Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Presumptions about Prophets

The following are just a few points on my method of teaching Navi (my focus is mainly on Neviim Rishonim). As you will see this method is closely connected to what I believe to be the purpose of Navi. These are my thoughts in the raw. Hopefully, they will encourage a good discussion.

1) Navi is fundamentally about failure. Specifically, B'nei Yisrael and its leaders' failure to fully implement the mitzvot of the Torah. The 'sins of our fathers' will forever be revisited upon us if we do not subject their deeds to scrutiny - and this, of course, is of no use if this does not spur us on to scrutinizing our own deeds. To this end, when learning Navi it is critical to clearly formulate the mitzvah with which the Navi is concerned (be it used in the general sense of all mitzvot or a particular mitzvah or class of mitzvot)

2) 'Maaseh avot siman labanim' - 'the deeds of the Fathers are signs for the sons' - many (or perhaps all) of the struggles that B'nei Yisrael go through in trying to establish their nation can already be seen in the lives of the Patriarchs. This is because the Patriarchs were dealing with fundamentally the same issue: how to strike a balance between the development of one's own soul and one's duty to family and nation. The struggle of Yaakov/Yisrael is the the struggle of all of his children. This means it is critical to compare, contrast and connect the two to uncover the message of the Navi.

3) The Navi's focus is mainly on the challenges of malkhut - kingship. This means that in order to learn the message of the Navi we must also learn how to relate to the king and his struggles. The kings struggles are, to a certain degree, like our own just amplified. However, there are unique challenges the king faces which we must come to know through the medium of the narrative.

4) Each book of the Navi is just that: a book. How we understand each part must be informed by the whole. Could one attend a class or lecture on a particular chapter of 1984 without having read the entire book and expect to gain very much? Why would one think Navi is any less worthy of such expectations? Even as one seeks to give order and reason to the apparent vagaries of this or that story one must not forget that one is reading a book. Often the puzzle is solved by remembering this.

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