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This week's Torah reading:  Eikev, Deuteronomy 7:12 to 11:24.  

The Haftarah: Isaiah 49:14 to 51:3.  

Some years ago I was involved with a puppet workshop in our church's Sunday School program  Our program's supervisor once gave me a play based on the story of Noah and asked if I could adapt it for that summer's Vacation Bible School.  I don't remember making many changes, other than adding a gazebo joke, (because let's face it, gazebos are funny) and one other bit.

Early on in the script, when the Lord commands Noah to build the ark, He tells Noah that he was chosen because of his righteousness.  And the way it was written, Noah came off as pretty smug about this, and I found it annoying.  So I added a line where the Lord tells Noah, "Don't get cocky, kid.  I want something done, and I want you to do it."

(I considered riffing off that a bit more:  "Kid?  I'm 600 years old!"  "Are you old enough to remember the Creation of the Universe?"  "Uh... no."  "Then you're a kid."  Except then I'd have to cut the gazebo joke.)

I was reminded of my warning to Noah ( "Don't get cocky" )  in this week's Torah reading.  We have a lengthy section where Moses exhorts the People of Israel to follow the Law.  He tells them to remember the Lord's commands and how the Lord delivered them from Egypt and of all the great wonders and miracles he wrought while he led them in their 40 years in the wilderness.

Reading this passage made me think of the flap over the President's remarks that no business was ever successful solely by its own efforts, and of the Conservative outrage:  "How DARE you suggest that I didn't pull myself up by my own bootstraps!  I got where I am now purely by my own hard work and never took no handouts from nobody!"

Moses here reminds Israel that their own situation, poised to enter the land which shall be their now home, is due not to their own actions, but to the power and the protection of the Lord.

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.  Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.  Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is mulitplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. ... You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me."  (Deut. 8:10-14,17 New International Version)
Now, here, admittedly, I am making a leap.  In the current argument, the Self-Made Businessman claiming "I did it all myself" is countered by Obama's argument, "No, you had help from the Government, from Society, from your friends and neighbors."  Moses is saying something different.  "You had help from the Lord.  Period."

Or is it that different?  The Lord works through the hands of ordinary people much more often than he does through flashy miracles and catastrophic plagues.  He even works through secular Government, which as the Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 13:1-7 is God's servant for the administration of Justice.

Of course, many Conservatives do give lip-service to the Lord and would probably take umbridge at me for suggesting that they deny Heaven any credit.  Do they not have a Jesus Fish on the back of their SUV?  Do they not genuflect every time they make a touchdown?  Did they not name their business website "johnthreesixteen.com"?  Okay, all these things are very nice.  But Moses has a warning for them too.

After the LORD your God has driven [your enemies] out before you, do not say to yourself "The LORD had brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness."  ... It is not beacuse of your righteousness or your integrity that your are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.  (Deut. 9:4-6 NIV)
Yeah, Moses does repeat himself, doesn't he; but he wants to drive home his point.  Deep down underneath the boast of the Self-Made Man is the belief, whether spoken or unspoken that, "I Deserve All This!"  Like Scrooge McDuck liked to say about his own fortune:  "I made it by being tougher than the toughies, and smarter than the smarties!  And I made it square!"  Even the successful man who piously concedes the Lord's hand in his prosperity, will carry a sense that this prosperity is a Mark of God's Favor, a reward for righteousness.  Why, you might even say that the Lord owes him material success

Moses says "No, you ain't that good."  The Lord blesses you not because you are deserving, but because He loves you and because He promised He would.  Jumping over to the Haftarah this week, the Prophet compares the Lord to a loving mother who cares for her children, (a rare instance in Scripture describing God in feminine terms; I wasn't aware of it before)

The Self-Made Man is worshiping an idol made with his own hands.  And Moses never has anything good to say about idols.

He's more reticent on the subject of gazebos.

Originally posted to Elders of Zion on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 02:54 PM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Self-Made Tip Jar (23+ / 0-)

    I considered mentioning Isaac Newton's famous quote "If I have seen farther than others it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants." except it didn't exactly fit the "Prosperity" theme.  Ah well.

    I live for feedback.

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 01:31:23 PM PDT

  •  The Man Nobody Knows 1925 (8+ / 0-)

    A book by Bruce Fairchild Barton, was a best seller of the era.  Barton claimed that Jesus was the first great businessman and a great salesman.  Calvin Coolidge is said to nave read it.  The book became a symbol of the laissez faire neo Guilded Age ideology that reigned in the 1920's, and after the Depression hit was widely ridiculed.  I'm surprised it hasn't made a comeback with the Tea Baggers.

    "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 Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 03:08:21 PM PDT

  •  Wow- Here it is Shabbos and I felt like (8+ / 0-)

    I was in the synagogue with a very progressive left winged Rabbi!

    I loved this story and commend you for the ability to make the comparisons that you did.  I was smiling and understanding and associating and on and on and on.

    Keep up the good work!

    •  Thank You (7+ / 0-)

      Considering I'm an LC-MS Lutheran, that's quite a compliment!  Then again, I am a pastor's son, so perhaps riffing on passages from Scriptures comes naturally to me.

      "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

      by quarkstomper on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 06:25:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  And you do it well, but... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        quarkstomper

        since this is a D'var Torah, not a Christian sermon, it's just a bit tacky to use the NIV, and more than a bit tacky to cite non-scriptural books like Romans, or non-Jewish sources like Paul.  It would make a good Sunday Sermon though.  I'm sure you could do a "clean" D'var.

        But kudos for pulling a timely message out of this week's parsha.

        •  Not sure I agree (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          quarkstomper, ramara

          The diarist is not citing the New Testament to prove Christianity over Judaism but to reinforce his interpretation of Moses's address to the Israelites.  He can cite the Koran or the Vegas as far as I'm concerned, to demonstrate the universality of faith and not our differences.

          "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 Sat Aug 11, 2012 at 07:26:57 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  True, but... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ramara

          The NIV is the best translation I have.  I suppose I could find a Jewish translation online if I looked, but it didn't occur to me until just now.

          I waffled over invoking Paul.  I wanted to make a point about the Government being God's instrument for the administration of Justice.  It's quite possible this idea can be found in the Jewish Scriptures, but I don't know where I would look for it; I knew where to find it in Romans.

          But your points are well taken.  I'll try to watch that in future diaries.

          "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

          by quarkstomper on Sat Aug 11, 2012 at 07:33:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  You can google (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            quarkstomper

            "this week's parsha" and come up with some good translations.  If you want to own a Tanakh, there are several editions of the new JTS translation around.  My personal favorite is The Jewish Study Bible.

            Old people are like old houses - lots of character, but the plumbing leaks.

            by ramara on Sun Aug 12, 2012 at 02:05:11 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I also own (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              quarkstomper

              a King James and an Oxford (for the Apocropha particularly).

              Old people are like old houses - lots of character, but the plumbing leaks.

              by ramara on Sun Aug 12, 2012 at 02:06:11 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Oh, I have King Jim too... (0+ / 0-)

                ...But I usually don't use it unless I deliberatly want to quote a passage of Scripture in Stained Glass Language.  And some times I do.

                I also have a very ratty RSV that I got when I was about twelve, and a groovy copy of The Living Bible from the '70s.  But my NIV has the best study notes, so I usually use that one.

                Wait, I forgot about Kretzmann.  I got a copy of Kretzmann's Popular Commentaries of the Bible, a four-volume work by a Lutheran theologan  that my Dad used to use.  It alternates paragraph by paragraph, (and often verse by verse) the King James text with the writer's commentary.  It was originally published in the 1920s and it's very Old School Conservative Lutheran.

                "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

                by quarkstomper on Sun Aug 12, 2012 at 02:43:20 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  nice interpretation (6+ / 0-)

    Shekinah has always fascinated me.
    She will raise you up on Eagles wings... since mother's teach young eaglets to fly, by raising them up on their wings.

  •  What if you were in a Sunday School puppet show (4+ / 0-)

    and your hand puppet was supposed to be Lazarus, buy your hand went to sleep.

    Because stupid people are so sure they're smart, they often act smart, and sometimes even smart people are too stupid to recognize that the stupid people acting smart really ARE stupid.

    by ZedMont on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 07:33:48 PM PDT

  •  um. please tell us the gazebo joke? (4+ / 0-)

    i don't know a gazebo joke and maybe i should?
    did the chosen people have gazebos in the far starry past?
    i hope they did.
    and lolled around in them telling jokes.

    •  Not a Joke as much as a Bit. (5+ / 0-)

      Noah tells his wife that he's going to build an Ark.  His wife replies, "Wow, the Johnson's next door just have a gazebo in their yard!"

      But gazebos are funny.  There's a legend among role-playing gamers about the D&D game where the Dungeon Master told his players that as they leave a dense forest they see a gazebo in a meadow.

      "I shoot an arrow at it," one of the players says.  "How much damage did I do?"

      "No damage.  It's a gazebo"

      "But I was using +3 arrows!"

      "It's a gazebo!"

      So the party tried hacking at it with swords and axes and fireball spells.  Which damaged it, but couldn't kill it "BECAUSE IT'S A GAZEBO!!!"

      Finally the DM got tired of arguing and had the gazebo eat them.

      "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

      by quarkstomper on Sat Aug 11, 2012 at 06:14:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nice job (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    quarkstomper, Navy Vet Terp

    and a nice message.  The thing that always gets me about Deuteronomy is its story in 2 Kings (don't have a Bible with me for chapter and verse, but I think its ch. 20 something) and the message that was needed towards the end of the Kingdom.  Moses is talking to the Israelites and exhorting them for the sins of their parents and their descendents.  

    But it's part of human nature to revert to self-worship isn't it?

    Old people are like old houses - lots of character, but the plumbing leaks.

    by ramara on Sat Aug 11, 2012 at 03:21:56 PM PDT

  •  love it (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    quarkstomper

    As I was reading this, I was thinking about something I read about Noah...essentially saying that he was selfish for only saving his own family, not warning others, and that he was a bit of a drunken lout. What made him great was that he was the best man of his generation. God didn't particularly love his behavior, but he was the best of the worst, in effect.

    It seems to me there are other comments in the Talmud about the ethical merit of one person or another as compared to his contemporaries - that there is this notion that we can't expect people to be much better than others of their era? I guess it's a big deal to rise above what most expect from other people, even if by abstract measures their behavior isn't so great - ?

    Am I making this up, or do others recall similar comments or messages?

    •  Keep In Mind, You're Talking to a Lutheran Here... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bluebird of happiness

      In strict Pauline theology, God doesn't grade on the curve.  He demands perfect righteousness.  Which we can't achieve.  But God is willing to accept the Atoning Sacrifice of Christ in place of our own iffy righteousness.

      But that's Paul.  And even though he might have started out as a rabbinical student, his writings hardly reflect rabbinical thought.  I have only the vaguest familiarity with the Talmud; other posters here are far more knowledgable than I.

      I will say, however, that I think too much emphasis is placed sometimes on the Drunkeness of Noah.  We have an account of one instance where he went on a binge; we have know way of knowing if he was a habitual drunk.  Let's just say he over-indulged.

      The important thing about Noah, I think, is that he was a righteous man AND God commanded him to build an Ark; not that he was a righteous man SO God commanded him to build the Ark.

      "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

      by quarkstomper on Tue Aug 14, 2012 at 06:38:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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