Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Va-Yetzei: Jacob and G-d's promise.

Another installment of Amanda reading Torah. The nice thing about what I've figured out with my Torah study is that in the time it takes me to read through a portion and write these notes, I can get through my collection of tunes by "Explosions in the Sky" ... a rocking band that is instrumental and, well, rocks socks. I highly recommend them for studying purposes, be it homework or Torah. It's relaxing, but outright powerful at times. Anyhow, here's this week's chits and chats. I'm still mulling over this first one. The phrasing sort of ... well ... it makes me read and reread it. Feel free to comment, throw in ideas, etc.

+ "Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." (Gen. 28:15) -- I read this phrase about 15 times. It seems impossible, implausible that this will ever be done. G-d understands (we hope) that humans are a selfish people with self-promoting motives and a thirst for war and argument over lands and who gets what. Maybe this means G-d will never leave us, ever, but that we also will never regain the land. Is G-d strong enough to fight what goes on in the Middle East right now? And always?

+ In verses 20-22, Jacob makes an "if, then" statement. This is sort of ... well, unsettling. Jacob basically says, "if g-d does this, then i'll accept him as my lord." Now, from what I've always understood, this is a poor, poor way to communicate with G-d. Growing up, I used to do this all the time. I'd pull a "if g-d helps me pass this test, i'll promise to wash the dishes when I get home." Now, I know it isn't quite the same caliber of promise, but I guess I feel like our G-d isn't a G-d of "if, then" statements. In fact, I feel that he's quite the opposite. Interestingly, the commentators say that this isn't a "promise" but rather simply part of Jacob's "prayer." The text also points out that these things have already been granted to Jacob by G-d ... already "promised" by G-d, if you will. Then what is the purpose of Jacob's vow?

+ So ... when did intrafamily marriage become uncouth? I'm serious here. In the OT, it's percieved as desirable -- you know who your family is getting involved with, you know what type of people they are, you know who to blame when something goes awry, etc. You keep it in the family, of course. Now, I'm not -- by any means -- suggesting this is a super way of going about things, but when did it become NOT okay?

+ In Gen. 31, Jacob is allowed to decieve and cheat Laban BEFORE G-d's angels come to say "whoa whoa whoa ... you have become corrupted in this land! Go home!" I find this interesting ... is it not better to prevent such things than to let them play out in full? Then again, Jacob isn't exactly punished, he's just told to high-tail it home.

+ Rachel is always mentioned before Leah in the OT and in most liturgy, despite Leah being the first wife. Nowadays, people firmly believe that love conquers all and such and such, but contractually, Leah was there first, so why isn't the mention as "Leah and Rachel." If I'm not wrong, the new Reform siddur swaps the names, so that it IS "Leah and Rachel" ... though I could be wrong. It's been a while since I saw a copy of the new siddur, which seems to be constantly pushing forward the date of production (I think the last flub up was a printing problem ...)

For more on this week's parshah, visit Chabad.org ... the source for all things Torah :D

Frustrated rambling.

Here's the thing. A reader of the block pointed out to me that he, like many, is sympathetic to the abuse of immigration in Israel, in response to my blog entry on the proposal to ban CONVERTS from the law of return. (Note: This isn't anger at this fellow by any means, I just. don't. get. it.)

Orthodox leaders in Israel are not a fan of reform or diaspora conversions, but I would go so far as to say that some of the most devout, dedicated, passionate Jews are the converts. There are plenty of Jews in Israel who are as secular as my family is Christian. Or as Jewish as my family is Christian. I understand that within Israel there is strife between the secular and religious, reform and orthodox, but why keep out some of the most devout, dedicated, passionate Jews there are? If you want a more religious, more colorful, passionate society, why not IMPORT the devout ones!? Eh!? Jews by CHOICE. Chosen people. Choosing to become chosen? Brilliant.

Sigh. Israel may be better off bringing in those who were not born Jewish, but who are more Jewish than some of the Israeli Jews will ever be! Okay, okay. Then again, who is to say who is more Jewish? What does "more Jewish" mean? Tallis? Kipot? Mezuzah on all entryways? Kugel in the oven every day? I just don't get it.

Someone explain it all to me. And tomorrow, I'll Torah blog.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

And still, we fight.

I stand firmly behind the belief that the Jews' biggest enemy is the Jews. The internal fight and question of "who is a Jew" is the blemish we should be most worried about. Diaspora versus Israel. Orthodox versus Reform. Sephardim versus Ashkenazim. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew. How can the Jewish community expect to stand tall in the face of adversity when we're so busy locking our neighbor outside in the cold? HOW is this acceptable behavior? So many prominent characters in Torah were converts! Some of the greatest Jewish thinkers were converts! Embrace! I refuse to feel like a stranger in the midst of my fellow Jews! Moses was a stranger in the midst when Sarah died and he was embraced by the people and allowed to create a burial spot for himself and his family. He was a stranger! We've been strangers so many times before, have we not? How can it be acceptable to drive Jews out of the homes of Jews because of a WORD. Ger. Ach.

I'm ... disappointed. Frustrated at my people, if I can be permitted by the Orthodox Israeli rabbinate to call them that, of course. This blemish can be found here.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Put on your yarmulka. It's NEARLY time for Chanukah.

I got a very large package in the mail yesterday. Okay, it was TWO packages, from my family back in Nebraska. I'd requested my coffee maker and small vacuum, but I also got a few other things I'd left behind, such as my comfy purple sweater, some towels and a pillow cover. But also in the box was:
-A box of hot cocoa
-A box of oatmeal squares
-TWO containers of peanut butter (one crunchy, one EXTRA crunchy)
-Two tins of cookies (chocolate chip and pineapple/sugar)
-(there might be other things, but I can't remember ...)
-And the best of all? An early Chanukah gift. My mom found my favorite perfume, which was discontinued many moons ago.

So it got me thinking. Chanukah is a month away. Of all the Jewish holidays, even the minor fast holidays, Chanukah probably has the LEAST impact on me. Because I feel this way, I've decided to do some searching this year. To maybe look and see what's meaningful about it, beyond the miracle of the lights and the perseverance of the Jewish people. I mean, I know that Chanukah is just as commercialized now as "Christmas" ... or as I prefer to call it ... "Santamas." I mean, Wal-Mart even has a selection of 22 items for the Chanukah lover (though most of them are books).

I have plenty of friends who adhere to the "true" meaning of Christmas, whatever that may be. From my understanding, Christmas was designed to get all of those Christians who WERE Christians but still practiced pagan rights and celebrated pagan holidays to choose -- Paganism or Christianity. So church leaders designed many of the holidays, in this case tying Jesus to the winter solstice, around the same time of pagan holidays and people had to choose. Feel free to correct me here, but a Lutheran Hebrew bible teacher taught me that. And I think that even Christians won't deny that "Christmas" has a lot less to do with "Christ" and a lot more to do with "winter." So how is that reconciled? I'm curious.

But Chanukah, now THERE's a story that has lived through many moons. But do we light our menorahs to feel a part of the reindeer and santa clauses around us? I don't want that to be the reason I do it. I don't think it ever has, but I just need to make extra sure. So this year, I'm doing my research, I'm finding a meaning, I'm looking for a reason for the season, damnit!

And in the meantime, I'll douse myself with my favorite perfume, prepare a set of "holiday" cards and a set of Chanukah cards (e-mail me your addy if you'd like a CHANUKAH CARD!), eat the "Christmas" cookies my mom sends me and stew.

PS: If you haven't picked up the LeeVees Chanukah album, you're seriously missing sooo much.

Hayyei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18)

Another set of notes, comments, thoughts. This time, on Hayyei Sarah.

+ "Put your hand under my thigh and I will make you swear by the Lord ..." (Gen. 24:2-3) -- I didn't know, but such an oath was common in many Near Eastern cultures. Interestingly, the words "testify" and "testimony" originate with "testes." Why? Well, according to commentary, the genital organ is where "the power of procreation resides", thereby invoking the "presence and power of G-d as the guarantor of the oath." Additionally, the Sages say the genital organ was involved because "it was marked by the covenant" of b'rit milah.

+ There is a discussion among the rabbis about Gen. 22 and Gen. 47. In the former, it says that the servant "took a gold nose-ring weighing a half-shekel and two gold bands for her arms, ten shekels in weight" and THEN asked her who she was. In verse 47, as he relays the events to the household in the latter verse, he says "I inquired of her, 'Whose daughter are you?' And she said ... And I put the ring on her nose and the bands on her arms."

Now, the commentary from Rashi on verse 22 says that the servant lavished her with the gifts without first knowing her identity because his prayer to G-d had been immediately answered (in that he was looking for a wife for Isaac). But I don't think it can be taken from that first verse that he gave her the items before learning her name. In fact, nowhere in verses 21 through 27 does it ever say that he GAVE her the items, or ADORNED her with the items. It simply says that "the man took ..." What I gather from this is that she gave the camels water as he looked on, he removed these gold items from the load, then began a conversation with her, after which he probably gave her the items. But because it doesn't say, the only evidence is from Gen. 47. Thus, I disagree with Rashi about the order of events between the servant and Rebekah. Disagree with Rashi? Oh yah. You heard me.

+ Some interesting things about love and marriage in this parsha. It insists that Rebekah is asked to consent to the wedding, she isn't merely ushered off at the bidding of her brother. This, of course, makes me wonder about arranged marriage and the idea of nonconsent from the bride. Additionally, Rebekah and Isaac consummate their relationship, but according to the commentary, he only loved Rebekah AFTER he marries her. As it reads, "Their love is the result, not the prerequisite, of their relationship." Interesting, nu?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

In every language, it surely is True.

Brilliant, beautiful.

Hear O Israel, the Lord our G-d is one!
audi Israhel Dominus Deus noster Dominus unus est
Oye, Israel: Jehova nuestro Dios, Jehova uno es
Ecoute, Israel! L'Eternal, notre Dieu, est le seul Eternel.
Hore Israel: Jehova, unser Gott, ist ein einziger Jehova!
Hoor, Israel, die Lord onse God is 'n enige Lord.
Degjo, Izrael, Zoti, Perendia yne, eshte nje i vetem.
Kuule Israel, Herra meidan Jumalamme on yksi (ainoa) Herra
Ascolta, Israele: Il Signore Iddio nostro e l'unico Signore
Dinggin mo, Oh Israel: ang Panginoon nating Dios ay isang Panginoon.

Name. That. Language.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Back, back, back, back to school!

I have signed up for the GRE. Dec. 7 at 9 a.m.

I also have narrowed down the universities to which I will apply for Judaic/Jewish studies master's degree programs. They include, but are not limited to:
-University of Michigan
-University of Chicago
-Baltimore Hebrew University
-Brandeis University

And still in consideration are:
-University of Connecticut
-Gratz College

If anyone knows of the most stellar Jewish studies program (preferably for history/law/medieval Jewry), do let me know. I've been researching in haste to get this done. I've got three recommenders lined up and I'm set to go, I believe.

This is scary, and uplifting. But mostly scary.

Friday, November 10, 2006

It's all spinning ...

... out of control? I think I'm losing myself.

I need to pack up, ship out and find something that makes me sing. That makes me write. I know that I have a problem when I'm not writing. I haven't written a poem in months, months and months. The last thing I wrote, period, began like this:

i'm letting myself go from you
because bodies aren't meant to be
burned with words, leaving
ashes laying on toes and hoping
memories can make their way
in the wind.

Anyhow, on my way to the coffee shop I passed a man selling flowers at a stand. He was cutting the stems and singing in Arabic or Hebrew -- I honestly couldn't tell. He was using his shears to create these bouquets he was selling near a bagel shop in Dupont Circle. I felt, for a moment, like I was somewhere else. An Ethiopian man passed me, followed by two men in business suits. I felt like I was somewhere important for a moment. The diversity and life here is intoxicating, and makes me long for so much.

I turn around and then it's dusk. Time for me to go to work. I wish I were heading home to curl up with a good book, some Itzhak Perlman and a fireplace. There are these things I want, these places I long to be, despite knowing how wrong it feels, that I can't get to. Be it fear, be it the unknown. I long to immerse myself in the books of rabbis and scholars. To feel like I belong again. How quickly I've been flooded with the mundane.

I can't live like this.