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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Poetic Midrash on Parshat Ki Tetze - the Stubborn and Rebellious Child

This week's parashah/portion Ki Tetzei (Devarim/Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19) contains one of the most disturbing, and frequently commented upon passages in the Torah:

"If a man has a stubborn or rebellious son, who will nothearken to the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and though they discipline him, he will not listen to them; then his father and his mother shall take hold of him, and bring him out tothe elders of his city, and into the gate of his place; and they shall say to the elders of his city: `This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he does not listen to our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die; so shall you put away the evil from your midst; and all Israel shall hear and fear." (21: 18-21)."

The rabbis of the Talmud claim that this practice did not take place. Rather, they believe (or claimed) that these verses were included in the Torah in order to teach us. Or, as Hertz claims in his
commentary "Its presence in the Torah was merely to serve as a warning, and bring out with the strongest possible emphasis the heinous crime of disobedience to parents."

This interpretation never sat very well with me, nor has any other that I have read. However, by reading the text as taking place within the psyche/spirit of the individual a thought occurred to me. First, I became cognizant for the first time of the fact that the Hebrew for "stubborn and rebellious son", which is ben sorer u'moreh, can also be translated as "son of a stubborn and rebellious person." If this is the case the opening verse could read, "If a person [becomes aware] that he has [a son who is the son of] a stubborn and rebellious person …" In other words, the stubborn and rebellious person (I will switch from the gender specific "son" and "man" at this point) can be the son, the father and/or both. They can also
represent the different parts within each of us.

In this passage the command to take the stubborn and rebellious person, whoever that may be, before the elders sitting in the gate for stoning then takes on a whole new meaning. I view the gate as representing the gates to the soul. Therefore, the elders, representing the community and its collective wisdom and power in the Biblical world, represent the collective wisdom, power – and compassion – that is within each of us and which is part of our unique selves and our collective unconscious – or the oneness of the Divine that connects us all.

The Stubborn and Rebellious One

I am
The One
The child-parent
To listen
Pay attention

To the voice
The Only voice
Within us all
To return

I am
a glutton
My passions and desires
Controlling all
Devouring all

No boundaries
No limits
No control

Within me there is
A part
A parent
Calling to me
From within
The depths of
My soul


Within me there is
A part
A child
Ignoring the words
The wisdom
Hearing only the sensations

Blocking out the feelings
Divine fire

I am uprooted
From my spot
From safety
My eyes and ears
Are open
I see
I hear recognize
For the first time
The voice within
Not without
The voice of
Compassion Mercy Strength

I hear its call
I am surrounded
By the wisdom of the ages
Calling to me
Warning me
Making me aware of
I have allowed my self to

I have devoured more
Than anyone needs
I have denied the Truth
I can see that
Too late

The stones are cast
They strike my soul
They strike the wall
So carefully built
Surrounding my soul
Keeping me
Disconnected apart distant

The stones
Hard as a hammer
Soft as a kiss
Strike the wall
But it will not crack

I feel the pounding
The pain
The suffering
But the wall remains
In tact
More stones
Are thrown
The pain is unbearable
I cry out for it
To cease
It does not
I want to die
I cannot
I want to live
I cannot
I can only feel
Deep within
The pain of the hammer
The comfort of the kiss
Together oneandthesame

I feel it
A crack in the wall
I feel it
The desire passion attachment
The self-centered unawareness
Oozing out

The crack gets larger and deeper
The pain becomes more intense
Then it begins to subside
As the wall breaks down
The desire anger bitterness
The conceit and hubris
That has built it
Is now a flood
Pouring out of the gate of my ego
The gate of my soul
Always there
In hiding
Awaiting this day
My return
To it
To me
To us
To the One

I am
The One
At One
With you
With all
Standing in the gate
Of our soul
By the wisdom

The Divine

No longer stubborn

Able finally
To pay attention
To hear and see
The one
Within us all
At least

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Commentary on Parshat Re'eh

This week's Torah portion is Re'eh (Devarim/Deuteronomy 11:26 - 16:17). This is a continuation of Moses' speech to the people before ascending Mt. Nebo to die. In this portion he warns the people that they face the choice between a life of blessings and a life of
curses. He also urges them to follow God's commandments once they settle in the land.

One of the most fascinating passages of the parashah/portion is when Moses describes the ritual that the people are to enact upon entering the Promised Land. The people are to stand between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, both of which are on the "other side" of the Jordan. A series of curses are then to be pronounced from Mount Ebal and a series of blessings from Mount Gerizim. The blessings represent what will happen if they follow God's mitzvot/commandments and the curses will follow if they turn away from "the path that I enjoin upon you and follow other gods."

This is followed immediately by the commandment for the people to utterly and completely destroy all the sites at which the other nations worshipped their gods in the land of Canaan and a warning that they are not to worship God in a like manner, but to "look only to the site that YHWH your God will choose" as the proper place for worship.

In reading this passage, a few facts caught my attention for the first time. First, I was struck by the fact that the words 'blessing' and 'curse' are in the singular. For some reason I always think of them as being in the plural form. In addition, I had forgotten that the two mountains were on the "other side" of the Jordan, and not in the land of Canaan. Finally, I was struck by the emphasis on not following the wrong path, but on following the path that is "enjoined" upon them.

When I imagine this scenario I can see the mountain of blessing and the mountain of curse looming ahead in the distance, and yet they are also inside each of us. We each have the power to bring blessing or curse upon ourselves through the choices we make and the actions we take. The fact that blessing and curse are singular can serve to remind us that, even though the "rewards and punishments" that we may receive as consequences for our actions may each seem unique and different, they are actually each a different manifestation of the one blessing and the one curse that actually exist.

The blessing, I believe, is the ability to accept life as it is and to follow the path "enjoined" upon us by God. The curse is to always believe that there is another, better path to seek, which then leads us to ignore "proper path."

The metaphor for this 'improper' path is “following other gods." In my mind, this improper path is simply any path that leads us away from the One God. According to many traditions, including Judaism, the proper path is the middle way or the golden mean. Clinging to any extreme or following a path that veers off in the extreme is dangerous and can bring 'the curse' upon us. Walking the middle way, as both Maimonides and the Buddha have taught, is the way that we are meant to walk. The beauty of this is that the middle path is where we are at this moment if we only look within and around us and notice it.

This concept is symbolized most vividly by traversing the two mountains as described in our text. These mountains, simultaneously within us and outside of us, represent the extremes that we are to avoid. For even the mountain of blessing can lead us on the wrong path if we follow it to the extreme. That is why the Israelites are commanded to stand at each mountain - first pronouncing the blessing at Gerizim and then the curse at Ebal. Only then can they continue on the path that goes between the mountains to the Promised Land.

The fact that the mountains are not in Canaan itself, but on the "other side" of the Jordan also struck me because the Aramaic words for "other side," Sitra Achra, is how the kabbalists/mystics refer to the source of evil in the world. It is an extension of Gevurah, the Divine attribute of strength, judgment and limitation. When this attribute is allowed to go to its extreme it gets out of control and that is where evil is to be found. It is not separate from God, but rather the "Other Side" of God, as it were.

The mountains are on the "other side" because they are not only part of us, but they also represent the dangers that lurk within and around us when we veer from the middle path and when we go to extremes. When we allow this to happen, what may just have been a temporary sense of 'blessing' or 'curse', 'reward' or 'punishment', 'happiness' or 'sadness' becomes an all consuming force that can engulf us and prevent us from living a life.

Therefore, the mountains are meant to be kept on the other side. We may visit them momentarily on the way to our own individual 'Promised Land' - the life that we are to live - but we must not linger, lest we allow ourselves to go astray. Yet they are always there in the distance serving as a focal point and reminding us of the possibility and the danger of lingering too long at either place, of veering too far in either direction, so that we leave the path that leads us to ourselves and to the Divine within.

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