A Song of Reward and Punishment

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Exploring Babylon Chapter 22

Here is further response to a long-ago comment of Max Ticktin (z”l), based on the words of Jeremiah and in a sort of homage to Leonard Cohen.

“Has this song gone on too long?
A song of reward and punishment
for exiles in Babylon and elsewhere”

The theme repeats again and long
this song of punishment and reward
Is our pain fault or accident?
The heart is indeed most devious!

You say that we’ll be cursed if we
trust in folks whose strength is flesh
that we’ll lose heart,
turn our thoughts away

We’ll feel just like a desert bush,
parched, alone, and unaware
that good might come
that water could be flowing

And then You say that we’ll be blessed
if we trust You
and You alone
We’ll be like trees that will not lack for water

You promise we’ll not think of drought,
our leaves will be forever fresh
we’ll have strong roots and bear more fruit
But is it wise to pretend no heat is coming?

The theme repeats again and long
this song of punishment and reward
What could it harm, I’m bound to ask,
if I were just a wealthy fool?

Saved or doomed? God only knows!
You’re refuge, you’re chastisement
Probe my heart and heal me now
Or has this song gone on too long?

Who gets justice in this world?
I’m a shepherd who has lost the way
The theme repeats again and long
this song of punishment and reward
— V. Spatz, 2018
from Jeremiah 17:5-8 and surrounding verses



NOTE

As noted in previous post, “A Song of Reward and Punishment,” which is what Max called Jeremiah 17:5-8, just seems like something Leonard Cohen would have written. I imagine something that sounds somewhere between “Darkness” (“Old Ideas,” 2012) and “You Want It Darker” (eponymous album, 2016).


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Notes on Jeremiah: Max Ticktin’s Scribbles

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Exploring Babylon Chapter 21

Several updates below. In addition to the many other things he left us, Max Ticktin z”l (1920-2016) left behind a lot of books, and his family kindly offered them to interested community members. Some of the volumes I inherited this way are from a Tanakh that was re-bound, as a gift for Max early in his rabbinical career, with pages opposite the text for his own notes.*

Some of Max’s notes are straightforward translation or links to related verses. Some are literary, some theological. Occasionally, his chuckle is obvious. Sometimes the notes are just opaque, to me anyway. Whatever the content, I consider it a great privilege and pleasure to have Max’s scribblings accompany me in my studies. (See also The Hebrew Bible (Greenspan).)

Some Notes and Questions

Here, pertinent to this week of Behar-Bechukotai, are some annotations for Jeremiah Chapter 17 (Haftarah for Bechukotai  is Jer 16:19-17:14).

Max on Jeremiah_Cropped

Notes by Rabbi Max Ticktin on Jeremiah 17

I am hoping someone with more background and/or better skill at reading Hebrew script can decipher this comment:

A Song of.jpg

Close-up: “A song of…,” annotation to Jer. 17:5-8

“A song of…[??]”
?? שכר ועונש ??
?? retribution? punishment? payback?

UPDATE 5/11: sources tell me my rendering of the Hebrew “שכר ועונש” is correctly spelled and can be transliterated “sachar va’onesh” and translated as “reward and punishment.”**.

 
And maybe some experts at English handwriting can fill in what I’m missing here:

Max on Chapter 16

Notes on Jeremiah 16:18 – 17:1

19ff — dialogue of Jeremiah and God on God’s [??] the transformation of people!

Note: based on other passages, that lonely lowercase “a” = “and,” and the lowercase “t” = “the.”

UPDATE 5/13: A member of the Fabrangen community suggest that the word I couldn’t read may be “inclination.” Another points out that “the letter ‘C’ with a bar over it is often an abbreviation for ‘with’ in the form ‘cum’.” So, then we’d have something like: “dialogue of Jeremiah and God on God’s inclination with the transformation of people!”


Babylon and Transformation

Not sure exactly what this haftarah, with or without Max’s commentary, adds to #ExploringBabylon. But I am very interested in two images for God, both found in Jer 17:13 —

  • mikveh yisrael [מִקְוֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל]” or “hope of Israel” and
  • mekor mayim chayyim [מְקוֹר מַיִם-חַיִּים],” or “fountain of living waters”

and how these are related to “the transformation of people!”

More to come, maybe. Meanwhile, please let me know your ideas about how to read the above comments.

On this 40th day of the omer, making five weeks and five days.

NOTES

* I recall Max mentioning this gift and how much it meant to him several times, and I expected that regulars at Fabrangen and Jewish Study Center activities would share similar recollections. But I have not heard from others who remember him saying this….which makes it all the more interesting that it turns out I know family members of the rabbi who gave Max these books.

ADDITION 5/11 (not exactly “Update”): It’s not the most common of conversation topics, but somehow, long before Max died, Rabbi Danny Zemel of Temple Micah (DC) mentioned to me that his grandfather had once related, with great fondness, giving the special, re-bound copy of the Tanakh. Rabbi Zemel’s grandfather, Rabbi Solomon Goldman (1893-1953), served Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago from 1929-1953, where he and young Max connected.

Long after that brief conversation, while exploring the books the Ticktins were giving away, I happened upon two volumes that resembled the ones Max and Rabbi Zemel had both described. I was so excited, I had to double-check that the family meant to part with them. I was reassured and gratefully added them to my pile.

When I emailed a picture of the fly leaf to Rabbi Zemel, he recognized his grandfather’s writing. So I was delighted to be able to share one of the volumes with Rabbi Goldman’s family.

On occasion, I marvel at the odds of that book making it back “home,” in a sense. The Jewish world is sometimes small, but Reform and havurah circles — like Temple Micah and Fabrangen — don’t interact all that much; my participation in both communities is unusual. So, I am tempted to call it “bashert [fate, destiny].” But then I see Max rolling his eyes at me and explain it instead as follows.

Max had an uncanny ability to connect deeply, and very specifically, with so many people: Everyone who passed through that Ticktin library after Max’s passing surely found a special treasure that seemed destined just for them. In addition, although I never knew him, Rabbi Goldman had a large impact on Judaism far beyond his own, influential congregation — and clearly he made an impression on Max who, however accidentally, impressed on me, as Rabbi Goldman did on a young Danny Zemel, that these books embody an enduring connection between lifelong students of bible.
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** “A Song of Reward and Punishment”? Didn’t Leonard Cohen write that? Maybe Sarah Rindner’s recent piece on “The Lehrhaus” — which links Leonard Cohen and this week’s Torah portion — put the idea in my mind. But I can somehow hear him singing it, even though I’m pretty sure there’s no such song in his opus. In any case, establishing that the words on the page say something like, “A Song of Reward and Punishment,” is only prelude to understanding the passage from Jeremiah and its context….

UPDATE 5/13: Here’s my homage to Leonard Cohen and the prophet Jeremiah.

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