Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Searching for the Right Words

As I prepare to chant Torah this Saturday, my biggest concern is what to say about a God that appears to be a discriminating jerk. I had been happily practicing the Hebrew trope, but when I thought about its meaning, I was somewhat appalled.

Those of you who know me know what a romantic sap I am for stories with a happy ending. Well, this week’s portion, Pinchas, is hardly that. Instead it continues the story of a heavy-handed God who is making it clear that only the younger generation will be allowed to go into the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering around the desert after the Exodus from Egypt.

In order to justify this, God uses a trumped up charge based on the angry reaction of Moses and Aaron to the bitching and moaning of the Hebrew people when they needed water in the desert – the waters of Meribah incident. But it gets worse, not only are the old guard not being allowed to enter the land of Israel, they "breathe their last." That’s right, God ordains their death.

This travesty has been going on for the last several Torah portions. I have listened as the Torah readers called upon Biblical scholars and the Mishnah to explain away this gross unfairness. Some postulate that this is simply the passing of power from the old generation to the new generation. Some say it was written after the fact to justify what actually happened. Wherever the truth lies, the text in Numbers 27 angers me greatly.

I am a firm believer in recognition for a job well done. In my mind, Moses and Aaron should be elevated to the equivalent of sainthood for their role in leading this stubborn people for those many years and bringing them finally to the edge of the Promised Land. But instead Eleazar, Aaron’s son, is given his father’s role as high priest and Joshua is anointed as the new leader and Aaron and Moses are discarded with no fanfare. Not even a "Thank you very much."

Maybe I am more sensitive to this because I am of the older generation. I am on the lookout for age discrimination. But furthermore, I have come to like these guys after reading about them for more than half of every year.

So can I get up there on Saturday, chant the trope with its lovely melody, and then say these disparaging things about the God we in the end always revere? Will I be cast as a heretic? I guess we’ll see.


Blogger Old Lady said...

A sticky wicket for sure. I do not believe that anyone that questions what is written in the Bible is a heretic. It is an eclectic collection of laws, philosphy & beliefs of men about a way of life and their god. It is an all inclusive instrument meant to guide and unite people. Outside of the Bible tons of people have written their own interpretations. Why just look within the Jewish faith there is the Talmud and Kabbala(please excuse any ignorance on my part).

I agree that there are many indiscrepancies within the Bible, Old and New Testaments and no I do not believe and agree with everything in it. Most of it was written so long ago that alot of it does not apply to our scientific and advanced world like only men can speak to God. Hrumph!
Repression of women is predominant, hrumph!

Maybe in your case it is a turn of phrase in the translation over the years. I rather like the idea of "retirement" after a long career in guidance.

You will be getting alot of questions from me. This singing on Saturday, is that similar to being the Cantor?

11:25 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

OL -- The Hebrew of the Torah and the Haftarah has certain marks, called trope marks, which indicate a particular tune. This means that someone who is well-schooled, like a cantor, could conceivably get up and chant any portion with little or no preparation. However, for a person like me, who never went to Hebrew school as a child, this is a much more daunting task. It involves learning to read the Hebrew fluently first and then associating the appropriate melody with each word or phrase, paying attention to the accents of the words. It is a considerable amount of work for me just to be able to chant 12 verses of Torah and 11 of Haftarah. But when I put the yad (pointer) to the actual Torah and consider what an honor it is for a woman to be chanting, it is all worth the effort!

12:20 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I definitely think that questioning is good. The 40 years of wandering always got to me, too. Is it possible that it wasn't a punishment? That they just got lost? That God was busy making other plans and forgot to look after the chosen people? Well, maybe not. I like thinking about it, though. Wondering.

It's great that you have such passion for it.

1:13 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Although I am not Jewish (Roman Catholic - and an honest to goodness practicing one), I do agree that the sacred writings (aack! have to suppress the urge to say Bible) can be troublesome in some areas (ok, in a lot of areas).

The approach I take (which is heretical - especially for those who believe in an inerrently inspired literature) is that it reflects the Jewish experience of God. It is more than a collection of somebody’s daily blog entries, but less than a Divinely dictated corpus.

When I read the scriptures, I read them from many points of view, depending on what I am looking for, but if I am reading them for historical value, then I approach it from the point of view, "This is how the author tried to make sense of [whatever] in relation to God."

Did the ancient Israelites spend 40 years in the desert? I don't know. There may be significance in the number 40 that I am not getting. Maybe it is tied in with the Hebrew letter mem - which I understand to have a numeric value of 40 as well as some connection to water. Is it to connect them to the God that lead them through the waters of the Red Sea or is it connected to the lack of water in a desert? Or am I making all this up because I speak no Hebrew whatsoever and only know little bits here and there (that are probably much more dangerous than if I knew a whole lot about nothing).

I find it cool that the Torah is annotated with trope marks for singing.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Why didn't you remind me you're chanting this week?? Jeez I don't want to miss that!!

Hey sistah, don't get fixated on God being this way or that way, either "good" or "bad" and don't think God is anything like us, even though we are made in His image. When you fix God in a certain state, no matter whether it's a state you prefer or detest: that's idolatry. The people who wrote the Torah - who knows what they were thinking, but across all these thousands of years they can still provoke the likes of you and me, eh? But .. what does that have to do with the unknowable?

2:42 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful comments on this dilemma of mine. I think Reya may be onto the solution. If I can simply avoid personifying God, I will not hold him to the same standards that I hold mankind. I've been thinking about this all night and it's starting to make sense. Whoever said religion was easy?

7:34 AM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

No, religion is not easy, nor was it meant to be. Any religion and its teachings/readings, (bible or otherwise)for its followers, is meant to at least make one think and question its content. We can take from it what we can and use it as loosely or tightly as we want as a directive or example of how we are to live out our daily lives. Hopefully, this means living by some form of the basic Golden Rule..and just be spiritually kind people. Pretty basic and general but that's my broad view.

6:37 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

BTW..good luck Sat.!

6:38 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Sat morning? 10:15?

7:40 PM  

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