Shelach: A Path to Follow

The portion “Shelach” [“Send out”] — Bamidbar/Numbers 13:1 – 15:41 — contains the famous story of the spies sent out to scout the land of Israel and the aftermath, resulting in most Israelites doomed to death in the desert. It also includes the passage about wearing of fringes [tzitzit] (Bamidbar/Numbers 15:38), well-known as the final portion of the Shema reading in most prayerbooks.
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“Thus they pass, the Psalms”

Yehuda Amichai’s poem, “One I Wrote Now and in Other Days: Thus Glory Passes, Thus Pass the Psalms,” includes — not surprisingly — much language that comes directly from or alludes to the Psalms. For the stanza which begins “Thus glory passes. Thus they pass, the psalms,” the following references might be helpful. (See Temple Micah’s webpage for Hebrew and English text citations and more information.)

Ashrei ha-ish — happy is the man — Psalm 1:1
[only such reference, I think: other references I found are to a happy “adam,” rather than an “ish“]
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(Re)counting: Amichai’s Perfect Rest

Temple Micah’s Hebrew Poetry group (aka Amichai Study group) is currently reading “Once I wrote Now and in Other Days: Thus Glory Passes, Thus Pass the Psalms” from the book Open Closed Open. (Visit Temple Micah’s webpage for links to the text, the group and more.) This past Shabbat, we read the stanza beginning “I want to live till even the words in my mouth are nothing but vowels and consonants…” (#7 in the English; #8 in the Hebrew), and I found the connections to Psalm 19 striking.
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Naso: A Path to Follow

This portion closes (Bamidbar/Numbers 7:89) with a note about God speaking to Moses from between the Cherubim on the cover of the Ark.

There are cherubim set up to block the entrance to Eden at Breishit/Genesis 3:24. We first learn of the cherubim on the Ark cover in the Exodus chapter 25. The Ark and its cover are mentioned again in First Kings (cf chapter 6), 1 Chronicles 13, 2 Chronicles (cf. chapter 5) and in Psalms 80:2.
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The Moabite, College and Sourdough

In honor of the festival of Shavuot, which begins this evening, I was re-reading “Law and Narrative in the Book of Ruth,” in Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg‘s The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious. There’s not much point in trying to synthesize Zornberg’s work, because it’s too rich to survive such condensing. But ideas that I took from this essay are that narrative is complex and messy — despite apparent “happy endings” — and that law, on its own, can’t capture the unknown qualities of individuals and their relationships….
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Behaalotekha: Great Source

My all-time favorite midrash is a commentary on Numbers/Bamidbar 12:1ff. It identifies Moses’ “Cushite wife,” against whom Miriam complains, as the black ink of the Torah: in this view Miriam believes that Moses has become too wed to the letters of the Torah and its literal meaning, while she continues to advocate for the white space, the oral/folk traditions in Revelation.

I love this commentary because

1) it makes sense of an otherwise obscure passage;

2) it doesn’t require twisting out of shape any of the larger narrative context; and

3) it is both radical and faithful.

More on this midrash, including a “Sermon Slam” story from this episode.

Sadly, however, I cannot tell you where exactly this commentary is to be found. I am sure that I didn’t invent it myself. I believe I was directed to it through end notes in The Five Books of Miriam.

So, this seems a particularly good spot to mention The Five Books of Miriam, edited by Ellen Frankel and published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1996.

The dialogue of voices — between “Our Daughters,” “Our Bubbes,” “The Ancient Rabbis,” “Sages in Our Own Times,” and individual women, such as Leah (Torah), Huldah (Tanach), Beruriah (Talmud) — seem particularly appropriate given the variety of voices heard in this portion: Hobab, the people, Joshua, Miriam and Aaron, Moses and God.

Frankel’s device is a great way to show some of the interaction over the years between sources and ideas…and to carry forward that interaction. Another great feature of this book is that it’s eminently readable without reference to the notes, while nicely substantial end notes are offered for those who want them.


The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.