Letters from Antioch Putting together the story of heritage of the nation


A man from the “D,” table stood up and recited, “Our tradition tells us, “In his eighteenth year, King Josiah sent the grammarian Shaphan, to the temple of the Personal Name with orders to go to the high priest. He told him to smelt down the precious metals the doorkeepers collected from the people for the temple of the Personal Name.”

The great escape in Deuteronomy, Finding Mt. Horeb.

It further relates in our tradition, “The chief Cohen informed the grammarian Shaphan, “I found the book of Torah in the temple of the Personal Name.” The chief Cohen gave the book to Shaphan, who read it. The grammarian Shaphan went to the king and reported, “Your servants smelted down the metals available in the temple and assigned them to the master workmen in the temple of the Personal Name.”

The grammarian also informed the king that the priest gave him a book, and read it aloud to the king. When the king had heard the contents of the book of Torah, he tore his garments and issued this command to the Cohen, the grammarian Shaphan, and the king’s servant,”

“Go, consult the Personal Name for me, for the people, for all Judah, about the stipulations of this book that they found, for the Personal Name set his anger furiously ablaze against us, because our fathers did not listen the provisions of this book, nor fulfill our written obligations.”

The man from the “D,” table related, “This is what we found in our book, “You must not eat any animal that has died on its own, for you are a people dedicated to the Personal Name, your Mighty Judge. However, you may give it to an alien, who belongs to your community, and he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner. “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”

The man from the “D,” table related, “You will not boil a kid in its mother’s milk. That is exactly what you are saying our Father Abraham did for the three messengers of the Personal Name, our Mighty Judge, and you are saying they ate of this defilement. This is impossible.”

Still, the reading went on until it came for the time of the recitation of Deuteronomy. The group with a “D” at their head table recited Deuteronomy from beginning to end. There was no paper in the room, no computers, nothing for the men to read from.

Afterward, I asked one of the men, “How did you do this?” He told me, “There are 54 Torah portions, most of which are divided into three sections.”

He stopped for a moment, continued; “It so happens that each of these 54 Torah portions is small enough that once divided into three sections, one man can memorize that section.”

He informed me, “His recitation, compounded first three times, then 54 times, allowed for the reading of the whole Torah.”

I asked, “What of the glaring contradictions in the text?” Nehemiah answered, “You heard the discussion. We recited the traditions as our ancestors gave them to us, without change. It is for Elijah to tell us, when he comes, which is right.”

Ezra, one of the leaders of this great assembly made a motion, “I motion that we adapt as our profession of faith the statement of 18 Benedictions.[1] The standing prayer we know from our heritage.”

Haggai, one of the men from the “J,” table seconded the motion.

Zechariah made a motion, “I call the question.”

Malachi called out, I second that motion.”

Nehemiah told the group, “There is a motion to call the question, and it is seconded, ‘All in favor say Aye.” All said Aye,” Nehemiah told the group, “The motion carries.”

Ezra called out, “Our community needs a creed,[2] a statement of what we are all about. I make a motion that it be the Shema, as recited when we began this meeting.”

Malachi stood up and shouted, “I second that motion.”

Zechariah quickly stood up and shouted, “I call the question.”

Nehemiah told the gathering, “The motion to call the question has been called. All in favor say Aye.”

All in the room shouted, “Aye.”

Nehemiah told the group, the motion carries.”

Ezra made another motion, “I move that we have three voluntary prayers for the men of standing in each community to have three times a year, fasts, the prayers of the delegation to the temple, and the Day of Atonement. I move that we call these Matins, Lauds, Vespers, and Compline. [3] For each watch let there be a delegation in Jerusalem, made of priest, Levites and laymen of standing. When the time comes for a watch to go to Jerusalem, with its priest and Levites let the laymen of standing gather in their towns and study.”[4]

Nehemiah seconded the motion. Malachi called the question. Nehemiah called out, “All in favor say “Aye.”

All called out, “Aye.” Nehemiah called out, “The motion passes.”

The man behind the nametag, Ezra, spoke, “Thank you gentlemen, I now have the whole Torah written down. Now people can read this text and come face-to-face with God for the first time, each time, they read our history.”

Nehemiah looked at the men of the Great Assembly before him and told them, “When we come face to face with the Mighty Judge, it changes us and the way we appear before other people. Let us remember that as we go out before the world.”

Ezekiel, a man who sat at the head table told the group, “Mitakuye oyasin!’ ‘mee-DAK-oo-yay. o-yah-seen, all are my relatives,’ meeting adjourned.”

When the meeting was over, Ezra the Chief Cohen brought the Torah the assembly recently recited to him to the grander community, which waited outside; this consisted of men, women, and those children old enough to understand.

Standing at one end of the open place that was before the Water Gate, he read from this Torah, in Washoe from daybreak until midday, in the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough to understand; and all the people listened attentively to the book of Torah.

Ezra the grammarian stood on a wooden platform the carpenters made for the occasion; at his right side stood many of the 120 men of the Great Assembly.90 The church carries on the tradition of standing on an upraised platform to read Torah and Gospel to this day.

Ezra opened the text so that all the people might see it. That tradition of holding the book so all could see it is continued to this day, as our Catholic priests hold the Lectionary up for all to see before they read and as he holds up the host, our new Torah, for all to see. As he opened it, all the people rose. Ezra blessed the Personal Name, the great Mighty Judge, and all the people, their hands raised high, answered, “Amen, amen!” They bowed down and prostrated themselves before the Personal Name, their faces to the ground.

Ezra read plainly from the book of the Torah of the Mighty Judge, interpreting it in English, so that all could understand what he read. It has been many generations since Washoe was the primary language of the people, so he needed to interpret the text into English.

Nehemiah and Ezra the Cohen-grammarian and the Levites who instructed the people told them, “Today is dedicated to the Personal Name your Mighty Judge. Do not be sad. Do not weep. All the people were weeping as they heard the words of Torah.”

He further related to them, “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who have nothing to prepare; today is dedicated to our Mighty Judge. Do not be sad this day. Rejoice in the Personal Name. This must be your strength!”

To this day, our tradition is to eat rich food, Eucharist, after our Torah readings.


[1] The Complete ArtScroll Siddur, ISBN 0-89906-655-0 p xv

 

[2] To Pray as a Jew, ISBN 0-465-08628-4, The Quest for Spirituality, p 10

[3] The Mishnah, Taanit 4:1, ISBN 0-300-05022-4, Jacob Neusner, p313

[4] The Mishnah, Taanit 4:2, ISBN 0-300-05022-4, Jacob Neusner, p313

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