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View Diary: D'var Torah: Shemini (Or, A New Look at Uzzah) (48 comments)

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  •  Definitely not to be taken literally. (3+ / 0-)
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    Eowyn9, Navy Vet Terp, ramara

    Or perhaps "literally" is the wrong word.  There are those who say that it's talking about an actual event, that these four rabbis were actually walking through a literal orchard, and witnessed something terrible that shook all of them.  Our rabbi said that even if the sense of the story is to be taken literally, that doesn't mean it's to be taken factually.  (Think of the jokes one hears that begin with the President of X and the Prime Minister of Y meeting in a bar.  It isn't a metaphor or an allegory for anything, with the characters and the bar symbolizing something else, but that doesn't mean the teller wants you to understand it as an event that really happened.)

    One symbolic interpretation:  The Hebrew word for "garden" or "orchard" there is pardes, which can be taken as an acronym (P-R-D-S) for the four levels of textual interpretation: p'shat (simple surface meaning), remez (hinted meaning), d'rash (underlying meaning that requires deeper reading), and sod (secret meaning).  This story may be taken as being about delving into deeper and deeper implications of Torah study.

    One more literal interpretation: while passing through an orchard, these rabbis saw a young boy climbing a tree to fetch eggs from a nest for his mother, and saw him lose his grip and fall to his death.  The reason this was particularly upsetting: the child was performing two commandments at once, that of honoring his parents and that of sending away the mother bird when collecting eggs -- both of which are cited as bearing the reward of long life.

    I'm not sure there is any moral to draw from it, in the sense of anything one should do or not do.  Even if it's a warning that searching after ultimate truth can be dangerous, that doesn't mean one oughtn't to do it -- and if one takes the story as literal rather than symbolic, it demonstrates that going out into the world with one's eyes open at all can be just as dangerous.

    •  The story about the boy and the tree (2+ / 0-)
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      Eowyn9, ramara

      Leads into the Talmud's explanation that there is an afterlife, in this world the boy was not rewarded, but he is being rewarded in the World to Come.  Of course, if God struck Uzzah dead, then presumably Uzzah is not getting his reward.

      "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

      by Navy Vet Terp on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 04:07:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't think we can conclude that, necessarily. (0+ / 0-)

        If God struck Uzzah dead, then he's already been punished.  Don't forget that punishment and reward isn't a binary one-or-the-other thing; one is punished for the evil one does and rewarded for the good one does (generally understood to occur in that order).

        Possibly Uzzah's act was both right and wrong, and he was punished for it swiftly so that he could then be rewarded for it.

        •  I just saw this comment now (0+ / 0-)

          so I can't rec it any longer, but this is exactly along the lines of what I was thinking. I.e. Uzzah had to commit a small sin in order to achieve a far greater good, he suffered the (unavoidable) punishment for the small sin right on the spot and is now enjoying his reward for the "good" part of his deed.

          Looking at this another way, assuming that the afterlife for the righteous is something infinitely desirable (I know that conceptions of the afterlife vary a lot in Judaism, but I'm picturing something like the traditional idea of "Paradise" here), and that Uzzah was sent there after death, Uzzah's "punishment" (of being struck dead) was as much a triviality as his "sin" (touching the Ark) was.

          "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

          by Eowyn9 on Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 05:45:54 AM PDT

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    •  Interesting. (2+ / 0-)
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      Batya the Toon, Eowyn9

      I always think of it in a dreamy sort of way - the garden is not a specific place. I like the pardes interpretation - especially since the mystical is seen as dangerous, and there are certain parts of the Bible we are warned against reading until we have our feet planted firmly in this world - some of Ezekiel's visions (the throne-chariot and the risen Jerusalem), and the first chapter of Genesis. If we approach the mystical when we are not ready for it, it can burn us from within.

      The novel includes a few Talmudic stories, but the larger frame is the story of the four rabbis, though it is not obvious at first.

      I think saying that the boy who fell is being rewarded in the afterlife is a cop-out. The story is meant to make us uncomfortable, much the way the prophets do. People do not change when they are comfortable.

      Republicans want to make government small enough to fit in your vagina..

      by ramara on Mon Apr 08, 2013 at 12:49:04 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It does rather feel dreamlike, doesn't it? (2+ / 0-)
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        ramara, Eowyn9

        I agree with you about the reward-in-the-afterlife not being a satisfying answer.  If it were any other good deed, one could make that argument -- but those two deeds are specifically cited to bring long life as their reward.

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