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.
“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.
We hear more about corrupt kings, and volatile priests, and angry prophets. Typical for ancient Israel and Judah. Joash is the king being referenced in the verse that I chose for today. “And concerning his sons, and the many prophecies about him, an the foundation of the House of God – behold they are inscribed in the midrash of the book of the kings; and Amaziah his son reigned in his stead (Chronicles II 24:27).” What fascinated me about this verse is the reference to midrash. Midrash, for those who are unfamiliar, is a commentary or interpretation of the Torah written by the rabbis originally, which continues until today. It’s the lessons and stories that we take from the text but that go beyond the bare-bones words actually written in Tanakh. Some of it contains stories, a few of which have become so well-known it’s as if they’re canon themselves, and other parts are laws that stem from the words of Torah. It’s so interesting to see midrash being referenced within the actual text, because I always thought of it as something that came, if not much later, at least in a wholly different time period. But a quick Google search has informed me just how ancient midrash is, and it seems like a classic Jewish moment for me that the whole Torah hadn’t even been written yet when commentators were already adding their spins and ideas.
The weekend is over, and Esther is ready to wine and dine the king and Haman. This is somehow a multi-day affair, and finally, Esther has the king drunk enough – I’m guessing – that she feels ready to get real. “And Queen Esther replied and said, ‘If I have found favor in your eyes, O king, and if it pleases the king, may my life be given me in my petition and my people in my request (Esther 7:3).'” Esther reveals the whole plot to the king, including that Haman is the one behind the plot. Haman freaks out, and we have a piece of the text that I must have read before but never paid close attention to. The king leaves for a moment because he’s so angry.
“Then the king returned from the orchard garden to the house of the wine feast, and Haman was falling on the couch upon which Esther was, and the king said, ‘Will you even force the queen with me in the house?’ The word came out of the king’s mouth, and they covered Haman’s face (Esther 7:8).” I guess I’m paying attention in a closer way than before, because it seems obvious to me that Haman attempted to assault Esther in this moment. What does this mean? Was he trying to argue with her and got carried away? Was he actually trying to rape her? Is she fighting him or is she in shock over the whole thing? Is it because she’s a Jew, or because she outed him, or just because he’s an evil man left alone with a woman? Regardless of the ‘reason,’ it’s horrifying, and is one of way too many #MeToo moments in Tanakh. Thankfully, in this case, punishment is quick. Haman is hung, and with the ultimate poetic justice, he dies on the same gallows that he personally ordered built for Mordechai.
I’m so excited to start this book, because as we all know by now, my favorite ones are usually narrative stories (check!) and don’t go on for too long (check plus!). So let’s dive right in to the book of Ruth. It starts with the backstory, which comes before the main heroine gets introduced.
“Now it came to pass in the days when the judges judged, that there was a famine in the land, and a man went from Bethlehem of Judah to sojourn in the fields of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons (Ruth 1:1).” We learn that the man is Elimelech, his wife is Naomi, and their sons are Mahlon and Chilion. They’re in Moab long enough that Elimelech dies, both sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth, and then they die as well. It’s all a tragic buildup, particularly for poor Naomi who is now away from her home and bereft of her whole family. But she must be a pretty good mother-in-law, because when she decides to go back home, both daughters decide to go with her. She blesses them and tells them to go home, and protests a bit, but ultimately listens. “And they raised their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth cleaved to her (Ruth 1:14).”
Ruth refuses to leave, and clings to Ruth with the iconic words wherever you to, I will go, your people shall be my people and your God my God. This is when Ruth becomes the first official convert, someone who had another viable option, in this case her home country and family, but actively chose a different life. We honor Ruth for this, which seems very timely today in particular, because today I went with a group of fellow Jewish educators to the newly opened Museum of the Bible for the first time. There’s a lot to reflect on about the experience as a whole, but one thing that particularly interested me in this context is the emphasis on Ruth in the exhibit about Tanakh. One can read a lot into it – she’s the ancestress of David, who Christians believe is the ancestor of Jesus, so of course she’s an important character to highlight. But I like the story of Ruth because it’s ultimately about the power of female relationships, loyalty, and choice. We don’t get a lot of choice in Tanakh. People are often born into their roles, or are obligated in some way. But Ruth’s magic is that she created her own destiny, making her an awesome female biblical role model to boot.
This psalm gives us some context with its opening verse. “A song of David, when he fled from Absalom his son (Psalms 3:1).” It’s a reference back to the saga that we read about in the books of Samuel, when David, the poet/warrior/king of Israel suffered a rebellion at the hands of his own son. While he was on the run, this is a reflection of his feelings. “I will not fear ten thousands of people, who have set themselves against me all around (Psalms 3:7).” Even though David was fighting an army lead by the ultimate betrayer – his son – his faith in God remained steadfast enough to get him through. David is credited with writing many of the Psalms, so I’m sure we’ll encounter him a lot over the next 147 chapters!
“Arm yourselves with purity lest He become angry and you perish in the way, for in a moment His wrath will be kindled; the praises of all who take refuge in Him (Psalms 2:12).” The version of God described in this verse is a volatile one, able to be triggered to anger at any point if a person makes the wrong move. It’s weird to think of God that way. Simultaneously, He is supposed to be all-knowing and all-seeing, and yet He’s almost like an adolescent in terms of quick emotions. I guess it shows why our own emotions are so ever-changing – we are made in God’s image, so maybe this is something we share as well.
This chapter marks the end of several things: the end of Malachi, the end of Nevi’im, and the end of the second of three major sections of Tanakh. Therefore, I decided to focus on the final verses of this final chapter of the Prophets. “Lo, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord, that he may turn the heart of the fathers back through the children, and the heart of the children back through their fathers – lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction (Malachi 3:24).” Elijah the prophet comes up throughout the Jewish canon, and it’s believed that he will proceed the coming of the Messiah. Therefore, concluding the book of Prophets with a reference to this most famous one seems telling. This verse talks about connecting throughout the generations via the heartstrings of parents and children, all with the goal of achieving a peaceful end of days. It ties up the many messages that I’ve read throughout the last few months, bringing them all together with a cautiously hopeful message. And with that, we conclude the prophets.
Tomorrow, I begin the hardest part of this journey of 929 chapters. I’ll be starting on Psalms, which has 150 chapters in and of itself. It’s going to take over seven months to get through all of them, and I hope I’m able to stay motivated throughout that time. Today marks 567 chapters down and 362 to go!
This chapter is dedicated to the priests. “For a priest’s lips shall guard knowledge, and teaching should be sought from his mouth, for he is a messenger of the Lord of Hosts (Malachi 2:7).” Today, I don’t think there’s anyone who is truly the guardian of knowledge. As an educator, I’m regularly in conversations about how our field needs to change being that we live in a time when anyone can look up any information on their phones instantly. Teachers (or priests) aren’t needed to transmit knowledge and facts. So what is our purpose? Like the priests, we are here to serve the community, providing added value to our learners by applying the knowledge, making it deeper than that which they can Google. We need to view this as holy work, just like that of the priests, of positively impacting the journeys of each learner that we come into contact with.