Friday, July 28, 2006

Israel is justified, and now is not the time for a cease-fire

Harold Feld over on LiveJournal wrote a well-thought-out peice on Israel's lack of forward paths in the current crisis, and why we should have a cease-fire now. I take issue with some of his premises, and thus his conclusion as well. My comment was a bit too long for LJ, so I'm posting it over here.

Still, the Hamas folks aren't stupid. To the extent they have a crappy hand, they have tried to play it. The diplomatic end game they have tried to play for is referred to in Arabic as "hudna" and what I refer to as the "Taiwan solution." Fatah, Hamas' predecessor government, basically gave up and decided to lie their butts off while siphoning as much loot as possible for their personal gain.

Hudna doesn't mean "cease-fire while we bilk the world out of money to line our pockets". Hudna means "cease-fire while we re-arm". Which is the game they've played - Israel pulled out of Lebanon 6 years ago, and since then, Hezbollah has re-armed, imported thousands of rockets and launchers and missiles, and has re-started the war against the Northern towns.

Harold states:

Hezbollah, like Hamas, has failed to consider just how thoroughly the Israeli government and Israeli public have been radicalized. After all, Hamas and Hezbollah know that it is the PA, not imperialist Israel, that are the victims here. Israel “knows” it is the imperialist, the bully, and therefore is fully capable of stopping when it wants. And the only way to make it stop is to hurt it.

But Israel doesn’t “know” anything of the sort. What Israel sees is a sudden two front war with an enemy that has built its capacity because Israel pulled out of the relevant geographic territory. For Israel, the only reward for territorial concessions has been an increase in enemy capacity. It must be stamped out NOW, because force is the only thing “these people” understand and negotiating and cease fires only give them time to rearm.

"These people" indeed do view unilateral withdrawal as weakness - again look at the situation in the North. Ruling the buffer zones with an iron hand really does suppress the terrorism, really does suppress the moral ambiguity, really does wag the dog to avoid the internal tensions between the religious and the secular.

Unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon led to re-arming and re-starting the war. Unilateral withdrawal from Gaza led to re-arming and continuing the bombardments of Sderot and other close-by towns.

On the other front, suicide bombing didn't really start until 2000. Suicide bombers are trained in the schools. This training didn't start until Israel showed signs of weakness by attending the Madrid peace conference, and starting the Oslo process, in 1991. Within less than ten years, Arafat's and Hamas' schools started pumping out a never-ending stream of shaheedin. And it would never have started had Israel not shown itself soft and weak, by having peace conferences shortly after Intifada I.

The lesson? Terrorism does pay! So start a program of insane terrorism, with suicide bombers, and the payoff will be tremendous! And the Oslo Process was unstoppable. Even when Israel was changing Prime Ministers every year or two, and each would campaign on a platform of No More Oslo, each time, once they got into office, they had to continue with the Oslo Process, until the great hawk Sharon came, and cynically pushed through the unilateral withdrawal. Only Nixon could go to China? Only Sharon could actually withdraw from Gaza.

And the current crisis proved exactly what the Israeli Right was saying all along - that withdrawal is perceived by the Arabs as weakness, and thus as bait for stepping up the violence, because Terror Pays. Israel ran away from southern Lebanon, was practically routed by Hezbollah, that retreat in disorder was the most shameful thing, unlike the dignified and planned withdrawal from Gaza - it gave the Arabs exactly the wrong message.

Withdrawal now, while accepting an international buffer force, is exactly what led to the current problem. Why do you think a buffer force made up of NATO countries, such as Britain, France, and even Poland, who have no love for Israel or Jews, will be any better than the useless blue-helmet UN force that has been in Lebanon since 2000?

So what is the solution? It is clear that driving Hezbollah out of Lebanon is going to take actual all out war, and may well spill over into other states. It may, in fact, exceed Israel’s military capacity – especially if Syria and Iran become fully engaged. Actually losing such a confrontation would be disastrous for Israel. At the same time, Hezbollah risks suffering the same fate that befell the PLO when Israel drove the PLO out of Lebanon. They survived, but became disconnected from their people and centers of power, ultimately being supplanted by other organizations. Nor can Hezbollah be indifferent to the long-term damage done to Lebanon and how that impacts their popularity (and that of the Shia generally) once passions cool.

As you point out, Hezbollah is backed by foreign powers, which the PLO never was, at least not after 1973. Arafat would go to pan-Arab meetings every few years and beg for aid, and the other Arab countries turned away.Why do you think the West Bankers haven't been able to get any substantial weapons other than what Israel has given them for the PA Police Force? They have no coastline, no common border with a friendly power. Gaza has a coastline, and a weakly-defended border (viz. all the tunnels) with Egypt, which is pretty thinly populated (ever take the bus across the Sinai? It's pretty grim). And even Gaza can't get anything more powerful than Kassams, since the Karine-A was taken.

Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah leader, quoted by a commenter:

Two issues cannot tolerate any delay. One is the issue of the prisoners, because of the human suffering. The second issue is any attack against civilians. I told them on more than one occasion that we are taking the issue of the prisoners seriously, and that abducting Israeli soldiers is the only way to resolve it.

The "issue of the prisoners" is yet another smoke-screen. The only Lebanese national in Israeli prisons before this war was one guy, a serial killer, who snuck over the border, killed a family in their house in the North, then killed someone else outside the house. He was apprehended and tried, and is serving multiple life sentences.

Should Israel have killed this guy? That's a separate argument about capital punishment in a non-Torah state. Israel doesn't execute anyone, except Eichmann. If they had executed this guy, though, it would have eliminated that particular Hezbollah claim.

* * *

A cease-fire, yes, eventually, but not until there has been some real change on the ground in Lebanon. Withdrawal now will simply be a replay of 2000, only worse, because it's a retreat under fire - a real rout.

And if it becomes regional war, Bush and the neocons have been champing at the bit to go after Iran. They won't make a direct nuclear challenge, but a [private little] proxy war might be just the ticket. With us caught in the middle, but that's been our fate for thousands of years, between Egypt and Mesopotamian powers.

To go out even further on a limb: the two-state solution is the only solution, even if the Arabs never accept it. Separation is the only way to avoid demographic suicide within Israel. And when the Arabs, in their Pal-Arab state, decide to invade Israel, then, just as with withdrawn-from Gaza and withdrawn-from southern Lebanon, the moral issue will be clear: full invasion, chase them out, or once again rule as an army of occupation.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

World Wide Talmud

It has often been noted that the Talmud page, with all its cross-references and indexes and rubrics, is an early form of hypertext.

While learning Tr. Kelim (21:1), I came across the phrase, "nefesh hamasechet", the "soul of the web", or set of woof threads on a loom. So the word "masechet", which we use for tractate, or book of the Talmud, also means Web.

So the Talmud is Hypertext as expressed on the Web.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Meditation on a Postage Stamp

I just received a package from Israel. Postage was affixed in the form of many of these stamps. I noticed that they had no denomination, only the legend “מכתב רגיל בארץ” (Ordinary Domestic Letter [Postage]). Interesting, they must have just changed the rate (Israel Philately site says it was denominated ₪1.30, issued about a year ago). The US Postal Service does the same thing – they may not set the rate until a certain date, but they have to print up stamps in advance of the date, so they have a letter on them, or the legend “First Class Postage”, so that whatever rate is set, the stamps will be appropriate.

That got me thinking. Ragil, ordinary, sounds a lot like regular, which means much the same thing. Thinking about it more, though, it’s probably just a coincidence. The Hebrew root RGL carries rather different meanings than the Latin word regula, or “rule”. The Latin word comes from a ruler, or a plank – clearly a straight, flat idea.

The Hebrew word, however, connotes the cyclical, the recurring. The basic word Regel, is a foot. It also means one of the three major pilgrimage festivals, Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles (Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot), the three festivals on which one is obligated to walk up to the Temple, on foot, to join in the communal celebrations. Both are cyclical phenomena: the foot goes up, down, up, down, propelling one forward. The festivals return each year, propelling the years forward. Reminds me of the song “Circles:”

All my life’s a circle, sunrise and sundown
Moon rolls through the nighttime, till daybreak comes around
All my life’s a circle, still I wonder why?
Days keep spinning ‘round again, years keep rolling by.

In fact, the cycle of festivals legally denote a year for some purposes. One is required to pay one’s vows (promised charity) within a year, defined as the passage of three festivals. If one is late, one violates the prohibition of “do not be late in paying your vows”.

The word itself, Regel, contains the word Gal, or circular rock rolled in front of a Tannaitic-period burial cave. Double Gal, and you have Galgal, a wheel, often the wheel of the Zodiac. Change the vowels, and it becomes Gilgul, the transmigration of the soul, returning to this earth however many times necessary for its perfection.

Whether a pair of feet cycling up and down, or festivals cycling around the year, Regel brings about the transformation of circular motion to linear motion (Dean Drive, anyone?), rotation that propels one forward. Regular, on the other hand, is that which is already straight, even, flat. So the words Ragil (ordinary) and Regular are coincidental. Or are they?

This is the strength, and also the weakness, of symbolism: when one thing corresponds to another, which links to another, the correspondences can be endless. On the other hand, it's end-less: one never finds a goal.

* * *

Tbe book, by the way: a Lemberg, 1860 edition of the Maharal's Netzach Yisrael.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Hezbollah is Part of Lebanon

Two days ago, Anderson Cooper of CNN interviewed one Ibrahim Mousawi, news editor of the Hizbollah TV stations. I wrote a response to CNN News Feedback, not that they're likely to pay much attention, but I thought it needed to be said.

Mousawi said, in part,

[COOPER: ...] What would it take to disarm Hezbollah, which was called for in a U.N. resolution, 1559, the disarming of all militias, all private armies in Lebanon. Hezbollah is the only one left who still has their weapons. What will it take to get Hezbollah to disarm?

MOUSAWI: Well, it comes to Lebanon, the official level, everybody acknowledges here and recognizes Hezbollah not as a militia with arms but as a resistant legitimate movement and ministerial statement of this cabinet, of this new government has given the legitimacy and has given the authorization for Hezbollah to continue its -- the complete liberation of the occupiers of Lebanon.

MOUSAWI: It's not that they kidnapped. You're talking about resistance that is trying to ensure the release of Lebanese hostages in the Israeli prisons that they have been there for more than 28 years. This is a resistance trying to attack a military force of the occupation. It's not a matter of kidnap. It's capturing Israeli soldiers to make a swap.

I wrote that Cooper should have pressed Mousawi to clarify what he meant by “the occupation” and “a resistance legitimate movement.” Did he refer to Shaaba Farms, which Israel calls Har Dov, or did he refer to the entire state of Israel – which would indicate unity with the Palestinian Arabs. Even in the first case, the UN certified in 2000 after Israel’s “redeployment” from southern Lebanon that Shaaba Farms was not Lebanese territory under UN Resolution 425.

I further wrote that Mousawi’s characterization of Hezbollah as a “legitimate reistance movement” indicated that, contrary to world opinion, Hezbollah was acting with the full cooperation of the Lebanese government. Either it is a private militia, in which case it should have been disbanded under UN Resolution 1559, and the Lebanese government is complicit in letting it operate freely; or it is an arm of the Lebanese government, as Mousawi claims, since almost 1/5 of the Lebanese parliament (23 of 128 seats) is Hezbollah. Either way, attacking Lebanon and the Lebanese government is entirely proportional, much as the US attacked Afghanistan for hosting the terrorist Al-Qaeda.

Imagine my pleasure, then, to read in today’s Jerusalem Post, my classmate Evie Gordon’s opinion column, “The Innocent Bystander Myth.” She lays all this out in greater detail, quite convincingly (at least to this member of the choir). Perhaps our government and news organizations should read it as well.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

What is Orthodoxy: Edah & UTJ

With Edah's demise and partial merger into Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), the members of the Union for Traditional Judaism (UTJ) email discussion list raised the old question of why Edah & UTJ were separate groups, why Edah didn't merge into UTJ rather than YCT.

Two ideas to which I respond below:

a) practice is more important than theology;

b) labels are so divisive.

* * *

Thoughts on the current debate...

1) Rabbi Berman (spiritual leader and founder of Edah) told Bill Moyers that Judaism is about practice, not belief. In that, he follows Moses Mendelssohn, who asserted, in debate with non-Jews, that Judaism has no dogmas. I have to believe, given that there is some mandated belief (see Rambam in various guises, including Hilchos Teshuvah, where he legicizes (neologue-ism?) the ideas expressed in the 13 Principles), that this was stated more for effect than as an actual halachic definition.

2) Yes, practice is paramount, particularly as regards individuals. But there are three ways in which things happen: thought, speech and action. Speech sins are not generally punishable. Thought sins are few and far between (piggul being about the only one I can think of at the moment), but can affect practice.

Misguided thoughts (e.g. coveting, atheism, etc.) are not generally actionable until expressed as speech (again, see Sefer haChinuch for various attitudinal sins, such as coveting). So belief is a problem insofar as incorrect belief leads to incorrect actions (improper prayer, expression of improper ideas).

3) There has to be a difference between judging individuals (which has to be on the level of practice, praxis if we want to get all Hellenistic about it), and institutions (which has to be on the level of expressed ideas alone, including expressed support for various actions).

That's where labels become most important, because institutions don't have actions, they have ideas. (Yes, yes, yeshiva fraud, but that's a failing of the officers, for all that they can hide behind the corporate structure, not a failing of the institution). Institutions can, however, put their ideas into action, and that then becomes a basis for judgment as well. E.g., a yeshiva tells its teachers not to teach evolution - that's an action, based on a idea espoused by the institution. That institution could then be labeled as "anti-modern", "obscurantist", "chareidi", or whatever labels fit.

This connection flows both ways: just as the institutions ideas are reflected in the praxis of its employees and members, so too its leadership's ideas become associated with the institution. Thus, if an institution is devoted to a religion, the religious ideas of its leaders are validly associated with the institution: e.g. Mordechai Kaplan's Epicureanism with JTSA, or in this case R' Halivni's maculate textualism with UTJ/Metivta.

4) Orthodoxy, unlike Reform and Conservative (although Conservative is starting to go this way too), is an attribute of a movement, rather than a movement itself. Reform is defined by its institutions: HUC/UAHC/CCAR. Conservative is defined by its institutions: JTSA(&UJ?)/USCJ/RA.

Orthodoxy, well, you have yeshiva orthodox, modern orthodox, chasidic orthodox, mussar orthodox, etc. Orthodox is an attribute all these movements share in common: fealty to Rambam's 13 principles in some form. All of them require synagogues to have a mechitzah. They may not kick out synagogues that don't have one any more, but the rule is on the books.

Each of the other movements defines itself in part by denying one or more of Rambam's principles (pace Marc Shapiro - they may stretch, but the quoted Rishonim don't actually deny any): Reform by denying the binding nature of halacha, Conservative by denying the Divine origin of the Oral Torah, and increasingly, the Divine articulation of the Torah we have today, to within a few letters or words.

And the weakening of these principles leads to, apparently, a weakening of a group's attachment to tradition. Is it any wonder that the greatest liberalization of Conservative halacha has come at the same time as the weakening of attachment to an accurately-transmitted Biblical text? If the tradition is human, then we human rabbis have the authority to change it.

To be Orthodox, then, a movement has to have the attribute Orthodoxy, which is about ideas, or belief. (this idea due to Rabbi Micha Berger)

* * *

So where does that leave our debate? We have to use different criteria for corporate entities and for persons. We know, since the court cases and responsa of the 1950s, that mechitza is the sine qua non of an Orthodox synagogue. A synagogue movement that refuses to articulate a coherent pro-mechitza policy, therefore, is going to have a hard time convincing anyone that it has the attribute "Orthodox". A religious movement, whose primary ideological leader holds by a theory of the Biblical text that denies the accurate transmission of the Sinaitic document, is going to have a hard time convincing anyone that it has the attribute "Orthodox."

I have to figure that the UTJ has something serious invested in not being Orthodox, or they would clarify these issues.

If I had to speculate, I might venture into the ad hominem and wonder if some of the UTJ rabbis who broke with the Seminary might still retain some loyalty to the institutions which trained and nurtured them. Certainly Conservative Judaism of the past 50 years has made itself consciously "not-Orthodox", much as contemporary American Orthodoxies in part define themselves as "not-Conservative". But that's a different essay.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Lonely Man of Faith

Steg described himself in another blog as a "tree-hugging MO". He demonstrated this as follows:

«hugs a tree»
«reads to it a bedtime story from Lonely Man of Faith»

which inspired the following:

The Lonely Bear of Faith

Little JoeBear was looking for his God.

He looked in the toybin,

he looked in the closet,

he looked under the bed,

he even looked in his tatty's bes medresh,

but he couldn't find his God.

But he had faith that there was God.

So he went out for a walk.

* * *

He met a boy, who looked strangely familiar.

Do I know you? JoeBear asked.

I don't know, said the boy. Call me Adam.

OK, said JoeBear. Call me JoeBear. Have you seen God? I'm looking for Him.

No, said Adam. One can't see Him. But I know he exists.

So what does he want of us? asked JoeBear

To do good, to rule His world and build it up.

Wow, that sounds like a lot of work.

Yes it is, said Adam.

Can I help? asked JoeBear

Yes, but you have to find your own way, said Adam. My way works for me. It will not work for you, but you must find my way for yourself.

That's confusing, said JoeBear.

Yes it is, said Adam, but that's the way it has always been.

I'll have to think about that, said JoeBear.

Adam said, While you think, I have things to do, so see you around.

OK, see you later, said JoeBear, and continued walking.

* * *

Along came another boy, who also looked strangely familiar.

You look familiar, said JoeBear. Haven't we met somewhere?

Could be, said the boy. Call me Adam.

OK, said JoeBear, but I just met another Adam, so maybe I could call you Adam II?

That's fine, said the boy. What brings you out on this long lonely road?

I'm looking for God, said JoeBear.

Well you won't find him here, said Adam II. I've been looking for him too, and haven't found him yet.

So what keeps you going? asked JoeBear.

My faith that He exists, responded Adam II.

Can we look together, so I don't look everywhere you haven't found him?

That won't help. The quest is a lonely one. Each of us has to look for himself.

That sounds sad, said JoeBear.

Yes it is, replied Adam II, but I rest assured that all of us are engaged on the same journey. I know He exists, because God promised us so.

That makes me feel better, said JoeBear.

I've got to keep looking, said Adam II, but good luck on your quest.

I've got to think about these Adams, said JoeBear, and sat down on a quartered log.

* * *

After a while, JoeBear's Tatty came along.

JoeBear! You're all right! I've been worried about you, gone so long.

Yes, Tatty, said JoeBear, and told him of the Adams he had met.

I don't know which is right, the Adam who is out to conquer the world, or the Adam who shares our quest for God.

Tatty thought about it a while, and said, They're both right.

How can that be? cried JoeBear.

Tatty gave JoeBear an example. A funeral passes a bes medresh. Do we keep learning, or do we follow the funeral? The answer is yes - both have good reasons.

JoeBear thought about that a while.

Finally, JoeBear said, so you mean we have to follow both Adams? That both are trying to do God's will, and God's will is for both?

Yes, JoeBear, that's it. But it is a lonely quest, where you have to find your own way through the tension.

Hmm, said JoeBear. Those Adams looked strangely familiar. I wonder if they were me?

Could be, said Tatty. Could be.

And they went home to conquer a kugel.

The End

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Donkey's Miraculous Mouth - Miracles and the Natural Order

D’var Torah
Shaleshudis, Parshas Balak 5766
Before yahrzeit of Joseph Ezra Wisan, 17 Tammuz 5750

Verse under study: Bamidbar 22:28

כח ויפתח יהוה את-פי האתון ותאמר לבלעם מה-עשיתי לך כי הכיתני זה שלש רגלים.

28 And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Bil`am: 'What have I done unto you, that you have hit me these three times?'

We started to give a shiur in Pirkei Avot this week, after davening, while the rabbi is away. S__ F_______r gave the first class, to great acclaim. In honor of that, I want to link this week’s parsha with Pirkei Avot, particularly the 5th chapter, which is what those who say it throughout the summer are saying. That’s the chapter with all the numbers, and it’s easy to link, since Mishnah 5 tells us that

“Ten things were created at twilight on Friday [of the week of creation]: the mouth of the earth [that swallowed up Korach & Co.], the mouth of the well [that gave water to us in the desert], the mouth of [Bilam’s] donkey, …”

I’m not going to list them all. These three appear in the past three parshiot – Korach two weeks ago, the ending of Miriam’s well last week, and the Bilam story this week.

The phrasing is a bit strange, and calls for comment. Why “created”, when they aren’t mentioned in the Creation narratives? Why specifically “at twilight”? What’s the use of creating them now, when they won’t be used for thousands of years? How do these objects, which will be used in miracles, fit with the natural order?

We need to look creation in terms of Divine providence. Creation gives us the natural order of the world. God created the world ex nihilo, with various physical laws that guide the functioning of the physical universe. Most commentators assume that Genesis describes the natural order – physical law doesn’t change, Torah doesn’t change, God’s will for the Universe doesn’t change. So how do we explain miracles? They must be part of the natural order.

The Tosfos Yom Tov reviews a number of theories of the creation of these objects. First, why were they created “Friday at twilight?” Friday twilight is partly Shabbat and partly weekday, partly holy and partly profane. We add a bit of extra time to the beginning and end of Shabbat, so as to “add from the holy onto the profane”, to bleed over a little holiness to the workaday world. So too here, these items are mostly normal natural items, with a bit more of a holy purpose. A staff is a staff, but Aaron’s staff is created to flower into an almond tree – it’s a bit more holy. A donkey mouth is a donkey mouth, but this one has a holy purpose – it’s created with a bit more holiness. Since, however, Shabbat is the time when God rested from his work, we don’t have a written description of His work during the twilight period. It is necessary that these miracle-objects were created with the holiness of the First Shabbat, but by the same token, it is necessary that their creation was not explicitly written.

The Rambam (1100s), believed that Divine providence only extends to human beings, particularly Jews, as individuals, but to other species as classes. Thus, Rambam holds, in the Guide and on this Mishnah, that the entire class was created with the potential to become miraculous. At the proper time, God changed a particular item so that its miraculous ability shone forth.

The Meiri (1300s) has a problem with the Rambam’s position: it smacks of God changing His Will, that the individual of the class is changed into a miracle-version. This runs afoul of the unchanging Divine Will. Meiri holds that these objects were created al t’nai, with a condition, an idea – that when they are needed for the miraculous, they will behave miraculously.

Tosfos Yom Tov sees God changing His will in either theory. In the first case, the individual ceases to behave as the rest of the class. In the second case, the idea of change exists, but the change does not exist until needed.

Tosfos Yom Tov solves this by taking an intermediate position: that the objects were created with the condition that when Israel needs them, they will do what Israel needs. All is thus foreseen, but free choice is given (Avot 3:15).

How does this work? The Torah predates the physical universe by 974 generations (Shab. 88b). The physical universe was thus created as a place where Torah, an expression of God’s Will, could be fulfilled. Part of that will is that Israel choose to say Naaseh venishma, We will do and listen. God created the Torah, and the Universe, and Israel in it to fulfill the Torah – God, the Torah and Israel are One, as the saying goes. Thus, as Israel goes on its adventures, various miraculous things need to happen, so they do, because they were created to do so. Israel and the Universe are things created to fulfill God’s Will in Torah, so they work together. How is free will preserved? Perhaps other miracle-objects were created, such that had Israel made other choices (not to worship the calf, etc.) those other objects would have been needed, but the ones that were needed are listed in this Mishnah.

The Tiferes Yisroel (19th century) speculated how the miracle-potential became part of the Ten Objects. Where other commentators talk about the potential in the class, or in the creature type, Tiferes Yisroel says that the trait was given to the first donkey, such that in her remote descendent, it would express itself at the proper time.

We know the Tiferes Yisroel followed then-current science. In his Drush Or Hachaim, where he posits a universe older than 6,000 years, he writes that he is responding to recent advances in geological stratgraphy and fossil discoveries. Modern old-earth geology really got started with Lyell’s Princples of Geology published in 1830-33. The Drush Or Hachaim was preached in 1842. Clearly he followed these new ideas.

Is it possible that ideas about inheritance of traits was in the air? The Tiferes Yisroel wrote during the 1830s or early 1840s. Evolution was already in the air, as Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles) had published a theory of evolution in 1796, and Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics (since disproven) was propounded in 1809. Perhaps his unique description of the potential for miracles being created in the objects, reflects these ideas.

So these objects fit the natural order, and the Tosfos Yom Tov’s theory preserves the permanence of the Divine Will. They were necessarily created at twilight on the Friday of Creation, and thus their creation is hidden, as the objects were hidden until necessary.

Pirkei Avot also comes up in the latter part of our verse. The donkey rebukes Bil`am in a strange way. Note that the angel has blocked the donkey three times, and only on the third time does the donkey protest. The first time, the angel diverted the donkey into a field, the second time in a vineyard, and the third time in a narrow place with nowhere to go, so the donkey just stops.

The donkey says, “you have hit me three times.” “Three times” is written as “three regalim,” which usually refers to the three pilgrimage festivals. Kli Yakar tells us that this is a warning to Bi`lam, that he wants to destroy the nation that keeps three festivals. This point is reinforced by the circumstances in the narrative. Each stop is linked to a different festival:

  • The first stop, in the field: this is Sukkot, the harvest festival, when we build booths in the fields.
  • The second stop, in the vineyard, refers to Pesach. Israel is compared to a vine, as in Psalm 80:

80,9 Thou didst pluck up a vine out of Egypt; Thou didst drive out the nations, and didst plant it.
80,10 Thou didst clear a place before it, and it took deep root, and filled the land.

Or in Song of Songs, where the “house of wine” is taken, in Rashi’s allegorical reading, to be the Tent of Meeting. Wine is associated with Israel.

Further, four cups of wine are drunk at the Seder – one of the central mitzvot of the night

  • The third stop, in the narrow place, is Shavuot, where we we couldn’t move, being held in place under the mountain, all but forced to receive the Torah.

This reading, of Israel as the nation that keeps the festivals, is strengthened by the allusions in the text.

The Kli Yakar shows this idea alluding to Pirkei Avot 1:2 –

R’ Shimon Hatzadik, one of the last of the Great Assembly, said: On three things does the world stand – on Torah, on Avodah (divine service), and on Gemilut Chasadim (acts of lovingkindness).

The three festivals correspond to these three ideas: Torah is Shavuot, the Time of Giving the Torah. Avodah is Pesach, when we went from avadim (slaves) of Pharoh to servants (ovdei) of God. And Gemilut Chasadim is Sukkot, the harvest festival; the central commands which tell us how to do acts of lovingkindess focus on the harvest. We give Trumah and Tithes to the Kohanim and Leviim, for their support, and we give Leket, Shikchah and Peiah (dropped stalks, forgotten sheaves, and unharvested corners of the field) to the poor.

We thus see a unitary Torah, which is united with science. Narratives hint at greater ethical and ritual truths through careful Divine word choice. The world is a place where God’s Will, as expressed in the Torah, can be fulfilled, mostly by His chosen people Israel. And just as Torah defines a world which fits God’s Will, science allows us to describe that world and understand its workings.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Psalm 68 Criticism

While learning Shabbat 88b this past Shabbos, my hhevrutha & I came across something puzzling: two different texts for Psalm 68:13. The Gemara reads and explicates the verse as if it referred to "מלאכי צבאות", angels in charge of hosts, while the text in the printed Bibles uniformly reads "מלכי צבאות", kings in charge of hosts. The early translations (Targum, LXX) agree with our text, reading "מלכותא" and "Βασιλεύς" respectively. The Rishonim (early medieval commentators) on the page (Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Metzudot) don't see anything to explain. But the BHS notes, while printing מלכי, that multiple manuscripts read מלאכי.

Why this discrepancy? We don't see language in the Talmud reflecting a conscious choice to misread the word, as we often see (do not read banayich, your sons, but bonayich, your builders) for hermeneutic effect.

Do later commentators deal with this discrepancy?