated each other over petty things. The rabbis tie this teaching into this week's Torah portion with the veiled, non-embarrassing way that Moses rebuked B'nai Israel.
They tell the story in Tractate Gittin 57A of Bar Kamtza. Just before the Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem a certain man
made a large wedding feast. He hated Bar Kamtza because of some petty matter. Somehow the "postal service" got the mail mixed up and Bar Kamtza got an invitation. He thought it was a peace offering of friendship and attended. The host, however, had no wishes to restore their friendship and tried to eject Bar Kamtza from the party. Bar Kamtza offered to pay for his meal to avoid the embarrassment of ejection. The host refused.
Bar Kamtza offered to pay for half of the cost of the party. The host also refused. Bar Kamtza offered to pay the entire feast's expenses and the host still said "no!"
Bar Kamtza, publicly humiliated, went to the Roman authorities and claimed that the Jews were rebelling. The Romans began an investigation and found that indeed Jews had not subordinated themselves to Rome. The Talmud says this marked the beginning of the end of Jerusalem, the Temple and the Second Jewish Commonwealth. The Talmud goes on to say that not
one person, not even a rabbi, jumped to Bar Kamtza's aid to shield him from embarrassment. The Talmud demands that "one ought to jump into a fire rather than cause someone else embarrassment." The name Kamtza means "small thing." Bar Kamtza means "son of a small thing" , which is even smaller. We can learn that the smallest "devar" (word) can sting like a "davar" (bee) and cause someone emotional embarrassment and harm. I think we also were supposed to learn this lesson as children when we were read the fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty."
The Midrash teaches "Great is peace, such that even if Israel is
worshipping foreign Gods, but all are at peace with each other, God declares 'I will not defeat them.' As it says in Hosea 4:17 'Ephriam is joined to idols--let him alone!' However if Israel's hearts are divided against each other, 'they shall bear their guilt.'" The Talmud records in Tractate Peah 1A that Rabbi Aba says, "the generations of King David were all righteous but since they were guilty of infighting, they would go out to war and be defeated. However the generations of King Ahab were
idolaters, but since they were not guilty of infighting, they would go out to war and prevail."
We are all Jews regardless of whether we think that the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai or it was written in bits and pieces over the centuries. We are all Jews regardless of whether we are shomar Shabbat (observant of the Sabbath) or not. We are all Jews regardless of whether we follow kashrut (the dietary laws) or eat "pork rinds." As long as we have our petty quarrels over what even traditionalists say that God calls "Bar Kamtza", it does not matter what part of Jerusalem is given or not given to the Palestinians. God would rather us be idol worshippers and forgot about Him if man could live in peace.
God wants us "to live by the law, not die from it." Let me relate the true story of the composer Charles Valentin Morhange Alkan. Alkan was a nineteenth-century contemporary and
friend of Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt, Ms. George Sand and Victor Hugo. They entertained each other in and around Paris. Alkan was the Monty Python of his time. His "Marcia Funebre sulla Morte d'un Pappagallo" for four singers and chamber ensemble is hilarious. The translation of course is "Funeral March on the Death of a Parrot." Alkan parodies the religious
and operatic music of his time. The singers enter with "As-tu dejeune, Jacot?" the French equivalent to "Polly want a cracker?"
Anyway, Alkan disappeared from sight for years when he, a Jew, reclused himself to study Torah and Talmud. According to David Dubal's The Art of the Piano, Alkan died in 1888 when he "reached for his beloved Talmud, which was resting on top of a massive bookcase, and the structure toppled over, crushing the emaciated musician to death at the age of 75." The laws and
Halacha in the Talmud and Torah are fine for some. But let's not die fighting with each other over them.
It would be nice if we could remember that our Temple and the city of Jerusalem was not dedicated only to the Jewish people. I know this runs contrary to popular perception. In I Kings 8:41-43 King Solomon specifically asked God to heed the prayers of non-Jews who came to the Temple. Non-Jews were permitted to bring animal offerings and pray in the Temple. During Sukkot, 70 bulls were offered as sacrifices. The Talmud explains that this corresponds to the 70 nations of the world at that time. Isaiah called the Temple "a house of all nations." The Talmud
further states that the Romans never would have destroyed the Temple if they knew the benefit they received from it. In Derek Eretz Zuta it is written that "the world is like a human eyeball...and the pupil is Jerusalem." We are taught that the world is for all people. Without the pupil, the eye is blind. We are taught "not to put a stumbling block before the blind." We are also taught not to blind anyone and what the penalties are for poking out another's eye. Therefore, can we deny the "pupil of this world's eye" to any people?
If we cannot make peace among ourselves, how can we ever agree to live in peace with our Arab cousins? Let us keep the thought of "shalom" in our hearts and minds when we remember the destruction and suffering of our people--and all people--this Tisha B'Av.
RABBI ARTHUR SEGAL
Via Shamash Org on-line class service
Jewish Renewal www.jewishrenewal.info
Jewish Spiritual Renewal
Hilton Head Island, SC, Bluffton, SC, Savannah, GA
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