Know Your Biblical History

Last night I got a call from a student at the University of Iowa asking me to give some money to their arts program. I said yes (as I always do, but especially in this year of scary flooding and lots of damage) and got to chatting with the student. I was telling her about my job, my recent move to NY, and how much my time in Iowa influenced me and helped me in my career and my personal life, and she was asking me lots of questions about how an English major can make a living. Eventually she asked about my name, and I told her that it’s Biblical, and gave her a very quick rundown of the Tamar in Genesis. (I thought it might be better to leave out the other Tamar.)


She mentioned that she had a sister named Esther who was adopted and a father named David, and her parents had named her Esther because in the Bible Esther was adopted by David. I thought for a minute about whether or not it was appropriate to correct her, but I couldn’t help myself, and laughed nervously before saying (gently, I hope) that in fact Esther was adopted by Mordekhai, not David, though David did have daughters. She seemed glad to have been corrected, and then we talked about how often Biblical references come up in everyday conversations, and how useful it is to have a background in the Bible.

Knowing Bible stories is helpful not just for correcting people in conversations and picking up on references in poetry and fiction, but also because Bible stories, even the basic watered down ones we get when we’re kids, can really teach us a lot about interpersonal relationships. Bible stories can make us think. This week we’re reading the story of Abraham getting up and going to a totally new place with his wife. When he gets to this new random place, he’s welcoming and friendly, even though he’s the new guy, so he should be the one receiving the welcome wagon.

This year is the first time I’ve ever really connected with this part of the story. I just moved to a new place, and have not been feeling as welcome as I might like. Partially this is because I’m in a rough place emotionally, but a lot of it has to do with going to a new location with a new mission/job. It’s hard. It’s isolating. But it can be done successfully. And I’ve been comforted by that knowledge all along because I know the story of Abraham, and I’ve known it my whole life. Don’t let anyone tell you Jewish learning isn’t useful!

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