Transferring the series from DailyKos. Cross-posted there.
First of all, let me apologize for my failure to post a Parshah last week. I spent all of last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday studying for my LSATs which I took Monday – and damn near killed myself in the process.
Interestingly, the giant flap in the community dovetails very nicely with both the Parshah that I missed and this week’s Parshah. Let me point out that this is not a “double parshah” like you’ll see occasionally for reasons having to do with the calendar – this is my preoccupation giving me an opportunity I otherwise would have missed.
Reminder: I use G-d as a singular masculine as shorthand. This is the usage I am most comfortable with psychologically and theologically, and this may betray more about my own views on G-d and faith and yes, even gender, than anything else I say. Feel free to substitute for “G-d” whatever usage you prefer.
So, a brief summary. Last week’s Parshah, Bamidbar (in the desert), is a story of the census G-d had Moses take of the children of Israel. There’s more to it, but that’s about it that’s important. This week, in Naso (possibly princes), we learn of the law of the Sotah (“wayward wife”), and the Nazir (unclear how to translate, but it refers to one who takes a particular vow), and we learn the priestly blessing (Full Disclosure: my family is of the priestly line of Aaron, which is why I close these parashot with the priestly blessing).
The Sotah is a woman whose behavior makes her suspected of adultery. There’s no proof, but her behavior leads her husband to suspect that she might be cheating on him. That would be things like having a male friend she spent time with alone where none could see. The process of determining whether she is guilty or innocent smacks of ancient witch trials – the kohan (priest) has her take a vow, gives her a potion that is truly foul, including the ink with which he wrote the text of her vow down, and makes her drink it. If she is adulterous, “her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall fall away.” I’m not sure what that means.
The Nazirite can be male or female, and swears not to drink wine, or consume any grape product, not to cut his hair, not to touch death (as in a corpse) for a set amount of time up to their whole life. This is never seen again in the Bible, except Samson is said to be a Nazirite for his entire life (hence, his strength coming from his hair – it wasn’t the hair per se, it was his Nazirite vow).
So, Today’s Message (yes, I did capitalize that). I find it interesting the confluence of numbers with all sorts of meaning that isn’t necessarily coincidental. For example, when you add a 12-pack of beers to a 6-pack of beers, you get 18 beers. 18, coincidentally, is the numerical equivalent to the Hebrew word for “life” (chai), and a man who brings a 12-pack AND a 6-pack is ALWAYS the life of the party. Okay, so that’s trivial, but rabbis have made their reputations based on stupid shit like that.
The point is, that numbers have meaning. Here, when you mouse over someone’s nickname, you can see in your info bar a little number, called their user id. The closer to zero that number is, the longer they’ve been a member here. While I’m not suggesting that new members don’t have something to contribute, I found it interesting that in the recent drama over a silly ad, that in general (yes, there were exceptions), those who were troubled by Markos’ response were those with lower id numbers, while those who enjoyed his silly response had higher ones. I’m not sure what that suggests, but I find it interesting that pattern that comes about in our lives as G-d begins to speak to us, almost obsessively, about numbers. We began the Book of Numbers last week, and trust me, the damn things as full of them as my old calculus book. Could it be that G-d was telling us to watch for numerical patterns that would begin to crop up in our lives? Call it coincidence, if you care to – it’s just another name for the hand of the Divine. If you’re not sure about that, read The Celestine Prophecy. I had to stop midway through `cause I realized I would blow my mind if I didn’t – I wasn’t ready for it.
Coincidence is important, and since G-d doesn’t come down and burn bushes anymore, we need to pay attention to how He can communicate now. One of His major tools is coincidence. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that people who haven’t been here as long don’t necessarily understand the same sense of kehillah (community), and yes, even family, that exists here. I know I don’t – I’m still new. But like any other new family member, I’ve tried to be respectful of what already exists. I think too many people allowed Markos to get away with what, ultimately, was a pretty disrespectful response to a legitimate criticism. Do I think Markos was entirely wrong? No way. Do I think the “sanctimonious women’s studies set” was wrong? No way – and I like looking at boobs.
So here’s my conundrum – having waxed lyrical on the value of coincidence, how the hell do I turn around and explain the presence of one of the most anti-woman, repressive, patriarchal, asinine laws in the Bible at this time that we’re talking so much about gender? I mean, here we have a woman who isn’t even accused of adultery, just suspected. (Legal tangent: Biblical jurisprudence frequently conflates accusation with guilt. This is because in Biblical justice, an accusation required proof of guilt. Standard of proof is insanely high – for capital crimes, the accused must confess, and a witness must testify that they knew what the accused intended and warned them of the consequences – and the accused has to confirm that.) Because SHE’S suspected, never mind what her husband’s been doing, never mind the role of the other man, SHE has to go through this whole ignominious process. The only (very, very, small) saving grace is that whatever happens to her also happens to “the other guy.” So, how do I explain this? What’s the meaning of THIS coincidence?
I could cop out and say that the Bible’s a book for all peoples in all times, and that verse was for someone else. But either the whole Bible is for all peoples in all times, or none of it is – faith is not a Chinese buffet. You don’t get to pick and choose what applies to you. I could cop out and say that it’s G-d giving us an example of what NOT to do, but I don’t think that. I think G-d’s serious about wanting us to engage in this. But I’m reminded of a Talmudic story of the oven of Akhnai. In this (really, on its face, stupid) story, the rabbinical college is debating a question of koshering an oven. One of the rabbis is in a literal one-man minority (he’s filibustering, if you will), and refuses to be backed down. He calls forth miracles and even the “beit kol” (“voice of G-d”) to defend his ruling, but the college declares that not even the Almighty can stand in the way of justice. It is reported that G-d danced on that day, declaring, “My children have defeated Me!”
That’s the important lesson here – remember, G-d didn’t finish the Creation. He rested instead. We, His last creation, have a responsibility to help Him finish it. That means that when we are faced with a choice between sin and justice, that justice must always win. That when it comes down to it, to do what we know is right, we can defy even G-d. Abraham stood face to face with G-d and argued for the salvation of a city of sinners – we can do no less. We are all of us, less than perfect, but as long as we can say that we’re facing perfection, and struggling to put one foot in front of the other, rather than the other way round, we’re moving in the right direction. G-d doesn’t demand perfection, and neither should we. Sometimes people fuck up – and that goes double for G-d. Relax.