Torah Study Date
Saturday, March 11, 2023
Exodus (Sh’mot) 3:20-4:9
Saturday, March 18, 2023
Starting at Exodus 4:10
Last week we discussed the frequent appearance of “hand” (yod) and wondered about its significance. For example, God says the king of Egypt will not let them go and not/even by a strong hand and that he will put out his hand and strike Egypt with wonders; and Moses puts out his hand and takes hold of the snake’s tail and he puts his hand into and out of his bosom. We again discussed the concept of free will and agreed that it does not appear until later in Jewish thought. We discussed God putting the Israelite’s favor in Egypt’s eyes, that he tells the women to ask for silver and gold items and clothes, and to put them on their sons and daughters, thus despoiling Egypt. We imagined the women suggesting they were borrowing the items for their festival though, in fact, the plan would be to take them permanently. We discussed that this was not a moral act but an act of plunder though it is possible to think of it as getting back what was taken from them, in other words, as reparations for slavery.
We then noted Moses once again being unsure of his leadership abilities. He says they won’t believe him and won’t listen to his voice but will say that YHVH has not in fact appeared to them. We noted the three wonders God shows him: his rod turning into a snake; his hand coming out of his bosom with snowy scales; some water from the Nile turning to blood on the ground. We noted the danger of taking the snake by hand at the tail (instead of more safely taking it behind its head). We discussed that earlier translators, Jewish and Christian, have thought the second wonder is leprosy while that view is not commonly held today. We discussed Moses as a reluctant leader, not a hero, though he is sometimes portrayed more heroically, for example, in relation to Pesach. Moses is God’s avatar. God works through him.
Our artwork this week is two pages from the Sarajevo Haggadah, one showing Moses at the Burning Bush and his rod swallowing the other rods (above) and one showing Moses in the ark in the Nile (below). The Sarajevo Haggadah is a 14th-century Spanish Haggadah with illuminated manuscript illustrations as well as fine lettering. It gets its name from where it has been kept since the 19th century.
Nicer Weather – Bigger Projects
I hope everyone is doing well. I am excited that we can come together more and more. Of course, it will be nice to see more consistent “nicer” weather to enjoy the great outdoors, allowing us to not have to postpone fun programming due to this winter’s extraordinary snowfall.
Over the next few months, and going into summer, I hope to continue making improvements to our aging building and am happy to report that we have received a generous donation to help refresh the facility. To start our list of goals, we will be refreshing the paint in the sanctuary, main entrance, and hallways. You will be invited into our vision by the way of storyboards which we will post on our website, our App, and on other social media streams like Discord.
You will also notice new security cameras and some new speakers that will enhance our security at Temple Sinai including a mass notification system. This will finish off the first non-profit security grant we received through the federal government/state of Nevada in 2020. With the end of the first grant cycle coming soon, we now are able to submit for another grant cycle. I will be setting up an updated threat assessment and setting goals/projects for the new grant. Keep your fingers crossed! These grant funds are a huge achievement for Temple Sinai and our community.
Another project that I hope to get started this summer is updating the outdoor area in the front of our building. Although the desert-scaping was/is the vision that was set prior, it would be nice to negate the ongoing issue of the overwhelming weeds we get and use this area for outdoor events during the nicer weather. We are looking for outdoor landscaping ideas to add seating and artificial grass for these changes.
So… yes, there are a lot of moving projects going on and some of them will require help. I (we) look forward to these upcoming enhancements and spending more time within our building as we continue to come together more and more.
More Instructions to Moses
Torah Study Date
Saturday, March 3, 2023
Exodus (Sh’mot) 3:15-19
Saturday, March 11, 2023
Starting at Exodus 3:20
Last week, we discussed YHVH saying to Moses that “this” will be his name forever and wondered to which name he was referring. The most likely name in context seems to be “YHVH” but hadn’t YHVH said his name was “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” or “Ehyeh”? This precipitated a return to our discussion of the different names. We noted that “Ehyeh” is first person while “YHVH” is third person, that the former is imperfect and the latter, presumably, a kind of future due to the “Y” but that both are variations on the verb “to be.” We noted the interesting combination of personal (God of your fathers) and impersonal (being). We discussed that YHVH was not a god of a place so needed a term like “being” (or something similarly not concrete) so that YHVH could be a god of any place/all places. We considered the possibility that the repetition in “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” is either for emphasis or for contrast (I am what I am; or, I am whatever I am aiming at being). We felt somewhat satisfied that we had discussed many of the numerous ways of thinking about the names.
We noted God telling Moses to assemble the elders of Israel and wondered who in fact would be assembled. First of all, men, not women. Second, probably elder heads of tribes (or else there would be too many to assemble). We noted YHVH telling Moses, who was not accustomed to being in a leadership position, that they would listen to him (or, more specifically, listen to his voice). We noted God’s instruction to Moses to tell the King of Egypt that the Israelites wanted to go into the wilderness for three days to sacrifice to their god, YHVH. Then we discussed YHVH saying either that he knew the king of Egypt would not let them go despite their mighty hand or that he knew the king of Egypt would not let them go except for their mighty hand. We were not sure if the two nots in the sentence made an idiom that amounted to except or if they simply meant not. We very briefly discussed the contrast between the king having free will and YHVH knowing what he would do (is it a contradiction? is it like a parent giving a child a choice even though they have a pretty good idea what the child will do? is there even a concept of “will” in Torah since not all thinkers or cultures have such a concept?).
Our artwork for this week is by U.S. American Jewish folk art painter, Morris Hirshfield (1872-1946), Moses and Aaron (above), and Angel (below). From Poland, Hirshfield was a manufacturer of women’s coats, suits, and bedroom slippers who became a self-taught artist. He was recently featured at New York’s American Folk Art Museum in an exhibit titled Morris Hirshfield Rediscovered. He had been featured in a one-artist show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the past and was well-regarded by the surrealists. Moses and Aaron is Hirshfield’s take on a common Moses-and-Aaron plaque. Though it is a painting, it almost looks like a textile, perhaps showing the influence of Hirshfield’s time in the garment business.
Moses’ Assignment and God’s Name
Torah Study Date
Saturday, February 25, 2023
Exodus (Sh’mot) 3:7-3:15
Saturday, March 4, 2023
Starting at Exodus 3:16
Last week we discussed YHVH telling Moses to go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt. We noted that first YHVH says he has indeed seen their degradation, has heard their wail, and knows their pains (using three strong action verbs). We noted YHVH saying next that he is there to rescue them from Egypt’s hand and take them up to a good and widespread land, a land flowing with milk and honey, the place of the Canaanite, Hittite, Amorite, Perizzite, Hivite, and Jebusite. We discussed “milk and honey” as a synecdoche for animal culture and agriculture (synecdoche is part standing for whole), the honey being nectar of fruits (including dates, figs, and grapes), we thought about what type of land would be needed to produce milk and nectar of fruit (good pasture land, fruit trees, and vines, rain, sun, etc.), we noted that one tribe, the Girgashite, is not mentioned.
After saying all of that—and after repeating that the Israelites’ cry has come to him and that he’s seen the Egyptian oppression—only then, we noted, does he tell Moses to go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out. Not surprisingly, we thought, Moses then asks God, who am I that (1) I should go to Pharaoh and (2) I should bring the children of Israel out. After all, Moses had killed a man and become a Midianite and previously had lived as an Egyptian. We thought about the question. Does Moses have a special set of qualities that makes him the one to do these two tasks? We noted before that he might be construed to be humble because he did not look at God—and now thinks he is not worthy. We noted that midrash makes up a story that Moses was standing there with a sheep in his arms, showing that he was the sort to organize and take care of a flock and therefore a people (but also noted that midrash makes up this story rather than finding it in the text). We noted that he has a sense of injustice as evidenced by his anger at the Egyptian beating the Hebrew—but, we also noted, he is a hothead who cannot manage his anger. One idea we discussed is that there was no reason he was selected because Torah does not look for heroes but for ordinary people. God’s answer is: “Because I will be with you.” Could that mean Moses doesn’t need special qualities because he will only act together with God? God continues: “And this is the sign for you that I have sent you.” We wondered what the sign is: the burning bush? God being with Moses? something else? We also speculated on whether Moses might have a somewhat passive nature and, as a result, not want to lead. We noted God telling Moses that, after bringing the people out of Egypt, he will serve God on this mountain (Mt. Horeb/Sinai). We were sympathetic to Moses still wanting help in his assigned task and saying, the people will ask me for your name; what shall I say to them?
We discussed God’s answer at length: Ehyeh Asher Ahyeh. We noted that ehyeh is not a future tense but is an imperfect where imperfects indicate continuing or incomplete rather than completed or finished action. We noted that the name is sometimes translated as “I will be what (or who) I will be,” and sometimes as “I am what (or who) I am.” We noted that the name could imply God’s being in process (as running indicates being in the process of running) or God’s incompleteness (as an acorn growing into an oak is, while it is growing, an incomplete or undeveloped oak), or God’s completeness, perfection or perdurance (although we did not really talk about how that idea is seen to come out of the text).
We noted that God then says that Moses should tell them that Ehyeh (“I am,” “I will be,” or “I am being”) sent you to them and that YHVH, your fathers’ God sent you to them (adding two more names of God? or are they all somehow the same?). God tells Moses that this shall be his name forever and how he is to be remembered from generation to generation.
Our artwork this week is two portrayals, by Marc Chagall (1903-1985), of Moses at the burning bush, Moses and the Burning Bush, a lithograph (above), and Moses before the Burning Bush, an oil painting (below). The oil painting shows Moses, on his knees before the burning bush, with his flock of sheep in the background and a winged angel coming out of divine bright circles that emanate from the bush. She is telling him his future (which is portrayed going from right to left as Hebrew does). It shows the Israelites being chased by the Egyptians at the Red Sea, a cloud that will envelop the Egyptians, Moses protecting the Israelites in his cloak, and the tablets of the Ten Commandments which Moses received after the crossing of the sea. The painting is on display in the Chagall Museum in Nice, France. The lithograph includes the name of God, “YHVH,” which we will be discussing soon.
Burning Bush and Holy Ground
Torah Study Date
Saturday, February 18, 2023
Exodus (Sh’mot) 3:1-6
Saturday, February 25, 2023
Starting at Exodus 3:7
Previously, we discussed the Egyptian King dying, the Israelites groaning under hard labor, God hearing them, remembering his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and knowing.
Last week, we discussed Moses shepherding for his father-in-law, Jethro (previously called Reuel), the priest of Midian, and coming to the Mountain of God, Horeb. We thought the father-in-law’s name change indicates two different source texts, noted that the Mountain of God foreshadows what is to come, namely, God’s revelation on that mountain, wondered if it was holy only because of the revelation-to-come or if it had been holy all along, and we noted the pun on the word for bush (sneh) and the word for God’s mountain (Sinai), indicating they are two places of holiness.
We discussed an angel or messenger of YHVH appearing to Moses in a fire’s flame inside the bush, Moses looking and, wow, the bush was burning in the fire but the bush was not consumed, Moses saying to let him turn and see the great sight and asking why the bush doesn’t burn. We discussed many points: how long does a bush take to burn, what type of bush is it (maybe a blackberry bramble), does the angel have wings as portrayed by some artists (not likely since winged angels in Tanach come later), is the angel/messenger in the fire’s flame in the bush or does the angel/messenger just appear to be in it.
We discussed YHVH seeing Moses turn to see and calling to him from inside the bush (whereas, above, it is an angel/messenger who at least appears to Moses in a fire’s flame inside the bush—so is it a messenger or YHVH inside the bush?). We discussed him saying, Moses, Moses, and Moses replying, Here I am (hineni). We noted the doubling of the name is formulaic for a call (as seen with Abraham and Isaac). We remembered a midrash that asks, why does God appear in a lowly bush, and answers, to indicate that God is everywhere, even in a lowly bush (meaning that God is everywhere).
We discussed YHVH telling Moses not to come close and to take his shoes from his feet because the place where he is standing is holy ground. We wondered what makes the ground holy and thought it is holy because YHVH is there. We discussed taking off shoes as a sign of respect or humility and possibly a legal aspect of turning the land over to YHVH (lifting the foot from the land vs. stomping a foot on the land indicating relinquishment of the land vs. taking the land). In either case, the land becomes YHVH’s, not Moses’. We discussed Moses hiding his face because he was afraid of looking at God and took note of the fact that Moses was described as afraid once before, afraid of Pharaoh’s reaction to him killing the Egyptian, and that the fear led to Moses leaving for Midian. We noted that the fear described is yireh in each case. We took note of a certain amount of passivity in Moses and of his anger and fear generating the action of the story. We also reflected back on the first mention of Moses in the Torah, that he descends from Levi, who was violent, as Moses is violent with the Egyptian and later will be violent in smashing the tablets.
Our artwork this week is by Jewish Israeli artist, Avner Moriah (1953- ), Moses, the Good Shepherd (above), and Basket with Moses/Noah’s Ark (below). Moses, the Good Shepherd shows two aspects of Moses, first, that he is a good shepherd as indicated by, according to legend, him holding a sheep that got away, and second, that he fears YHVH as indicated by him covering his face. Behind him is the burning bush (sneh) and behind the bush is Mt. Horeb (Sinai), the two sites of revelation. In the two juxtaposed paintings, Noah’s ark and Moses’ basket look similar in order to indicate that the same Hebrew word (teva) is used for each of them and that Jews would be saved from extinction in each case, in one case extinction from a flood caused by YHVH and in the other from murder by Pharaoh.
Moses Flees Egypt and Settles in Midian
Torah Study Date
Saturday, February 11, 2023
Exodus (Sh’mot) 2:14-2:23
Saturday, February 18, 2023
Starting at Exodus 2:24
Last week we discussed Moses’ reaction to seeing two Hebrews fighting, namely, asking the one who was in the wrong, why are you striking your companion? We wondered which Hebrew is in the wrong and how, and reflected on why Moses had such a strong reaction (could it be because, after he had defended the Hebrews at some risk to himself, he was angry to see the Hebrews themselves being in the wrong just like the Egyptian he had taken a risk to defend them from). We also discussed the reaction of one of the two Hebrews, namely, one of them asking Moses ironically who made you commander and judge over us and are you saying you are going to kill me like you killed the Egyptian. We noted that the Hebrews might think Moses was an Egyptian (he was, after all, an Egyptian prince, part of Pharaoh’s household, probably wearing Egyptian clothes and speaking Egyptian). Moses, we commented, saves the Hebrew but is perceived as a violent threat rather than a savior by the Hebrew who speaks to him.
We noted that Moses is afraid (the emotion is stated) because what he had done is known for sure (he had looked around and saw no man before he buried the Egyptian’s body in the sand; but, we thought, it’s a small group of people in Pharaoh’s house and things get around). In fact, Pharaoh hears about it and seeks to kill Moses upon which Moses flees and dwells in Midian.
We reminded ourselves a well indicates that there will be a meeting with a woman and that’s what happens. Moses sits by a well and the seven daughters of a priest of Midian, Reuel (later called Jethro) come, draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock—but then shepherds come and drive them off which gives Moses a chance to show his valor by getting up, saving them and watering their flock. The daughters tell Reuel what happened emphasizing that he not only saved them but drew water for them and watered the flock (in other words, that he was not only brave but considerate) at which point Reuel asks them why in the world they had left the man and tells them to invite him to come eat bread.
We discussed at length the statement that Moses was content to live with Reuel. We thought Reuel might have been a father figure or mentor for Moses who hadn’t had one before. We thought the relationship to someone who could advise him and help him was enough for Moses to want to stay. At the same time, we wondered at how brief and uninformative the statement is. We noted Reuel giving his daughter, Zipporah, to Moses (and that the text does not say “in marriage” but it is implied) and her giving birth to a son that Moses called “Gershom” because he was a stranger (ger) there (sham).
Along the way, we discussed water and its central importance in Torah—later examples are the Nile River going bad and Miriam’s well of water—and that water in general is important but especially important in a desert area. We also discussed avatars of different gods—Pharaoh as an avatar of Ra and Moses as an avatar of YHVH—and that the story is about YHVH kicking Ra’s butt. We also discussed the fact that we do not have an all-powerful God in Tanach. God notices things, for example, which means he did not know them before (not all-knowing) and he does not come on the scene here until the avatar of Ra dies (showing that he was not all-powerful). We also discussed that gods are stronger when they are in their place and when they have an avatar.
Our artwork this week is by Romania-born Israeli Jewish artist, Reuven Rubin (1993-1974), Moses and the Burning Bush (above), and Moses and the Ten Commandments (below), two color lithographs from the 1972 series, Visions of the Bible. The Burning Bush lithograph shows Moses, with his shoes off, prostrate before a burning red bush that has an angel inside while the Ten Commandments lithograph shows Moses holding the tablets and being touched by an angel.
The Women Save Moses
Torah Study Date
Saturday, February 4, 2023
Exodus (Sh’mot) 2:1-2:12
Saturday, February 11, 2023
Starting at Exodus 2:13
Last week we discussed the marriage of Moses’ parents; the birth of Moses; his mother’s concealment of him for three months; her making a wicker ark, putting him in it and it in reeds by the side of the Nile; his sister, Miriam, standing still at a distance to know what would happen; Pharaoh’s daughter finding the ark (when she went, with her girls, to bathe) and sending her maid to get it; the maid opening it and seeing a boy child crying; Pharaoh’s daughter taking compassion on him because (she correctly thought) he was one of the Hebrews’ children.
We discussed Miriam asking Pharaoh’s daughter if she wanted a Hebrew woman to nurse Moses for her and, when she concurred and offered to pay for the nursing, getting Moses’ own mother to do it; Moses’ mother bringing him to Pharaoh’s daughter when he grew older at which point he became her son and she named him Moses (because she drew him from the water).
Thinking about all of that, we discussed the large number of women involved in the whole series of events, how compassionate and most likely brave Pharaoh’s daughter was (since Pharaoh wanted Hebrew boys to be killed) and how clever Miriam was. We wondered what Moses was called before he was named by Pharaoh’s daughter; noted that there is a reference back to Noah’s ark (since the same word is used for ark in each story—tevah) and to the destruction of the Israelite people; noted that Moses’ mother concealed him after she saw that he was good (probably meaning that he was thriving); wondered about the bitumen and pitch with which the wicker ark was covered; noted the nursing arrangement was a contractual one (with pay); and noted that Moses’ name most likely did not mean something related to being drawn out of the water but probably formed from a common component of Egyptian names that meant son or born.
We discussed Moses getting older, seeing his brothers’ burdens, seeing an Egyptian man striking one of his Hebrew brothers and, after looking all around and seeing no man, striking the Egyptian and hiding him in the sand. We did not discuss these events in detail (yet) but did discuss whether Moses knew the men were Hebrews—and that he himself was a Hebrew—or not with some of us thinking he did not know and simply was a compassionate partisan of justice and others among us thinking he did know and that he was internally conflicted, being both an Egyptian prince (grandson of the king/pharoah) and also a Hebrew himself—thus both oppressor and oppressed and in need of purging the oppressor in himself.
Our artwork this week is more work by Nahum HaLevi, two oil paintings, Moses: Rock and Rage (above) and The Family Amromovitz: Teamwork (below). The painting above shows the scene in Exodus in which Moses strikes the Egyptian; Moses smashing the tablets of the commandments later; and him striking the rock at the end of his life—all combined in one. The painting below shows Moses, Miriam, Aaron and Pharaoh’s daughter with much detail—everything from Miriam’s tambourine and her skin disease (later in the text) to the ten commandments to Pharaoh’s pyramid and more. Click on this link (and then scroll down and click on “description”) for the artist’s explanations.
2023 Temple Sinai Community Passover Seder
Shiphra and Puah Stand Up to the King
Torah Study Date
Saturday, January 27, 2023
Exodus (Sh’mot) 1:15-1:22
Saturday, February 4, 2023
Starting at Exodus 2:1
Last week we discussed whether “Hebrew midwives” means “midwives who are Hebrews” or “midwives to the Hebrews” with some, in accord with Abravanel, thinking they are midwives to the Hebrews and, hence, to be credited for saving people not of their own group, and others, following some contemporary commentators, thinking it is the designation of the Israelites from a foreign perspective. We noted that Shiphra means “beautiful” and Puah means “little girl.”
We saw the king of Egypt telling them when they deliver the Hebrew women and look at the two stones/the birthing stool, to kill the first born if it is a boy and let it live it is a girl. Since R. Sara used to be a midwife, we were able to discuss the birthing passages in detail, for example, noting that the woman’s position in the birthing stool would have been a squat on two stones (one for each of the woman’s legs) but also noted that one commentator, Friedman, thinks the two stones are a boy’s testicles. We noted that the midwives feared God and kept the boys alive and that what is described is a conflict between gods, an Egyptian god (the king) and the Israelites’ god (YHVH) with the Israelites’ god winning out.
When the king asks them why they had kept the boys alive, the midwives say Hebrew women are not like Egyptian ones but are like vigorous animals and give birth before the midwives can come to them. We noted the continuing characterization of the Hebrews as insects or animals, a projection of the Egyptians’ fear onto the Israelites–fear of being taken over by a swarm. We noted that God is good to the midwives and gives them houses—and that the text does not actually say “God” but says “he” (which could mean Pharaoh, though we doubted it). We noted that, because the midwives feared God and received houses, the Israelites increase and become very powerful. It was striking to us that at that the king then speaks to all the Egyptians telling them to throw every son in the Nile and keep every daughter alive. Finally, we noted that the text does not say “every Hebrew son” (and so could include also Egyptian sons, though we tended to doubt it).
We return to Russian-French Jewish artist, Marc Chagall (1887-1985), for our artwork this week, Pharaoh’s Daughter and Moses (above) and Michal Saves David from Saul (below). “I did not see the Bible, I dreamed it,” Chagall said.
A New King Who Did Not Know Joseph
Torah Study Date
Saturday, January 21, 2023
Exodus (Sh’mot) 1:1-1:10
Saturday, January 28, 2023
Starting at Exodus 1:11
Last week we discussed “b’nei Yisrael” (children of Israel) and noted that the phrase no longer denotes Jacob’s children but now denotes his descendants and that, in Exodus, we are moving from an intimate family circle to a large group of people, a people or an ethnic group. We noted that the number of persons coming from Jacob’s thigh (that is, the number of descendants) is seventy and that seventy is a typological number (a number that has a meaning, in this case, meaning that the group is very large).
We noted that Joseph and his brothers’ generation all had died and that the children of Israel/descendants of Jacob had become an even larger group, that the text says they were fruitful and swarmed and multiplied and became very, very powerful and that the language suggests the Israelites are like insects infesting Egypt, that the repetition of “meod” creates emphasis through repetition. We discussed at length the idea of a new king rising over Egypt who did not know Joseph. Joseph had proved to Pharaoh that he and the children of Israel were trustworthy but the new king did not know them or know that they were trustworthy and not a threat. In fact, he told his people that they were a threat—that they were more numerous and powerful and, if the Egyptians were not wise, that if there were war, the Israelites might war against the Egyptians. We discussed this fear being common regarding new immigrant groups and that it involves us and them thinking (them as a threat to us) rather than a more inclusive kind of thinking.
Our artwork this week is from the late thirteenth century Hispano-Moresque Haggadah from Castile (Spain) now part of the manuscript collections housed in the British Museum in London–Israelite Forced Labor (above) and Pharaoh’s Daughter Finds Moses (below). The illustrations were painted in pastel color washes and tempura with Spanish and Moorish (that is, Islamic) motifs and style.