Posts Tagged ‘yitzhak buxbaum’

Like mother’s milk…

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Behaalotcha - Like mother's milk...
Art by Maggidah Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D.
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Behaalot’cha: Numbers 8:1-12:16

"Gather unto Me seventy men…" (Numbers 11:16)

The textual challenge this week is a little simpler, a little more pedantic. Moses is told to collect seventy men, upon whom will be bestowed the power of prophecy. Ultimately, however, seventy-two receive the gift, and two of them – the protagonists of this midrash – receive an even greater gift than the remaining seventy. There are, of course, multiple lessons embedded in the passage. Listen:

When the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: gather unto Me seventy men, Moses thought: What shall I do? If I bring five from each tribe the total will not amount to seventy and there will only be sixty. If I bring six from one tribe and five from another I will introduce jealousy between one tribe and another. What did he do? He took seventy-two ballots and wrote on them ‘elder,’ and another two ballots he left blank. Then he mixed then up in an urn and proclaimed: ‘Come and draw your ballots.’ A man who drew out a ballot inscribed with the word ‘elder’ knew that he had been appointed an elder, and one who drew out a blank knew that he had not been appointed, and the superintendent would say to him: ‘There is still a ballot in the urn inscribed with the word "elder," and had you been worthy of being appointed you would have drawn it.’ This procedure having been adopted, the elders were duly appointed. Eldad and Medad who were there withdrew into the background, saying: ‘We are unworthy of being among the appointed elders.’ In return for their self-effacement they proved to be superior to the elders in five things. The elders prophesied only regarding the following day; as may be inferred from the text, And say thou unto the people: Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow (Num. 11:18), while these prophesied concerning what would happen at the end of forty years; as may be inferred from the text, But there remained two men in the camp… and they prophesied (ib. 26).

Midrash Rabbah – Numbers XV:19

The problem of the extra two is sweetly resolved by a little exercise in mathematics and chance by Moses, and this is used to teach an important lesson about humility, which M’ Shoshannah touches upon in her comments in my weekly email, which you can subscribe to here. This is, indeed, the heart of the lesson, and it is important not to brush it aside.

And yet there is, of course, more. The word which the midrash (and many older editions) translate as "prophesy," as in foretell the future – vayit’nab’u – can also be translated as to "speak in ecstasy." This meaning (adopted by most modern translations) is more correct, in that the notion of a prophet foretelling the future is largely foreign to traditional Judaism. Indeed, the evangelical sense of "speaking in tongues" is much closer to what happened to these seventy-two men.

Their actions were perceived as strange or inappropriate by the other leaders, who tried to restrain them, but they were clearly seen by Moses as not being merely tolerable, but actually desirable. He cries, Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them! (Num. 11:29).

To understand this, we must look back to why this incident happened: Moses was complaining about how he was going to satisfy the ever-grumbling children of Israel, who were complaining about not getting enough good food to eat. And here is where the sweet mystery appears:

The two men are named Eldad and Medad. My Rebbe, M’ Yitzhak Buxbaum, reminded us that in Hebrew, the suffix dad means "breast." Here the Ha Kodesh Baruch Hu’s spirit – ruach – settles on these two, and they become the nourishers of the people, their ecstasy being the Divine milk that comes in words not understood, but felt.

Is it any coincidence that when we speak of the moment of G!d’s effecting the material world we call that the Shekhina – the feminine side of G!d?

What a nourishing, nurturing experience it is to allow ourselves to be sheltered and fed, in simple joy or profound ecstasy, by the Eternal One!

And, lest you forget, each one of us has only to invite the Divine in, with openness, vulnerability, and humility, to taste that sweet, sweet nectar.

And the king will yearn…

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

“And G!d said to Avram: ‘Go, you, from your land…'” (Gen. 12:1)

R. Yitzhak opened with: Listen, princess, and look, incline your ear, and forget your people, and your father’s house. (Ps. 45:11)

R. Yitzhak said: This may be compared to one who was passing from place to place and saw a fortress doleket (“burning” or “illuminated”). He said, ‘Will you say this fortress has no governor?’ The master of the fortress peeped out at him. He said to him, ‘I am the master of the fortress.’ Thus, because our father Avraham would say, ‘Will you say this world has no governor?’ the Holy One, Blessed be He, peeped out at him and said to him, ‘I am the Master of the world.’

And let the king yearn for your beauty – to beautify you in the world – for he is your master, and bow down to him (Ps. 45:12), that is, ‘And G!d said to Avram…’

Midrash Rabbah – Genesis XXXIX:1

This is a very deep midrash, and I owe the best of these insights to my Rebbe, M’ Yitzhak Buxbaum, who inspired us in a class that delved deeply into this text. I must also recommend Simi Peters’ excellent text, Learning to Read Midrash, which was our source during these classes.

As usual, the first question to ask is, “What is the question?” In this case, the question is, “Why Avram? What did he do to merit this amazing blessing and progeny?” This midrash is one of several that attempt to provide an answer; amongst them, this is the most mystical.

The surface meaning is simple, and enticing. It suggests that Avram was able to look at the world around us and recognize that it must have a Creator; having such an insight (presumably at a time when others did not) was the basis for Avram’s being chosen. Oh, but let’s go deeper!

The mashal – the analogy used to teach the lesson in this parable – is that of a fortress doleket, a term normally understood to mean “burning.” So at this level, Avram perceives not only the world and knows it must have a Creator, but also that the world is burning: i.e., in peril. What is that peril? Perhaps that the “fortress” appears to be unattended. “Never fear,” calls out the governor as the traveler’s worry mounts, “I am here.” So the Creator not only was known to Avram intellectually, but responded directly to Avram’s yearning for the repair of the world.

Now, deeper still.

The fortress may not be on fire – in danger – but may, on the contrary, be illuminated: engulfed in the bright light of the Divine! Now, the traveler’s recognition and searching is not out of fear, but out of recognition that the whole of Creation is suffused with the radiance of G!d! And of course, at that recognition, G!d doesn’t just appear to Avram, but “peeps out:” playfully, mischievously, lovingly!

And yet, deeper still.

The “sandwich” of verses from the Song of Songs (known as the petihta) invites us further in. Recall that the Song of Songs is understood to be a love song between G!d and Israel. In these verses, they highlight the yearning of the G!d for us, rather than the other way around. The “daughter” is being encouraged to leave her house, her people, and succumb to the king’s yearnings – just as Avram was asked to leave his home, his land, his people. In this setting, it is not that G!d chooses Avram in some form of contest or test, but because G!d loves him – and us! – so much that the Holy One, Blessed be He, is drawn out from behind the Curtain to peep out at us and say – here I am! Hineini! Come, and let Me love you!

May we all be blessed with knowing the Eternal’s yearning for us…

Maggidut in the ‘Cuse!

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

Well, chevre, it was a weekend for a life’s worth of memories and growth. A Jewish Storytelling Jamboree indeed – but far deeper and richer than the word “Jamboree” might imply.

Hundreds of people attended sessions in a half-dozen venues and even more programs: from the very youngest of tykes – pre-school! – to some of the very oldest: 104! Everywhere, Maggid Yitzhak Buxbaum, Carole Forman and I were blessed with the opportunity to help elevate the Spirit and souls around us through stories, teaching, songs and laughter.

The first thing you should know is that this was made possible by a generous gift of a single individual whose love for the Syracuse Jewish community cannot be overstated. While it took the work of many hands – guided by the expertise and patience of Marci Erlebacher and the Jewish Community of Syracuse – to make it all happen, this whole weekend is testimony to the fact that one person’s good acts can effect an entire community. You know who you are: thank you.

I’ve posted the details here, so as not to make this blog entry far too long. Suffice it to say that in each session, all of us learned a great deal, and I developed an even greater appreciation for the great knowledge and love for all people that is contained in that wondrous vessel carrying the name of M’ Yitzhak Buxbaum.

Maggid Yitzhak Buxbaum Maggid Uriel David (Jim) Carole Forman

Jammin’ with Jews: A Storytelling Weekend for All

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Listen up! A consortium including all the Jewish congregations and major Jewish institutions in the Syracuse community invites all Jews (and friends) to GET JAMMIN’ at the Jewish Storytelling Jamboree from March 27 to March 29, 2009.

Tellers-and-Teachers-in-Residence for the weekend, a gift to the community from an anonymous donor, will be inspired teacher, storyteller and author Maggid Yitzhak Buxbaum; his wife, Carole Forman, an experienced dramatist, storyteller and dancer, and Central New York’s own newly-minted Maggid Jim Brulé, known to the area for his own maggidut.