When I was a boy, I was on Moses’ team, which stands to reason. Clearly, our teacher and the rabbi were on his side, too, and my classmates and I were not only distressed but also puzzled that the Jews should set up a golden calf and worship it, just at the time when Moses was up on the mountain getting the commandments from God. What irony! Or at the very least, what impatience!
‘But the people of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord, exceedingly.” This is presented to us (Genesis 13:13) as an aside, an observation to suggest that Lot’s choice of the plain of the Jordan was not, after all, the right one. We had just been told, in Genesis 13:10, that it was a very attractive tract of real estate, well watered, “like the garden of the Lord,” and “like the land of Egypt.” But as we are told, by the curious foreshadowing phrase in the same verse, “before the destruction of Sodom,” bad things are going to happen. Lot “set up his tent” near Sodom, and, as Robert Alter suggests, this represents a change from a semi-nomadic to an urban existence, which may be Lot’s real offense and which brings with it inevitable but unspecified temptations.
I have always found the story of Moses in the Desert of Zin where there is no water and the well has gone dry (Numbers 20:1-12) to be knotty indeed, and the more one struggles with it, the tighter and the more uncomfortable are its bonds. We all know that Moses was supposed to talk to the rock, but instead of doing that, he hit it with his
Daniel C. Dennett’s recent book, “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon” (2006), is a fascinating volume, but it is not my purpose here either to review it or even to try to summarize its highly original approach to what one might call the biology of religions — how they grow, develop, adapt and either benefit or
At the start of this portion, we have a continuation of the plagues, with the threat — and then the carrying out of the threat — of locusts. This is already the eighth plague. And as my ex-brother-in-law used to remark, it is much like the early scenes in horror movies, where somebody turns on the faucet in the kitchen and, instead of water,
Abraham’s signature moment is his ascent of Mount Moriah to sacrifice Isaac, an extreme demonstration of obedience that few of us can contemplate without fear and dismay; Isaac’s moment is also up there on that mountain, where he realizes what is about to happen and experiences a terror that seems to be with him for the rest of his life.
For a Jew of the Enlightenment, for one who believes, as I do, both in Judaism and in the intellectual and political benefits of the Haskalah, Metzora is a daunting and even a dismaying portion. Most of the time, I can find some middle way in which the voices of faith and reason do not directly contradict each other, but here, with these grotesque
The details of the building of the tabernacle are relentlessly mundane, and we read them trusting that they might perhaps be of interest to a committee of architects, accountants and engineers whose arcana we have never studied and whose work is utterly mysterious to us. “And of the thousand seven hundred seventy and five shekels [of silver]
Abraham’s servant Eliezer, at the well outside Nahor, is looking for a wife for Isaac, and he asks the Lord, in Genesis 24:14, for a sign: “Let the maiden to whom I shall say, ‘Pray let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’ — let her be the one whom you have appointed for your