Torah Study 11-05-16: Jeremiah

Notes from Torah Study 11-05-16

Location: Marc and Tobi’s

Called in Shechinah with Lecha Dodi, and dedicated the circle to the Standing Rock protestors of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Check-ins had several people talking about ways in which they feel more restrained in responses to situations, perhaps more thoughtful in reactions.  This led us to consider that this is one way in which an elder takes his/her place in the community: being less reactive, less likely to jump into the deep end of a situation head first (at least before knowing whether or not there are boulders just beneath the surface). 

A round of Council: Where are you in our current study of the latter prophets, in general and also vis-à-vis the topic of eldering?

·      I’m Ok with the study we’ve been doing in this circle, but not at all sure how to link it to what we do at PV
·      Not connecting to the prophets except intellectually
·      It is always darkest before the dawn - We are disconnected from Earth and from Creator
·      There is nothing new under the sun - the Dakota access pipeline in the news now, the army corp is not listening.  And there are signs – the buffalo showing up
·      Study of prophets is heady, negative, stuck and earthbound – no light
·      Elders are practical – studying prophets is like a cold dip
·      I’m not inspired (by prophet study), left me cold
·      I am a prophet, we’re all prophets
·      I am an elder – I want to share my stories.  My spirit speaks, wants to share with community
·      Study leads to understanding the historical context of the age and how it parallels with today
·      The call back to the Divine – what does that look like?
·      Prophets remind of the Heyokah (contrary) in Native American tradition
·      Intellectual gifts
·      Heyokah comparison intriguing: they are mirrors and teachers, satire to point out the difficult questions, provoke fear when people complacent and secure
·      I wish I knew what the people were doing that was so bad!
·      Damn you, damn you, damn you!!!  Why put that into the canon?
·      They were fearless, or fearful but took action anyway
·      Acceptance of eldership/leadership à take that to the community.  Proclaim our embrace of that.

Larry passed around a document he had collated, “The Messages of the Prophets”, which summarized each prophet’s basic message and quotable quotes down.   Thank you!

We read today from Jeremiah, “cherry-picking” bits of this large book to look at some of the questions raised in the above council.

Jeremiah 1:1-3: Jeremiah, son of Hilkiah of the Kohanim . . . in Anathoth, Benjamin.
We are introduced to Jeremiah, finding out he was from the clan of priests, the son of the Kohen Gadol, Hilkiah, who served during King Josiah’s reign.  He prophesied during Josiah’s reign, during which Josiah reformed the Temple and tore down all the places of worship on hills involving trees and goddess worship that had gone on throughout the history since entering the land under Joshua.  His prophecy continued through the final years of the kingdom of Judah, the final king Zedekiah, and consisted primarily of warnings of the inevitability of Jerusalem’s destruction and the peoples’ exile at the hands of Nebuchadnezzer of Babylon, and then solace to the remnant and promises of rebuilding to come. 

Jer 1:7: Do not say “I am just a youth”!
As HaShem gives him his prophet’s license, Jerry, like Moses before him, tries to defer, saying he does not know how to speak, and that he is “just a youth”.  Can’t get away from your destiny, God responds, youth or elder or whatever, you must speak – “Before I formed you in the belly I knew you . . . wherever I send you, you shall go, whatever I shall command you, you shall speak.”  There is the sense that we are all born to destiny, and that speaking our truth, no matter our age or position in society, is what is intended.

Jer 6:1:  . . .sound the shofar in Tekoa and hoist a flag over Beth-cherem . . .”
The English translation loses the poetry and alliteration of the Hebrew ( vit’koah tik’u) in the play of words for the Judean town of Tekoa and the Tekiah of the shofar blast.  This line also alludes to the use of shofar and flags to announce momentous times or beginnings of holy days, in this case a warning that the armies of Babylon are approaching from the North. 

Jer 7:4: The sanctuary of HaShem, the sanctuary of HaShem, the sanctuary of HaShem”  Just as Isaiah earlier rebuked the people not to do meaningless fasting, Jeremiah scolds the tendency of the people to think that by doing rote rituals in the temple they would be protected from the consequence of Babylon’s approach.  Instead, the people are told to look within to “do justice . . . do not oppress . . . do not shed innocent blood . . . and do not go after gods of others to your own harm.”  All being said here seems human behavior – how realistic is it for god to expect humans to have no sin?  And, perhaps, is God in position to man as a Heyokah teacher, reflecting what you’re doing, but is it backwards?

Jer 7:18: “The children gather the wood, the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough to make pastries for the Queen of Heaven . . .”
Who is the Queen of Heaven!?  This verse is used as an example of the type of rituals the people were doing that Jeremiah castigated them for.  Archeologists tell us that “the queen of heaven” is an epithet of several goddesses of the near east (Mesopotamia, Canaan, Egypt, Israel) including Innana, Ishtar, Isis, Asherah, Astarte/Ashtoreth, Anat.  Asherah in particular was clearly worshipped in both Israel and Judah throughout the duration of the Hebrew commonwealth, including in and about the Temple in Jerusalem.  The Hebrew bible typically designates as “evil kings” those who allowed these practices to take place, while the “good kings” carried out reforms which destroyed the high places, the sacred trees, and removed the vestiges of such worship from the land to the extent they were able.   What exactly the ritual practices were we cannot know: this verse is one of the only ones in the Hebrew bible that gives a hint of the earth-based ritual that was carried out, while most mention of Asherah/Ashtoreth is in the context of  being railed against as abominations. 

We ask: what is the political perspective being attempted/accomplished by the books of Tanach?  The Kingdom of Israel was destroyed in 722, Judah in 586 BCE, and these books written some time later.  Archaeological evidence in the last few decades now clearly shows worship of these goddess figures throughout Israel and the surrounding lands during the entire time of the Hebrew kings and first temple.  Were they really as castigated and reviled at the time as our books would make it seem?  Or were these vestiges of the matriarchy, on the verge of extinction by the growing patriarchy, just as much an accepted expression of the love of the divine as were the sacrificial rites of the Temple?   If Blue State America were wiped out, and the history of the demise of the United States left to the Red States to write, who and what would they blame?

And what is really meant by the phrase “the gods of others”.  Some translate the work for gods, Elohim, as “powers”.  

Jeremiah 44:16-19: “ we will indeed continue . . . to burn incense to the queen of heaven . . . “
The people, most strongly the women, now fled from Jerusalem and exiled in Egypt, rebel against Jeremiah and tell him they will not listen to him and will continue to worship as they have done, including burning incense, pouring libations, and baking delicacies to the feminine aspect of the Divine.  Was this really idolatry?  Did the Kabbalists not reintroduce prayer to Shechinah, which we continue to this day?.  Whatever your take on the theology here, these verses also give one of the rare insights into earth-based ritual practices of the people of those times.  Whereas Jeremiah has been railing against these practices as the reason for the fall of the kingdom, the people say just the opposite: that as long as they did these practices, all was well, and it was only since they were denied these practices (presumably by Josiah and others) that  the horrors befell Jerusalem. 

Whose history shall we believe?  Which view in the mirror is the real object, and which the reflection?  What is the lesson of the Heyokah?

We closed with questions and reflections:
·      My experience of the Divine is only when I get out of my own way and connect to the incomprehensible . . . then, there is sweetness
·      How have you been damned and what does your prophet say in response?
·      Consider a staff ritual at PV – speaking our elderhood
·      We are all prophets
·      There is no one else, only us, we are it
·      I must sit with the Heyokah/mirror thing

Next gathering: Saturday December 3, 10-noon, location TBD – or maybe when Avram is in town instead? 

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