The syllabus for my USC general education class includes both Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and Chapters 37-50 of Genesis -- the Joseph story or "novella." These two narratives share themes that commend themselves: forgiveness and reconciliation. Both Prospero and Joseph were set upon by their own brothers and narrowly escaped death. Both protagonists contributed to their victim role -- Prospero through neglecting governance and Joseph by insensitive boasting.
For Avi Davis, truth is a blazing light threatening to blind the unprepared.
There are no moderating factors or gradations, just a division between those who can handle its assault and those who can't.
In contrast to Davis' unitary absolutism, traditional Jewish wisdom tends to frame things in twos and threes. So we read in Pirke Avot 1:18, the teaching of Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel, that "the world is established on three principles: truth, justice and peace."
This week's Torah portion begins a new biblical book, after which the parsha is named in English, "Numbers,"and in Hebrew, "Bamidbar," best translated as "In the Wilderness."
There is little doubt that Aseret Ha-dibrot, the Ten Commandments, form the centerpiece of Parshat Yitro and probably the entire Torah.
Jewish history begins with God's call to Abram: "Go forth from your native land and from your father's house to the land that I will show you." This call resonates through the millennia in two important ways. It connects our earliest beginnings and very identity as a people to the Promised Land, Israel. And it roots being Jewish in renunciation, deviation from the natural flow of events and radical independence.
It's summer -- when long, golden-edged days yield to cool California evenings. A time when people travel to distant or nearer spots, seeking new or sweetly familiar experiences, touching base with the people and places that matter to them. A time when a good many families move from one home, city or country to another, trying to be settled in time for the new school year.
Each film in this justly praised series presents an unusual situation standing in oblique relationship to one of the Ten Commandments.
Parashat Ki Tisa tells us that "the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another." (Exodus 33:11) We also hear God telling Moses, "I have singled you out by name, and you have indeed gained My favor" (Exodus 33:12). In Numbers 12:8, God explains that only with Moses does communication occur "mouth to mouth." And the expression "face to face" (panim el panim) recurs in Deuteronomy 34:10, as both Moses' life and the Torah reach their conclusion: "Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses -- whom the Lord singled out, face to face."
The syllabus for my USC general education class includes both Shakespeare's "The Tempest" and chapters 37-50 of Genesis -- the Joseph story or "novella." These two narratives share themes that commend themselves: forgiveness and reconciliation. Both Prospero and Joseph were set upon by their own brothers and narrowly escaped death. Both protagonists contributed to their victim role -- Prospero through neglecting governance and Joseph by insensitive boasting. In the end, though, both forgive those who abused them -- enabling their family circle to be repaired and the next generation blessed. Just as Prospero realizes that "the rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance," so too does the instinct for reconciliation surge through Joseph.
More than any parsha I know, this one portrays the cycle of generations and relations between different groups in a positive, life-affirming manner.
When John and I married, our invitation featured a verse from this week's Haftorah (Isaiah 61:10-63:9): Yasis alayich Elochayich kimsos chatan al kalah, rendered freely as "Come join in the sanctification of our joy"; literally, "As a bridegroom rejoices in a bride, so your God will rejoice in you" (Isaiah 62:5). This verse became a favorite years ago when its daring, electric comparison hit me: Human love provides the standard for God's love of the Jewish people. Instead of urging human lovers toward heaven, we Jews cannot imagine any-thing more deeply, joy-ously loving than what committed human part-ners feel for each other. We envision God learning love from human lovers.