Friday, December 26, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayiggash 5775–Rule #2

It’s an old adage, that appears in many variations:

Rule #1: [X] is never wrong

Rule #2: When [X] is wrong, refer to Rule #1.

In this week’s haftarah, we encounter just such a situation. Ezekiel’s prophecy does not prove true. So the rabbis tweak the meaning to fit the reality. Ezekiel clearly predicted the re-unification of all the tribes of Israel.

In this haftarah, from Ezekiel 37:15-28, the prophet is instructed to take two sticks, and write upon one of them "Judah and the Israelites associated with him" and upon the other "Of Joseph-the stick of Ephraim-and all the House of Israel associated with them." Then he is told to "bring them close to each other, so that they become one stick, joined together in your hand." (JPS translation.)

    וְאַתָה בֶן־אָדָם קַח־לְךָ עֵץ אֶחָד וּכְתֹב עָלָיו לִֽיהוּדָה וְלִבְנֵי יִשְרָאֵל חֲבֵ֯רָו וּלְקַח עֵץ אֶחָד וּכְתוֹב עָלָיו לְיוֹסֵף עֵץ אֶפְרַיִם וְכָל־בֵית יִשְרָאֵל חֲבֵ֯רָֽו
    וְקָרַב אֹתָם אֶחָד אֶל־אֶחָד לְךָ לְעֵץ אֶחָד וְהָיוּ לַאֲחָדִים בְיָדֶֽךָ

It's a powerful metaphor - the sticks representing the peoples of the two Kingdoms - Judah and Israel - with G"d, through Ezekiel, foretelling their return to Zion from exile.

No "lost tribes" in this story. G"d tells Ezekiel that all the people of the covenant will be gathered from where they have gone and brought together in their own land, and make of them one nation, under one King. And then G"d promises (v. 22) "Never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms."

    וְיתִי אֹתָם לְגוֹי אֶחָד בָאָרֶץ בְהָרֵי יִשְרָאֵל וּמֶלֶךְ אֶחָד יִֽהְיֶה לְכֻלָם לְמֶלֶךְ עָשִוְלֹא יִֽהְ֯יֻה־ עוֹד לִשְנֵי גוֹיִם וְלֹא יֵחָצוּ עוֹד לִשְתֵי מַמְלָכוֹת עֽוֹד

I guess we can consider the promise half-true - the people were returned from exile in Babylon and thereafter were one nation, but, in effect, still only the nation that was the southern kingdom, Judah. We don't really know how many, descended from the tribes that made up the northern Kingdom of Israel might have been among those who came back to a restored Jerusalem and

For the rabbis, the idea that Ezekiel was wrong was too much to entertain. So they reinterpreted Ezekiel’s vision in a non-literal manner as referring to a reunification of the people with G”d and Torah. Rule #2.

In modern times, some see Ezekiel’s prophecy as referring  to the reunification of Jews in the Diaspora with the land of Israel. Given that Ezekiel’s original intent was very much centered on a restoration of a united Kingdom of Irael, under one King, with a restored Temple, that’s not too much pof a stretch.

Also, in a broader interpretation, some see it as a prophecy of the reunification of all Jews, of all stripes, everywhere – traditional and liberal. From our mouths to G”d’s ear, it should only be.

OK, let’s play the rule #2 game. Ezekiel cannot have been wrong. The Joseph story is largely about insuring the Divine plan is followed to its inevitable conclusion. (Never mind that we have to undergo several centuries of enforced servitude in Egypt.) Joseph’s reunification with his family is inevitable, and a necessary part of the story, for all of “Israel” must come down to Egypt in order for the story to progress as ordained.

Could the Diaspora, the foundation of a modern state of Israel, the establishment of re-interpretative forms of Judaism, all be part of the plan? Is an eventual schism between the traditional and liberal streams of Judaism (khas v’khalil) inevitable, and part of the Divine plan, which will eventually lead to the true fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy when we are all again reunited as one? Will the lost ten tribes be part of the reunification? (The Mormons and he British Israelites would love that.) Does G”d consider the Christians and Muslims errant children as well, eventually to be reunited as one Israel under one King? (I say this as gadfly and as mere speculation.Do notice that I did avoid suggesting that the Shoah was in any way part of the plan-the Shoah was humanity’s doing, not G”d’s. On the other hand, is it possible that the modern state of Israel seems to have some moral and ethical failings of its own part of the plan – and will it yield an eventual chastisement of medinat Israel for its sins? Not something I wish to see happen, but since we’re speculating, we might as well go all the way.)

History is replete with prophecies that didn’t quite come true as expected. It is equally replete with apologetics for these unfulfilled prophecies. (It is also replete with prophecies that were never meant to be prophecies at all, but were simply eisegeted right out of the text to serve the purposes of particular people. As they say, the Mayan’s  probably just ran out of room on the calendar wheel.)

As human beings, we do tend to see things through very short time spans.  That Ezekiel’s prophecies have not yet come true of these few thousand years is, on the time scale of our planet, our universe, dare I say, of G”d, insignificant.  So yes, the hope that rule #2 will still prove true remains, if we but adjust our time scales.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have all practiced forms of rule #2. So many times in their histories, adherents believed that prophecies were speaking of imminent happenings. When, as is it is to be almost invariably expected given our limited life spans, prophecies fail to materialize quickly, we just as quickly turn to an “immanent” explanation. This has become our most eminent explanation.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Rule #1 – I never make bad puns.

Rule #2 – When I make bad puns, refer to rule #1

So let’s close with another version of the rules

Rule #1 – There is no rule #2

Shabbat Shalom,

©2014 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Vayiggash 5774 - We Are Shepherds
Vayigash 5773 - Let's Be Judah
Vayigash 5772 - Redux & Revised 5760 Teleology 101: Does G"d Play Dice With the World
Vayiggash 5771-Being Both Israels
Vayigash 5769 - He's A-Cookin'-a-Somethin'-A-Up
Vayigash 5768 - G"d By the Light of Day
Vayigash 5767-Two Sticks As One?
Vayigash 5765-One People
Vayigash 5763-Things Better Left Unsaid
Vayigash 5761/5766-Checking In
Vayigash 5762-Teleology 101: Does Gd Play Dice With the World?
Vayigash 5764-Incidental Outcomes and Alternate Histories

Friday, December 19, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Miketz 5775–Assimilating Assimilation (Redux 5763ff)


I’ve recycled this musing, first written in 5763 (2002) numerous times. It is always an appropriate discussion around Hanukkah, as both during Maccabean times and in the Yosef story, we struggled with assimilation. Maybe that's not such a bad thing.


Random Musings Before Shabbat-Miketz (5763)

Assimilating Assimilation

וַיִּקְרָא פַרְעֹה שֵֽׁם־יוֹסֵף צָֽפְנַת פַּעְנֵחַ

Vayikra Paraoh sheim-Yosef Tzafnat-paneiach....Pharaoh gave Yosef the name Zaphenath-paneah. (Gen 41:45)


וַיִּקְרָא יוֹסֵף אֶת־שֵׁם הַבְּכוֹר מְנַשֶּׁה כִּי־נַשַּׁנִי אֱלֹהִים אֶת־כָּל־עֲמָלִי וְאֵת כָּל־בֵּית אָבִי: וְאֵת שֵׁם הַשֵּׁנִי קָרָא אֶפְרָיִם כִּי־הִפְרַנִי אֱלֹהִים בְּאֶרֶץ עָנְיִי

Vayikra Yosef et-sheim hab'chor Menashe ki-nashani Elokim et-kol-amali v'et kol-beit avi. V'et sheim hasheini kara Ephraim ki-hifrani Elokim b'eretz mitzrayim... Yosef named the first-born Menashe, meaning "Gd has made me forget completely my hardship and my parental home, and the second he named Ephraim, meaning "Gd has made me fertile in the land of my affliction." (Gen 41-51-2)

Yes indeedy. Yosef was having a grand time being vizier of Egypt, wearing Egyptian clothes, adopting Egyptian customs.

Assimilation. Almost seems like a four-letter word, an obscenity. At this time of year, as we celebrate the victory of the Maccabees in their guerrilla war against the Syrian Greeks, fighting against the assimilation of Jewish culture, it is brought even more into focus as something that Jews should loathe.

[Remember this was first written in 2002 – yet it still seems to be the case:] The latest Jewish population study adds fuel to the fire of those who rant and rave against the scourge of assimilation. Our numbers are dwindling, they cry, and we must guard against the evil of assimilation which will reduce our numbers even further. (Of course, this entire argument is wrapped up in the "who is a Jew?" debate. It would seem that both traditional and liberal Jews are beginning to realize that rules of strict matrilineal descent may actually be a hindrance to Jewish survival. And there is now great discussion about whether one can define a Jew by birth or by praxis. Personally, I side with those who favor praxis, but with some misgivings. One may be a Jew by descent, but if they practice nothing of the faith, do we count them as a Jew? However-what level of praxis becomes the definition? We have secular Israeli Jews who claim no religious practice yet often keep kosher, light Shabbat candles, etc. Perhaps living in the promised land itself is enough to qualify them, especially with the sacrifices that requires these days? [Again, a lot has changed in the last 11 years. More and more, our community is struggling to define what it means to be Jewish, to live a Jewish life. Added to these issues now, more often, is the question of institutional affiliation and its efficacy (and necessity) for establishing and maintaining a Jewish life. People are discovering all sorts of new ways to be Jewish, to do Jewish, to live Jewish, to feel Jewish, many of which are in places and settings other than synagogues and JCCs or work done through Jewish agencies and organizations. The most recent Pew study continues to provide fuel for the continuing discussions.

And so now I must ask the question [now as well as back in 2003]-is assimilation the evil it is portrayed as?

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary ( ) has these definitions for "assimilate":

1 a : to take in and appropriate as nourishment : absorb into the system b : to take into the mind and thoroughly comprehend 2 a : to make similar b : to alter by assimilation c : to absorb into the culture or mores of a population or group 3 : COMPARE, LIKEN

And gives its etymology as being from the Latin assimulare to make similar.

Cells assimilate nourishment, and thus are able to survive. The same can be said of cultures and religions. Assimilation may not be the great evil, and could even be a savior or redeemer instead.

Judaism has surely grown and benefited from assimilation over the years. There is even the radical suggestion that the Jews actually borrowed the idea of monotheism (or at the very least monolatry) from the Egyptians during the brief reign of Amenhotep, which overnight transformed Egyptian religion to the worship of one deity (only to have the whole idea thrown out by his son and successor.) Moshe gets some of the underpinnings of the legal and Judicial system from his father-in-law, a high priest of Midian. The Jewish ideas of haSatan, an adversary, and of mekhayyei hameitim, the resurrection of the dead, and messianism itself, may have assimilated their way into Jewish culture from Zoroastrianism and other belief systems of the ancient near east. Who knows what we assimilated into Judaism while in Babylonian captivity that we now think of as normative for Judaism. Gobs of important Jewish scholars and texts were influenced by the Islamic cultures of their times. We were certainly nourished by that bit of assimilation. In more modern context, we have the Chasidim who still insist on wearing the coats and hats of Polish nobility, the Chabadniks who sing a niggun based on Le Marseilles. We have Yiddish and Ladino. We have things like the Center for Science and Halacha. And, being partial to contemporary Jewish music, look how much great new music (and great old music) is the result of assimilation from contemporary cultures. Technology, the internet, the web, computers et al. Even the most orthodox of Jewish communities has assimilated those pieces of modern society.

Judaism has adopted pieces of modern psychology, and of self-help programs. (Needless to say, as I've often pointed out in these musings, modern psychology, self-help and twelve-step programs have certainly liberally assimilated ideas from Judaism as well.)

Whether for good or bad, we've certainly assimilated a fair share of capitalism and American-style democracy into Judaism. Similarly with the idea of rabbis being preachers from the pulpit. Somehow, the once-a-year sermon model we used to employ might be favored by many!

No doubt, there is lots in contemporary culture that we might not benefit from assimilating. The Jews in the time of the Maccabees would likely have not benefited from the forced assimilation of Syrian-Greek religion (but who's to say that they wouldn't have benefited, and indeed, did benefit, from other aspects of Syrian-Greek culture? Not every assimilationist became apostate.)

I'll raise one point which is likely to raise some hackles-but I'll say it anyway. As liberal Judaism seems to have failed to retain it as the traditional communities do, and seems disinclined to borrow from our traditional co-religionists, perhaps we ought to assimilate more of the fellowship, camaraderie and haimishness found in the communities of the dominant Christian culture here in the U.S. In a funny way, we'd be assimilating back something we probably lost through assimilation into a society where the Kitty Genovese story can happen [yes, we now know the story is more myth than reality,] where people don't talk to each other in Subway cars and elevators, and where so many people are out for themselves first and foremost!

And what has all this to do with parashat Miketz? Well, a good part of the Yosef story is about Yosef living in and adapting to Egyptian culture. He survived assimilation with his Judaism intact. And we can do the same. What sustained Yosef was his faith, his belief in Gd. This he never abandoned, just as Gd never abandoned him although his brothers surely did.

If Yosef can do it, so can we. We can assimilate the best of modern culture into our lives and keep our Judaism alive-if we can keep our faith alive. (The question of secular Israeli Jews who still maintain some elements of praxis without subscribing to the particularistic trappings that Jewish religious practice demands raises an interesting conundrum and may challenge my idea. They may profess no religious faith. If they assimilate, can they maintain their Judaism, thus showing a flaw in my theorem? Perhaps. I don't want to develop this argument more fully yet-though my earlier reference to the special nature of simply being a Jew living in eretz may have something to do with it all.)

I think fear of assimilation may be overblown. Stopping assimilation may be no panacea for Judaism's dwindling numbers. There is much that I admire in traditional Judaism, and much that I believe liberal Judaism has foolishly cast aside. Yet I think traditional Judaism's fear of assimilation may be their undoing. By the same token, there is the possibility that some liberal Jews have embraced assimilation altogether too much, and that may be their undoing.

There is a middle ground. It is the path blazed by Yosef and so many others. By assimilating that which from our surroundings can truly nourish and enrich us, while maintaining in our deepest core that essence of faith that keeps us Jewish. Yosef knew that it was G”d, and not Yosef, who could truly interpret Pharaoh's dreams.

Together we can face assimilation by embracing it, controlling it as a useful tool, rather than fighting it as inherently evil. Making it such an evil gives it more power than it really should have to defeat us. Let us be wise, as wise as Shlomo (Solomon), whose wisdom is portrayed in the traditional Haftarah for 2nd Shabbat in Chanukah, I Kings 3:15-4:1 (and which Reform tradition sadly abandons for the articulate and detailed description of the dedication of Shlomo's temple. That's a change I'm still trying to figure out.)

So let us be wise. Let us assimilate assimilation into who and what we are, as we have done so often throughout our history. Like Yosef, may we be the richer and more successful for it. For it is through faith in Gd that we will be sustained. As Zechariah wrote, and as we read in last week's Haftarah: "lo b'chayil v'lo b'koach k'im b'ruchi... Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit..."

Shabbat Shalom v'Chag Urim Sameach,

©2014 (parts  ©2002 by Adrian A. Durlester)

Other Musings on this parasha:

Miketz 5774 - To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
Miketz 5773 - B'li Meilitz
Miketz 5772 - A Piece of That Kit Kat Bar
Miketz 5771-What's Bothering...Me?
Miketz/Hanukah 5768 Learning From Joseph and His Brothers (revised from 5757)
Miketz 5767-Clothes Make the Man?
Miketz 5766-Eizeh Hu Khakham?
Miketz 5757& 5761-Would You Buy A Used Car From This Guy?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayeishev 5775–Seriously-Who Was That Guy?

I first asked this question in a musing 9 years ago, but it has also been asked by countless others, including our greatest scholars, for thousands of years.

A little bit of the story. So, like, Yaakov/Israel gives his favorite son Yosef this really cool coat. (We've been over the bad parenting technique thing before, so we'll skip that. Playing favorites like that is such a good idea, right?)

Yosef then proceeds to further alienate his brothers by describing these dreams in which they all bow down to him. Even Yaakov/Israel is a little put off when Yosef's second dream also includes his parents bowing down to him along with the brothers. And, as the text tells us, Yaakov  shamar et hadavar, he remembered this thing, he kept it in mind.

And the next thing you know, he's sending Yosef out to check on his brothers who are out pasturing the flock. Can't help but wonder if there's a connection with the previous verse. Was Yaakov hoping to see Yosef get a little comeuppance from his brothers? Was it all a set up? Would Yaakov really do that to his favorite son? All interesting things to explore, but again, I'm going somewhere else today.

So Yosef reaches the fields near Shechem and before he even has a chance to discover that his brothers aren't around,

וַיִּמְצָאֵהוּ אִישׁ וְהִנֵּה תֹעֶה בַּשָּׂדֶה וַיִּשְׁאָלֵהוּ הָאִישׁ לֵאמֹר מַה־תְּבַקֵּֽשׁ

"Vayimtza'eihu ish, v'hinei to'eh b'sadeh, vayyishaleihu ha-ish leimor mah-t'vakeish."

"a man came upon him wandering in the fields. The man asked him 'what are you seeking?' "

Yosef responds that he is looking for his brothers, and wonders if the man knows where they are. The man answers that the brothers have gone from this place, but he heard them talk about going to Dothan. And so Yosef heads to Dothan, where his brothers spy him coming, and proceed to throw him in a pit. And he gets sold. And he winds up in Egypt. And he serves Potiphar. And he won't dally with Mrs.. Potiphar, so she screams "rape" and Yosef is put in prison. G"d favors Yosef even in prison and he manages to thrive. He correctly interprets the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker. Yadda, yadda, yadda. And we wind up in Egypt and we get freed from Egypt and get the Torah and yadda, yadda, yadda.

All on account of this one man. Possibly. Yosef, having not found his brothers, could have given up and gone home. Then again, knowing as we do that all of this was part of G"d's divine plan, when G"d was yet again thwarted by this free will thing, I doubt G"d would have given up, and still somehow have managed to make the whole darn series of events happen. So, while some rabbis and scholars like to think of this man, this ish, as crucial to the story, suggesting perhaps the man is an angel or other divine messenger/steward, he might no be so essential to the story--it just might have turned out a little different. Would the butterfly effect have ensued? How different would Judaism be today as a result? Hard to predict or even know. And if it really all was part of some grand design, G"d could have tweaked things as necessary.

Rashi is absolutely convinced the “ish” is the angel Gabriel, based on another verse in which Gabriel is referred to as “ish” (Daniel 10:21)

Ibn Ezra says the “ish” was no angel, just a  person who happened to be passing by.

Nachmanides (Ramban) takes it further, arguing that this was not an angel, just a man, but there to fulfill G”d’s purpose (i.e. the man was there through G”d’s direct desire to guide Yosef to the fulfillment of the Divine plan.) I suspect this is perhaps an unspoken but understood (or implied) thought on the part of Ibn Ezra. The Ramban explains that it is because this “ish” was there to fulfill a Divine purpose that some referred to him as an angel. (This perhaps tells us that the custom of referring to living people as “angels” for their good natures and characters is much older than we think.)

All three sages were attempting to explain why this line is even here. Their basic answer is that it is there to illustrate that G”d was taking an active role in a plan.

Yet, despite the title of this musing, for me, the “ish” being essential to the story is not what matters to me, or what intrigues me. What has me thinking are those simple words he said to Yosef- "mah t'vakeish?" What are you looking for? Seeking? Searching for? He could have said "Whom are you seeking?" but no, he said "what." What are you looking for, searching for, seeking?


Is that not the essential question that all spiritual seekers must ultimately confront? If this ish, this man, is truly some sort of angel or divine messenger, then might not this question be of even greater import than it might appear in the context of the story? It is said that we should take the entire Torah as context. This being so, perhaps these are the most significant two words in all of the Torah. Can we even begin to unravel the meanings of all the rest of the Torah until we know what it is that we are looking for?

Of that I am not certain, for sometimes the true learning form Torah comes from the serendipitous, or in those moments when we shed our preconceptions, our desire to know what it is we are seeking and allow ourselves to be led down another path that might eventually alter the answer to that very question.

Talk about the power of words. Two little words. Mah-t'vakeish. I could easily spend the rest of my life thinking about them. I know they will occupy my Shabbat, and perhaps yours as well.



Shabbat Shalom,


©2014 (portions ©2006) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings On This Parasha

Vayeishev 5773 - K'tonet Passim
Vayeishev 5772 - The Ram's Horn Rag
Vayeishev 5771-Ma T'vakeish?
Vayeishev 5768 - Strangers Walking Together
Vayeishev/Hanukah 5767-I Believe in Miracles
Vayeishev 5766-Who Was That Guy?
Vayeshev 5761 - In Gd's Time
Vayeshev 5765-Mikol HaMishpakhot HaAdamah
Vayeshev 5758-What's Worth Looking After

Friday, December 5, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat - Vayishlakh 5775 - No One's In the Kitchen With Dinah (or Eric or Michael)

Some years ago in these musings, I wrote a little ditty based on the tragic story of Dinah. In the story of Dinah, true justice was not served. The revenge of Dinah's brothers involved trickery and excessive violence. In the current climate, given the recent failures of two grand juries to properly allow the course of justice to be pursued in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, it seemed appropriate to revisit it.

(to the tune of "I've Been Working on the Railroad")

I've been reading from the Torah,
all the livelong week
I've been reading from the Torah,
in the hopes I'll get a peek
Of the secret hidden meanings
found between the lines
Yet they somehow still elude me,
I can't see the signs

Torah please reveal,
Torah please reveal
Torah please reveal your secret truths
Torah please reveal,
Torah please reveal
Torah please reveal your truths

Shechem thought that Dinah was lovely
So he went and took her like a prize
Dinah's bro's said "this ain't a problem"
If you goys all circumcise," we're singing

Oy, oy, oyddly doy doy
Oy, oy, cut off your diddly oy doy oy
Oy, oy, oyddly doy doy
So the goys got circumcised

I've been reading from the Torah,
all the livelong week
I've been reading from the Torah,
in the hopes I'll get a peek
Of the secret hidden meanings
found between the lines
Yet they somehow still elude me,
I can't see the signs

Torah please reveal,
Torah please reveal
Torah please reveal your secret truths
Torah please reveal,
Torah please reveal
Torah please reveal your truths

While the Shechemite men were healing
While they all were resting in bed
Some of Dinah's brothers came stealing
Into town and killed them dead, they're singing

Oy, oy, we got our revenge
On those lousy Shechemites
Oy, oy, now us all will dread
Mess with us you'll wind up dead

I've been reading from the Torah,
all the livelong week
I've been reading from the Torah,
in the hopes I'll get a peek
Of the secret hidden meanings
found between the lines
Yet they somehow still elude me,
I can't see the signs

Torah please reveal,
Torah please reveal
Torah please reveal your secret truths
Torah please reveal,
Torah please reveal
Torah please reveal your truths

When the deed was done they told Jacob
And an angry scolding to them he gave
For what they'd done to his reputation
And not their murd'rous acts so grave, he's singing

Oy, oy, look at what they've done
How am I supposed to do business now
My ferkhakhte sons must be crazy
Their deeds I can't disavow

I've been reading from the Torah,
all the livelong week
I've been reading from the Torah,
in the hopes I'll get a peek
Of the secret hidden meanings
found between the lines
Yet they somehow still elude me,
I can't see the signs

Torah please reveal,
Torah please reveal
Torah please reveal your secret truths
Torah please reveal,
Torah please reveal
Torah please reveal your truths

In the sturm und drang of our story
There is one voice that we've not heard
Didn't anyone ask Dinah
Of what she thought there's not a word, she's singing

Oy, oy, don't they want to know
What I'm thinking, how it makes me feel?
Oy, Oy, they do not seem to know
That a woman's pain is real!

[adding these verses for 2014]

Ferguson and Staten Island are quite far apart
Yet, in both of these locations, somehow justice fell apart
"Hands Up!" "We Can't Breathe" they're calling
Rise up together as one
Justice, justice, no more stalling
'Til the work is done!

All across the land
Let's stand hand in hand
As we work to make this country safe
People everywhere
Let's show that we care
All lives matter equally, we're singing

No more Eric Garners
No more Michael Browns
For the sake of all in our nation
We will not stand down, we're singing

Hands Up! We Can't Breathe
Hands Up! We Can't Breathe
Hands Up! We Can't Breathe...
This is not America!

Well, I could go on...but I won't. It's silly, and almost trivializes what is otherwise a most troubling piece of Torah text-the story of the rape of Dinah, and the revenge done by her brothers, as well as the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of policeman. It's no laughing matter. Two wrongs simply never add up to a right, and in this case, we have wrongs compounded upon wrongs compounded upon wrongs, ad nauseam. Over the years, in writing about this parasha, I've taken all the parties to task: Shechem, for his impetuousness, and for being a rapist. Jacob's sons for the deceit, trickery, and murderous deeds. The good people, the Hivites of Shechem, for their casual willingness to be circumcised whether it was truly in repentance for what Shechem had done to Dinah, or simply in order to satisfy their own lust. Jacob, of course, for caring not so much about what had happened, and who had done what, as he did about what it did to his reputation, and his ability to conduct business with the people in the region.

As for Michael Brown and Eric Garner, what can I say that hasn't already been said? Enough is enough. I am proud of the people of our country who are standing up in protest in cities from coast to coast. Something is not right in the country, and it's not going to get fixed until the people demand it.

In my musings, I've never really tackled the Dinah story. There are interpreters of Torah who fault Dinah by interpreting the text to imply that Dinah was out where she shouldn't be, or being flirtatious. How typical of the generations of misogynist redactors and interpreters of this sacred text to fall back on a "blame the victim" mentality. Others ask us to place ourselves in the values and ethics of the time when the story is taking place. I reject both of these whitewashings categorically. Historically, we're far too good at apologetics.

Similarly, there are those who blame victims like Michael Brown and Eric Garner for their deaths. There are those who say that race is not the issue. I reject these whitewashings as well. Like the story of Dinah, the deaths of Eric Warner, Michael Brown, and so many others are irredeemable stories.

As you may know, I am particularly fond of working to redeem so-called irredeemable texts. I've found no footholds at all in this story other than the classic "well, it's a great lesson on how not to behave." I don't find that satisfactory. The only place left for me to turn is to Dinah. Yet she is absent from the text.

Prone as I am to inventing creative midrash, as I have done so often in these musings, I do not feel I can legitimately do so in this case. It's not that I can't imagine what Dinah might have felt and thought--I surely can. It's that I don't feel qualified, as a male, to even try to put words in Dinah's mouth, thoughts in Dinah's head, and feelings in Dinah's heart.

Great female scholars and writers, like Anita Diamant, Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Phyllis Trible, Drorah Setel, professor Renita Weems (from whom I was privileged to learn at Vandy) and so many others are far more qualified and capable to imagine Dinah's viewpoint.

So my challenges to myself and to you (whether you are male or female) this Shabbat are:

1) to seek out the feminist and women's commentaries and interpretations of this biblical story (along with others) and see if they help bring any greater insight into why this troubling text is part of the canon. (See below for some references.)

2)work together to help us find redemtpion for the troubling stories of the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and so many others.

Shabbat Shalom,
©2014 (portions ©2007) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayeitze 5775–Hapax Shabbat

In 2006, I wrote the following musing (But this is more than just that musing redux, so be sure to read on, even if you’ve read it before and recall my thoughts.

Hapax Upon All Your Hapaxes 5767 (2006)

Jacob has a dream. In that dream, with something reaching up from the ground to the sky with angels of G"d going up and down upon it. (Gen. 28: 12)

In various translations, that something is called a staircase, a ladder. The problem is, we don't really know what it is. What would angels of G"d require to transport themselves to and from Heaven? Why would they need to do that in the first place? Of course, that's reading too much into the text. It's just a dream, and a a metaphor within it.

According to the Etz Hayim commentary (which is based on the JPS commentary) the angels of G"d "play no role in the dream and probably reflect the notion of angelic beings who patrol the earth and report back to G"d." Well, not to disagree with Mssrs. Sarna, Levine, Milgrom and Tigay, respected scholars all, but, well, I disagree! I don't think the angels in Jacob's dream are at all insignificant. To put it in Freudian terms, I don't think these cigars are cigars at all. To simply toss off these angels and their mode of conveyance as unimportant and irrelevant is a somewhat unusual way to approach the text of Torah - at least as far as our tradition has done. If something is in the Torah, surely there's a reason it's there. So I'm going to explore it.

The word variously translated as staircase or ladder, is sullam--סלּם--samekh, lamed, mem-sofit. And it is what scholars refers to as a hapax legomenon--from the Greek--άπαξ λεγόμευου--[something] said once--a word that occurs only once in the written records of a language, an author's works, or a single text. Sullam appears only once in all of Torah and Tanakh.

It's derivation is uncertain. Some scholars argue that it derives from the Hebrew root samekh, lamed, lamed - meaning "to rise up," which is linked to the Akkadian word sullu, meaning highway. (In turn, scholars argue, the word "selah" is derivative from the same source, and where it is used in the Psalms, probably means a musical direction to raise the voice higher--though we can;t be sure if that means volume or pitch.) Other scholars believe sullam derives from the Akkadian word simmiltu which means steps or stairs.

Why does it matter? Well, what got me started on this was wondering about the difference between a ladder and stairs, and how that might play into what Jacob visualizes in his dream. Stairs are generally easier to negotiate than ladders. Ladders tend to be steeper, and they don't have as much of a resting place for ones feet. One the other hand, stairs (until the invention of the stair railing) are devoid of anything to help the person climbing them pull themselves along with their hands. On a ladder, one almost has to use their hands to assist in climbing both up and down.

And then, in the midst of all my efforts to determine just what this sullam was, I was hit - bam! - (or as some prefer, "duh!") with my answer.

We're not meant to know what this word sullam means. It's a hapax legomenon purposefully. We cannot fully fathom G"d and G"ds ways, so there is no need for us to know what conveyance for the angels Jacob saw in his dream. For purposes of telling the tale, of revealing the dream, we had to give that thing a name. Perhaps sullam doesn't mean anything. Or perhaps a sullam is exactly what it is, it is just something beyond our understanding (or that we are simply not meant to understand.)

OK. That revelation and explanation ought to hold me. For at least a minute or so. And then I am once again urged by that voice of human hubris inside me to say that I just can't live with that as an answer. This Shabbat, I have choices. I can simply accept that I will never know what a sullam is, and why it is in Jacobs dream and why angels of G"d are going up and down upon it. Perhaps that will bring me Shabbat peace. It might also give me Shabbat fits, and the only way I will find Shabbat peace is to not be content with the answer "it is not for you to know." That is another choice. Perhaps this is a third alternative? Maybe that's what I should spend Shabbat contemplating.

May this Shabbat be unique-one of a kind-for you. A Shabbat hapax legomenon--(something) said only once. Well, perhaps more sui generis. No, Shabbat is a word, and G"d did create the universe with words. So *this* Shabbat could indeed be something akin to something said only once. Or maybe just need a nonce for the occasion. How about a Googlewhack Shabbat?


OK, we’re back in 2014. I can only say, WHAT WAS I THINKING? I actually expected that “ineffable G”d” was going to work – even for a few moments? Ha! However, thinking that the impetus to not be satisfied with that as an answer might be my way into Shabbat peace was just as foolish a notion. Just as thinking that I could accept that “sullam” meant nothing, that it was just a  word created where one was needed led to no peace at all.

So what do you do when all the potential solutions lead nowhere? Do you throw them all out and start again? Do you allow them to all exist simultaneously in tension with one another, and balance each other out?

That last option feels right.How do I make that work? It should be easy – after all, it’s what I am doing constantly, every day, every moment, with so many different things, concepts, ideas, beliefs, practices, ethics, morals, etc. Tension and conflict are the norm.

Aha! If tension and conflict are the norm, and Shabbat is, to some degree, about “not the norm,” then perhaps Shabbat is meant to be the time when conflict and tension get a  rest. Oh, crikey! I’ve talked myself in a complete circle. Or not. Setting aside the tension and conflict between my varying understandings of what a “sullam” is and what it means does not necessarily mean defaulting to the “we’re just not meant to know” option. No, it might mean truly setting aside the conflict itself. Is that even possible? Can I achieve that state of mind?

If I am honest with myself, the answer has to be (a qualified) yes. I have experienced, and reported in these musings and other writings before, my ability to be transported to a different level of existence and experience during worship (and not just on Shabbat.) So yes, when I am engaged in worship, and especially when there is music involved,and even more so when I am one helping to create that music, I can escape from my intellectual reality long enough to not be thinking about all the conflict and tension in my thoughts. Can I do that at other times during Shabbat?  Does the type of Shabbat observance in which I engage affect my ability to do this?

My own experience would tell me that observance may not be the key. As a liberal Jew, I have experienced a full range of different levels of Shabbat observance. I have experienced a fully halakhic Shabbat in a religiously observant community. I have experienced Shabbat in the wilderness, in Israel, at camp, in the synagogue and pother places. Yes, due to the inconstant nature of my own praxis, my Shabbat experiences have also included activities that would not, from a halakhic perspective, be considered appropriate. I might say that there have been situations in which my non-halakhic activities have brought me closer to G”d and felt more “shabbasdik” and meaningful than at other times when my activities were more in keeping with a traditional understanding of Shabbat. At the same time, I have had some very profound Shabbat experiences when I was engaged in a fully observant halakhic Shabbat. So no, I don’t believe “how” I do Shabbat might have that much impact on my ability to set aside the usual daily tensions and conflicts of my daily intellectual struggle with Torah (and in this specific case, the meaning of “sullam” and whether knowing what it really means even matters.)

I wonder if, rather than how, the answer may be found in “why” I do Shabbat. If I make my Shabbat purpose a way to find rest from the tensions and conflicts of my daily intellectual and spiritual struggles with Torah and Judaism and G”d and life, the universe, and everything, might I actually ne able to do so?

Wait a minute. Isn’t Shabbat exactly the time when I should be thinking about Torah, and G”d, and faith? Or have we gotten that wrong? Maybe G”d really meant us to rest our minds as well as our bodies?

Rats. I’m no closer to an answer than when I started. In fact, I’m deeper down the rabbit hole. Arrrrrrrrgggggghhhhhh!

I need something to which I can grab on. Maybe I was on to something in 2006. Making each Shabbat a “one off,” Making it its own hapax legomenon, making all our Shabbats hapax legomena. Unique experiences, each and every time. (But then the tension of the fact that we repeat the same liturgy every Shabbat intrudes. Then I think – but we can use different music – or  alternate liturgy – if we are confortable doing that. Does this cycle ever end? Oh, how I envy those who can shut their brains off. Who can meditate and push all the tension and conflict out of their mind for a moment of time.) Somebody please tell my brain to shut up.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2014 (portions ©2006) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings On This Parasha

Vayeitzei 5774 - Terms and Conditions Revisted
Vayeitze 5773 - Mandrakes and More
Vayeitze 5772 - Stumbling on Smooth Paths
Vayeitzei 5771 - Luz is No Loser
Vayeitzei 5769 - Going Down and Loving It!
Vayeitzei 5768 - Encounters
Vayeitzei 5767-Hapax On All Your Hapaxes
Vayetze 5766-Pakhad HaShem?
Vayetze 5765-Cows and Cranberries
Vayetze 5764-Terms and Conditions
Vayetze 5763-Now and Then
Vayetze 5762-Change in Perspective
Vayetze 5760-Taking Gd's Place

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Tol’dot 5775- Esau’s Plan

I’m going to revisit the issues I first discussed in 5762’s “Winners and Losers,” and 5763’s “Not Sticking In The Knife” and elaborate upon my thoughts on the subject.

The initial question is whether or not Yitzkhak was a knowing but quiescent partner in the “deception” in which Yaakov received Yitzkhak’s blessing. Rabbis, commentators, and scholars have a diversity of opinion on the matter. There are all the usual arguments-that Yitzchak knew that Yaakov was the better choice than Esav; that Yitzchak simply submitted to what he thought to be G”d's will; that the text of Torah is full of clues or indications that clearly Yitzchak knew that it was Yaakov he was blessing, and not Esau.

I posited, when I first wrote about this, that this could still be construed as a somewhat misogynistic interpretation. Rebekkah conspires with Yaakov to fool Yitzchak, but Yitzchak is not fooled. So once again, the man is/the men are the true ultimate winner.

Yet again, I ask the question I did before: who is the winner in all this?

  • Yitzchak, because he went along with the deception knowingly but feigning surprise, so he got the better of his wife, the better of his sons, and still got what he thought was the best end result (there we go with the teleological stuff again)?
  • Rebekkah, because even though Yitzchak knew of the duplicity, she still got what she wanted?
  • Yaakov? He obviously wanted very much to be the one who inherited-he stole Esau's birthright and blessing through trickery, and got exactly what he wanted.

All of these answers have one commonality – they have Esav as the loser. A deserved loser. Esav, who thought nothing of G”d, and so little of his own birthright that he gladly sold it for a little food. I ask again, is Esav truly the loser? I sometimes wonder. Oh, he makes a great show of his displeasure of not inheriting and not getting Yitzchak's blessing, but, in the end, perhaps he gets what he really wants- to not be stuck with the responsibility of being the head of the clan, and have the freedom to do whatever he wants. He takes the wives he wants. In an even stranger twist, knowing he has displeased Yitzchak by marrying two Hittite women, he goes and marries a first cousin, a daughter of Ishmael! Yaakov, fearing his brother's wrath, has to run away. But Esau just gets to hang around, have fun, and not have the burden of inheritance. Dig into the mind of Esau, and we might discover that he really got what he wanted all along. Well played, Esau, well played. (If we look into the future, we may discover that he played things just as well when he and his brother were briefly reunited years later.)

Perhaps Esau got what he wanted. Now we must ask if Esau got what he deserved? It is (perhaps) true that Esav was warlike, hot-tempered, cared little for G”d, and looked for the easy way out of things. So, in some respects, Esav got what was coming to him-deprived of his birthright and his father’s blessing. On the other hand, if that is exactly what Esav really wanted in the first place, was the balance of justice preserved?

Is it possible that G”d had originally intended to have Esau be the one to carry on the lineage, but once G”d saw how Esau used the free will he had, G”d decided to punt (and then go back and rewrite the history.)

The year after I first wrote about this, I posited that perhaps Esau wasn’t such a bad guy. He resisted that all to easy temptation, that defiant, stick-out-your-tongue gesture that we all seem to derive a brief moment of pleasure from. Esau certainly seems to be the kind who might do such a thing. Having been denied the birthright and first blessing his brother stole from him, and probably upset with his father for unwittingly (or perhaps wittingly?) falling for the deception, Esau is a likely candidate to stick his tongue out at his father in a defiant gesture. Yet he resists.

The rabbis like to paint Esau as quite the negative. An earthy man, not smart like his brother. And yes, Esau does indeed threaten to kill his brother. One can hardly blame him. Yet Esau does not kill his brother Yaakov. And when Yaakov is advised to stealthily slip away lest Esau catch him and kill him, Esau does not pursue.

So there we have something to admire about Esau. He didn't pursue his brother to revenge himself. He didn't give in to the temptation.

And yet another--he resists the opportunity to thumb his nose at his father Yitzchak. He knew he had already displeased both his parents by marrying Judith and Beeri, both Hittite women. The text tells us that these marriages were a source of morat ruach, bitterness, to Yitzchak and Rivka. And now Esau sees his parents sending away his brother to kinsfolk with the clear intention of assuring he marries within the tribe.

However, instead of that defiant gesture, what does Esau do? The last few verses of our parasha tell us. (B’reisheet 28:6-9.) Esau realizes now how his marrying the Hittite women displeased his parents, and so he took a wife from within the tribe--sort of. He marries Ishmael's daughter. Now, one might argue that, in so doing, Esau was still sort of sticking it to his parents, but that would be imposing our modern viewpoint on the realities of Esau's time. Ishmael and his line were part of the clan. (You know that story of Yitzkhak going to live with Ishmael and Hagar after the akeidah I’ve always wanted to write, right? Actually, I’ve started it, finally.) At the end of Khayyei Sarah we read of Ishmael's line, and how they dwelled alongside their kinsmen. So Esau honored his parents wishes, showed his parents the respect they deserved from him. And he did this even at a time when he could easily feel wronged by his parents. A powerful lesson indeed.

So Esau resisted the temptation. Perhaps he was learning. After all, we later discover that Esau prospers, and, despite Yaakov worst fears, revenge is not on Esau's mind.

And so, too, can we learn. I know I've done it. Found a way to appear nice yet "stick it" to someone with a clever twist of words or a sharp-tongued phrase. I'm not proud of it. And I pray for the strength and wisdom to learn, as Esau did, to control that urge.

So was Esau a winner or loser? It is hard in life, at times, to really determine who the winners and losers are. (That is, if you even believe that there are winners and losers.) The Torah isn't really clear on all this.

Are these our choices in life-to be like Yaakov or like Esau? I’m no longer sure which one to be like.

You know who the real winners are? We are-because we get to learn and benefit from these stories, from our holy Torah. To twist it and stretch it and turn it inside out and upside down in a search for meaning and understanding in our own lives. And if we learn anything from the story of Yaakov and Esau, it's that thing are never simple, obvious, or clear cut!

Shabbat Shalom.

©2014 (portions ©2001 and 2002) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings On This Parasha:

Tol'dot/Makhar Hodesh 5774 - Drops That Sparkle
Tol'dot 5773 - More Teleology
Tol'dot 5771 - Keeping the Bathwater
Toldot 5769 - There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This
Toldot 5768 - Alternate Histories, Alternate Shmistories
Toldot 5767-They Also Serve...
Toldot 5765-Purposeless Fire
Toledot 5764-What a Bother!
Toledot 5763-Not Sticking in The Knife
Toledot 5762-Winners and Losers
Toledot 5761-Is This All There Is?
Toledot 5758-Like Father, Like Son

Friday, November 14, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Khayyei Sarah 5775–Revisiting L’kha Dodi Likrat Kala

(This is an updated version of a musing first written in 2000.)

All around him were sadness, troubles, and pain. His father had been willing to kill him before G”d intervened. His mother was now dead (not that she had done anything to dissuade his father.) He had been so disconnected from his parents that he chose to live apart for them for many years. His father, with no wife to bother anymore, had set his sights on finding a wife for him. His father had sent his servant back to his father’s old homeland, in hopes of finding a good wife for him from their clan. Everything to be unhappy about. All the ingredients for depression and a sad, weary life.

Then, into this sea of sadness and discontent comes a woman, hidden behind a veil, a bride.  He symbolically took and bedded her in his mother’s tent. He took her and loved her and found comfort in her.

All around us are sadness, troubles, pain. We work hard to support ourselves. sometimes we work too hard and too long to try and forget the troubles in our lives.. We have bad days-and we cause bad days for others. People try to hurt us for unfathomable reasons. We have our differences with our parents. We lose loved ones.

His life after that may not have been the best life. He and his wife may not have turned out to be any better parents to their children this his parents were for him. However, she was enough for him to find a way through his pain and sadness, and live again.

Into our sea of discontent there too comes a veiled bride. Every week. We too should take her and espouse her, love her and find comfort in her. Come, beloved, come great the bride-let us welcome Shabbat.

After losing Sarah, Abraham took another wife. We, too, will lose our weekly Shabbat bride as the flame of the twisted candle is extinguished. Yet, as our ancestor Abraham did, we too will be able to take another bride. Each week we marry anew. Joseph Smith has nothing on us-although each of our brides – each Shabbat – is different, they are, in effect, all the same. Serial monogamy of a sort.

We should praise G”d that we are honored so with this weekly blessing.

We should watch, too, for the nameless servants of our G”d who, as did the nameless servant of Abraham, go out to seek our bride for us. They are out there, and yet we forget them. They are those in our lives who make sure that the Shabbat bride finds her way to us each week. We should thank them, for perhaps, without their help, our bride might not find her way to our homes. Or we might be too busy, to angry, to sad or hurt to see the bride standing there, waiting for us to wed her each week.

There is risk in any marriage. Even wedding the Shabbat bride brings with it its share of risk. The risk that we will lose her before there are again three stars in the sky. The risk that we will want her so much we would fear to ever part with her-thus depriving ourselves the chance to live and be part of this world, and continue to be G”d's partner in the continuing creation. If every day of the week is like Shabbat, then what is the meaning of Shabbat?

But what relationship is without risk? This gift that G”d offers us each week-to wed the bride of Shabbat-we should not fear accepting it.

[To those among you unhappy with the male-dominated imagery, think of Shabbat as a groom if you prefer, or lover, or whatever. Just don't pass up the opportunity to share in the relationship that G”d offers you each week.]

I go now to greet the bride of Shabbat. Go ye to to greet yours.

To each and every one of you and your loved ones a

Shabbat Shalom.


©  2015 (portions ©2000) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on This Parasha

Hayyei Sarah 5774 - The Books of Hagar and Abishag
Hayyei Sarah 5773 - Still Tilting at Windmills
Hayyei Sarah 5772 - Zikhnah
Hayyei Sarah 5771 - The Book That Isn't - Yet
Hayyei Sarah 5770 - Call Me Ishamel II
Hayyei Sarah 5769 - Looking for Clues
Hayyei Sarah 5768 - A High Price
Hayei Sarah  5767-Never Warm?
Chaye Sarah 5766-Semper Vigilans
Chaye Sarah 5763-Life Goes On
Chaye Sarah 5762-Priorities, Redundancies And Puzzles
Chayeh Sarah 5761-L'cha Dodi Likrat Kala
Hayyei Sarah 5760 - Call Me Ishmael
Chaye Sarah 5757-The Shabbat That Almost Wasn't

Friday, November 7, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayeira 5775–He’s A Family Guy? (Revised Redux 5769)

 If you’re not a fan of or familiar with the animated comedy series “Family Guy” by Seth McFarlane (who also produced the recent remake of Cosmos) you might not fully appreciate this recycled musing from 6 years ago. The show is not to everyone’s taste. It is sophomoric, has lots of crude humor, and is generally offensive (it is an equal opportunity offender!) Yet, like other challenging series like South Park, The Simpsons, and others, it also offers insightful commentaries on our society, our values, our politics, our beliefs, our culture and more. I’m not ashamed to admit that I find it entertaining and thought-provoking at times. Sometimes I find myself on the floor laughing. At other times I find myself wincing.  As uncomfortable as it makes me to say this, I think that suggests the show succeeds in its intent. So, with this introduction, I offer you this “Family Guy” based retelling of the akedah, slightly edited and adapted from the original version from 6 years ago.

He’s a Family Guy?

There's a short scene from the TV cartoon comedy "Family Guy" in which Peter Griffin says to his daughter Meg that he was going to stop treating her badly "cause I'm a worse father than Abraham." Then there's a cutaway to a scene of Abraham and Isaac walking down a mountain, Abraham with a knife in his hand, and Isaac says: "You wanna tell me what the f**k THAT was!? (Season 6: Episode: Peter's Daughter) You can watch it here:
As irreverent as that is, in a way, it almost sums up my current take on the akedah, the story of the binding of Isaac, which we read near the end of this week's parasha, Vayeira. And it is not only Isaac who asks this question. It is all of us, when we encounter this troubling text. We rationalize it in all sorts of ways. "It was a test, just as the Torah says." If G"d was indeed testing Avraham, did Avraham pass or fail? There's no unanimity on that answer.
G"d rewards Avraham for his faithfulness. "Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, Your favored one, I will bestow My blessing upon you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore." This would seem to indicate that Avraham passed the test, but can we be sure?

Why was Avraham rewarded? Was it for blindly obeying G"ds request? Was it for ignoring his own inner conscience? Was Avraham troubled by what G"d was asking of him? There's no such indication in the text. Was Avraham so sure in his heart and mind that G"d would not require him to go through with this act?

Perhaps G"d's purpose in this test was to see if Avraham would develop a crisis of conscience. Perhaps G"d was seeing if Avraham could put aside selfish and personal feelings.

Perhaps G"d was just being mean, toying with Avraham.

Perhaps G"d was naive.

So imagine another cutaway scene from Family Guy (or the Simpsons, or whatever your favorite irreverent social commentary cartoon is.) (If you're not familiar with the show, you might miss the inside jokes, but what the hey.)

Prologue – Up In Heaven
G"d, talking to self: OK. OK. Let's see. I need to test this Avraham to see if he is the right one of My creations to bring knowledge of Me to the world. He's already baffled me. When I asked him to just pick up and move, he went. when I revealed my plans to destroy S'dom and Gomorrah for their wickedness, he argued. Which is the real Avraham? The blind obedient one, or the one who cares so much for his fellow human beings that he would argue with Me? I need to find out. What could I ask him to do? Kill his wife? After all, she did scoff at my power to make Avraham's seed potent enough to get her pregnant. Wait-that's it! His seed. I'll ask him to kill his son Isaac for me. Will he do it? Will he argue with me, beg, plead? This could be interesting.
[Scene – Somewhere near the terebinths at Mamre]

: Hey, Abie baby.

(aka Peter Griffin): Yo, present.

: Take your son...

: I got two. Which one You mean? Pick one.

: Your favorite son

: Hey, I love both my sons

, [to self:] Jesus H. Christ! Hey, there's an idea....oh wait, where was I. Oh yes. Explaining the obvious.

[to Avraham:] Yitzchak (under G"ds breath: "you twit!")

: Yeah. OK. Gotcha. Now what?

: Go to the land of Moriah...

: Y'know, I heard they call the wind Moria...

[G"d paces, throws arms up in the fair, pounds self on head.]

: I'll do the punning around here, buddy. Now, as I said. Go to the land of Moria (pause, waiting to see if Avraham will interrupt again)...and offer Yitzchak as a burnt offering on a high place I'll show you.

: Oh, are we back to that "I'll tell you when you get there" sh*t again?

[G"d stomps off, frustrated.]

[Cut to new scene near Abraham’s encampment]

[Avraham is shown saddling his ass.]

Voiceover-Peter Griffin: (laughing.) His ass!

(to Yitzchak): OK, we're going on a little trip

(aka Chrfis Griffin): Where?

: Don't you give me that smart-mouth "where?" crap again. Just grab yer stuff and let's head out.....for some fishin'. OK? There, I said it. We're going fishing.

: Sounds fishy to me.

: Look, just bring me an axe, will you?

[Yitzchak looks puzzled, but goes off and returns with an ax which he gives to Avraham. Avraham splits some wood, and gathers it up into a bundle.]

(to servant:) You! Boy! You're coming with us.

Herbert the Pervert
from Family Guy: And bring your handsome young friend over there, too

: What? (shrugs) Whatever. You both come.

[makes several attempts to get on his ass. Finally, atop his beast, he says:] Asses ho!

[Avraham, Yitzchak and two young male servants head off.]

[Cutaway to scene of Herbert following along behind

[Cutaway to scene of Mort standing in front of a synagogue.] Mort: As a representative of the Jewish people, I want to say this cartoon in no way portrays the ancient legends of my faith in an accurate manner. That is all. Thank You. (calling offstage) Coming, Muriel.

[Fade to another scene of Avraham, Yitzchak and the two servants traveling, followed by Herbert.]

(voice of Adam West): On the third day, Avraham looked up and saw the place from afar.

[Scene shows a distant mountain with a huge, flashing finger-pointing sign in the heavens pointing down at it reading "This Is It"]

Voice of Stewie Griffin: Wait a minute. How did Abraham know this was the place?

Voice of Brian Griffin: Well, obviously G"d must have told him.

Voice of Stewie Griffin: But the Bible doesn't say that.

Voice of Brian Griffin: What do I look like, a rabbi? Just shuddup and watch.

[Avraham dismounts from his ass.]

(to the two servants): You stay here and watch my ass!

(servants giggle)

: I'm just gonna go up there with my son and we're gonna....uh......worship, yeah, that's it worship. (spoken quickly) And then we'll be back.

(to Yitzchak:) Yo, Yitz, follow me.

[Yitzchak dismounts, Avraham walks over to him with the wood and straps it on to Yitzchak's back.]

: Hey! I thought we were going fishing!

(dissembling): Well, first we ought to say "Thank You" to the Big Kahuna, and pray for a good catch, right?

(hesitantly:) Uh, I dunno Dad.

: Be a man, my son!

[Avraham tries to give Yitzchak a big swat on the back, but his hand hits the wood, hurting him. Overly prolonged scene of Avraham writhing in pain.]

[Then, just as suddenly, Avraham stops, stands up and says to Yitzchak]: OK, let's go.

[Avraham and Yitzchak head out up the mountain. Cut to Herbert the Pervert viewing from a distance. He moves a little towards the servants, slightly hiding himself behind a tree.]

: Oh boys! Come here. I've got an ass that needs saddling too!

[The two servants exchange glances, shrug, and run towards Herbert.]

[Cut to scene of Avraham and Yitzchak walking up the mountain.]

: Yo, Dad! I got the wood, and you got the knife and the firestone, but where's the sheep for the offering?

[Quick cutaway to scene of sheep that were grazing suddenly looking up, then back to Avraham and Yitzchak scene.]

: Don't you worry 'bout a thing. (clearly thinking fast) Uh...(then an idea strikes him, and he slyly says): G"d will provide for the sheep my son.

: Whatever!

[Cut to scene back at Avraham's home. Sarah (played by Lois) walks in to an empty room.]

: Abie? Yitz? Now where have those two gone off to now? Oh, well. While the hubby's away, the wifey will play.

[Cutaway to a scene of Sarah playing the Egyptian game Senet with some of the female servants.]

[Cut to scene on top of mountain. Yitzchak is already there. We hear panting in the distance. Slowly, Avraham comes into view, slowly dragging himself up the mountain.]

: C'mon Dad. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can

(under his breath); Oh, you just wait until I get up there....

[Yitzchak continues to goad and Tease Avraham. Finally, Avraham arrives and collapses. Fade to black.]

[Scene from Abraham's perspective lying on the ground - his eyes flicker open to see Yitzchak standing over him with a knife, as if he is about to strike.]

[Scene shifts to normal perspective. Yitzchak helps Avraham up and says]: Here Dad, you're gonna need this more than I.

(under his breath:) Shows what little you know.

[Avraham and Yitzchak gather stones and build a little altar. They put the wood upon it, and lay the firestone and knife nearby.]

: Nu? where's the sheep Dad.

[Avraham turns and grins broadly at Yitzchak.]

: Dad? (getting nervous) Dad? Dad!

[Avraham tackles Yitzchak, gags him, and with (overly-prolonged and) great effort, lifts him onto the altar. He stops, breathes deeply. Lost in thought for a moment, he asks himself] "I wonder what Sarah's up to at this moment?"

[Cutaway to scene showing Sarah running around an ancient biblical supermarket, buying all sorts of treif products, while Quagmire stalks her. Sound: Benny Hill theme song.]

[Back to Avraham and Yitzchak scene.]

Avraham: I can't believe I have to do this frickin' thing. Somebody, give me a sign.

[Cutaway to Evil Monkey from Family Guy pointing at knife, then back to Avraham.]

: (with nervous giggle, as he picks up the knife) Uh, are there any other signs out there?

[Cutaway to scene of sheep again-they were all looking up, and now quickly start grazing again, heads down. Then back to Avraham.]

: Oh crap! Guess I gotta do this thing.

[Avraham raises the knife and prepares to strike Yitzchak. Just then, a
voice (Seth McFarlane) cries (in a stage whisper)]: Avraham. (pause, then repeated a little louder) Avraham. (pause, then screaming) Avraham!

(drops the knife:) Oh crap! Yeah, I'm here. Who's that?

: Do not raise a hand against the boy...

: Can I start the fire now?

(screaming:) Don't do anything to him, you idiot! (regaining his composure) For now I know that your fear the Lord, since you have not withheld your son, your favorite son, from Me.

[Angel, played by Bruce, steps into scene.]

: Hey, didn't I see you back at Lot's place?

(sheepishly): You got me. That was me! (Angel walks over and puts his arm around Avraham.)

(to Angel): So lemme ask you something? Are an angel, or are you G"d? I'm a little confused about that.

: To tell the truth, I'm as confused as you, brother. But never you mind that. Look up.

[Avraham looks up, see nothing unusual.]

: What?

: See that?

: See what?

[turns to look at where sheep should be caught in thicket and says]: Oh crap. Excuse me a minute.

[The two old-timey Gay-90's guys in their barbershop quartet outfits and their piano pass through the scene playing that silly little melody to stall for time.]

The non piano-playing Old Timey Guy says: Just killin' time folks, just killin' time.

[Cutaway to scene showing Angel dragging a very reluctant sheep into the thicket.]

[Cut back to repeat of the old-timey guys.]

[Cut back to Angel and Avraham]

: OK. Now look up.

[Avraham looks up, and applauds and makes silly childish noises.]

: Well? (pause )

: Yes

: Well? (pause)

: Where? I could sure use a drink.

G"d's voice
: I said I'll do the punning

(nervous chuckle): Sorry.

: (clears throat) (pause) (clears throat louder) (finally, in exasperation) Go get the sheep, stupid!

: Oh. Oh. Yeah. Right.

[Avraham goes to get the sheep. In the background, the Angel unbinds Yitzchak, who runs off. Avraham puts the sheep upon the altar.]

[Cutaway to scene of other sheep putting the hooves over their hearts in salute, then back to Avraham scene.]

[Avraham, while the sheep burns, starts to look around.]

: (does a Julie Andrews sweep from the start of sound of Music] Wow. I never realized what a nice view it is from up here. Sheesh! Look at that. Just beautiful. Y'know, I think I'll call this place Adonai-yireh, which, as you know, means "scenic view."

: (off camera) By Myself I swear, the...

: Whaa? who said that?

Angel's voice
: It's me, Abie baby.

: Ah, I knew it. You are G"d.

Angel's voice
: I is what I is, baby.

: Cool!

, now in G"d's voice: Because you have done this, and not withheld your son (pause) your favorite son (pause) (releases a breath) I will bestow My blessing upon you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore."

: Cool! (starts walking off)

: And your descendants shall seize the gates of their foes. All......(notices Avraham is heading away) Hey, wait a minute, there's more.

: Gotta go.

: (very fast, in one breath) All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed My command."

(Underneath G"d's dialogue, Avraham is saying "Yeah, that's nice. Gotta run., Very nice. Thank You. See ya. etc.)

: And so Avraham returned to his servants

Voice of Stewie Griffin: But where's Yitzchak? Didn't he go back with Avraham?

Voice of Brian Griffin: It doesn't say in the bible. Nobody's really sure.

Voice of Stewie Griffin: Hmm. I wonder what happened to him

[Cut to a scene in a cave. Yitzchak and Ishmael (played by Cleveland) are sitting around smoking hookahs. They 're obviously high. Very Cheech & Chong-ish in style.]

: And then, and then, (laugh) get this, get this...daddy tries to kill me?

: Get outta here! No way man!

: Way, man. Way!

Just then, Hagar (played by Meg) walks in.

: Boys, I gotta surprise for you! Oh, just look at the two of you. Smoking those hookahs again. Fat chance either of you two fathering a great nation!

: Funny, ma! So what's the surprise?

: Well, you know how, Avraham (under her breath) May he die the death of a thousands plagues...(resuming) he always talked about welcoming the strangers and travelers? Well there's a stranger outside..

Herbert the Pervert
  (peeking through curtain at entrance to cave:) Hello, boys....

[Cut to just outside Sarah’s tent. There is light inside, and Sarah’s shadow can be seen as she undresses for the night.]

: Giggity…

[Blackout. Roll credits and theme music.]

(With apologies to Seth McFarlane.)

Silly? Yes! Irreverent? Yes! Thought-provoking? You be the judge.

Shabbat Shalom,


©2014 (portions ©2008) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Vayeira 5774–Plainly Spoken (Redux & Revised from 5762)
Vayera 5773 - Do Your Own Unpacking
Vayera 5772 - Well?
Vayera 5771 - Density
Vayera 5770 - Not Even Ten?
Vayera 5767-Revised 5759-Whoops! (or Non-Linear Thinking)
Vayera 5766-The Price of Giving
Vayera 5765-From the Journal of Lot Pt. II
Vayera 5762-Plainly Spoken
Vayera 5760/5761-More From the "Journal of Lot"
Vayera 5759-Whoops! (or "Non-Linear Thinking?")
Vayera 5757-Technical Difficulties