Category Archives: Ibn Ezra

Chink in our Armor

[First posted on The Times of Israel: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/balak-chink-in-our-armor/]

Ibn Ezra Numbers: Balak

Chink in our Armor

“We must watch over our modesty in the presence of those who cannot understand its grounds.” -Jean Rostand

The evil sorcerer, Bilaam, teams up with the powerful King of Moab, Balak, to destroy the people of Israel. Bilaam attempts time and again to blast magical curses against the Israelite nation. However, God intervenes, and Bilaam, instead of cursing Israel, is forced by God to bless Israel.

After three failed attempts, Bilaam is cast away by an enraged King Balak. Israel seemed impervious to any attack. According to Ibn Ezra on Numbers 23:21, Balak does not give up. God’s very blessings provide Balak with a clue as to Israel’s fatal weakness.

One of the blessings mentions that God found “no fault” in Israel. Balak then reasoned (correctly), that if God were to find fault in Israel, they would be vulnerable to curses and destruction. The Rabbis comment that the women of Israel, (and as a result also the men), were modest and faithful in their amorous activities, which pleased God. With this insider information King Balak organizes the seduction of the Israelite men and sends a squad of Moabite and Midianite women to the Israelite camp. Balak knew that if the Israelite men would fall to the prohibited charms of the idol-worshipping women, then God’s impenetrable protection of the Jewish people would stop.

In this sexual attack, Balak is wildly successful. The Israelite men indeed succumb to the temptation, and then without lifting a finger, Balak witnesses God’s own assault upon the people of Israel with a fatal plague that kills 24,000 Israelites in short order.

Not only does God no longer provide defense, but He Himself punishes us for not living and behaving as we are supposed to.

We have a potent armor in God’s protection. We should be careful not to lose it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the modest, understanding and forgiving people I dealt with this week. May God’s protection always be with you.

Talk is Cheap

[First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/chukat-talk-is-cheap/]

Ibn Ezra Numbers: Chukat

Talk is Cheap

“Speak out in acts; the time for words has passed, and only deeds will suffice.” -John Greenleaf Whittier

The people of Israel are thirsty and restless. They complain and demand water. Moses is worried. God tells him to take his staff and talk to the rock. Moses strikes the rock. God punishes Moses by prohibiting him from entering the land of Israel. This is one of the more confusing episodes in the Bible.

Why did God punish Moses? There are as many answers as there are Bible commentaries. Ibn Ezra chimes in with his own theory. What does Moses do right before he strikes the rock? He gives a speech. It is a curt, sharp speech, biting and sarcastic in its tone. It is highly unusual for Moses, though not unwarranted, given the excessive complaints of the people. In Numbers 20:10 Moses asks:

“Hear now, ye rebels; are we to bring you forth water out of this rock?”

Moses doesn’t wait for an answer. He hits the rock (twice) and water gushes forth.

Ibn Ezra (on Numbers 20:8) claims that the sin of Moses was his speech. He didn’t need a preamble. He didn’t need to announce his plans in what was a negative, derogatory comment. He just needed to act. He needed to follow God’s instructions and provide the people of Israel with water.

It is true that they may have deserved a reprimand and that before performing yet another miracle, this may have seemed like an opportune time. But according to Ibn Ezra he should have acted first and spoken later.

May we always remember that talk is cheap and that actions always speak louder than words.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

In memory of Leon Lempert and Solomon Gerstenfeld. Men of action.

Destiny’s Name

[First posted on The Times of Israel: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/korach-destinys-name/]

Ibn Ezra Numbers: Korach

Destiny’s Name

“The real test of a man is not how well he plays the role he has invented for himself, but how well he plays the role that destiny assigned to him.” -Jan Patocka

The age of prophecy has long passed us by, however, the sages claim that there still remains one small spark of prophecy in our lives. That is the moment we name our children. Somehow, in that instant, there is divine inspiration or accord. The child is meant to have the name given and it is much more than a tag to call the child by. It carries some import, some significance that somehow will color the rest of their lives.

In this week’s Torah reading, we have one personality that Ibn Ezra (on Numbers 18:2) explains lived up to his name. It is Levi, the forerunner of the Levite tribe. The word Levi in Hebrew has the same root as the word “to lend”. Ibn Ezra states that the Levites as a whole are basically “lent” by the rest of Israel to the Cohens, to the Temple, with the purpose of participating and assisting in the holy service.

Sometimes a person’s traits can be identified with their name immediately. Sometimes it takes an entire life to understand the connection. And sometimes we only understand generations later the impact that a person had and the connection to that tiny spark of prophecy that is their name.

May we live up to our good names.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the family of the Good Name and to the sixth grade girls of the Integral school and their parents on the celebration of their Bat-Mitzvah!

Jewish Anger Management

[First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/shelach-jewish-anger-management/]

Ibn Ezra Numbers: Shelach

Torah Reading of the Week: Parshat Shelach, Shabbat June 1, 2013, Numbers Chapters 13-15

Jewish Anger Management

“Whoever is out of patience is out of possession of their soul.”  -Francis Bacon

In what seems like an almost incredible statement, Moses tells God to calm down. In the notorious story of the spies, the Children of Israel have upset God one time too many and He is ready to destroy them. Moses jumps into the fray and beseeches God to show “strength”:

 And now, I pray Thee, let the power of the Lord be great, as You have spoken, saying: The Lord is slow to anger, and plenteous in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation. Pardon, I pray Thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of Thy lovingkindness, and according as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.’ And the Lord said: ‘I have pardoned according to thy word.’ Numbers 14:17-20

According to the sages and well-codified by Maimonides (see here for announcement of upcoming Montevideo lecture series on this monumental Jewish sage) – anger is one of the worst traits possible and we must work hard to mitigate its expression.

Ibn Ezra explains how God was able to “overcome” His anger and what He needed to “strengthen”. God, among His infinite, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and other omni-traits is extremely patient (infinitely patient? Not sure about that one).

According to Ibn Ezra, God, because of the great level of patience that He possesses was able to “break” his anger by strengthening further, with Moses’ cajoling, His patience. His anger was abated (somewhat) and instead of wiping out the people of Israel, He instead castigated the spies directly and doomed that generation to die slowly in the desert over the course of forty years of wandering, prohibited them from entering the promised land, leaving it instead for a less infuriating generation.

May we learn to strengthen our own levels of patience and break our anger whenever it rears its ugly head.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the complete and speedy recovery of Yosef Yehoshua ben Gila.

 

Infinite Light-givers

[First posted on The Times of Israel at:  http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/behaalotcha-infinite-light-givers/]

Ibn Ezra Numbers: Behaalotcha

Infinite Light-givers

“We must view young people not as empty bottles to be filled, but as candles to be lit.” -Robert H. Shaffer

It is perhaps one of the least noted but most dramatic scenes in the life of Moses. The people of Israel protest and rebel yet again. Their foray into the desert is filled with anger and disappointment. Moses feels that he can no longer lead the tribes of Israel. In an all too human show of despair Moses asks God to strike him dead. He can no longer bear the intense burden of leadership.

God hears Moses’ plea and arrives at a solution to allow Moses to share some of the rigors of both prophecy and leadership (see here for dramatization of the fateful event). Seventy elders are gathered and some of the divine spirit that Moses carried is given to each of the elders, giving them their own prophetic capabilities.

One might assume that Moses would be somewhat diminished by sharing his powers, that his light would not shine as brightly. Ibn Ezra on Numbers 11:17 argues the reverse.  He explains that the prophetic spirit is akin to wisdom or to the light of a candle. It is not lessened by sharing. It spreads and the sharer retains all of his prophetic power, all of his wisdom, all of his light.

May we have good things to share and may we share those good things widely.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Marcello Farias of Innuy who is sharing his unique programming talent with the Rabbinate of Uruguay and thereby spreading knowledge of kosher products to more people.

 

 

 

Lions of Israel

[First posted on The Times of Israel: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/bamidbar-lions-of-israel/]

Ibn Ezra Numbers: Bamidbar

Lions of Israel

“True courage is a result of reasoning. A brave mind is always impregnable.” -Jeremy Collier

There are multiple accounts of the miracles of the Six Day War, when in the summer of 1967, against all odds, Israel not only survived, but prevailed over the Arab countries that had vowed to eradicate our homeland.

My father, then an American student, was one of a handful of volunteers that boarded a plane and contributed to the war effort. This was just two months before his scheduled wedding day, and despite protests and concerns of his family and bride he entered the war zone.

Though he was stationed in a rearguard position, he was spared from any fighting due to the surprising turns of the war.

Ibn Ezra on Numbers 1:19 equates an army’s frontline with the rearguard, from our ancestors in the desert:

“Know that there were no tribes as brave as the tribe of Judah who was compared to a lion, and the tribe of Dan, who was likewise compared (to a lion) by Moses, and therefore they were positioned in the front and in the back (of the army of Israel).”

May we ever have lions to inspire us and give us courage to undertake risky adventures for the sake of our brothers.

Shabbat Shalom and belated Yom Yerushalayim Sameach,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To my father, Elliot Spitz, and to all the soldiers of Israel and for the miracle of regaining our ancient capital after millennia which we celebrated yesterday, Jerusalem Day.

Repetitive Repetitions

[First posted on The Times of Israel: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/emor-repetitive-repetitions/]

Ibn Ezra Leviticus: Emor

Repetitive Repetitions

 “The mantram becomes one’s staff of life and carries one through every ordeal. Each repetition has a new meaning, carrying you nearer and nearer to God.” -Mahatma Gandhi

Since the invention of literary critics, (which came about on the very heels of the invention of authors), there has been much ink spilled complaining about repetition in ones writing. Perhaps the reader sees it as a direct attack on their intellect. “We got it the first time,” they must think.

The Bible is replete with repetitions. Perhaps one of the most common phrases that one sees over and over again, (besides “And God spoke to Moses, saying…”), is “I am God” that punctuates a plethora of diverse and unrelated commandments.

I think to myself and say to Him: “Um, with all due respect God, we know You are God. We didn’t think it was anybody else. We don’t suspect You of having an identity crisis, so what’s with the constant deluge of “I am God” throughout Your book?”

Ibn Ezra on Leviticus 22:33 comes to the rescue. He explains that “I am God” takes us back to the First Commandment of the famed Ten. The First Commandment is where God sets the foundation of our belief system. “You must believe in Me.” If we don’t have the basic belief in God, then the other commandments lack force or meaning. “I am God” is the reason we do the commandments. That is why He needs to accentuate many commandments with this reminder. That is why He punctuates various commands to link the performance of His will with the intrinsic belief in Him. We can never forget that “He is God.” It bears repeating. Constantly.

Despite literary and biblical critics, some things are worth hearing over and over and over.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all the teachers who took the pains to repeat themselves.