Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Korach and the First Tongs

Ten Things, Say the Rabbis: As Abq Jew pointed out all the way back in 2012 (see Explain Me Three Things) - and has been confirmed in nearly every Abq Jew blog post before and since -

Abq Jew does not understand the universe. At all. Except for the answer 42 to the ultimate question of Life, The Universe, and Everything, the universe rarely crosses what remains, after all these years, of Abq Jew's mind.

In Pirke Avot (Chapters of the Fathers), the Rabbis state (Chapter 5, Mishna 8b):

Most of Chapter 5 deals with numerology: numbers, and their meanings. Starting with the perfect number 10:

  • With ten utterances the world was created.
  • There were ten generations from Adam to Noah.
  • With ten tests Abraham, our father, was tested.
  • Ten miracles were performed for our ancestors in Egypt, 
  • Ten [miracles were performed] at the [Reed] Sea. 
  • [With] ten trials did our ancestors test the Omnipresent, blessed be He, in the Wilderness.
  • Ten miracles were performed for our forefathers in the Temple.

And the last '10' thing:

Ten things
were created on the Sabbath eve at twilight.

Now, even though the text may seem plain enough (some say: because the text seems plain enough), Abq Jew must fall back (ouch!) on his technical writing roots to make it into numbered lists:
Ten things were created on the Sabbath eve at twilight. They are:
  1. The mouth of the earth [which swallowed Korach and his co-conspirators]
  2. The mouth of the well [which accompanied Israel in the desert]
  3. The mouth of the donkey [which rebuked Balaam]
  4. The rainbow [that God left as a sign for Noah and his family]
  5. The Manna
  6. The staff [of Moses]
  7. The shamir worm [which could eat the hardest stone to build the Temple]
  8. The script [of the Ten Commandments and the Torah]
  9. The inscription [on the Tablets of the Ten Commandments]
  10. The Tablets themselves [which could miraculously be read from either side]
Some say: also
 Destructive spirits
The burial place of Moses
The ram of our father Abraham [which he slaughtered in place of Isaac]
And some say, also:
Tongs - which are made with tongs
Rabbi Dovid Rosenfield (mispocha? Abq Jew comes from a family of Rosenfields) comments on
[T]ongs deserve an honorable mention - if nothing else because they make an interesting diversion. :-)  I don't know if they too represent a merging of physical and spiritual realities, but they address one of those logical dilemmas which has plagued man throughout the centuries.
It takes a pair of tongs to shape a second pair over the fire. Who made the first one? Did the first blacksmith torture himself for the benefit of the future of mankind?
It too could have only been an act of G-d - not during the Six Days in which He created the natural world, but as a special gift to allow man to get on with the task of living and prospering in the world we know. 
In other words: the Rabbis postulated that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, gave us all we need to live in the world. The world - in terms of matter, of material, physical  things - is complete.

So everything's just fine, right?

Except for Thing #1
The mouth of the earth
[which swallowed Korach and his co-conspirators]

MyJewishLearning provides a swift summary of this week's parashah:
In this Torah portion, Korach and his followers accuse Moses and Aaron of taking power and prestige for themselves at the expense of the community. Moses defends himself against the rebels by saying that the Lord will make God’s presence known by how God kills these rebels. Then God opens the ground and swallows Korach and his followers.

Wait a minute!
The mouth of the earth was waiting for Korach?
Whatever happened to free will?

As it turns out, Abq Jew has already covered this in a previous (and recent) kvetch (see Ship of State Hits the Sand). Where he wrote
It turns out that Judaism, the religion (civilization!) we all know and love, has a lot to say about Fate and Fortune. But boiling it down in our Bunsens, what we draw from the beaker is 
There are theological problems with the idea of human free will. Jewish tradition depicts God as intricately involved in the unfolding of history. The Bible has examples of God announcing predetermined events and interfering with individual choices. Rabbinic literature and medieval philosophy further develop the notion of divine providence:
God watches over, guides, and intervenes in human affairs. How can this be reconciled with human free will?  
There is also a philosophical problem, which derives from the conception of God as omnipotent and omniscient: If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, then God must know what we will do before we do it.  
Doesn’t this predetermine our choices? Doesn’t this negate free will? 
Our beloved Rabbi Akiva (Avot, Chapter 3, Mishnah 15) has cut to the chase:
Everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is granted

Now Korah (the parashah, not the person)
has (arguably) bigger problems than free will. 

For, as Richard Elliott Friedman and the Documentary Hypothesis (see JEPD (and MMLJ) Visit ABQ) show us, what we've got this week are two stories wrapped as one.
Even more revealing is the way that the author of P transformed a JE story of a rebellion in the wilderness. The two are wound around each other in the Bible now like the two flood stories.
Which may be why a lot of it doesn't seem to make sense when we read it straight through. But in the meantime -

Justify has won the Triple Crown

North Korea and the USA have declared
peace in our time

Five (5) Jewish baseball players
have hit home runs on the same day

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