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