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. — 5778]

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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Babylon and Rachel’s Offering

Exploring Babylon Chapter 8.2

The last episode of #ExploringBabylon focused on the biblical Rachel and her connection to “back home” for the family of Abraham and Sarah, as described in Vayetze (last week’s Torah portion, Gen 28:10-32:3); Rachel’s death and burial on the road, as related in Vayishlach (this week’s portion, Gen 32:4-36:43), was also raised (See “The Babylon Road.”) There is so much more to explore on the road to Ephrath (Gen 35:16-21, Jer 31:14-16). This post begins with one contemporary commentary on one ancient midrash.

Rachel, “Arch-Lamenter”

While the Jacob/Israel clan is still traveling — away from “back home” for Rachel and Leah, and toward the new home for the extended family — the time for Rachel to give birth arrives. Rachel labors with her second child and dies just as her son is born and named: first by his mother, Ben-oni [son of my pain, son of my strength]; and then by his father, Benjamin [son of right, or south, side].

Rachel thus gives birth to the only child of Jacob/tribe of Israel born in “the Land.” But she doesn’t live to participate in the life of the land. Jacob buries Rachel on the side of the road, rather than in the family burial property which is not too far away (Gen 35:16-20). As noted in Chapter 8.1, this burial spot is interpreted as prescient on Jacob’s part, in terms of later exile of his descendants. And the death and burial leave Rachel in a particularly evocative position.

Bodies Performing in the Ruins: The Lamenting Mother in Ancient Hebrew Texts,” by Galit Hasan-Rokem, describes one midrash which links Rachel’s separation from her child in death with Israel’s separation from future children in exile. Hasan-Rokem summarizes one of the long proems opening Lamentations Rabbah (5th Century CE). In it Moses shows the patriarchs the death and destruction in the aftermath of the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem.

“After the patriarchs and Moses have failed to move the heart of the angry father God,” she says, “a remarkable scene is acted out.” Hasan-Rokem then quotes Lam. Rabbah (I am cutting her quoted text into paragraphs for easier reading):

At that moment Rachel leapt before the Holy One, blessed be He, and said:
“Lord of the universe, you know that Jacob your servant loved me exceedingly, and toiled for my father on my behalf for seven years. And at the end of seven years, when the time of my marriage arrived, my father advised that my sister should replace me, and I suffered greatly because his counsel became known to me. And I informed my husband and I gave him a sign so that he might distinguish between my sister and me, and my father would be unable to replace me.

“Later, I repented and suppressed my desire, and took pity on my sister so that she would not be shamed. In the evening, they substituted my sister for me with my husband, and I gave my sister all the signs that I had agreed on with my husband, so that he would believe that she was Rachel. More than that, I went under the bed upon which he lay with my sister, and when he spoke to her and she remained silent, I gave all the answers so that he would not recognize my sister’s voice.”

Up to this point, the narrative follows the tale in the Babylonian Talmud Baba Batra 123a, explicating the enigmatic line, “And it came to pass in the morning, behold! it was Leah”  (Gen 29:25). Then comes Rachel’s contribution to the pleading before God, followed by God’s response:

“I was gracious, I was not jealous, and spared her shame and dishonour. If I, only flesh and blood, dust and ashes, was not jealous of my rival and spared her shame and dishonour, why should you, the everlasting and compassionate King, be jealous of idolatry, which is insubstantial, and exile my children who were slain by the sword, and let their enemies do with them what they wish?”

Forthwith, the mercy of the Holy One, blessed be He, was stirred, and He said: “For your sake, Rachel, I will restore Israel to their place. And so it was written:

Thus said the Lord:
A voice was heard in Ramah
lamentation and bitter weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children,
refusing to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more
(Jeremiah 31:14).

And it is written:

Thus says the LORD:
Refrain your voice from weeping,
And your eyes from tears,
For your work shall be rewarded, says the LORD,
And they shall come back from the land of the enemy
(Jeremiah 31:15).

And it is written:

There is hope in your future, says the LORD,
That your children shall come back to their own border
(Jeremiah 31:16)

–Lam. Rabbah proem 24, quoted in Hasan-Rokem
For another translation, and much more about Rachel in midrash, see Jewish Women’s Archive


Partner in Redemption

Hasan-Rokem comments that Rachel is offering as token “not her premature death…but rather her life, the enduring of the burning passion of the added seven years of longing between her and Jacob” (p.57). The burning passion is significant, in this context, as an illustration of

the transformation of stored-up erotic energy into the power that can produce a lament so effective it will move even the angry and despotic Divine Majesty….Rachel emerges almost as a weeping goddess, and certainly as a partner to God in the act of redemption.
— “Bodies Performing in the Ruins,” p.57

The author’s thesis in this paper involves the “Babylonian legacy of lamenting gods and especially goddesses,” which will have to be a topic for another day. But her description of Rachel offering “not her premature death…but rather her life” can also point us to the significance of another aspect of this midrash.

Rachel tells God, “I was gracious, I was not jealous, and spared [my sister’s] shame and dishonour,” arguing that, if she, with her limited human resources, managed to behave without jealousy, God should davka be able to overlook idolatry. How many lessons are here for people struggling to function with integrity and flexibility in a diverse, often contradictory, world? This model is at least as important, I think, as Rachel’s lament in moving God and serving as partner in redemption.




Galit Hasan-Rokem. “Bodies Performing in Ruins: The Lamenting Mother in Ancient Hebrew Texts.”
IN Perspectives on Jewish Texts and Contexts, edited by Vivian Liska.
Volume 2: Lament in Jewish Thought: Philosophical, Theological, and Literary Perspectives
Ilit Ferber and Paula Schwebel eds. (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2014)
This article is available through Academia (dot) edu.
This article offers a number of insights relevant to #ExploringBabylon, which will have to await another day.
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Amichai’s Love and the Entwives

A highway detours in order to give two lovers some privacy in their “bit of eternity,” in the opening stanza of Yehuda Amichai’s “Pinecones in the Tree Above.” Several stanzas later, “she is the walled public garden of the city, and he, the road which moves away from her” (Abramson, p.101 — see notes below).

YA 46

from “Pinecones on the Tree Above” in Collected Poems

Like Pine Cones, Ents and Entwives

The “Pine Cones” series is the second set of love poems [after “Six Poems for Tamar”] published in a collection called “Now and in Other Days” (1955). The garden/road stanza is, as Abramson notes, one of eight short portraits of the same lovers: “like two associations in one mind: as he is referred to, so is she; they are like two lightbulbs in a lamp each one alone too dark but together lighted they are a festival of light….They are like two stones at the bottom of a hill, secluded and alone…”

Each stanza consists of rhymed couplets, which, Abramson continues: “affirm the isolated perfection of love; yet even at their most serene the lovers are separate entities, two lightbulbs, two stones, two numbers. The poems offer an apparent affirmation of love, yet separateness and isolation are implicit in them.” (Abramson, see below)

Considering this stanza, readers find many contrasts, some of them Freudian, between the movement-oriented man and the enclosure-focused woman. For me, the contrast Amichai draws is reminiscent of Tolkein’s wandering Ents and their inability to connect with the more settled Entwives (The Lord of the Rings — full citation below)

Ents are Middle Earth’s very old, male, tree-like creatures who have somehow “lost” their female counterparts, the Entwives. They’re not dead, just missing and missed, Treebeard (AKA Fangorn) tells the hobbits:

…the Ents gave their love to things that they met in the world, and the Entwives gave their thought to other things, for the Ents loved the great trees, and the wild woods, and the slopes of the high hills…But the Entwives gave their minds to the lesser trees, and to the meads in the sunshine beyond the feet of the forests…Entwives desired order, and plenty, and peace (by which they meant that things should remain where they had set them). So the Entwives made gardens to live in. But we Ents went on wandering, and we only came to the gardens now and again.
The Two Towers

“They walked together…”

Treebeard’s description of the old days for Ents and Entwives sounds a little like Jeremiah’s prophetic vision of God and Israel, together in the desert just after leaving Egypt:

When the world was young, and the woods were wide and wild, the Ents and the Entwives – and there were Entmaidens then: ah! the loveliness of Fimbrethil, of Wandlimb the lightfooted, in the days of our youth! – they walked together and they housed together.
The Two Towers

The devotion of your youth, Your love as a bride— How you followed Me in the wilderness, In a land not sown.
— Jer. 2:2

The “Pine Cones” lovers reflect the togetherness of the above metaphors — when the lovers appear like two stones, e.g., together resting at the bottom of a hill, watching seasons pass. But they do not find Amichai’s concept of “true love,” according to Abramson: “Ahavah be-emet [true love], the coupling of both spirit and flesh, is still undiscovered and it is only for a brief moment that the bulbs achieve a “festival of light,” unbounded unity in each other…”

And that undiscovered territory, she argues, has additional implications:

The notion of separateness offered by the couplets in “Pine Cones,” implying that the lovers have failed to achieve perfect unity, indicates their separation also from God.
— Glenda Abramson. The Writing of Yehuda Amichai: A Thematic Approach.
Albany: SUNY Press, 1989, p.101

“Our hearts did not go on growing in the same way,” Treebeard says of Ents and Entwives. The prophets of Israel, Jeremiah included, tell us that reconciliation between God and the People is still possible, although disappointment and anger have reigned for centuries. And what of Amichai’s lovers? Our study group still has four stanzas of “Pine Cones” to translate and discuss, but I do see that the last word of the poem is הפרידה [separation]. Stay tuned.

Notes:

Abramson, Glenda. The Writing of Yehuda Amichai: A Thematic Approach. Albany: SUNY Press, 1989.

Amichai, Yehuda. Collected Poems [5 vols.]. Jerusalem: Schocken, 2002-2004 [Shirei Yehuda Amichai]. “Pinecones on the Tree Above” i

Harshav, Benjamin & Barbara. Yehuda Amichai: A Life of Poetry 1948-1994. NY: Harper Collins, 1995. NOTE: the “highway” stanza is included in the Harshavs’ selected translations; the garden/road stanza is omitted.
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Tolkein, J.R.R. The Two Towers (Book 2 of 3, The Lord of the Rings). London: George Allen and Unwin, 1954.

For more on Ents —

  • Tolkein, Christopher. Treason of Isengard: The History of The Lord of the Rings, Part Two (The History of Middle-Earth, Vol. 7). Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1989.
  • Not All Who Wander Are Lost (Middle Earth blog), particularly “What Happened to the Entwives

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Oved with an Ayin

Confusion sometimes arises from the similarity, in English transliteration and in pronunciation, between two prominent words in the haggadah: ‘oved‘ meaning ‘slave’ and ‘oved‘ in the phrase “Arami oved avi,” from Deuteronomy 26:5. The previous post provided a little background on “‘oved‘ with an aleph.” And here, as promised, are a few examples of the word ‘avadim‘ as in “avadim hayinu [we were slaves].”

oved‘ with an ayin: Exodus

Words from the root עבד (oved — ayin-bet-dalet) appear frequently in the Torah and later books of the Tanakh, with many instances in the Exodus story.

For example, Pharaoh is told “let My people go, that they may serve Me” in Exodus 7:16, 8:1, 10:3,…:

שַׁלַּח עַמִּי,
וְיַעַבְדֻנִי.
“…let My people go, that they may serve Me.”
— Exodus 10:3

Pharaoh responds several times, telling Moses “Go ye, serve the LORD…” with some restrictions added:

לְכוּ
עִבְדוּ
אֶת-יְהוָה
רַק צֹאנְכֶם וּבְקַרְכֶם, יֻצָּג: גַּם-טַפְּכֶם, יֵלֵךְ עִמָּכֶם–
Go ye, serve the LORD;
only let your flocks and your herds be stayed; let your little ones also go with you.’
— Exodus 10:24

Later, reference is made again and again to the Israelites leaving “Egypt and the house of bondage.” (Exodus 10:3, 10:14, 20:2,…)

וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-הָעָם, זָכוֹר אֶת-הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר
יְצָאתֶם מִמִּצְרַיִם
עֲבָדִים מִבֵּית
And Moses said unto the people:
‘Remember this day,
in which ye came out from Egypt,
out of the house of bondage;
— Exodus 13:3

When we recite Hallel at Passover and on other festival days, we reflect on our status as servant now only to God:

אָנָּה יְהוָה,
עַבְדֶּךָ: כִּי-אֲנִי
בֶּן-אֲמָתֶךָ אֲנִי-עַבְדְּךָ,
פִּתַּחְתָּ, לְמוֹסֵרָי.
Now, ABUNDANT ONE,
I am your servant.
I, your servant, child of your servant,
I whose fetters you have opened up.
— Psalm 116:16, Kol Haneshamah
in this prayerbook, NAMES in all caps substitute for YHVH

I beseech Thee, O LORD,
for I am Thy servant;
I am Thy servant,
the son of Thy handmaid; Thou hast loosed my bands.
— Psalm 116:16 JPS 1917

More Bondage and Servants

Forms of ‘oved‘ with an ayin, meaning servant or bondman, appear at many points in the Tanakh. Here are pre-Exodus examples:

In Genesis, we are told that Canaan will be cursed, becoming “servant of servants” or “lowest of slaves” — עֶבֶד עֲבָדִים (Gen 9:25)

When Judah and his brothers are in Egypt during the drought in Canaan and are caught in an apparent theft, Judah says to Joseph: “…we are your bondmen” —
הִנֶּנּוּ עֲבָדִים (Gen 44:16)

Post-Exodus, the people are meant to serve God alone. Should economic circumstances place one Israelite in bond to another, that must be a temporary status: “And if he be not redeemed by any of these means [just outline above], then he shall go out in the year of jubilee, he, and his children with him.” (Lev. 25:54)

כִּי-לִי בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל,
עֲבָדִים–עֲבָדַי הֵם,
אֲשֶׁר-הוֹצֵאתִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם: אֲנִי, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.
For unto Me the children of Israel are
servants; they are My servants
whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
— Leviticus 25:55

When Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon, threatens Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah attributes the disaster to the people’s reneging on this command: “but afterwards they turned, and caused the servants and the handmaids, whom they had let go free [at the jubilee], to return, and brought them into subjection for servants and for handmaids” (Jer 34:11).

Later, when the exiles are allowed to return, Ezra remarks on God’s favor, despite the people’s sins:

כִּי-עֲבָדִים
אֲנַחְנוּ–וּבְעַבְדֻתֵנוּ, לֹא עֲזָבָנוּ אֱלֹהֵינוּ;
For we are bondmen;
yet our God hath not forsaken us in our bondage,
-Ezra 9:9

Avadim

posted on this seventh day of the Omer 5777, with this prayer:
“In remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt, we pray that you release all whose bodies and spirits remain captive and enable us to extend Your outstretched arm in the process of liberation.” (see Ritual Well)

Amichai: Change, God, Pit, and Mikveh

UPDATE April 15: See also Fabrangen’s Omer Blog for more on “full of water.”

Imagery of a pit [bor] appears over the years in the poetry of Yehuda Amichai. Frequently, as in the Joseph story (“the pit was empty, there was no water in it” [Gen. 37:24]), Amichai’s pits are without water. Toward the end of his life, however, he published a poem in which a mikveh — which can be understood as a sort of pit filled with water — plays a prominent role:

Then we came to a ritual bath in ruins….
…Speak O my soul, sing
O my soul to the God who is Himself part of the cycle
of praise and lament, curse and blessing.
Speak O my soul, sing O my soul, Change is God
and death is his prophet.
–Yehuda Amichai, stanza #10, “Jewish Travel: God is Change and Death is His Prophet” in Open Closed Open

Here, for Temple Micah’s study group and anyone else interested, are a few references for exploring this idea.
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You Didn’t Have to Be There: Prayer, Sinai and the Grateful Dead

There’s a great scene in a fairly silly movie, called Must Love Dogs: The struggling divorced man played by John Cusack is obsessed with the movie Doctor Zhivago. He watches it over and over at home and then drags the young woman he is dating to a revival house to see it. Leaving the theater, the dating couple runs into the romantic lead, played by Diane Lane, who declares that she too loves Doctor Zhivago. She watches it over and over again hoping, she says, “that once Lara and Yuri will get together again…in the springtime preferably. And wear shorts.” The young date responds, “OK, but they can’t because it’s just a movie.”

Of course, Diane Lane and John Cusack do get together, even though things still don’t look so good for Yuri and Lara. And I believe the Must Love Dogs view of Doctor Zhivago has a lot to say about this week’s Torah portion Mattot (Numbers 30:2-32:42) and about our prayers.
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