Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha

Monthly Archives: May 2011

May 28 chevra

We move into the book of numbers this Shabbat and pause for a census. Reb Sirkman poses this question: What does the desert census teach us about the future of the House of Israel?’

Our modern teacher of Torah this week is Amos Oz, one of Israel’s most famous and delightful writers. Thanks to Reva for a delightful and thorough introduction to him.


Numbers 1:1-4, 16-21

This translation was taken from the JPS Tanakh

Chapter 1
1 On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, saying:

2 Take a census of the whole Israelite community by the clans of its ancestral houses, listing the names, every male, head by head. 3 You and Aaron shall record them by their groups, from the age of twenty years up, all those in Israel who are able to bear arms. 4 Associated with you shall be a man from each tribe, each one the head of his ancestral house.

(Then a long list of names….)

16 Those are the elected of the assembly, the chieftains of their ancestral tribes: they are the heads of the contingents of Israel.

 17 So Moses and Aaron took those men, who were designated by name, 18 and on the first day of the second month they convoked the whole community, who were registered by the clans of their ancestral houses — the names of those aged twenty years and over being listed head by head. 19 As the Lord had commanded Moses, so he recorded them in the wilderness of Sinai.

20 They totaled as follows:
The descendants of Reuben, Israel’s first-born, the registration of the clans of their ancestral house, as listed by name, head by head, all males aged twenty years and over, all who were able to bear arms — 21 those enrolled from the tribe of Reuben: 46,500.

A Perfect Peace by Amos Oz

Shabbat B’midbar
About Amos Oz
NY Times review of “A Perfect Peace

 At ten minutes after two in the morning, Yonatan woke from a troubled sleep.  A bloody, faceless corpse had been brought into the tractor shed on an army stretcher. It’s your father, buddy, the corps commander said, tapping Yonatan on the shoulder. He’s been hacked to death with a dagger by two-legged beasts. But my father is a sick old man, protested Yonatan, trying to talk or bargain his way out of the truth. Your father was butchered with biblical cruelty, barked the corps commander. Instead of just standing there answering back, why don’t you get off your ass and try to patch him together.

…….for the rest, come to Chevra this Shabbat!

you shall flee

you shall flee though none pursues

you shall dig up graves

where no bodies lie

succour shall you find none//

you shall turn and turn again

mountains shall crack

pestilence erupt

trees shall burst and bleed//

you shall quake at the sound

of a driven leaf

you shall scour the sky//

you shall call and fall

and go on falling//

you shall wait in the shadow

of the broken towers

the very air shall burn//

all your pain shall have been

the price you must pay

for a blank ticket//

you shall have looked and not found

I will have forgotten the land

you shall have written without words

In the infinite sand//

you shall remember what is no more

you must reinvent a door//

I will have flown


Chevra May 21

A great session is in store as we study Leviticus 26:14-42 and read a story by Melvin Bukiet.

The Koshi: HOW does our suffering affirm/deny…God’s Covenant? WHAT is the legacy of being a “survivor?”

Leviticus 26:14-42

Shabbat B’chukotai Modern Author Melvin Bukiet

14 But if you do not obey Me and do not observe all these commandments, 15 if you reject My laws and spurn My rules, so that you do not observe all My commandments and you break My covenant, 16 I in turn will do this to you: I will wreak misery upon you — consumption and fever, which cause the eyes to pine and the body to languish; you shall sow your seed to no purpose, for your enemies shall eat it. 17 I will set My face against you: you shall be routed by your enemies, and your foes shall dominate you. You shall flee though none pursues.

18 And if, for all that, you do not obey Me, I will go on to discipline you sevenfold for your sins, 19 and I will break your proud glory. I will make your skies like iron and your earth like copper, 20 so that your strength shall be spent to no purpose. Your land shall not yield its produce, nor shall the trees of the land yield their fruit.

21 And if you remain hostile toward Me and refuse to obey Me, I will go on smiting you sevenfold for your sins. 22 I will loose wild beasts against you, and they shall bereave you of your children and wipe out your cattle. They shall decimate you, and your roads shall be deserted.

23 And if these things fail to discipline you for Me, and you remain hostile to Me, 24 I too will remain hostile to you: I in turn will smite you sevenfold for your sins. 25 I will bring a sword against you to wreak vengeance for the covenant; and if you withdraw into your cities, I will send pestilence among you, and you shall be delivered into enemy hands. 26 When I break your staff of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven; they shall dole out your bread by weight, and though you eat, you shall not be satisfied.

27 But if, despite this, you disobey Me and remain hostile to Me, 28 I will act against you in wrathful hostility; I, for My part, will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. 29 You shall eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters. 30 I will destroy your cult places and cut down your incense stands, and I will heap your carcasses upon your lifeless fetishes. I will spurn you. 31 I will lay your cities in ruin and make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not savor your pleasing odors. 32 I will make the land desolate, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled by it. 33 And you I will scatter among the nations, and I will unsheath the sword against you. Your land shall become a desolation and your cities a ruin.

34 Then shall the land make up for its sabbath years throughout the time that it is desolate and you are in the land of your enemies; then shall the land rest and make up for its sabbath years. 35 Throughout the time that it is desolate, it shall observe the rest that it did not observe in your sabbath years while you were dwelling upon it. 36 As for those of you who survive, I will cast a faintness into their hearts in the land of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight. Fleeing as though from the sword, they shall fall though none pursues. 37 With no one pursuing, they shall stumble over one another as before the sword. You shall not be able to stand your ground before your enemies, 38 but shall perish among the nations; and the land of your enemies shall consume you.

39 Those of you who survive shall be heartsick over their iniquity in the land of your enemies; more, they shall be heartsick over the iniquities of their fathers; 40 and they shall confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, in that they trespassed against Me, yea, were hostile to Me. 41 When I, in turn, have been hostile to them and have removed them into the land of their enemies, then at last shall their obdurate heart humble itself, and they shall atone for their iniquity. 42 Then will I remember My covenant with Jacob; I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham; and I will remember the land.

Melvin Bukiet

Melvin Jules Bukiet is a novelist and literary critic living in New York City. After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York, Bukiet took a Master of Fine Arts degree at Columbia University. He is the author of a number of novels, including Sandman’s Dust, After, While the Messiah Tarries, Signs and Wonders, Strange Fire, and A Faker’s Dozen.

Bukiet won the Edward Lewis Wallant Award in 1992 for Stories of an Imaginary Childhood.  He edited the collections Neurotica: Jewish Writers on Sex, Nothing Makes You Free, and Scribblers on the Roof. His works have been translated into a half-dozen languages, can be found in Antaeus, The Paris Review, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Killing the Buddha, and The New York Times.

 He currently teaches at Sarah Lawrence College. He is married and has three children.

Redeeming the land, redeeming Israel

I see in Behar, this mishmash of puzzling realty rules and covenantal affirmations, a metaphysical core, revealed in particular by the intertwined meanings of the word “redemption” – buying back, release from obligation and spiritual deliverance.

“…the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me. Throughout the land that you hold, you must provide for the redemption of the land.”

Rashi comments that the land must not be sold in a way that definitively severs the original owner’s connection with it.

The  Original Owner.

He who becomes too attached to the land becomes again a captive, just as before we were captives in Egypt. Release or redemption means return to original ownership. In truth, our ownership of anything is always transitory. All things remain owned beyond ourselves: we ourselves are owned. “Mine are the Israelites as slaves, they are my slaves whom I brought out of the land of Egypt.”

What I take from all this is the folly of attachment. Holding must eventually translate into releasing. That which we think we possess, our houses, our land, our very lives, must be redeemed.

What more appropriate message at this time, when Israel stands so much in need of redemption, as it is written in Psalm 25: “O keep my soul and deliver me … Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles.”


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