Flour and Torah: Mah Tovu

Places of Jacob and Israel– how good are both!
In last week’s Torah portion, the final portion of Genesis, Jacob/Israel adopts two of his grandsons, blesses his sons, gives them directions for his burial and dies. The Patriarch is called both “Jacob” and “Israel” throughout his life, even to his death, never becoming wholly “Israel.” “Israel” — the name given Jacob at Gen 32:29, because he had “wrestled with the Divine and with man and [had] overcome” — is usually understood as referencing his spiritual self.

Rabbi Shefa Gold reminds us that the morning service’s “Mah Tovu” prayer — “How good are your tents, Jacob; your dwelling places, Israel,” based on Num 24:5 — references both the (temporary, mundane) tents of Jacob and the (eternal, spiritual) dwelling place of Israel. This suggests, she teaches, a spiritual challenge of recognizing the place of Jacob and the place of Israel within ourselves. We need both, she says: Mah tovu!

Flour and Torah — how good are both!
As Jacob blesses his sons, he recognizes Zebulun before Issachar, although the latter is older. Rashi explains that Zebulun is honored first for making possible the Torah learning of Issachar, his older brother — Zebulun engages in commerce on the sea, while Issachar cultivates the land (interpreted by many to mean cultivation of Torah).

So, I suggest that another, related challenge to consider is how our more world-oriented selves are supporting our spiritual selves — and vice versa — and how we support one another in both day-to-day and spiritual pursuits.

If there is no flour, there is no Torah.
If there is no Torah, there is no flour.

–Avot 3:21

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Virginia hosts "Conversations Toward Repair" on We Act Radio, manages WeLuvBooks.org, blogs on general stuff a vspatz.net and more Jewish topics at songeveryday.org and Rereading4Liberation.com

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