Monday, May 2, 2011

Exodus and the Book of Yasher Part 5

There are so many unresolved questions regarding the Exodus that it is truly surprising that those of us that claim to follow Karaite traditions have not done our utmost to search the realm of possibilities in order to discover our past. After all, it is the nature of a Karaite to be inquiring and constantly exploring the essence of our beliefs. These are the fundamental instructions of our early progenitors. From Anan ibn David’s advice to believe in that which seems right to you, to Kirkisani’s instructions to apply logic when attempting to comprehend the scriptures and avoid rhetoric and dogma. Both of these men knew that there were essential truths still awaiting discovery, and that once revealed they would not weaken our beliefs but in fact strengthen them for we would be able to built our faith upon an undeniable foundation that could withstand the skepticism that now infiltrates all our religious institutions resulting in a new generation that has no belief at all.

The Book of Jasher

Awhile back I was questioned why I would raise the book of Jasher as a resource for our religious beliefs. It was raised because to understand our early beginnings we must recognize that many of the foundation stones were built upon the revelations that came from that particular book. The question should not be why I would use the book of Jasher but why it was deemed necessary post-Babylonian exile that the book was made to disappear from the annals of Judaism. We know it was in existence and well preserved at the time of the Babylonian exile because we know that Nebuchadnezzar requested that he be provided with a copy. But 70 years later, with the rebuilding of a new Israel, the Book of Jasher was expunged from our historical documents. The reasons for this occurring are far more important than trying to establish which chapters from the current versions presently available are verifiable. Because what becomes obvious is that the religious leaders during the reformation of the third to fifth century BCE feared that the Book of Jasher would contradict everything they were trying to achieve in their pursuit of political and religious domination. Specifically because the book of Jasher placed a far greater emphasis on the Hebrew faith of the Kingdom of Israel which sharply contrasted to that which was now emerging from shores of the river of Babylon.And secondarily, how would they be able to exclude a Samaritan population from the New Judea if it was to become common knowledge that our most illustrious founders of our religion were anything but Hebrew. Or what if the Israelite practices which were condemned by the Judean prophets happened to be those that were instructed by Moses and Aaron and not sacrilegious at all? How does one deal with historical truths that suggest the taking of wives as captives from other nations was entirely permissible as long as you gave them the right to leave if they refused to accept the nation’s belief? What if the early records suggested that Jerusalem had no entitlement to become the religious centre of Israel and it was Beth-el that was eternally to serve in that function? These issues would continually divide the people, much as they had done in the time of Reheboam and Jereboam unless they could be made to disappear once and for all.

Or H'Oylum

So what I teach as a Karaite is as I have been instructed; as my ancestors have done, generation after generation.  Yes, there have been times when my family has decided it was easier to join the other side than fight against the tide.  There is a long line of Kahana and ha-Cohen Katz (KAhana TZadek) that became chief rabbis throughout eastern Europe.  That is often the way when men start a path of questioning their belief structures.  Often they question so much that they end up becoming stalwarts in the antithesis of their beliefs.   But similarly, those of us that have remained faithful to our origins will grow even stronger in our fundamental principles and whether or not you choose to accept what I am about to tell you, at least it will make you think.  Hopefully it will make you question and then subsequently apply rational judgment.  That is all that Kirkisani wanted to achieve in his lifetime.  That those of us that proclaim ourselves to be Jews, not only Karatites but Rabbanites as well, examine our beliefs, question them and arrive at logical conclusions so that we have no doubt in what we teach or practice.  I have spent my life doing exactly that and as a result my faith is unswerving, inexhaustible, and inextinguishable.  I do not need outward signs, a style of dress, a cut of my hair, to say who or what I am.  That is clearly expressed as soon as a stranger sits with me.  They learn very quickly what motivates me, and for the most part they respect my beliefs because I live my life without pretense of being anything more than I am, and in so doing they choose to sit and listen because I paint a world that they have never heard of before.  Essentially I try to be that light, that Or Ha-Oylum.  Not a light that shines upon myself and says look at me, ‘how great am I’ like so many of my spiritual counterparts but a light of self-examination, of self-evaluation and hopefully they will come away better for the experience of having taken the time to sit with me.  Essentially I am both ‘sinner and winner’ and that which makes me all too human is what attracts them to the stories I have to tell.  

All Too Human

So to those of you that fail to comprehend what Kirkisani was trying to tell you, then let me express it in plain English, “Those that we have elevated to greater than human status in our early traditions were nothing more than men and women like you and I.  They have to be examined within the framework of human emotion and motivation.  They excelled neither in righteousness nor saintliness but instead in determination and fortitude.  Their motivations were often self-serving but in so doing they also achieved a greater good for the people.  Yes, some of them heard the word of Yahweh and were able to separate us from the sea of nations that surrounded us, but we must never to forget that they were human and as such their greatness was not in the hand of God that rested upon them but in the fact that they could overcome their human frailties, fears and failures time and time again.
So this being the context of how we should examine the Exodus, I will in my next article discuss the two people that were essentially the instigators of that greatest of all stories.  A story of brothers, yet that brotherhood may have only been in spirit and not in the true sense of biological brotherhood.  To some of you, that suggestion might appear sacrilegious, but considering that one of these brothers was my ancestor I think it’s only fair that I have the right to question my own origins in the search for truth.

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