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The Power of Word
Topic: The Power of Word (Read 255347 times)
Re: viriliter agite
Reply #750 on:
July 29, 2014, 08:47:05 AM »
Quote from: bigdog on July 29, 2014, 06:23:11 AM
"Benjamin Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill ...all were proficient in Latin." And it was my Dad's 'foreign language'.
Another I like, post hoc ergo propter hoc, describing the logic fallacy, after this, therefore because of this. Also means, that logical fallacy is as old as the Latin language.
(I see it comes up in the comments along with other good ones.)
A river went out from Eden to Water the Garden
Reply #751 on:
September 09, 2014, 09:58:40 PM »
A river went out from Eden to water the garden.
There is Eden, and there is the garden.
Eden is a place of delight, far beyond the garden, beyond all created things. Yet its river nurtures all that grows in that garden.
The garden is wisdom, understanding, knowing—where all of creation begins.
Adam is placed in the garden, to work with his mind, and to discover the transcendent Eden flowing within.
So too, that is the objective of all man’s toil in this world: To reach beyond his own mind. Not to a place where the mind is ignored, but rather, to its essence, to the inner sense of beauty and wonder that guides it. To Eden.
Happy Rosh Hashanah!
Reply #752 on:
September 24, 2014, 05:44:41 PM »
Happy Rosh Hashanah! Have a Sweet and Happy New Year!
Ha’azinu (5774) – The Leader’s Call to Responsibility
When words take wing, they modulate into song. That is what they do here in Haazinu as Moses, with the angel of death already in sight, prepares to take leave of this life. Never before had he spoken with such passion. His language is vivid, even violent. He wants his final words never to be forgotten. In a sense he has been articulating this truth for forty years but never before with such emotion. This is what he says:
Give ear, O heavens, that I may speak,
Earth, hear the sayings of my mouth ...
The Rock, His acts are perfect,
For all his ways are just.
A faithful God without wrong,
Right and straight is He.
He is not corrupt; the defect is in his children,
A warped and twisted generation.
Is this the way you repay God,
Ungrateful, unwise people?
Is he not your father, your Master.
He made you and established you. (Deut. 32: 1-6)
Don’t blame God when things go wrong. That is what Moses feels so passionately. Don’t believe, he says, that God is there to serve us. We are here to serve Him and through Him be a blessing to the world. God is straight; it is we who are complex and self-deceiving. God is not there to relieve us of responsibility. It is God who is calling us to responsibility.
With these words Moses brings to closure the drama that began in the beginning with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When they sinned, Adam blamed the woman, the woman blamed the serpent. So it was in the beginning and so it still is in the twenty-first century secular time.
The story of humanity has been for the most part a flight from responsibility. The culprits change. Only the sense of victimhood remains. It wasn’t us. It was the politicians. Or the media. Or the bankers. Or our genes. Or our parents. Or the system, be it capitalism, communism or anything between. Most of all, it is the fault of the others, the ones not like us, infidels, sons of Satan, children of darkness, the unredeemed. The perpetrators of the greatest crime against humanity in all of history were convinced it wasn’t them. They were “only obeying orders.” When all else fails, blame God. And if you don’t believe in God, blame the people who do. To be human is to seek to escape from responsibility.
That is what makes Judaism different. It is what made some people admire Jews and others hate them. For Judaism is God’s call to human responsibility. From this call you can’t hide, as Adam and Eve discovered when they tried, and you can’t escape, as Jonah learnt in the belly of a fish.
What Moses was saying in his great farewell song can be paraphrased thus: “Beloved people, I have led you for forty years, and my time is coming to an end. For the last month, since I began these speeches, these Devarim, I have tried to tell you the most important things about your past and future. I beg you not to forget them.”
“Your parents were slaves. God brought them and you to freedom. But that was negative freedom, chofesh. It meant that there was no-one to order you about. That kind of freedom is not inconsequential, for its absence tastes like unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Eat them once a year so you never forget where you came from and who brought you out.”
“But don’t think that chofesh alone can sustain a free society. When everyone is free to do what they like, the result is anarchy, not freedom. A free society requires cherut, the positive freedom that only comes when people internalise the habits of self-restraint so that my freedom is not bought at the expense of yours, or yours at the cost of mine.”
“That is why I have taught you all these laws, judgments and statutes. None of them is arbitrary. None of them exists because God likes giving laws. God gave laws to the very structures of matter – laws that generated a vast, wondrous, almost unfathomable universe. If God were only interested in giving laws, He would have confined himself to the things that obey those laws, namely matter without mind and life-forms that know not liberty.”
“The laws God gave me and I gave you exist not for God’s sake but for ours. God gave us freedom – the most rare, precious, unfathomable thing of all other than life itself. But with freedom comes responsibility. That means that we must take the risk of action. God gave us the land but we must conquer it. God gave us the fields but we must plough, sow and reap them. God gave us bodies but we must tend and heal them. God is our father; He made us and established us. But parents cannot live their children’s lives. They can only show them by instruction and love how to live.”
“So when things go wrong, don’t blame God. He is not corrupt; we are. He is straight; it is we who are sometimes warped and twisted.” That is the Torah’s ethic of responsibility. No higher estimate has ever been given of the human condition. No higher vocation was ever entrusted to mortal creatures of flesh and blood.
Judaism does not see human beings, as some religions do, as irretrievably corrupt, stained by original sin, incapable of good without God’s grace. That is a form of faith but it is not ours. Nor do we see religion as a matter of blind submission to God’s will. That too is a form of faith but not ours.
We do not see human beings, as the pagans did, as the playthings of capricious gods. Nor do we see them, as some scientists do, as mere matter, a gene’s way of producing another gene, a collection of chemicals driven by electrical impulses in the brain, without any special dignity or sanctity, temporary residents in a universe devoid of meaning that came into existence for no reason and will one day, equally for no reason, cease to be.
We believe that we are God’s image, free as He is free, creative as He is creative, on an infinitely smaller and more limited scale to be sure, but still we are the one point in all the echoing expanse of space where the universe becomes conscious of itself, the one life form capable of shaping its own destiny: choosing, therefore free, therefore responsible. Judaism is God’s call to responsibility.
Which means: thou shalt not see thyself as a victim. Do not believe as the Greeks did that fate is blind and inexorable, that our fate once disclosed by the Delphic oracle, has already been sealed before we were born, that like Laius and Oedipus we are fated, however hard we try to escape the bonds of fate. That is a tragic view of the human condition. To some extent it was shared in different ways by Spinoza, Marx and Freud, the great triumvirate of Jews-by-descent who rejected Judaism and all its works.
Instead like Viktor Frankl, survivor of Auschwitz, and Aaron T. Beck, co-founder of cognitive behavioural therapy, we believe we are not defined by what happens to us but rather by how we respond to what happens to us. That itself is determined by how we interpret what happens to us. If we change the way we think – which we can, because of the plasticity of the brain – then we can change the way we feel and the way we act. Fate is never final. There may be such a thing as an evil decree, but penitence, prayer and charity can avert it. And what we cannot do alone we can do together, for we believe “it is not good for man to be alone.”
So Jews developed a morality of guilt in place of what the Greeks had, a morality of shame. A morality of guilt makes a sharp distinction between the person and the act, between the sinner and the sin. Because we are not wholly defined by what we do, there is a core within us that remains intact – “My God, the soul you gave me is pure” – so that whatever wrong we may have done, we can repent and be forgiven. That creates a language of hope, the only force strong enough to defeat a culture of despair.
It is that power of hope, born whenever God’s love and forgiveness gives rise to human freedom and responsibility, that has made Judaism the moral force it has always been to those who minds and hearts are open. But that hope, says Moses with a passion that still sears us whenever we tread it afresh, does not just happen. It has to be worked for and won. The only way it is achieved is by not blaming God. He is not corrupt. The defect is in us, His children. If we seek a better world, we must make it. God teaches us, inspires us, forgives us when we fail and lifts us when we fall, but we must make it. It is not what God does for us that transforms us; it is what we do for God.
The first humans lost paradise when they sought to hide from responsibility. We will only ever regain it if we accept responsibility and become a nation of leaders, each respecting and making space for those not like us. People do not like people who remind them of their responsibility. That is one of the reasons (not the only one, to be sure) for Judeophobia through the ages. But we are not defined by those who do not like us. To be a Jew is to be defined by the One who loves us.
The deepest mystery of all is not our faith in God but God’s faith in us. May that faith sustain us as we heed the call to responsibility and take the risk of healing some of the needless wounds of an injured but still wondrous world.
Last Edit: September 26, 2014, 09:54:19 AM by Crafty_Dog
Re: The Power of Word
Reply #753 on:
September 25, 2014, 09:31:57 AM »
Brilliant and timeless wisdom.
Happy New Year to you too Rachel.
I've never met you could walk by you on the street, yet feel connected to you through your posts.
Re: The Power of Word
Reply #754 on:
September 26, 2014, 10:45:11 AM »
A fine one Rachel. Happy New Year!
Reply #755 on:
October 14, 2014, 12:44:05 AM »
Moses is America's prophet
By Bruce Feiler, Special to CNN
March 29, 2010 1:28 p.m. EDT
Bruce Feiler calls this week, from Passover to Easter, Moses week in America.
Feiler says U.S. and its leaders have referred to narrative of Moses for over 400 years
Pilgrims, Jefferson, Statue of Liberty, spirituals, Superman refer to Moses, he says
Moses represents courage, balance of freedom and law, ideal of justice, he says
Editor's note: Bruce Feiler is the author of "Walking the Bible," "Abraham" and "America's Prophet: Moses and the American Story." His new book, "The Council of Dads," will be published in April.
(CNN) -- This Saturday, millions of Americans will watch the annual spectacle of Charlton Heston acting the part of a Cold War hero in Cecil B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments." The TV air date is no accident.
This week, beginning with Passover and ending with Easter, is "Moses week" in America. It's the one time of year when the biblical hero steps to the forefront of religious ritual, renewing the special bond that has existed between the great prophet and the United States for over 400 years.
Moses was an American icon long before there was an America. When the Pilgrims left England in 1620, they described themselves as the chosen people fleeing their pharaoh, King James. On the Atlantic, they proclaimed their journey to be as vital as "Moses and the Israelites when they went out of Egypt." And when they got to Cape Cod, they thanked God for letting them pass through their fiery Red Sea.
By the time of the Revolution, Moses had become the go-to narrative of American freedom. In 1751, the Pennsylvania Assembly chose a quote from the Five Books of Moses for its State House bell, "Proclaim Liberty thro' all the Land to all the Inhabitants Thereof -- Levit. XXV 10."
The future Liberty Bell was hanging above the room where the Continental Congress passed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Congress' last order of business that day was to form a committee of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams to design a seal for the new United States. The committee submitted its recommendation that August: Moses, leading the Israelites across the Red Sea. In their eyes, Moses was America's true Founding Father.
Two-thirds of the eulogies at George Washington's death compared him to Moses.
But escaping bondage proved to be only half the story. After the Israelites arrived in the desert, they faced a period of lawlessness, which prompted the Ten Commandments. The message: Freedom depends on law.
Americans faced a similar moment of chaos after the Revolution. Just as a reluctant Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and then handed down the Ten Commandments, a reluctant George Washington led the colonists to victory and then presided over the drafting of the Constitution. The parallel was not lost. Two-thirds of the eulogies at Washington's death compared him to Moses.
Although Moses was a unifying presence during the founding era, a generation later, he got dragged into the issue that most divided the country. The Israelites' escape from slavery was the dominant motif of slave spirituals, including "Turn Back Pharaoh's Army," "I Am Bound for the Promised Land" and the most famous, "Go Down, Moses," which was called the national anthem of slaves.
Yet as abolitionists used the exodus to attack slavery, Southerners used it to defend the institution. The War Between the States became the War Between the Moseses. It took America's most Bible-quoting president to reunite the country. Abraham Lincoln talked about the exodus at Gettysburg, and, when he died, he too was compared to Moses.
"There is no historic figure more noble than that of the Jewish lawgiver," Henry Ward Beecher eulogized. "There is scarcely another event in history more touching than his death." Until now. "Again a great leader of the people has passed through toil, sorrow, battle and war, and come near to the promised land of peace, into which he might not pass over."
The country's greatest icon, the Statue of Liberty ... even Superman [were] modeled partly on Moses.
Political figures weren't the only ones compared to Moses; national icons were, as well, including Uncle Sam and Old Glory. The country's greatest icon, the Statue of Liberty, was designed with spikes of light around her head and a tablet in her arms to mimic Moses' pose when he climbed down Sinai with shafts of light around his head and tablets of law in his hands.
Even Superman was modeled partly on Moses. The comic-book hero's creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, modeled their superhero on the superhero of the Torah. Just as baby Moses is floated down the Nile in a basket to escape annihilation, baby Superman is launched into space in a rocket ship to avoid extinction. Both Moses and Superman were picked up by aliens and raised in strange environments before being summoned to aid humanity. Superman's birth name was Kal-el, which is Hebrew for "swift god."
But it was Cecil B. DeMille who turned Moses into a symbol of American power in the Cold War. The 1956 epic "The Ten Commandments," the fifth highest-grossing movie of all time, opened with DeMille appearing onscreen.
"The theme of this picture is whether men ought to be ruled by God's law or whether they are to be ruled by the whims of a dictator," he said. "The same battle continues throughout the world today."
To drive home his point, DeMille cast mostly Americans as Israelites and Europeans as Egyptians. And in the film's final shot, Charlton Heston quotes the Liberty Bell (even though it comes from three books earlier in the Bible) and recreates the pose of the Statue of Liberty, forever securing America's place as the new Promised Land.
Today, 40 years after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. compared himself to Moses on the night before his assassination, the Hebrew prophet is as resonant as ever.
George W. Bush said in an Oval Office interview that he was inspired to run for the presidency by a sermon in Texas in which his preacher said Moses was not a man of words but still led his people to freedom. Barack Obama said in 2007 that the civil rights pioneers were the "Moses generation," and he was part of the "Joshua generation" that would "find our way across the river." And this week, Obama holds the second White House seder.
What explains this ongoing appeal?
First, Moses embodies the courage to escape hardship and seek a better world. He keeps alive the ministry of hope. "Not America," as W.E.B. DuBois put it, "but what America will be." Moses is the figurehead of "America will be."
Second, Moses encapsulates the American juggling act between freedom and law. "Since the exodus," German poet Heinrich Heine said, "freedom has always spoken with a Hebrew accent."
Finally, Moses is a reminder that a moral society is one that embraces the outsider and uplifts the downtrodden. "You shall not oppress a stranger," God says in Exodus 23, "for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt." Moses represents the ideals of American justice.
Yet he reminds us that we often fall short of our dreams. As King said, "I've been to the mountaintop. And I've looked over. I've seen the promised land. And I may not get there with you, but I want you to know that we as a people will get to the promised land."
These words capture what may be the most enduring lesson of Moses: The true destination of a journey of hope is not this year at all but next.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bruce Feiler.
Prager: You can kill, but not murder
Reply #756 on:
December 02, 2014, 08:11:47 AM »
You Can Kill, But Not Murder
Posted By Dennis Prager On December 2, 2014
That is the King James translation of the sixth commandment. It is a magnificent translation. But this one has led to much moral confusion.
Yesterday, PragerUniversity.com, which has had more than 20 million views this year, released 11 courses (each five-minutes long) — the Ten Commandments and an introduction.
The reason we made these video courses is that I believe that everything we need to make a good world and rid ourselves of evil is contained in the Ten Commandments.
For the next few weeks, my column will be selected transcripts of the courses, all of which I present.
Whatever your faith, or if you have no faith, I invite you to watch the videos at
— from the introduction through the tenth, or any of the Ten. They are cleverly animated with text and graphics.
Here is the text of commandment six — explaining why the King James translation is wrong:
You would think that of all the Ten Commandments the one that needs the least explaining is the sixth, because it seems so clear. It is the one that the King James Bible, the most widely used English translation of the Bible, translates as, “Thou shall not kill.”
Yet, the truth is the quite the opposite. This is probably the least well understood of the Ten Commandments. The reason is that the Hebrew original does not say, “Do not kill.” It says, “Do not murder.” Both Hebrew and English have two words for taking a life — one is “kill” (harag, in Hebrew) and the other is “murder” (ratzach in Hebrew).
The difference between the two is enormous. Kill means:
1) Taking any life — whether of a human being or an animal.
2) Taking a human life deliberately or by accident.
3) Taking a human life legally or illegally, morally or immorally.
On the other hand, murder can only mean one thing: The illegal or immoral taking of a human life. That’s why we say, “I killed a mosquito,” not, “I murdered a mosquito.” And that’s why we would say that “the worker was accidentally killed,” not that “the worker was accidentally murdered.”
So why did the King James translation of the Bible use the word “kill” rather than “murder”? Because 400 years ago, when the translation was made, “kill” was synonymous with “murder.” As a result, some people don’t realize that English has changed since 1610 and therefore think that the Ten Commandments prohibits all killing.
But, of course, it doesn’t. If the Ten Commandments forbade killing, we would all have to be vegetarians, as killing animals would be prohibited. And we would all have to be pacifists — since we could not kill even in self-defense.
However, you don’t have to know how the English language has evolved to understand that the Ten Commandments could not have prohibited all killing.
The very same part of the Bible that contains the Ten Commandments — the Five Books of Moses, the Torah as it is known by Jews — commands the death penalty for murder, allows killing in war, prescribes animal sacrifice and allows eating meat.
A correct understanding of the commandment against murder is crucial because, while virtually every modern translation correctly translates the commandment as “Do not murder,” many people cite the King James translation to justify two positions that have no biblical basis: opposition to capital punishment and pacifism.
Regarding capital punishment and the Bible, as I note in my Prager University course on capital punishment, the only law that appears in each one of the Five Books of Moses is that murderers be put to death. Opponents of the death penalty are free to hold the view that all murderers should be allowed to live. But they are not free to cite the Bible to support their view.
Yet, many do. And they always cite the Commandment, “Do not kill.” But that, as should now be abundantly clear, is not what the commandment says, and it is therefore an invalid argument.
As regards pacifism, the belief that it is always wrong to kill a human being, again, anyone is free to hold this position, as immoral as it may be. And what other word than “immoral” can one use to describe forbidding the killing of someone who is in the process of murdering innocent men, women and children, in, let’s say, a movie theater or a school?
But it is dishonest to cite the commandment against murder to justify pacifism.
There is moral killing — most obviously when done in self-defense against an aggressor — and there is immoral killing. And the word for that is “murder.”
The Ten Commandments are portrayed on two tablets. The five commandments on the second tablet all concern our treatment of fellow human beings.
The first one on that list is “Do not murder.” Why? Because murder is the worst act a person can commit. The other four commandments — prohibiting stealing, adultery, giving false testimony and coveting, are all serious offenses.
But murder leads the list because deliberately taking the life of an innocent person is the most terrible thing we can do. That is why it is so important to understand that the commandment prohibits murder, not all killing. When people liken killing in self-defense to murder — such as when they equate killing the terrorist who is murdering people with the murders that the terrorist is committing — all they are doing is reducing the evil that murder is. And when they use the Ten Commandments to justify that position, all they are doing is making the Ten Commandments, the moral foundation of Western Civilization, morally irrelevant.
The next time you hear someone cite, “Do not kill” when quoting the sixth commandment, gently but firmly explain that it actually says, “Do not murder.”
Dennis Prager on the Ten Commandments
Reply #757 on:
December 03, 2014, 12:45:33 AM »
Well worth the time of watching the whole thing!
An interesting discussion of marriage and its criteria in Judaism
Reply #758 on:
December 09, 2014, 11:46:24 AM »
WSJ: Moses parts the Red Sea
Reply #759 on:
December 10, 2014, 10:57:41 PM »
How Did Moses Part the Red Sea?
The science of tides may have saved the Israelites from the Egyptians
Moses had lived nearby and knew where caravans crossed the Red Sea at low tide. Pictured, a scene from ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’
By Bruce Parker
Dec. 5, 2014 9:37 a.m. ET
Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” which opens in movie theaters across the country Dec. 12, will include, of course, the most famous of all biblical miracles: the parting of the Red Sea. But its depiction will look quite different from the one in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 classic “The Ten Commandments.” In the earlier movie, Charlton Heston as Moses parted the sea into two huge walls of water, between which the children of Israel crossed on a temporarily dry seabed to the opposite shore. Pharaoh’s army of chariots chased after them only to be drowned when Moses signaled for the waters to return.
Mr. Scott has said that his new version of the story will have a more realistic and natural explanation of what happened and won’t rely on Moses to bring forth God’s miraculous intervention. He has decided to have the waters “part” as the result of a tsunami caused by an earthquake. Before a tsunami strikes, coastal waters often recede, leaving the seabed dry before the giant wave arrives.
But there are problems with this version of the story, too. The period during which coastal waters draw back before a tsunami usually lasts only 10 or 20 minutes, too little time to get all the children of Israel across the temporarily dry seabed. Also, there would have been no way for Moses to know that the earthquake and tsunami were going to happen, unless God told him. That’s fine, but then the story would retain some element of the miraculous.
There is a much better natural explanation for how a temporary path across the Red Sea could have been revealed. It involves the tide, a natural phenomenon that would have fit nicely into a well-thought-out plan by Moses, because Moses would have been able to predict when it would happen.
In certain places in the world, the tide can leave the sea bottom dry for hours and then come roaring back. In fact, in 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte and a small group of soldiers on horseback were crossing the Gulf of Suez, the northern end of the Red Sea, roughly where Moses and the Israelites are said to have crossed. On a mile-long expanse of dry sea bottom exposed at low water, the tide suddenly rushed in, almost drowning them.
In the biblical account, the children of Israel were camped on the western shore of the Gulf of Suez when the dust clouds raised by Pharaoh’s chariots were seen in the distance. The Israelites were now trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea. The dust clouds, however, were probably an important sign for Moses; they would have let him calculate how soon Pharaoh’s army would arrive at the coast.
Moses had lived in the nearby wilderness in his early years, and he knew where caravans crossed the Red Sea at low tide. He knew the night sky and the ancient methods of predicting the tide, based on where the moon was overhead and how full it was. Pharaoh and his advisers, by contrast, lived along the Nile River, which is connected to the almost tideless Mediterranean Sea. They probably had little knowledge of the tides of the Red Sea and how dangerous they could be.
Knowing when low tide would occur, how long the sea bottom would remain dry and when the waters would rush back in, Moses could plan the Israelites’ escape. Choosing a full moon for their flight would have given them a larger tidal range—that is, the low tide would have been much lower and the sea bottom would have stayed dry longer, giving the Israelites more time to cross. The high tide also would have been higher and thus better for submerging Pharaoh’s pursuing army.
In ‘The Ten Commandments,’ Charlton Heston as Moses parted the sea into two huge walls of water, between which the children of Israel crossed on a temporarily dry seabed to the opposite shore. ENLARGE
In ‘The Ten Commandments,’ Charlton Heston as Moses parted the sea into two huge walls of water, between which the children of Israel crossed on a temporarily dry seabed to the opposite shore. Everett Collection
Timing would have been crucial. The last of the Israelites had to cross the dry sea bottom just before the tide returned, enticing Pharaoh’s army of chariots onto the exposed sea bottom, where they would drown as the returning tidal waters overwhelmed them. If the chariots were expected to arrive before the tide came back in, Moses might have planned some type of delaying tactic. If the chariots were expected to arrive after the tide came back in, he could have gotten the Israelites across and then, at the next low tide, sent a few of his best people back onto the temporarily dry sea bed to entice Pharaoh’s chariots to chase them.
The Bible mentions a strong east wind that blew all night and pushed back the waters. Ocean physics tells us that wind blowing over a shallow waterway pushes back more water than a wind blowing over a deep waterway. If a wind did by chance fortuitously blow before the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, it would have had more effect at low tide than at any other time, uncovering even more sea bottom.
Such a wind would surely have been assigned to divine intervention, and over the centuries, as the story of the Exodus was retold, that aspect would have overshadowed Moses’ careful planning to take advantage of the low tide. But Moses couldn’t have predicted the suddenly beneficial wind, so he couldn’t have based his plan on it. His timing had to be based on a tide prediction.
When Napoleon and his forces almost drowned in 1798 at the northern end of the Gulf of Suez, the water typically rose 5 or 6 feet at high tide (and up to 9 or 10 feet with the wind blowing in the right direction). But there is evidence that the sea level was higher in Moses’ time. As a result, the Gulf of Suez would have extended farther north and had a larger tidal range. If that was indeed the case, the real story of the Israelites’ crossing wouldn’t have needed much exaggeration to include walls of water crashing down on the pursuing Egyptians.
One more piece of evidence is worth citing. As it turns out, my suggestion that Moses could have planned to cross the Red Sea at low tide isn’t entirely new. The ancient author Eusebius of Caesarea (263–339 A.D.) cites two versions of the story of the crossing of the Red Sea as related by the Hellenistic historian Artapanus (80–40 B.C.). One version, told by the people of Heliopolis, is similar to the account in the Bible. But in the second version, told by the people of Memphis, “Moses, being acquainted with the country, waited for the ebb and took the people across the sea when dry.”
If the tide was indeed involved in Moses’ “parting” of the Red Sea, it has to qualify as the most dramatic and consequential tide prediction in history.
—Dr. Parker is the former chief scientist of NOAA’s National Ocean Service and is currently a visiting professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology. He is the author of “The Power of the Sea: Tsunamis, Storm Surges, Rogue Waves, and Our Quest to Predict Disasters.”
Prager: The Worst Sin
Reply #760 on:
December 23, 2014, 11:27:43 AM »
Reply #761 on:
January 01, 2015, 11:32:12 AM »
“Judge not, lest you be judged”: Misinterpreted Bible Passages #3
September 1, 2009 by Jason A. Staples 42 Comments
*If new to this series, please see the introduction.*
Today we address one of the most quoted and most commonly misinterpreted passages in the Bible, a verse usually cited to mean that people shouldn’t judge one another but meaning something entirely different:
Matthew 7:1–2 Μὴ κρίνετε, ἵνα μὴ κριθῆτε· ἐν ᾧ γὰρ κρίματι κρίνετε κριθήσεσθε, καὶ ἐν ᾧ μέτρῳ μετρεῖτε μετρηθήσεται ὑμῖν.
“Do not judge, so that you will not be judged, since you will be judged in the same judgment that you make, and you will be measured by the same standard you apply.”
This is one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, usually in a context something like this: “Yeah, he cheated on his wife, but who am I to judge? Hey, we’re all sinners, right? Like Jesus said, ‘Judge not, lest you be judged,'” or “Don’t judge me—if you were really a Christian you’d listen to Jesus when he said, ‘judge not.'” That is, the verse is often marshaled in order to defend against any declaration that a given person’s behavior is wrong (quite often marshaled by the person in question). Effectively, when quoted as such, the verse is understood as a prohibition against declaring any specific action sinful or wrong, since doing so would mean “judging” someone.
Hypocrisy, not judgment, is the problem
Often this verse is thrown around after some church figure (like Ted Haggard, for example) is found to be doing the very things he thundered against in the pulpit. “See,” it is said, “he shouldn’t have judged—he’s no better than anyone else.” Though this latter interpretation is often considered to be an extension of the former, the first interpretation entirely misses the point of the passage while the latter one nails it dead center. Despite how it appears if one stops reading after the first verse, this passage in Matthew is not forbidding judgment but hypocrisy. Yet again, we find that a text without a context is a pretext—the primary exegetical fault leading to misinterpretation is neglecting to read closely the surrounding section of a key verse.
Jesus follows up his warning against judgment with an explanation—we will all be judged by the same measure that we use. If we cannot hold to the standard we use, we have no business applying that standard to others. There are two possible responses to this statement: one, operating under the assumption that no one can possibly live up to a high standard, holds to the interpretation mentioned above that no one should ever judge anyone else, since we’re all sinners. The second possibility is that we should all amend our own behavior and live properly before exercising judgment and helping others to do the same.
The former is a popular option in today’s culture, which emphasizes “tolerance” as one of the highest virtues, while the latter is the choice actually made in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus rebukes the hearer in the verses immediately following the ones we’re discussing,
“Why do you see the splinter in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log in your own eye? … You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.” (7:3, 5)
There are several things to note here: the first is Jesus’ wry observation about perspective. The closer an object gets to the eye, the larger it appears—a splinter from afar is log-sized if it’s in one’s eye. So a fault in one’s own life is a far greater problem than the same fault in another’s life—the opposite of how we tend to think. But the point of the passage is to shut up only until one corrects one’s own life. And, contrary to much subsequent Christian theological development, the Matthean Jesus actually expects that a person can do so, ultimately living in a righteous manner. (This would often be labeled “self-righteousness” today, though it is simply called “righteousness” in Matthew.)
The second thing worthy of note is Jesus point that only after correcting one’s own behavior will one see clearly enough to make adequate judgments and help anyone else correct his/her own behavior. This is a recognition of the human tendency to judge based on our own heart; that is, we tend to see ourselves in others. (The postmodern recognition of essential subjectivity is closely related to this concept.) Just like a man with a splinter in his eye, we see that splinter (only much larger than it really is—as a beam) everywhere we look. If we are arrogant, we tend to see arrogance in other people. If we are cruel, we tend to suspect cruelty in others. If we are lecherous (an outstanding and underused word—isn’t that a great word, “lecherous”? Even better is the noun, “lecher,” as in “you filthy lecher!”), we tend to suspect sexual motives, desires, or behaviors in others. It is extraordinarily hard for us to break out of ourselves enough to truly empathize, seeing from another’s viewpoint, and Jesus makes the case that it is far harder—perhaps impossible—to do so when we are not pure hearted ourselves. As long as we hold to our own faults, we will see them in everyone else. But, as Titus 1:15 says, “to the pure everything is pure.”
So the passage is actually a condemnation of hypocrisy, not judgment. Jesus’ counsel is to tend to our own behavior and attitudes before attempting to help anyone else. If we attempt to judge before doing so, our judgment will be flawed by our own “splinters.” But the passage is in no way forbidding judgment. On the contrary, it asserts that judgment, like charity, begins at home.
It is extraordinarily ironic that this passage therefore condemns those who most vigorously accuse others of “judging,” since they are themselves condemning condemnation—the very hypocrisy the passage condemns! The very judgment they condemn is precisely what they themselves are doing—they see their own splinter in the eyes of those around them. This passage would say to them, “Don’t forbid others from judging while condemning their judgment or right to judge! You hypocrites! Far from forbidding judgment, you have made yourselves the chief justices!” The whole point is that Jesus here rebukes those who judge others for doing what they themselves do—like negatively judging someone for being judgmental.
In the immediately following verse, Jesus requires good judgment: “Don’t give what is holy to the dogs, nor throw your pearls before swine.” Wouldn’t this require identifying who the “dogs” and “swine” are? What about identifying the “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” whom we “will know from their fruits” in 7:15–20? Elsewhere in Matthew (chapter 18), Jesus lays out guidelines for dealing with a “brother who sins,” involving a progression from showing him his error in private to taking the matter before the whole community. In the same vein, Paul repeatedly emphasizes the church’s responsibility to judge its members (though, interestingly, not the world; cf. 1 Cor 5–6, et al.).
A Few Observations and Why It Matters
One thing that is often ignored in the “judge not” discussion is that judgment also involves (in fact starts with) a declaration of what is good. If we do not judge, we cannot praise anything any more than we can condemn it. Judgment involves making the distinction between good, bad, or indifferent, not simply declaring something to be bad. In fact, it is impossible to go through life without judging; every decision we make implies a particular value judgment underlying it. As such, in its common usage, the “don’t judge” mentality often actually means, “judge this as right and good!” While it is true that some things do not require a distinct judgment, others do require a position, and to take no position is to judge it affirmatively (tolerance of adultery is implicit acceptance of it, for example). Surely no one would assume that murder should be ignored and not condemned! Any society abiding by the “don’t judge” mantra would soon devolve into utter chaos.
Secondly, without judgment (and specifically negative judgment), forgiveness is impossible. Forgiveness assumes a previous negative judgment that is superseded by the extension of mercy towards another—and Jesus requires that people forgive one another as they have been forgiven themselves (by God). Again, this both assumes judgment and encourages a merciful response.
Thirdly, the actual message of this passage—deal with one’s own sins before looking at anyone else’s, since good judgment requires a pure heart—is critically important for understanding the rest of Matthew and even the Christian life itself. Likewise, it is critical to understand that Matthew’s Jesus emphasizes repentance and right action and assumes that once these things are in place, good judgment can be made and is in fact necessary. No one should ever let himself/herself be shouted down by cries of “don’t judge,” or accusations of being “self-righteous,” since such quotes out of context do damage to the intent of the passage as a pretext for defending behavior.
In summary, in this passage Jesus warns of the human tendency to judge based on our own faults and flaws. This warning is one that should be considered before any assumption about another’s behavior or intentions. Instead, the passage asserts that we should always examine ourselves first to see if the splinter we see is actually affixed to our own eye—and only if our eye is clean can we trust our judgment enough to begin the process of helping remove the offense from anyone else. This is an incredibly important point, both emphasizing the importance of good judgment and the steps necessary to acquire it.
The 7 categories of English names
Reply #762 on:
January 18, 2015, 12:56:16 PM »
God, Reason, and our Civilizational Crisis
Reply #763 on:
March 20, 2015, 12:50:00 PM »
Re: The Power of Word
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December 13, 2015, 07:58:42 AM »
The Clintons give new meaning to the phrase "criminal lawyer".
Accidental Talmudist: A Poor Jew finds a Wallet with $700 in it , , ,
Reply #765 on:
December 18, 2015, 08:14:30 PM »
March 10, 2014 ·
A poor Jew finds a wallet with $700 in it. At his synagogue, he reads a notice saying that a wealthy congregant lost his wallet and is offering a $100 reward for it. He spots the owner and gives him the wallet.
The rich man counts the money and says, "I see you already took your reward."
The poor man answers, "What?"
"This wallet had $800 in it when I lost it."
They begin arguing, and eventually come before the rabbi.
Both state their case. The rich man concludes by saying, "Rabbi, I trust you believe ME."
The rabbi says, "Of course," and the rich man smiles. The poor man is crushed.
Then the rabbi hands the wallet to the poor man.
"What are you doing?!" yells the rich man.
The rabbi answers, "You are, of course, an honest man, and you say the wallet you lost had $800 in it. Therefore I'm sure it did. But if the man who found this wallet is a liar and a thief, he wouldn't have returned it at all. Which means that this wallet must belong to somebody else. If that man steps forward, he'll get the money. Until then, it belongs to the man who found it."
"What about my money?" the rich man asks.
"Well, we'll just have to wait until somebody finds a wallet with $800 in it..."
We are what we remember
Reply #766 on:
September 20, 2016, 09:41:01 AM »
We Are What We Remember Elul 17, 5776 • September 20, 2016
By Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
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One reason religion has survived in the modern world despite four centuries of secularization is that it answers the three questions every reflective human being will ask at some time in his or her life: Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?
These cannot be answered by the four great institutions of the modern West: science, technology, the market economy and the liberal democratic state. Science tells us how but not why. Technology gives us power but cannot tell us how to use that power. The market
Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?
gives us choices but does not tell us which choices to make. The liberal democratic state as a matter of principle holds back from endorsing any particular way of life. The result is that contemporary culture sets before us an almost infinite range of possibilities, but does not tell us who we are, why we are here, and how we should live.
Yet these are fundamental questions. Moses’ first question to G d in their first encounter at the burning bush was “Who am I?” The plain sense of the verse is that it was a rhetorical question: Who am I to undertake the extraordinary task of leading an entire people to freedom? But beneath the plain sense was a genuine question of identity. Moses had been brought up by an Egyptian princess, the daughter of Pharaoh. When he rescued Jethro’s daughters from the local Midianite shepherds, they went back and told their father, “An Egyptian man delivered us.” Moses looked and spoke like an Egyptian.
He then married Zipporah, one of Jethro’s daughters, and spent decades as a Midianite shepherd. The chronology is not entirely clear but since he was a relatively young man when he went to Midian and was eighty years old when he started leading the Israelites, he spent most of his adult life with his Midianite father-in-law, tending his sheep. So when he asked G d, “Who am I?” beneath the surface there was a real question. Am I an Egyptian, a Midianite, or a Jew?
By upbringing he was an Egyptian, by experience he was a Midianite. Yet what proved decisive was his ancestry. He was a descendant of Abraham, the child of Amram and Yocheved. When he asked G d his second question, “Who are you?” G d first told him, “I will be what I will be.” But then he gave him a second answer:
Say to the Israelites, ‘The L rd, the G d of your fathers—the G d of Abraham, the G d of Isaac and the G d of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, the name you shall call Me from generation to generation.
Here too there is a double sense. On the surface G d was telling Moses what to tell the Israelites when they asked, “Who sent you to us?” But at a deeper level the Torah is telling us about the nature of identity. The answer to the question, “Who am I?” is not simply a matter of where I was born, where I spent my childhood or my adult life or of which country I am a citizen. Nor is it answered in terms of what I do for a living, or what are my interests and passions. These things are about where I am and what I am but not who I am.
G d’s answer – I am the G d of your fathers – suggests some fundamental propositions. First, identity runs through genealogy. It is a matter of who my parents were, who their parents were and so on. This is not always true. There are adopted children. There are children who make a conscious break from their parents. But for most of us, identity lies in uncovering the story of our ancestors, which, in the case of Jews, given the unparalleled dislocations of Jewish life, is almost always a tale of journeys, courage, suffering or escapes from suffering, and sheer endurance.
Second, the genealogy itself tells a story. Immediately after telling Moses to tell the people he had been sent by the G d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, G d continued:
“Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The L rd, the G d of your fathers—the G d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’
It was not simply that G d was the G d of their ancestors. He was also the G d who made certain promises: that he would bring from slavery to freedom, from exile to the Promised Land. The Israelites were part of a narrative extended over time. They were part of an unfinished story, and G d was about to write the next chapter.
What is more, when G d told Moses that he was the G d of the Israelites’ ancestors, he added, “This is My eternal name, this is how I am to be recalled [zikhri] from generation to generation.” G d was here saying that he is beyond time – “This is my eternal name” – but when it comes to human understanding, he lives within time, “from generation to generation.” The way he does this is through the handing on of memory: “This is how I am to be recalled.” Identity is not just a matter of who my parents were. It is also a matter of what they remembered and handed on to me. Personal identity is
Group identity is formed by collective memory
shaped by individual memory. Group identity is formed by collective memory. 1
All of this is by way of prelude to a remarkable law in today’s parsha. It tells us that first-fruits were to be taken to “the place G d chooses,” i.e. Jerusalem. They were to be handed to the priest, and each was to make the following declaration:
“My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great, powerful and populous nation. The Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the L rd, the G d of our ancestors, and the L rd heard our voice and saw our suffering, our harsh labor and out distress. The L rd then brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, with great fearsomeness and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land flowing with milk and honey. I am now bringing the first-fruits of the soil that you, L rd, have given me.” (Deuteronomy 26: 5-10)
We know this passage because, at least since Second Temple times it has been a central part of the Haggadah, the story we tell at the Seder table. But note that it was originally to be said on bringing firstfruits, which was not on Pesach. Usually it was done on Shavuot.
What makes this law remarkable is this: We would expect, when celebrating the soil and its produce, to speak of the G d of nature. But this text is not about nature. It is about history. It is about a distant ancestor, a “wandering Aramean.” It is the story of our ancestors. It is a narrative explaining why I am here, and why the people to whom I belong is what it is and where it is. There was nothing remotely like this in the ancient world, and there is nothing quite like it today. As Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi said in his classic book Zakhor,2 Jews were the first people to see G d in history, the first to see an overarching meaning in history, and the first to make memory a religious duty.
That is why Jewish identity has proven to be the most tenacious the world has ever known: the only identity ever sustained by a minority dispersed throughout the world for two thousand years, one that eventually led Jews back to the land and state of Israel, turning Hebrew, the language of the Bible, into a living speech again after a lapse of many centuries in which it was used only for poetry and prayer. We are what we remember, and the first-fruits declaration was a way of ensuring that Jews would never forget.
In the past few years, a spate of books has appeared in the United States asking whether the American story is still being told, still being taught to children, still framing a story that speaks to all its citizens, reminding successive generations of the battles that had to be fought for there to be a “new birth of freedom,” and the virtues needed for liberty to be sustained.3 The sense of crisis in each of these works is palpable, and though the authors come from very different positions in the political spectrum, their thesis is roughly the same: If you forget the story, you will lose your identity. There is such a thing as a
Who we are depends on what we remember
national equivalent of Alzheimer’s. Who we are depends on what we remember, and in the case of the contemporary West, a failure of collective memory poses a real and present danger to the future of liberty.
Jews have told the story of who we are for longer and more devotedly than any other people on the face of the earth. That is what makes Jewish identity so rich and resonant. In an age in which computer and smartphone memories have grown so fast, from kilobytes to megabytes to gigabytes, while human memories have become so foreshortened, there is an important Jewish message to humanity as a whole. You can’t delegate memory to machines. You have to renew it regularly and teach it to the next generation. Winston Churchill said: “The longer you can look back, the further you can see forward.” 4 Or to put it slightly differently: Those who tell the story of their past have already begun to build their children’s future.
The classic works on group memory and identity are Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory, University of Chicago Press, 1992, and Jacques le Goff, History and Memory, Columbia University Press, 1992.
Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory. University of Washington Press, 1982. See also Lionel Kochan, The Jew and His History, London, Macmillan, 1977.
Among the most important of these are Charles Murray, Coming Apart, Crown, 2013; Robert Putnam, Our Kids, Simon and Shuster, 2015; Os Guinness, A Free People’s Suicide, IVP, 2012; Eric Metaxas, If You Can Keep It, Viking, 2016; and Yuval Levin, The Fractured Republic, Basic Books, 2016.
Chris Wrigley, Winston Churchill: a biographical companion, Santa Barbara, 2002, xxiv.
Prager: Thou shalt not covet
Reply #767 on:
September 20, 2016, 10:46:32 PM »
The Accidental Talmudist
Reply #768 on:
December 09, 2016, 11:34:14 PM »
Reply #769 on:
December 28, 2016, 10:30:33 PM »
So I was at a Las Vegas area buffet last night. There were various sections of differing cusines. Under the American section, there was brisket, potato latkes, potato and apple kugel and other similar foods. First time I had a latke and kugel. The sign said matzo ball soup, but I didn't find it.
This seems meaningful to me.
You Can't Return to Eden
Reply #770 on:
February 21, 2017, 11:54:48 PM »
You Can’t Return to Eden
By Brett and Kate McKay on Feb 20, 2017 12:46 pm
Though one of the first Europeans to explore Tahiti, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, only stayed on the island for about ten days, he was thoroughly impressed with what appeared to be a true paradise on earth. The natives, he observed, were graceful in movement, gentle in disposition, generous in spirit, and peaceful at heart. They seemed to live in a state of childlike innocence — free from shame and modesty, open in their sexuality and nakedness, living only for pleasure and love. Bougainville saw them as untainted by the artificial mores of civilization — the very picture of the “noble savage” ideal then being celebrated back on the continent.
Tahiti’s environment itself was similarly inviting — the surroundings were verdant, the climate temperate, the days sunlit, and the food not only plentiful, but seemingly easy to gather and harvest. “I thought,” Bougainville wrote, “I was transported into the Garden of Eden.”
Even more than a century after the French explorer’s stay in 1768, and the observations of subsequent visitors who noted that Tahiti’s inhabitants were not always as peaceable as they seemed nor its resources as plenteous, travel and fiction literature continued to paint the island as an oasis of innocence, beauty, and easy abundance. Said one such leaflet:
“Born where there is no winter, in a country where the soil is richly fertile, the Tahitians have only to lift their hands in order to harvest the bread-fruits and wild bananas which form their staple food. Consequently, they have no need to work and the fishing which they carry on for the sake of a little variety in their diet is more a pleasure which they indulge in gladly…In this land where misery is unknown and labor needless…everyone has his place in the sun and in the shade, his place in the water, and his sustenance in the wood.”
One who was intrigued by this alluring description of an earthly paradise was the French artist Paul Gaugin, who saw in Tahiti a chance for a fresh start — the opportunity to throw off “everything that is artificial and conventional” and sustain himself on the fruits of an abundant garden; “There in Tahiti in the silence of the lovely topical night,” he dreamed, “[I will be] free at last, with no money troubles, and able to love, to sing and to die.”
Gaugin left his wife and children for the island in 1891, but found his destination was not quite the bountiful idyll he had imagined — that even the temperate climate had both seasons of plenty and seasons of greater scarcity, and that it was more difficult to live off the land than reaching up to grab a banana or pulling netfuls of fish from well-stocked lagoons. As he lamented, even in Tahiti, food didn’t fall into one’s lap without some effort:
“[Nature] is rich, she is generous, she refuses to no one who will ask his share of her treasures of which she has inexhaustible reserves in the trees, in the mountains, in the sea. But one must know how to climb tall trees, how to go into the mountains, in order to return weighed down with heavy booty…One must know how, one must be able to do things.”
Gaugin was not the first man to go off seeking paradise only to be disappointed in the reality he found. And he certainly won’t be the last.
Mankind has not given up on its search for a “Tahiti” — a place of plenty where one can live in innocent idleness, having every need met without labor or toil. And there remain innumerable companies and ads that seek to capitalize on this universal human desire — the longing not just to literally journey to a location where the living’s easy, but to achieve an unburdened, unstressed psychological state. Such hawkers of attainable paradise may not produce leaflets trumpeting the wonders of Tahiti, but the promise being offered is very much the same: use this gadget, employ this hack, take this lifestyle design course, and you can return to Eden. You can earn money without work, eat whatever you want without gaining weight, love whoever you will without consequence.
Underneath the allure of all these promises — at the bottom of this ache for utopia — lies a desire to return to youth, to restore the responsibility-free life that was forfeited in the process of growing up.
Yet no matter how much one seeks this left behind paradise, there’s no going back to Eden.
By the Sweat of Your Brow
The story of Adam and Eve is common to all of the world’s Abrahamic religions, and its influence is infused throughout cultures around the world. Some see the story as absolute scripture, as literally true. Others see it only as literature, as myth. Between, and in-between the two camps, multiple interpretations of the story have been forwarded — some which view its meaning not, or not only as, a carrier of spiritual/theological truths, but as a symbolic meditation on human psychology.
Arguably the most compelling of these interpretations, in my view, has been advanced by scholars who see the story of Adam and Eve as a metaphor for maturation.
In this view, the innocent state in which Adam and Eve originally exist corresponds to the innocence that all children inhabit. Just like kids, Adam and Eve initially do not know they are naked nor feel shame in their bare bodies. And just like kids, the pair’s responsibilities are light. Adam is tasked with working and taking care of this “garden eastward in Eden,” but his surroundings seem to be so lush, that one does not imagine his duties being particularly laborious; his father has provided an abundance of fruit trees from which Adam and Eve can simply pluck their daily sustenance. All their needs are taken care of by a loving parent.
There’s one tree in the garden Adam and Eve can’t eat from, however — that which bears the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Ignorant of these two moral poles, they have never made a real mistake, but also have never been tempted to sin, nor had to make a fully autonomous choice between right and wrong. As the parent of young children, Adam and Eve’s father wants to protect them from the brunt of that struggle, knowing that with more knowledge comes more responsibility — weightier consequences for choices — and that they aren’t yet ready to make all their own decisions.
Unlike in the traditional Christian interpretation of the story in which God wishes to keep Adam and Eve from the tree of knowledge indefinitely, however, in looking at it as a metaphor for maturation, the father knows that his children will eventually partake of its fruit, and he both dreads that day, and yet understands its necessity in their future happiness.
Like all parents, he wrestles with dueling impulses: on the one hand, he wants his kids to stay innocent, safe, and close to him forever; but on the other, he knows that they can’t grow or progress unless they separate from him, gain knowledge, and learn to exercise moral agency on their own. Hence his conflicting commandments: he tells Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil…but he also tells them to multiply. Some readers have felt that this latter commandment could not have been fulfilled by Adam and Eve without their first breaking the former, and thus becoming awakened to their nakedness, their sexuality — their desire for each other. Here then is a father who doesn’t want his kids to get older, but knows they must to fulfill their potential, and to follow his pattern in having children themselves. It’s a fractured feeling every parent has experienced: “Don’t grow up!” “Please grow up!”
It is Eve who first recognizes that “the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” and who first partakes of it — no surprise, since girls mature before boys do. Adam, still in the prepubescent “Girls are yucky” phase, has to be coaxed into the transgression, but he too comes to see that eating the fruit is the only way forward. The pair recognize their nakedness and their first feelings of shame — they have entered adolescence and discovered their sexuality. They will begin to individuate from their father, and make more and more of their own choices.
Their father, in turn, mourns when he realizes this fact and recognizes his children have become sexualized beings and are growing up — and away from him. He disgorges the consequences that lie down the path they are heading — onerous toil and painful childbirth — which, while often seen as punishments in the traditional interpretation of the story, are here read as descriptive rather than prescriptive; i.e., this is just how adulthood is — here’s what to expect.
Adam and Eve have just begun the journey to growing up, and they need to learn even more by striking out on their own. It’s time for them to leave the Garden of Eden. But the rupture between Adam and Eve and their father is hardly total. He makes garments of skin to protect them as they set out for the “real world.” And while they no longer walk with their father daily as they did in the garden, they continue to speak with him as they venture outside it. They’re still made in his image.
As Adam and Eve continue to grow up, they’ll make mistakes, and the consequences will sometimes sting — as will the thorns and thistles they encounter in their work. Sometimes Adam will resent the sweat that forms on his brow as he tries to make a life for him and Eve. Sometimes he will be homesick for Eden. But while the line of communication and mentoring between children and father remains intact, there is ultimately no going back for Adam. The way is barred by cherubim and a flaming sword; regression to an infantile state isn’t possible. Or even desirable.
Not if he wants to continue to grow. Not if he wants to become who he is. There are lessons he can only learn outside the garden.
Seen through a theological lens, the story of Adam and Eve might be an explanation for how sin entered the world. But seen another way, it might not only describe a fall from spiritual grace, but a rise to earthly moral agency — an allegory of the challenge all mortals face in separating from their parents, asserting their own will, and growing up.
Heeding the Cherubim and a Flaming Sword
I like to think of this layer of meaning on the Adam and Eve story when I’m putting my children to bed at night. The lights are low, their beds are cozy, and I’m often tired. Knowing I have a few more hours of work to do before I get to turn in, I sometimes want to just crawl under the covers with them, sleep as long as I desire, and wake up to another day of playing and making crafts at school. I want to be six again.
But then I think of the cherubim and their flaming sword, and I am comforted to remember that one of humanity’s oldest texts foretold this feeling thousands of years ago. That it’s universal and timeless and millions upon millions have felt and overcome it before.
I remember in that moment that wish as I might, there’s no going back to Eden, and that even if there was, I wouldn’t want to. That the search for a hack to get there, or some secret vacation spot where it’s hiding is not only fruitless, but counterproductive in reaching my goal of learning as much as possible and maximizing my full potential before I die.
I remember that childhood is full of innocence, but also ignorance; that knowledge brings freedom and autonomy, but also responsibility, and that responsibility brings burdens. And I try to welcome them as grounding counterbalances in a life that would otherwise be marked by empty weightlessness. I try to find the ways in which the sweat of my brow is not vindictive but redemptive.
I remind myself that while I desire to be taken care of, such care would exact a price in my autonomy and ability to be an independent moral agent. That you can only meaningfully say yes, if you’re fully able to say no. When the urge to crawl back into the womb is strong, I remember that while it’s warm and safe in that idyll, there’s almost no room to turn and move and stretch out.
The story of Adam and Eve can teach us that while there is pleasure in tending to another’s creations, there’s more pleasure in creating ourselves. It can teach us that there can be no growth without opposition, no sweet without the bitter. That you can’t choose good without knowing evil. That though thorns and thistles only grow outside the garden, the same is true of character.
So I thank the cherubim for barring the way, and I remember that paradise can be created where you are, at whatever age, and that growing up can be a wonderful upwards fall.
The post You Can’t Return to Eden appeared first on The Art of Manliness.
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