Friday, September 23, 2016

Speech for son’s High School Graduation - Be Great Men as Jews embracing all people

Like the Israelites in the desert, days before crossing to the Promised Land, dear graduates, tonight you are at the threshold of the next stage of your lives. Like the Israelites who were instructed to bring their first fruit to God and give thanks, you too are called to gratitude.


In that spirit, sitting here on this blessed land, I begin by gratefully acknowledging the Bidjigal and Gadigal people, who have cared for this land we meet on tonight.


Remember to be grateful for hard work of your parents and the dedication of your teachers. Be grateful for the ladies in the office, such as Sara who does the sometimes thankless task of fee collection that is vital for our school to work, for the college president who dedicates heart and soul to keep our school going and the cleaners who give us an environment conducive for learning.


I love this school. It is so different to mine. I went to a school in Brooklyn in the 1970s and 80’s. Everything was simpler there. We played dodge-ball on concrete, and practically all the teachers were Jewish men from Russia, mostly they were named Horowitch, I kid you not, 3 out of my first 4 teachers were named Horowitch. Even the handyman was a Jewish guy from Russia named Shagabayeh.


Your school is more complex and diverse: An outstanding Jewish studies program combined with excellence in general studies with students and teachers from more varied backgrounds than my school was. Your teachers are both caring and demanding. You have been well prepared for getting a good number on your ATAR as well as cultivating more intangible qualities.


You are going to be living your lives at a time of dizzying speed, tasks to do and the dominance of numbers. It has been claimed that we now produce as much content in one day as humans had previously created in over 5000 years, five exabytes of content, is the actual figure (1).


I urge you to ignore the gigabytes of half baked ideas and shallow comments- often instantaneous reactions to a post on Facebook or a What’sapp message. In fact, part of that statistic I mentioned is, itself an example of rushed thinking, and ultimately false information that is out there (2). Instead I urge you to slow down and embrace nuances, and paradoxes. Try to appreciate the baffling idea of the ‘sound’ of silence’ that Elijah the prophet encountered in the cave, the קול דממה דקה. As Michel Abesehrah said in dedicating his book to his father, “he taught me with silence all that I have tried to accomplish here with noise” (3). Just sit with that contradiction for a moment and process it. Communication and wisdom that goes beyond words, conveyed through silence.


Silence and reflection relates to the importance of going beyond just doing what is right, to embarking on a quest for being the best Jew you can be, the best human being you can be.
Picture this. Reb Elichyaim Roitblat, a very short, skinny old Chasid with an absolutely angelic face, shining eyes, and a long white beard who sat at a long table at a Farbrengen with 60 Yeshiva students during the month of Elul. From the depth of his soul, he cried out in a sing song voice that we must daven (yiddish for pray)! By which he meant that we must pray in a transformational way in which we are moved to excitement about the greatness of G-d and a longing to be closer to Him. As Reb Elichayim was saying this he looked up and noticed the clock. It was midnight and the doctor told him, that he must go to sleep at midnight for his health. Without changing the tune or stopping his sentence he said in yiddish “M’darf gain shluffen, one must go to sleep”. To him it was all about his duties as a Jew. To transform himself, and to obey the doctor were his duties. There was no difference. But then he caught himself and he laughed.
Dear graduates, The Torah demands that you become that guy. Yeah. You are supposed to become a variation of Reb Elichyaim Roitblat! The Torah states:  קדושים תהיו “you should BE holy”. Strive to be a selfless person, a thoughtful, generous, gentle person who truly cares for another. The guy who gets as animated about learning as a sports fan when watching a game.
And as you strive to be the best you can be, the best Jew, here is another paradox. Our Torah reading talks about being God’s treasured people. However, you need to combine awareness of the awesome gift of being a Jew while also relating to people who are not Jewish with absolute respect and care.  Remember the relationships you noticed between your teachers, Rabbi Chaiton for example and your teachers who are not Jewish, remember how he modeled complete respect and friendliness.


One of our great scholars (4), wrote that God said: although all of the human species is dear to me…as our sages stated, beloved is the human for he was created in the image [of God], still you [the Jews] will be for me a treasure from all of them., and the difference between you is [quantitative, in degree] less or more, ...and the pious of the nations of the world are dear to Me without a doubt.
We need to embrace being special as Jews and living up to what this entails while absolutely respecting and valuing our neighbors who are not Jewish. We need to strive for greatness while being humble before everyman (5). We need to get things done, and some these tasks are measured in numbers, but there is so much you are called to than that which can be counted. This is a bit complicated, but you have been well prepared. Go forth into your promised land, with gratitude, and stay humble while becoming great men!


Notes

  1. The assertion by Gunelius, based on a comment by Google, Eric Schmidt, is refuted in this article by Robert J. Moore https://blog.rjmetrics.com/2011/02/07/eric-schmidts-5-exabytes-quote-is-a-load-of-crap/
  2. Abheseara, M, 1992, The Possible Man, Swan House,
  3. Seforno Exodus 19:5
    והייתם לי סגלה מכל העמים. אף על פי שכל המין האנושי יקר אצלי מכל יתר הנמצאים השפלים, כי הוא לבדו המכוון בהם, כאמרם ז''ל (אבות) חביב אדם שנברא בצלם מכל מקום אתם תהיו לי סגולה מכלם: כי לי כל הארץ. וההבדל ביניכם בפחות ויתר הוא, כי אמנם לי כל הארץ וחסידי אומות העולם יקרים אצלי בלי ספק
    "And you will be for me a treasure among all the nations": although all of the human species is dear to me more than all lowly existing beings, because he [humans] alone is the intended [purpose] of all, as our sages (May their memory be a for blessing) stated, beloved is the human for he was created in the image [of God], still you [the Jews] will be for me a treasure from all of them. "Because all of the earth is Mine", and the difference between you is [quantitative, in degree] less or more, because indeed all the earth is Mine and the pious of the nations of the world are dear to Me without a doubt. SFORNO, OBADIAH BEN JACOB (c. 1470–c. 1550), was an Italian biblical commentator and physician. his commentary on the Pentateuch, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes, first appeared in Venice in 1567.
  4. Pirkey Avot, Ethics of the Fathers.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Loser! Reay

Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license
Does success validate a philosophy,faith, or way of life?

Does failure discredit it?

If the answer to both questions is yes, what kind of success qualifies as proof?

If the measure of success is prosperity and power, then my answer to the first set of questions is no!

The opening verse of the Torah reading this week invites us to look at the choice before us between the blessing and the curse (1). The blessing will be granted to us only if we are good. I have a vague memory from the time when I still lived in the US, of reading an article in the Christian Science Monitor that essentially argued that Australia, the UK and the US were prosperous because they were virtuous and pleasing to God.

This approach is also reflected in discussions of the warning against worshipping the idols of the defeated Canaanites. This warning is puzzling to one of the great commentators (Alshich), who thinks it ridiculous that any Israelite could be drawn to the gods of a defeated people. The resolution of this perplexing scenario is that the people might be drawn to the idea that the falsity of the gods was not the reason for the defeat of the Canaanites, but rather the failure to worship them correctly(2). There are echoes here of the madness of (essentially) doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Absent from the discussion is any doubt about the validity of success as the measure of value or authenticity.

The difficulty with this kind of approach was clear to Jewish thinkers trying to defend Judaism at a time when the Jews were persecuted and downtrodden. In the narrative of the Kuzari, the Jewish scholar tells the king. "You condemn us on account of poverty and misfortune. But surely the great men of these nations prided themselves on just these things. For do not the Christians glorify in him who said: He who smites thy right cheek let him smite the left one? He and his disciples achieved wonderful things after hundreds of years of suffering and scorn and this is their glory. The same applied to Mohamed and his disciples. It is of these individuals that they boast and on which they pride themselves and not on haughty kings of mighty empires and wonderful chariots" (3).

In the reading this week we are also taught to ignore a "prophet" even if s/he succeeds in pulling off a miracle, if the message they are sending is wrong. Not every winner is worthy of our respect, in fact some winners rightly attract the contempt of their communities. Not every loser is evil or wrong. Let us not flatter flawed successful men lest we reinforce their hubris. Let us not denigrate decent and sincere people on "struggle street" - they deserve our respect.  Perhaps the "losers" are actually winners, if we change our scoring to celebrate the virtues of integrity, altruism and love.


1) Deuteronomy 11:26
2) Alshich on Deuteronomy 12:30-31
3) Rabbi Judah Halevi in Kuzari cited in Nechama Leibowitz, New Studies in the Torah Devarim, p.133

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Ethnic cleansing is not legitimized by the Torah

Spikes in your eyes and thorns in your side” (1) is what the Torah predicts the remaining original inhabitants of the land of Canaan will be to the Israelites if the Israelites do not drive them out as God instructed them to do when they conquer the land. One man recently interpreted this verse in the presence of a few Jewish people, as being instructive for our times. When we heard him say that, quite a few eyes turned to me for a response and I knew that I must examine this verse and find its meanings. I promised to share my thoughts at my Saturday afternoon ‘Shiur’- Torah learning discussion.

"Say No to Xenophobia", Creative Commons Licenses.
 Harold Cressy High School, Cape Town, South Africa
Let me be clear that this post is not about what people should or should not do practically. ‘This  (guidance about dealing with the Canaanite population) is an exceptional Divine decree in a particular time and context that no human ruler has the right to apply in any other situation’ (2). Although these actual words were not written by any major classical authority, it reflects a common contemporary attitude of religious Jews. As I explained in my Shiur, no Halachic authority of any standing has advocated for ethnic cleansing or mass expulsions of any population anywhere in over 1000 years and even longer. This post is actually about three things,
1) the attitudes Jews might see as reasonable when confronted with Trump type policies.
2) how people both Jewish or otherwise interpret and understand what I would regard as confronting Jewish texts; and
3) a contribution to general understandings about the various ways people interpret what seem to be simple and shocking sacred texts.   

One authoritative classical, 13th century, commentary sees significance in the specific reference to the eyes. “The intention of spikes in your eyes is the same as in the verse “bribery will blind the eyes of the wise”…that (the idol worshipping locals) will cause you to err and you will not see or understand, and they will teach you all of their loathsome  practices and to serve their gods… and as a result of their “being spikes in your eyes” and turning you away from Me [God and ethical monotheism, the Isrealites will be punished by God in that the people would] become thorns in your sides” (3).  While this teaching continues to worry me at a theoretical level, because of its contradiction of pluralism and tolerance, it makes it clear that the context of this verse does not in any way justify building a wall to keep Mexicans out of the US or other exclusionary practices.   

I passionately argued against adventurously and literally applying such teachings from another context to situations today.  I don’t know what happens in every Church and Mosque in Australia. This past Sunday, at an Interfaith event, one Christian speaker suggested some texts are just ignored. At a Mosque I recently heard a speaker deliver a lecture that examined teachings of certain Islamic scholars that many in that Muslim community wished to ignore because of the irrelevance of those teachings to their own lives.One thing I think is a safe bet. Making assumptions about sacred texts without understanding the variety of ways that a particular text is read by those who follow it is often misleading.  


1) Numbers 33:55
2) Comment in Artscroll Chumash commentary
3) Ramban, Nachmanides on Numbers 33:55

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Spirit vs Form - Kavana. Chukat

For 45 minutes I was in another zone as I combined mindfulness and meditation with my ritual morning blessings. I felt spiritually uplifted and filled with a deep gratitude for the wisdom of animals, my eyesight, having all my needs met and the dignity of clothing.

That was another morning.

This morning was a completely different story. This morning I recited the same blessings but I arrived late and feeling stressed about many things. Prayer is meant to be the "service of the heart[i]" but my mumbling this morning was just robotic compliance.

It’s now 8:53 am. I just sat down at my desk at work, but I have been on my way to the office since 7:05 after my uninspired worship. I had the wrong combination for the back gate of the Synagogue, so I missed my bus. Instead I tried the train but neglected to check the sign so I jumped on to the wrong train. 4 trains later I am finally here and I am not so sure that what matters is really love and truth, or if compliance with requirements, times and rules is actually more important than it would seem. Clearly, my work fostering acceptance and belonging depends on attending to these technicalities.

Religion can be inspiring and can engage the heart and mind, but it can also be experienced as oppressive. In our Torah reading this week we learn about the red cow that would be killed and burned; its ashes sprinkled on water to be used as part of a purification ritual[ii]. This commandment is expected to be obeyed because God has decreed it and we “have no permission to question it[iii]”. We are called to subjugate our minds to the will of God[iv] because obedience, not fulfilment is valued. 

On the other side of this argument, in this reading we hear that Moses and Aaron were reprimanded after Moses hit a rock, causing water to miraculously flow. They were instructed to speak to the rock[v] rather than hit it. The symbolism of talking to the rock vs. hitting it is instructive. Forty years earlier, Moses also drew water from a rock when he hit it by God’s command.  But four decades before, Moses and Aaron had been leading slaves; they were accustomed to being told what to do (the dominant approach, symbolized by a stick), but now they were free people. The “stick” approach was no longer needed – now it was time for a “words”.[vi]

The themes of submission vs. engagement of the heart can be discerned in some of the details of the “stick” story. Although God had instructed Moses and Aaron to speak to the rock, He also instructed him to take “the staff” along. This is puzzling: why bring a stick at all[vii]? One answer is that “The stick” they were told to bring along was the staff of Aaron that miraculously sprouted almonds[viii]. This dry piece of wood had miraculously produced water as part of the miracle of the almonds and was to be used as inspiration for the rock that was going to be asked to also produce water. The symbolism of ‘the’ stick (rather than any stick) is not of a lifeless instrument of coercion but of a fusion between obedience and engagement.

The episode with the rock follows the death of the elder sister of Moses, Miriam, from whom Moses and Aaron had previously sought advice. Perhaps her feminine influence could have helped her brothers be more alert to the nuances of God’s command?[ix]. Instead, Moses missed the subtle point about “the stick” of Aaron with the almonds and its implied message and instead hit the rock with “his (own) stick[x]”. One lesson for us from Moses’ mistake is the need for being “very settled” and attentive in carrying out instructions[xi] so that we don’t fail to achieve their purpose, rather than being rushed like Moses was, or jumping on the train without checking the board to see where it was going.

The apparently irrational ritual of the burning red cow is also complex. It has elements that can engage the heart. One theme is the quest for balance and pursuit of the middle path, which can be inferred from the inclusion of a piece of wood from a tall cedar tree and a lowly hyssop plant in the fire. It symbolizes the message that we should not be arrogant like the cedar, nor should we be too humble like the hyssop, instead we must work toward the golden mean[xii]

A message of our reading can be to combine the pursuit of transcendence and spiritual expression with submission to rules and rituals. In fact, I think if I was more obedient to the requirements to always pray with Kavana, to do an intentional ritual hand washing when arriving at the synagogue[xiii] and to be on time, then even on an off day, the morning blessings words of gratitude would have greater power to engage my spirit.  The social justice, inspirational side of Judaism is nurtured by the adherence to rules and rituals and the resulting refinement of the spirit and growth in God’s consciousness.  A bird needs two wings to fly, one is love that motivates our positive activity and the other is fear which motivates obedience to prohibitions and rules[xiv].




[i] Talmud, Taanis 2a
[ii] Numbers 19
[iii] Cited in Rashi to Numbers 19:2, the ritual of the red heifer is the ultimate example of the Chuka category commandments which are not understandable.
[iv] The words “this is the statue of the Torah” is also taken to mean that it would be better for a person to treat all the laws of the Torah as unexplainable commandments rather than try to find reasons for them- R. Mendel of Kotzk, quoted by R. Zeev of Strikov, in Greenberg, A, Y, (1992) Torah Gems, Y Orenstien/Yavneh Publishing Tel Aviv, this is consistent with the emphasis in Chabad Chasidism on Bittul, self-nullification. There is another very strong side of Chasidism that emphasises self-refinement and spiritual engagement.
[v] Numbers 20:8
[vi] Sacks, (2009) Chief Rabbi Jonathan, Future Tense, Hodder & Stoughton London
[vii] Klei Yakar
[viii] Numbers 17:17-23
[ix] Ralbag makes the connection with Miriam ‘s death and the loss of her advice, which he assumes was frequently sought, he does not refer to the feminine aspect which is my own addition
[x] Numbers 20:11
[xi] Ralbag
[xii] Seforno on Numbers 19:2
[xiii] The custom I am familiar with is for Jews to wash their hands when arriving at the Synagogue. Typical orthodox synagogues will have a wash basin near the entrance, but technically one can ritually wash one’s hands at home. Not doing it again at the synagogue is a missed opportunity for a “kavana” enhancing ritual
[xiv] Tanya

Friday, July 8, 2016

Dangerously Divisive! Korach & Pauline Hanson

Arguments are raging about how to respond to the election of the divisive anti-Islam senator elect Pauline Hanson. On one hand we are being urged to “listen [to,] not lampoon” Hanson and her voters. We are told that although ‘Hanson’s policies are misconceived’ we can must empathise with the economic pain of Hanson’s rural supporters and to accept that their “fears are natural, and understandable”. I suggested on twitter that ‘dialogue with fearful, resentful people must sit alongside ensuring that bigotry is not made respectable’.

On the other hand, there are very real fears that giving credence to bigotry will have devastating effects. Jarni Blakkarly wrote after the election of Hanson: “A lot of my friends who are people of colour and particularly Muslims are genuinely afraid at the moment.” Last time Hanson was in Parliament she made offensive comments about Aboriginal people and there was an increase in racist incidents in her state to the extent where Aboriginal people reported being afraid to travel on buses. A similar effect is currently being felt on the streets of the UK, as a result of the toxic Brexit rhetoric. Tim Soutphommasane correctly asserted that “We have plenty of examples about how licensing hate can lead to serious violence and ugliness in our streets and our communities ”.

In the Torah reading this week we have the example of Korach, a Biblical figure who challenged Moses’ leadership and threatened the cohesion of the Israelites. Of Korach it is written that ‘A man took a divisive stance and lost part of himself[i]’. There is something profoundly diminishing in the stance of hateful divisiveness. Yet, the threat dividers pose is seen as massive, and must not be underestimated. Shakira Hussein argues that Hansonism is part of an international trend and that those who are supporting the approach “are not just seeking to recapture the past. They’re looking to the future — and they believe that it belongs to them[ii]”. In the case of Korach, God himself intervened and had the earth swallow Korach alive[iii].  This reflects the power of words to undermine societal norms and cohesion. Ridicule of Hansonism and of her as a public figure representing offensive views is appropriate and a legitimate part of the battle of ideas.

Like Hanson challenging the Elites, Korach denied Moses authority as a messenger of God and falsely accused him of haughtiness: holding himself above the people[iv].  Yet, we know that Moses was a reluctant leader and is described in the Torah as a most humble man. In speaking the unspeakable, Korach shook the foundations of his society and emboldened others who wished to break free from the constraints of what was previously considered “correct” speech. In our time, like then, it is important for people to strongly distance themselves from divisive figures or risk being seen as legitimising their views. This is symbolically alluded to in the story of Korach when the people are instructed to physically distance themselves from Korach[v] because tho stand near Korach could be understood to be standing with him and his agenda[vi].

On the other hand there is value in a dialogue with Hanson’s voters, but in a way that does not to amplify their voices. Moses himself talked to some of the rebels and sought to reason with them. Moses send a messenger to two of the other rebels who had not approach him to invite them to meet him for dialogue[vii]. In many ways, Hanson’s voters are people like you and me. Many of them are suffering and have genuine concerns about the future of our country. They also have unacceptable and harmful views that need to be challenged. But the best way to do that is to engage with them in an appropriate way without causing further harm to our society. 

The nature of Korach’s punishment is illustrative of the nature of in-fighting and divisiveness. The ground opened and swallowed Korach alive[viii]. This is the nature of conflict, it is consuming[ix]!  When the Israelites saw Korach consumed as a consequence of the conflict they ran screaming[x], because they said: “lest we also be swallowed”. There is a struggle for hearts and minds and the direction we will take regarding differences. Let us fight hard, compassionately and wisely.




[i] Ohr Hachayim, to Numbers 16:1
[ii] https://www.crikey.com.au/2016/07/06/pauline-hanson-product-of-right-wing-bigotry/?activation=success
[iii] Numbers 16:31-33, If I take the story of Korach literally, it troubles me because of what it implies about dissent and challenging authority but I am looking at it in more thematic or Midrashic terms
[iv] Numbers 16:3
[v] Numbers 16:26, Arama, Rabbi Y., cited in Lebovitz, N. Studies in Bamidbar Numbers, Malbim, Hirsch, S.R.,
[vi] Midrash Hagadol cited in Torah Shlaima
[vii] Numbers 16:5-12
[viii] Numbers 16:31-33
[ix] Chafetz Chayim
[x] Numbers 16:34, “screaming” is my creative interpretation/translation of the words in the verse that states “they ran to/for their voices” which is ambiguous. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Did not make me a goy?! Sacred text, prejudice and Interpretation (Bahalotecha)


Bless you God for not making me a goy" (the word "goy" is often translated as a non-Jew 1, but it's meaning is highly contested). These words confronted me in a series of prayers that I have recited every morning since I was five. One morning I was in a meditative mode, fully present and intentional with every word I was saying. I paused. The most obvious inference in this prayer is that I am grateful for not being made an impliedly inferior type of person. But this makes no sense to me. There are many people I know personally who are not Jewish and whom I deeply respect and admire.  If I skipped the prayer, it would mean rejecting the theological/legal system that forms the basis of my Orthodox spiritual life.  So I reinterpret the prayer to mean that despite my acknowledgement of the various paths to personal and spiritual greatness of the Muslims, Christians, Hindus, atheists/agnostics, traditionally spiritual Aboriginals and others whom I so admire, I still thank God for giving me my own cherished Jewish heritage and identity rather than any of those other profoundly beautiful other ways of being.  Afterwards I thought, whom am I kidding? Don’t words have a fixed meaning beyond their creative reinterpretations? Perhaps they do, but that is how I chose to deal with it. 
 
The blessing about not being a non-Jewish person  is followed by an expression of gratitude for not being a slave. I thought that the two prayers could be interpreted in similar ways. To be a "slave" has a certain appeal. As the CEO of a not for profit charity I carry the responsibility for a mission and a few persons’ livelihoods. It's often stressful. Like the Israelites in the desert, I'm tempted by the freedom from responsibility that comes with being an employee or, in the case of the Israelites, the lack of accountability to God they had as slaves of the Pharaohs. 2  Yet despite the attraction of "slavery" I choose to be grateful for the freedom to pursue my vision according to my own conscience and I am happy to pay the price.

The price of leadership can be high. In our Torah reading this week this theme can lead us back to the theme of prejudice. The Israelites in the desert complained and thereby challenged Moses and God. Moses was so frustrated that he would rather have died 3  than continue with his impossible mission of leadership unless God helped him. One group of people are highlighted as being at fault; these were the multitude among them [who] began to have strong cravings.” 4  The multitude was not of them 5” (the Jewish nation), but joined the Israelites during the exodus from Egypt and in this case the ethnic Jews are said to have followed the lead of the multitude and also rebelled.

But there is an opportunity for a strong anti-prejudice lesson in our Torah reading too. We read that Moses was married to a black woman, in fact as black as a raven 6 and that Moses’ siblings were rebuked for wrongly criticizing Moses on account of his black wife. I would assume that if his wife was black so was his non-ethnically Jewish, Midyanite father-in-law, Jethro. Shortly before Moses descended into despair he begged his father-in-law to stay in the desert. Please don’t abandon us…you have been like eyes for us 7” Moses pleaded.  Moses cherished his father-in-law’s advice. A few verses later we are told that Jethro did in fact leave Moses without his support, and that Moses cried out bitterly about the burdens of leadership.   As our sages taught us, there is wisdom among the nations.8  One of our greatest scholars would rise in honour of the accumulated life wisdom of elderly people who were not Jewish 9, while Maimonides happily incorporated ethical teachings from non-Jewish philosophers in his writing. 10

Yet, these highly plausible interpretations in the previous paragraph are far from unanimous. The words Kushite”/black that describe Moses’ wife are taken to mean that she was not black but undeniably beautiful 11 just as a black person is clearly black. Another commentary argues that in fact Moses didn’t really need his father-in-law’s advice at all and just pretended he needed it out of humility 12.  I suggest that when it comes to religion, especially mine, interpretation is almost everything. So thank you God for making me Jewish even thought I could have been gloriously wonderful in a somewhat different way, being someone else.

This is one demonstration of creative interpretation of a religious text that at first glance seems to say one thing but can actually mean something else.   

Notes
1. I object to words like “goy” or non-Jew as a noun. I think that a person should be defined by what they are and how they define themselves rather than how they are not like me. The literal meaning of the word "goy" is nation and can have a neutral meaning referring to a person from a nation other than the Jewish nation. The blessing traditionally is understood to reflect additional commandments that Jews are obligated in according to Judaism. 
2.  This comment is based on commentary to Numbers 11:5 when the Jews talked about free fish they age in Egypt, which is interpreted by Sifre, cited in Rashi, as being free from Mitzvot
3.  Numbers 11:10-15
4.  Numbers 11:4
5.  Ibn Ezra on 11:4
6.  Numbers 12:1-9 according to Ibn Ezra and Abarbanel
7.  Numbers 10:31
8.  Midrash Eicha Rabba 2:13 מדרש איכה רבה פרשה ב סימן יג
9.  Talmud 33:1
10.  Maimonides,
הרמב"ם בתחילת הקדמתו למסכת אבות ("שמונה פרקים") כותב: "ודע, כי הדברים אשר אומר אותם באלו הפרקים... הם עניינים מלוקטים מדברי החכמים (חכמי ישראל)... ומדברי הפילוסופים גם כן ומחיבורי הרבה בני אדם. ושמע האמת ממי שאמרה". על הפילוסוף היווני אריסטו כותב הרמב"ם: "הוא אשר לימד לבני אדם את דרכי ההוכחה וחוקיה ותנאיה" ("מורה הנבוכים" חלק ב פרק טו(.
cited in http://www.kipa.co.il/ask/show/86913
11.  Sifre, Unkelous, Rashi, and Ralbag, see Ibn Kaspi’s (cited in Nechama Lebovitz) withering critique of these teachings that essentially take the verses to mean the opposite of what the plain text appears to be saying
12.  Ralbag