Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rainy Day Torah

We finally got the first heavy rain we were expecting. While I am concerned, like everyone else, about the places that burned and the possibility of landslide and floods, it is all the same nice to smell that rainy day smell and to sleep in a little in the darkness.
Last night the Torah group met, a smaller group than sometimes meets, and discussed a very dry portion of the Torah. What was interesting about it was not so much the text itself, which was mostly a rehash of formulaic prohibitions we had seen in previous parashahs, but the fact that there were so many and various levels of text woven around this one text. We discussed for a while the one narrative strand in the section, a short and disturbing story about a young man, product of a union between a Jewish woman from the tribe of Dan, rival clan to the Priestly caste who had written this text, and an Egyptian man. Their son was said to have blasphemed, uttered the name of God and somehow misused it. There is some question as to what that means... it could be he cursed God, or, as I wanted to read it, dared to utter the secret name of God that was meant to be said ONLY by the high priest and then only one day a year, on Yom Kippur. It made sense to me that the P scribe would use this opportunity to strike back at Dan for setting up its rival priestly caste in the Lower Kingdom, some distance from the rest.
For this serious infraction of the law, God declares that the boy is to be treated like the scapegoat we had earlier seen sent off to die with all the sins of the community on its head. The people laid hands on the boy and then stoned him to death.
The interesting thing, a member of our group with extensive experience in studying Torah told us, was all the contradictory commentaries on this story, which wove a conflicting web of extreme complexity around it, giving the family a context and history the original does not offer. Obviously, the story has captured the imagination of the rabbis through the ages, disturbed by its cruelty. They struggle to make sense of it, and of so many other things in this text. That is the most interesting thing of all about the Torah and the commentary that flows around it like a many branched, turbulent river.


Lou said...

How do you think some stories survive while others must have been lost?

Robbi said...

I think that like any stories, the ones that survive have captured people's imaginations, for one reason or another. The way these stories are written, there is so much that is not said that it begs for people to fill in the blanks, and they have, interminably.