Our Chumash: Teller of Truth

By TED ROBERTS, the SCRIBBLER ON THE ROOF

Ted_RobertsI tell you what I like about our Chumash. It’s so credible the characters are not masqueraded. It’s like the guy selling you the used car who shows you that small dent in the fender. Or tells you the battery is four years old. There’s no cover up – our ancestors, our patriarchs, are revealed in the full light of truth. Even Abraham, in a petty lie, describes Sarah to Avimelech as his voluptuous sister.

Who wants to tempt a powerful king to knock him off and grab Sarah?

But that’s minor league stuff compared to the conspiracy of Rebecca and Jacob to grab Esau’s inheritance. And, lo and behold, the book later praises the tolerance of Esau. Now that’s telling it like it is.

Then there’s the wisdom and grandeur – we have somehow fabricated – of David, the murderer of Uriah the Hittite (and other peccadilloes). David is not one of my Chumash heroes. And Solomon, who never met a heathen streetwalker he didn’t adore. And just to make them comfortable, decorated the Temple with pagan statues. Imperfect, I’d say.

The Chumash goes on to tell of flocks of kings “who walked not in the ways of the Lord”. Our book tells us the way it was – there’s no gilding the poison ivy.

But we do have two blue ribbon heroes, which even the Chumash author, the Lord, finds absolutely – well almost – perfect. There’s Moses – but can you see the devil peering over the author’s shoulder looking for character flaws: “Hey, he didn’t marry an Israelite. He’s in Midian – full of Jews.  How come? In fact, her father, Jethro, was a pagan priest!”

Wait a minute. Even ignoramuses like me recall that Abraham had three, not two wives. Sarah, Hagar, and Keturah; and one of Keturah’s offspring was Midian. So, one could make an argument that Zipporah was of the stock of Abraham, a kinsman. Nevertheless, the Chumash tells us that neither Aaron nor Miriam were ecstatic over the match (“because of the Cushite woman”). The reason is unclear and G-d punishes both of them attributing their motives to jealousy.

Our other blue ribbon candidate for most virtuous bible character is – RAH TA TA – who else but Joseph – not a single imperfection. Remember when he told Potiphar’s wife to take a walk instead of a cuddly nap? Remember when he saved Jews and Egyptians from starvation?

Unlike David, he never surveyed rooftops for bathing beauties. One small mistake and quite understandable – he married On, daughter of a priest. Just like Moses, come to think about it. And changes his name from Yoseph to Zapenath Pancah – a game our own old world ancestors understood well. A great aid to integration!

Yosef isn’t exactly a comfortable name at a Cairo cocktail party. So, that’s understandable. And where could he find a mikvah or a Hadassah chapter or even a storefront synagogue in 2nd millennium Egypt? (And don’t forget his brother Judah marries a Canaanite. And even worse, ends up over friendly with his own daughter-in-law.)

Oh, if only we were all like Moses and Joseph.

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