What some Bidoun fed strangers three millennium ago relates to how we read Torah

In our Cathedral in Reno Nevada we read the first reading and the Gospel reading and find one very powerful thing in common.

Abraham rushed into the tent and told Sarah, “Quick, three measures of fine flour! Knead it and make rolls.”

He ran to the herd, picked out a tender, choice steer, and gave it to a servant, who quickly prepared it.

Abraham got some curds and milk, as well as the steer that had been prepared, and set these before the three men. He waited on them under the tree while they ate.

Sarah is much like Mary in this story and Abraham is so much like Martha. Abraham has to push Sarah to kneed the flour, as she is more interested in what the men, the messengers of God have to say. There is something more going on here, and it is in what Abraham chooses to serve his guests. After all, why should we care what a Bidoun Arab served guests three millennium ago? Bidoun is Arabic for homeless, and Abraham was at that point a wondering, stateless, Arab, from what is now Basra Iraq.


You will not boil a young animal (Gadi) in its mother’s milk.

You will not slaughter an ox or a sheep on one and the same day with its young.

If, while walking along, you come across a bird’s nest with young birds or eggs in it, in any tree or on the ground, and the mother bird is sitting on them, you will not take away the mother bird along with her brood.

Jews do not serve meat and milk products together to this day, and this is the reason. Also, it teaches us to be humane, and not serve mother and child together. The problem with the rule as doctrine is that it tends to replace the meaning for the rule.

As related in the article, “Its over so eat your chickenfeed forget Travyon Martin and the Zimmerman Trial,” Jesus confronts the young scholar using the parable. Dogma may be in the head of the legal scholar, but the truth is in his heart, and Jesus is about to put it in his mouth. Over time, dogma comes to trump reality, what we see with our eyes, hear with our ears, and feel with our own skin. A teaching designed to teach kindness even to animals has become a stale, cold dietary law. The writer of this story about the birth of Isaac, confronts this.

Abraham serves the three messengers of God, a non-Kosher meal and they do not object. As Christians, we like to speak of the Gospel truth. We quote the Bible chapter and verse like it is a law book. We refer to Torah, as law. “Torah,” in Hebrew, does not mean “Law,” but “Teaching.” There is an important difference.

We quote Deuteronomy 5: Moses told unto them: Hear, Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and observe to do them.”

This is a bad translation, The Hebrew, הַחֻקִּים, does not translate as “Statute,” a legal term, but as custom. “הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים,” does not translate as “Ordinance,” but as “Judicial Precedent.” Think of Ruth, chapter four. Boaz goes to the gate with the other elders in the community and, as a community; they decide the case of Ruth. This is “הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים,” not the US Supreme Court.

This brings us to the first reading. Most scholars now agree that one of the twists of fate, Deuteronomy, which means “Second Giving of the Law,” was probably the first one given. Torah, the Five Books of Moses, is generally divided into three parts, Halacha, or “Walk,” Haggadah, or story, and Midrash, or interpretation. Deuteronomy, or “Walk,” probably came first. Then came the story to back up, and in the case of our first reading, contradict, the “Walk” of cold dietary law.

Israel does not mean, Ish are, El, or “Upright of God,” but “Ishar, El,” “Struggles with God.” Torah is the history of that struggle, as a community. It is full of contradictions; several different groups are engaged in debate in Torah, as to who God is and what he wants. It is a dynamic text, relating the dynamics of that struggle, and we need to read it that way.

Abraham’s feeding a non-kosher meal to angels relates part of the dynamics of that struggle. The writers of Torah as we have it were in dialectic/dialogue. To truly understand Torah we must enter that dialogue.

Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Adonis, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.”

Adonis replied, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

One important hint, “Martha,” in Hebrew is the perfect tense of the verb, “Mary,” or “Teacher.” Both women have the same name. Martha is that part of us that wants statutes and the ordinances.

Mary is that part of us who wants Torah, teachings, things to meditate upon, narratives that teach things, and not required walks down some straight, “Iashar,” path. Mary desires to enter into the dialogue, and that means spending time with the text and the 120 writers who wrote it.

food laws

Statutes and ordinances are easy. Learning from Hagaddah and Aesop’s Fables, the customs and traditions of a people two to four thousand years and seven thousand miles distance from us takes time. Mary chose the better path, and it will not be taken from her. We err in not taking her path ourselves.

One thought on “What some Bidoun fed strangers three millennium ago relates to how we read Torah

  1. Pingback: We need to read Torah as a text in constant tension with itself | The stories of Curtis and Salvador

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