Friday, October 31, 2008

Receiving the Torah

It's a bit troubling to compare today's midrashim with one another. We start off well, with midrash 25 (in the English) suggesting that God has mercy on Israel for being weak still from their time in Egypt. This is hopeful. yet the very next midrash offered is as I as taught to say Kasheh li - difficult for me.
In Temple era Judaism, there was clearly a pagan tendency to see the priests in much the same way that pagans did; they needed to be whole, without physical blemish, just as the animal offered on the altar were. MIdrash 26 parallels that particular point of view, and even extends it to the entire nation. "Hence the Holy One said: It is not right that I give My Torah to cripples"
WHile itis meant to be a signal of God's mercy that God healed those in Israel who were not whole in order to give the nation Torah, I find that unsatisfying. Is the Torah not for those who are not physically whole?
If the midrash had said instead that giving the Torah healed Israel, that would be one thing - we could understand that as metaphorical for a spiritual or ethical healing, but as with the status of priests, it is clear that what we are speaking of here is physical wholeness. Is God offended by the broken? And yet, it is the broken heart that makes us whole. Our midrash (elsewhere) tells us that as well.

And finally, in the last midrash for today, we begin to look at why God chose Sinai rather than other mountains. In midrash 30 (English) we find the mountains fighting over which of them will be the holy mountain on which the Torah will be given. In this version, Sinai is chosen because it has never had idolatry practiced upon it, but in tractate Sotah of the Talmud, another reason is given: because Sinai is the lowest(humblest) of the mountains.
This strikes me as the reverse of what we are offered here in which outward appearance represents sin ("crookbacked" is a sign of idolatry) I presume that that is why priests are also required to be whole - that outward blemish is presumed to be a sign of inward blemish. In Sotah lowness is not a blemish, but a sign of humility. Of course this doesn't quite rescue our situation, because lowness isn't quite the same thing as a physical disability.
I leave it to the readers to see how this can be rescued. Any suggestions?

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