Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Try it Again

Today Liz and I will go down to the Peninsula and try to go on that whale watch Linda and I were supposed to go on last Friday. The whale watch place said we could delay it, so I did, a couple of times. Originally, we were supposed to go (Linda and I) on Monday, but at 10 PM Sunday night, as I think I said, she called and said she had to leave the next morning, and she did. So Liz and I are going to try it today. It is her birthday coming up, so it's a great time!
Last night I returned to torah group, and everyone seemed very happy to see me. Unfortunately, some of my good friends from the group weren't there. Some will return, but apparently, some stopped attending because of other responsibilities. I hope they come back some time. It was great anyhow to be back, and I jumped right back in with two feet.
Last night we discussed the book of Bo, in Exodus, in which the last few plagues God inflicted on the Egyptians were discussed and the Hebrews finally got booted from Egypt. I was thinking that Mel Brooks would sum up the import of this book by translating its title, which means "go," as "So go already!" By the end, the Egyptians had had more than enough of Moses and his lot. They just wanted these troublesome Hebrews OUT. And out they went.
A member of the group who always has an entirely perspective from my own instituted a discussion on whether God's actions of killing the Egyptians' first born children could ever under any circumstances be considered moral. He said he couldn't read the Bible the way some people did as a primer of moral behavior. I countered that for me, this was not at all what the Bible or Torah were. In fact, at times it seems like a book of what NOT to do in order to live a moral life. It is often a very wise and psychologically sophisticated picture of human behavior at its worst, even in its presentation of the deity. At any rate, I and others in the group said that we did not read the Torah to get this kind of instruction, but out of a desire to understand the historical context of Judaism. Even though the Egyptian captivity apparently never happened, and there probably never was such a person as Moses at all, this "master narrative" speaks volumes about who we as a people and civilization are, just as the Odyssey and Iliad tell us about ancient Greece and what it aspired to and what it viewed as heroic. And because the period at which some of the Torah was compiled corresponds with the one in which the other works were produced or compiled, there are similarities there as well.
Abraham, for instance, has things in common with Odysseus, the tricky man, not above lying for his own benefit or protection, and he is in fact lauded for this quality; he is a man with quick wits, who knows how to hang on in tenuous circumstances by the tips of his fingers. But both do things we now consider pretty dicey, and are considered heroes not merely despite but because of these actions, such as the wholesale slaughter of the suitors hanging around the manor, waiting for Penelope to marry again in the Odyssey.
So we agreed to disagree, and that's why I like to attend this group. There is always more to say about these rich books.

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