The Dilemma of the Ger, Part 3: Dealing with the Kinslaying

This is the third part of a dialogue with Dr. Rivkah Adler of Breaking Israel News on the question of whether the biblical concept of ger, or foreigner, could be considered as a possible status for Torah-keeping non-Jews.  It began with Rivkah’s article, “Are We Witnessing the Restoration of an Ancient Biblical Status for Non-Jews?”, followed by my commentary, “The Dilemma of the Ger, and her observations in “A Jewish Response to the Dilemma of the Ger.

Dealing with the Kinslaying

Albert J. McCarn
April 16,2017

The Kinslaying at Alqualondë, by Ted Nasmith. Used by permission.

A motif running through J.R.R. Tolkien’s fiction works is the exile of the Elves from Valinor, the Blessed Realm of the Valar, the gods of Tolkien’s world.  Those who read The Lord of the Rings first encounter the exiles as the High Elves who aid Frodo and his companions in their flight from the Shire.  Readers who venture into The Silmarillion learn that the High Elves are the Noldor, one of three Elven clans who answered the Valar’s invitation to leave Middle Earth and live in Valinor.  The Vanyar and Teleri – the other two clans – remained in Valinor, but the Noldor rebelled against the Valar and returned to Middle Earth to fight against Morgoth, Tolkien’s equivalent of Satan.

The Noldor had justification for their actions.  Morgoth had stolen the Silmarils, the matchless jewels fashioned by Fëanor, greatest of the Elven craftsmen, and had killed Finwë, Fëanor’s father and king of the Noldor.  Nevertheless, their rebellion under Fëanor’s leadership incurred a sentence of exile and separation from any help the Valar could offer.  Over the next several centuries the Noldor and their allies among the Elves and Men of Middle Earth proved unable to defeat Morgoth, and they suffered a long defeat.  At the end of their strength, the humbled remnant repented and begged help from the Valar.  When help came, Morgoth was defeated and the Valar granted clemency for the Noldor to return to the Blessed Realm, bringing with them the remaining Elves of Middle Earth who had never seen Valinor.

This is the unseen backdrop for the Elves appearing in Tolkien’s later and more popular works.  Those who pick up the story with The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings meet wise Elrond, stern yet kindly Thranduil, and gentle Galadriel, but they have no understanding of their history.  Galadriel, for example, was Fëanor’s niece, and along with his sons and her brothers led the Noldor in rebellion.  Upon passing the test of refusing the Ring of Power when Frodo offers it to her, she proves that she, the only surviving rebel leader, is indeed ready to return home as a humble penitent.

In Galadriel’s story we see the stunning panorama flowing through the body of Tolkien’s works.  Yet there is one missing detail:  he never tells us what happens when the exiles return.  It is a significant omission.  We can imagine the scenes of reconciliation as the Noldor made amends with the eternal Valar, but we do not know what happens when they encountered the brethren they had wronged.  At the beginning of their flight from Valinor, the Noldor demanded of their kin, the Teleri, use of their ships.  The Teleri refused, resulting in a terrible battle known thereafter as the Kinslaying.  As Tolkien describes it, “Thus at last the Teleri were overcome, and a great part of their mariners that dwelt in Alqualondë were wickedly slain.”  If that were not enough, when they arrived on the shores of Middle Earth, Fëanor gave orders to burn the wondrous Telerian ships, craft of great beauty the like of which could never be made again.

What happens when the prodigal Noldor return home is a tale we do not know.  We hope they are reconciled with their brethren, but achieving reconciliation requires conscious effort to overcome the debt of blood between them.  Until that debt is paid or forgiven, the bliss of the Blessed Realm remains unbearably diminished.

Tolkien’s epic thus becomes a parable for us, the returning exiles of the House of Yosef (Joseph).  Like the Noldor, we are guilty not only of rebellion against our God and the king He had anointed, but also of an endless Kinslaying of our brethren of Judah.

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Fox Byte 5776 #2: Uncomplicated Good, Unrelenting Evil

Rocky, Bullwinkle, Boris, and Natasha. © Jay Ward Productions. Illustration accessed on Dishonest John's T.V. Toons.)
Rocky, Bullwinkle, Boris, and Natasha.  (© Jay Ward Productions. Illustration accessed on Dishonest John’s T.V. Toons.)

Great art retains its appeal through time.  This is true even with works created for children – including cartoons such as The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.  The success of this cartoon classic is due to the things children appreciate:  outrageous characters, simple story lines, a make-believe world that mirrors real life, and just enough irreverence to entice the mischievous streak in every youngster.  And yet those who grew up with Rocky the flying squirrel and his friend Bullwinkle J. Moose continue to appreciate the show because of its sophistication.  As children we could not possibly understand the clever references to the Cold War then raging between the United States and the Soviet Union, nor the endless puns and jabs at politics, literature, and popular culture. 

As children we did not need to know those things.  All we needed to know was that Bullwinkle and Rocky were funny.  Even the villains were funny.  Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, along with their Fearless Leader, soon acquired fame that rivalled the title characters.  As caricatures of Soviet spies and political figures they were the perfect foils.  Moreover, they established a clear line between good and evil for young viewers.  Every child knew that Boris and Natasha were bad.  Their ceaseless efforts at killing Bullwinkle to advance their evil country’s fortunes originated from nothing else than pure meanness (as explained by Fearless Leader himself in the story “Goof Gas Attack”).  If the plot were exceptionally evil the spies would receive orders not only to deal with Bullwinkle, but to kill moose and squirrel.  Even when they received a note from Fearless Leader saying, “DO NOT kill Moose and Squirrel”, we knew that this apparent kindness occurred only because at that point the evil plans would best be served by keeping Rocky and Bullwinkle alive.

Children may not understand such things completely, but they grasp them instinctively.  Understanding comes later, after they have become adults and acquired years of knowledge and experience, not all of which is good or pleasant.  Children in their innocence discern good and evil, but they take as established fact that there is no gray area between the two.  After a few significant encounters in the real world they begin to learn that people and things can be confusing mixtures of good and evil.  Some appear to be good, but are evil at the core.  Some may do evil things, but for good reasons – or so they maintain.  Some do good for selfish reasons.  The sad reality is that children soon learn there is no absolute good among human beings, which makes navigation of this world exceedingly hazardous.  It is easier to revert to childhood innocence and attempt to stay there as long as possible.

The childlike place is comforting and safe.  There we recognize that good and evil exist, but all we need do is cling to the one while avoiding the other.  We need not seek the origins of evil, nor try to understand why evil and good seem to be intertwined in every heart.  A child will take the word of its parents in faith and act accordingly.  If they say a thing is good or bad, the child will act on that.  It is only later that the child begins to inquire into the nature of good and bad.  In time that path of inquiry leads to a line that should never be crossed:  the point of defining good and evil on his own terms.  Unfortunately, it seems that this very line has marked the boundary between childhood and adulthood since the time of Adam and Eve.  That may be why Messiah Yeshua said this:

And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 18:2-4 NASB) Please click here to continue reading

Fox Byte 5776 #1: When Good is Not Enough

The Barking Fox just completed the annual Torah Cycle and is ready to embark on another year of Bible commentary.  Rather than embark on another systematic journey through the Torah and Haftarah, in this Hebrew year 5776 Fox Bytes will focus on selected books and topics, starting with the book of Job.

Marlon Brando as Marc Antony in the 1953 film version of Julius Caesar. (Photo: 451 Years of William Shakespeare, The Telegraph
Marlon Brando as Marc Antony in the 1953 film version of Julius Caesar. (Photo:  “451 Years of William Shakespeare”, The Telegraph)

A sad commentary on human nature is that people who stand for what is right rarely are the people with whom one would prefer to be seen in public.  We may honor such saintly persons as Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, or William Wilberforce, but we do not want to be close friends with them – or at least not let such relationships be known.  Our preference is to hang out with “good old boys”, friends who like the things we like, sympathize with our problems, and make us feel better about ourselves without actually causing us to change.  That, of course, is the problem with those saintly people:  they uphold high standards of right living which make us feel uncomfortable.  It does not matter how blessed they appear to be, or the peace they seem to enjoy in any situation, or that they give the authorities no cause for alarm.  The truth is that they are righteous, and their righteousness interferes with our desire to live comfortably and indulge whatever pleasure seems good.

Shakespeare understood this fact of human nature.  He made use of it in his masterful manipulation of the Roman public through Marc Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar.  Caesar’s assassins justify their murderous act by saying the great man was ambitious and that his ambition would have been the death of Roman freedom.  Antony seems to agree, saying “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones”, a statement that indicates whatever good Caesar would have done has died with him.  Then he turns the tables, calling the assassins honorable men – good men whom the good citizens of Rome should trust, and with whom they should be glad to associate.  Yet their honorable good pales in comparison to Caesar’s selfless ambition:  an ambition that enriched Rome through his military service, that wept for Rome’s poor, and that refused a kingly crown thrice offered.  In other words, any honor that may have accrued to Caesar’s assassins was as nothing compared to the great man’s righteousness in life and legacy in death.

We learn through Shakespeare’s theatrical Marc Antony a truth written centuries earlier to a real Roman audience by a man who also understood something about human nature:

For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.  (Romans 5:7 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #53: Ha’azinu (Give Ear)

הַאְַזִינוּ

In this scene from Empire of the Sun, Jim (Christian Bale) sings the Welsh lullaby Suo Gân in tribute to Japanese kamikaze pilots. The song of hope and of peace carries him through the tribulation of war. (Video via YouTube)
In this scene from Empire of the Sun, Jim (Christian Bale) sings the Welsh lullaby Suo Gân in tribute to Japanese kamikaze pilots. The song of hope and of peace carries him through the tribulation of war. (Video via YouTube)

The one element of Steven Spielberg’s movies which has remained just beneath my consciousness for nearly thirty years is not his stunning cinematography or compelling drama.  It is a song; a simple Welsh melody which carries us through Empire of the Sun.  We first hear Suo Gân (Lullaby) as the movie opens.  British choir boys sing it in church in the compound reserved for foreigners living in Shanghai.  The soloist is Jamie (Christian Bale), a boy of about 10.  He is British by birth, but he has never set foot on his parents’ homeland.  Jamie’s family live as privileged foreigners have lived ever since China capitulated in the First Opium War a century before.  They take no notice of the Chinese except where their own wants and needs are concerned.  Jamie, a son of privilege, knows no other way than to lord it over the natives beneath his station.

Change comes quickly when the Japanese attack.  China and Japan have been at war for years, but Shanghai is undisturbed until December 8, 1941.  As America’s Pacific Fleet burns in Pearl Harbor, Japan’s legions occupy Shanghai.  Jamie’s family flees, but in the confusion he is separated from his parents and left to fend for himself, eventually landing in an internment camp adjacent to a Japanese airfield.

By 1945 he is no longer Jamie, but Jim, a rough lad learning to survive among the mixed multitude in captivity.  Jim can hold his own, having grown accustomed to lying, stealing, cheating, and other mischief.  His innocence dies bit by bit, not only through the tribulations of war, but through betrayal by men he trusts.  Yet Suo Gân remains with him.  One morning he awakens to see Japanese aviators participating in the ceremony of the kamikaze.  Jim comes to attention, salutes, and sings the lullaby in tribute to these men who will soon die in the service of their Emperor.  Their deaths come more quickly than expected.  At that instant, American P-51 Mustangs, the “Cadillac of the sky”, attack, rapidly transforming the airfield into a smoking ruin.  In their wake Jim pauses to consider the dreadful price he has paid to survive.  With despair he confesses, “I can’t remember what my parents look like.”

At war’s end Jim finds himself in an orphanage among children awaiting reunion with their parents.  Tears of joy flow, but he stands in shocked silence.  His father passes by, not recognizing the hardened youth as the beloved, if rebellious, child he knew.  It is his mother who sees him, first as the Jamie she loved, then as the Jim she does not know how to love, and finally as a young man with gaping wounds in his soul who desperately needs the healing that only a parent’s love can bring.  He looks into her face and four years of pain and death wash away in peace beyond hope – the peace promised in the strains of Suo Gân.

BFB150926 Suo GanAll Jim can remember is the song, but it is enough to set him on the path of healing and reconciliation.  So it is with the exiled, destitute people of YHVH.  He also gave a song to them – a song that would carry them through time to peace beyond hope:

Then it shall come about, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify before them as a witness (for it shall not be forgotten from the lips of their descendants); for I know their intent which they are developing today, before I have brought them into the land which I swore.  (Deuteronomy 31:21 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #41: Pinchas (Phinehas)

פִּינְחָס

Declaration of Independence John Trumbull
Declaration of Independence
John Trumbull

One of the great depictions of American historical events is John Trumbull’s painting, Declaration of Independence, which hangs in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol.  The scene captures the moment on June 28, 1776, when the five men who drafted the Declaration present their work to the Continental Congress.  Of the 56 signers of the Declaration, 42 appear in Trumbull’s work, the others having died before he could obtain their images.  The painting also depicts five men who did not sign, including Robert Livingston of New York.  Livingston was one of the men who drafted the Declaration, but New York recalled him from the Congress before he could sign his work.  In Trumbull’s painting Livingston appears in the center of the drafting committee, with Roger Sherman of Connecticut on his right and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia on his left.  Americans may not remember the distinguished men from Connecticut and New York, but they do remember Jefferson and John Adams of Massachusetts, two future presidents.  Jefferson and Adams embraced different visions of how to govern the infant American Republic, and even though they became political rivals, they remained friends until their deaths on the same day, July 4, 1826. 

There is a legend that Jefferson paid Trumbull to paint his foot on top of Adams’, but it is only a legend.  The two men’s feet are close together in the picture, and as time and dirt wore away at the painting it came to appear that Jefferson’s foot was resting on Adams’.  That is not the only oddity in Trumbull’s work.  Like many works of art it is not entirely accurate, but is effective in capturing the spirit of the moment and of the age.  So also is 1776, a musical play which humorously explores the events during that fateful summer of American independence.  Howard DaSilva dominates the film version with his portrayal of Dr. Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania.  If we are to believe the movie, independence was Adams’ idea, and the declaration was expressed in Jefferson’s words, but it was Franklin who brought it into being with his wisdom, wit, and ability to achieve consensus.  1776 embellishes the story with fictional dialogue, but it captures a number of famous quotes by the Founding Fathers, including Franklin’s immortal words:  “If we do not hang together, we shall most assuredly hang separately!”

Dr. Franklin spoke a warning to a people facing the threat of political extinction before they could become a nation.  Long before Franklin uttered his warning, Yeshua of Nazareth spoke the same truth to the people He had come to redeem from the threat of extinction by the enemy of their souls:

And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand.  (Matthew 12:25 NASB; see also Mark 9:38-40; Luke 9:49-50, 11:16-23)

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