Sunday, August 13, 2006


Previously in the Weekly Readings ... (and a preview of attractions to come)

The Shabbos before last was Shabbos Nachamu, the Shabbos of Comfort, in which the Prophetic reading was the first chapter of Deutero-Isaiah. The shul I'm going to here is so committed to the multiple authorship of Isaiah that, in the Gabbais' list of who's reading what, they had listed the Prophetic reading as being from Isaiah chapter 1. Of course, that could have been a typo, but let's just claim that it's a commitment to the multiple authorship of the book of Isaiah. I wonder if when we get to the last bits of Isaiah if the chapter numbering will presuppose the existence of a tritero-Isaiah?

Also read was that part of Deuteronomy from whence come many of the observances of post-Temple Judaism: e.g. the Sh'ma and the justifications for the Shabbos Kiddush and the Passover Seder. It's almost as if the Deuteronomist were preparing us for an inevitable exile rather than justifying a centralization of worship as some claimed was the goal of the Deuteronomic school (I should get back to this when I blog about this last Shabbos' Torah portion). This provides an interesting connection with the Haftorah, even though such connections do not ostensibly exist in the readings this time of year: the Haftorah contains words of comfort and literal "cheerleading": Deutero-Isaiah wishes to cheer the Jews on as we return from the Babylonian captivity back to the land of Israel. On the other hand, the Torah portion gives us the rituals needed to sustain Judaism, not as a nation, but as a religion, par excellence, perhaps the first to be able to exist as a World, rather than National religion. Yet, the Torah portion also ostensibly deals with the return of the Israelites to Israel, which land was promised to Abraham but abandoned in a time of famine (I can really sound like Jesse Jackson when I want to or even when I don't intend to) by Abraham's great-grandkids. I am sure this has implications for the situation in Israel today, and it might be interesting to have some perspective on this from (and I can also sound like a Faux News liberal, MSM whore when I want to or even when I don't intend to) both sides of the current conflict.

One thing that caught my eye (there is a pun intended, as you, the reader, will soon see), though is the Sh'ma. It is the custom of many to cover our eyes when saying the first verse of the Sh'ma. Normally this is justified as a method to ensure concentration in reading this very important verse witnessing God's unity. But there is another possible explanation. The Baal Shem Tov once said something to the effect of "the world is filled with wonders and miracles yet man takes his little hand and covers his eyes and sees nothing". It is important to recognize the God's wonder in creation, but that is a relatively simple task. What is more complicated is, when facing a catastrophe or even an essential threat, as Israel faces today (more on what I mean by "essential threat" should be coming on this blog soon), to still see God. The Deuteronomist was inspired to commit these words of witness to the scroll at a time when Judah was perhaps doomed by the Babylonian threat. He also wrote of the importance of not "testing" God with demands for miracles. If we can manage to still be witness to God's unity and glory, even when we cannot see the Divine presence, if only because we have covered our eyes to block out the miracles all around us, then we truly demonstrate our faith when we say its watchword. The Deuteronomic school taught us not to offer sacrifices in local, inherently heathen (cf. the origin of the word "heathen") shrines, but also gave us rituals that allowed us to transcend sacrificial worship at even the centralized shrine, so that we could still witness God's unity even in the absence of seeing the wondrous land which God had promised us. When we cover our eyes during the Sh'ma, we fulfill the true purpose of the Deuteronomist, to worship God even in God's apparent absence.

Interestingly, one can take the ID movement as a refusal to cover one's eyes during the Sh'ma, so to speak. The IDers insist that, unless science can tell us about God's miracles explicitly, it will lead to moral turpitude, a loss of faith, etc. So they try to twist science so it tells us something about which science properly has little to say. What a shame the faith of the self-proclaimed defenders of faith is so weak that they cannot witness God with their eyes covered but rather insist that God's miracles be obvious to all before they feel confident to witness God.

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