I’m now unapologetically behind: there’s just more to learn in each portion than you can possibly learn in a week. So at this point, I will continue at my own pace and see where I get. With luck, I’ll catch up to the calendar once we get out of the dense stories of Genesis and into the long legal tractates. Not very likely, but why not dream?
This portion, only the third one, is notable for the introduction of the First Family of Judaism (and the other Abrahamic religions): Abram, his wife Sarai, her maid Hagar, his nephew Lot, and his first son Ishmael. But more importantly than that, the title of this portion is the first reference to the undisputed focus of the Torah: Israel.
Continue reading Lech-Lecha – Go! Go! Go!
Oh boy, am I behind. Can I at least use the excuse that I just got married? Of course not! But I will anyway. Right now, I am several weeks behind. In the Weekly Torah Portions, we are now up to the death of Abraham, while my postings are only now at the beginning of the Abraham story. But, before I can write about that, I will do my summary of some of Rashi’s thoughts that I felt were interesting on the Noach portion.
Like in the previous portion, I’m not going to comment on the lion’s share of Rashi’s comments where they are illuminating a particular passage, but rather pull out some of the particularly interesting items of commentary that either aren’t at all how my reading went, or alternatively are things I simply found interesting or profound. More the former than the latter as I suspect that I am not yet capable of understanding some of the profound commentaries.
Continue reading Rashi on Noach
Many people call the Bible, “The Good Book”, but it’s not really always good. In its volumuous pages, it describes heroes and villains, depicts triumph over adversity, and even provides a set of rules to live by. But sometimes the Bible doesn’t live up to its reputation, or at least doesn’t appear to. There are passages that extoll the subservience of women to men, insist that parents should kill their children if they do not behave, and even depicts God declaring genocide against nations that opposed Israel, including women and children. Rabbis and theologians have debated these portions and have found ways to look at many of them, sometimes to the extent of saying that a text means the opposite of what it says, like God has put a riddle in the Bible for us to solve. Despite that, the face readings of these texts have caused significant hardship and strife over hundreds of years. The “Curse of Ham” is one of these unfortunate portions.
Continue reading Noach – The Curse of Ham
I may have been too hard on poor old Noah, I admit. But aside from the mythological rainbow connection, the outcome of the flood was notable because God finally chose to set down the rules.
Enter, the Noahic Covenant. In the Hebrew Bible, there are many covenants, the best-known being the covenant that God gave the children of Israel in the form of the Ten Commandments and Mosaic law. In specific, this covenant is the only one that covers all of humanity, whether Jewish or Christian, Hindu or Buddhist. These are the new rules, at least according to the early Jews, that applied to all humanity for all time:
Continue reading Noach – A Covenant for All
Okay, enough procrastinating and creating charts! It’s time to get to Noach because the rest of the world has already moved on to the next portion, Lech-Lecha.
The Noach portion, named for Noah’s name in Hebrew, covers Genesis 6:9, the beginning of the Noah story), to 11:32 the beginning of the Abraham story. That includes three main “tales”: the story of Noah and the Ark, the story of Noah and his drunkenness, and the Tower of Babil.
For me, the story of Noah has always been one of the more difficult for me to wrap my brain around. It’s not that the story is complex – it isn’t. My problem with the story is that it feels too much like mythology, like something that would happen to Odin, Zeus, or Heracles, rather than a story that we should take any great meaning from. It doesn’t help that God acts “out of character” and lots of innocent lives, human and animal, are lost. And, like all great mythology, it aims to explain in a supernatural way a natural phenomenon: the rainbow. This isn’t something that fits well in modern Judaism or Christianity, but still it’s an important story, certainly one of the most well known, and here it is already in week #2.
Continue reading Noach – Noah and the Flood
What did someone say about moderation? I don’t remember…
I was considering revealing this a bit at a time as I go over Genesis, but then figured “what the Hell?” and just went ahead and did the whole thing. In short, this is (to the best of my ability) a complete list and family tree of every named character in Genesis. Post-Noah, where the tribe was mentioned, I would try and dotted-line back to it. I may have missed some cases and not all tribes mapped to ones mentioned in the “Table of Nations”.
Some of the incest is very difficult to show in chart form. Lot’s children with his daughters are just listed as their children; similarly, Judah’s children with his daughter-in-law Tamar are listed as just hers.
There are well-known “errors” in the genealogy data for Esau and I have tried to follow the convention. Esau’s three wives are each referred to by two different names and two separate wives are called “Basemath” (you can tell them apart because their parents are listed). I’ve smoothed that out and list Beeri and Anah as the parents of Judith since each are mentioned as her parents in different locations, maybe they were a couple. There are also some cases where an individual is listed as being someone’s son in one place and grandson in another. I’m taking that as “grandson” and assuming this is just a literary convention from the Hebrew translation.
This was done in OmniGraffle for the Mac. In some ways, it does a great job of laying out the trees and figuring out the best way to present the data. And yet, there are still too many lines and it does a terrible job sometimes of sorting children when a man has more than one wife and they both have children. Maybe I’ll fix this by hand eventually. Overall, this is readable but not great.
And finally, black lines are direct descent, dotted lines are tribal descent, and red lines are lists of kings. (In this case, Genesis has an oddly placed list of Kings of Edom with one of the kings married into Esau’s descendants. That is reproduced here in red for lack of a better way.)
And I’m done! Now to get back to procrastinating writing about Noah.
This is a last-minute addition to my labor of love, but since I’m behind on Noach anyway, why not be even more behind? Here is the complete chart of all of the “begats” up to Genesis 12, to be best of my ability. All named sons and daughters are present here, as well as (when I can) references to individuals that are listed as the progenitors of nations. All of the names are from the JPS translation, but most of the spelling differences should be obvious enough.
In a future revision, I may color-code whether or not the individual has anything actually said about him or her. For example, Enoch and Nimrod both have mini-stories, but some are named once only in a “begat”.
Without further ado:
(Update: Replaced version created by LovelyCharts.com, which is a fantastic builder but the export was blurry, with a version done in OmniGraffle for the Mac. This version is a bit more smooshed than I would like, but I had fun, anyway.)
Part of the my project for the year isn’t just to make my own commentary as I reread the Torah, but also to find some commentary from others and try and read and understand that. And in the Jewish theological world, one of the key voices was “Rashi”, otherwise known as Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki. Rabbi Yitzhaki lived in the 11th and early 12th century and wrote comprehensive commentary on the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud. I’ve picked up a copy (in English, with explanations) of Rashi’s commentary on the Torah and will be following along with him as I read. Sometimes, I’ll try and post something about it.
If you are following the calendar, you’ll notice that I’m already behind. It’s week two and I should be writing something about Noach, but I’m not quite in the swing of things yet so please forgive me.
I’m not going to claim to follow Rashi’s deeper explanations of the text and there is so much that he talks about that I don’t really have the context to describe properly. Although I fear it reduces his work to the least common denominator, I’ve pulled out some things that either he discusses or comments on from the text. Some of it is very weird. As I understand it, Rashi postulated that the Torah was perfect and, as such, it states in the fewest number of words necessary to make the desired point. In places where it appears to use more words than necessary, that is because there is deeper meaning to the repetition that must be pulled out. The corollary is that if the Bible says something, it is important, no matter how trivial it may seem. Much of his commentary (to me) appears to be fully utilizing the words that are available to draw conclusions of meaning that we may not ourselves make.
Continue reading Rashi on Bereishit
I’m only a week into writing and I’m already struggling with “point of view”. Should this be a blog of ill-informed Torah commentary from a liberal something-or-other? Even in this first section, there are so many things that I want to write about, but haven’t. (Like how there are two fruits in the garden of Eden, the trees of “life” and “knowledge of good and evil”. And that it seems that the humans were allowed to eat of the first one, until they had eaten of the second… and that Eve was told not to eat the fruit of the “middle” of the garden, but at different points both are referred to being in the middle. Weird.)
The story of Cain and Able appears on its face to be the story of “country mouse and city mouse”, or more accurately “country mouse and hunter-gatherer mouse”. Between the two brothers, two of the primary occupations of early tribal Israel must have been personified:
Continue reading Bereishit – Cain and Able (and Seth)
In Chapter 2 of Genesis, we have possibly the only scene in the Bible that is not only funny, but funny at God’s expense. Picture this: God has created the very first man and he (the man) is already hard at work tilling and tending the fields of the Garden of Eden. (And work he did. Genesis 2:15 is quite clear that Adam was to work, although presumably this wasn’t difficult work yet.) But God realizes, “Hey! This guy needs a helper.” And so God creates and brings to Adam all of the animals of the world (or at least the “wild beasts and birds of the sky”), one after the other, to see if one of them would be a fitting companion. You can just imagine Adam, sitting bored (but hopeful) under a tree while God leads an ill-behaved elephant up to him on a leash. “How about this one?”
Continue reading Bereishit – Adam and Eve