Israel 2016: Different Shades of Right

bfb161018-trip-north

Today we traveled to the Far North.  In a place like Texas that would mean a whole day’s journey.  In Israel it means about three hours in holiday traffic.

Our destination was a place the rest of the world calls an “occupied territory”.  I call it one of the most beautiful and captivating places I have ever seen.  The Golan Heights really are high, rising abruptly from the Jordan Valley in a very short distance.  It was not the first great change in elevation during this journey.  Coming down from Jerusalem to Route 6 along the coastal plain is enough of a descent to cause one’s ears to pop.  The same thing happens once the traveler passes the Horns of Hattin (subject of a future blog post) and descends to Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee.  Then the process happens in reverse on the ascent from the sea to the northern hills, and down again to the Jordan before ascending one final time to the Golan.

A word about these famous biblical bodies of water:  I was not prepared to find the Sea of Galilee to be so tiny.  Comparatively speaking, that is.  Neither was I expecting the Jordan River to be smaller than a McAlpine Creek back home in Charlotte.  Such great things happened around both over the last 5,000 years that I expected something a bit more majestic.  Then again, Israel is a land of tremendous contrast.  The truly great things are the small and humble things, while the big and powerful things often turn out to be woefully inadequate (remember Goliath?).

But I digress.  This is a post about the town of קצרין.

For those who cannot read Hebrew, there is some difficulty explaining exactly where we were.  This town is the capital of the Golan, so one would think that its name in English would have some kind of standard transliteration.  Oddly enough, it does not.  On the road map we were using, on the road signs we passed, and even on the web sites I have checked to verify what I am relating, the name is given in a number of different ways, such as:

Qatsrin

Qatzrin

Katsrin

Katzerin

Katzrin

Even the official website of Israel’s Ministry of Tourism spells the name two different ways!

bfb161018-qatsrin-signWhat are we to make of this?  I suggest it is an illustration of the difference between Greek and Hebrew thinking.  The Greek way would establish one right answer for spelling the name in English.  Every other spelling would be wrong.  In Hebraic thinking, however, there are multiple ways to convey the truth that this particular place is the town we want to visit in the Golan.  The sounds of the two syllables (well, three if one is Southern and drawls) are close enough to the Hebrew in each of the transliterations given above to ensure that the traveler can get to the right place.  Thus there can be many versions of “right” in Hebraic thought.

What, then, is “wrong” in Hebraic thought?  Ah, that would be trying to spell the town’s name as something like Woebegone, Bora Bora, or Cascabell.  Clearly they are wrong in many ways.  How do we know?  Because the sounds rendered in the spoken Hebrew tell us we want a place that sounds like “Cat’s Ring”, so something that sounds like Bora Bora is right out.

This lesson was reinforced in the fellowship we enjoyed with some amazing Jewish Israeli friends in their Sukkah at Qatsrin.  It seems that there are many ways to live out the truth of YHVH’s Word.  The ultimate wrong answer is not opening that Word and letting it soak into the heart and soul.  However, there is a wrong answer that is almost as bad, and that is insisting that one’s own narrow interpretation is the only truth.

For he who is not against us is for us.  (Mark 9:40 NASB)


© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2016.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Fox Byte 5775 #54: V’Zot Habrachah (This is the blessing)

וְזֹאת הַבְּרָכָה

BFB151003 Five Chinese BrothersEven superheroes have their weaknesses.  If it were not so, the stories about them would be over very quickly and would not be quite so interesting.  This is perhaps a reflection of our human condition.  No individual is complete within himself or herself.  We need one another to do things we cannot do for ourselves and to watch out for dangers hidden in our blind spots.  Together we survive and thrive, but separately we grow weak and perish.

Hopefully we learn this lesson in childhood.  Good children’s literature certainly upholds this principle, whether it is The Cat in the Hat helping bored children amuse themselves and then clean up the mess, or The Ugly Duckling finding unexpected help to teach him who he is.  So it is with The Five Chinese Brothers, a classic modern retelling of an ancient Chinese story.  In her 1938 version of the tale, Claire Huchet Bishop tells of five remarkable brothers who live with their mother near the sea.  Although they are identical, each brother has a unique ability.  One can swallow the sea, and thus is a highly successful fisherman.  The second brother has a neck as hard as iron, the third can stretch his legs to any length, the fourth is immune to fire, and the fifth can hold his breath as long as he desires.

One day the First Brother goes fishing in the company of a lad who had begged to go with him.  When the brother swallows the sea, the boy runs out to collect the treasures exposed on the now dry ground.  Before long the Brother grows tired and signals to the lad to return, but he ignores the signals and continues wandering along the seabed.  When the Brother must release the sea from his mouth, the waters cover the wayward boy.  In sadness the Brother returns home, where he is arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by beheading.

Happily for the family, the execution never succeeds.  The First Brother has opportunity to go home and say farewell to his mother, but it is the Second Brother who returns.  His neck of iron turns the executioner’s blade, leading to a revised sentence of death by drowning.  The sequence repeats, with each Brother coming in to overcome successive sentences – the Third Brother’s long legs prevent drowning in the sea; the Fourth Brother’s resistance to fire defeats the flames of the execution stake; and the Fifth Brother survives an airless night in a sealed oven.  Having failed to execute the offender, and not realizing that his Brothers have taken his place each time, the judge proclaims him innocent.

How simple and how profound is the lesson from this children’s tale.  Brothers need one another, each contributing of his abilities to do his essential part in bringing peace and long life to the family and to the nation.  That is just as King David said:

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!  It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes.  It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever.  (Psalm 133:1-3 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #44: D’varim (Words)

דְּבָרִים

"The King and Queen inspecting the tarts", by Sir John Tenniel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).
The King and Queen inspecting the tarts”, by Sir John Tenniel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).

One wonders whether Lewis Carroll required chemical substances to help him create the absurd worlds of his literature.  Readers of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and audiences of the screen and stage adaptations thereof often conclude that the author – whose real name was Charles Dodgson – must have been on opium or some other sort of mind-altering substance fashionable in Victorian England.  If we are to believe the Lewis Carroll Society of North America and other authoritative sources, there is no truth in such allegations.  How, then, could a rational man come up with such outrageous fiction, creating characters and situations that defy logic and even sanity?  Most likely Carroll would have explained in the same way C.S. Lewis explained how he could create the diabolical correspondence of the demon Screwtape a generation later:

Some have paid me an undeserved compliment by supposing that my Letters were the ripe fruit of many years’ study in moral and ascetic theology.  They forgot that there is an equally reliable, though less creditable, way of learning how temptation works. “My heart”—I need no other’s—“showeth me the wickedness of the ungodly.”  (C.S. Lewis, 1961.  The Screwtape Letters with Screwtape Proposes a Toast.  New York:  MacMillan.)

What Professor Lewis tells us is that all humans have the capacity to imagine evil, and to act upon it once it is imagined.  Evil is abnormal; the opposite of good and right and true.  If our hearts are inclined toward evil, they are also inclined toward everything else that is contrary to good and right and true – things which are unsuitable, wrong, and illogical.  That is why Carroll can depict an absurd criminal trial with such success.  The King and Queen of Hearts sit as judges to determine the guilt or innocence of the Knave, who stands accused of having stolen the Queen’s tarts.  As judge, the King has trouble getting beyond his instructions to the jury to consider the verdict before any evidence has been given.  As witnesses, the Mad Hatter and the Knave say nothing of substance, and throughout the trial no one seems to care that the stolen tarts are there in the courtroom, presumably having been returned by the thief.  The trial ends with a mockery of due process of law as the Queen says, “Sentence first—verdict afterwards”, and then pronounces summary judgment on Alice:  “Off with her head!”

The sad thing about this trial is that it is not far removed from reality.  For much, perhaps most, of history unjust judges have made people’s lives miserable and shorter than they should be.  This is true even for judges among the people of God, which is why in promising to restore His nation of Israel, YHVH delivers this glowing promise:

“Then I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning; after that you will be called the city of righteousness, a faithful city.”  Zion will be redeemed with justice and her repentant ones with righteousness.  (Isaiah 1:26-27 NASB)

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