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Commentary on Tanakh Discussion April 5, 2021

Don Perlmutter

Moses: The Real Story
Our discussion began with the revelation of some fascinating history per Rabbi Edery regarding the Israelites in Egypt and Moses:

The Israelites, along with other Semitic groups, at one time ruled much of Egypt. During this 200-year Hyksos period, the Semitic groups coexisted with the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Egyptian Dynasties which were based in Thebes. With the advent of the Eighteenth Dynasty, the pharaohs defeated the Hyksos Semitic groups and expelled them. This may have inspired the story of the Exodus. 

Prior to the Exodus, the Israelites may not have been actual slaves. They were more likely a permanent servile underclass analogous to post-Civil War Black people in this country. Their living quarters were separate from the slaves of Egypt. 

Moses was, as related in Maggid, raised as an Egyptian and did not speak Hebrew. As a result, he needed Aaron to translate for him to the Israelites but not when he communicated directly with Pharoah. Moses had a contentious relationship with the Hebrews because he seemed more Egyptian than Hebrew, and his confrontations with Pharoah resulted in a punishing increase their labor demands. 

Pirkei Avot(Chapters of Our Fathers or Fundamental Principles)
The balance of our discussion involved first an examination of the transmission of the Oral Tradition (that which was not recorded as the Torah and given to the priests). From Moses, it was passed to Joshua, then to the Elders, then on to the prophets, and finally to the Men of the Great Assembly. The primary teaching of the Assembly was: Be patient in justice, raise many disciples, and make a fence around the Torah. We discussed possible interpretations of the word “disciple” in this context. Was proselytizing being advocated or simply a call for generations of students to encourage multiple points of view?

Rabbis as Revolutionaries
The Rabbinic period occurred after the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE and represented a revolution in Jewish practice. In the absence of the Temple, it was necessary, in the interest of preserving Judaism, to decentralize. As a result, centers of study arose, usually with a prominent sage as a leader. Studying Torah was substituted for the Temple offering of wheat during the counting of the Omer.  

Democracy Comes to Judaism (Almost)
As the Rabbinic Age progressed, study and interpretation of Torah opened to everyone (except women). It was recognized that for Judaism to survive and flourish, the wisdom and ethics must be incorporated into everyday life. For that to occur, study must be more than encouraged. It was mandated. 

Learning is the path to the ultimate destination: wisdom.

Fri, December 3 2021 29 Kislev 5782