Ben Gurion opens his discussion on Deborah with a general observation that womens position in ancient Israel from the time of the forefathers, was not markedly different from that of the surrounding nations. In Jewish tradition it was underscored by the fact that women were not obligated to follow most of the mitzvot and they were denied some privileges in matters such as marriage and divorce and giving testimony. Yet, Ben Gurion thought that Hebrew women had on the whole a better position than women of Canaan, Egypt, Babylon and Aram. In the first biblical story the woman, Eve is seen as the enterprising person and not Adam; the foremothers as well had qualities that the forefathers did not display, Rebecca for example, emerges as more impressive and dynamic than Isaac, and Sarah measures up to Abraham in significant ways.
After the Nazis invaded Belgium in 1940, three of my cousins, ages two, five and nine, were saved by the compassion of Catholic families. Tragically, other family members did not survive as country after country closed its borders to Jewish refugees. When the Nazis were defeated in 1945 a worldwide slogan promised, never again. Over the years and most recently, the unbearable suffering of desperate refugees has reminded us that the promise never again has faded from memory. We realize now that compassion must be invoked, summoned and rekindled again and again. As nations like Hungary brutally shut their borders, leaders like Pope Francis, the Chief Rabbi of France and the former Chief Rabbi of England have engaged in infusing compassion by appealing for world empathy, concern and caring and urging immediate refugee relief.
Among the many blessings in Deuteronomy 28 we read, “God will make you the head, not the tail,” and it is customary in some communities at the meal on the night of Rosh Hashanah to recite this blessing, ending it with the words, “may it be so.”
At first glance it seems that there is an unnecessary repetition in the blessing since it makes perfect sense that the one who would be the head would not be a tail. Yet Ramban saw beyond the redundancy, he emphasized that it is feasible to hold both positions simultaneously. He noted that “it is possible that one would be the head of many nations, yet the tail of one who is higher,” so that one could be the head of wolves and a tail of the lion, “the head of weaker kings yet the tail of a strong one who rules over them”.
He was a leader who knew that his days were numbered and he wanted to make sure that his message would survive him and become a people’s legacy. It was not so much that he sought fame because he was already a preeminent leader; he was a liberator when slavery was the social norm, he freed a people when emancipation was unheard of. He was a radical proponent of One God when monotheism was not dominant. He was an exceptional leader, but not a perfect human being; he probably was not attentive to his wife and children, lost his temper, had a hard time delegating, and blamed the whole nation for losing his most precious wish, to enter the holy land. He publicly expressed the grudge he held against them, “because of you, God was incensed with me too, and told me ‘you shall not enter it. Joshua son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter it’” (Deuteronomy 1:37).
When I first began my study of the Parashat, Ekev in Deuteronomy, I had this image pop into my head.
We’re in the team’s locker room, the team getting suited up. Its almost game time. A lot of jostling, humor, towels popping tushes.
Coach Moses walks in and…
Everything stops. The camaraderie is replaced by fear, tension, anxiety and excitement. It is palpable.
Coach Moses has everyone’s attention. Including my own.
While not a quarterback I am a member of Team Israel.
“Team…”. says coach Moses
If you do obey these rules and observe them carefully, the Eternal God will maintain faithfully for you the covenant made on oath with your fathers…
David Ben-Gurion was an avid and devoted reader of the TANACH throughout his adult life in Israel, and in the process forged an abiding bond between himself and The Book of Books: “Since I had come to this land (Israel) I was shaped primarily by the TANACH. Here, in Eretz Yisrael, I had for the first time understood it in all its depth, and was influenced by it more than by any other book or literature Jewish or non-Jewish alike”.
Among his many essays on TANACH and the Torah, Ben-Gurion dedicated a comprehensive essay to the book of Deuteronomy, which he considered unique among the books of Torah.
Moses sent messengers to the king of Edom. The first three words in the sentence (Numbers, 20:14) appeared earlier in Torah when Jacob prepared to meet with his brother Esau, Jacob sent messengers to his brother Esau in Edom (Genesis, 32:?). The text in its choice of words in Parshat Hukat takes us back to that earlier conflict between Jacob and Esau, the twin brothers, and brings to light a complicated relationship of brothers-turned-nations of Israel and Edom, indicating, according to Ramban that the actions of the fathers are a sign for the children.
Recently, I saw Eytan Fox’ movie, Walk On Water, released in 2005. This Israeli film tells the story of an Israeli Mossad agent’s encounter with a gay German peacenik. The outcome of this encounter is a profound broadening of horizons. Eyal’s experience expands his generic and cavalier macho identity into a broader personality that encompasses his own parents’ Holocaust experience and an awareness of other communities’ persecution narratives that are parallel to his own. In other words, Eyal begins as a one-dimensonal character taken out of context. His journey is a search for context, wherein he finds new life and meaning. Without context, Eyal’s being is shallow and destructive.
Be our eyes is Moses appeal to his father in law Yitro, asking him to accompany the Israelites on their journey to the promised land. Moses turns to Yitro with a heartfelt plea, Please do not leave us since you know where we should camp in the desert and you can be our eyes. This emotional appeal raises the question: why and how could Yitro a Midianite priest be the eyes of the Israelites? (Numbers, 10:29-32).
To be the eyes surely means to guide, to direct, but the fact is that the Israelites already had the presence of the pillar of cloud that would guide them on the road by day and the pillar of fire to give them light at night (Exodus 10:21-22). If the Israelites already had a day-and-night protective presence why would Moses ask for Yitros guidance?
God is good; He’s made me a grandmother.
Live and be well, little man, grow big, grow strong.
Just when I think I’m too weary to bother
and too old to start over, you come along.
Such pleasure in the house! Who would have thought
that widow harvest Boaz gathered in
was ripe for joy, or that your little heart
could make my bitter blood run sweet again.
You’re a blessed miracle–ask your mommy,
singing to herself like a nesting bird.
When my friends say a son’s born to Naomi
she smiles at me and never says a word.