Friday, July 21, 2006


Weekly Parsha Blogging, Finally!

Since Nate has part II of his podcast with me up (in which I am compared to Rabbi Dworkin, whom I never met), I probably should finally come through with my promised Weekly Parsha blogging. You'd think it would be easy, considering this was my Bar Mitzvah parsha, but it's not.

After all, you've already heard all there is to know about "that still small voice" (cf. Dagobert Runes on this) although there is the interesting question, which relates to the Akedah and some discussion on the feminist parts of left blogistan about it, of how you know even whether the small voice really is the voice of God? And you've heard about the Daughters of Zelophahad (and note the interesting interpretation of the halacha involved being one not given at Sinai but rather an extra-special one, as I describe in the pod-cast). And, as I describe in the pod-cast, an interesting point about this parsha is that, in shifting toward the end of the Torah, you see a shift in leadership. The Etz Chaim Chumash has an excellent, if brief, discussion about this. And I had intended to blog more on that aspect, but something else has caught my attention -- that stock issue of the "still small voice".

Pinchas, in slaying the couple participating in an orgiastic rite, would have claimed to have heard the "still small voice" of God when doing so, no doubt. But did he? As commentators point out, his "reward" is delayed until the next week's parsha to indicate that one often does not know whether that voice is the voice of God, so acts of violence in the name of God must be considered carefully, 'cause you might not know who's voice your hearing anyway. Also, some point out that Pinchas was not really rewarded with the status of High Priest but rather the status was given to him to keep him in line. Indeed, tradition points out that just as the righteousness of Moses had to be balanced by Aaron who, while the spokesman and high priest of his generation, also was somewhat of a yes-man who actually got into trouble several times simply because he didn't protest against wrong things, the out of touch zeal of Pinchas had to be balanced by Joshua who, while a military leader of great courage and even prone to actions of military excess, nonetheless was, a la that other great general, Eisenhower, a moderate in certain political matters (it is interesting how, like in our own day, some of the most zealous people are actually not the ones who have to fight the battles) and a Julius Caesar-like "tribune of the masses". Actually according to this theory, the "get the extremists into government so they can moderate once they realize they have responsibilities" strategy has divine imprimateur -- in God's annointment of Pinchas.

The problem with this theory is that it only works if one's extremism actually comes from listening to that still small voice and one listens to that voice when the voice says "hold your hand, I have provided a ram in the thicket" and tells you to moderate. If a zealous leader never hears that voice again, or hears it only selectively (e.g. GW Bush worrying about taking the lives of blastocysts but not born humans), then giving a zealot power just makes everything worse, not better.

Another interesting aspect of this parsha, in dealing with the changing of the guard, so to speak, is that either with this last parsha or with this week's parsha (in this case actually with Pinchas), we go from reading Haftaroth relating to the Torah portion, to those relating to the Calendar (e.g. the coming of Tisha B'av, the period of consolation and the coming of the Harvest Season). Of course, the Parshioth themselves have some relation to the calendar (cf. my comments on Korach), but now the Haftaroth specifically relate to the themes of mourning (commentwhore I'm too lazy to link -- please see my comments at Adventus) and redemption with the coming of the dog-days of summer in which crop failure looms as a threat and the following joy of the harvest. And now, we have a double significance, alas, for these readings as we mourn the loss of life in the ME, fear the failure that is war in the region and pray for the harvest of peace.

Alas -- that's all I can figure out to say ... hopefully next week's parsha blogging will be sooner (considering it's already almost Shabbos) and better.

Just a clarification.. I compared you to him in the podcast because you look like him... not because of the political comments.. and he spelled it Dworken.
Sorry for the mispelling. And I somehow would guess his politics and mine might differ. Sorry I wasn't clearer myself.
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