Kayn cha'nu . . . V'chayn na'ah'su

So they encamped . . . so they journeyed

We gathered in Encino to continue our study of the tribes, their symbols, flags, positions of encampment.  Check-ins reflected the moment we find ourselves in history – sitting on the cusp of an historic election, having experienced the recent vulnerability of our own societal structures in the face of nature, and new commitments and directions arising in the lives of group members.  Time to get tribal. 

The Book of Numbers (in Hebrew, Ba Midbar – “in the wilderness”) Chapter 1:
This fourth book of the Torah begins with the second census of the Children of Israel, all able-bodied men above the age of 20.  Whereas the first census had been of the entire people without division, this census was done “according to your families”, and thus emphasizes the tribal divisions within the people as a whole.  It introduces the formations of the tribes as they travelled, and as they encamped.  In giving the census of each of the tribal formations oriented to the 4 directions, the gematria (Hebrew numerology) of each of the 4 groups of 3 tribes each is interesting:

·      East: 186,400 = 1+8+6+4+0+0 = 19 = 1+9 = 10 = 1+0 = 1
·      South: 151, 450 = 1+5+1+4+5 = 16 = 1+6 = 7
·      West: 108,100 = 1+8+1 = 10 = 1+0 = 1
·      North: 157,600 = 1+5+7+6 = 19 = 1+9 = 10 = 1+0 = 1
·      Total: 603,550 = 6+3+5+5 = 19 = 1+9 = 10 = 1

So we learn that to each direction, the multitude of diversity contained within each of the tribal groupings in each direction equaled one, echad, unity, as did the totality of all the people.  Unity in Diversity.  Shema Yisrael, the multiple Infinite diversity that we call YHVH Elohim, is really Echad, Unity.  But wait – the South tribal count equaled 7, not one.  But in Hebrew cosmology, the number 7 is known to signify the wholeness of a single cycle – e.g. 7 days of creation, 7 days of the week, etc.  One cycle.  So in this way, 7 also equals one, and this drash is intact (though some of you may feel that turning a 7 into a 1 is the equivalent of squeezing a size 12 foot into a size 10 shoe).  But such is the world of gematria. 

BaMidbar 2:3:  “Those who encamp at the front, at the East, shall be the banner of the camp of Judah . . .”
Each of the next 4 paragraphs recites in a rather rote manner each grouping of 3 tribes that were oriented to each of the 4 directions.  To the East, the lead tribe was Judah, and Issaschar and Zevulun (the conjoined twins of the tribes) camped with Judah to the east.  This camp was also the first to journey when the Cloud of Glory would lift from the Tabernacle indicating it was time to move camp.  What is the character of these 3 tribes?  Their totems give clues: Lion of Judah, strong-boned ass of Issaschar, ship/harbor of Zevulun.  Judah, tribe of kings and warriors, “point man” in the military formation, leading the way to the East, place of New Beginnings, Mizrach – place of shining sun, accompanied by the resources provided by the other 2 tribes to sustain a new venture.  Remembering that in Hebrew cosmology we speak of 4 Ruchot (4 Winds or 4 Spirits), not 4 directions, we are then aware of the metaphor: whichever direction we personally will head off into a new beginning, we psychospiritually lead with our tribe of Judah, the lion, courage, supported by sustenance.  So this is true if we are entering a phase in our lives seeking Clarity (south), or Healing (West), or entering into some new Mystery (North).  Leading us into the new beginning is our kingly, warrior Lion of Judah.   (Note: for fuller description of this, see “Magic of the Ordinary” by R Gershon Winkler).

BaMidbar 2: 10: “The banner of the tribe of Reuben is to the South . . .”  South, the place of reflection, clarifying, the archangel Michael (“Who is like God”) allowing one to see how he/she reflects the Holy One within his/her being.  Reuven, whose totem is Water, leads the other 2 tribes of Shimon (the black sheep of the family, whose symbol, the city of Shechem, reminds us of his treachery in slaughtering the inhabitants of that town), and Gad, a warrior tribe with the totem of military tents. 

As we read these words of Torah, we are aware that we are reclaiming the knowledge of our Peoples’ ancient ways and ancient energies.  It is enlivening to the imagination, and the Nefesh is flowing. 

BaMidbar 2:18: “The banner of the camp of Ephraim . . .  is to the West . . . “
We observe that the western tribes had the fewest warriors, and that none of the 3 tribes – Ephraim, Menashe, or Benjamin – are noted for being among the strongest of the warrior tribes, though the totems of Ephraim (bull) and Benjamin (wolf) certainly suggest strength and fierceness.  So it would seem that the people were most vulnerable to the west, and in fact we recall that Amalek did indeed attack from the rear.  This seems consistent with our knowledge of the energies of West – place of healing,  vulnerability.

Was the western flank somehow protected in some other way?  We realize that the formation of journeying and camping may have taken the form, not of a square, but of the Magen David, the 6-pointed star.  If we align the tribes as described in this chapter to the geometry of the Shield of David, we can see that the vulnerable western tribes were in fact flanked by 2 of the 3 strongest warrior tribes, Gad and Dan.  This may have lent some added protection to the otherwise vulnerable rear guard. 

BaMidbar 2:25: The banner of the camp of Dan is to the north . . . “
Though we did not discuss them in our study session, the tribal grouping to the North, and their totems, consisted of Dan – serpent;  Asher – olive tree;  Naphtali – deer. 

See the attached table for summary of allignments of tribes, totems, symbols, colors, and stones.

Some questions that arose during discussion:

How large an area did they cover?
If there were over 600,000 men, there were no doubt well over 2 million people camping in formation, including women and children.  If they covered an area of 2 square miles, this would be the equivalent of all of us encamped at Joshua Tree within just the kitchen area.  So they were likely spread out well beyond this.

How did they keep order amongst themselves, being such a huge group? 
During the census (BaMidbar, Chapter 1), the 12 Princes of the Tribes were named, one man for each tribe.  These names held high significance, reflecting the entire history of his tribe to that point, as described in Midrash BaMidbar Rabah, which was translated by Henrietta Szold (founder of Hadassah) and appears in Ginzburg’s classic “Legends of the Jews”.  Each of these tribal princes held leadership over his tribe, and there were no doubt governmental, administrative, and other social divisions within each tribe that kept rule within that tribe.  Of course Moses was in charge of the whole shebang, as spiritual leader of the entire people, but we know from Parashat Yitro in the Book of Exodus, that he divided the judiciary into operational bite-size pieces in order that the people could be justly governed. 

BaMidbar 2:34: “. . . so they encamped, according to their banners, and so they journeyed . . . “
The final verse of the chapter again emphasizes the importance of the formation, by which the people both camped and journeyed.   The Hebrew for this phrase is concise and poetic, “Kayn-Chanu . . .  v’chayn na’ah’su”, driving home the point that there was something foundational and of primary essence involved in the geometry of the formation.  The midrash tells us:

“The division of the tribes of Israel according to four standards, as well as their subdivision at each standard, is not arbitrary and accidental, it corresponds to the same plan and direction as that of which God made use in heaven.  The celestial Throne is surrounded by four angels: to the right Michael, in front Gabriel, to the left Uriel, and to the rear Raphael.  To these four angels corresponded the four tribes of Reuben, Judah, Dan, and Ephraim, the standard bearers.”

Thus, as with everything related to the Tabernacle, and indeed a primary principle in our Hebrew tradition, everything in the physical realm echoes that in the spiritual realm.  As Jacob’s Ladder is firmly planted in the earth but reaches to the heavens, so is our consciousness meant to always be in both places at all times.    

Next Gathering:
·      Saturday, December 8, first night of Chanukah  
·      Location: Michael and Sandra’s home, Encino
o   4-6 PM study group, followed by pot-luck dinner, candle-lighting, and Chanukah party

Final Blessings

Final Blessings

Our larger group gathered today after 2 months of smaller groups due to summer vacations, camping trips, family events. It was good to sit together again, as Brothers and Sisters.  Check-ins brought us up to date with each other.  Some shared and reviewed the learnings from the smaller group that met last month. Then we proceeded to study the final 2 blessings of Jacob to his sons. 

Genesis 49:22:  “Joseph is a prolific vine … “ OR “Joseph is a wild ass” OR “Joseph is a charming son . . .   .”
These are 3 English translations of the same Hebrew words, telling us we are immediately deep in the world of Torah poetry and metaphor.  The overall point of the blessing is to give a picture of this remarkable man, Joseph, who is to carry the torch from father to son in the line of our ancestral forefathers.  His beauty came from the beauty of his father’s favorite wife, Rachel, and his blessings from his father were even more than those earlier give to Jacob himself from his father.

“The daughters climbed the heights of walls” to see him.  But the word for high wall, Shur, could also be read as “Shor”, meaning ox – Joseph’s totem – implying the sexual attraction Joseph had, as most clearly illustrated by the attempts of Potiphar’s wife’s to seduce him.  He grew strong in Egypt (“his bow dwelt in his arms”), a position from which he could “shepherd the stone of Israel”.  The word “Even” is used here for stone – that stone which carries the memories and teachings from father (“av”) to son (“ven”), teaching that Joseph was the current alpha male of the nation that would lead the tribes into the next phase of Jewish history. 

His blessings came from many aspects of the Infinite One – from El, the God of his fathers; from Shaddai, the Sufficient One.  His blessings came from Heavens above, and from the deepest depths below.  His blessings came from womb and breast – from Rachel his mother, from the Feminine.  And his blessings came through his father in an amped-up version of those blessings that his father had received from his parents before him.  These were the blessings Jacob acknowledged were on Joseph’s head. 

Genesis 49:27: “Benyamin is a predatory wolf . . . “
Somehow we don’t immediately think of Ben as a viscious wolf, maybe because he’s the baby of the family.  But here we learn of his character: one who is ravenous and fierce when he needs to be (“in the morning he will devour prey”), but also then cares for the others around him (“divides the spoils in the evening”).  This is the character of his animal totem, the wolf, who is known to be devoted to family, a teacher of its young, and fierce in its protection of the pack.  In this verse, we clearly see the connection of our ancients to nature, animals, Earth – the calling forth of the archetypal totem that inhabits the tribe of Benjamin.  The verse also alludes to 2 ancestors from the tribe of Benjamin: Saul, the first king to arise (in the “morning”) in Israel; and Esther, the queen who shared the spoils of Persia in the “evening” of the Hebrew people in Persia.

Are we different human beings, morally, ethically, than we were back then?
The question bubbled up from the depths of the discussion, and led to much interesting opinion.  Yes, the same.  No, not really.  Perhaps our brains are not different, but as the culture changes around us, the demands of each era challenge us, call forth new aspects of our humanity to take prominence.  This is characterized by the transition during the time of Torah from an agricultural economic base to a pastoral (shepherding, etc) economic base.  This leads to different frames of reference: the farmer for whom the earth is a permanent presence and source of sustenance, work, and draw to community; vs the isolated shepherd, who guides his sheep but must always also be on the lookout for those who would steal them or threaten them.  This is seen in our story, as the pastoral, nomadic, small group of Hebrews will now go to the major leagues, Egypt, the “show” of civilization, with the blessings of Jacob to guide the tribes.

Tribe: Shevet vs Mateh
2 words used for the concept of tribe, 2 different words indicating the concept of a staff, but 2 different types of staff.  The Shevet is the shepherds crook, used to guide his flock to areas of rich pastures.  So this word is used in connection to the tribes as “guides” for the individuals within them.  Mateh, is the staff of action, as in Moses’ staff, the Staff of Elohim, that staff which can make miracles, alter physical reality, connect heaven and earth to change the status quo.  Mateh is the stick used to walk with, the energy of the mateh is earthward, the personal stick that connects heaven to earth, grounding spirit in physical existence, weaving the energies of spirit and earth within you.  As we continue our readings and studies on the Tribes, we will take note of which word is used when in describing the tribes. 

We note that Dinah is the only daughter of Jacob who is mentioned by name in Torah.  Who was her mother: Leah.  What does her name mean: judgment.  Same name as Dan’s, but in the feminine – so, the Feminine qualities inherent in judgment?  What was her tribe?  Probably whichever tribe she married into.  While previous cultures in the Middle East were matriarchal in nature, around this time the patriarchal came to the fore amongst the Hebrews, in terms of political entities, land holdings, identity.  What was her totem?  What other characteristics does Dina hold?  How do we hold her in our minds in the context of these children of Jacob, these tribes of Israel?

Genesis 49:28: “These are the tribes of Israel – twelve . . . and blessed each according to his appropriate blessing “
Twelve tribes, sh’vatim, shepherd’s crooks, guideposts for the people.  Three times in the sentence the word “blessing” is used, and we recall our discussion at the beginning of Jacob’s blessings regarding the question: were these really “blessings”?  But clearly they are, at least in the concept of blessing as it is meant in the Hebrew tradition.  From this text we gather that it means a “marking” of what is, an acknowledgment of what is and what is to be.  So each son/tribe gets its mark from Yaakov, the blessing that is appropriate only for it, that it will carry from this time forward through the ages.

Genesis 49:29: “ . . . bury me with my fathers, in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite”
The chapter ends with the death of Jacob. Having completed the deathbed blessings of his sons and drawn his feet up into his bed, Yaakov/Israel is gathered to his people.  It brings to mind the consideration of one’s own death: have we considered where we would like to be “gathered”, what our burial ritual will be, how our brief presence on this Earth will be marked?  Jacob would be carried by his 12 sons in formation through the Sinai, back to Canaan, to be buried in the cave of Machpelah, near Hebron. The Bedouin of the Negev and Sinai tend to be buried in fields of softer earth and mark the spots with a large boulder.  Jacob left his sons with a blessing, acknowledging them for who they are, how he saw them during his life, what they are carrying forward to leave as legacy to their own children.  This is the way of the Elder at this life transition.  May we all hold our Eldership in the way Yaakov has modeled for us, and leave behind our own tribes to carry things forward.

PS: Some final thoughts from Avram
It occurred to me that part of the significance of tribes to us has to include the fact that we are now incomplete -- because of the destruction of the Northern Kingdom.  If all twelve were necessary for creation of a unitary people, what happens when most of those people are cut off?  Then it occurred to me that I had read something about the Samaritans being descended from the tribes of the Northern Kingdom.  I did a quick google search, and Wikipedia says that the Samaritans claim to be descended from people who did not go into Babylonian exile and to possess the true, uncorrupted Torah -- uncorrupted by the foreign influence encountered in Babylonia or by Talmudic thinking, I suppose.  The claim is that they are descended from Ephraim and Manasseh, with some Levites mixed in.  Yet Samaritans were outcasts n the time of Jesus and as I understand it not accepted as Jews now.  What does this say about us as a people?  What can we learn from this as a Passover Village community which includes non-Jews and converts?  What tribal values sustain us today, and which do we need to jettison for the sake of our own communal identity?  What is the value of pluralism -- multiple tribes and characteristics within our community -- and what is the value of unitary culture, and how do we balance the two? 

Next Gathering: Saturday, October 6  
Location: TBD, Sukkot


"The Middle Sons" 08-04-12

Study Notes from BIll:

Ohad Ezrahi sang “Modeh Ani”- Morning blessings.  “Thanks for the soul that has been restored to me.  He also sang “Rab Emmuntech bi,” “Great is your trust in me”

He also said, “When I wake, I say ‘So, G*d you have decided to be me for another day.  I’ll give you a good ride.”   (Zalman quote?)

At the end of his musical set, we were tempted to hold up lit lighters in classic concert tribute fashion, but we resisted, since it would be sacrilegious to light a fire on Sabbath.

Vayechi (Genesis 49:13 -21) learning

Jacob is delivering his deathbed blessings. Michael Chusid described his father’s deathbed proclamation, “All is bullshit!” His father was commenting on some writing that Michael had done, but Michael took it as a more generalized angry comment on everything.

Zebulon became a tribe of merchant marines.  Supporters of Torah study are called Zebulon.

Issachar is compared to a donkey.  He is strong and plows the productive fields.  He is compared to the Torah scholar (who receives money from Zebulon).

Asher is the happy fat baker.  He will export luxury goods, “royal dainties,” and live with the smell of fresh baked bread.

Dan is the “judge.”  ‘Judge’ means, in this context to “avenge.”  The “judges’ may have been really warlords.  Even Devorah led warriors into battle. Two aspects of ancient rulers were to fight and to pass judgment in court.

Dan is to govern the northern exposed land to defend as well as the western coast. Dan is compared to "the snake that bites the heel of the horse, who then bucks its rider."  Jacob is big on “heels.”  Snake is a reference to a viper, i.e. Dan is dangerous, especially in guerilla warfare.  It is also a reference to “healing/heeling” property of snakes (medical symbol of healing; Caduceus).

Jacob exclaimed: "For Your salvation, God do I hope!" (Genesis 49:18)  Dan is vulnerable, so Jacob prays for him.

Gad will be attacked, but he will attack his attackers and catch them by the “heel.”  Again, Jacob has a thing for heels.

Naftali had an exceptionally poetic verse, “letting loose (giving birth?) to lovely fawns” and this was compared to “goodly words.”  The word for “letting loose/yield/giving birth” is from the root “lashefir,” which means to improve.  It is related to the root word for amniotic fluid. Eloquence and use of words is associated with the primal energy of creation.


Jacob's Tellings

Jacob’s Tellings

This week’s Parashat of Balak gave us the perfect entry into the study of the “blessings” Jacob gives his 12 sons.  Responding to the request of the king of Moav, Balak, the Canaanite prophet Balaam seeks to curse the Israelites. But the words from his mouth can only bless them.  Looking out over their encampment from the top of a hill in Moav, he says the words that have become part of the Hebrew liturgy every morning and Erev Shabbat: “Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov, mishk’notecha Yisrael”  (How goodly are your tents, Jacob, your sacred dwellings, Israel).   Taking from this core Hebrew understanding that both the earthly and spiritual are in constant coexistence in everything, we began our study of the spiritual vision our patriarch, Jacob, told to each of his sons, the spiritual legacy of the 12 Tribes.  We begin with the blessings to Ephraim and Menashe, the sons of Joseph, as their blessing comes before the actual sons of Jacob.  

Genesis 48:14:  “Israel extended his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head.”
The text reads like a ritual being played out, like a formal induction ceremony.  “Who are these boys?” – surely Jacob knows his 2 grandsons, Menashe the first born of Joseph, and his younger brother Ephraim.  It is as if he is formally requesting their presentation, which Joseph then does.  Or an alternate teaching: the boys appeared to their grandfather in this scene dressed in their clothing of Egyptian princes, while he knew them to be Hebrews who had studied with him as they grew.  The conflict between the Egyptian and the Hebrew in them plays out in the subsequent order of their blessing.  Joseph presents them with the first-born Menashe positioned to receive the blessing of the first-born from his father’s right hand.  This reflects the tradition in Egypt, and other cultures of the area, that the first-born gets the goodies.  This was generally true in Hebrew culture as well.  But Jacob shows that there is more to it than that within the Hebrews, who will place God’s will and prophetic recognition of the inherent spiritual mission a person carries over and above birth order when it comes to handing down the blessings from father, or in this case grandfather, to son.  Thus, in direct contradiction to Joseph’s intent, Jacob crosses his arms to place his right hand on the younger brother Ephraim’s head, thus bestowing him with the greater blessing.  Ephraim thereby joins other younger brothers who were given the task of carrying the Hebrew spiritual traditions forward in place of their older, first born brothers.  This list includes Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph himself, the father of this boy Ephraim.  So, it is as if Jacob has to reteach this tradition to his son Joseph, who in his years of assimilation into Egyptian culture, seems to have forgotten his roots.  Finally, in crossing his arms to bless the boys, Jacob makes the sign of Raphael, the angel of healing, perhaps finally healing the rift that was caused by the heinous treatment of Joseph by his brothers, and elevating both Ephraim and Menashe to an equal share of blessing as their eleven uncles.

Genesis 49:1:  “Assemble yourselves and I will tell you what will befall you in the End of Days.”
These are generally referred to as Jacob’s blessings, but as we will next see, some read more like curses.  It is telling that the Hebrew word Jacob himself uses is not “blessing” (Ah’varech – I will bless), but “telling” (Ah’gidah – I will tell).  Thus what follows is not so much a blessing, but a prophetic telling, a transfer from Jacob of what he sees in store for the generations that will flow from each son.  This is perhaps comparable to the concept of a darshon in the Hindu tradition, in which the holy teacher transmits prophetic knowledge to the disciple.  These “tellings” from Jacob, born from his deep understanding of the character of each of his sons, will thus resonate for generations as qualities of the tribe that will flow from each son.

Genesis 49:4: “Reuven . . . impetuous, like water, you cannot be foremost . . . “
Reuven, as the first born, was in line to receive the major portion of his father’s blessing.  But he messed it up when he displayed a character trait unbecoming of a leader of peoples.  This is identified as his impetuosity, displayed in the episode where he slept with his father’s wife Bilhah (some commentators offer a less than R-rated account of this affair, suggesting only that he otherwise disrespected his father’s marriage to Bilhah, the handmaiden of Rachel, and fourth wife of Jacob).   So despite his strength, vigor, and rank, Reuben is demoted, and we learn that a Hebrew leader must always be balanced and consider the consequences of his/her actions, rather than rush forward like fast-flowing water that causes great destruction in its wake.  Of note, Reuven is also noted in other teachings as demonstrating the ability to show true repentence and integrity, most notably in his attempts to save Joseph from death at the hands of his brothers.  So he maintains a notable place of pride and respect in the tribal lineage, despite having lost the birthright of leadership.

Genesis 49:7 “Shimon & Levi . . . I will separate them within Jacob, disperse them in Israel.”
These 2 brothers are described together as strong, but angry, and capable of doing great wrong and great harm.  This refers to the destruction of Shechem in revenge for their sister Dinah’s rape by the prince of that town.   We can be imagine them as being 2 angry and dangerous brothers, one (Levi) following the other into all kinds of trouble.  For this, they need to be separated, as if being told by their scolding parent to go to their rooms for a time out.

Jacob says "I will separate them ("A'chalkaym") within Jacob, and disperse them (A'phitzaym) within Yisrael. There must be a nuanced difference between the 2 Hebrew verbs used here.  It seems that one refers to Jacob, thus more physical reality, meaning their portion (chalak refers to portioning), their territory will be scattered out amongst the other tribes, that neither tribe will be given intact territory to settle.   We suspect that the other verb, (Patzah) refers to the dispersement of their spiritual missions (Yisrael referring more to the spiritual realm).  Thus, the Levites were dispersed territorially, with cities of refuge within the territories of the other tribes, and their spiritual mission was to serve as the spiritual caretakers of the tabernacle and temple for the sake of all the tribes.  The tribe of Shimon was similarly dispersed within the tribal territory of Judah, without an intact territory of its own, though his spiritual mission and its reason for dispersal seems less clear.  What was Levi’s saving grace, that despite his participation in the slaughter at Shechem, his descendants are given such a critical spiritual role amongst the Nation?

Genesis 49:9: “A lion is Judah . . . the scepter shall not depart . . . he will launder his robe in the blood of grapes . . .  red eyed from wine and white toothed from milk” 
After the first 3 “negative” tellings, the commentators tell us the other brothers were trembling with fear over what Jacob would say of them.  Judah was next, and clearly received blessing.  Judah would be a warrior tribe, a leader of his people.  The tribe would give us kings, and ultimately the Moshiach would come from his tribe.  The qualities of a Hebrew king are noted in metaphor -  drenched in spiritual insight (“red-eyed from wine”) but solid, fully connected, and nourished by the earthly (“white toothed from milk”).  We as a people take our name from him.  In the book of Esther, Mordechai is referred to as a Yehudi (a Judah-ite) though he was of the tribe of Benjamin, and to this day we call ourselves Yehudim (Jews).   There are verses in Jacob’s blessing of Judah that that seem Rumi-like in their imagery, describing the flowing of abundant wine, the spiritual nectar.  We can imagine David twirling at the gates of Jerusalem like a whirling Dervish, drunk on the “wine” of connection to the Divine flow.

Why did Judah warrant such blessing?  It is said that, though imperfect, Judah was a man of great integrity who fully owned his faults and admitted his errors.  This is most clearly demonstrated in the stories describing his interaction with his daughter-in-law Tamar, and his integrity in protecting his father in his dealings with the Viceroy of Egypt, not knowing he was his long-lost brother Joseph.

We will continue next time with the remaining “tellings” related to Jacob’s other sons.

Next Gathering: Saturday, August 4
Location: TBD