I was at a family event Friday night where there was a Rabbi who spoke briefly on this week’s parasha. It was a strange feeling. In the past when this happened, I had never read the weekly parasha beforehand. I said to myself, “this should be interesting, I wonder what she will say?”
‘While in the desert,” she said, “G-d sent 12 spies to scout out the land. Ten returned and said the land was filled with giant peoples who would surely obliterate them. But two, named Caleb and Joshua, said if we did everything right, and made peace with the peoples, all would be fine.”
Luckily, I was behind the video camera at the time, so no one saw my jaw drop. I must agree, I like her Torah better. But that’s not the one I’ve got. Sure, there were lots of impressionable kids in the room, ranging from ages four through ten. That might be a reason to refrain from mentioning certain things in the Bible, but is that a reason to make things up?
Here are the pertinent quotes:
The Ten: “This is what they told him: “We came to the land you sent us to; it does indeed flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who inhabit the country are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.”
Caleb: Caleb hushed the people before Moses and said, “Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.”
The Ten: But the men who had gone up with him said, “We cannot attack that people, for it is stronger than we.” Thus they spread calumnies among the Israelites about the land they had scouted, saying, “The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw in it are men of great size; we saw the Nephilim there â€” the Anakites are part of the Nephilim â€” and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.”
Caleb and Joshua: “The land that we traversed and scouted is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, He will bring us into that land, a land that flows with milk and honey, and give it to us; only you must not rebel against the Lord. Have no fear then of the people of the country, for they are our prey: their protection has departed from them, but the Lord is with us. Have no fear of them!”
Where did the Rabbi see anything about “making peace” in “they are our prey”?
I think there may be some readers who are looking at me funny. “Look at what you are doing with your poetry. You are creating new characters, and they are disrespecting the events in the Torah. What did the Rabbi do that was wrong, compared to that?”
I feel by creating new characters who were there, this gives me the right to let them view the events as a modern-day reader might. In the scenes I have covered so far, the Torah doesn’t list every individual who was there.
However, the events occured as the poetry has described them, unless I have misinterpreted some of the text. The only thing I have made up is character reaction and involvement in the events.
I am long accustomed to seeing the ‘prettification’ of the prayerbook. This began with the gender-neutral movement which changed every King, Father, etc. In one particular prayer that mentions Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it also added Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel.
But the only problem I had with this was that I could read Hebrew, and I noticed they only made the change to the English translation. If the Hebrew version of the prayer is sacred, and can’t be changed, the English translation shouldn’t be either. I later saw newer versions that changed the Hebrew too, so this made me happy. The prayerbook isn’t the Torah. And the meaning really hadn’t been changed anyway.
In college, in the local Jewish Student Group, we had a weekly Shabbat Table where we sang songs. One of these songs was called, “Eli, Eli.” It quickly became my favorite Hebrew song, for two reasons. 1) It is sung in both Hebrew and English, so it is obvious what it means to any listener. 2) It is a beautiful song. Here are the English words:
O Lord, Our G-d, I pray that these things never end: the sand and the sea, the rush of the waters, the crash of the heavens, the prayer of __. (see below)
While singing the English, it was the group tradition to sing the Hebrew “Eli, Eli” instead of “O Lord, Our G-d”. (Lord is masculine.) Grumble, grumble, but I accepted this. They also sang the last words as “the prayer of the heart.”
The Hebrew word is “Adam”. Look familiar? It doesn’t mean, ‘the heart’, it means ‘man’. They continued to sing it correctly in Hebrew. And I sang it correctly in English.
While I don’t mind this with the prayerbook, I do have a problem with modifying the Bible. I may not follow all the commandments, but that doesn’t mean the commandments should be changed. And while I may be unhappy with the way G-d gave the promised land to the Israelites, that doesn’t mean I should change it so they make peace with the inhabitants instead of destroying them.
When I get to Exodus, you won’t see Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai with 3 tablets, and 1 of the 3 breaking. History of the World was hilarious. Mel Brooks probably is one of my inspirations. But you can trust that the events in this series of poems I am writing are accurate portrayals of the actual events in the Torah.