Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat-Bo 5764

Keretz Ani

In the Haftarah for parashat Bo, which is from Jeremiah 46:13-28, we read of Egypt's punishment for her sins. Jeremiah was predicting Egypt's destruction by Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon. This Haftarah is an interesting parallel to the story of the final plagues that we read in Bo. Jeremiah even compares Egypt's coming invaders to locusts (46:23.)

I love this Haftarah, this passage from Jeremiah a great deal, because of one simple word that appears in 46:20b--Keretz.

The word itself is of somewhat ambiguous derivation, and most often thought to be a cognate of karatz, from the root qof-resh-tzadee, meaning to nip or pinch. Thus Keretz is thought to mean a nipper or biter, i.e. an insect that nips, bites or stings. And now the reason I like this word--it is translated by the JPS committee as "gadfly."

Well, I have often thought of myself as a gadfly. Yet, in researching for this musing, I discover to my chagrin that perhaps "gadfly" is not exactly the right description for what it is I often do. The dictionary definition is, courtesy of

1 : any of various flies (as a horsefly, botfly, or warble fly) that bite or annoy livestock
2 : a person who stimulates or annoys especially by persistent criticism

Well, that second definition brought me up a little short (no pun intended for those who know me personally.) I do intend to be a person who stimulates, but I certainly don't intend to be one who constantly criticizes to the point of annoyance.

Now, from Pharaoh's point of view, even with Gd's hardening of the heart, Moses and Aaron were a bit like gadflies. Persistent little devils. (Or was Gd really the annoying one in this scenario? Would the Hebrew Gd be gadfly-like to Pharaoh if he knew he was being deliberately manipulated so that he and his people would suffer more show that Gd could show off...but that's a musing for another time-continued from last week's musing, perhaps.)

And, although we don't really have records to prove it, it's quite possible that Jeremiah and other prophets were thought of like gadflies. They were persistent, they were critical, and most likely, at times, annoying.

A so, here I am, having spent all this time liking this one little word in Jeremiah, only to discover that maybe I wasn't at all like what I was naming myself--a gadfly.

Of course, to my rescue comes traditional American sloppiness with the English language. Merriam-Webster notwithstanding, a search of the web and of current literature reveals that gadfly has taken on a broader meaning. has:

1. A persistent irritating critic; a nuisance.
2. One that acts as a provocative stimulus; a goad.
3. Any of various flies, especially of the family Tabanidae, that bite or annoy livestock and other animals

That somewhat morphed meaning number 2 is pretty much how I like to see myself. I like to take controversial positions to spark discussion, or to insure that different sides of an issue get heard and considered.

Like asking if it was really necessary for all the Egyptian first-born sons to die? Laying it on a little thick, aren't you, Gd?

Like asking if verse 12:11 is the first commandment to eat fast-food?

Like asking why strangers in the community will be cut off just as an Israelite would be for eating food with leavening in it during the proscribed time for the Festival in 12:19, yet in 12:43 strangers are prohibited from eating the Passover offering.

Well, you get the idea. There's plenty enough fodder in parashat Bo. Help yourself. Go and be a keretz yourself. The world needs more of them.

Shabbat Shalom,

 ©2004 by Adrian A. Durlester

Some Previous Musings on the same parasha

Bo 5763 -Good Loser
Bo 5761-Cover of Darkness
Bo 5762-Teach Your Children Well

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