Saturday, April 28, 2007

Symbols of Nature

posted by Lisa

Oddly enough, my inspiration for this blog came form my Neta book. The book that I am learning in Ivrit class is discussing nature, water, and the heavens. One of the sections brings forth sources of meforshim that discuss how nature influences us to look on life and ourselves. For example, it says Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai states that the heavens are water and the stars are fire, and they cause peace and goodness (Rosh Hashana Chaf Gimmel). As it’s written “Oseh Shalom Bimromav”, in which bimromav means the heavens (Eyuv Chaf Hey 2). So, from the heavens, we learn the importance of peace. We see that the occurrences of nature are often times symbols or signs. Neta also brings the proof that Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi states “thunder comes to the world because of people: people hear the thunder, fear, and return to behaving the way they are supposed to” (Brachot Nun Tet).

This paragraph really intrigues me, and it makes me realize that we see from Tanach and Jewish life that so many aspects of nature were created or used by Hashem to send us messages or signs. Here are some examples, but I am sure people can come up with many more:
  • The Brit symbolized by a rainbow during the time of Yonah and the flood.
  • Three stars signify the end of Shabbat.
  • The Jewish calendar and cycle follows the Moon.
  • Thunder reminds us to return to the right path (as seen from Neta above).
    The heavens and fire (burning bush-Moshe) signify Hashem.
  • The sun and the moon stood still so that Joshua and Bnei Israel could defeat the Amorites in Givon/ Aijalon.
  • I also heard that about 10 years ago, a great Rabbi died in Israel, and that day it rained the most it ever had in Yerushalaim.

Can you think of other places where Hashem used nature to send us messages? Have you ever thought about aspects of nature that aren’t written in the Torah- Could they have been signs from Hashem that just weren’t recorded? Do you think nature still brings signs from Hashem?

A Religion of Extremes

Posted by Tamar

Judaism is a religion of contrasting commandments; as opposed to finding a balance between two different types of things, Judaism calls for an extreme depending on the holiday/mitzvah. Fast days, for example, are one of the ultimate ascetic things, depriving oneself of ones basic needs, food and drink. However, the Torah also commands us to be indulgent especially during specific holidays. This is most starkly seen between Ta'anit Esther and Purim, just a couple of days before the holiday in which we are commanded to indulge in food and drink; we are commanded to deprive ourselves of those basic human necessities. This fast then indulgence is again seen with Pesach, Erev Pesach the firstborns are supposed to fast but on Pesach we are told to have large meals. Similarly an ordinary Israelite who wants "separate themselves to God" ( ) has to take a "Nazarite vow of abstinence for the sake of Hashem" (Parshat Nasso, 6:2) he doesn't shave, doesn't drink, and doesn't cut his hair all to become closer to God. Additionally, although his economic status doesn't seem lowered, if one were to look at him, the observer would assume he was poor. The Nazir does all of this in order to reach the level of Holiness that a Cohen has innately. The Cohen though is commanded to wear specific clothes and look presentable at all times as well as to have wealth. In order to achieve a higher level of holiness, one must be either acetic or born into an inherently holy and wealthy class. Lastly, another type of contrasts within Judaism has to do with the emotional, not the physical and spiritual acts seen above. S'firat Ha'omer, logically, should be a happy time, for it is the time which we are counting down towards the days of our obtainment of the Torah and our closer connection with God, the rise of our spiritual level (

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

What’s in a name?

Posted by Shira Z.

What is in a name? We don’t really think about this on a day-to-day basis, but one day while I was driving some people home from school, the discussion about names came up. We began questioning, would each of us be different if we had a different name? Would our personalities or lives be different if our names were different? Many things can change about a person, but one thing that remains constant is a name. A huge impact on our lives, which we don’t even realize, is our names. Another very interesting question that came in my mind is, what is Judaism’s perspective on names? In the Jewish world, a child is given a name, a sudden identity. This name could be the one of a patriarch or matriarch, a relative that perished in the holocaust, or just a praise of G-d. A name could be anything, and in Jewish circles, the name gives a child the beginning connection with Hashem. For a girl her naming is a few days after her birth and a boy is named at his bris melah. At this point when the Jewish name is given at a few days old, the child begins their journey with Hashem. Names and their backgrounds can be seen in Tanach such as when Sarah named Yitzchak for when she found out she would be having a child at her old age, she laughed (Breshiet 21: 6). Further on, when Rivka gave birth and named Yaakov, she named Yaakov for when he was born, he came out on the “akov” or heel of Esau (Breshit 25:26). When Sarah and Rivka named their sons, they didn’t just give them random names; they gave their sons a background, which they carried with themselves for their entire life. Lisa Katz and Robbin Weiss explain that in today’s society a Jewish name is a parents hope for what their child will become in the future. Their name is a parent’s light that their Jewish lineage will continue. According to Rabbi Akiva G. Belk hebrew letters are the spiritual foundation for Hebrew names that represent the essence of what a person is and will be in this life.

In today’s modern society, the Jewish nations names stand out our names sound and are written differently. For many non-Jews can’t pronounce the “ch” sound like we can and so on. Today, even the most secular Jews still hold on to Hebrew names even if they may have an English as well. But today isn’t the only period where the Jewish nation turned to their names to keep a connection with Hashem. According to Rabbi Akiva G. Belk, when Bnei Israel was in Egypt, they fell into the 49th level, one level from the furthest from Hashem.
He writes that they “almost reached the place where they may have crossed the line that we spoke of in our study of Parshas Bo, entitled Remembering. We asked the question: "[The] point is, Can a Jew cross the line? Can a Jew reach a place where there is no point of return? Where S H U V A H does not exist?" Our sages say there were three reasons they did not fall to the lowest level, which may have prevented their return. One of those reasons was that they kept their Hebrew names. They used their Hebrew identity!”

In the past, present, and future Jewish names have and will be the source of connection with Hashem. No matter how bad things have or can become in the future, there will always be a source of Jewish identity within a Jewish name. If Jewish names kept the Jewish nation strong in Egypt, so too, when we are on the verge of assimilation, our names will always been something that can’t be taken away. No matter how hard a person wants to rebel against Judaism, their name will be their everlasting attachment to Hashem. But this being my belief, do you feel that names keep us connected to Hashem? Furthermore, without Jewish names such as Avraham, Rivka, Ahuva, etc. will the Jewish nation grow weak and cease to be a strong, religious nation?


Angels -- Part II

Posted by Suzanne

Heavenly figures clothed in white. Golden harps, halos, and sandals. Wings. Clouds. These are the typical images conjured at the word “angel.” But what is an angel, really?

The book of Ezekiel writes that the heavens opened up to him and he beheld “angels with four faces and four wings (1:6) Ezekiel writes in verse 10 that these creatures had the faces of a man, a lion, an eagle and an ox, to correspond to the king of the animals, as the tractate Chagigah writes on page 13b, quoting the book of Exodus chapter 15:1, that the “king of wild animals is the lion, the king of domesticated animals os the ox, the king of birds is the eagle and man above them with HaShem above them all.” A different verse substitutes out the ox for a cherub, which has the face of a child. They are formed of both fire and water, or, four heavenly elements: mercy, strength, beauty, and dominion, to parallel the earthly elements of water fire earth and air. One source in Bereshit Rabbah states the size of an angel is equal to a third of the world.

The Encyclopedia Judaica has a number of interesting articles regarding angels. It writes that at every pronouncement from the mouth of HaShem an angel is created and their only purpose is to sing praises to Him. However it is also written that each nation and even king, has it’s own “guardian angel” which prays for a nation in roder to avert the Divine wrath.

A parable is relayed that at the time of the Exodus HaShem gathered all his angels to him to discuss His problems with Egypt. When the angel Gabriel produced a piece of wall on orders from Michael that the Jews had had to build in Egypt and it contained an Israelite child, HaShem punished first the guardian angel of Egypt then the Egyptians themselves. While this story itself poses numerous questions, it also shows that angels can command one another and that HaShem consults the angels. During the third century the expression of a heavenly council came about and even went so far as to state that HaShem consulted this council for every action He took and that wherever the words “And God” appear in the Torah one should assume He consulted His council.

Additionally, this is just something that’s come to attention from personal observation, but there are different words to denote different angels. Example: seraph and cherub. These are English words yet unmistakable come from a Hebrew origin. When one looks them up, it says the first and second of the orders of angels, respectively.

Finally, it is frequently cited in class that an angel can have one job only and when the job is completed so too is the angel’s purpose for existence completed. However, according to tractate Baba Metzia, it would be more appropriate to say one can only carry out one mission at a time and then afterwards can attempt another.

All of this is fine and dandy, but what do you suppose is the purpose of an angel? To only sing praises or to watch over nations? To advise God, the one who supposedly does no wrong or act merely as His emissary? What is an “order of angel?” Do they take the appearance of people or some awesome heavenly host? There are many conflicting sources and any answer to any question only poses more questions. Of course, you could not “buy into” these theories, but assuming you did, what do you think?


posted by Aviva

The Jewish religion is primarily based on faith. We believe that Avraham Avinu first discovered Hashem and knew there was no one else like him. We believe that Hashem freed us from our bondage in Egypt and gave us his holy Torah. We even believe that one day the Messiah will come and redeem all who are impure and selfish at heart. So the question remains: why doesn’t Hashem reveal himself to us so that we can know for sure that he exists and serve him better? Why is g-d purposefully hiding his “face” from us? Surely Hashem, the Creator of the heavens and the Earth has no problem revealing himself fully to his people so they will be able to serve him with no trace of doubt in their minds. Not only will Bnei Israel be able to serve Hashem better, but all the nations of the world will see that our Torah is truthful and Hashem is the only g-d.
After a series of commandments in Parshat Tetzaveh relating to the specifics of the priestly garments and sacrifices, Hashem affirms that “They shall make me a sanctuary, and I shall dwell among them” (29:45). Does this mean that Hashem’s presence will dwell among us only if we instigate it first? If so, why do we need to be the instigators? Shouldn’t that be left up to someone more powerful than us? And if not, why doesn’t g-d allow us to see and talk to him directly? Why wasn’t Moshe Rabbeinu allowed to see g-d’s face after all that he had been through? Is Hashem trying to hide something from us?

The Influence of Pop-Culture on Our Understanding of the Book of Jeremiah

Posted by Rachael

Before I took this course, I knew vaguely that the book of Yermiahu was full of prophesies about doom and destruction. What else I knew about the book, I learned mostly from popular culture.

The first famous twentieth century reference to Jeremiah in popular culture that I know of is Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1. This Symphony is known as “Jeremiah”; its three movements are known as Prophecy, Profanation, and Lamentation. It was written in 1943 in the US and was performed by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. According to the makers of a new illustrated Swedish Bible and Wikipedia, Jeremiah is popularly known as “the broken hearted prophet”. This label seems to beg sympathy for this prophet of old and it serves to popularize his message somewhat.

In our parents’ generation apparently, Jeremiah was a popular name (Wikipedia). At that time, a popular song by Creedence Clearwater was written , that is “Jeremiah was a bullfrog”:

Jeremiah was a bullfrog, he was good friend of mine. I never understood a single
word he said but I helped him drink his whine. He always had some mighty fine
wine. Sing it: Joy to the world...all the boys and girls now , joy to the
fishies in the deep blue sea and joy to you and me.

And if i were
the king of the world , i tell you what i would do. Id throw away the cars and
the bars in the world and id make sweet love to you. Sing it now : Joy the the
world , all the boys and girls , joy to thefishies in the deep blue sea , joy to
you and me.

Yah know I love the ladies , love to have my fun ... Im
a hard knock flyer and a rain bow rider ... a strait shootin son of a gun , i
said a strait shootin sun of a gun.

Joy to the world , all the boys
and girls , joy to all the fishies in the deep blue sea , joy to you and

Joy to the world , all the boys and girls , joy to the world
joy to you and me

Joy to the world , all the boys and girls , joy
to the fishies in the deep blue sea joy to you and me.

Joy the the
world , all the boys and girls , joy to the world , joy to you and

Joy to the world , all the boys and girls , joy to the world ,
joy to you and me.

Do you think that popular culture had any influence on your understanding of the book of Jeremiah? If so, do you think it was significant? How do you think the free-love version of Jeremiah’s plight compares to what we actually learned about this Navi from class? Do you think that Creedence Clearwater is in the least bit credible in his simple wish for joy to the world? Do you feel that as a person who lives in the midst of wide-spread popular culture in America, that the words of the prophets have more or less significance to you personally?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Attention Seniors and Juniors

Chag Kasher V'Sameach everyone!

Juniors: in case you want to get a head start on blog comments for April, know that you will only need to do two of them for April. You will be required to write Blog posts over the course of this quarter, so you may want to start thinking about it already.

* By this point, I should have received Blog posts from everyone. If you don't see yours on-line, then I haven't received it (except for S.G.). Please get that in as soon as possible.
* You will NOT need to make any more blog comments. You're done with that. But you did a great job over the course of the year. (Of course, you are still welcome to share your opinions with the rest of the class on-line.)
* Finally, Final essay questions. They are listed below. You only need to do TWO of them (and not three as I originally intended). I'll count the Write-Your-Own-Neuvah project as the third part of the final. Essays should be typed and approximately 2/3 to a full page in length. They are do at the time of your Chumash final.:

1. Compare the נבואת הקדשה of יחזקאל (פרקים א-ב) and ירמיהו (פרק א). In what way are they similar? In what way are they different? How do these differences relate to their differing roles?

2. Find a topic that both יחזקאל and ירמיהו deal with. What are the similarities between the two prophesies? What are the differences? Present one approach that helps explain some of these differences.

3. What was ירמיהו’s mission as a נביא? What did he do in order to try to achieve this goal? Was he successful? What do you think he could have done differently to be more successful?

4. One the one hand, we cannot fully understand any נבואה without understanding its historical context. On the other hand, the message the נביא relays is timeless. Pick oneפרק of נביאים אחרונים that we did not see in class, and explain both how we need to know the historical context in order to understand it and how the message is timeless.

Rembrandt’s Painting of Jeremiah

Posed by Debbie

The Journal of Warburg and Courtauld institutes: It is unclear whether the painting is referring to before of after the destruction of the temple. The diagonal of light surrounding Jeremiah combines the two scenes of light to be together as one.

Jeremiah’s pose with his head in his hands is typical melancholy. His elbow rests on a book inscribes “bible” on the edges (though it is widely assumed this is a later edition to the painting). The book is presumably his own book or Lamentations. Additionally Jeremiah’s hands are resting on a few pieces of gold and silver.

Some questions to think about:
How does Rembrandt’s use of light and dark convey the tone of Sefer Jeremiah?
WHEN in Sefer Jeremiah is this painting taking place (before or after the destruction)? What book is he leaning on?
What are those gold and silver pieces he is leaning on?

If you have trouble seeing the picture, try: