Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Parsha Notes (Yisro)

With this issue of ParshaNotes, I'm up-to-date.

It's amusing to me each week to see which individual notes generate the most interest and anger. As I compile the post, I usually guess which one will make Bray most irate, or which will generate the most thoughtful commentary from the others in the community. So far, I've been wrong every time.

Jethro's arrival is set in thematic opposition to the arrival of Amelek in the preceding chapter. (Cassuto) [More] [And what is "Amelek" anyway?]

Accurate idiom
18:18 נָבֹל תִּבֹּל גַּם־אַתָּה גַּם־הָעָם הַזֶּה You and your people will wear yourselves out
As Rashi says (following Onkelos) the verb here means "to wither." To an ancient, agricultural society, this means approximately what "burnout" might mean to a modern, technological society like ours. (Alter)

Common Error
Christians often forget that Jesus was not one of them, but one of us. They speak of Jesus teaching or arguing with "the Jews" forever oblivious to the fact that both Jesus and "the Jews" would have thought of each other members of same religion and ethnic group. Jews are guilty of the opposite mistake, specifically toward Moshe's wife Tzipporah. Perhaps she converted (in whatever way that was done before the Torah was given) but she hadn't shared in the history or the burdens of her husband's nation. Their suffering was not her suffering. Her arrival with Jethro, after the Exodus has been executed, drives home this point.

Biblical economy
18:4 Moshe calls his second son Elazar, because [Moses said,] "The God of my father came to my aid and rescued me from Pharaoh's sword." When? As Alter and the Misrash both note this must refer to an episode not depicted in the narrative.

Unnecessary comment
The verse [19:3] says "So shall you say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel" and Rashi, following mechilta, provides an explanation for the double language. This misses the point. It appears far more likely to me that God is speaking in verse to signify the grandeur and majesty of the moment. (The line's meaning and rhythm are both perfectly parallel.)

Upping the ante
God's original deal with Abraham was that we would practice justice and righteousness. Now [19:6] He says "And you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes."

External Parallels
לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה־לְךָ פֶסֶל וְכָל־תְּמוּנָה אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל וַאֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת וַאֲשֶׁר בַּמַּיִם מִתַּחַת לָאָרֶץ׃
You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.
Here, God is speaking of the three realms of creation, and seems to be replying to Canaanite theology, which had a separate god for each zone (Baal: Land; Yaam:Sea; Mot: Underworld)

Irony Alert
The ban on taking God's name "in vain" may have originally had the sence of "making use of the name in a (false) spell or incantation", as opposed to using it in casual speech. (Alter) Nowadays, of course we're meticulous about not ever mentioning the name, but flock to clairvoyants who offer to work miracles, often through various uses of the name.

Midrashic meaning
Rashi on 19:17: at the bottom of the mountain According to its simple meaning, [DB: Which no Rabbi or preacher ever mentions.] at the foot of the mountain. Its midrashic interpretation is, however, that the mountain was uprooted from its place and turned over them like a vat. — [from Shab. 88a] I don't believe even the midrashic interp. here is meant to be taken literally. Rather, I believe the author of the midrash is saying that following the miracles the Israelites had seen, they were in no position to refuse God's invitation; thus it was as if the mountain was being held over the heads.

After ordering us to eat a meal using archaic cooking (fire roasting) and archaic baking (unleavened bread) methods, the Lord seals the deal with a pact prepared using an archaic mode of communication (writing on stone.)

- Twice we're told the people heard (or will hear) the sound of a ram's horn, but no information is provided about who is blowing it. At the first mention, the horn is called a "yovel" prompting Rashi to say,"the ram’s horn Heb. הַיוֹבֵל. That is a shofar of a ram, for in Arabia, they call a ram “yuvla.” Do I misunderstand here, or is Rashi glossing a word based on how its used by non-Jews? If so, why?

Wrong Rashi
Rashi 19:4 on eagles’ wings Like an eagle, which carries its young on its wings, for all other birds place their young between their feet since they fear another bird flying above them. The eagle, however, fears only man, lest he shoot an arrow at it, because no other bird flies above it. Therefore, it places them [its young] on its wings. This is an excellent image, but the facts are false: Eagles don't actually carry their young on their wings.

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