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!


  1. While it has been decades since I read Heinlein's novel, the ability to grok was second nature to martians, but only approachable by terrestrial humans. A true (human)empath might have such an ability, but they are rare.

    Fictional Betazoids, like Counselor Troi's mischevious mother (Star Trek) are pure telepaths, and may exhibit a similar ability.

    But no creature can truly grok G-d. This would be equivalent to becoming G-d. Just as no being can ever have complete knowledge of nature (life, the universe and everything, as described in 'The Hitchikers Guide To The Galaxy'), or from Goertes theorems on incompletenes.

    We can grok a 'representation' of G-d through our personal relationship with Him, including our faith, but this representation cannot be perfect, in fact, it is dynamic, changing and reforming with time and experience.

    To answer your question, what is life WITHOUT conflict? Joy without pain, good without evil, roads without divergence? Is Rebecca so naive, helpless and void of both mental and spiritual awareness? I doubt this degree of dumbness. If she knows about camels, she knows about getting pregnant. Really.

    Her decisions can be logical, secular, consequencial, random, religious or faithful (to G-d), or any combination thereof. Me, I don't believe G-d created us to be ignorant or stupid. Other religious sects dismiss reality and Man's quest for knowledge, but that's a blog for another day.

    Regardless of any amount of consultation, investigation, imagination and education, Rebecca may have depended on a feeling, or a hunch, or faith (same thing), or a flip of the coin (also faith, which can after all have randomness at its root).

    When I am conflicted, I usually (eventually) choose the path of least pain to others, or the greatest joy if the conflict is of such a generous nature. But this choice stems from empathy and conscience, which are both learned from G-d, and are faith based. After all, without faith, would we be anything but simple sociopaths?

    To grok is to immerse yourself in another's shoes, or place, or into the minds and hearts of twins, very much alive, even if still in the womb.

    G-d gave us wisdom, thus the ability to decide, correctly now and then.