Bob Schwartz

Category: Bible

The Book of Ruth: Ivanka and Jared, Donald and Charles

It was reported that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner celebrated the Jewish holiday of Shavuot this week, though without much other detail given. It would be interesting to know more, given the connection between the holiday and their own current situation.

Shavuot began as an agricultural festival, celebrating the “first fruits” of the harvest season. It evolved into the holiday marking the giving of the Torah. Among the traditions associated with Shavuot is reading the Book of Ruth.

The Book of Ruth is considered one of the literary treasures of the Bible. It is often referred to and analyzed as a short story or novella. What a story it is. A woman and her daughter-in-law are separated by culture and religion but bound together—forever—by family. When their men die, what connects them is stronger than any force that might tear them apart. It is about loyalty, love and faith above all else, through the hardest times. These strong women are not an ancillary sideshow; they are the main event. They alone assure continuity and the future. No wonder it is thought possible that among the biblical books, this one might have been written by a woman.

We expect that Ivanka and Jared, as faithful Jews, read the Book of Ruth this week, but we can’t know what they make of it. Do they also feel that unbreakable obligation that overcomes the greatest adversity and testing? Before the current events, each of them probably faced some difficulties with their respective fathers. Now the stories of Donald Trump and Charles Kushner are entangled through their children. Those children, Ivanka and Jared, might well believe and say to those fathers, as Ruth said to Naomi, “wherever you go, I go.”

For more about Shavuot and the Book of Ruth, see this earlier post.

Recite

Recite

Morning
After dreams
These are the words
That wake:
Hear
Listen
Light
One
Heavens
Earth
Beings
Delusions
Chaos
Desolation
Formless
Void
All is
Hevel.

Note: The word hevel is Hebrew, found in the famous first words of Ecclesiastes. “Hevel hevelim, amar Koheleth, hevel hevelim, kol hevel” is best known in English as something like “Vanity, vanity,  says the Teacher, all is vanity.” But as with so much mysterious biblical Hebrew, translators still work on English approximations, of which “vanity” is only one attempt. You will also find hevel translated as air, vapor, breath, mist, smoke, futility, meaningless, pointless, useless. This can put the supposed pessimism of Ecclesiastes in a different light. How can breath be useless?

Be Peace

6 Long has my whole being dwelt
among those who hate peace.
7 I am for peace, but when I speak,
they are for war.
Psalm 120, translated by
Robert Alter

Terror in Manchester is one more shattering note in a cacophony of mindless aggression. News of the nation and the world attests to it, from nasty tweets by so-called leaders to torturers and mass murderers. We dwell among those who hate peace.

In Psalm 120, Robert Alter translates the Hebrew ani shalom in verse 7 as “I am for peace”:

The Hebrew appears to say “I am peace,” but, without emending the text, the most plausible way to understand these two words, ani shalom, is that they function as though there were an elided “for” (in the Hebrew not a word but the particle l’).

I dare not take issue with Alter, the great modern translator of the Hebrew Bible, but merely want to extend a thought. If the Hebrew appears to say “I am peace”, maybe that is precisely what it means to say.

Being for peace is a start and an essential part. Being peace is one step beyond this, where there is no space between us and the peace we seek. One step toward that elusive peaceful world, in spite of those who hate peace.

Barely Audible

Barely Audible

קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה

A still small voice
1 Kings 19:12

Hurricanes earthquakes
Fires in the brain
Awed but unable
To follow a thought
Or lose one.
Hear O hear
Minute stillness
Soft murmuring
Gentle whisper
Still small.

Note: “God will reveal himself not in storm or fire or the shaking of the mountain but in a small, barely audible sound. On Mount Carmel, God spoke through fire; here at Horeb, he speaks [to Elijah] in a more subtle language, for the deity is by no means limited to seismic manifestations.”
Ancient Israel: The Former Prophets, translation with commentary by Robert Alter

© Bob Schwartz 2017

A Day for Job

In the Orthodox Church, today is officially a day for the marvelous and mysterious biblical character Job, who is called by that church Righteous Job the Long-Suffering. While the Book of Job is certainly read, used and debated in other Jewish and Christian traditions, this is the only official recognition he gets.

I’ve written before about Job (Yom Kippur and Job, The Radical Book of Job) because there is nothing like it in the Bible, not even close. Robert Alter writes in his enlightening translation and commentary:

The Book of Job is in several ways the most mysterious book of the Hebrew Bible. Formally, as a sustained debate in poetry, it resembles no other text in the canon. Theologically, as a radical challenge to the doctrine of reward for the righteous and punishment for the wicked, it dissents from a consensus view of biblical writers—a dissent compounded by its equally radical rejection of the anthropocentric conception of creation that is expressed in biblical texts from Genesis onward. Its astounding poetry eclipses all other biblical poetry, working in the same formal system but in a style that is often distinct both lexically and imagistically from its biblical counterparts.

“The patience of Job” is the way the story is frequently summarized, suggesting that even in the face of undeserved suffering, Job is a model of how unwavering faith will carry us through the worst times. Once you have read the Book of Job carefully, along with some of the many excellent interpretations, you find that this is not the case. The Book of Job does not solve any mysteries or answer any questions. All it does is deepen mysteries and ask more questions. This isn’t what we might want, but if you’ve lived a life, you know that is what you get. Which is precisely what makes the Book of Job so irreplaceably essential, even if not particularly comforting.

Ezekiel’s Tesla

Ezekiel’s Tesla

I am through with my chariot
Ezekiel said
With its wheels gleaming like beryl
Rims tall and frightening
Covered with eyes
Moving with four-faced creatures.
I want a Tesla.

Buddha Bemidbar (In the Wilderness)

Buddha Bemidbar (In the Wilderness)

Moses is missing
In his place
Siddhartha sits.

Israelites are numbered
Can he free them?

The way in the wilderness
Is unpassable.
Can they pass it?

Too dark to sea
The waters give way
To dry ground
As if they were not there
From the beginning.

Walk on
The mountain next.

Twenty-three’s Older Siblings

Twenty-three’s Older Siblings

You are younger
And a little sweeter.
No fiery furnaces
No bows aimed at faces
No worms or bulls or dogs
Just sheep in green pastures
And overflowing cups.
But twenty-one
And twenty-two
Are no less profound
Just as beautiful sung
While he plays his harp
And of course
(need we mention)
Just as holy.
Yet it is your fearlessness
Goodness and mercy
That are on everyone’s lips
While our great words
Sit ignored and unrecited.
Thank God for those
Forced by vow to repeat us.
We hearten ourselves
By saying that
Our time will come.
But it has been
All the days of our lives
And still it is
Twenty-three
Twenty-three
Twenty-three.

Valentine’s Day: Radical Love

Radical Love

For K

Hannah, Mary
Radical lovers.
Wives, mothers
Asking not asking
For a birth
Offering surrendering
A life for good.

Hannah says
The bows of the mighty are broken
but the faltering are braced with strength.

Mary says
The princes are pulled down from their thrones
and the lowly raised high.

All is as it should be
All is upside down.

Elkanah, Joseph
Husbands, lovers
Stand dumb
Awed and grateful
To be sharing
The better world.

Ben Zoma Still Outside

waters-above

Ben Zoma Still Outside

Lost and found
Between the waters of creation
Ben Zoma
Is outside
Is still outside

And God said, “Let there be a space within the water, and let it separate between water and water.” And God made the space, and it separated between the water that was under the space and the water that was above the space. And it was so. (Gen 1:6-7)

Ben Zoma sat at the Temple Mount, lost in thought. His rebbe Yehoshua ben Chananya came by, but Ben Zoma did not notice or rise in respect. R. Yehoshua roused him from his reverie and asked what he was doing. Gazing at the space between the upper and lower waters, he replied. R.  Yehoshua explained to his disciples:

Ben Zoma is still outside.