Father’s Torah and Man’s Heart, by Angus and Batya Wootten

[Editor’s note: It is probably a human tendency to assume that others will understand things the same way we do if we just acquaint them with the same information. What we do not take into account is that people have diverse personalities, circumstances, learning styles, and ways of perceiving the world. That translates into diverse understandings of the same information. Which leads to another human tendency: to resist this diversity and compel others to accept our own understanding as the correct view.
Perhaps the saddest corollary to these tendencies is that spiritually minded people are not immune to them. In fact, some of the worst excesses in human history have come because of religious differences. The Torah Awakening is no exception. This is something Angus and Batya Wootten addressed in an article published in the House of David Herald in 1999.
Since Angus left us for his eternal reward earlier this year, BYNA has been republishing his articles in tribute to his memory and in honor of his contributions to the awakening of the House of Joseph in our generation. The article posted here is the first of many we will post that Angust co-authored with Batya. While both of them wrote well and persuasively, in their collaboration we see the melding of male and female perspective to present their complete heart as a couple. Angus’ legacy would not be complete without Batya, and her legacy is incomplete without him. As we approach Sukkot, the time our Heavenly Father has set apart for Messiah and His Bride to become one, we examine what Angus and Batya share as foundational to our forward progress. Their counsel? Rather than preach and argue, celebrate!]

Father’s Torah and Man’s Heart

By Angus and Batya Wootten – May 1999

As redeemed Israel, how does the Father want us to walk? In particular, how does He want us to handle the issue of “law versus grace”?

We must answer these questions because, as we labor to restore both “Judah and Ephraim” as brothers, we continually encounter two primary problems, both of which have to do with the “partial hardening” of “both the houses of Israel” (Romans 11:25; Isaiah 8:14; Genesis 48:19).

These problems are:

    1. Judah’s blindness to Messiah Yeshua as our “Divine Redeemer” (Psalm 49:7-9,15).[1]
    2. Ephraim’s blindness to the “wisdom of Torah” (Hosea 8: 12; Deuteronomy 4:6).[2]

Because Israel’s restoration primarily begins with Ephraim’s actions (Isaiah 11:13; Jeremiah 31:18-19; Romans 11), we focus on his problem with “Torah.” For, with this Issue, we wish to begin a series of “Torah Studies.” However, we want them to be of a different spirit than most Torah studies we have seen thus far.

So, in our attempt to rebuild “David’s fallen house,” we will first establish the “types of materials” we will use, and we will define a certain “framework.”

To begin, we see that in the parable of the prodigal, Yeshua tells of a father who has a younger “prodigal” son, who in turn has an older brother who is not happy about the wanderer’s return home (Luke 15:11-32).

This story well depicts Ephraim’s and Judah’s present state. For, in our day many of Believing Ephraim (Genesis 48:19) are coming to a place of repentance (Jeremiah 31:18-19), and they want to return “home” to their “roots.” However, in many cases, the older son, “Judah,” is not happy with Ephraim’s emersion from the pig sty.

Again, we seek to reunite the Father’s “two brothers.” And in our article “From Orphans to Heirs,” we explained that the “how do we reunite them” answer is for Ephraim to “celebrate.”[3]

To provoke the older brother [Judah] to jealousy, Ephraim must “make merry and be glad;” he must “celebrate and rejoice.” For our Heavenly Father wants Judah to “join the party.” He even wants those of Ephraim to make Judah “want” to join the celebration.

Yes, that is the job long ago assigned to Ephraim: Make Judah want what you have! To have Ephraim (they being the formerly “wild olive branches”) provoke Judah to “jealousy” was, and still is, the Father’s plan of salvation for “all Israel” (Jeremiah 11:10, 16; 2:18, 21; Romans 11).

The problem is, to accomplish this divine assignment, Ephraim, who has for so long seen himself as an orphan, needs to see that he too is an heir. For, then, he will cease to be “jealous” of Judah (Isaiah 11:13; Jeremiah 31:18-19). Then, he will see Judah as a “member of the family.” Then, the whole house of Israel will find total healing and restoration. And thus, Ephraim needs to see that the parable of the prodigal offers a solution to the reunion problem.

To Make Jealous – Make Merry!

“Meal during the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot),” anonymous, after Bernard Picart, ca. 1720-1725, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

In this parable, the older brother was provoked because – his younger brother was “celebrating and rejoicing,” or “making merry.” This is translated from euphraino, euphraino (yoo-frah ‘ee-no), which means, to be in a good frame of mind, to make glad, to be or to make merry, to rejoice.[4]

Thus we see that legalism and religion will not provoke Judah. Celebration will (which explains why so many non-Jews feel an unexplainable urge to “celebrate the Feasts of Israel”).[5]

So, as we seek to rebuild David’s fallen tent (Amos 9:11; Acts 15:16), we will not use any form of legalism. It will have no place in this project.

Under the Law?

As we build, we will categorically refuse to have anything to do with putting people “under the Law” (Romans 2: 12).

But . . . on the other hand, we do not want to subject anyone to a bad translation of Scripture.

And, we question whether most people understand what Paul actually meant when he spoke of people being “under the law.” Paul said, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law” (1 Corinthians 9:20).

Was Paul saying he was a two-faced chameleon who felt the end justified the means? Or, is Paul’s statement better translated in David Stern’s Jewish New Testament?

With Jews, what I did was put myself in the position of a Jew, in order to win Jews. With people in subjection to a legalistic perversion of the Torah, I put myself in the position of someone under such legalism, in order to win those under this legalism, even though I myself am not in subjection to a legalistic perversion of the Torah.

Paul is explaining that, when he encountered a Jew who was in bondage to legalism, he empathized with him. He identified with him. He tried to speak his language. But . . . Paul himself was not in such bondage.

Instead, Paul explains what he does identify with:

He says, “With those who live outside the framework of Torah, I put myself in the position of someone outside the Torah in order to win those outside the Torah – although I myself am not outside the framework of God’s Torah but within framework of Torah as upheld by the Messiah.” (1 Corinthians 9:21 JNT)

Messiah’s Torah Framework

The “framework” upon which Messiah hung the Torah is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Love” is the framework upon which all Torah instruction must hang. For if we “know all mysteries and all knowledge,” but “do not have love,” we are “nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2).

All Torah teaching must first be based on a true love of God and neighbor (Leviticus 19:18).

But even that is not enough. . . .

Teachers of Torah must always point to and lift up Messiah Yeshua. For, all things are being “summed up” in Him. He “fills all,” is “in all,” and must always be our focus (Ephesians 1:10-11, 23; John 12:32).

Moreover, “if we are led by the Spirit, we will not be under the [perverted system that distorts the truth of the) Law.” (Galatians 5:18) Further, we will not subject ourselves, nor allow others to subject us to, the perversion of legalism. We will not submit to it for a minute (Galatians 2:5).

But on the other hand . . . It is not wise to throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water – which is what Ephraim has done in the past.

The perfectly good “baby” we have thrown out is called “Wisdom.” For our Father says of His Torah Instructions: “Keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding.” (Deuteronomy 4:6)

Wisdom is translated from the Hebrew word chokmah (khok-maw). It speaks of good sense, of being skillful, of acting wisely.[6]

Surely we do not want to throw out good sense. And so in our restoration process we will honor good sense by looking to the Torah for answers (2 Timothy 3:16). However . . . we also must have the good sense to know that we cannot boast about being a “Torah keeper.” For, it is impossible for anyone to truly “keep” Torah because its sacrificial system has been abolished. We cannot keep all of Torah. Because, to “keep” Torah, we must keep all of Torah (Romans 2:25; Galatians 5:3; Jeremiah 9:25).

So, boasting about observing Torah principles is not something we can use in this rebuilding program.

Besides, we should have the “good sense” to realize that if our Father laid down certain laws, and then it became literally impossible for us to keep those laws (i.e., Deuteronomy 16:2; Exodus 30:19-20), then we can only conclude one of two things: Either He is impotent and asleep at the switch, or, He is trying to send us a message.

The answer is the latter, and the message is, by the power of His Ruach HaKodesh He will write His New Covenant Torah on the tablets of our formerly stony hearts. Thus, the work is done by the Holy Spirit – not by boasting about our keeping Torah (Jeremiah 31:31-33; Hebrews 8:10, 10:16).

Excesses

Returning to our question, “How does the Father want Israel to walk?” it appears the supposed “answers” are primarily divided into two camps:

    1. “Law” that leads to “legalism”
    2. “Grace” that leads to “licentiousness”

Legalism versus licentiousness. Self-righteousness versus self-indulgence. Both are excesses. Both lead to a pit. So, what is the answer?

To begin, we try to define “Law and Grace.” And, grace is simply, unmerited favor. However, the Hebrew word Torah – usually translated law – means a precept or statute, especially the Decalogue or Pentateuch, and it comes from yarah, a root word meaning, to flow as water (i.e. to rain); to throw, especially an arrow (see 2 Chronicles 26: 15), to shoot; to point out, to teach, to direct, inform, instruct, show, teach.[7]

However, the English word law primarily means, “a rule of conduct or procedure established by custom, agreement, or authority . . . rules and principles governing the affairs of a community . . . a legal system . . . justice . . . legislation; legal action, proceedings, litigation . . . absolute authority. . . .” (The American Heritage Dictionary).

What we miss through our use of the word law is the Hebrew root of Torah, meaning the emphasis of, to flow as water, to be like an arrow, to point out, to direct, to inform, instruct, to show, to teach.

Yahveh says of His Instructions: “Keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’” And, “You shall therefore keep every commandment which I am commanding you today, so that you may be strong and go in and possess the land.” (Deuteronomy 4:6; 11:8)

If with a right heart attitude, we seek to walk in these commands, then, we will be made strong – courageous, able to conquer, of good courage, mighty, able to prevail, to behave valiantly.[8]

However, if we are legalistic and self-righteous about our being so “mature” that we are now “keeping” Torah, we will be used by the evil one to blind others to the strength and wisdom that flows forth from Torah. We will cause our Father’s people to miss the benefit of truths that teach His finer ways – truths that help them flow in the right direction, and to overcome life’s adversities.

Thus, in our studies we will seek to destroy every destructive implement of the evil one that we can find. And, we will seek to build up by using every wise Torah tool available to us.\

Laying Down the Law of Grace

Concerning “Grace only” teachings, we find that, if we lay down a “law” that “gives the answer,” then we have created yet another “law.” This is so even if we say there is “no law, but only grace.” For then, “grace only” becomes our “law.”

While we are saved only by “grace” (Ephesians 2:8), still, the fact remains that our Messiah has eternal laws (John 12:48-50). Moreover, it also is a fact that He shows mercy to lawbreakers.

Law and Grace. Both are true. Both are depicted in their true harmony in the life of Messiah Yeshua. For, He kept all the Father’s law, and yet was and still is, the personification of Grace.

Does grace have to necessarily do away with Torah? Can we not use the truths of both law and grace to rebuild David’s fallen booth?

Yes, we can and we will. However, to settle this ancient dispute, we must realize that, it is not really an argument about law “versus” grace. Instead, it is an issue of the “attitudes” of the proponents of either side. For, transgression first proceeds from the heart: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false Witness, slanders.” (Matthew 15:19)

Thus Hebrews 4:12 explains, “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Our Father’s Word is an ever-acting critic of the thought-life, motivations, and purposes of our human hearts. It reveals the hidden things. Thus, “all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4: 13)

This is true even if we are ignorant of the Father’s teachings. For, “The requirements of the law are written in our hearts, our consciences also bearing witness, and our thoughts now accusing, now even defending us.” (Romans 2: 15)

The Ruach HaKodesh is always at work in us, either bearing witness in our hearts that what we are thinking or doing is correct, or attempting to convict us of our error.

Thus, the argument is not one of “law versus grace.” Instead, heart attitude is the issue. And, the “heart” of the New Covenant promised to Israel is that, Yahveh will put His “laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.”

Our Father promised to “make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. Not like the covenant . . . made with their fathers . . . which they broke.” Instead, He says, He will make a new covenant only with “the house of Israel.” Of it, He says, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33)

Our Father found “fault” with both houses: Israel (Ephraim) and Judah (Hebrews 8:8-10). And, when they fully enter into His new covenant, they are “Israel.” He no longer accepts their divided state. Instead, He makes a new covenant only with a reunited “Israel.” (Ephesians 2: 14)

Further, this covenant will not be totally fulfilled until the millennial age – for, at that time, “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:11)

Until that time, the Father is still attempting to write His Torah truths on the hard hearts of His scattered Israelite children.

Accepting the Yoke of the Holy One

In the past, Ephraim had a bad attitude toward Torah, and, the Father said of him, “Though I wrote for him ten thousand precepts of My law, they are regarded as a strange thing.” (Hosea 8:12) And, “Ephraim is a trained heifer that loves to thresh, but I will come over her fair neck with a yoke; I will harness Ephraim.” (Hosea 10:1 1)

So, He sent Messiah, and He told us to, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)

Once the veil is lifted from Ephraim‘s heretofore blinded eyes, once he is properly “instructed” (Jeremiah 31:18), then in Messiah Yeshua, Ephraim will accept the “yoke” of a Torah that is based on love. For, Messiah’s Torah yoke is a gentle yoke that brings rest to the weary soul.

Thus, in our rebuilding program we will not use tools of pagan trade, nor build with “traditions of men,” be they from Rome or Babylon. Instead, we will seek to destroy all deviant teachings – Christian and/or Jewish (Isaiah 27:9).

With our Torah study we issue a call to all Israel to, “Come up higher.” For, if we will respond to this call and begin to build in true righteousness, we will soon see David’s glorious, fully restored tent!

So . . . Let the building program begin!


[1] See Batya Ruth Wootten, “Forsaking Our First Love,” “Is the ‘Greek’ New Covenant Inspired? Is Yeshua Divine,” and “The I Am, His Son, and The ‘Trinity,’” House of David Herald 8-10 (October 1996), 8-6 (June 1996), and 8-7 (July 1996).
[2] See Batya Ruth Wootten, “Good Laws – Bad Attitudes,” “Torah and The Two Witnesses,” and, Yahveh’s Calendar versus Compromise With Babylon and Rome,” House of David Herald 6-10 (October 1994), 6-11 (November 1994), and 6-8 (August 1994).
[3] Batya Ruth Wootten, “From Orphans to Heirs,” House of David Herald 9-12 (December 1997).
[4] Strong’s word #G2165.
[5] For celebration suggestions see Batya Ruth Wootten, “Celebrating Passover As Never Before!” “Shavuot and Two Leavened Loaves,” “Yahveh‘s Calendar versus Compromise with Babylon and Rome,” “Restoring The Fallen Booth of David: A Tabernacles Celebration,” House of David Herald 9-3 (March 1997), 9-5 (May 1997), 6-10 (October 1994), 5-9 (September 1993); and Angus and Batya Wootten, “The Way of the Gentiles,” House of David Herald 5-12 (December 1993).
[6] Strong’s Concordance word #H2451.
[7] Strong’s Concordance words # 8451 and 3384 respectively.
[8] 7 Strong’s Concordance word # H2388.

Not Satisfied with Half the Picture: My Quest for Truth Beyond Tradition

In April 2017, Dr. Rivkah Lambert Adler sent out invitations to participate in a book project with the working title, Ten From The Nations: Exploring the Torah Awakening Among Non-Jews. Her motivation is to increase awareness of the fact that we are witnessing the gradual fulfillment of Zechariah 8:23. She did so by compiling testimonies from non-Jews who have experienced a Torah awakening of some sort, and from Jews who are actively building relationships with those who are stepping forward from the nations. Her book includes the voices of Christian Zionists, Bnei Noach, Ephraimites, Gerim and more.
It is an honor to be one of those invited to submit a testimony. What follows is the story of my journey into an appreciation of Torah and the Hebraic roots of my Christian faith.
For more information on Ten From The Nations, visit http://www.tenfromthenations.com/.

For the first few years of my life, people fell into one of two categories:  white, or black.  Then the rules changed and the world got complicated.

Scenes of my formative years. Left: going to church in Pensacola, Florida, with my father and older sister in 1962. Right: Dawson Memorial Baptist Church (with Pastor Edgar M. Arendall) and Briarwood Christian School in Birmingham, Alabama.

The world into which I was born was white, Southern, and Baptist.  That was in 1961, when the requirements of my father’s career in insurance caused my parents to depart from their native Alabama and take up temporary residence in Pensacola, Florida.  As we moved back to Alabama in 1963, the Civil Rights Movement entered its most active stage.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail, sit-ins and marches defied segregationist strongholds, and the Federal Government took steps to correct a longstanding injustice.  Little of this turmoil impacted me until 1968, when a Federal judge ordered the desegregation of Birmingham’s public schools.  One day I went to school with my all-white third grade class of about 20 students; the next day the class had swelled to over forty, half of whom were black.

I cannot say whether the addition of so many new playmates of color caused any trauma to myself, but I know that it shook my parents to their core.  At the end of that academic year, they removed my brother and me from the public school, opting to make the financial sacrifice of placing us in the sanctuary of a Christian academy where we could receive a better education.  It also had the advantage in their eyes of being an all-white school.

Well, almost.  What may have escaped their notice was that Briarwood Christian School had a non-discrimination admissions policy.  That explains the presence of one black child in the kindergarten – the only black child enrolled there during my years at Briarwood.  My education was hardly interracial, and yet this turn of events triggered inexorable alterations to my worldview.  By the age of 8, I learned that the antiseptic white society into which I had been born was less utopian than I had been taught.  There was a world of color awaiting my exploration, and a host of questions that the scripted answers could not begin to satisfy.

What I had been taught was not all wrong.  Much of it was right, but it was incomplete.  So was the worldview of my black counterparts –much of it quite right, but incomplete.  Our combined worldviews formed a far more complete picture, with the white perspective filling gaps in the black perspective, and vice versa.  Thus my education proceeded along two parallel tracks:  a formal track provided by the teachers and preachers at school and church; and an informal track hidden in the recesses of my heart and soul and mind.  The hidden track evaluated everything presented to it, often reaching conclusions at odds with the accepted norms.  Hence the reason it remained hidden.

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Fox Byte 5775 #48: Shoftim (Judges)

שֹׁפְטִים

The Senate as a Court of Impeachment for the Trial of Andrew Johnson, by Theodore R. Davis. Illustration in Harper's Weekly, April 11, 1868.
“The Senate as a Court of Impeachment for the Trial of Andrew Johnson”, by Theodore R. Davis. Illustration in Harper’s Weekly, April 11, 1868.

What does it take to remove a head of state?  This question concerns situations in which a nation finds cause to remove a leader before the established time.  A survey of history informs us that such circumstances usually involve war and upheaval.  The incumbent, whether a king or a prime minister, is not inclined to surrender power, and therefore must be compelled to give it up, often on pain of death.  In consideration of this state of human affairs, the Founding Fathers of the United States established a procedure by which presidents might be impeached, or removed from office.  The product of their deliberations appears in Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

And that is all they have to say on the matter – which is why jurists for nearly 230 years have debated exactly what they meant.

The Founders certainly understood the seriousness of the question.  They had just gone through a lengthy and painful process of removing King George III as head of state over the American colonies by the extreme measure of extricating the colonies from the king’s domain and establishing a separate sovereign nation.  Their attempts at less drastic measures had not sufficed, leaving them no option but the usual method of war and upheaval.  That is why they sought to limit the power of the president, providing a method of removal by legislative and judicial means.  The grounds for removal would have to be well established, which is why the Constitution specifies the obvious transgressions of treason and bribery.  But what exactly are “high crimes and misdemeanors”?  This is where it gets interesting, and frustrating to those who desire to remove an incompetent, unpopular, or abusive president.

The Founders sought not only to prevent abuse of power in the Office of the President, but also to protect the dignity of the office and ensure continuity of government.  Succeeding generations have understood this, which is why only three presidents have been the subject of impeachment proceedings.  President Richard Nixon resigned before Congress could vote on articles of impeachment for his abuse of power.  Had he not done so, it is likely he would have been the only president ever removed from office.  Congress did impeach Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton on charges stemming from their obstruction of Congress and abuse of power, but acquitted both men – not because the charges were unfounded, but because of the political motivations behind the impeachment proceedings.  Under such circumstances, their removal would have brought immense harm to the Office of the President and its foundation in the organic law of the United States.

One might wish that the Founding Fathers had been more specific in the standards they expected of people holding high office.  Then again, how much more specific did they need to be in a Christian culture based on the rule of law derived from the Bible?  Their understanding of God’s requirements for public leaders shaped their creation of the Government of the United States, leading them to do as YHVH did:  provide just enough detail to establish wise government under the principles of justice and mercy.

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Fox Byte 5775 #47: Re’eh (See)

רְאֵה

Farmer Maggot and his dogs. (Source: Deviant Art, ©2010-2015 ringbearer80)
Farmer Maggot and his dogs. (Source: Deviant Art, ©2010-2015 ringbearer80)

It is understandable why Peter Jackson had to take considerable license with The Lord of the Rings when he brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s mammoth work to the screen, and yet his choices inevitably brought disappointment to Tolkien aficionados.  Why, for example, did Jackson choose to minimize the presence of Farmer Maggot?  Tolkienists take issue with the fact that his role in The Fellowship of the Ring was diminished to the point of insignificance.  In the book, Farmer Maggot saved Frodo and his companions as they fled the Shire, giving them provision and helping them elude Sauron’s dreaded Black Riders.  It was unexpected help, for Frodo had considered Farmer Maggot an enemy.  As a child Frodo had taken a liking to Maggot’s mushrooms, and on more than one occasion absconded with portions of the good farmer’s crop.  Such youthful mischief roused Maggot’s anger, compelling him to chase Frodo from his land and threaten him with his very large dogs should he ever return.  And so it was that Frodo grew up fearing Farmer Maggot, never knowing that beneath his fierce anger lay a loyal, generous, and hospitable heart.  Thanks to the mediation of his companion Pippin, and to the dire need of the moment, Frodo at last gained opportunity to get to know the real Farmer Maggot.  He explained as much as they prepared to leave Maggot’s home:

Thank you very much indeed for your kindness!  I’ve been in terror of you and your dogs for over thirty years, Farmer Maggot, though you may laugh to hear it.  It’s a pity:  for I’ve missed a good friend.

Frodo’s words present us with an all-too-familiar and all-too-tragic reality.  How often have individuals, families, and nations remained at odds over ancient offenses, the causes of which are long forgotten?  How much suffering has multiplied on the earth because natural allies regard each other as enemies, or at least minimize their contact with each other out of mistrust and misbegotten fear?  And how much greater is that tragedy if the people who regard each other in this way are the two parts of YHVH’s people?  In truth, Moses and Yeshua have no contradictions or arguments, but their followers think they do, and for that reason Jews and Christians have separated themselves from one another for twenty centuries.

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Fox Byte 5775 #46: Eikev (Because)

עֵקֶב

Since the first stage production of Of Mice and Men in 1937, the play has gripped audiences and readers for its deep and disturbing probe into human nature. It has also spawned innumerable parodies and references in popular culture that have diluted the power of the piece. (Photos: Lon Chaney Jr & Burgess Meredith in the film 'Of Mice and Men' in 1939, Chris O'Dowd & James Franco in 'Of Mice and Men' in 2014 on Broadway, from "Dogs, Bromance & James Franco: 12 Things Your English Teacher Didn’t Tell You About Of Mice and Men", by By Pete Croatto, April 12, 2014, Broadway.com)
John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men has gripped audiences with its disturbing probe of human nature since 1937.  (Photos: Lon Chaney Jr & Burgess Meredith in the 1939 film version; Chris O’Dowd & James Franco in the 2014 Broadway production, from “Dogs, Bromance & James Franco: 12 Things Your English Teacher Didn’t Tell You About Of Mice and Men”, by By Pete Croatto, April 12, 2014, Broadway.com)

What is this tendency of human minds to discard unpleasant things and cling to what is pleasant, nice, and amusing?  This can be useful in remembering loved ones who pass from this earth.  Whatever annoyances or difficulties they presented us in life fade from our memories, leaving only the glow of happy moments – of childhood kindnesses, of good smells and kind voices, of triumphant moments when a cooperative effort and patience brings victory over a harsh trial.  This is good, but in truth these happy things have no meaning if not set apart by the unhappy things.

This truth of life has its reflection in art.  Consider, for example, Of Mice and Men, a tragedy penned in 1937 by John Steinbeck to portray the pain of American society in the midst of the Great Depression.  It is the tale of George and Lennie, two migrant farm workers in California with a dream of owning a farm of their own one day.  From the opening of the play we see that Lennie labors under mental challenges that make him unable to care for himself.  He depends on George to keep him out of trouble and think for both of them.  All he knows is that he likes to pet nice, soft things with his fingers, and that one day when he and George have a place of their own, he can tend the rabbits they will raise.  Lennie is simple, kind, trusting, and hardworking, but he does not know his own strength.  The soft things he pets often end up dead.  At first it is a mouse, then a puppy, and finally a flirtatious woman who invites him to stroke her hair.  This last “bad thing” is something George cannot fix except by ensuring Lennie will never hurt anyone again.  The play ends as George tells Lennie one more time about the rabbits, and then takes his life.

The quintessential parody of Of Mice and Men appeared in the 1961 Looney Toons short, The Abominable Snow Rabbit". (Photo © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., used by permission of the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity)
The quintessential parody of Steinbeck’s work appeared in the 1961 Looney Toons short, “The Abominable Snow Rabbit”. (Photo © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., used by permission of the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity)

Steinbeck lived to see his sublime tragedy dismembered and parodied in superficial popular culture, beginning with animated cartoons.  As Of Mice and Men became an Oscar-nominated film in 1940, Warner Brothers gave birth to a new American icon, Bugs Bunny.  It did not take long before Lennie’s simpleminded fixation with furry rabbits became a standard feature in Looney Toons shorts, reaching a climax in 1961 with “The Abominable Snow Rabbit”.  In the cartoon Lennie becomes an Abominable Snowman in the Himalayas who encounters Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.  Mistaking Daffy for a rabbit, the snowman picks him up and utters these now-famous words:

Just what I always wanted.  My own little bunny rabbit.  I will name him George, and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him and pat him and pet him and rub him and caress him.

With these lines, this absurd cartoon illustrates how distorted shadows supplant what is unpleasant and tragic, leaving only a form of the truth, but lacking its power.  Those who have no knowledge of Steinbeck’s story will laugh at the cartoon, but they remain ignorant of the full context, and are thus robbed of the life lessons Steinbeck sought to impart.  The same is true of those who take the Bible in sound bites rather than in its full context, including these words of Moses:

And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you.  (Deuteronomy 7:13 NASB)

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