Wednesday, December 27, 2006


verse per verse: The Weekly Storah
By Lauviticus

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The scroll rolls on and the saga of Joseph, the ‘Know It All’ who has risen to power in Egypt continues, paralleling the famine in the entire region. This week’s Torah episode, VaYigash, follows the long and winding road on which Jacob’s clan, hungry and scattered, is traveling, back and forth between Egypt and Canaan – a road that will soon lead to a tearjerker family reunion. While the main characters in this tale are Joseph, his brother Judah and their father Jacob - according to Jewish legends the real hero of the day is actually a little girl – Serach, the daughter of Asher, grand daughter of Jacob. Her story, and how it is related to her grandfather near fatal cardiac arrest, is our focus this week:

A bit of background: The brother of Joseph are heading back to Canaan, having just met their lost brother, wept, shocked and urged home, by his command to tell their aged father the incredible news – Joseph is alive. In this fragile moment, when good news wash over years of mourning, delicacy is required – a delicacy the brothers were never famous for. And so, according to the telling – Jacob just can’t take the good tidings - and suffers a heart attack:

And they told him, saying, Joseph is yet alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt. And Jacob’s heart fainted, for he believed them not. (Genesis 45:23, King James Bible)

Well, maybe it’s a heart attack and maybe not - the Hebrew word ‘PUG’ means ‘Pause’ and other translations and commentaries, perhaps not medically expert, take this to mean ‘failed’ or ‘numb’ or ‘rejected’. It is just one brief moment in the life of Jacob – and almost his last one – had it not been for the wisdom of his granddaughter, Serach, daughter of Asher, and her wisdom. According the legends, found in Talmud and Midrash, Serach was a skilled musician and singer, most famous for her harp playing. Her name is listed in the roster of the seventy Hebrews and accompanied Jacob to Egypt AND she is also mentioned in the list of Hebrew to leave Egypt four hundred years later. What’s her secret of successful living? Legend has it that she has lived so long because she saved Jacob’s life. While the brothers, her father and uncles, are hurrying back from Egypt, Serach dreams that her uncle Joseph is alive, and she sits outside her grandfather’s tent and plays a song with the words’ Joseph is Alive..’ Jacob dismisses the song as a girl’s fantasy, but later, when he hears the actual news – he is not as surprised. His heart skips a beat – but Serach’s song has helped him to overcome and survive the shock.

Thus the power of story, song, art to heal a broken heart, and to prevent an old heart from stopping. Jacob’s heart failure is a moment filled with dread, but also full of redemption. What, imagine, went through the minds of all present as the old man clutches his chest and crumbles to the floor? And, what words of praise and relief when his eyes re-open and his lips mumble a song he didn’t know he knew? Joseph is alive…

At moments of great grief and sadness, may there always be the wise inner child, a harp, a guitar, restoring our old hearts to life, hope, faith, future. If Jacob’s heart wouldn’t have skipped a beat, how would we know the tale of Serach?
More in 2007! Here’s to good music, healing songs, and the wisdom from the mouths of babes, all year long.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


verse per verse: The Weekly Storah
By Lauviticus

Sorry folks,no audio this week!

Welcome back to the weekly installment of the torah, verse per verse.
These winter months it’s all about Joseph (NOT Mary’s man – his ancestor) – the hero of the weekly Torah saga. In this week’s episode, MIKETZ, we encounter a 30 years old man, freshly out of prison, summoned to the royal court to analyze the King’s disturbing dreams. Very pre Freud, and very Cinderella like, Joseph is propelled from prisoner to courtier within a matter of minutes, or verses, based on his uncanny talent of dream analysis. Joseph’s talent is favored by the king, who bestows honors: a new wardrobe(!), an Egyptian wife, a new job, and a new name. In previous explorations of this hero’s journey we examined Joseph’s garment and the meanings of its many changes, but the transformation here is even more radical – with one royal command Joseph becomes an Egyptian. His new name is what particularly calls our attention:

Genesis 41:45 And Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him to wife Osnat the daughter of Poti-phera priest of On. And Joseph emerged in charge of the land of Egypt (JPS)

The new naming places Joseph in the name-change convention which we made particular note of in our exploration of his younger brother Benjamin. But this time the name is not Hebrew to Hebrew, but Hebrew to Egyptian. Joseph is called Zaphnath-paaneah. Most translators merely transliterate the word, some try to figure out what it might have meant in archaic Egyptian. The Fox translation names him ‘The God Speaks and He Lives.’ The pseudo-Jonathan’s is ‘The man who reveals mysteries’. Some Medieval commentaries such as Maimonidies , on the other hand, think the name is Hebrew derived, suggesting it means ‘he who explains what is hidden’.
Lauvitiucs would like to suggest: ‘And the King renamed him: ‘Know-It-All’ and wed him to Osnat, the dauther of the Priest of On, PotiPehra, and a new ruler rose over Egypt.’

The long and the short of it is that Joseph, perhaps the archetype of the assimilated Jew, takes an Egyptian wife, an Egyptian name, and functions in a position of power in a culture not his own. Some see him as the ultimate court Jew who can be accused of a willing suppression of his outsiderness for the sake of safety and prosperity. Yet, like Queen Esther, Joseph, for whatever reasons and by whatever means, is just where he needs to be to rescue family and clan. Does his new name hint at a deeper meaning for what it’s like to be a stranger in a strange land with super powers both honored and suspected?

Perhaps his cryptic new name suggests a function and an attribute that will have bearing on the lives of his descendents, assimilated Jews in many countries, for generations to come. Accused for being too smart, too rich, or too engaged in world politics, ‘know-it-all’ Jews, public or not, like Joseph himself, will reap the benefits and pay the price for analyzing the dreams and wishes of leaders and mobs worldwide.
But apart from world politics and the tricky role of Jews in history – Joseph represents the inner voice that helps us analyze our dreams and plan our future. Who in your life, this time of year, is the voice that best serves your needs for clarity, vision, dream, a brighter future?

Bright Lights, Shabbat Shalom, Sweet Dreams


Thursday, December 14, 2006


verse per verse: The Weekly Storah
By Lauviticus

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This week, The Lauviticus Consortium of Scribes is delighted to welcome Julie Seltzer of the Storahtelling Tribe as a cotributing Scribe! Thank you for your juicy contribution on the truth below the garb!

‘Tis the season for bundling up, dressing fancy and going to parties – but this week’s storah peek is actually at what it’s like to be naked – as naked as truth. There seems to be a distinct link between the craving for lavish costumes and the need to unwrap the cover up, and go behind the mask to reveal the hideen. while Last week’s torah tale featured the birth of Benjamin, and this week we are fully focused on his brother – the one famous for a coat of many colors, AND for what he had going elsewhere. A brief recap of the Genesis Saga brings us to VaYeshev – the tragic telling of how Jacob tried to settle down quietly in Canaan, only to discover that his beloved son and spiritual heir, Joseph, is reported missing, presumed dead, with only a bloody coat to serve as witness. While Jacob is mourning, Joseph, betrayed by his brothers, is trafficked to Egypt, where he ends up a slave in the house of Potiphar, a Courtier of the King. And, while her husband is tending the king, Potiphar’s wife tends to Joseph and tried to de-robe him (Joseph is “well built and handsome” [JPS], “fair of form and fair to look at” [Everett Fox]). She tries the verbal seduction approach before grabbing hold of his garment (in Hebrew: BEGED). Rejected, she then uses this BEGED, this article of clothing, as “evidence” that Joseph tried to rape her, landing the dreamer in jail, again.
Genesis 39:16: ‘And she placed his garment by her side, until his master came home.’

The word BEGED appears here 6 times in 7 verses, forcing special attention to its presence, pointing us to the underlying truth by screaming out, “I’m a lie! Look underneath! Look deeper inside! I’m concealing something!”

One possible clue is found in the root of the word for GARMENT—BGD—exactly the same as the word for BETRAYAL. Joseph’s garment represents an act of betrayal that covers up the truth, just as his robe does when Joseph’s brothers dip it in animal blood to cover up their crime.

The garment as object of betrayal could, perhaps, voice a familiar (if timely) reminder to not get too hung up on the latest fashions. But here too, there’s much than meets the eye. (As if sharing a root with the word for “betray” weren’t enough, the text hints at another layer of meaning: the word BEGED is composed of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th letters of the alphabet, forming a mirror image of the letters that make up the word “lie,” SHEKER, which are the second-to-last, third-to-last, and fourth-to last letters whereas the letters for “truth,” EMET, form a perfect triangle made up of the first, middle, and last letter of the alphabet.

So what does Joseph’s coat have to offer us at this annual time of its re-appearance? Perhaps a reminder to look deeper than the garment and the outer, and perhaps that we all want to get naked – to get at the naked truth, to fully know ourselves, for others to fully know us, and for us to know them. Even the way we share stories begins with an undressing: we prepare to share our most sacred stories by first removing the garment and revealing the unrolled, naked Torah scroll. Just as the Torah has a protective skin—without which the truth would be too overwhelming to access—we also need clothing for our souls. Though somewhat counterintuitive, creating and presenting ourselves through garment, cover, costume - is a way of accessing and sharing our nakedness.
Every time Joseph’s coat is taken off him, a new destiny and identity awaits him; like a snake, he grows new skin.
What, this time round, is your garment? And what’s between it and your naked truth?

Think about that after lighting the romantically inclined Chanukah Candles.

Merry Sabbath and Happy Holiday of Lights!

Friday, December 08, 2006

BEN:what's in a name?

verse per verse: The Weekly Storah
By Lauviticus

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This has been a wild week in regards to reinterpting and translating biblical concepts, and we refer of course to the Conservative Movement's wrestling with Ye Ancient Sodomy. History in the making, and translation carefully examined, since the word SODOMY is the creation of Tynedale - the translator resposible for the King James Bible. More about this saga in future - for now we turn to the wrestle of the week:
Last week's Torah tale saw the creation of the clan of Jacob and delighted the t ranslator in all of us with the rich punning and wordplay in the names of the sons and daughter – the future tribes of Israel. The mythic process of naming reminds us how a biblical name rests on a root word which can turn a name into a characterization of a people. It is the youngest of the sons, born in this week’s episode, Vayishlach, that catches our eye, little Benjamin.

The context: The clan has returned to Canaan. Jacob has wrestled with an unnamed force and become Israel (the most famous of the name changes in the Bible). And right after the reunion with his brother Esau, it is Rachel's turn to give birth for the second and last time:

But as she breathed her last---for she was dying---she named him Ben-oni, but his father called him Benjamin. Thus Rachel died. She was buried on the road to Ephrat---now Bethlehem. JPS: 35:18

In a book where name changes are significant markers, here are two changes that happens so quickly as almost to escape notice. One is historical, perhaps Political – Ephrat is also known as Bethlehem. The more striking one is the emotional change: Ben-oni to Benjamin, Rachel’s last choice, Jacob’s revision - what’s the story?

The JPS Bible simply gives the two names and leaves the interpretive translation to the notes: Ben-Oni: son of my suffering (or strength); Benjamin: son of the right hand or the son of the south.

The Fox translation calls him Son-Of-My-Woe and Son of my Right Hand.

Oni might also be translated as wrong or iniquity and there are commentators who see Rachel's name for her son as an admission of her guilt--- and her death as a punishment---either for stealing her father's idols or wishing another son after Joseph. The reference to the South could refer to the tribe of Benjamin’s strategic importance in the south and of its role in bringing forth Israel's first King; Saul.

All these considerations of the name were in play this past Sunday when we gave a workshop for a group of Jewish men and women who had been bereaved by 9/11. Convened in the immediate aftermath of shock and pain, the group met regularly, traveled to Israel together last year, and continues to meet for facilitated sessions of support, sharing, and exploration. For this group of survivors, the figure of Benjamin became particularly powerful. They knew as their own the face of loss, regret, guilt, and sorrow, and the face of strength, hope, and growth. For many, Jacob's immediate decision to override his wife's dying breath was seen as a brave and necessary act of claiming life over death. In fact each of them had been their own Jacob, wresting hope from loss, but wrestling with loss as a way of gaining strength.

Benjamin, who has hardly any story at all in the chapters which follow, stood in that circle as an emblem of bereavement and redemption. In his double-name, we acknowledged the two-sides of the soul and saw our own stories reflected in him.

Lauviticus would like to suggest: ‘Rachel’s soul departed, and as she died she named him son of suffering, but Jacob named him son of right.’

Either way, we suspect the brothers probably just called him Ben for short, or – Sonny.

Who/what is the Benjamin in your life - needing an extra attentive reminder of strength and hope?

Shabbat shalom!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Easy on the Eyes

verse per verse: The Weekly Storah
By Lauviticus

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Last week Rebecca was pregnant and went to grok god, and in this week’s tale we are already told of her son Jacob’s marriage, twice in one week, to Leah and Rachel - two of his cousins who are also sisters. In this biblical mythology that which we call ‘family’ is not exactly the classic ‘nuclear’ model nor is it very functional or well behaved, it is, in fact, a complex family history. But according to kabalistic interpretations, this ancestral history is symbolic, portraying patterns of personal and collective psyco-reality. The feminine Divine is represented via the four (actually, six) matriarchs, as the masculine is depicted via their counterparts, the three patriarchs, and their overall saga depicts our inner life of struggle and balance. In this episode Jacob meets his beloved Rachel at the well – and the Zohar identifies the well as the cosmic ‘hotspot’ meeting of earth and heaven, below and above, a symbol for erotic and spiritual union. But we’re more interested in checking out Leah, the older sister, as there is a particular adjective attributed to her, as intriguing as a wink in some old family photograph.
Genesis 29:17 tells us that

Rachel was beautiful, but that Leah had eyes that were - either ‘weak’, ‘pretty’, ‘dim’, ‘nearsighted’, ‘soft’, or ‘gentle’.

These different words, found in the various English translations, are clearly not synonyms. So what’s the story with Leah’s eyes? What does this one adjective teach us about her?

Many commentaries and interpreters analyze her eyes and what their condition may mean to her descendants, and since Leah became mother to some heavy hitters among Israel’s tribes, this is not a surprise.

What we are most interested in is how a single word is translated and understood out of context, becoming pregnant with meanings that may have had nothing to do with their original sense. Clearly, the way this word, RAKOT, is told, tells a bigger story about her, and about her legacy.

Leah is seen as the Feminine aspect which is fertility, while Rachel is usually seen as the feminine which is erotic beauty. Not that you can’t be both, but the archetypes are demonstrated here as two rival sisters. The word ‘Leah’ also means ‘tired’ or ‘fatigued’ and so the state of her eyes could simply mean ‘blurry’, a condition known to anyone traveling on a ‘red eye’ flight. The Aramaic Pseudo Jonathan translation tells a larger story, depicting Leah as a role model for prayer, and her eyes, full of tears, as the model of pious faith, and the triumph of will:

And the eyes of Leah were moist from weeping, for she often prayed before God that as the firstborn daughter she would not be destined to marry her firstborn cousin - Esau the wicked’.

According to this version, Leah’s soft eyes speak of the human will to overcome obstacles. While Rachel may have been a total knock out, Leah was not and learnt how to survive, counting on her physical beauty, her eyes and her inner strength. We suspect her eyes, windows of soul, tell us volumes about who she really was and what her tale as mother of tribes that will one day go to war with each other, really has to say:

Lauviticus would like to suggest a reading that hints at once and future conflict all too human:

While Leah was easy on the eyes, Rachel was really gorgeous. ‘

Is there more here than meets the eye? What do you think this focus on her eyes mean? When you close your eyes and imagine this verse – what do you see?
Let us know!
Shabbat shalom

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


verse per verse: The Weekly Storah
By Lauviticus

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Last week’s tale featured a traumatized Isaac mysteriously recreating in the bushes (thank you, readers, for your many odd suggestions as to what he was REALLY doing there) and meeting his bride, Rebecca, as she swoons off her camel. This week’s episode moves on with the breeding agenda as the next generation of patriarchs enters the stage: Jacob and Esau. So complex is this tale of the first pair of twins in history and their fateful struggle, that a word is invented to explain the act of trying to comprehend the nature of duality. This word, DRASH, appearing this week for the first time, is the primary investigative technique in Jewish intellectual history. And who is the first person to actively use Drash as a tool for deeper understanding? A very pregnant Rebecca, matriarch to be, mother of meaning-making, possibly the pioneer of Jewish scholarship. So, what is it that she does exactly?

Chapter 25 in Genesis opens this week’s tale, TOLDOT – ORIGINS, tersely narrating the much awaited pregnancy: Rebecca carrying the heir/s of Abraham’s dynasty. She is carrying twins, but she doesn’t know it, and as they kick in different directions, she is aware of struggle and puzzled by its meaning. Verse 22: ‘The children struggled together within her; and she said, "If it is to be this way, why do I live?" So she went to inquire of the LORD’. Genesis 25:22 KJV

The Hebrew action word we are fascinated by, being drash junkies ourselves, is LIDROSH, translated here as TO INQUIRE. Other translations suggest ‘to Supplicate’ ‘to Demand’ or ‘to Seek’. What is intriguing here is not only the act itself – but the journey that goes with it. What does it mean for a biblical woman to go and seek answers from the divine? How does one, then and now, go to solved existential dilemma that steer one’s insides in different, conflicting directions? WHO AM I, asks Rebecca, WHY ME? Her midrash-making is a bold question, a demanding plea, a mother’s insistence on clarity, a human quest for divine truth. Some commentaries say she went to a yeshiva, to consult the local sage (Shem, son of Noah, mythic father of the Semites, and apparently ageless) some say she went to the old women of the tribe, some say she went to Abraham, some, to an oracle. The 17th century rabbi Shlomo Efraim of Prague, known for his biblical commentary Kli Yakar, gives Rebecca’s drash action a startling existential spin: She went out to seek the identity of God, and learn the nature of life’s meaning.

Frankly, we are more interested in the question than in the answer, focused on the act of seeking. And while the different English translations help us to attain a glimpse into what MIDRASH may mean, it is to the extra terrestrial lingo that we turn for assistance. There is a word that comes from Mars that perhaps best explains what Midrash means, and that word is GROK.
GROK, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is a verb enabling one to ‘understand profoundly and intuitively’. "Grok" was introduced in Robert A. Heinlein's 1961 science fiction novel “Stranger in a Strange Land”. The book's main character is a Martian-raised human who comes to earth as an adult, bringing with him words from his native tongue and a unique perspective on the strange, strange ways of earthlings. To GROK something means to either understand it fully or - to drink it, thus becoming one with the other. So, assisted by aliens, Lauviticus describe the wonderful art of midrash thus:

‘The boys wrestled within her; and she said, "If this is life, why do I live?" and she went to grok God. Genesis 25:22 KJV

And you, dear reader, where do YOU go when two roads diverge in the wood of life and clarity is sought? how do you grok? Please comment here so this converstion is a two way street, just like the one Rebecca started...

Happy Thankgiving!

Thursday, November 16, 2006


verse per verse: The Weekly Storah
By Lauviticus

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Welcome to weekly storah: verse per verse, ez access to biblical know how one verse at a time. Lauviticus offers a glimpse at translations and their modern relevance to our lives.
Last weeks' Torah tale highlighted Sarah's sexual bliss, and this week's episode, occurring years later, narrates her death. The weekly tale is named after her – Chayei Sarah – the Life of Sarah, but quickly moves on to introduce the next generation in the soap opera called Genesis: Isaac and Rebecca.
Theirs, according to the biblical narrative, is a full-on desert romance complete with sunsets, camels, and a mysterious recreational activity, which, naturally arouses our interest.

The scene: late afternoon, a caravan of camels, carrying the bride from the East, approaches the fields, and the groom-to-be, alone among the bushes, looks up and understands: his life is about to change. What is Isaac doing in the fields before meeting Rebecca? The word for what he's up to out there is: LaSUACH. It is a unique word, only found here, and therefore other contexts, other usages do not help us. The word is oddly related to the Hebrew for ‘bush’ and also for ‘conversation’. Differently spelled, this same word means ‘to sink down’ or to ‘bow down’. So what is he doing out there???
Check it out – Genesis 24:63, in various translations:

And Isaac went out to MEDITATE in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels were coming. (King James Bible)

Robert Alter translates the action as ‘TO STROLL’, The ArtScroll Torah claims he went out to ‘SUPPLICATE’ in the fields’, …
But the winner of the creative translation for the week is the Aramaic Pseudo Jonathan:
And Isaac was coming from the schoolhouse of Shem the Elder, Noah’s son, along the way of the well where had been revealed to him the Living and Eternal One, who sees and is not seen. And he went forth to pray upon the face of the field at the time of evening;

So, is Isaac praying, meditating, strolling? Some of us think he is doing something called ‘grousing’ suggesting discontent and angst; imagine Isaac kicking stones in an empty field. This is the area where once he played with his brother, where once his mother lived – he is, possibly, not a happy camper. The one theme in common is the act of leaving home and going out to nature. Jewish tradition credits Isaac with introducing the afternoon prayer service – Mincha, the gift of introspection as the day ends.

But perhaps the word that best defines his mysterious activity in the field, just before meeting his wife to be is RECREATION. He is ready to create, ready to start afresh, and doing so while spending time alone, in leisure or angst, out among the bushes.

Lauviticus would like to suggest:

And Isaac went out to re-create, among the bushes, at evening time, and there, look up! camels approaching, sun setting, something is about to begin.

Give yourself the gift of recreation. Take time, Isaac style, for an afternoon stroll, and look up, a caravan of possibilities may be on the horizon.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

ORGASAM of Biblical Proportions

verse per verse: The Weekly Storah
By Lauviticus

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This week, Lauviticus is celebrating a private birth of a lovely little girl, auspiciously echoed in the weekly Torah episode in which a much anticipated little boy is born.
Also, this week, a visit to that intimate domain which is most often referred to in the Scriptures as ‘Procreation’, otherwise known as ‘sex’. There’s lots of that this week – including wife swapping and what will one day be known as Sodomy, but our focus is senior citizen orgasms. There is a moment in this week’s tale, VaYera, when Sarah, at 90, hears the Divine promise of motherhood, and laughs to herself, at herself, a mythic laughter foretelling the name of her son. But at this moment in the story Isaac is not even a twinkle in her eye. it’s all about her, and her body. She laughs and then asks a mysterious question, recorded in Genesis, Chapter 18, verse 12:

"Now that I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I still have pleasure?"

The word here translated as pleasure is the Hebrew ‘Edna’. Derived from ‘Eden’ that origin dream place of perfection, this rare word ‘Edna’ is our word for the week, as we examine a wild variety of translations for it and suggest a new one.

‘Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment?’ This is JPS. The King James Bible, and most other English versions use the word ‘Pleasure’, while the Orthodox Stone Edition of the Artscroll Torah uses, for some odd reason, the expression ‘good skin’.
Commentaries go to town on this verse. The 11th century interpreter Rashi writes: ‘She looks at her uterus and at her breast, wondering, will this still work?’ The
Pseudo Jonathan translates this verse: ‘And Sarah derided in her heart, saying, Now that I am old, is it possible to return to the days of my youth, for me to have conception, and Abraham old?’

What’s striking here is that Sarah responds not to the promise of fertility, which one would think would be uppermost in her mind---all those barren years, and finally the promise of a child of her own---but to the prospect of pleasure, enjoyment, and sexual excitement: A return to the Garden of Eden. Is she talking about the bliss of orgasm?

God not only makes Sarah fruitful again; God makes her juicy. The laugh of the crone, tinged with irony and a sense of the divine ridiculous, rings also with the joy of remembered ecstasies, maidenhood and maidenhead, a sensual and sexual fulfillment which, for the moment, overshadows even the dream of motherhood.
Often in religious poetry---see the Song of Songs---sexual imagery may be a code for spiritual pleasure, carnal knowing a metaphor for divine bliss. Eden then is both the garden of earthly delights and the paradise of spiritual union. To honor the sacred sex life of our matriarch, Lauviticus would like to suggest:

‘And so Sarah laughed, privately: ‘post menopause, with an old man for a husband - am I it enjoy Eden once again?’

There are many ways to re enter the Garden of Eden. Beyond the obvious orgasmic option that sex has to offer, in whatever context and age – what is YOUR personal way to enter this state of mind and heart?

MazalTov and Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, November 02, 2006


verse per verse: The Weekly Storah
By Lauviticus

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Welcome to weekly storah blog by Lauviticus : exploring the bible, verse per verse, with an ez pass to judeo biblical knowledge one verse at a time. We focus on translation, commentary, relevance of the ancient words to our modern lives.

This week’s tale is Lech Lecha – the call to adventure. We meet Abram, a man leaping with faith into the unknown. On the road he will become a general, a millionaire – and a father, later known as founding father of two rivaling nations. It is an inspiring tale about birth, hope, and tribal heritage- the touchstone story of what it means to belong – but it also has something to say about what it may mean to be a stranger in a strange land, to not belong at all, to be alienated.

In Hebrew, Abraham means literally ‘Great Father’, but he, our ancestor, is unhappily known by this name long before he produces an heir. Abraham isn’t happy about this barrenness, and in chapter 15 in the book of Genesis, instructed by God, he creates a terrifying and elaborate ritual event where a mysterious prophecy, nine sacrificial carcasses and a divine covenant assure him of the illustrious and complicated future of his seed. ‘You want kids’? God asks Abraham, ‘OK. But then know this: your children will be aliens for 400 years, strangers in a strange land. Take it or leave it. ‘ Abe takes it, and here we are today, products of that promise, curious about one word that appears for the first time in our history as part of Abrahams’ vision. The word is GER – Hebrew for alien, stranger, guest – or convert. One word, different translations, big difference:

Genesis 15:13
And God to Abram, “Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years”.
The Contemporary Torah
( a Gender Sensitive Adaptation of the JPS Translation)

Or, accroding to the Bible in Basic ENglish Edition:

And he said to Abraam, truly, your seed will be living in a land which is not theirs, as servants to a people who will be cruel to them for four hundred years.

Other translations use 'Aliens', 'Strangers' , 'Sojourners' or 'Foreigners'. The grim prophecy describes the future of the Hebrew exile and slavery in Egypt, but also continues to promise liberation via the Exodus. Life, Abraham is told, will give your children a sense of security but also a great memory of loss. This prophecy, observed now, is perhaps an important reminder that brother and other are but a letter apart, and of equal origin.

Thus, this week, the blessing to a father and a family in the making, Lech Lecha – Go to find yourself, and fasten your seatbelt. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride…

What if you were Abraham, eager to father, and given this complex promise: Yes, you will have the children that will be your future – but they will also be slaves and despised foreign workers? Would you say YES?

This Week's Special Feature: See here for a letter to a father in the making:

Dear Avram:
A friend has invited me, as a father, to write to you as you cross the threshold into fatherhood. In particular he is curious to know how I understand the dread and foreboding that accompany this passage: the foretelling of exile, the meaning of becoming the stranger, the ger . What, he asks, is the link between paternity and estrangement?
Estrangement---the condition of the stranger--- is the crucible for soul-making. We no longer live in the Eden of symbiotic communion. We have all been uprooted from our native land and our ancestral homes, from the certainties of our parents, the securities of our childhoods. All of us must wander, must go to the world-school of alienation. We must experience the longing for be-longing and know how precious and how transient belonging is. (How quickly the experience of belonging turns into the having of belongings, and how quickly those things that belong to us become the idols we worship: even our children become "ours.")
The rites of estrangement in this story contain dread, dreams, dissociation and descent. The "smoking oven" will reappear in Jewish history. Soul is made of darkness as well as light. In the belly of the whale as well as on the top of Mt. Sinai, in Egypt as well as in Canaan. And each day as our children will encounter their alienation, their estrangement, they may encounter the Strange itself, which is the only face of God any of us can ever know.
You, Father Abraham, are the protagonist of our estrangement. You tell us that all our children must know that they are Others, even as you had to know it, wandering from your known past into your unknown future. Out of the experience of estrangement, we create, as you did, family, community, and nation. Out of estrangement---remembered and recurring---comes an appreciation for the transient gifts of love.

Music for this week's blog: You are Never Alone: SO CALLED on Rooftop Roots Volume II: A JDUBub Mixtape

Thursday, October 26, 2006


verse per verse: The Weekly Storah
By Lauviticus

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Welcome to weekly storah: verse per verse, ez access to biblical know how one verse at a time. Lauviticus offers a glimpse at translations and their modern relevance to our lives.
Divine wrath or ecological inevitability – almost every world culture has a flood myth, and this week, in a synagogue near you, the official Jewish version aka NOAH, will be chanted out loud.

What was so bad on earth to cause the flood?

The Hebrew word that describes the lifestyle that was doomed to extinction is loaded onto the word HAMAS. Translated most often as violence or outrage. It can also mean injustice, oppression, or cruelty. And if the word is familiar to you from current events, read on. More than linguistic ties between Hebrew and Arabic meet here.

Robert Alter translates the verse in Genesis 6:11 in this way:
'And the earth was corrupt before God and the earth was filled with outrage.' The King James Bible talks of 'the earth… filled with violence'. Jewish Publication Society prefers ' Lawlessness'. Check your local bible for fascinating variations.
Umberto Cassuto, the late biblical scholar, suggests hamas means "a cold-blooded and unscrupulous infringement of the personal rights of others, motivated by greed and hate and often making use of physical violence and brutality."

These ancient and biblical meanings are eclipsed by the immediate association of the Hebrew word with the name of the organization currently leading the Palestinian Authority. In Arabic the word hamas means "enthusiasm" or "zeal" and in this case also an acronym for the Arabic phrase Harakat al-Mqawama al-Islamiyya (The Islamic Resistance Movement)
But while THIS Hamas echos that pre flood word, it is but one of many voices on the planet, bringing on new floods in complex and multiple ways. And for Jews, too, the word Hamas is of troubling mythic significance. Further on in Genesis, a bitterly barren Sarah, lashes out at Hagar, her proudly pregnant rival, and at Abraham, husband and Patriarch in the making: ‘My Hamas on you!’ her words of rage, outrage, too much pain, terrible violence resonate still. (Gen. 16:5)

Too much need, greed, zeal and despair have led the world once into divine rage and a fatal flood.
Maybe somewhere between that biblical rage and this modern reality is a common bond, a lesson to be learnt. Lauvticius would like to suggest this translation to pre flood warning then and now: and the earth was filled with excess.

What, for each one of us, in our personal earths, is the excessive intensity that beckons introspection?

Let’s talk.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

I got a bone to pick with you!

verse per verse: The Weekly Storah

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Verse per Verse, the weekly Storah Blog by Lauviticus continues: the World's oldest re-run is off to a fresh start this Sabbath with the retelling of creation (or is it Intelligent Design?). One verse and one specific word jump up as troublesome to the modern translator, a bone to be picked: the word ‘tzelah’, rendered in almost all translations as ‘rib’, as in that famous rib, AKA ‘woman’. There are other, accurate, legitimate, equal- opportunity ways of retelling our evolution, and not surprisingly, history has not done much to promote them:

Here's the bone, Genesis chapter 2, verses 20-21, in three different translations:

• And the Lord God made Adam fall into a deep sleep, and he slept; and He took one from his ribs, and closed up the flesh. And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her to the man.
(The Torah, Plaut Edition)

• And He took one of his ribs, it was the thirteenth rib of the right side, and closed it up with flesh. (Pseudo Jonathan Aramaic translation)

• "...and He took one of his sides and He filled in the flesh in its place."

(Artscroll Torah, The Stone Edition)

With the surprising exception of the Orthodox Stone translation, most English bibles translate tzela as rib. The word tzelah appears several other times in the bible, and always translated as ‘side’ as in ‘a single side of a specific structure’, as in Exodus 26:20 - ‘the second side of the tabernacle’; clearly ‘rib’ is used here and elsewhere as metaphor, so why is the human creation story taken literately???

We are not the only ones to question the difficulty of this biblical creation story and its placement of women as secondary to men.

Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish philosopher living some 2000 years ago already offers the gender neutral solution: "The letter of this statement is plain enough; for it is expressed according to the symbol of the part, a half of the whole, each party, the man and the woman, being as sections of nature co-equal for the production of that genus which is called man." (The Works Of Philo)

It is amazing that 2000 years later, most people still know this word as ‘RIB’ and still consider the feminine inferior to the masculine. Translation makes a difference in our lives, politics, and policy making, and so Lauviticus would like to suggest picking that bone, discarding the rib, and rereading this verse: In the beginning, we were one, but different, and divided we stand…again.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

verse per verse: The weekly Storah

by Lauviticus

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Welcome to the new Storahtelling Blog: VERSE PER VERSE: THE WEEKLY STORAH, presenting you with an EZ pass into Judeo-Biblical Knowledge, one verse at a time. Every Friday, a new blog entry will arrive in your mailbox, composed by Lauviticus, a consortium of storah scribes, highlighting a single verse or word from the weekly installment of the Torah, focusing on issues of translation and contemporary relevance, Just in time for a new Sabbath. Each entry is composed of four sections, delving deeper in accordance with the mystical PARDES*, from Pshat, or simple meaning all the way to Sod: a secret possibility hidden in each of these weekly selections.

Join the conversation!


GENESIS 1: Don’t Know You From Adam
"This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him". Genesis 5:1 (King James translation)
Don’t Know You From Adam? Now there’s an odd expression, origins disputed and official usage equally vague. It does, apparently, link back to the original ADAM, the primordial creature who is mythically responsible for our DNA, and whose precise gender is not too clear either. A close reading of the word ADAM in this week’s Torah Tale – Beresheet - the first of the annual cycle, reveals that Adam is referred to both as the male specimen AND the generic human being, of (at least) both genders. In today’s theological climate, where the Bible is used daily to demand public policy – this is a big deal. The socio-political translation of the word ADAM as always male has led to some of the worse chauvinistic assertions known to humanity. But different translations, some new, some bold, can restore the balance of human dignity to the masculine and feminine in all. One translated word makes a difference.

Genesis, Chapter 5:1 translated by Robert Alter in his new ‘The Five Books of Moses’ as:
‘This is the book of the lineage of Adam: on the day God created the human, in the image of God He Created him. ‘

But according to the popular JPS version, the second time Adam is mentioned in this verse it is not ‘human’ but ‘man’- ‘ This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made He him’. In the original Hebrew both Creator and Created are males. At the risk of poetic license, ‘Lauviticus would like to suggest: This is the book of the line of Humans; God created the Human in the image of God.’

2. Remez: Clue
On one page in the Jerusalem Talmud dealing with vows, the sages debate what would make the best Jewish bumper sticker. Rabbi Akiva suggests a motto from Leviticus: ‘Love your friend as you would love yourself.’ But Ben Azzai differs and claims Genesis 5:1: ‘This is the book of the lineage of Adam’ as the supreme contender for the greatest teaching of Torah. (JT, Nedarim 9:4)

3. Drash: Commentary
Ben Azzai was a seeker who allegedly went mad in his journey into the Pardes – the orchard of mystery. Maybe he means to tell us, across the centuries, that even deeper than the bonds of friendship and social affiliation are the bonds of human affinity.

4. Sod: Secret

The creation of Adam is the creation of the human and thus of humankind and human-kindness, of humanism and humanity. This play of words raises a question: If the human is made in the image of the divine does this mean that divinity is possessed of some essential humanity? We hope s/he does.