This week in the Book of Words, secrets are hidden in plain view, covering up the Pagan history of the Hebrew Bible and the presence of the Goddess of Fertility Herself. It somehow feels appropriate to frame this weekly Storah on the portion known as “Ekev” with a nod to a modern incarnation of that divine being – Auntie Mame:
‘I have a little secret I’d like to impart.
That I hope doesn’t give you too much of a start;
Tho’ it’s shocking, it’s completely true.
I know it isn’t gossip, or rumor, of course,
For I’ve had it from quite a reliable source
And I’d like to pass it on to you.
The man in the moon is a lady,
A lady in lipstick and curls;
The cow that jumped ovah cried,
I think it’s just one of the girls.’
Sometimes, indeed, secrets are revealed in the most surprising places. In this week’s Torah Episode, for instance, a lengthy list of God-given fortunes is promised to the people Israel, provided they obey the laws. But there is more to this vision of prosperity than meets the eye – the man in the moon is indeed a lady:
The Book of Words 7:13 ‘He will favor you, and bless you, and multiply you: He will bless the issue of your womb and the produce of your soil, your new grain and wine and oil, the calving of your herd, and the lambing of your flock, in the land which he swore to your fathers to assign to you.’ (NJPS translation)
The Hebrew word for CALVING is the big hidden secret here, although the original Hebrew words for ‘grain’, ‘wine’, and ‘oil’ are also worthy of mention. ‘calving’ is a funny word, most English translation use the word ‘increase’ denoting the fertility of the animals. But the word used in the Torah is ASHTAROT – the name of the ancient Goddess of the Near East – known also as Ishtar or Astarte. At a later mythic twist she will also become known as Esther. So, how and did the Canaanite Goddess become ‘calving’ or ‘increase’? Classic interpreters avoid this word, but modern scholars such as Robert Alter wax poetic in their footnotes. Even the favorite current translation among Conservative Jews, the Etz Chayim, comments: ‘Grain – Dagan, Wine – Tirosh, and Yitzhar- Oil…each of these words is connected to a pagan deity – especially Calving – Ashtoret – the Canaanite fertility goddess.’
It would appear that for the ancient Hebrews, familiar with the religious vocabulary of the land, the allusion to the ancient blessing of the Mother Goddess is both repressed AND represented in those promises of the Hebrew male God. But, there inside the man in the moon – is the ancient moon goddess herself, named but forgotten as Jumpin’ Jehovah successfully controls the new religious paradigm that will be known as Monotheism.
If the Torah would have wanted us to forget the ancient ways in which both Masculine AND Feminine symbols guided our ancient spiritual lives – Ashtarot would not have still been waiting for us inside the words. But here she is – a reminder that for all of us, guided by god or goddess, none or more, there is the promise of profound protection, nurturing, and abundance – the products of a deep commitment to a life of truth.
Or, as Auntie Mame would chant it: ‘LIVE, LIVE, LIVE!’