Tuesday, May 28, 2013

David & Moses: The Making of a Leader

David Moses
David is the youngest child in his family (except according to some interpretations which suggest that he has one younger brother called Eliyahu). Moshe is the youngest child in his family.
David's mother and father have a complicated relationship. (His mother may have been married to Nachash, been widowed, and only later married his father. Per Midrash, his mother tricks his father when his father wants to sleep with a servant girl, and he is conceived through this trickery.) Moshe's mother and father have a complicated relationship. Per Midrash, they divorced because of Pharoah's decree and only remarried (and later conceived Moshe) because their daughter told her father that he was being harsher than Pharoah himself had been.
David is raised in the palace as lyre-player to Saul. (I Samuel 16:22)

כב  וַיִּשְׁלַח שָׁאוּל, אֶל-יִשַׁי לֵאמֹר:  יַעֲמָד-נָא דָוִד לְפָנַי, כִּי-מָצָא חֵן בְּעֵינָי.22 And Saul sent to Jesse, saying: 'Let David, I pray thee, stand before me; for he hath found favour in my sight.'
Moses is raised in the palace as the adopted son of Bitya, daughter of Pharoah. (Exodus 2:10)

י  וַיִּגְדַּל הַיֶּלֶד, וַתְּבִאֵהוּ לְבַת-פַּרְעֹה, וַיְהִי-לָהּ, לְבֵן; וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ, מֹשֶׁה, וַתֹּאמֶר, כִּי מִן-הַמַּיִם מְשִׁיתִהוּ.10 And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses, and said: 'Because I drew him out of the water.'
David kills Goliath, which frightens and antagonizes Saul, and eventually leads to his needing to run away from Saul. Moshe kills the Mitzri (Egyptian), which frightens and antagonizes Pharoah, and eventually leads to Moses' needing to run away from Pharoah.
The son and daughter of Saul are valuable allies for David. (Both of them save his life.) (I Samuel 19:12)

יב  וַתֹּרֶד מִיכַל אֶת-דָּוִד, בְּעַד הַחַלּוֹן; וַיֵּלֶךְ וַיִּבְרַח, וַיִּמָּלֵט.12 So Michal let David down through the window; and he went, and fled, and escaped.
The daughter of Pharoah is a valuable ally for Moses. (She saves his life.) (Exodus 2:6)

ו  וַתִּפְתַּח וַתִּרְאֵהוּ אֶת-הַיֶּלֶד, וְהִנֵּה-נַעַר בֹּכֶה; וַתַּחְמֹל עָלָיו--וַתֹּאמֶר, מִיַּלְדֵי הָעִבְרִים זֶה.6 And she opened it, and saw it, even the child; and behold a boy that wept. And she had compassion on him, and said: 'This is one of the Hebrews' children.'
David faces Saul again on multiple occasions.  Moses faces Pharoah again on multiple occasions.
Saul consistently has changes of heart and claims he is ready to make peace with David, but he never really is (until the end, when the choice is taken from him because David has run away to Gath). Pharoah consistently has changes of heart and claims he is ready to send out Moses and his people, but he never really is (until the end, when the choice is taken from him because of Makat Bechorot).
David works as a shepherd. Moshe works as a shepherd.
David has a difficult time leading his men (they continually want to kill Saul and he has to stop them; they don't want to share the booty equally and he has to intervene). Moshe has a difficult time leading his people (they complain throughout their journey in the wilderness).
David sends out two spies to see if Saul has truly come. (I Samuel 26: 4)

ד  וַיִּשְׁלַח דָּוִד, מְרַגְּלִים; וַיֵּדַע, כִּי-בָא שָׁאוּל אֶל-נָכוֹן.4 David therefore sent out spies, and understood that Saul was come of a certainty.
Moses sends out 12 spies to spy out the land of Canaan. (Numbers 13:16)

טז  אֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת הָאֲנָשִׁים, אֲשֶׁר-שָׁלַח מֹשֶׁה לָתוּר אֶת-הָאָרֶץ; וַיִּקְרָא מֹשֶׁה לְהוֹשֵׁעַ בִּן-נוּן, יְהוֹשֻׁעַ.16 These are the names of the men that Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Joshua.
David's people want to stone him. (I Samuel 30:6)

ו  וַתֵּצֶר לְדָוִד מְאֹד, כִּי-אָמְרוּ הָעָם לְסָקְלוֹ--כִּי-מָרָה נֶפֶשׁ כָּל-הָעָם, אִישׁ עַל-בָּנָו וְעַל-בְּנֹתָיו; וַיִּתְחַזֵּק דָּוִד, בַּיהוָה אֱלֹהָיו.  {ס}6 And David was greatly distressed; for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters; but David strengthened himself in the LORD his God. {S}

Moses' people want to stone him. (Exodus 17:4, possibly Numbers 14:10)

ד  וַיִּצְעַק מֹשֶׁה אֶל-יְהוָה לֵאמֹר, מָה אֶעֱשֶׂה לָעָם הַזֶּה; עוֹד מְעַט, וּסְקָלֻנִי.4 And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying: 'What shall I do unto this people? they are almost ready to stone me.'
David cannot enter his Promised Land (he cannot build the Beit HaMikdash, even though he has stockpiled all the supplies for it).  (I Chronicles 28:3) However, his successor, Shlomo, can.

ג  וְהָאֱלֹהִים אָמַר לִי, לֹא-תִבְנֶה בַיִת לִשְׁמִי:  כִּי אִישׁ מִלְחָמוֹת אַתָּה, וְדָמִים שָׁפָכְתָּ.3 But God said unto me: Thou shalt not build a house for My name, because thou art a man of war, and hast shed blood.
Moses cannot enter the Promised Land. However, his successor, Yehoshua, can. (Numbers 20:12)

יב  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל-אַהֲרֹן, יַעַן לֹא-הֶאֱמַנְתֶּם בִּי, לְהַקְדִּישֵׁנִי לְעֵינֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל--לָכֵן, לֹא תָבִיאוּ אֶת-הַקָּהָל הַזֶּה, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתִּי לָהֶם.12 And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron: 'Because ye believed not in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.'

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Problematic Tzeruya

I'm teaching Shmuel this year, and we are now holding in Chapter 26, where we encounter this pasuk:

ו  וַיַּעַן דָּוִד וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל-אֲחִימֶלֶךְ הַחִתִּי, וְאֶל-אֲבִישַׁי בֶּן-צְרוּיָה אֲחִי יוֹאָב לֵאמֹר, מִי-יֵרֵד אִתִּי אֶל-שָׁאוּל, אֶל-הַמַּחֲנֶה; וַיֹּאמֶר אֲבִישַׁי, אֲנִי אֵרֵד עִמָּךְ.6 Then answered David and said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Abishai the son of Zeruiah, brother to Joab, saying: 'Who will go down with me to Saul to the camp?' And Abishai said: 'I will go down with thee.'

The question is: Who is this Tzeruya who is the mother of Yoav, Avishai and also Asael?

So we look into it, and we find two places where she is mentioned:

1) II Samuel 17: 25

כה  וְאֶת-עֲמָשָׂא, שָׂם אַבְשָׁלֹם תַּחַת יוֹאָב--עַל-הַצָּבָא; וַעֲמָשָׂא בֶן-אִישׁ, וּשְׁמוֹ יִתְרָא הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִי, אֲשֶׁר-בָּא אֶל-אֲבִיגַל בַּת-נָחָשׁ, אֲחוֹת צְרוּיָה אֵם יוֹאָב.25 And Absalom had set Amasa over the host instead of Joab. Now Amasa was the son of a man, whose name was Ithra the Jesraelite, that went in to Abigal the daughter of Nahash, sister to Zeruiah Joab's mother.

2) 1 Chronicles 2: 16-

טז  וְאַחְיֹתֵיהֶם, צְרוּיָה וַאֲבִיגָיִל; וּבְנֵי צְרוּיָה, אַבְשַׁי וְיוֹאָב וַעֲשָׂהאֵל--שְׁלֹשָׁה.16 And their sisters were Zeruiah and Abigail. And the sons of Zeruiah: Abishai, and Joab, and Asahel, three.

The problem is that in Samuel, Abigail is identified as the daughter of Nachash and the sister of Tzeruya, whereas in Chronicles, they are just mentioned along with all the other children of Jesse. So who is Tzeruya, and is she the daughter of Nachash or of Jesse?

The traditional commentaries in the Book of Samuel simply say that Nachash and Jesse were both names for the same person: Jesse, father of David. They explain that Jesse never sinned, and only died because of the sin with the serpent in Gan Eden.

Modern scholars can and do suggest that the insertion of the word 'Nachash' is a typo or scribal error, and that it should have said Jesse.

But there's an interesting Malbim to Divrei Hayamim I found today that sheds some light on this as well:

טו) דויד השביעי. וזה סותר למה שבשמואל (א' טז, י; יז, יב) חושב לישי שמונה בנים ודוד הוא הקטן. ודעתחז"ל במדרש שהשמיני הוא אליהו הנזכר בין הנגידים שהקים דוד על יהודה, אליהו אחי דוד (לקמן כז, יח), והואהיה קטן מדוד, וקרא לדוד קטן על שהיה מקטין א"ע, וכן פרש"י. וראב"ע ורד"ק פירשו שאליהו היה אח מן האבולא מן האם, ולכן לא חשבו פה מפני שאומר ואחיותיהם צרויה ואביגיל, והם היו אחיות מן האם ולא מן האב,וא"כ לא היו אחיות לאליהו לא מן האב ולא מן האם, וכדבריהם נראה ממ"ש (ש"ב יז, כה) ועמשא בן איש ושמויתרא הישראלי אשר בא אל אביגיל בת נחש אחות צרויה אם יואב, מבואר (לפי הפשט, והדרש ידוע) שאביגילהיתה בת נחש לא בת ישי, וא"כ היתה אחותם רק מן האם, לכן אמר אחות צרויה ולא אמר אחות דוד, מפנישאחות צרויה היתה מן האב ומן האם שגם צרויה היתה בת נחש, ואמם נשאת לישי באלמנותה:

According to this explanation, Tzeruya and Avigail are half-sisters of David. They are the children of his mother who is given to Nachash when she is widowed.

The problem is: Nachash doesn't seem to be dead. And he would need to be dead for Tzeruya to be a widow.

Yes, Saul did fight against him in the battle to defend the men of Yavesh-Gilad. But he doesn't seem to die there, because he crops up again. See 2 Samuel 10:

א  וַיְהִי, אַחֲרֵי-כֵן, וַיָּמָת, מֶלֶךְ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן; וַיִּמְלֹךְ חָנוּן בְּנוֹ, תַּחְתָּיו.1 And it came to pass after this, that the king of the children of Ammon died, and Hanun his son reigned in his stead.
ב  וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶעֱשֶׂה-חֶסֶד עִם-חָנוּן בֶּן-נָחָשׁ, כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אָבִיו עִמָּדִי חֶסֶד, וַיִּשְׁלַח דָּוִד לְנַחֲמוֹ בְּיַד-עֲבָדָיו, אֶל-אָבִיו; וַיָּבֹאוּ עַבְדֵי דָוִד, אֶרֶץ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן.2 And David said: 'I will show kindness unto Hanun the son of Nahash, as his father showed kindness unto me.' So David sent by the hand of his servants to comfort him concerning his father. And David's servants came into the land of the children of Ammon.

If Nachash was alive in the time of David, then he didn't die in the time of Saul.

So there is a possibility that Nachash is the name of all of the kings of Ammon (a title like Pharoah), but if so, then Hanun should also be called Nachash.

Enter Josephus, who confirms that the first Nachash did die in the battle of Saul (though we don't know his sources) and thus whoever this Nachash is, he's some other Nachash.

See Josephus, Volume 6, Book 5, Entry 3:
3. So being desirous to turn the people to this war against the Ammonites by fear of the losses they should otherwise undergo, and that they might the more suddenly be gathered together, he cut the sinews of his oxen, and threatened to do the same to all such as did not come with their armor to Jordan the next day, and follow him and Samuel the prophet whithersoever they should lead them. So they came together, out of fear of the losses they were threatened with, at the appointed time. And the multitude were numbered at the city Bezek. And he found the number of those that were gathered together, besides that of the tribe of Judah, to be seven hundred thousand, while those of that tribe were seventy thousand. So he passed over Jordan, and proceeded in marching all that night, thirty furlongs, and came to Jabesh before sun-rising. So he divided the army into three companies; and fell upon their enemies on every side on the sudden, and when they expected no such thing; and joining battle with them, they slew a great many of the Ammonites, as also their king Nabash. This glorious action was done by Saul, and was related with great commendation of him to all the Hebrews; and he thence gained a wonderful reputation for his valor: for although there were some of them that contemned him before, they now changed their minds, and honored him, and esteemed him as the best of men: for he did not content himself with having saved the inhabitants of Jabesh only, but he made an expedition into the country of the Ammonites, and laid it all waste, and took a large prey, and so returned to his own country most gloriously. So the people were greatly pleased at these excellent performances of Saul, and rejoiced that they had constituted him their king. They also made a clamor against those that pretended he would be of no advantage to their affairs; and they said, Where now are these men? - let them be brought to punishment, with all the like things that multitudes usually say when they are elevated with prosperity, against those that lately had despised the authors of it. But Saul, although he took the good-will and the affection of these men very kindly, yet did he swear that he would not see any of his countrymen slain that day, since it was absurd to mix this victory, which God had given them, with the blood and slaughter of those that were of the same lineage with themselves; and that it was more agreeable to be men of a friendly disposition, and so to betake themselves to feasting.
This is still not super-satisfying, because who exactly is this second Nachash, and why does he succeed the throne without us knowing? A scribal error would be the most logical response to this, but I don't know where I can find proof of this. For now, we will go with Tzeruya being the daughter of Nachash of Ammon and half-sister of David.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fairy Tales in Tanakh: Saul & David in the Cave

There are many times that fairy tales mimic or are based on pieces of the Tanakh. Whether or not they are intended to be that way is up for discussion, but I enjoy noticing it when it occurs. I realized that the true version of “The Little Mermaid” (link here) has a scene that mirrors the one with David and Saul in the cave in I Samuel 24 per some of the commentaries.
We have given our hair to the witch,” they said, “so that she would send you help, and save you from death tonight. She gave us a knife. Here it is. See the sharp blade! Before the sun rises, you must strike it into the Prince’s heart, and when his warm blood bathes your feet they will grow together and become a fish tail. Then you will be a mermaid again, able to come back to us in the sea, and live out your three hundred years before you die and turn into dead salt sea foam. Make haste! He or you must die before sunrise. Our old grandmother is so grief-stricken that her white hair is falling fast, just as ours did under the witch’s scissors. Kill the Prince and come back to us. Hurry! Hurry! See that red glow in the heavens! In a few minutes the sun will rise and you must die.” So saying, they gave a strange deep sigh and sank beneath the waves.
The little mermaid parted the purple curtains of the tent and saw the beautiful bride asleep with her head on the Prince’s breast. The mermaid bent down and kissed his shapely forehead. She looked at the sky, fast reddening for the break of day. She looked at the sharp knife and again turned her eyes toward the Prince, who in his sleep murmured the name of his bride. His thoughts were all for her, and the knife blade trembled in the mermaid’s hand. But then she flung it from her, far out over the waves. Where it fell the waves were red, as if bubbles of blood seethed in the water. With eyes already glazing she looked once more at the Prince, hurled herself over the bulwarks into the sea, and felt her body dissolve in foam.
It’s the same as the David and Saul scene. David takes the knife, plans to kill Saul (per the commentator Ralbag; not every commentator thinks that David ever considered killing him) but then he cannot do it. Instead, he simply cuts off a piece of his cloak.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Displaced Rage: Naval Instead of Saul

Any crime show afficianado knows that often the unsub (unknown subject) often kills substitutes because they cannot or will not attack the actual object of their rage. (For example, they might kill blonde-haired, blue-eyed girls because someone who was blonde-haired and blue-eyed, like their mother, abused them.) Sometimes, the substitutes lead them to kill the original perpetrator of their unhappiness or person they hate, but other times, not.

I think it is interesting to understand David's actions towards Naval in this way. It's not an accident that this story is placed directly after the scene with Saul at the cave.

1) When at the cave (Chapter 24), David refers to Saul as his father.

יא  וְאָבִי רְאֵה--גַּם רְאֵה אֶת-כְּנַף מְעִילְךָ, בְּיָדִי:  כִּי בְּכָרְתִי אֶת-כְּנַף מְעִילְךָ וְלֹא הֲרַגְתִּיךָ, דַּע וּרְאֵה כִּי אֵין בְּיָדִי רָעָה וָפֶשַׁע וְלֹא-חָטָאתִי לָךְ--וְאַתָּה צֹדֶה אֶת-נַפְשִׁי, לְקַחְתָּהּ.11 Moreover, my father, see, yea, see the skirt of thy robe in my hand; for in that I cut off the skirt of thy robe, and killed thee not, know thou and see that there is neither evil nor transgression in my hand, and I have not sinned against thee, though thou layest wait for my soul to take it.

Saul responds and calls David his son.

טז  וַיְהִי כְּכַלּוֹת דָּוִד, לְדַבֵּר אֶת-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֶל-שָׁאוּל, וַיֹּאמֶר שָׁאוּל, הֲקֹלְךָ זֶה בְּנִי דָוִד; וַיִּשָּׂא שָׁאוּל קֹלוֹ, וַיֵּבְךְּ.16 And it came to pass, when David had made an end of speaking these words unto Saul, that Saul said: 'Is this thy voice, my son David?' And Saul lifted up his voice, and wept.

Similarly, in the episode with Naval, David refers to himself as Naval's son.

ח  שְׁאַל אֶת-נְעָרֶיךָ וְיַגִּידוּ לָךְ, וְיִמְצְאוּ הַנְּעָרִים חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ--כִּי-עַל-יוֹם טוֹב, בָּנוּ; תְּנָה-נָּא, אֵת אֲשֶׁר תִּמְצָא יָדְךָ לַעֲבָדֶיךָ, וּלְבִנְךָ, לְדָוִד.8 Ask thy young men, and they will tell thee; wherefore let the young men find favour in thine eyes; for we come on a good day; give, I pray thee, whatsoever cometh to thy hand, unto thy servants, and to thy son David.'

2) Saul admits that he has repaid David evil for good.

יז  וַיֹּאמֶר, אֶל-דָּוִד, צַדִּיק אַתָּה, מִמֶּנִּי:  כִּי אַתָּה גְּמַלְתַּנִי הַטּוֹבָה, וַאֲנִי גְּמַלְתִּיךָ הָרָעָה.17 And he said to David: 'Thou art more righteous than I; for thou hast rendered unto me good, whereas I have rendered unto thee evil.

David says that Naval has repaid him evil for good.

כא  וְדָוִד אָמַר, אַךְ לַשֶּׁקֶר שָׁמַרְתִּי אֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר לָזֶה בַּמִּדְבָּר, וְלֹא-נִפְקַד מִכָּל-אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ, מְאוּמָה; וַיָּשֶׁב-לִי רָעָה, תַּחַת טוֹבָה.21 Now David had said: 'Surely in vain have I kept all that this fellow hath in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that pertained unto him; and he hath returned me evil for good.

The question that plagues readers is why David overreacts in such a way and wishes to put Naval's entire house to death. I wish to suggest that one way to understand this is that David has made himself powerless against his attacker, Saul, because he sees Saul as the Lord's annointed, mashiach Hashem. But when Naval comes along and acts towards him exactly as Saul has done, he conflates the two and his true rage against Saul and everything the king has put him through comes out against Naval. While he is powerless against Saul, he does have power over Naval.

David is put in the same situation Saul is. Saul kills the entire city of Nov (and all of the priests) because he sees them as guilty as aiding David (even though only one person, Achimelech, actually helped him). David now wants to kill all of Naval's household because he sees them as guilty as NOT aiding him (even though only one person, Naval, refuses him). In this situation, we see David's displaced rage re: Saul be redirected towards Naval, and also how shaken he is when he realizes he has been about to act like Saul and to shed innocent blood. The fact that David has the capacity to behave in this fashion sobers him up; he realizes it's not so simple to be king, after all.

This places Doeg and Avigail in opposite roles. Doeg assists Saul in committing murder; Avigail hinders it. Doeg is minister to the king and Avigail is married to a boor, but wisdom resides in Avigail, not David.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Michal & Palti: Sansa & Tyrion

Those of you who read A Song of Ice and Fire, now more popularly known as the books that spawned the 'Game of Thrones' TV show, may have noticed by now that the book is positively biblical, which is probably why those of us who are Tanakh lovers enjoy it so much. In any case, I thought of a connection between Sansa & Tyrion and the Talmudic interpretation of Michal and Palti ben Layish.

(This is spoilery for people who have not read the books, although it will most likely come up in tonight's show).

In A Storm of Swords, Tyrion, a dwarf, is to be wedded to Sansa Stark. After they actually are wedded, the following very poignant speech is given by the dwarf:

"Sansa." The hand was gone. "Open your eyes." 
She had promised to obey; she opened her eyes. He was sitting by her feet, naked. Where his legs joined, his man's staff poked up stiff and hard from a thicket of coarse yellow hair, but it was the only thing about him that was straight. 
"My lady," Tyrion said, "you are lovely, make no mistake, but … I cannot do this. My father be damned. We will wait. The turn of a moon, a year, a season, however long it takes. Until you have come to know me better, and perhaps to trust me a little." His smile might have been meant to be reassuring, but without a nose it only made him look more grotesque and sinister. 
Look at him, Sansa told herself, look at your husband, at all of him, Septa Mordane said all men are beautiful, find his beauty, try. She stared at the stunted legs, the swollen brutish brow, the green eye and the black one, the raw stump of his nose and crooked pink scar, the coarse tangle of black and gold hair that passed for his beard. Even his manhood was ugly, thick and veined, with a bulbous purple head. This is not right, this is not fair, how have I sinned that the gods would do this to me, how? 
"On my honor as a Lannister," the Imp said, "I will not touch you until you want me to."
it took all the courage that was in her to look in those mismatched eyes and say, "And if I never want you to, my lord?" 
His mouth jerked as if she had slapped him. "Never?" 
Her neck was so tight she could scarcely nod. 
"Why," he said, "that is why the gods made whores for imps like me." He closed his short blunt fingers into a fist, and climbed down off the bed.
Even though Tyrion is Sansa's lawful husband, and for the sake of the kingdom and his father Tywin he needs to sleep with Sansa, he prefers to wait for her acquiescence rather than consummating the marriage. And he will wait forever, if need be.

It occurred to me that this scene nicely parallels the Talmudic interpretation of Palti ben Layish's marriage to Michal, daughter of Saul and wife of David. In Sanhedrin 19b, we read:

 כתיב פלטי וכתיב פלטיאל אמר ר' יוחנן פלטי שמו ולמה נקרא שמו פלטיאל שפלטו אל מן העבירה מה עשה נעץ חרב בינו לבינה אמר כל העוסק בדבר זה ידקר בחרב זה והכתיב (שמואל ב ג) וילך אתה אישה שנעשה לה כאישה והכתיב (שמואל ב ג) הלוך ובכה על המצוה דאזיל מיניה עד בחורים שנעשו שניהם כבחורים שלא טעמו טעם ביאה אמר רבי יוחנן תוקפו של יוסף ענוותנותו של בועז תוקפו של בועז ענוותנותו של פלטי בן ליש תוקפו של יוסף ענוותנותו של בועז  
[The second husband of David's undivorced wife] is variously called Palti42  and Paltiel!43  — R. Johanan said: His name was really Palti, but why was he called Paltiel? Because God saved him from transgression.44  What did he do [to be delivered from sin]? He planted a sword between her [Michal] and himself, and said, Whoever [first] attempts this thing,45  shall be pierced with this sword. But is it not stated: And her husband [Palti] went with her?46  — This means that he was to her like a husband.47  But is it not written, He went weeping? — This was for losing the good deed [of self-restraint]. Hence [he followed her] to Bahurim, implying that they both had remained like unmarried youths48  and not tasted the pleasure of marital relations.
R. Johanan said: Joseph's strong [temptation]49  was but a petty trial to Boaz;50  and that of Boaz was small in comparison with that of Palti son of Layish.
In both of these situations, a man who ostensibly wishes to sleep with his beautiful wife refrains from doing so, either because a) it was not her choice to wed him, and he does not wish to force her or b) she is still married to another man. Each man exercises supreme self control, and it's always cool to see a modern example of an ancient event.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Great Gatsby: A Film Review

This review is chock full of spoilers.

I just came back from "The Great Gatsby" as directed by Baz Luhrmann. I have not enjoyed a book-to-movie adaptation this much since "Atonement," which came out in 2007. I know a movie is good when as I walk out of the theater, I want to walk back in again in order to watch it once more.

Luhrmann's production is ingenious for many reasons. First, all of the actors are superbly cast (with the possible exception of George, who seemed a bit melodramatic to me). Second, the opulence and decadence of the New York lifestyle in the 1920s is stunningly displayed. Colors could not be more vivid, costumes could not be more grand, and houses could not be more magnificent. But what I found particularly superb was the way that Luhrmann was able to marry contemporary music and figures to a story set within a certain period.

I believe great literature is timeless, and therefore that its messages should be able to reach us regardless of time or setting. What Luhrmann has done by using music by Jay-Z, Florence and the Machine and others is contemporize a book that would otherwise simply appear dull to the masses. I looked around the movie theater and I saw people of all walks of life and all ages, and it's fantastic that so many people are coming out to partake of a film which is steeped in culture. The messages of decadence, hypocrisy, opulence, obsession and the promise of the great American dream remain, and they are transformed by the music and the rich color into becoming relevant. And that is what great literature should be, at the last: relevant. 

There were some scenes I particularly loved in the movie. First, Nick Carroway is meant to be an unreliable narrator, and I was curious to see how they would portray that in the film. They had the film open in a Sanitarium where Nick's patient file is seen, under which there are the headings 'Morbid alcoholism' and 'instigator of fights' and so forth, so you automatically know he may not be entirely trustworthy. I also loved the contrast between the winter season in which the sanitarium is set and Nick's weary, timeworn face (creased, with a 5 o'clock shadow or actual stubble) and the vivid, energetic parties that Gatsby throws.

The scenes that focus on the lower-class or working-class were also brilliant in that the entire setting was washed out in comparison to the wealthy upper-class. When the car traveled there, you saw a shift between technicolor and dark black-and-white scenes. Everyone is layered in dirt, grime and coal; the clothing looks washed out. Tom's mistress' clothing and attitude is portrayed as raunchier and dirtier than those of her counterparts attending Gatsby's parties. Her lipstick and her makeup is too gauche.

There's a set of eyes painted on a blue canvas that represent the advertisement of an ocular shop (Doctor T. J. Eckleburg), but in the movie symbolize the eyes of God. While some of the symbolism in the film is extremely overt (such as the eyes and the green light that Gatsby sees), some of them are exquisitely subtle. For instance, when Tom marries Daisy, we learn he has purchased pearls for her that cost something in the realm of $300,000 dollars. We see his hand on the pearls, gripped around her neck, and it's a clear symbol of her subservience to him and the fact that she is a trophy wife. It's deliciously ironic, of course, that his mistress is also wearing pearls when she is hit by Daisy and dies.

Gatsby is portrayed in the film as an obsessive romantic. There are moments of humor in his obsession, especially when he asks Nick to invite Daisy over for tea at his cottage. (Incidentally, all of the settings are meant to depict the owner's status. Gatsby's wildly opulent mansion shows that he is new money, Nick's sweet cottage that he is poor but respectable, and Buchanan's orderly, manicured lawns depict his conservative old money wealth/ attitude). The scene where the four of them are in the hotel was fantastic- especially because of Tom's contempt for Gatsby when Gatsby is about to resort to using his fists.

Now let's talk about Daisy. In this film's interpretation of Daisy, she is a victim throughout. She is torn between Gatsby and Tom and cannot choose; she is too frail, too fragile. She loves illusion and cannot surrender it. She is a woman without much will; she does whatever the dominant man in her life tells her to do. Of course, she is also careless, as Nick characterizes her, and smashes things and doesn't fix them. We see she is an irresponsible mother. But in my reading of the book, Daisy is far more manipulative, much more to blame, much more evil. In this film adaptation we see her sweetness; in my reading, she is more subtle, dangerous, easier to hate, much more culpable for everything that befalls her. (For example, in the famous scene in the hotel, some interpret Daisy as having been moved by Tom's 'husky' declaration of ardent love; I always thought that she just didn't want to tie her fortunes to those of a bootlegger and therefore she changed her tune.) While I don't agree with this portrayal of her, I found the acting compelling nonetheless. I loved the scene where we met her with all the billowing white curtains, and also the scene with the shirts. But I don't think the movie did a good enough job of showing her distaste with the new money, as portrayed in the book:

“I like her,” said Daisy, “I think she’s lovely.”
But the rest offended her — and inarguably, because it wasn’t a gesture but an emotion. She was appalled by West Egg, this unprecedented “place” that Broadway had begotten upon a Long Island fishing village — appalled by its raw vigor that chafed under the old euphemisms and by the too obtrusive fate that herded its inhabitants along a short-cut from nothing to nothing. She saw something awful in the very simplicity she failed to understand.

I loved the ending to the movie, because they allowed the typewritten letters that form the last sentences of the book to float over the scenery, and the effect was incredible. They also used this when they showed Gatsby first falling in love with Daisy and realizing his mind would never romp like that of God's again. It was just really beautiful.

Mother's Day: A Painful Day?

As a child, I really enjoyed Mother's Day. I would take out my chalk and mark up the sidewalk in front of our house and our neighbor's house in giant letters, spelling out the words 'Happy Mother's Day.'

If any neighbors of mine did not have children right away, I in my innocence assumed they were having difficulty and prayed for them to have children.

There was an event recently that I attended where mothers were honored. And as I watched all the mothers take the dais, what went through my mind was: Mother's Day is really hard on some people.

Because now I know. I've been introduced to the world where people I know, people I am friends with, are struggling to become mothers, to stay mothers.

There is an individual that I know, who I went to school with, who has been struggling to become a mother over the past five years. Not only has she been struggling with infertility, but she has also been struggling with the death of her children once they were born. You can read an incredibly soul-wrenching post that she wrote here. I look at her, at her struggle, at her journey, and I just think that Mother's Day must feel like a punch in the gut to her. She must look at all the advertisements, the cards, balloons and happy flowers, and it must just hurt.

Then we have another friend who lost her daughter to SIDS. She wrote about her daughter here and about learning how to mother again after losing her daughter to SIDS here.  This woman is now a mother to other adorable children, but I imagine that every Mother's Day, as her children present her with her cards and gifts, she remembers her other child, her daughter, and that this hurts, too.

And this is to say nothing of the children who have lost their mothers. I have a good friend whose mother died of cancer, and it must be hard to watch the world as a whole celebrate this day while missing your own parent.

I'm not saying we shouldn't have this holiday or shouldn't appreciate our mothers. But I now have a different perspective on it. The holiday that brings so much joy to some causes pain to others. I feel it's appropriate to publicly note and honor those individuals struggling to become mothers, struggling to mother through the pain of losing a child, or struggling because they do not have a living mother. For them, too, it's Mother's Day- but their associations with the day may be much sadder.

If it is at all possible on this day to reach out to someone you know who might be struggling, that might be appropriate as well. Just to say: Hey. I know this day is hard on you. I'm there for you. I love you. Tomorrow will be a better (and hopefully less painful) day.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Poetic Justice in the Deaths of Avner and Amassa?

I had a thought.

In the story of the massacre of the Kohanim of Nov by Doeg, King Saul first asks his advisors to put the priests to death. We find this in I Samuel 22:17:

יז  וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ לָרָצִים הַנִּצָּבִים עָלָיו סֹבּוּ וְהָמִיתוּ כֹּהֲנֵי יְהוָה, כִּי גַם-יָדָם עִם-דָּוִד, וְכִי יָדְעוּ כִּי-בֹרֵחַ הוּא, וְלֹא גָלוּ אֶת-אזנו (אָזְנִי); וְלֹא-אָבוּ עַבְדֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ, לִשְׁלֹחַ אֶת-יָדָם, לִפְגֹעַ, בְּכֹהֲנֵי יְהוָה.  {ס}17 And the king said unto the guard that stood about him: 'Turn, and slay the priests of the LORD; because their hand also is with David, and because they knew that he fled, and did not disclose it to me.' But the servants of the king would not put forth their hand to fall upon the priests of the LORD. {S}

Rashi and other commentators identify these men who refused to kill the priests of God as Avner and Amassa. One thing that I find interesting is that they were unwilling to do the actual killing, but it does not seem that they interceded in order to stop it once Doeg decided to do it. Of course, it is possible that King Saul removed them from the room or tied them up in order to prevent them from interfering.

But if we go with the plain sense of the text, where they were unwilling to kill defenseless priests, but did not step in and try to execute Doeg and/or defend the priests, then perhaps their deaths make sense.

Both of these men are killed by Yoav, and they are killed through deception and trickery. They do not die in combat; rather, they die defenseless, unprepared and unwarned of their impending doom. Perhaps the reason this is so is because they did not defend the priests. Just as the priests died defenseless, so too Avner and Amassa die defenseless and this is an example of middah k'neged middah, measure for measure.

Here are the scenes of their deaths.

1) Avner's death in 2 Samuel 3:17.

כז  וַיָּשָׁב אַבְנֵר, חֶבְרוֹן, וַיַּטֵּהוּ יוֹאָב אֶל-תּוֹךְ הַשַּׁעַר, לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ בַּשֶּׁלִי; וַיַּכֵּהוּ שָׁם, הַחֹמֶשׁ--וַיָּמָת, בְּדַם עֲשָׂהאֵל אָחִיו.27 And when Abner was returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the midst of the gate to speak with him quietly, and smote him there in the groin, that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother.

David's lament is suggestive of the defenseless, ignominious nature of the death:

לד  יָדֶךָ לֹא-אֲסֻרוֹת, וְרַגְלֶיךָ לֹא-לִנְחֻשְׁתַּיִם הֻגָּשׁוּ, כִּנְפוֹל לִפְנֵי בְנֵי-עַוְלָה, נָפָלְתָּ; וַיֹּסִפוּ כָל-הָעָם, לִבְכּוֹת עָלָיו.34 Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put into fetters; as a man falleth before the children of iniquity, so didst thou fall. And all the people wept again over him.

2) Amassa's death in 2 Samuel 20:10.

ט  וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹאָב לַעֲמָשָׂא, הֲשָׁלוֹם אַתָּה אָחִי; וַתֹּחֶז יַד-יְמִין יוֹאָב, בִּזְקַן עֲמָשָׂא--לִנְשָׁק-לוֹ.9 And Joab said to Amasa: 'Is it well with thee, my brother?' And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him.
י  וַעֲמָשָׂא לֹא-נִשְׁמַר בַּחֶרֶב אֲשֶׁר בְּיַד-יוֹאָב, וַיַּכֵּהוּ בָהּ אֶל-הַחֹמֶשׁ וַיִּשְׁפֹּךְ מֵעָיו אַרְצָה וְלֹא-שָׁנָה לוֹ--וַיָּמֹת; וְיוֹאָב, וַאֲבִישַׁי אָחִיו, רָדַף, אַחֲרֵי שֶׁבַע בֶּן-בִּכְרִי.10 But Amasa took no heed to the sword that was in Joab's hand; so he smote him therewith in the groin, and shed out his bowels to the ground, and struck him not again; and he died. And Joab and Abishai his brother pursued after Sheba the son of Bichri.

Both of these men die by treachery. They don't see their deaths coming; it is all entirely unanticipated.

This is exactly what happened to the Kohanim of Nov. Achimelech had no idea as to why he had been summoned before the king. Once there, he explained that he had nothing to do with the treason the king suspected him of. But he still died, alone and defenseless, laid low by Doeg's vicious testimony and (at least in my possible interpretation), the fact that Avner and Amassa did not choose to save them, so perhaps they were deemed complicit.

So: Has anyone seen this idea in any of the commentaries?

Massacres in the Tanakh

1. Avimelech vs. His Brothers in Judges 9

ה  וַיָּבֹא בֵית-אָבִיו, עָפְרָתָה, וַיַּהֲרֹג אֶת-אֶחָיו בְּנֵי-יְרֻבַּעַל שִׁבְעִים אִישׁ, עַל-אֶבֶן אֶחָת; וַיִּוָּתֵר יוֹתָם בֶּן-יְרֻבַּעַל, הַקָּטֹן--כִּי נֶחְבָּא.  {ס}5 And he went unto his father's house at Ophrah, and slew his brethren the sons of Jerubbaal, being threescore and ten persons, upon one stone; but Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left; for he hid himself.

2. Doeg vs. the Priests of Nov in I Samuel 22.

יח  וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ, לדויג (לְדוֹאֵג), סֹב אַתָּה, וּפְגַע בַּכֹּהֲנִים; וַיִּסֹּב דויג (דּוֹאֵג) הָאֲדֹמִי, וַיִּפְגַּע-הוּא בַּכֹּהֲנִים, וַיָּמֶת בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא שְׁמֹנִים וַחֲמִשָּׁה אִישׁ, נֹשֵׂא אֵפוֹד בָּד.18 And the king said to Doeg: 'Turn thou, and fall upon the priests.' And Doeg the Edomite turned, and he fell upon the priests, and he slew on that day fourscore and five persons that did wear a linen ephod.
יט  וְאֵת נֹב עִיר-הַכֹּהֲנִים, הִכָּה לְפִי-חֶרֶב, מֵאִישׁ וְעַד-אִשָּׁה, מֵעוֹלֵל וְעַד-יוֹנֵק; וְשׁוֹר וַחֲמוֹר וָשֶׂה, לְפִי-חָרֶב.19 And Nob, the city of the priests, smote he with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and sucklings, and oxen and asses and sheep, with the edge of the sword.
כ  וַיִּמָּלֵט בֵּן-אֶחָד, לַאֲחִימֶלֶךְ בֶּן-אֲחִטוּב, וּשְׁמוֹ, אֶבְיָתָר; וַיִּבְרַח, אַחֲרֵי דָוִד.20 And one of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped, and fled after David.

3. Assalya vs. the Royalty in 2 Kings 11.

א  וַעֲתַלְיָה אֵם אֲחַזְיָהוּ, וראתה (רָאֲתָה) כִּי מֵת בְּנָהּ; וַתָּקָם, וַתְּאַבֵּד, אֵת, כָּל-זֶרַע הַמַּמְלָכָה.1 Now when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the seed royal.
ב  וַתִּקַּח יְהוֹשֶׁבַע בַּת-הַמֶּלֶךְ-יוֹרָם אֲחוֹת אֲחַזְיָהוּ אֶת-יוֹאָשׁ בֶּן-אֲחַזְיָה, וַתִּגְנֹב אֹתוֹ מִתּוֹךְ בְּנֵי-הַמֶּלֶךְ הממותתים (הַמּוּמָתִים)--אֹתוֹ וְאֶת-מֵינִקְתּוֹ, בַּחֲדַר הַמִּטּוֹת; וַיַּסְתִּרוּ אֹתוֹ מִפְּנֵי עֲתַלְיָהוּ, וְלֹא הוּמָת.2 But Jehosheba, the daughter of king Joram, sister of Ahaziah, took Joash the son of Ahaziah, and stole him away from among the king's sons that were slain, even him and his nurse, and put them in the bed-chamber; and they hid him from Athaliah, so that he was not slain.
ג  וַיְהִי אִתָּהּ בֵּית יְהוָה, מִתְחַבֵּא שֵׁשׁ שָׁנִים; וַעֲתַלְיָה, מֹלֶכֶת עַל-הָאָרֶץ.  {פ}3 And he was with her hid in the house of the LORD six years; and Athaliah reigned over the land. {P}

I find it very interesting that there is always the lone survivor. Yotam, Evyatar and Yoash are all lone survivors. Yotam and Yoash are hidden while Evyatar actively escapes.

I'm not sure what the deeper message is here (or if there is one), but I do find the consistency interesting.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Getting Closer: A Review

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of Getting Closer by Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch; thus, I did not pay for it.

Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch has done something revolutionary in his book Getting Closer: Understanding and Treating Issues in Marital Intimacy: A Guide for Orthodox Couples. Despite the plethora of colons in that lengthy title, the book itself does a very good job of serving as a primer for newlyweds and newly-confused couples navigating the complex territory of an unforeseen circumstance that could destabilize a marriage. This circumstance would occur within the realm of sexual dysfunction, and could be either physical, emotional or psychological in nature. 

Getting Closer includes in its table of contents intimacy through the lens of adult attachment styles, different forms of therapy, desire disorders, intimacy after pregnancy, postpartum depression, infertility, childhood sexual abuse, internet addiction and cyber affairs and then physical sexual dysfunction and male sexual disorders. The book does a great job of introducing the reader to many types of intimacy-based issues, although it is clear that further research and reading would be warranted. 

In his introduction, the author explains that he has seen many couples, and oftentimes, while couples feel comfortable talking about emotional difficulties, they do not report that they are having a sexual problem. It is easy to understand why couples hesitate to share this information with a therapist, but this can lead to their suffering in silence while feeling isolated from one another (Schonbuch 2). The author's intent is to create a sensitive, Torah-based book for Orthodox couples to "help them to decipher and resolve the painful role sexual dysfunction may be playing in their relationship" (2).

Schonbuch does a great job of outlying basic medical information about sexual dysfunction and its types. However, I take issue with some of his methods. His first method is to focus on EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy) throughout the whole book. Though he does sometimes mention other types of therapies, they receive short shrift. I think it would be helpful for him to make sure all of the different psychological approaches couples could use to resolve their difficulties rather than honing in on only one. I am sure there are some couples who would benefit more from CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) for instance, rather than EFT.

I am perplexed by Schonbuch's decision to first list all of the emotional or psychological intimacy disorders rather than the physiological ones. If you were to have an ear-ache or a tooth-ache, first you would see the doctor or the dentist to check whether anything was physically wrong. Only if they were unable to find anything would you then proceed to wonder whether you might be having these symptoms due to neurological or psychological issues; perhaps you are a hypochondriac. Similarly, it is odd to me that Schonbuch decided to hone in on Desire Disorders before introducing us to his Guide to Physical Sexual Dysfunction. I think it would have made more sense to reverse the order. A woman with vaginismus may well think she has SAD (Sexual Aversion Disorder) when she reads the symptoms listed under Desire Disorders, and may stop reading the book before discovering that she is actually grappling with a physiological issue.

I also find it odd that when Rabbi Schonbuch was interviewed, he said "It’s not easy for them [people dealing with sexual dysfunction] to talk about, which is why I wrote the book. Instead of bringing up these painful topics, they’d be able to read about it. Because honestly, sometimes, no matter how good the therapist is, some people can’t be relaxed enough to talk about it. Here, they can read it on their own and decide how to address their problems from there," yet at the same time, he does not provide a resource list within the book itself. At the back of the book, he writes:
    Finally, there are a number of key resources for Orthodox couples seeking marital therapy for emotional and sexual dysfunction. For an updated list of therapists and resources, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com.
I am not impressed by the choice to make the list of resources available online-only. What if this book were to find its way into the hands of a yeshivish or Chassidish couple who do not have access to the Internet? Why is there no listing of clinics, specialists and therapists (including contact information) in the back of the book? These specialists are not only missing from the resource list; they are missing from the book itself. Heather Appelbaum, an associate professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Medicine at Hofstra NorthShore LIJ University School of Medicine, writes the preface. But other doctors do not seem to have been consulted in this work. Rabbi Schonbruch makes assertions about the nature of physical and psychological forms of sexual dysfunction without quoting or seemingly consulting the experts in the field. Why are there no quotes from Dr. Andrew Goldstein or Dr. Lara Burrows of the Center for VulvoVaginal Disorders in Washington, DC? Why has Dr. Susan Kellogg of the Pelvic and Sexual Health Institute in Philadelphia not been consulted? What about Bat Sheva Marcus of the Medical Center for Female Sexuality? Where are the studies and findings of the International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health

I admire Rabbi Schonbuch's initiative. He saw a need for a book detailing the issues that Orthodox Jewish couples face in their intimate lives, and he wrote it. However, the book he wrote should not have been published in its current form. It is a fledgling, waiting to be more seriously researched and bulked up. Doctors who specialize in these areas of sexual dysfunction should have been consulted and quoted, their works and contact information listed and cited in the back of the book. A resource list should have been included. The possible forms of therapy should have been outlined and listed without such a deep focus on EFT. Rabbi Schonbuch has written a book that details his own experiences treating and dealing with these couples, but his experiences are not exhaustive or summative. A better, more developed version of this book would reflect that reality and provide sufferers with more options, techniques, therapies and better ways to seek help.