The Bible’s Great Contradiction, And what It Teaches Us

 

In Deuteronomy 15:4 we read one of the most categorical words in the Bible: אפס efes as in zero, none, bubkas, nada, not a single one. “There shall be efes needy among you …”

But just a few sentences later (Deuteronomy 15:11) we read, “The poor shall never cease to be in the land.”

How can the Torah say one thing and seven sentences later say the complete opposite?

The resolution to this “Great Contradiction” lies in the conditional nature of our Covenant with God.

The Covenant has always been conditional.

 When our people began, God promised Abraham and us protection, children, permanence as a people and the and of Israel on condition that we be a blessing to others (Genesis 12:2), follow God’s teachings (Genesis 17:1), and practice and teach our children to fill the world with, “tzedakah u’mishpat, righteousness and justice.”

Those are still the terms!

 “There will be no poor or needy” if and only if all people are giving, caring, sensitive to the needs of others and generous. But since that is not likely to happen, we who take our covenantal obligation seriously must be aware of and ready to open our hearts and our hands to the poor and needy.

It goes back to the essential question Cain Asked God:

Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)

God’s answer to us is the same as to Cain: “Your brother’s blood cries out to me…” (Genesis 4:10 -11)

Hopefully we hear and respond to those plaintive cries today: Until we become our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, the just caring and compassionate society that God called us to create will never to be more than a wistful hope.

 

 

What About Those Biblical Commands to Destroy Other Nations?

 

My understanding of Torah commands me to distance myself from fanaticism of any stripe.

And yet the Torah tells us to “completely destroy” the Canaanite nations. “Your eye shall have no pity upon them! (Deuteronomy 7:1-16)”

Passages like this are an embarrassment. They give ammunition to anti-Semites who claim that the God of the Hebrew Bible is a God of vengeance and violence.

Why then do these passages appear in our Bible?

They teach us to have zero tolerance for the social and religious practices of the ancient pagan world that included orgiastic rites and the horror of human sacrifice.

It was not an easy sell!

The Torah reminds us that when was Moses gone a bit too long on Mount Sinai the Israelites demanded Aaron make them a Golden Calf to worship. (Deuteronomy 9:9ff)

These “embarrassing” passages are the Bible’s way to teach that God makes a Covenant with us. God demands that we administer justice fairly, have special regard for the poor, the orphan and the widow, and treat the stranger with dignity and respect.

Only by doing these things do we glorify God.

Only by doing these things do we become “the light of nations (Isaiah 49:6),” the example God wants us to be for the entire world.

But there are still forces of evil that we must destroy.

Terrorist groups, vicious drug cartels, traffickers in human slavery and their ilk around the world demonstrate by their actions that fundamental human values mean nothing to them. These are the modern antecedents of the nations God commanded us not to pity. It becomes the duty of civilized humanity to destroy them

No, God does not want us to wipe out people because they are different. But God emphatically demands that the forces of good rise up to root out the forces of raw evil that enslave so many.

 

My Clinton Conundrum

 

Make no mistake! I will vote for Hillary Clinton to become the next president of the United States, and I will pray that she wins.

Of those with any chance of winning, she is by far the better candidate. It’s not even close.

In fact if I didn’t know how people laughed at Hitler and thought him a beer hall buffoon in the 1920’s I would not think Donald Trump had as ghost of a chance of being president.

But he does!

He effectively cleaned the clocks of a bevy of experienced Republican candidates to win the party’s nomination. That’s enough to scare me.

But what scares me even more is that the more outlandish things he says, the more some people rally to his support.

On one level I understand. People are hurting, and people are scared of the international terrorist threat the world faces. He talks tough and promises change. But his type of change violates every ideal of our democracy including but not limited to: Racial and religious equality, paying (and if you are a presidential candidate disclosing that you pay) your fair share of taxes, understanding that we are a country built by immigrants and doing what we can to help those escaping tyranny. The list is endless, and for more on why the election of Donald Trump would be disastrous, please do a search and read the previous essays in which I make this point on my webpage blog, www.findingourselvesinbiblicalnarratives.com.

And that brings me to Hillary Clinton.

I have expressed my concerns about her character and past actions in a number of Facebook posts. I shall not rehearse them further.

It concerns me that people who love and care for me, and whom I love and care about, have expressed anger and dismay that I would dare say negative things about Ms Clinton.

It disturbs me that some would try to suppress what I consider legitimate criticism of Ms Clinton. It disturbs that think so highly of her that they completely ignore the entire stream of concerns about her that have surfaced in the last 25 years and consider any criticism of her out of bounds.

It disturbs me too that because the election of Trump would be an unmitigated disaster, some think that any criticism of Hillary Clinton should be entirely proscribed.

To my mind the uncritical support of any candidate is inimical to our American democracy and dangerous for our country.

As I often say, “We have all been expelled from the Garden of Eden.” There is no perfect candidate. No, I am not crazy about Ms Clinton, and I have expressed my reasons. Not to do so would be to betray my conception of what our country, freedom of expression and our democracy is all about.

Having said that, I consider Hillary Clinton the best candidate running for President of the United States.

I support her, and I will vote for her, and I urge all of you who care about the future of our country and our children and grandchildren, whose lives will be affected by this election, to vote for her as well.

 

 

How Should Reform Jews Observe Tishah B’Av? (published on URJ.ORG)

I want to share this essay again as Tisha B’Av (the ninth day ay of the Hebrew month of Av approaches.

Finding Ourselves In Biblical Narratives

BY RABBI STEPHEN LEWIS FUCHS , 7/20/2015

I had never even heard of Tishah B’Av until I was 12 years old and participating in the inaugural season of the Camp Institute for Living Judaism (later to renamed URJ Eisner Camp) in Great Barrington, MA. Since then, I have struggled with the significance of this day for me as a Reform Jew.

On Tishah B’Av, traditionally observant Jews fast in memory of the two magnificent Temples of Jerusalem destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the Romans in 70 CE. The day also commemorates other historical tragedies. For example, it is said that the beginning of the first Crusade in 1095, a time of persecution and slaughter of the Jews of Europe and in 1290 the expulsion of Jews from England both took place on that date. Tishah B’Av also coincides with the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492…

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