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Posts Tagged ‘Hebrew Bible’

“Listening to God’s echo in our lives, approaching Scripture as if God were speaking to us, is the beginning of midrash.”
For a fresh and vibrant experience of reading Scripture, open Sandy Eisenberg Sasso‘s highly readable Midrash: Reading the Bible with question marks. In this book Rabbi Sasso provides a straightforward discussion of the Jewish tradition of midrash —interpretation of Scripture— and how this practice can nourish one’s spiritual life.

Rabbinical tradition teaches that the revelation of scripture is the beginning of a conversation, a process of seeking and listening for meaning. As Rabbi Sasso writes, “By dwelling in the text, by interpreting it and making it come alive, the people came to encounter the divine and continue a conversation begun long ago at Sinai.”

To guide readers through the process of reading and creating midrash,Rabbi Sasso shares ten examples from the tradition, each followed by a personal story. Readers experience the ongoing conversation with Scripture, and the importance of our contemporary stories. A particularly helpful section reflects on midrashim on the theme “God was in this place and I did not know it,” where Rabbi Sasso engages with Scripture related to finding glimpses of the holy in ordinary places.

Why should we read and practice midrash? “Midrash lets us glimpse the light of the old souls who saw the glow of the holy in the words of Scripture. It invites us to find that light within our own souls and bring it to illumine the sacred narratives.” We come to see the value of our own stories, and the many ways that Scripture can speak into our lives, as it did for our ancestors.

A lovely, rich, and inspiring read, Midrash: Reading the Bible with question marks would benefit Christian and Jewish readers, as well as secular individuals interested in the many ways to understand the Bible.

Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by the publisher. No fee was received.

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“Even when one sees something ugly in another person, one should give heart to the fact that there, too, dwells the name of the Blessed One, for there is no place empty of God.” —Rabbi Jacob Joseph Katz
I strongly recommend From Enemy to Friend: Jewish wisdom and the pursuit of peace to all readers interested in interreligious dialogue and peacemaking. In this book Rabbi Amy Eilberg has done a compelling job presenting personal stories, classical Jewish texts, and peace and conflict theory to bring readers a powerful vision to guide our everyday lives as peacebuilders. There is inspiration for all who feel that “peace is not a utopian ideal, but a daily need.”

For anyone unfamiliar with the rich peace tradition in Jewish texts, Rabbi Eilberg shares that “the command repeated more frequently than any other in the Torah — 36 times, in fact — is the command to love, to reach out to, and do justice to the stranger.” She offers rigorous yet accessible engagement with Jewish texts, highlighting the many ways that peacemaking forms a central component of Jewish teachings.

Rabbi Eilberg illustrates that peacemaking is not merely a set of tools or techniques, but a way of being in daily life. As peacemakers, we must begin with transforming our own hearts, and extend our efforts into the world of our neighbors. With regular practice, we can learn to “unclench our fists, minds, and hearts when we feel wounded,” and live into the truth that “all human beings, even those who have hurt and threatened us, are human creatures like ourselves, worthy of the same respect and dignity we demand for ourselves.”

When the fear and hate that are revealed in the news become overwhelming, we can remember that many ordinary people hold peacemaking as the central value. For example, I learned of the exciting work of Clergy Beyond Borders, essential for building understanding in a pluralistic society. In another example of peacemaking lived, Rabbi Eilberg writes about the intentional community Oasis of Peace/Neve Shalom/Wahat al Salam, where Jewish and Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel live together. Across our religious traditions we need guidance and inspiration, to learn to lay aside our fears and suspicions of difference that often get in the way of building relationships.

Readers will find that From Enemy to Friend offers inspiration, deepened understanding, and rich material for reflection. In a world that is hungry for peace, Rabbi Eilberg’s inspiring and helpful work deserves a wide audience.

Disclaimer: A copy of his book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. No fee was received.

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Let justice roll down like a mighty river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. —Amos 5:24

When I read this verse, I hear it in the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As Dr. King well knew, the call of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible continues to have powerful resonance and compelling relevance for our needy world. We need to be challenged and pushed, because continually turning to God is hard work. Remembering to show mercy to the vulnerable is not always easy; complacency and busyness get in the way.

How would it feel to hear this verse read by a woman, calling other women to work together and to examine their hearts? With Rebecca Seiling’s new book, I have an opportunity to explore this question. In Let Justice Roll Down: Women engaging the world, Rebecca Seiling has prepared a beautiful study of the book of Amos, demonstrating the importance of this text for our times and empowering women to live the message of Amos. She asks the urgent question, “How can we use our hands and our bodies to worship God during the week, after our corporate worship is over?”

Commissioned by Mennonite Women Canada and Mennonite Women USA, Let Justice Roll Down conveys the message of Amos through the lens of the Mennonite commitment to peacemaking, nonviolence, and reconciliation. The author makes clear her status as a woman from one of the wealthier countries of North America, and her writing carries reminders to be aware of one’s social position and cultural identity. The words of Amos will reach the ears of those with material wealth in a different way than it reaches those who suffer material deprivations.

The book is very useful for personal reflection, but ideal for a women’s gathering, small group, or class, where women together can explore what the cry of Amos means for their lives. Each chapter includes a suggested reading from Amos, an overview that contextualizes the verse, questions to ask oneself or discuss in a group, suggestions for songs, and a closing prayer. While written from a perspective of Mennonite Anabaptist theology, women from across denominational lines will find the writing speaks to them.

I encourage you to read Let Justice Roll Down. Let Amos inspire you, and the prayer of Rebecca Seiling fill your heart: “God of justice, come and be light for our eyes.”

Disclosure: A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. No fee was received.

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“And she shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth her fruit in her season; her leaf shall not wither; and whatsoever she doeth shall prosper.” —Psalm 1:3, King James Version, with liberties taken on the pronouns

Frequently I have turned my seeking heart to the Book of Psalms in the Hebrew Bible, and even more often they have arisen unbidden into my mind. In my first silent meeting for worship among Friends, the first line from Psalm 42 came to me: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.” Since that first meeting for worship, the line often has come to me as I settle into the silence.  (Usually, except for gender exclusion, I like the KJV.  I find some of the modern translations such the poetic energy out of the Psalms.  However, to say my soul “panteth,” as the KJV would, doesn’t work for me.  Thirsts, definitely; panteth, no.)

After reading Kathleen Norris’s wonderful book The Cloister Walk, I became convinced that at some point each of the Psalms might have something to offer me. Her book explores her time as an oblate (lay practitioner) with a Benedictine order that follows the practice of daily psalm singing. On any given day, who knows which psalm will be chosen. Maybe you are feeling spiritually dry, and the psalmist’s praise makes no sense; maybe you are feeling joyful, and the psalmist’s anger rubs you the wrong way. In the analysis of Kathleen Norris, and in my own subsequent reading, the range of human emotion in the psalms becomes startling.

I have favorite psalms that I turn to over and over, but I hold out hope that others might speak to me one day. My initial challenge with the language of the psalms was the many references to battles and destroying enemies.

Truly I want to love my enemies, and to transform the “enemies” within that are my obstacles to living up to my faith. For me, these enemies are my anger that gets in the way of gentle speech, my impatience that gets in the way of waiting and discerning.  There are other places in the Hebrew Bible where battles are against injustice. But in the Psalms, the battles seem to be about those things that keep one at a distance from God.

The very first psalm, after lifting up hope that those who delight in God will prosper (as cited at the opening of this post), goes on to say that “the way of the ungodly shall perish.”  Could this be suggesting that by delighting in God, delighting in following the requirements of my faith to the best of my ability, those inner obstacles will in fact be transformed?

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