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You Call That Living?

The origins of Jewish humor are found in the Torah: “What?! There weren’t enough graves in Egypt?” is a repeated refrain of the people complaining in the wilderness. But it goes back from there – Rabbi Sacks points out that when the Tower of Babel was built, mankind built the largest building they could – so the text tells us that G-d had to come down just to be able to see it. Perspective can be hard to find.

The snark was more personal between Jacob and Lavan, his father-in-law. Jacob had fled to Lavan’s house after poaching his older brother’s blessing. So when Jacob complains that he was married to the wrong daughter – that Lavan had unfairly switched Leah for Rachel on the night of the wedding – Lavan’s retort was classic: “It is not our custom for the younger to come before the first-born.”

Jacob’s retort is much more fundamental. After Jacob leaves Lavan’s house, Lavan pursues him, knowing that someone has stolen Lavan’s idols. The text’s entendre is easy to miss. It is usually translated as: “anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live.” But if you read the text carefully, it just as reasonably reads: “Anyone who encounters your gods is not living!”

The connection to the famous verse: “Man does live by bread alone” is startling. The rest of that verse is, “man lives on all that is found through connection with G-d.” The word for “encounters” in the Genesis story is the same one as “connection” in the Deuteronomy verse.

In other words: The Torah is telling us that living on physical sustenance is not real living – and neither is connecting with pagan deities. Real living comes through encounters with the real G-d.

Comments are welcome!

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