Ladies everywhere, Hillel and I wish you the happiest Mother’s Day. And this is meant for all women – biological/adoptive/foster mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, aunts, sisters, teachers, nurses, pediatricians, nannies, pet mothers, and dear family friends – all of you give so much to our children, and have always done so. If I missed anyone, be sure to let me know in a comment… And gentlemen – please don’t feel excluded. Hillel and I will properly thank you on Father’s Day for all the wonderful things you do.
For mother’s day, I’d like to jump a little into the Talmudic future ahead of Hillel and tell about a wonderful woman who became the foster mother of the great Talmudic Scholar, Abbaye. She presents a glowing example of the respect and love Jewish women received throughout ancient times. It is a common misconception that women were treated as chattels at worst, and as second class citizens at best. In fact, women were very highly regarded. It is true that men and women did not have the same duties and the same lifestyle. At a time when the community as a whole was much more important than the individual, and each person, male and female, young and old, knew that serving the community and the deity was their first goal, life was arranged on different rules than the life we lead. However, each individual valued his or her dignity, and experienced considerable satisfaction as a part of something greater than himself or herself. Division of labor does not necessarily designate a higher or lower value of the labor involved. Is a Biblical presiding judge like Deborah less valuable than a Talmudic rabbi? I doubt it. Queen Esther, saving her people at a risk to her own life, is much more respected than several Biblical kings who had betrayed their people, like, say, King Ahab.
We remember him as the handsome Richard Burton, swept off his feet by the glorious beauty of Elizabeth Taylor, playing the equally immortal Cleopatra. We remember him as the fascinating Marlon Brando, glowering at the camera, and pronouncing "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” in his best Brando voice. But Marc Antony was nothing like that. He was reasonably attractive, but not a sex symbol of the caliber of either of these two stunning gentlemen. And, let’s remember that he was not an actor. He was, through and through, a Roman nobleman, military man, and politician, with all the callous indifference to human life, including his own, the practical approach to money, and the realistic views of humanity in general that such a Roman would have. Personally I find him much more interesting than any movie star, but that is, of course, a matter of taste.
It is not surprising that disturbances rose in Judea. Helix, a trusted member of Hyrcanus' court, was left behind in Jerusalem when Hyrcanus was away, with an army, intending that he would defend Jerusalem should anyone threaten it. Unfortunately, Helix had other ideas, and decided that the time was ripe to seize power for himself. He took his army and marched against Phasael. Herod was on his way to visit Fabius, a new governor in Damascus, when he heard about it. Naturally he intended to turn back and go to his brother's aid, but he fell ill. Phasael, however, did quite well on his own, won the battle against Helix, and shut him up in a prison tower. The whole affair was temporary, since a truce was made between Helix and Phasael, and he let him out of prison. However, Phasael was most bitter against Hyrcanus, who was not only supportive of Helix, but allowed Malichus' brother to guard several fortresses, including Masada, which was considered the strongest of them all. Phasael felt that he could not trust Hyrcanus, and for good reason. So he contacted Herod, and as soon as Herod healed from his illness, he came to Judea and between the two of them they removed Malichus' brother's army from all the fortresses.
Names meant a lot in the ancient world. I have mentioned this subje before, but only as a footnote, and I think it is important enough to present it as a regular post. A person’s name and genealogy were of the utmost importance. The name represented the individual's spiritual identity, almost the alter ego of the person, and the genealogy was essential to prove his or her identity when it came to matters of property, inheritance, and other practical matters. These genealogical lists were kept for generations. When temporarily interrupted when a large number of people were exiled to Babylon, it caused turmoil similar to serious identity theft these days. They were carefully reconstructed and maintained. Since in those days surnames did not exist, an additional precaution was necessary and people were identified by their father’s name. Deborah bat Ehud means Deborah, daughter of Ehud. Aaron ben Menahem means Aaron, son of Menahem. The level of importance of names extended to the name of God – with a strong taboo
on pronouncing it. (See the post Yahweh, http://ililarbel.weebly.com/1/post/2011/09/yahweh.html)
I dislike the concept of Karma. Often it is the easy way out when a moral dilemma is presented. When a person commits a crime, be it against humanity or against an individual, often he or she manages to escape punishment. This is bad in itself, but I feel that people add insult to injury when they say, “Never mind that he/she escaped. Karma will get all criminals in the end.” To me, this is cheapening the trauma of the victims, trivializing their suffering.
I am not interested in punishment in another life. First of all, I am not at all persuaded that reincarnation exists. Perhaps it does, and then again, perhaps it doesn’t; there is no proof either way. Most of the believers in Karma don’t even consider such ambiguity with proper seriousness, and it becomes a catch word, a cliché. But supposing Karma does exist, what of it? I am not really interested in the punishment of someone who is no longer the criminal, who has clothed his soul in a totally innocent body.
There is a general assumption that no one is irreplaceable. Possibly it is true, but nevertheless there are people whose departure creates a pivotal point in the history of a nation, and Antipater’s
murder undoubtedly changed the history of Judea.
The first order of the day, for both Herod and Phasael, was revenging their father’s death. Typically, Phasael wanted to get Malichus, the murderer, by “cunning” as Josephus puts it, while Herod wanted to lead his army against Malichus right away. Herod reluctantly agreed with his brother, because Phasael persuaded him that a civil war could easily erupt as a result of a military
action. So Herod went to Samaria, and occupied himself in straightening the affairs there, while Phasael remained in Jerusalem, attending to his own tasks.
Almost two thousand years before the Earl of Sandwich supposedly invented the Sandwich, and had it named after him, Hillel the Elder was the real inventor. At that time, the Jews were commanded to eat a piece of the meat prepared for the Seder and representing the “Paschal lamb,” which was sacrificed in the Temple. In addition, they had to eat the bitter herbs, to remind them of their troubles in Egypt, and of course the matzah, to remind them of the hastily baked bread they took with them during the Exodus.
Hillel combined the three items, putting the meat and the bitter herbs between pieces of matzah, and ate them together. The reasoning was that life presents us with both good things and bad things, and we must accept them all and treat them positively. So the meat, representing abundance, the bitter herbs, representing the difficulties of life, and the matzah, representing liberation and freedom, should be taken together.
These days we do not have a temple and we don’t sacrifice a lamb there. Instead, we eat the charoset, which is a sweet mix of apples, wine, and nuts to remind us of the good things we all share. So the two thousand years old sandwich is still with us. Happy Passover to anyone who celebrates it, and a wonderful holiday to everyone who celebrates the other spring festivals, be it Easter, the Equinox, or any other holiday I am not familiar with. Spring is here!
Hello everyone! I have very good news. Some of you must have read the work the great talmudic and biblical scholar, Professor Henry J., who is the author of several books that combine impeccable scholarship and a remarkably innovative approach. So much so, that some conservative rabbis say the professor’s views border on iconoclastic blasphemy! However, this is far from the truth. Professor Henry J. also has a doctorate in psychology, and his hobby is to analyze ancient personalities and their behavior, based on his deep knowledge of human nature and of the ancient sources. Incidentally, his name is a pseudonym -- the professor is too modest to reveal his real name.
I had the honor of receiving an e-mail from the professor, who had read some of this blog. He feels that there is much I should be enlightened about regarding the character of Hillel the Elder. He likes Hillel (who wouldn’t?) but he feels that the views about him are more hagiography and blind admiration than need be, and the truth is that he was a very different person from what he appears to be in the legends about him. Here is the professor’s remark about the famous snowy roof legend; I sincerely hope to have more remarks in the future. I quote Professor Henry J.:
One day Hillel wanted to enter the Academy and study. Since he had no money, the guard did not allow him to go inside. Hillel climbed on the roof and leaned over the opening of the chimney. The official, and utterly wrong version, claims that Hillel was willing to lie on the roof in the snow so that he could listen to the sages. The truth is completely different. Hillel went on the roof to block the sunlight so the people inside the Academy could not study. "If I am not studying," he later said to his friend, the student Chavtaliahu Gazit, "no one else is studying."
Even though I truly respect Professor Henry J., I personally find this version very difficult to believe. The wording, indeed, sound exactly like a quote from Hillel, but still... it is complex. So I sincerely hope to hear from readers! Any comment about this subject is welcome, and please feel free to accept or object. The professor and I will both welcome your views. Incidentally, does anyone know anything about the other student, Chavtaliahu Gazit? I could not find a source about him.
Hi everyone. This week there is a new posting on Personal Histories instead of the usual posting for The Golden Rule. It's a wonderful story -- but I must warn you it is strong and perhaps even frightening... Here is the direct link, or just click on the Personal Histories tab. http://ililarbel.weebly.com/4/post/2013/03/the-mother-of-the-dreams.html
The relative peace, fragile as it was, did not last. The trouble began in Rome, and spread to Syria, and from there, to Judea. Julius Caesar was murdered. The event is so well known, there is hardly a need to describe it here, but one of the men involved, Cassius, became extremely important to the affairs in Judea, since unfortunately he did not share Caesar’s good opinion of the country.
The disturbance in Syria was also threatening to Judea. A man named Bassus Caecilius formed a plot against Sextus Caesar, Herod’s great friend, and unfortunately, succeeded in murdering him. He took over some of the Sextus’ army and made himself the ruler of the country. Sextus generals of both infantry and cavalry marched against him, and a terrible war broke over a large part of Syria.