For the last chapter of the last book on the last day of a 3.5 year journey, I knew before I even started that I’d be reflecting on the last verse of this whole epic saga. Before I even get to it, let me just say how bittersweet this is. This practice, and this reflective space to write about it, have been constants in my life through an international move, a marriage, the start of a job, multiple local moves, surgery, family trips, and more. On days when I haven’t managed to accomplish anything else – or at least it felt like that – this somehow always managed to happen. On days when I had a million things on my to do list, I still always made time, early in the morning, late at night, or during stolen midday hours, to read and study and reflect. I truly can’t articulate or overemphasize how transformative this has been for my life, and how much I’m going to miss the practice. I am, however, looking forward to starting on something new, a TBD study project that’ll keep me sharp while bringing me a new challenge. I probably won’t write about it here, though. I’ve been building a professional website that I might use as a reflective space, so if you want to keep following me and my journey, please check out/subscribe to http://www.samanthavinokormeinrath.com. And in the meantime, keep reading for my 929th chapter reflection!
“So said Cyrus the king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth has the Lord God of the heavens delivered to me, and He commanded me to build Him a House in Jerusalem, which is in Judea. Who among you is of all His people, may the Lord his God be with him, and may he ascend (Chronicles II 36:23).” Mic drop. That’s the end of the road for the canon of Tanakh. It’s an odd, slightly anticlimactic end. It’s not with Moses or Abraham or David or another ‘central’ character, but with Cyrus. It’s also not an epic pronouncement from God, but instead it simply references Him. But it’s a nice blessing to end on – if you see yourself as one of God’s people, whatever that means, it offers you the blessing of His presence and your ultimate ascension, I think to Jerusalem. It’s a nice culminating arc, when the whole thing started with God’s word and ultimately ends with humans taking center stage in that relationship. At this time, we’re really all opting in when it comes to religion and observance and even belief, ultimately, so it’s up to each of us to decide if we’re part of this community. I’m glad to have opted in over the last few years with all of you, and wish you all only blessings moving forward!
This chapter is all about the tragic story arc of King Josiah. It’s long and detailed and ends with a sad, untimely death. “And the rest of the affairs of Josiah and his kind deeds, as are written in the Law of the Lord. And his early and late affairs – behold they are written in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah (Chronicles II 35:26-27).” These verses conclude the second to last chapter of Tanakh, and seem to evoke a measure of self-awareness, as these are literally the chronicles of the stories of the kings of Israel and Judah. It’s interesting to see this kind of multi-layered allusion in Tanakh, particularly as the journey is nearing an end. It makes me think about everything that was included in these long, at one point seemingly endless chapters, and what was left out. Now that we’re coming to the end I find myself itching for more. I am going to miss having this practice, finding new insights every day, and incorporating the findings into the rest of my life. This study project has become a ritual for me, and this blog has become my own chronicle of that journey. So seeing that reference mirrored back here is a great penultimate reflection for me as I gear up for tomorrow’s grand finale.
An unexpected biblical woman sighting as the book comes to a close! “And Hilkiah and those whom the king [sent] went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tokhath the son of Hasrah, the keeper of the raiment, and she was sitting in Jerusalem in the study-hall, and they spoke to her accordingly (Chronicles II 34:22).” Um, what?! So many thoughts! Huldah, a woman, is being consulted for her knowledge and wisdom by the king’s emissaries. And to top things off, they find her in the study hall in Jerusalem. All of this is being reported nonchalantly, and I completely agree that all of these things should be matter of course – obviously women should be in the study hall, and treated with respect as colleagues and authority figures and experts. But unfortunately, both in biblical times and even today, this is far from clear to everyone, and merits mention and excitement. I don’t know anything about Huldah, which seems like a loss and a missed opportunity on my part, but I’m excited to see her mentioned here, and to have a new thing to explore as the final days of 929 dwindle down.
At the start of my final week of Project 929 (!!!) the people are still screwing up, but this time in an almost moderated way. “But the people were still sacrificing on the high places, but only to the Lord their God (Chronicles II 33:17).” I just finished reading a great book that really impacted me – Inventing Jewish Ritual, by Vanessa Ochs. In the book, Professor Ochs talks about the creation of tradition, and how new Jewish rituals are adopted and implemented in order to meet the changing and evolving needs of people from generation to generation. With this book fresh in my mind, when I saw this verse it immediately made me think about this as an example of how the people, while sticking with the core value of believing in and sacrificing to God, moderated the ritual in order to have it resonate with them in a way that made sense. There are any number of reasons that they may have preferred the high places to the Temple – maybe they were more accessible, since the people were spread out from Jerusalem by that stage. Maybe it felt more resonate to be closer to nature, or on high ground closer to heaven. Maybe they wanted more autonomy over their practices than the priests and the Temple allowed for. Regardless of the reason, this is demonstrative that the instinct to adapt and modify and create new traditions is ongoing, and it’s amazing to think how we’ve been able to retain our culture over the generations, while allowing for and even embracing these nuances.
“Be strong and of good courage; do not fear and do not be dismayed because of the king of Assyria and because of all the multitude that is with him, because He Who is with us is greater than those with him (Chronicles II 32:7).” Hezekiah is reassuring the people as they face war, and yet another siege of Jerusalem, this time courtesy of Sennacherib, king of Assyria. In order to encourage them, he uses a refrain that’s found throughout Tanakh. I know there are plenty of recurrent themes across the various books and chapters, but this is one that has always jumped out at me. I know I’ve commented on it before, so I’m glad that as we’re nearing the end of the road, it pops up again, in what I assume is one last hurrah. This mantra is generic enough that it can apply to anyone, but personal enough that we can feel individually connected to it. Each of us can find ourselves within its messaging, and I want to take it with me as I leave 929 behind.
“And the king’s portion from his possessions for the burnt-offerings, for the burnt-offerings of the morning and the evening and the burnt-offerings for the Sabbaths and for the New Moons and for the appointed seasons, as is written in the Law of the Lord (Chronicles II 31:3).” I’m reaching a bit on this one, but today is the Fourth of July and I was hoping to find some kind of connection with the text. Burnt offerings made me think of the ubiquitous fireworks, crackers, and sparklers that are all over the place today. They’re a classic symbol, and one of my personal favorite parts, of the holiday. This year, the 4th feels a bit different, a bit more urgent, than it has in the past. American values are a battleground forum at this stage, and what it means to be an American is a source of great debate and angst for many. So while we may not all be celebrating the same thing, or the same vision today, and that’s part of a much larger conversation about the direction the country is heading in, my own pride today comes from the bedrock values actualized on the original July 4th – life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. Happy 4th, everyone!
This whole chapter is about King Hezekiah’s attempt to restore the practice of the Pesach (Passover) sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem. The people, over the generations, had stopped following these commandments and adhering to the ritual, and the king was trying to bring them back into the fold, so to speak. “And a huge crowd assembled in Jerusalem to observe the Festival of Matzot in the second month, an exceedingly large assembly (Chronicles II 30:13).” This verse made me think about Pesach in Israel, and made me realize how I’m such an anomaly, because it’s the one holiday that I actually enjoy more in America. Everyone I know loves spending Pesach in Israel – it’s easy, restaurants are open that are kosher, with food good enough that you barely notice what’s not on the menu. But that’s exactly why I don’t like it. While everyone else flocks to Jerusalem happily, I love the marked difference that Pesach in America brings to my diaspora Jewish life. Growing up, it would be the one week of the year that we would only eat at home. Special foods, dishes we only saw annually, and the family togetherness of home made Pesach a beautiful bubble, and being in Israel bursts that bubble for me because everyone else is in the same boat. I liked the special feeling of my family being ‘in it together,’ and as an adult found that I craved that uniqueness, rather than the ease with which Israeli Pesach can be observed. So with the masses flocking to Jerusalem, both in ancient times and today, I’m content to cocoon myself elsewhere.
“And Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced over that which God had prepared for the people, because the matter was sudden (Chronicles II 29:36).” What drew me to this verse was the caveat at the end. Why was it important to mention that the matter was sudden? How did that impact the reaction of the people? Is it because if something happens suddenly, it’s easier to go with our gut reactions, rather than to wait and calculate a response? I find that often, our initial, immediate responses are the most authentic, rather than how we react after we’ve had time to think and process. Of course, that’s also why they’re the most potentially dangerous, but in this case, the people rejoice, which is a good thing. So many of the stories in this book are of betrayal and horror, so it’s nice to have this chapter end on a positive note.
This is the final full week of Project 929. Next week, this project, which I’ve been doing for over three years, will come to a close. The beginning of the end has been building for quite some time – I felt it coming when I got to the final book, the final chapters, the final month. I can’t believe that after all the buildup, and the constant presence of this daily task, it’s almost over. I’m honestly a little bummed that it’s ending on a book that hasn’t been a favorite for me. I hope that there are some final profound lessons to be learned over these last couple of weeks.
In this chapter, the civil war between Israel and Judah continues. The Israelites capture two hundred thousand Judean men, women, and children. “And now, hearken to me and return the captives whom you have captured from your brethren, for the burning wrath of the Lord is upon you (Chronicles II 28:11).” This verse brings up a lot about the treatment of captives. The inhumane actions going on in this chapter are truly heartbreaking, and demonstrate that humanity is capable of some terrible things, even when dealing with members of their own families. But it’s good to see that this isn’t acceptable, and that these depths are acknowledged, and forbidden.
Jotham is the latest king of Judah. “And he built cities in Mount Judah, and in the forests he built palaces and towers (Chronicles II 27:4).” I chose this verse for honestly pretty roundabout reasons. I finally booked a ticket back to Israel for later this summer, and I can’t wait to get back home. However, while I’m aware that this is a ‘first world problem,’ over the years as I’ve gotten older, my trips to Israel have become less about exploration and more about meeting up with the friends and relatives that I love and miss when I’m away. No complaints, but it does mean that there’s less time to travel to new and different places in a country that has wonders around literally every corner. I was just talking to my sister about new archeological discoveries that I’d love to go see, but it may not happen this trip, given the time constraints and shifting priorities. So seeing this verse, about the ancient structures that the kings built, made me think about how much is still undiscovered out there in the deserts and the mountains, and how incredible it is that Israel has so much history to explore.