Enjoy the use of the spoil of your enemy…

rak hanashim vhatof vhabheima vchol asher yihiyeh bair kol shelalah tavoz lach vachalta et shelal oyvecha asher natan Adonai eloheha lach

You may, however, take as your booty the women, the children, the livestock, and everything in the town -all its spoil- and enjoy the use of the spoil of your enemy, which the Eternal your G-d gives you.

This is quite a disturbing and sexist verse. I understand that some sexist guys (occasionally those who go to my school) think of women as accessories and so think it obvious that they fall under the category of booty to be taken. Also, not that I’m in favor of them being killed instead, kids are the future and should not be treated as valuable items for trade or work. But G-d isn’t so much giving you the city, He’s offering an opportunity to get it. If G-d knocks down the walls and delivers you the city on a platter, then by all means go ahead because G-d seems to be only concerned with your pleasure here. But if you have to fight for it, even if you know you’ll win, then it is you, the armed forces, who have given it to Israel, even if G-d helped. G-d won’t give you something for nothing, but if you help,  He’s happy to help. So G-d isn’t giving the town to you, He’s helping you get it. So this little verse is here in part, because G-d knows that people are less afraid if they have something to work for.  And so less people are going to turn tail and run if they have something to look forward to, and you might actually be able to win a war by following G-d’s rules.

By me, with help from G-d

These Two (or possibly four, or six) Things Have Befallen You

Shtaim heinh korotaich mi yanud lach hashod v’hashever v’haraav v’haherev mi anachameich.

These two things have befallen you: Devastation, destruction — Who will console you? Famine and sword — who will comfort you?

This seems to me to be a whole lot more than two things. There’s devastation, destruction, famine, and the sword. I count four. So it looks like we need a midrash. Here is what I came up with. Devastation and destruction are large scale things that we use mostly in hindsight. Famine and violence are things that the average villager could identify with. So the two things are: Horrible life in overview and horrible life from day to day.

Here’s another view: The two things are “hashod v’hashever v’haraav v’haherev,” Devastation and destruction and famine and sword, and “mi yanud lachmi anachameich” Who will console you, who can comfort you. Part of the problem is the devastation etc., but part of the problem is also that there is no one to comfort Israel.

By me, with help from G-d, Papa and Mama

Shalom

Words in Hebrew come from a 3 letter root, e.g. Melech-מֶלֶךְ-Mem, Lamed, Chaf.  So you can tell part of the meaning of the word by its root. For example, yimloch  must have something to do with being a ruler. One problem? The Israelites liked wordplay. So, for example, you might have two words like “built” and “understanding/insight/intuition” linked by the same root because someone thousands of years ago thought it was a good idea. So this is another one Rabbi Pincus noticed. Shalom, peace, is built from the same root as Shaleim, whole. this is because when you are at peace with yourself you feel kinda whole, like there isn’t anything missing. Kind of interesting. And I thought English was weird… :)

By me, with help from G-d and Rabbi Pincus

Haftara

I did it!! I finally decided about my Haftarah portion! As you may or may not know, I could not decide what verses I would do . So the other day, I finally picked out some verses. They are: Isaiah 51: 17-23. Here is the link: http://www.blueletterbible.org/bible.cfm?b=Isa&c=51#s=730022

By the way, thank you all for commenting.

I had noticed, reading the English translation, that the point of view (?) went from 2nd person to 3rd person to 2nd person again.  what Rabbi Shaffer noticed was that it went from 2nd person singular to 3rd person to 2nd person plural. I think this is because Isaiah goes from talking to the personification of Israel to talking to the people about the personification of Israel  to talking to the people (about themselves). The reason he talk first to the personification of Israel is that the people of Israel know that they  have experienced it firsthand and maybe he kind of wants to console the personification of Israel but at the same time he knows it is not only his job and so tells the people of Israel to pity her. And, kind of, by extension, themselves. So he then tells the people how terrible it is going, and then says: “G-d will save you if you return to him.” So this is how Isaiah is getting people to return to G-d. I guess, like the order of when what gets said before battle, in this case G-d gets to say that the ends justify the means. And in this case, no one is saying “hey wait… Why would You do that, isn’t that kind of unfair?” So here’s a lesson: We are Yisrael, the people who struggle with G-d. As reform Jews, we are obligated to make our own choices about laws. And that is much of why I am a Reform Jew, I like that freedom. But also sometimes the ends justify the means.  And sometimes there are two contradictory right answers. Isn’t that kind of hard? But hey, you can’t have good consequences without hard choices.

(This is one of those times where I go off on a tangent more interesting than the thing I was talking about earlier.)

By me, with help from G-d. And Isaiah, I guess.

Kings

ki taveh el ha’aretz asher Adonai eloheha notein lach virishtah v’yashavta bah vamarta asima alai melech k’chol-hagoyim asher s’vivotai som tasim aleha melech asher yivchar Adonai eloheha bo mikerev acheha tasim aleha melech lo tuchal lateit alecha nochrei asher lo acheha hu.

“If, after you have entered the land that the Eternal your G-d has assigned to you, and taken possession of it and settled in it, you decide, “I will set a king over me as do all the nations about me,” you shall be free to set a king over yourself, one chosen by the Eternal your G-d. Be sure to set as king over yourself one of your own people; you must not set a foreigner over you, one who is not your kin.”

First of all, Moses is looking ahead again. He knows that the Israelites  are terrible at ruling themselves and when left to their own devices for six weeks start making idols and generally not following the rules. So he knows that eventually, they will need a king. (Smart guy, Moses… :) ) He then thinks, “Hmmm… if we don’t start setting rules they will bring in a Baal-worshiping Canaanite and then they will all start worshiping Baal. So, what are some criteria for a king…”

Here is what Moses comes up with. The king:

  • Must be an Israelite
  • Must be chosen by G-d
  • Can’t have a zillion horses
  • Can’t “send people back to Egypt to add to his horses,” though I don’t know whether that means “No mercenaries in trade for horses” like the book says, or “Nobody can go to trade for horses. Period.”
  • Can’t have many wives (How much is many? I don’t know, as it was custom for everyone to have at least a few…)
  • Can’t have too much money
  • Must be faithful and learned and non-haughty

A lot of this ensures that the king is not too wealthy. While it is important that there doesn’t end up being a huge wealth divide between the king and the people, it rather alarms me that there is only one criteria  that has to do with what kind of a person you are. I think that above the importance of being native is the importance of being kind and wise. What if there is a king who meets all of the requirements but still manages to be a tyrant? Why would we be so concerned about the king’s wealth and parentage if he has many wives because he loves them all, many horses because he, um, likes horses (?), and money because he inherited it and is not yet done spending it or because he is saving in case of financial trouble? Sometimes Moses forgets that sometimes the best criteria are intangible. Then again, maybe he forgets that not everyone hits the rock when you give them a chance. I think that these criteria should be added:

  • Must be fair to his/her subjects
  • Must care about what is best for the subjects, not just him
  • Must be able to act, not just think

Do you have any criteria to add? Don’t be shy, PLEASE comment. I haven’t had a comment in AGES!

By me, with help from G-d.

Is it unfair?

Rabbi Shaffer and I were sitting in her office the other day, and she brought up an interesting point. The priest says “Don’t be afraid, we will defeat our enemies for G-d is on our side.” Then (s)he says “If you are afraid, go home.” We thought this might be a little bit cheating, because the army has just had a pep talk and are thinking something like “We are mighty!!!” Later, they may be more scared and likely to leave. So, is Moses/G-d/the priest cheating? I’ll leave that up to you. Comment with your answer!