Wednesday, July 9, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: CLAIMING ISOLATION, SUMMER CAMP TEXT TEACHER JOINS EIDAH

Conover, WI—After three lonely weeks, Naomi Bilmes, a 23-year-old text (Yahadut) teacher at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, was tired of feeling left out. Every day, she would teach four classes of campers, plan out the next day’s lessons, and socialize with a very small group of other text teachers. On her 28-hour Shabbats, she faced hours and hours of empty time, missing her close friends and traditional Jewish prayer services. So she decided to take the plunge. She joined an eidah.
            “Eidah,” the Hebrew word for a community, denotes an age-group here at Camp Ramah. A little
over a week ago, Bilmes joined the Kochavim (Stars) eidah, a group of eight-year-olds who attend camp in 12-day sessions.
            “I chose them because they were just starting out,” Bilmes explains. “They were new and so was I, so although I would be breaking into a tight-knit group of counselors, the campers would know me right from the beginning. Plus,” she adds, “the Rosh (Head) of Kochavim seemed really nice and un-intimidating.”
            Bilmes now splits her time between Yahadut and Kochavim. She participates in musical morning prayers with the eight-year-olds, eats meals with them, spends her evenings with them, and helps put them to bed. During the day, she still teaches the older campers and plans out her lessons.
            “It’s exhausting, but even better than I expected,” Bilmes reports. “The girls are cute, and they like me! It turns out I’m good with kids. Huh. I mean, I would never EVER want to be a full-time counselor, but this amount of interaction is just perfect.”
            So what are the challenges of Bilmes’ new role? Well, having 18-year-olds as her superiors will take some getting used to.  “I admit that they know more about counselor-ing than I do, and that they’ve been at this camp ten times as long as I have, but still, it’s weird. I mean, they haven’t even been to college yet!” A wave of incredulity washes over Bilmes as she ponders the large age gap between her and the other counselors. On a different note, she adds, “It’s also hard to split my time between two groups. I always feel like I’m letting someone down.” Alas, such is the predicament of a perfectionist. (We are still waiting on our sources to confirm whether or not Bilmes is, in fact, letting someone down).


            Bilmes also had to learn the cheer for Kochavim—long after the other counselors had learned it. In addition, she has to endure endless cheering and chanting during meals; often, this chanting includes saying the names of the Roshei Eidah over and over again.
            “It borders on idol worship,” Bilmes whispers, “which is not really a Jewish value I feel comfortable promoting.”
            Despite the challenges, Bilmes’ nurturing side is getting a chance to shine. “Kids throw up a lot, which (thankfully) I haven’t had to deal with, but I have soothed a few homesick, sobbing girls who can’t get to sleep. You know, I can’t remember the last time I was truly homesick—maybe because I don’t really have a permanent home anymore—but I do what my mom always did when I couldn't fall asleep: ask the girl to talk about the good parts of her day, help her take some deep breaths, give her a hug or a back rub. I also tell her that it’s totally okay to feel homesick and that I know her parents are proud of her for being away for so long. And that I’m proud of her, too! I do what I can to help her out.”
            So what’s this about Bilmes not really having a home? Thankfully, that’s not quite true. Her parents will always open their home to her as long as she needs it. But over the past five years, she’s been hopping around between Maryland, Connecticut, Jerusalem, New York City, and now Wisconsin.
            “Part of my heart will always be sitting, watching, on the white stone walls of Jerusalem,” Bilmes admits. “And the other pieces of my heart? With the friends and family member that I love, wherever they may be.”
            On a slightly less sappy  note, the Kochavim leave early Sunday morning. Another slightly older group of campers arrives a few days later. The question arises: Will she do it again? Will she join another eidah?
            “We’ll see,” she says. “I’ll see how much I want to keep stretching myself. If I can still be an effective Yahadut teacher during the day, then I’m all for it.” In the meantime, Bilmes will savor her third day off this summer: a day full of relaxing, writing—and a little lesson-planning, of course.

            
Well, I'm not sure it's vacation, but sometimes I do lose track of the days.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Notes on Camp


            I’ve been at Camp Ramah (and out of civilization) for about two weeks, and the North Woods of Wisconsin is slowly becoming my temporary home. I have not yet perished from overaggressive mosquitoes, nor has my skirt size drastically grown or shrunk based on the quality of the food. I am gradually beginning to understand what this “camp” thing is all about, and though I still do not regret being a non-participant all these years, I do see what draws kids (and staff) back year after year: it’s a community. Although at times cult-ish due to the camp language and the close-knit nature of the participants, the community slowly opens to newcomers (but it helps to be a newcomer with patience). We learn the routines and grow to expect the expected. We receive ID badges and soft staff T-shirts. We even learn how to complain about certain higher-ups. But, most importantly, we hearken back to the days of our childhood and learn how to sleep in bunk beds again.

            I do not love it yet, but I do not hate it, either. And while I’m figuring things out, I’ll answer some of your questions.


1. So, what do you actually DO at camp?
I am what they call a “Text Teacher.” Every morning, the kids have 45 minutes of Hebrew class and 45 minutes of Text class. I teach the latter. I have four classes every morning: two classes of 12-year olds and two classes of 14-year olds. With the younger ones, we are doing Shabbat; with the older ones, we are exploring God, the Bible, and Jewish identity. Aside from the usual problems (talking out of turn, not participating, breaking the pencils) the kids are mostly into it. And a lot of them are really thoughtful. Just yesterday, my 12-year-olds surprised me with questions about science, the Torah, and truth, so I scrapped my previously planned lesson and just went with it. Today, I assigned my 14-year-olds to write midrashim about Lilith, and it turns out one of them is a whiz at constructing narrative plot lines, especially when it comes to Bible stories with holes in them.  Basically, the teaching has been really rewarding so far.
            When I’m not teaching, I’m lesson-planning. Or joking around with the other Text Teachers. Or hanging out with the Israelis and improving my Hebrew (but more likely improving their English). Or reading. Or sleeping (yes, it does happen).

*     *     *

Annoying camper story: 
(Scene: A noisy classroom. Teacher is trying to lead a discussion on the symbolism of light and candles in Judaism.) 
Teacher (to three particularly noisy campers): M, S and A! First I will separate you, then I will ask you to leave.
S: Okay! I like talking.
Teacher: I know you do.
(5 minutes later)
Teacher: M, S and A, please go outside.
A: (pouts) Okay.
M: Yay! Let's do Madlibs!
(next day)
S: Can we get sent out again today?
M: Yay! More Madlibs!
(Teacher inwardly slaps her forehead)
*     *     *

2. Are you a Conservative Jew yet?
Although it is true that Camp Ramah is associated with the Conservative movement, not all participants are strict adherents to said movement. Especially me. I still wear skirts every day and I value modesty more than the average camper or counselor here. I take my Shabbat observance very seriously—even in private. I struggle with the strict egalitarianism of prayer at this camp; during staff week, I stood off to the side and prayed by myself. Now that the campers are here, however, I want to be a role model for them so I sit with them and sing and point out page numbers. However, Sim Shalom is still not my siddur of choice (I use an all-Hebrew, Israeli siddur) and I value many of the prayers that the Conservative movement (or at least Camp Ramah) deems less important and therefore omits. In the morning I pray with the 14-year-olds, but in the afternoons and evenings, I pray (or don’t) as I choose. A few times I’ve gone into the often-empty synagogue and prayed there, enjoying my closeness to a Torah scroll and the easy fluidity of individual prayer.
Many questions still abound for me about Conservative Judaism and the practices of this camp. For example, if the Conservative movement recently came out with a statement implementing equal levels of obligation for men and women, why are the females here not required to wear tallit and tefillin? And also: If egalitarianism has only become a concern of the movement in the last 40 years, what was Conservative Judaism originally founded on? Hopefully, I will get answers to these questions as the summer goes on...

*      *     *

Awkward camper story:
(Scene: The common grassy area on Shabbat. Teacher is going for a stroll. Three of her students spot her.)
S: Hey Naomi!
E: Hey, you're my text teacher!
Teacher: Hey guys! How is your Shabbat going?
S: Shomer-y.
A: It's good.
S: Actually, there's a lot of drama.
Teacher: Uh-oh. What do you mean when you say "drama"?
S: Shabbas walks. Duh! I set up four people!
(Teacher inwardly slaps her forward and thinks "Seriously?! They're like 12! Shoot, I'm not supposed to be encouraging this...")
Teacher: Bye guys, see you tomorrow!

*     *     *

 3. How's the food?
Surprisingly okay. Breakfast is always good, thanks to the constant presence of Rice Chex, fruit, soy
Anyone vegan, gluten-free, AND carb-intolerant??
milk and peanut butter. Lunches and dinners have a lower success rate. If the main course is not gluten free, there is usually an alternative option, but sometimes dried out rice pasta leaves something to be desired. On a good day, I win with quinoa salad or cornstarch-breaded tofu. And there’s always a small salad bar.
Almost the whole camp eats simultaneously at 9am, 2pm, and 7pm—in three separate dining rooms. Two are filled with campers and their counselors. The third is filled with an odd assortment of parties: the oldest campers (they are sixteen and want nothing to do with anyone younger than them), the special-needs adult program, staff members with families, some of the arts and sports specialists, the administrators, the directors, and the Text Teachers. Although it’s an eclectic mix, I really enjoy it. Sitting with a seven-year-old at breakfast yields much insight into the field of Cocoa-Puff-consumption; joining the special needs crew at dinner is surprisingly mood-lifting—they have the potential to find the good in almost anything (even the plastic-looking nacho cheese sauce). It took me a while to get used to the late eating schedule (reminds me of college, ugh) but hey, at least the constipation has mostly abated by now.

*     *     *

Cute camper story:
(Scene: Teacher sitting under a tree for a few minutes in between classes.)
D: Can I go to the fruit bowl to get a plum before class?
Teacher (thinking that D just wants to skip class): Okay. Can you get me one too, please?
D: Sure! Do you like them mushy or... not mushy?
Teacher: Not mushy.
D: Okay!
(5 minutes later D brings Teacher a not mushy plum. Awww!)

*     *     *

4. What is your favorite thing about camp?
That I get to teach kids and learn from my experiences.

                  5. What do you miss the most?

Personal time and space. Life is busy here: aside from Shabbat, I get one day off per week and, having no car, it’s definitely not a day of total freedom. When I want alone-time I can go to my room, but I might find one of my two roommates there. In addition, the camp itself is pretty small. You can walk around it in about 15 minutes, and just about every space has a view of other people. Sometimes I sign out at the front desk and go walking down the road—out of camp. It’s a breath of solitude, and one that is much needed. There is also no private place to Skype, and as my close friends know, this is a huge hit to my life outside of camp. Just now, as I am trying to blog in the staff center (with my computer hooked to an ethernet cord) seven people come over to hang out. Oy.
Maybe I should have gotten a job here...

*     *     *

Amazing camper story:
(Scene: Discussing symbolism of light in Judaism with class #2.)
G: So it means gladness!
B: And pride! Because of victory against Haman!
S: Isn't it about the extra soul we get on Shabbat?
E: It's about the light of Torah!
Teacher: All those answers are awesome! Great job guys! So when you light candles this Shabbat, what will you be thinking about?
A: Uhh...there are no straight answers in Judaism, are there?
(Teacher: glows inside. This is exactly the point of....well, everything.)

*     *     *

Happy Camping!

Also, check out this article written by another one of the staff members here: http://lilith.org/blog/tag/maya-zinkow/

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

On the Other Side of the...Wait, There's no Mechitza!

A Modern Orthodox Woman’s Foray into Egalitarian Prayer

One of my close friends recently told me that I will forever be in her heart as her “mechitza-going-skirt-wearing-early-morning partner in crime Judaism.” This epigraph described our year at Pardes perfectly: we were two of the three women who regularly attended mechitza minyan; we wore skirts on a daily basis (and even went skirt-shopping together); we would sometimes get up before six am to go to shul, go running, get coffee, or simply message each other on Facebook about our passion for early mornings.  

            Now, a week after Pardes, my friend’s statement is still true—except for one teensy little detail: I prayed in an egalitarian setting this past Shabbat.

            So how did this come about? Well, over the weekend, I attended the wedding and accompanying Shabbaton of one of my best friends. She married (past tense!! she’s married!!) a JTS rabbinical student; in four years he will be ordained as a Conservative rabbi. The dean of JTS officiated at the wedding, and all of the services over Shabbat were conducted in an egalitarian manner (men and women leading services, reading Torah, getting aliyot, and sitting together). Now, I knew what I was getting myself into, so I had drawn boundaries with my friend before the weekend. I gave divrei Torah, but declined any other role in the service. I had also planned to sit by the wall. I hadn’t prayed in an egalitarian setting in a long time, and I was anticipating discomfort. Over Shabbat, however, I was surprised by how smoothly I eased into this new situation. As a result, I did a lot of thinking about why I have avoided egalitarian prayer for so long, why this particular instance was better than I expected, and what issues I still have with egalitarian prayer.


I knew I was missing something on the plane ride home...


So, first of all, why has mechitza minyan been my preference for the past six years of my life? During the end of high school, in college, and at Pardes, I happily closed myself off behind the mechitza, wanting prayer to be a time when I didn’t have to look at or think about boys. In those environments, life revolved around being a young single female and being around young single males. Flirting was a reality; so were crushes and desires and everything else having to do with boy-girl social-dom. If my prayer experience was going to be meaningful, it was going to have to happen far away from men. Just me and God.

This was when I realized that when praying with a community I would choose mechitza, but that my ideal prayer happens alone—and preferably outside. That being said, praying with a community gives me something special that I cannot get alone: motivation and the spiritual power of the many. So I compromise: when I can, I pray with a mechitza minyan in my own little corner of the women’s section. And I close my eyes.

But there are other reasons why mechitza minyan has been my preference for so long. For one, I have a traditional instinct inside of me to pray the way my ancestors have been praying for years, embracing the differences between men and women and letting a strong male voice lead me through the flow of the service. Secondly, a large part of me believes that I should follow the Halacha relating to prayer. It has been decreed by our rabbis as a valuable practice, so who am I to choose something else?


But now onto the second question: why was this weekend different? Did all of my reasons for praying in a mechitza minyan just fall away? Well, not exactly. But one element had majorly changed. Instead of a community of my peers, I was with a community of parents, kids and grandparents. And the ones who were praying were really focused on praying. There was no one to “look over the mechitza at” and no one who was interested in looking. In addition, most of the people in this prayer setting saw egalitarian prayer as totally acceptable—they did not have the “don’t look at girls/boys” mentality that often comes with a mechitza upbringing. (When we have a barrier, we are told not to look over it, and that implies there is something to look at, and therefore we must have a barrier. If we are never told not to look, we might not need a barrier. Paradox?) In essence, it was a wholesome prayer environment and I, as a part of it, was spiritually uplifted by the prayer.

Another reason this weekend was different: I was there for my best friend. I love her. Friendship such as ours is worth compromising over.

So, what reservations do I still have about egalitarian prayer? Why won’t I be taking it on voluntarily anytime soon?

1. Halachic guilt. If absolute truth is complete adherence to Halacha, this weekend I adhered to absolute un-truth. And because I did it knowingly, that makes me guilty.

2. I am a strong supporter of Sexual Difference Theory—the theory that the basic differences between men and women require systems of law to treat them differently. Because men and women are different, it makes sense to me that they have dissimilar obligations in prayer. As a woman, I feel that my responsibility in prayer is not the same as a man’s obligation. Therefore, if I lead services or read Torah, I am not helping a man fulfill his obligation.

3. On a completely personal (and selfish?) level, I have worked hard to achieve my “MOYO” (Modern-Orthodox-Yet-Open) identity. I do not want to take on a practice that will completely align me with other movements.

4. I am most comfortable behind a mechitza. And comfort zones are powerful things.

5. In my near future, I hope to place myself in communities of other young, observant Jews. “Looking over the mechitza” will be a reality. I will need a mechitza

In summary, egalitarian prayer consists of two elements that cause problems for me. 1. Women being counted as part of the minyan and therefore leading the service for men, and 2. Men and women sitting together. The first issue is purely halachic; the second comes from a place of wanting to achieve my best prayer experience (the separation of sexes during prayer does not explicitly appear in the Talmud).  Following Halacha and finding personal meaning—the two main reasons (often opposing) for why we Jews do what we do. It always seems to come back to that dialectic.

I’ll end with an anecdote from the weekend: Shabbat was over, and guests were running off to their rooms to prepare for the post-Shabbat bonfire on the beach. Few people were left in the seudah shlishit room to daven ma’ariv. All of a sudden I heard, “Naomi, we need you for a minyan!” and I was in. I wasn’t counting myself, but they were counting me. And, for what felt like the first time in forever, I was being validated for my commitment to prayer and to Hashem. Which, as a woman, is not something I find often enough.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Permission Slip

(a poem)

Today, I received a permission slip.

It came without an envelope.
White paper, black ink, blue signature,
Red stamp reading “APPROVED.”

Permission will be granted, the slip read, for one week.
 After a period of seven days the service will expire.

So I began right away.

I packed away the stale, crunchy smile,
folded up the laugh lines pasted around my eyes,
tucked away the stiff responses to “How are you?”
and threw my strong, stable voice into a box.

What was left was weak and a bit droopy,
but felt much cleaner than it had before.

In my new state of cleanliness, I began to talk,
and that is how it really began.

Because when you speak recently-unpermitted truths,
a switch flips on inside of you that sends a warmness to your throat
and a pipeline to your eyes.
And then the pipeline gushes.

And of course, you will speak to people who
do not know 
that you have received
the permission slip
in which case
the warmness in your throat turns to searing hot
and the shame dams up behind your eyes
and you must wait until the person is gone
to continue cleaning.

(The only problem with cleaning
is that sometimes
it is hard to breathe
and sometimes
you find the dirtiest things.)

In general, you are glad to have the permission slip.
But you find that you do not need it
during every one of the 168 hours that it covers.
(You wonder if there are rollover minutes.)
Feeling the raw truth
has hurt you so harshly
and lowered you so deeply
and scrubbed you so roughly
that when you look up
and see a ribbon-tied bunch of colorful balloons
you are elevated with a weightless wind
that is true

a wind that blows the permission slip
onto the floor.
I pick it up
and put it back in my top drawer
understanding that seven days doesn’t really mean
seven days.

That little slip of paper
is there for me whenever I need it.

And the person who signed it?
Well, the handwriting is too messy to read.


*     *     *

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Color of the Light

The Color of the Light

Forward.
Onward.
Toward the rough rope ladder that will lead me up to the light.
But the light is blue and green and black and white and pink and blue (did I already mention blue? And black?)
What color is it, really? Can you tell me?

Even if I knew what color it was
and even if I wanted the blue or the green or the black,
my arms are too sore to pull myself up
and my chest is weak and full of holes.
My body has holes in it.
Actually, it is one big hole.
All the reasons and the logics that filled it are gone—they drifted away into the space behind me—because they heard from their master that she must be a hole right now.

Holes crumble in on themselves (especially black ones).
They pucker and suction and vacuum and suck in emptiness                      emptiness
emptiness

The master says that she is a villain and in order to pay for it she must curl up around her gaping middle and doubt. She may not go forward and the past will not have her, either.
But you, Reason,
and you, Logic,
will go back to her one day
and show her what color that light really is.

 - Naomi Bilmes
April 11, 2014

Sometimes, Sara Bareilles says it better than anyone.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Cleaning the Kitchen with Underwear

(No, not cleaning the kitchen in my underwear. I'm not that much of an exhibitionist. And it wasn't even my kitchen, so cleaning in my underwear might have been a wee bit inappropriate.)

Thank goodness for Passover, the holiday without which most Jews would never clean their kitchens. But in preparation for the holiday that requires the elimination of all bread-ish products from our homes, Jews in Jerusalem bring out the big guns (and by 'guns' I mean cleaning products). On almost every telephone pole and bus stop wall this time of year, signs in Hebrew advertise someone's scrubbing skills, their heft with a vacuum, or their ability to sniff out cookies from four kilometers away. Every poor student turns into a professional cleaner, and the market is ripe.

Hire me!

I got my chance to earn maid-hood this week at the home of one of my teachers. I signed up for a three-hour shift in which I conquered one of the stoves, the range top, and the freezer. Her youngest kid put on the weird radio station that alternates between Israeli and American pop songs and we promptly got to work. She checked her six-page list of Passover tasks as each of her kids came home, and despite the complaints of having "a really loooooong day," they were mostly willing to participate (I think there was some incentive involved).

The army assembles.
There were latex gloves, water buckets, and myriad cleaning supplies. My chosen ones were scratchy green cleaning pads and the two highly-chemical oven cleaners, which I made the mistake of breathing in close proximity to after I sprayed them, leading to a bit of coughing. Yes, cleaning kitchens is disgusting, but I felt an odd sense of peace as I was cleaning: I had a three-hour block of time, and all I had to do was clean. I could take my time. I could make things sparkle. I could promise myself that when the time came to scour my own kitchen, I would take on the task with a similar determination and peace.

And as I was down on my dirty knees behind the pulled-out oven, I all-of-a-sudden realized what was in my gloved hand: a balled-up pair of underwear. The box of rags which we had been drawing from was made up of old socks, t-shirts, and worn-out underwear (laundered, don't worry). I had been mostly trying to use the socks and t-shirts, but at the moment, a pair of Spiderman boy-briefs was in my hand, soaking up the suds and getting at the grime.

The irony was not lost on me. In preparation for the holiday of utmost cleanliness, I was using an object that most of us associate with uncleanliness. In addition, underwear is something we don't usually see or talk about; and to be honest, I felt weird holding the underwear of someone I knew, the underwear of a family I love and respect. But none of the family members were the least bit embarrassed, nor did they even mention the word the whole time we were cleaning. I guess it's their long-held tradition. And long-held traditions need no discussion.

But I was having an inner discussion. Here I am, holding an undergarment and cleaning cleaning cleaning cleaning. It is as if I am taking my intimate insides and wringing them out, examining them, and finding the stains. But I am also using them for a bigger purpose. And what a metaphor that is: using my secrets and my intimate knowledge to help clean up our world. And examining those secrets in the process. Cleaning the house? Cleaning the soul.

In the coming week, I will clean the floor, the oven, the stove, the sink, the cabinets, the tables, the chairs, the walls, the windows - anything I can reach with a gloved hand and cleaning spray. I have a good deal of cleaning to do. Inside the soul and out.




Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Oven of Retelling

What is the purpose of a story? To be re-written, of course! Below, I have composed a re-telling of one of the most famous stories in Jewish tradition. It is originally found in the Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Bava Metzia, page 59), and I recently learned it from a new angle with one of my teachers at Pardes. My re-telling, in the style of folktale, is inspired by the new eyes through which I now view the story. Enjoy the ambiguity!

*     *     *

The Oven of Akhnai

Once upon a time, there was an oven.

This oven was made of slats.

In between the slats was soft sand that held the slats together.

This oven belonged to a man named Akhnai.

Some say, however, that his name wasn't Akhnai; rather, that there was no man at all. Some say that akhnai means "snake" and that the oven of akhnai was actually an oven with a snake wrapped around it.

These people would say that the oven was the oven of a serpent. The oven of temptation. The oven of knowledge of good and evil. 



There was another disagreement regarding this oven (because it was built with sand): was it a complete vessel and therefore subject to impurity, or was it merely a pile of rubble and therefore always pure?

The majority thought the oven was subject to impurity.
One man thought the oven was always pure.

That one man was right.
And God made sure everyone knew it.

When the man said, "If I am right, let the carob tree prove it," the carob tree uprooted itself and moved.
When the man said, "If I am right, let the stream prove it," the water in the stream flowed backward.
When the man said, "If I am right, let the walls prove it," the walls started to cave in.
When the man said, "If I am right, let the Heavens prove it," a Heavenly voice called out, "The man is right! And not just in this matter, but in every matter!" 



And the majority heard.

And the majority disagreed. 

And the majority said, "There is no law in Heaven. We make the laws down here."

And the man was sent away. 

And the oven was deemed whole. And any bread baked in that oven was fresh and aromatic and tangy and sweet. But when the majority ate the bread, they ate it in a room where the walls were still partially caved in.
There was always the fear that the walls would crumble, crushing them all, and that the snake in the pipes would come slithering out.
Because the majority had been tempted. They had seen an oven wrapped in a snake and called it whole. They used that oven. And when they used that oven, they accepted the snake that came along with it.

Because who would pass up the chance to take an oven and use it to make perfectly good bread? 

The majority took the law for itself.
The majority took ownership of all the ideas within the law.
The majority grasped the law and shaped it and molded it and held onto it for all time.
The majority did all these things out of love. Love for the law and love for God.



And God watched.

Was God angry? Did God want to keep the law for himself? Did God want to rule for all time and strike down those who disagreed with him?
Or did God want us to take the law? Did God want us to own it? Did God want us to be responsible for it? Did God want us to change it?

We will never know.
But maybe the snake does. 


*     *     *

In the Talmud, the story continues. (There is also no bread in the Talmud; I added that literary element.) The man, Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, is excommunicated. The rabbi who orders the excommunication dies on account of this order. The decision to exile the rabbi whom God supported haunts the rabbis for a long while after.

But God seems to accept that the law no longer belongs with him. An Aramaic insertion in the text gives an image of God smiling and saying "My sons have defeated me, my sons have defeated me!" as if it was meant to happen all along.

It seems that God stepped away. God gave the law over to us and tied his hands behind his metaphorical back. In return, we get a mixed bag: We get to decide. We get to legislate. We get the authority to change what is wrong and substantiate what is right. But we also receive responsibility. We receive the onus of making decisions for the masses. We get the uneasy feeling of never really knowing what God wanted us to do. We might be straying from God's intention and we will never know. Because God is in the heavens, and Torah is not. Torah is down here, and we are down here, and God is up above. Our religion is a religion of man. It once belonged to God, and now it belongs to us.

So we must ask:
If it still belonged to God, would we even want it?
If it still belonged to God, would we be able to understand it?
What good is religion if it does not belong to the people?
Or, one could ask, what good is religion if its manifestation may not be what God intended?

There are two sides (at least) to every story.

Pick your side.

Re-tell the story.