Updated: Sep 29, 2020
A lesson, a wish and an invitation for the New Year:
That despite all the difficulties and challenges, it should be a year of much “Sending your bread forth”.
And an invitation to a specialization course in Christianity:
for the first time in English!
I hope to see many of you in the zoom online English language specialization course in Christianity, to be held on 14-29 October 2020.
The enthusiastic response of the 140 participants in the most recent course in Hebrew leave no room for hesitation –
for more details see Yad Ben Zvi here.
Toward the English language specialization in Christianity course I have presented, during an introduction evening, a lecture on the parable of the Good Samaritan: Reading a Gospel Parable as Jewish literature: The parable of the Good Samaritan
You’re welcome to watch my lecture here (from 1:17:00, following Father Dr. David Neuhaus’s lecture on the Christian bible. Obviously, Father David’s lecture and information regarding the course are highly recommended.
Vincent Van Gogh - The Good Samaritan gathers the injured man and carries him to an inn, somewhere between Jerusalem and Jericho.
“Cast your bread forth upon the waters;
for after many days you will find it“
- What is the connection between the famous verse from Ecclesiastes (11:1) and the “the Good Samaritan“ (Luke 10)?
The Book of Ecclesiastes, which we will recite this coming Sukkot, contains phrases and expressions that have become common idioms.
When I was a child, such sayings were prevalent in the Hebrew we spoke. So much so, that we could joke and everyone would understand what was the original phrase the silly joke was based on. Thus, for example, instead of "Cast your bread forth upon the waters; for after many days you will find it" we used to say, jokingly: "Cast your bread forth upon the waters; for after many days you will find it... wet". Silly, and quite unsophisticated. But why am I reminded of that? Because our audience, well acquainted with the original verse, were grinning.
Unfortunately, I find that among the younger generation I can barely raise a chuckle, because they don’t even recognize the phrase. Hebrew has become impoverished (which reminds me of the frustration of a lecturer who tried to explain the poem MiNegged / From Afar, by the poet Rachel. The poet described the feelings of her unrequited love as "the sadness of Nebo", yet the students, oblivious to the reference to Mount Nebo and all that it implies, failed to understand the tragic significance of one who stands opposite the longed-for destination, never to reach it).
I remember the Ecclesiastes verse well.
For many years I struggled with it, as I liked the beginning but not the conclusion: is “Sending your bread forth upon the waters ', that is, doing a good deed, an act done for the sake of being rewarded (“for after many days you will find“)?
Why should "Cast your bread forth upon the waters" suffice, without the ending and without the knowledge of any future reward?
By the way, I was similarly bothered by the reward attached to the commandment to honor one’s parents: "Honor your father and your mother for the sake of prolonging your days" (Exodus 20:11).
The reward of the Good Samaritan
Many years later I found myself teaching the New Testament’s parable of "The Good Samaritan", a well-known and much loved by all Christians. Before we read the parable, let me summarize the lessons that emerge from it:
1. The superiority of human compassion over observance of commandments/ mitzvahs and rituals.
2. A worthy person is not measured by his being a part of a people, a religious group, or a social class.
3. Compassion in itself is not enough: only through action it has value.
I assume the story is well known, but as in the repeated reading of the weekly Torah portion, it's nice to revisit it before plunging into its depths:
The Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37
25 On one occasion an expert in the law (of Tora, a Lawyer, "Ba'al Torah") stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
This famous parable has thousands, possibly tens of thousands of representations in Christian art. And places which provide aid and are called "the Good Samaritan" probably number in the hundreds of thousands... eateries, road service stations, aid centers, health clinics, hospitals and so on.
And there is of course the 'Good Samaritan Law' which obliges and urges one to help a stranger in distress. In Israel, the law is called "You are not to stand idle when your neighbor’s life is at stake ", and it is also worth reviewing the Wikipedia entry, where I found the words of MK Hanan Porat when the Bill was put up for a second reading by the Israeli Knesset:
We would not need this law if our situation was such that natural morality, which dictates that a person seeing another in distress before his very eyes would not hesitate, would go to the trouble of saving that person , even if it cost him much expense and even put him at personal risk [prevailed]. We thought, however, in view of very regrettable cases in recent years and with the desire to establish a norm that anchors Jewish morality, which states
"You are not to stand idled when your neighbor’s life is at stake"
that you cannot stand aside when you see your neighbor is in danger, whether a Jew, a Gentile, any person, big or small, man or woman, you must reach out to them and save them.
Knesset Records, June 22, 1998
If you write "The Good Samaritan" in English online, you will get thousands of places named after this famous parable. Here I brought photos of a college, a mobile clinic and a hospital.
One of the more surprising places bearing the name "Good Samaritan" is located in Australia- a sanctuary for the rescue and rehabilitation of donkeys...
The Good Samaritan in Art
In matters of art, I prefer to refer to Assaf Feller's spectacular presentation site (link), where you can enjoy the world of works dedicated to the Good Samaritan.
Here I will confine myself to presenting Van Gogh's moving version of a Delacroix's painting of the Good Samaritan, painted when he was hospitalized in the San Remi lunatic asylum. When he visited him there, his brother, Theo Van Gogh, used to bring him copies of works by great painters, which the gifted painter would paint in his own unique style.
On the left- painting by Eugène Delacroix (1849). On the right- the version of Van Gogh made in the insane asylum. (Could the wounded man be Vincent and the Samaritan - his brother Theo?)
Who are the Samaritans?
The historical origins of the Samaritans are controversial. The Samaritans consider themselves the original "Torah keepers", descendants of the twelve Israelite tribes who had fled from Egypt to the Land of Israel, The Samaritan narrative states that when the people of Israel were divided they were the ones who preserved the chosen temple on Mount Gerizim (!) and remained in the land when the rest of the nation was sent to exile in Assyria by Shalmaneser (Sargon II) in 722 BC.
Who is right, then?
It would seem that no version can be accepted unequivocally, and the many experts in this field maintain differing opinions. What I’m interested in, however, is the way the Samaritan was perceived in the New Testament, and later on in history - in the Christian view.
The Jews and the Samaritans were hostile to each other. Since when? I do not know, but during the Second Temple period the friction between the two groups was almost an everyday occurrence. Here, for example, is a gory affair described by Josephus, in which the killing of one Galilean generated wholesale bloodshed.
Without resorting to examples from our own lives here, we know that a single case is enough to foment rumors, ignite in the flames drive people to pull out the knives.
Josephus, Bellum Judaicum: Book 2 chapter 12:
3. After this there happened a fight between the Galileans and the Samaritans; it happened at a village called Geman, which is situate in the great plain of Samaria, where, as a great number of Jews were going up to Jerusalem to the feast [of tabernacles], a certain Galilean was slain; and besides a vast number of people ran together out of Galilee, in order to fight with the Samaritans.
… But when the affair of this murder came to be told at Jerusalem, it put the multitude into disorder, and they left the feast; and without any generals to conduct them, they marched with great violence to Samaria; … and slew them, without sparing any age, and set the villages on fire.
And as for the rest of the multitude of those that went so zealously to fight with the Samaritans, the rulers of Jerusalem ran out clothed with sackcloth, and having ashes on their head, and begged of them to go their ways, lest by their attempt to revenge themselves upon the Samaritans they should provoke the Romans to come against Jerusalem; to have compassion upon their country, and temple, their children, and their wives, and not bring the utmost dangers of destruction upon them, in order to avenge themselves upon one Galilean only.
The Jews complied with these persuasions of theirs, and dispersed themselves; but still there were a great number who betook themselves to robbing, in hopes of impunity, and rapines and insurrections of the bolder sort happened over the whole country; and the men of power among the Samaritans came to Tyre, to Ummidius Quadratus, the president of Syria, and desired that they that had laid waste the country might be punished: the great men also of the Jews and Jonathan the son of Ananus, the high-priest, came thither and said, that the Samaritans were the beginners of the disturbance, on account of that murder they had committed
The hatred persisted even after the destruction of the Temple and the Jews vilified, rejected and resented the Samaritans.
Some even tried to blame the Samaritans for the failure of the Bar Kochba revolt !!
Read the story below (please note that the term "Kuti" is a nickname for a Samaritan): a story of the destruction of Beitar, the killing of Rabbi Elazar and the killing of Bar Kochba - all because of a Samaritan!
Talmud Yerushalmi, tractate Ta’anit:
Hadrian wanted to go away (to give up). A Kuti (Samaritan) said to him: "do not go away, for I am seeing what to do that the city (Beitar- the headquarters of the Jewish rebellion) will submit to you".
He entered through the sewer, went to the city gate, and found Rabbi Eleazar from Modiin standing in prayer. He showed himself as if he would whisper into his ear. The people of the city saw him and brought the Samaritan to Ben Koziba (Bar Kochba – the chief of the rebellion). They said to him: "we saw this old man turning to your uncle".
Bar Kochba asked the Samaritan: "what did you say to him and what did he say to you?"
The Samaritan answered Bar Kochba: "Rabbi Eleazar said to me- 'I will make the town submit to the Roman emperor'".
Bar Kochba turned to Rabbi Eleazar and asked him: "what did this Samaritan say to you". Rabbi Eleazar answered: "nothing".
"What did you say to him?" He answered: "nothing".
He (Bar Kochba) kicked Rabbi Eleazar and killed him. Immediately there came a voice and said, woe, criminal shepherds, who abandon the flock, a sword on his arm and on his right eye. His arm shall dry up and his right eye darken. You Bar Kochba killed Rabbi Eleazar from Modiin, “the arm of Israel, and their right eye”.
... Immediately Beitar was taken and Ben Koziba killed.
A "fine example" of a defamation campaign: the one emerging from the sewers to lie, incite, entrap, consequently be the root cause of the entire disaster was naturally - a Samaritan!
In the Gospel of Luke the Samaritans are (almost always) good
In the New Testament the Samaritans are mentioned several times.
A very well-known affair, which I will only refer to in passing, is the encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman near Beer Yaakov / Jacobs' Well in Nablus (the Gospel according to John, 14).
In the story, the Samaritan woman becomes the one who recognizes Jesus, during and after their conversation, as a prophet and a Messiah! To some extent the Samaritan woman becomes the first disciple, even before Mary Magdalene. But this is beyond the scope of this newsletter.
Since the good Samaritan parable is found in the Gospel according to Luke, I would like to understand Luke’s position regarding the Samaritans.
I propose, in advance, that Luke, believing in the universal gospel of Jesus, uses the Samaritans to prove that they are better and more worthy than those boasting their status as Torah Jews.
In chapter nine, Luke describes the tension between Jews and Samaritans:
Jesus... was determined to continue his journey to Jerusalem. 52 So he sent messengers on ahead of him. On their way they went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him. 53 But the people would not welcome him, because he was determined to go to Jerusalem.
However, despite the tension between the two groups, Luke chooses to tell, time and time again, how good and decent the Samaritans are, and hence how worthy of salvation. Thus, the following story tells of ten lepers purified by Jesus, only one of whom - Samaritan in origin - returned to Jesus to recognize and express his gratitude .
One day, Jesus was traveling along the border between Samaria and Galilee on the way to Jerusalem. 12 As he was going into a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance 13 and shouted, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
14 When Jesus saw them, he told them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” While they were going, they were made clean.
15 But one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, came back and praised God with a loud voice. 16 He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. Now that man was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Ten men were made clean, weren’t they? Where are the other nine?18 Except for this foreigner, were any of them found to return and give praise to God?”19 Then he told the man, “Get up, and go home! Your faith has saved you.”
Jesus' concluding sentence: “Ten men were made clean, weren’t they? Where are the other nine? 18 Except for this foreigner, were any of them found to return and give praise to God?”
- is not just praise for the Samaritan, but an accusing finger pointing at the dishonorable, thankless Jews.
In addition to his Gospel, Luke also wrote the Book of Acts, which describes the spread of faith in Jesus among the Gentiles throughout the world. At the very beginning of the book, the region of Samaria is mentioned in Jesus's prophecy and 'his testament' - as a region to which faith will spread. In this sense, Samaria is a precursor for spreading the gospel to the Gentile world: after all, the Samaritans are rejected by the Jews, described as foreigners from the land of Assyria, and thus their acceptance of Christianity is an instance of the first non-Jews receiving Jesus and salvation!
Indeed, while the Jews in Jerusalem reject the faith in Jesus and even stone the believers to death (Chapter 7), the Samaritans become a model of faith (Chapter 8):
5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began to preach the Messiah to the people. 6 The crowds, hearing his message and seeing the signs that he was doing, paid close attention to what was said by Philip. 7 Unclean spirits screamed with a loud voice as they came out of the many people they had possessed, and many paralyzed and lame people were healed. 8 As a result, there was great rejoicing in that city…
(Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 7)
"Cast your bread forth upon the waters; for after many days you will find" - back to the Good Samaritan Story
Having read and concluded that the attitude towards Samaritans underwent rehabilitation in the New Testament (and especially in Luke’s writings), we realize that the term "Samaritan" does not cause the average Christian to cringe. On the contrary: the Samaritan is a prototype of a compassionate man. The Samaritan is the one you would want your daughter to marry.
Wait - what about a Cohen (of the priestly caste)? a Levite? A Torah expert? An Israelite in general?
The whole story does not portray the people of Israel in a particularly favorable way. Never mind if it was merely priests and Levites – men of high status are a lost cause anyway (although John the Baptist's father was also a priest and is considered a saint and a beloved figure in Christianity. Would he have ignored the wounded man, as did the priest in the parable? Of course not, so generalizations are better avoided).
It must be said that the parable actually sounds like part of a typical genre of criticism of those of high status in positions of authority.
As a child I read a book of Indian legends called "A Cow from the Moon". In the book, the common people were always good, kind and generous, as opposed to the Brahmins, who were stingy and cruel. Years later I realized I was reading a translation of authentic Indian folk literature, characterized by the moral superiority the common man as opposed to the moral inferiority of the ruling class .
This type of criticism emerges in every culture and every era. In the good Samaritan parable, of course, the hero should have been "Israel" (="the simplest of the simple"), as opposed to the priests and the Levites.
I can't remember where I found this illustration, probably an illustration for children in the US, where the wounded and bruised figure is an African-American boy.
So why not conclude the parable with the behavioral role model of a simple Israelite man? This is exactly the heart of the matter:
Luke’s punchline is that Israel does not figure at all in the picture of grace. There is a Samaritan, whose human qualities surpass all the others’. The Samaritan outshines all, including the questioner who approached Jesus with an innocent question: How should I behave? In the parable, the questioner is called: "Ba'al Torah" - and in Luke’s vocabulary this is hardly a compliment. In my lecture (mentioned at the top of the post) you will see examples from Luke showing how the 'Ba'al Torah' are as bad as the Pharisees and the hypocrites. Why? According to Luke - because knowing the Torah, they are busy commanding others, fulfilling technical mitzvahs, rather than listening to the word of the Torah and following it: "Love your neighbor as yourself"!
In conclusion, Luke's message is -
There is no fundamental connection between the
conduct desirable for God and man and status, title, or affiliation.
Therefore, there is no advantage attached to the title "Ba'al Torah" (lawyer), Cohen, Levite or even to belonging to the people of Israel.
(I wonder how many of my Jewish readers concur with the above, at least in part).
We, too, have a 'Good Samaritan' and his name is Rabbi Elazar ben Shemu'a
The following story from the sages, from a midrash called "Ecclesiastes Rabbah", bears a striking resemblance to the New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan:
R. Eleazar ben Shammua was strolling along the seashore when
he saw a ship sinking in the sea and all on it – drowning. He saw one of the passengers holding to a beam and cast to the shore, naked and bereft. The man hid on the beach. Some Israelites (Jews) on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem passed him by. He said to them: “I am a brother of yours, but from the sons of Esau. Give me a cloth to cover my nakedness”.
They answered: “May this be the fate of all your people”.
He looked up and saw R. Eleazar, and said to him: ” I see that you are a distinguished elder, for whom human dignity is a value. Do a mitzvah and give me a cloth to cover my body”.
R. Eleazar ben Shammua was dressed with seven suits of clothing. He took one off and gave it to the naked man.
R. Eleazar walked him to his house, gave him food and drink.
R. Eleazar gave him 200 Dinars and drove him 56 km. distance, and greatly honored him until he brought him back home.
In this story, the children of Israel behave like the Cohen (priest) and like the Levite - they are not compassionate, they do not treat a person with the required respect.
The naked man immediately confesses that he is a "son of Esau" - that is, a Gentile. The Jews who met him did not see him as a person, but rather as someone inferior who does not deserve help. Therefore, it is Rabbi Elazar ben Shemua, who in assisting the stranger treats him humanely and shows generously above and beyond what is required, that acts as a 'good Samaritan'.
So far so good. But this story has a sequel that I like less:
The Gentile later became a king, and harshly persecuted his subjects with cruel decrees. The Jews appealed to Rabbi Elazar ben Shemua to mediate between them and perhaps exempts them from the harsh decrees. Indeed, Rabbi Elazar ben Shemu'a came to the king, and when the king recognized him:
He answered: take these 4000 thousand (dinars) instead of the 200 which you gave me, and the whole country will be saved because of you, in return for for the food and the drink that you gave me, enter my treasure store and take seventy suits for the one suit which you have given me and go in peace to your people.
On that commented the sages: "Cast your bread upon the waters, For you will find it after many days".
The expectation of a reward
So what's wrong with this fine story?
Not much, but I would have been happier if the moral had not included the reward that came at the end.
Indeed, the story ends with a lesson: Send your bread forth upon the waters; for after many days you will find it" - that is, the sentence is meant to teach us that it is worth investing in Hesed /Compassion. This Compassion pays off."
And this is also my problem with the parable of the "Good Samaritan":
At the beginning of the parable the Ba'al HaTorah asked Jesus:
"Rabbi, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25) And Jesus explained to him how wonderful it is to treat everyone, whoever they may be, with mercy and compassion.
That’s all well and good, but now the question is utilitarian, and Compassion, too, has become a utilitarian tool. Is this grace a sort of warranty that entitles us to 'eternal life' (meaning the kingdom of heaven or Paradise )?
I try not to be judgmental, but when I recognize and know people who have been blessed with something (money, time, skills - and one can also quote "money, honor and power") and are not generous to the needy in our world, I find it hard to value or appreciate them.
Sometimes I see donors who receive "Eternal Life" for their donation (such as a donor whose name is emblazoned on a hospital) - and I applaud their existence. But...
when I realize how many volunteer and give without any expectation of reward , practice " Send your bread forth upon the waters " without thought of the second part of the phrase "Because in the end..."
- I am filled with humility, wonder and respect!
What a privilege to have amongst us such generous people.
Logically this may contradict to everything that has been said so far, but I want to wish them - that they may enjoy Eternal Life.
Happy New Year!
I really like this graphic created by the Vatican a few years ago, ahead of the "Year of Mercy" – undertaken at the initiative of Pope Francis. To me, Pope Francis is someone who sent and is sending forth bread on the water without expecting anything in return.
In any case, in this graphic you can see Jesus as Rabbi Elazar ben Shemu'a ( not exactly...
but as the good Samaritan) carrying the wounded on his shoulders.
The scene is also reminiscent of the way the ‘good shepherd’ carries the sheep on his shoulders.
What’s important about this illustration is that together they have three eyes, not four. The compassionate one identifies with the wounded, sees him as himself - a human being, a perception symbolized by their one common eye.
For the full English lecture on the parable of the Good Samaritan:
For enrollment in the English specialization course click here.