Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Va'etchanan

In my last post, The Ten Commandments, I wrote about how I had come to post, as a poem, an interpretation of the Decalogue, and mentioned that there was some added significance or coincidence in all this, for me, and said that I would explain in my next post. So, here I am.

As I mentioned in that last post, my 10 Commandments came to me unbidden, as it were, in bits and pieces, and it all kind of came together a few weeks ago. I had been writing poetry for a number of weeks at that time, having had a burst of motivation and (maybe) inspiration, and then gradually started to post what I had written. So, after my 10 C's (not to be confused with 10 cc's) was finished, and I had a chance to reflect on it, I decided to bump that piece up in the order of publication that I had loosely worked out for myself, not all the way up because there were other items that I wanted to put on the blog first, but I figured out that the earliest opportunity that made sense to me in terms of my own internal order would be in two weeks time, more or less. And following that vague plan, I posted the piece this past Monday evening.

So, I had given no further thought to the timing until last Friday. If you are not familiar with Jewish religious tradition, let me first explain that the Torah, that is, the Five Books of Moses, that is, the first five books of the Bible, that is, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, is divided into sections, called parshas, one for each week. Every week on the Sabbath, the weekly parsha is read. In fact, it can be studied, along with numerous commentaries written by ancient, medieval and modern scholars, and it is also possible to have discussion groups devoted to study of the weekly parsha, and during the service a sermon may be given on the reading, or a topic or theme related to it.

The division of the Torah into parshas, I should add, does not correspond to the later division of the Bible into numbered chapters and verses, which was done by the Christian Church. For example, this Friday's parsha, Va'etchanan, consists of Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11, the dividing lines cutting across chapters 3 and 7. These differences in what Paul Watzlawick calls punctuation or framing make a difference in the meaning of the text, and it's my understanding that the Jewish divisions into parshas create a more optimistic and hopeful impression, while the Church's breakdown into chapter and verse tends to emphasize the negative and pessimistic side of the ancient narrative (making the Old Testament the "bad news," relative to the "good news" of the New Testament).

So, last Friday I learned that the Parsha was the first section of Deuteronomy, and quickly checked on the next Parsha coming up for this Friday, and what do you know, it includes the Ten Commandments! This would be the second version, the reiteration of the Ten Commandments, the first appearance of the Decalogue coming in Exodus (and the two versions are slightly different). But the point here is that somehow, the creation of my poetic interpretation of the 10 C's and my intuition about when to publish it was in sync with the sacred cycle of weekly Torah readings!

So, that's a bit of a coincidence, but there's a bit more. As I've mentioned before on this blog, towards the end of last year, I was appointed to the Board of Trustees of my small, Reform Jewish temple, Congregation Adas Emuno. And I've written about the adult education events I've organized here, but I may not have mentioned that I also serve on the ritual committee--in fact, I was asked to chair that committee for the coming year. So, back in May when the ritual committee met to go over scheduling for the coming months, our spiritual leader, Cantor Kerith Shapiro, pointed out that she would be away during the month of July, and that lay leadership would be needed for those Friday night services.

So, I was one of the volunteers, and wound up being assigned the last Friday of the month, this coming Friday, July 27th. As it turns out, I was also called upon at the last minute (on the day of) to lead the service on the first Friday of the month, July 6th, which I did. I didn't write about it here because it was pretty much unexceptional. But for this particular Sabbath that's coming up, when the weekly parsha, Va'etchanan, includes the Ten Commandments, I'll be leading the services again.

So, a bit more of a coincidence, and a bit more significance both to the posting of the poem and to my leading this particular service. And I know what you're thinking now, and yes, I will read the poem on Friday. In fact, last Friday my friend Eric Fisher was the lay leader, and he gave an impassioned and erudite sermon on the subject of the book of Deuteronomy, as the parsha for that Shabbat was the first from that last book of Moses, as I mentioned before. Eric made the point that scholars have shown how Deuteronomy was a late addition to the Torah, and that it was at that point that the religion of Judaism actually coalesced (while I don't fully agree, the introduction of Deuteronomy, as chronicled in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, does represent a turning point, and the first major reform of our religious tradition).

So Eric set the bar kinda high, and resolved any question in my mind as to whether I should write up a sermon or not.

Now, to return to the topic of the Ten Commandments, I am going to provide a translation as they appear in Va'etchanan (and click here to go to a page that has the entire parsha), in the passage marked as Deuteronomy 5:6-18, and I will add line breaks to separate out the different Commandments from each other. I should note at this point that each of the Abrahamic religions has a slightly different take on the Ten Commandments, although the Jewish, Protestant, and Islamic versions are basically in sync. There is no formal numbering that establishes where one commandment begins and another ends, and the Roman Catholic Church changed the punctuation significantly in order to de-emphasize the prohibition against graven images, since they employ imagery quite heavily. They therefore make the prohibition the end of the First Commandment and divide things up differently at the end of the Decalogue (for more on the differences, there's a halfway decent Wikipedia article on the subject). Anyway, here are the Ten Commandments (2.0, in English translation):

6."I am the Lord your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 7. You shall not have the gods of others in My presence.

8. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness which is in the heavens above, which is on the earth below, or which is in the water beneath the earth. 9. You shall not prostrate yourself before them, nor worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a zealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons, upon the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me. 10. And [I] perform loving kindness to thousands [of generations] of those who love Me and to those who keep My commandments.

11. You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain, for the Lord will not hold blameless anyone who takes His name in vain.

12. Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13. Six days may you work, and perform all your labor, 14. but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall perform no labor, neither you, your son, your daughter, your manservant, your maidservant, your ox, your donkey, any of your livestock, nor the stranger who is within your cities, in order that your manservant and your maidservant may rest like you. 15. And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord your God took you out from there with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm; therefore, the Lord, your God, commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

16. Honor your father and your mother as the Lord your God commanded you, in order that your days be lengthened, and that it may go well with you on the land that the Lord, your God, is giving you.

17. You shall not murder.

And you shall not commit adultery.

And you shall not steal.

And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

18. And you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor shall you desire your neighbor's house, his field, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

And to provide an easy point of comparison, here once again (and forgive me, but I must), is my new rendering:

The Ten Commandments
As Told By God to Moses
(A New Translation and Interpretation by Lance Strate)

The Buck Stops Here!

Use Your Words,

But Choose Them With Care!

Give Us Both A Break,

And Your Parents, Too!

Respect Life,

Family, And

Labor As Well!

Be Honest, And

Be Content!

3 comments:

Luanne said...

A. You speak in tongues! Your transliteration of the text is delightful. Your referencing a couple’s commandment, “Give us both a break” could be quibbled. Are they gay? Are they straight? If they’re straight, does She wear the pants? Other than that, I think it’s spot on. It reminds me too of Dostoevsky, Dylan, Susan Sontag and various others who’ve had a go. Or rather, in a similar vein and obviously inspired by the text, created their own words to live by. Anyway you put it, it's always Great Advice.

B. I think you’re very orderly

C. I devour your teachings of the old testament and compare to how I was taught and have learned and continue to learn the new testament (and old) and which is very much how things are taught in your congregation. Though in the end, it all often depends on the rabbi.

C. You express,”…it's my understanding that the Jewish divisions into parshas create a more optimistic and hopeful impression, while the Church's breakdown into chapter and verse tends to emphasize the negative and pessimistic side of the ancient narrative (making the Old Testament the "bad news," relative to the "good news" of the New Testament).”

To which I can reply that I understand how you might get that impression. But be encouraged!

Consider as well, that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when the mob presents the witch for burning and the ensuing mayhem when logic fails or simply does not yet exist; and as with a father/mother with their child who has not yet matured to adulthood, rules are short, sharp and sweet – Don’t touch! Hot! Be home by 11:00. Don't drive drunk. The new testament was written from a mother/father to a child that has grown older – and like the old testament, relative to the times in which it was written. It’s all Good.

D. I think that the synchronicity implicit in events described in your blog have commonality with recent events described in my own blog.

F. Where do you think everything fits in with the Codes of Hammurabi and Lipit-Ishtar?

Lance Strate said...

Thanks, Luanne. I wouldn't say that the New Testament was written for an older child, but for a different child. As for good old Hammurabi, he represents the earliest appearance of law, and coincides with the invasion of Mesopotamia by a Semitic people who became known as Babylonians, and who altered Sumerian cuneiform from a logographic system (one character = one word) to a syllabic system (one character for an entire syllable, as in one for ba, one for be, one for bi, bo, bu, etc., then put together to form words). The connection between writing and law is paramount, and it all happened in the same part of the world.

Luanne said...

But is not the message and content of all laws relevant to media ecology? Some would argue there is a common origin to all the laws and first recorded in Babylon.. are they not essentially the same laws (truths?) but merely worded differently and pre-dating (traditionally) dated Mosaic Law? Similiarily, Gilgamesh comes to mind. You know - sort of a meme-op-a-be-bop-a shama-lama-ding-dong kinda thing?

Relative to my own take on the Old and New Testaments - just my opinion and (no pun intended) certainly not set in stone, just my own conclusions reached thus far. For a different child -perhaps, and I understand that as a different child, needs be by my nature, I'm taught differently than my brother or sister. And I freely admit that I never have been very orderly ;)

If every flower was just the same, every flower would have the same flower's name.

(love that story)

Would the brother or sister be older or younger than me?