Monday, May 21, 2007

KMTT -- The Torah Podcast

Podcasts are my means to perceive the world. On whatever subject I like to achieve more understanding, I look for a podcast. The KMTT podcast is among a handful, I follow for enhancing my knowledge about Judaism, be it religious, be it secular. KMTT was recommended to me by a religious acquaintance. He himself listens to the Hebrew version, which I haven't tried yet.
I listen to the English version, but not to all issues. I have a lack of interest in halachic matters, so I pass these over. What I pick are the theme episodes on Jewish thought and philosophy and the ones on the weekly Torah readings, parshot hashavua.

This week's parasha is parshat bemidbar and as usual I had a hard time following the whole lecture. No matter how much I like to see myself as a Jew, a secular one for that matter, in these traditional settings I feel like an anthropologist and a newbie at that. Alternately I feel, the way I felt in my first years at Law School when University Studies and Legal Thinking still eluded me. An inapt and scrambling outsider.

Nevertheless, I did pick something up. One of the things that is mentioned in parshat bemidbar is the special place the tribe of Levi has among the Israelites. The lecturer (Rabbi Yonatan Snowbell) discusses what meanings and sense this place, aides to the caste of priests, the cohanim, has. There seems to be a connection with the role the Levites fulfilled when the sin of the golden calf took place. They were the only ones who did not sin and they were appointed the task to kill those who did. (And some 3000 were killed, good old bloody Bible.) Then the task of aiding the cohen was taken away from the original appointee and given to the Levites.
Fine, but this raises a question of how this is justified. Is it because they did not sin or were they chosen to get the task all along. The whole thing comes to stand in a strange light if you take into consideration that Aharon, the cohen, had also sinned, not so badly that he needed to be killed, but nevertheless he did. Yet, he was not replaced from his office and the Levites were not placed over him, in stead became his aides. How is that for measure and equity?

When you are a secular it is easy to stay indifferent or just declare that such passage in the Bible doesn't make sense. When I was still busy as a legal professional, I saw that with matters decided by the Supreme Court or by the Legislator, you were intent on understanding and interpreting the law in an optimized way, but should you find a verdict or a statute that you cannot reconcile with the system of low, you are in a position that you can reject it.
A religious Jew, however, can never reject anything in the torah, hence he has to ingenuously reason around the whole text and persist endlessly to find sense. That is, from the perspective of secularity or of secular legality, a weakness, yet it is a strength by means of the resulting creativity and depth in the reasoning.
The end picture is that of a mixed one where both the sinner (Aharon with assignment to atone) as well as the righteous (the Levites) have their place and so it seems, the righteous as an aide to the sinner, who is to be the leader. Fascinating thought.
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