What does it mean to set one’s heart to study the torah of the Holy One, and to do it, and to teach … ? This continues to strike me as the energetic center of this text, from which everything else flows, and so maybe the central place for us to focus our attention as we’re studying Ezra 7:1-10, 23-26 on Sunday, February 13. (Almost Valentine’s Day.) [Some notes on the text are here.] Here are a couple more questions we might want to think about, or discuss in class:
Commentators think the role of the genealogy in verses 1-5 is to establish Ezra’s priestly legitimacy and authority. We might want to ask ourselves – what’s the function of genealogies for us? Do we think of people’s families, family history, as giving them special skills or privileges or authority? Do we see our own family histories working for us in any particular ways? Any thoughts or feelings about that? What are those? Why?
The hand of God, in a good way, is mentioned in verses 6 and 9. What are our thoughts and feelings about this? Why?
[More personal] Have we ever felt the gracious hand of God on us, or in our lives? When, or how?
[More theoretical] Verse 10 says that the hand of God is with Ezra because of Ezra’s mission or motivation. What might be the implications of this for us?
Verses 25-26 seem to say that the Mosaic law, along with Persian law, will govern all the people in the Persian province Beyond the River. As we think about this, what advantages, disadvantages, possibilities, and so on do we imagine? For the Jews? For others, non-Jews or “strangers”? Why?
[More contemporary] Can we imagine divine law governing the life of a political entity today? Again, what advantages, disadvantages, possibilities, conflicts, changes, etc. would we anticipate? Why?
[More personal] How is divine law in effect in our own lives? How does it seem to coexist with civil law? Advantages, disadvantages, challenges, blessings of that arrangement? Why?
[More speculative, probably] Ezra’s mission seems to include a restoration of a fully Torah-observant way of life in the land of Israel – or the small portion of it to which they are able to return. Thinking about that project – of trying to rebuild a way of life – do we agree with Ezra that knowledge of the law is the place to start? Why, or why not? And if not – where would we ourselves start, do we think? Why?
Overall, the text this week seems to direct our thoughts toward the role of “the law of the Holy One” in people’s lives – Ezra’s, the people of Judah in the 5th century BCE, our own, ideally … which would be plenty to think about, surely.
Image: “Reading,” Alexander Moravov, 1913, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons