Sunday, May 12, 2013

Our Matriarchal Torah

On Mother's Day, I find the following thoughts from Rabbi Yehiel E. Poupko particularly relevant:

This beautiful stained glass image is from Pinar&Viola.
Many think of the society of the Torah as Patriarchal. After all Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are active and complex figures. They are involved in great dramas. However, this is only one part of the picture. The fact is that Sarah, not Abraham, appoints Isaac as Patriarch, and Rebecca, not Isaac, appoints Jacob as Patriarch. Left to their own devices Abraham and Isaac might well have appointed the other sons, Ishmael and Esau. What about the most complex of the three families, Jacob's four wives and 13 children and their various tragedies? There is the tortured response to the assault on Dina and then the kidnap and sale of Joseph. The career of the founding families almost comes apart with Jacob and his children and their conflicts. The most salient feature about both of these Jacobean tragedies is that there is no Matriarch to guide the family. Rachel has died and Leah has just slipped away. When there is a Matriarch she determines succession.


What are we to make of this pattern of Matriarchal determinism? It begins at the beginning. God teaches Adam that his wife Hava will become the mother of all life. She surely is the mother of all life. She is, after God, the first creator, and declares as much when she says, that in imitation of God she has created life in Cain and Abel. She signals that mother and Matriarch share something utterly unique with God, the creation of life itself. Both are creators. Inherent in the act of creation is the responsibility to care for the life created, materially and spiritually. These Matriarchs know that they are God's partners, nay, even more than that. They are as creators central to God's work. This work is not just the creation of life itself in the child that they will birth. They know that the child they are bringing into this world will be a critical actor in God's drama of sacred history. They, who know that child and live with that child from the very moment of conception, are uniquely endowed to make certain decisions about the future assignment of that child. The Torah does believe in the assignment doctrine; the notion that every person in this world has a specific assignment and has a task to accomplish. The Matriarch has that special knowledge for she knows with whom she shares creation.
Don't miss the opportunity to perform a mitzvah today...honor your mother!

This post is dedicated to my mom:
Mom, you were the first one to teach me about love, and you have consistently demonstrated that love to this day! You continue to inspire me in many ways. I am so grateful to have you not only as my mom but also as a close friend. Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Two articles for Yerushalayim Day

Today Gathering Sparks brings you two articles in honor of Yerushalayim Day.

The first, from Dr. Rachel Zohar Dulin in JUF News, discusses the Many Names of Yeru-sha-la-yim. It includes the following etymology:

Most scholars believe that Yru-shalem was the original name of the city. The name consisted of the verb ya-ra meaning 'to lay a foundation' and Shalem, after the name of the Canaanite patron god of the city. Thus, Yrusalem meant 'The Foundation (to the temple) of the god Shalem.'  Jewish midrash took a different view. Basing it's etymology on biblical sources, the midrash made a synthesis between Shalem, the old name of the city (Gen 14:18), and yir-eh, meaning 'will see,' the name Abraham gave to the hill inYeru-sha-la-yim where he was prevented from sacrificing his son Isaac (Gen 22:14). Thus the name Yeru-sha-lem, according to this midrash, is a tribute to both the king who ruled The City with righteousness at the time of Abraham and the Patriarch's own faithfulness (Br. Raba 56:16). Furthermore, in Jewish lore the name Yeru-sha-la-yim also means the 'foundation of peace.'  This lofty meaning is based on the root sh.l.m which means 'complete' or 'whole' and out of which the Hebrew word shalom is derived.
Dr. Dulin concludes with a spirited reminder:
It is important to mention in this context that the name of the capital of Israel is Yeru-sha-la-yim; not Jerusalem or any other foreign pronunciation which corrupts the Hebrew origin of the name. For a name is a word affirming existence. If the name Yeru-sha-la-yim is mispronounced her recognition as our capital is at peril. Let us not condone it by indifference.

The second article is from the May 3, 2013 edition of Yisrael HaYom, by writer Yochi Barnedas, whose study of Jerusalem in Scriptures "caught her off guard." This article was brought to my attention by the Caspari Center, whose summary I'll quote:
“You say Jerusalem, you say division,” she writes, explaining that she had always assumed that the ultimate biblical vision for Jerusalem is that it will one day be completely Jewish. “I knew that the multi-national vision of Jerusalem was in Scripture, but I was sure that next to it I would find the dream of a Jerusalem that is entirely Jewish. I never imagined that I would not find a single verse that justified this approach. ... And yet, there are many verses that say exactly the opposite. ... Jerusalem is described in Scripture as God’s eternal city, not ours. The right to live and pray in this place is granted first and foremost to Israel ... but also to the Gentiles.” Barnedas quotes several passages to demonstrate this point, concluding her article by saying that “the sight of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious figures gathered together in the city of God, praying to him, is a fulfillment of the Bible’s prophetic vision. Our sages dreamed of this; for us, it is a daily reality.”
In these two articles we see both the particularistic and the universalistic dimensions of Yerushalayim--both worth keeping in our thoughts today.

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