Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha

Yitro

Jan. 22, 2011/17 Sh’vat 5771
Modern Author: Shalom Auslander Foreskin’s Lament
 Exodus 20:1-6

 KOSHI: HOW do God’s initial commandments frame our Covenant of faith?

v.3       You shall have no other gods besides Me. 

RASHI…  I might take this to mean that they merely cannot have idols in the future.  From this commandment I know that the ones which already exist must be destroyed.  The “other gods” are not real gods, but ones whom others have made into gods.  The verse cannot be read as if to say: “You shall have no gods other than Me,” for this would be an insult to God.  “besides Me,” or the preferable translation here “before Me,” or literally, “in My Presence.” 

IBN EZRA… Negative commandments in Torah always involve actions; this is the only one that prohibits a belief.  The text uses the words “gods” here solely from the perspective of those who worship them.  “besides Me.”  That is, once you know that I created everything and My Glory fills all space, you shall have no other gods.  It literally means “before My Face,” but is to be interpreted as the phrase used in NUM 3:4 “before the face of their father Aaron.”  This then follows the words of one of the wise—‘Do not anger your Master by defying Him to his face.’

RAMBAN… RASHI’s comment [based on the Mechilta] that this statement demands the destruction of idols would make this a separate commandment from V.5, which carries a more severe punishment…The correct interpretation, even according to the P’shat, is that none of the angels or the divine host of heaven are to be our gods.  This is the opinion of ONKELOS as well…Know that when the text says “other gods,” it always refers to these beings.  Idols are never referred to as if they could be “other gods” [God forbid], but only as “molten gods”—gods only from the perspective of those who made them…Thus the second commandment is that we accept none other than The Lord as our God…

v.4       You shall not make for yourself a graven image… 

B’CHOR SHOR…Even for the purposes of worshipping the true God, as the Christians do.

IBN EZRA… “You shall have no other gods” refers to belief, and “You shall not make for yourself,” to belief and to worship.  You may not make a sculptured image that you believe is your god, nor may you bow down to one, even if someone forces you to do so.

v.5/6 For I the Lord your God an am impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children,  upon the third and the fourth generation of those who reject Me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep my commandments.

RASHI…   He is zealous in exacting punishment, and will not bypass his attribute of judgment to forgive the sin of idolatry.  “Visiting the guilt of the parents…” As ONKELOS continues, when the children cling to the ways of their parents.

RAMBAN… Or, “a jealous God.”  As MAIMONIDES too says, nowhere in the Bible will you find this term except in connection with God’s anger at idol worship…In my view, this jealousy applies only to Israel, its point being that as Israel is God’s “treasured possession” [19:5] …If they turn to serve others, He would be as jealous as a man whose wife ran off with someone else….

IBN EZRA… Not “visiting it…” but “remembering it.” Having remembered all that the father did, he will not be so patient with the sons.

RAMBAN…  “Visiting the guilt…” IBN EZRA takes this to mean “remembering,” in the sense that God remembers the evil done but does not punish until the fourth generation…But this interpretation is not correct. Since the preposition “upon” is used, the verb cannot be remembering; it must mean “visit,” that is, punishing them…In my opinion, it means God punishes the children for the father’s sins, as in Isaiah “Prepare a slaughtering block for the sons for the guilt of their father.” [14:21]

RASHI…   The word should be read “alpayim—two thousandth,” showing that God’s Mercy [Rachamim] is 500 times stronger than His Judgment [Din.]

IBN EZRA“thousandth generation”—That is, forever…The spirit of good will exists forever, and as long as they are good, their descendants will continue to eternity. This is a great and wondrous mystery.   

B’CHOR SHOR… Good families can last for a thousand generations, but bad ones won’t make it to the fifth.

3 responses to “Yitro

  1. Raja January 23, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    1. “I am a very Jealous G-d”
    Thank you for selecting this verse because it was this verse that initially drew my attention towards Judaism when I first read King James Version (KJV) of Old Testament (OT). It looked odd to me that a G-d that could bring plagues, part seas, provide food (Manna and quail) all this to show his mercy towards “Israel” would use/choose “jealous” as a word while speaking to the “people”. It is quite a derogative word that is outright wrong given the majestic nature of G-d or as Quran says “Be and it was”(3:59). We are talking about a being that is the creator (Brahma in Hinduism) and the destroyer (Shiva in Hinduism) or “I am the alpha and the omega” (Rev 22:13) or Isaiah (41:4). Islam too defines the two extremes, but none of the religions use such a harsh word as jealous (it diminishes such a divine being). Now while Ramban agrees with Maimonides over the word “jealous” I find it strange that Ramban who was somewhat influenced by Islamic Mysticism (Sufism) would settle on that word and not pick on “99” other attributes associated with G-d especially given the fact that we are talking Sufism which is all about love of g-d for. In my humble opinion and I don’t understand Hebrew yet, but I believe the word if it were to be translated would be “impassioned” and not “Jealous”. Initially when I came across this verse I was shocked, my g-d could not be a jealous g-d, he is a loving g-d so I went web searching using Google for more information because as I mentioned I found “jealous g-d” to be quite odd… in my Google searches, I came across a site or two which capitalized on this verse and added why Jesus was necessary to save the “stiff necked” people (Implying Jews). In Islamic literature (or what I looked at) I did not find a mention of a “jealous g-d”. I even went to the extent of asking this question on a Jewish forum (torah.org) and to my satisfaction the answer was “impassioned” or as the lady in the Chevra Torah mentioned “Tiger Mom”. Explanation I got was in an example of a bird that gets angry at her kids when they do silly things and one of the chicks fall out of the nest meaning not being safe, so the mom yells at the chicks for doing that, however the love of that bird towards the chicks is still there and the bird will pick the chicks and bring them back to the nest…. It’s kind of like parents that correct their kids; kids may not like that correction however it is necessary for the well-being of the child.
    The birds analogy provided yet blew my mind because it was the birds and their unique songs and sounds (yes I am a nut) that initially caught my attention towards divinity and not the big bang theory. I will share more on that topic that some other day.

    2. You will have no other g-ds
    This verse itself is pretty unique, dynamic and also simple. It is unique because here you have a monotheistic g-d speaking to “people & Israel” not one person (like when g-d speaks to Moses or let’s say Muhammad) but to a collection of “people”….it is dynamic because this g-d is not refuting possibility of other g-ds, plus this g-d is not interested in these other g-d either, because this g-d is the supreme and any other “god” is inferior to him/it/her. Other g-ds are either a man-made contraption or some Persons ego trip (like pharaoh). Another point is as simple as what we call in the corporate world as “Engagement Models or Operating Principles’”. For example there is not one bank (financial institution) but many banks, and every bank has its own unique Operating model. So if I work for a bank I must adhere to that banks agenda and not others. Thou shalt not serve other g-ds just like I must not serve other banks or their interests.

    3. Auslander’s Foreskin Laments
    While his writing is humorous, it was sad to see him so pissed off or angry at g-d. I did not understand his anger at G-d. I use myself as an example, I lost my father at age 7 in a car accident and saw my paraplegic Mother from age 7 till age 18, she was not able to walk, talk or move normally. I fed my mom with spoon, I picked her up and made her sit, I would pick her up and take her to the TV lounge so she could watch TV, she too passed away in 1994, but NEVER in my life was I pissed off or angry at G-d for doing this to me, for taking my father away and then my mother, rather It was, and it has always been “Dear Allah please keep my father and my mom in your safety and thank you for providing me with everything”. With that in mind I was quite perplexed that a normal person would rebel so feverishly but re-reading the portion yesterday and looking from his perspective it was basically how he was raised and the environment he grew up in. It was reverence/irreverence as you mentioned. I can see now why he and some Orthodox Jews get turned off by Judaism….which is sad, but it also proves a point that anything done in excess is not good. This too took me back to the mysterious book of Job and his love of g-d while Eliphaz and his buddies try to talk him out… but more on that some other time.
    4. When G-d Spoke to “People” or “Israel”
    You asked the congregation of how one would feel if they heard g-d and the responses were quite interesting and mildly shocking (  ). It took me back to Ramban, per Ramban there were two groups, Israelites and people, which were further divided into four (at time of parting of the sea) however his idea is Israelites (righteous or Light) and people (ordinary or Dark). “And g-d saw light and it was good and he called it day” Genesis. Ramban has already played with this concept and labels manna as a light substance and quail as dark earlier before coming to the subject of g-d speaking to people, here too he plays with the fact that only Israelites or righteous heard g-d but not all… so when you asked this yesterday and some of whom that said “skeptical” was amusing to me. What interests me is that this is the only time g-d spoke to a collection of people and didn’t not use prophets to send new directions or spin off a new religion, it was a collective people that heard and saw not one.

    5. Thou shalt have no graven images
    A gentleman in the congregation mentioned about allowing images of g-d for art and creative purposes, this came about after the discussion about Jesus on the cross in churches and your friend rabbi dis-agreeing with you. In my opinion your friend rabbi is incorrect in stating about worship in a church. I believe the prayer should be meant from heart and one should have an “intent” of saying the prayer not just go through the motions of it, with that in mind one’s surrounding is pointless and it is funny in a way to prove my point because the book Jewish tapestry of time on page 45 has a story of two girls lighting candles in a concentration camp in a bathroom. But on to graven images, I think it is very bad idea to allow creating images of Jewish g-d. Once an image is created it is only a matter of time that it will become g-d to people or something that always existed. It is very similar to brining in change (place, form, process) once its implemented everyone assumes it was always there and changing it becomes a nightmare. I believe that is why g-d simply said no graven images…..As I type this Joseph settling Israelites in Goshen comes to mind that maybe it was simply to safe guard Israelites to not worship city g-ds to keep them away from getting assimilated in city g-d culture and getting into Egyptian worship.
    I hope you enjoyed my nutty ramblings.

  2. IrvZuckerman January 22, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    When we were asked to characterize the kind of God who could issue such commandments, I kept silent. This, for me, is unusual. But the word that came to mind might have sent the discussion in a non-Jeffrey direction. The word is ‘stingy.’
    It is a borrowed word, taken from the Yiddish poem, ‘The God of Israel’ by A. Layles:
    (Der Gut fun Israel iz karg.)
    … The God of Israel is stingy.
    He won’t fill his museums with statues,
    Paintings, alters, thrones,
    Purple gowns, three-tiered crowns …
    In addition, according to Layles,
    … The God of Israel is a stingy demander:
    Search by yourself, research by yourself, suffer yourself —
    For your own and my honor…
    Layles sees the scene at Sinai as God dropping two handfuls of letters that we Jews have sought and saved and tried to explain for thousands of years, only to find there is no explanation. I, personally, embrace this characterization more readily than the fearsome, jeaslous, vengeful God we were discussing.

  3. Judy O'Gorman January 22, 2011 at 3:05 am

    This is so exciting. When I started going to Chevra in the previous millenium I had thought there were so many brilliant things said that there should be a way to have some record in order to be able to go back and ponder, bask in the enlightenment, etc. And that some topics got shortchanged in the interest of time that were aching for futher inquiry.

    So, thank you, I’m thrilled this is being done. If it was acceptable it would be nice to record the sessions so if someone wanted to refer to something they could try and find it. The Luddite I am, for all I know there is something that goes straight to transcription.

    A highlight of my life had been the opportunity to attend Chevra at Larchmont temple.

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