More on Mouse: Pinchas, part 2

More on Mouse

[addendum to dvar Torah, “Pinchas and the Scary Friend”]

Many hard-boiled detectives have their “scary friend.” But Ezekiel (Easy) Rawlins’ friend Raymond (Mouse), is something else again. Mouse is written by Walter Mosley as a true psychopath.

To illustrate: At one point early in the series, Easy asks why Mouse has just killed a man, and Mouse responds:

You said don’t shoot him, right? Well I didn’t; I choked… look, Easy – if you ain’t want him dead, why you leave him with me?

On the DVD of “Devil in a Blue Dress,” the only Easy Rawlins story made into a movie so far, there’s a special feature showing the actor Don Cheadle (Raymond, aka Mouse) busting out in laughter the first few times he tries to deliver those lines, so absurd to any sane person. When Cheadle finally gets it, the character he’s created is terrifying. Cheadle’s portrayal helps us understand why Easy would like to distance himself from this man, even as we realize that the detective would be dead without his friend’s help.

The extreme nature of Mouse’s personality makes it all the more interesting, I think, that Mosley wrote this man so deeply into Easy’s life. The author could have chosen to rely on any number of fixers, who show up for a minute, do what needs doing, and then disappear. It happens often enough in this kind of fiction.

“You know,” Mosley observes, “you can have the existentialist detective. He’s all alone; he may know somebody, but that person’s only going to appear in one book, and then it’s over. But Easy, he works with people. He trades favors. That’s part of how he lives.”
— from David Ulin’s LA Times interview with Mosley [paywall might be involved, sorry]

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“A Whisper Will Be Heard”: Babel, the Wake and Echoes of Sukkkot

What went wrong at Babel, and how might the situation be redeemed? One answer, I think, is to be found in a whisper still reverberating from our shaky sukkot and the rustling of the lulav.
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Emor: Something to Notice

And he who invokes the LORD’s name shall be doomed to die; and the community shall surely stone him, sojourner and native alike; for his invoking the Name he shall be put to death. And should a man mortally strike down any human being [adam], he is doomed to die. And he who mortally strikes down a beast shall pay for it, life for life. Continue Reading

Kedoshim: Language and Translation

Three versions of Leviticus/Vayikra verse 19:4:

Do not turn [al-tafnu] to the idols [el-ha-elilim] nor make molten gods [elohei masechahfor yourself. I am the LORD your God. (Alter*)

Do not turn-your-faces [al-tafnu] to no-gods [el-ha-elilim],
and molten gods [elohei masechah] you are not to make yourselves,
I am YHVH your God! (Fox*)

Do not turn aside [al-tafnu] to false gods [el-ha-elilim], and do not make yourselves gods out of cast metal [elohei masechah. I am God your Lord. (www.Bible.ort*)

Alter adds: The Hebrew ‘elilim refers not to the carved likenesses of divinities but to the nonentity of the pagan gods. Its most plausible derivation is from ‘al, “not,” and hence would suggest falsity or lack of being, but the term probably also puns on ‘el, “god” using a diminutive and pejorative form that could mean something like “godlet.”

Fox says: Heb. elilim, a popular play on el/elohim (“God”/”gods”) and al, “nothing.” Greenstein personal communication) suggests “little-gods” as another possibility.

(ORT has no comment on this verse)

Plaut* — commenting on the JPS* translation, which differs from Alter’s only in omitting “the” before “idols” — notes: Hebrew elilim. A variety of words are used in the Hebrew Bible to designate idols. This is one of the most contemptuous of them. Perhaps it was chosen just because it sounds like the legitimate words for “God,” El and Elohim. In other connections, the same word is used for “worthlessness” (Zech. 11:17; Job 13:4).

* Please see Source Materials for full citations and additional information.

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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.

Acharei Mot: Something to Notice

Acharei mot [after the death].”

This expression refers to the deaths of Nadav and Abihu after they “came near” (elsewhere: “brought strange fire”) before the Lord (see parashat Shemini). For some readers, I imagine, it’s a relatively simple chronology-determining statement: this happened after that. For people who have experienced a cataclysmic loss — the early death of a parent/care-giver, e.g., or the untimely loss of a partner — at some point in their lives, however, “after the death” can be a more powerful divisor: there’s pre-loss life, and then there’s life acharei mot: no simple ordering of narrative events; there’s a fundamental change in the person’s universe “after the death.”

For a long time, I believed that my own father’s death, when I was 16, was simply one of many elements that shaped my life. As I get older, however, I am more and more aware that I have experienced life in two distinct portions: the first 16 years of life in a family with my father, and acharei mot…. So, the title words of this week’s portion usually stop me cold.

This year, untimely loss in a friend’s family laid an even stronger focus on those words, as I watched another family struggle with figuring out how to manage life “acharei mot.” But this year I also noticed some interesting things about the other words that open this portion.

Va-yedaber YHVH el-Moshe acharei mot shnei bnei aharon…dabeir el-aharon achicha…

The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of the LORD. The LORD said to Moses: Tell your brother

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Acharei Mot: Language and Translation

Sound and word patterns evident in the Hebrew text do not always translate well into other languages. Fox* notes that Chapter 17 of Leviticus/Vayikra is “built at least partially on repeating sound patterns”:

A threefold refrain is “That man is to be cut off from his kinspeople,” stressing the seriousness of the prohibition. Four times we hear “any-man, any-man” (Heb. ish ish), reinforcing the unusually broad scope of the command indicated by the beginning of the chapter (“to Aharaon and to his sons and to all the Children of Israel”). Finally, in v. 10 through 15, the word nefesh occurs nine times, with the alternating meanings of “person” and “life” (the pattern is 1-3-1-3-1 in these meanings). — p.588

JPS* and Alter* translations — like Fox* (quoted below) — use “life of the flesh” for “nefesh ha-basar.” Stone, however, uses “soul of the flesh” to emphasis the word repetition Fox mentions above: “For the soul of the flesh is in the blood and I have assigned it for you upon the Altar to provide atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that atones for the soul” (Lev. 17:11).

And any-man, any-man [v’ish ish] of the House of Israel or of the
sojourners that sojourn in their midst
that eats any blood;
I set my face against the person [nefesh] who eats the blood;
I will cut him off from amid his kinspeople!

For the life [nefesh] of the flesh — it is in the blood;
I (myself) have given it to you upon the slaughter-site, to effect-ransom for your lives [nafshoteichem],
for the blood — it effects ransom for life [ba-nefesh]!

Therefore I say to the Children of Israel:
Every person [kol-nefesh] among you is not to eat blood,
and the sojourner that sojourns in your midst is not to eat blood.

And any-man, any-man [v’ish ish] of the Children of Israel or of the
sojourner that sojourns in your midst
who hunts any hunted wild-animal or a bird that may be eaten
is to pour out its blood and cover it with the dust.

For the life [ki-nefesh] of all flesh — its blood is its life [nafsho]!
So I say to the Children of Israel:
The blood of all flesh you are not to eat,
for the life [nefesh] of all flesh — it is its blood,
everyone eating it shall be cut off!

And any person [v’chol nefesh] that eats a carcass, or an …
–Leviticus/Vayikra 11-15, Fox translation

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