December 19, 2022, Israel
Being a teacher is not easy. It is certainly rewarding but one must have the virtue of endless patience. Some students see a technique once, think they know it and want to move on. If you dare try to teach this technique again, they become impatient, that is even more true of a seminar: We are not here to watch the same old stuff!
The cases where every student has mastered a technique that I taught on a previous seminar, are rare and far between. The better students will remark, "every time I see you teach this, I pick up another important subtle point. There is more to this technique than I had thought."
Such students make teaching a pure joy. The others test one's patience and make one wonder if there is something more valuable I could do with my precious time.
The same is true with reading the scriptures, the holy books. When I begin my reading each year of the weekly Torah portion I try to tune in to some new teachings. Perhaps I will become enlightened, perhaps something will appear to me that I had not noticed before. There are rabbis who have written thousands of pages of new understandings, we say the Torah, the Bible, is a living book and keeps offering new insights. And so, I read...and again..at the end of two years and Pharoah, ruler of Egypt is dreaming..and behold, he is standing by the great Nile River.
I have read this story hundreds if not thousands of times since I was a small child. At the age of 8 days a blessing is recited over the small boy; may he be raised to a life of Torah, family, and good deeds, may he continue in the way of his ancestors.
and so I read...
The great Pharoah of Egypt had a very disturbing dream...which left him restless...
"And out of the Nile there came seven cows, well-formed and sound in flesh, and they grazed in the swamps. But seven other cows came up after them from the Nile, ugly-looking and emaciated in flesh, and stood beside the other cows at the bank of the river. And the cows that were ugly-looking and emaciated in flesh ate up the seven cows that were well-formed and sound in flesh. And Pharoah awoke." (Genesis/Bereshith, Chapter 41, verses 2-4)
Pharoah goes back to sleep, but the dream is repeated in another form. He woke up very troubled and summoned his wise men for interpretations that would settle his soul. It is said that many interpretations were offered by his wise men, but he rejected them all, because he did not like the message as it offered no hope. Ultimately, he is advised that there is a Hebrew boy, Joseph, who has the gift to interpret dreams. Joseph is called and the dream is correctly interpreted. Not only is the dream interpreted but a wise solution is offered. Joseph discerns from the dream that seven good years will come, years of plenty, but they were be followed by very bad years, years of famine and destruction. Joseph offers solution, but that is for another blog. Here I would only like to humbly offer my own insight.
Our rabbis teach us that "one does not punish unless one warns", i.e. unlike Western law, ignorance of the law is a valid reason for not being punished. The law must prove that you were aware that what you were doing was wrong before they can punish you. And this, is the way of God. Pharoah, and all of us, are being warned.
Seven bad years are coming, devastating years will come, Egypt will face major social and economic challenges. But are we still reading this story because we care about ancient Egypt? How many students of ancient history are out there? Is this what it is all about? a history lesson?
No, it is a lesson for all time, for all people.
Before tragedy, there is warning. Warning signs will always appear. It is our task to see them correctly, and act upon them. Before every war there were signs. Before the great depression of 1929-1939 there were ample warning signs. Before the Jewish Holocaust, there were signs and there were prophets who warned about it.
Back to our text, we are told there are seven well-bread healthy cows. They are very content, they are grazing, but they are not paying attention to any potential dangers. And then, seven other cows come up after them from the Nile, this is a warning, we should see them coming, but we are busy, grazing, enjoying the good life. The dangerous hungry cows are approaching but we are oblivious. While you are enjoying your wealth in your fancy penthouse apartment, in your fancy dinner, driving your fancy car, know that there are Ugly Cows out there who are eyeing you, watching you, they are jealous. Don't be caught grazing in the lush meadow.
And then we read..."the ugly cows stood beside the healthy cows at the bank of the river." Pay attention: Evil walks beside you! Are you paying attention? are you letting the guy with the knife get too close to you?
With the Hebrew reading we use a particular tune, the tune is also part of the interpretation, a way of transmitting the true meaning of the text throughout the generations. In the traditional "trop" or tune, the reading pauses after the word "And they stood" (one word in Hebrew, meaning the Ugly Cows stood beside the healthy cows). Perhaps this pause is a way of telling us, there was time, there was a pause, and they stood, i.e., there was time to see what was about to happen, the end of the seven healthy cows. That pause is a way of saying Time Stood Still for a moment, "And they stood", and time stood, you were given a warning, a period of time to see what was coming. But you failed to see the signs, and then tragedy came.
Only after the double warning, the Ugly Cows coming up for the Nile River, then pausing, standing right beside their intended victims, then comes the unnatural act of vegetarian cows eating other cows, weak sickly creatures destroying healthy creatures. "And the cows that were ugly-looking and emaciated in flesh ate up the seven cows that were well-formed and sound in flesh. And Pharoah awoke."
Only then, and Pharoah awoke, after the damage was done. This is a warning for all time, don't wake up after the tragedy strikes, heed the warnings.
A superficial understanding of techniques will not help you; a superficial reading of ancient texts will not enlighten you. Pay attention. The words of the Prophets are written on the subway walls.
Moshe Katz, 7th dan Black Belt, Israeli Krav Maga. Certified by Wingate Institute. Member Black Belt hall of fame, USA and Europe.
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