gimme shelter

parshat massei

Sanctuary: 1. A place of refuge, especially for political refugees 2. immunity from arrest

The Concise Oxford Dictionary

With the army of a victorious Henry VII bearing down on him, a terrified Francis Lovell made for the only place he knew he would be safe – a church.

It was 1485 and his master Richard III had just been killed on the battlefield at Bosworth and Francis had every reason to believe his head would be next.

But he made it in time to St John’s Abbey in Colchester where he invoked the ancient law of religious sanctuary. It made him untouchable.

Claiming sanctuary in a church to avoid being punished for a crime was abolished in England in 1623 but the idea persists to this day. (see)

The antecedence for refuge in a sanctuary hark back to Numbers 35: 9 -

And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: ‘Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When ye pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then ye shall appoint you cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer that killeth any person through error may flee thither. And the cities shall be unto you for refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer die not, until he stand before the congregation for judgment.

 דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם:  כִּי אַתֶּם עֹבְרִים אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן, אַרְצָה כְּנָעַן

 וְהִקְרִיתֶם לָכֶם עָרִים, עָרֵי מִקְלָט תִּהְיֶינָה לָכֶם; וְנָס שָׁמָּה רֹצֵחַ, מַכֵּה-נֶפֶשׁ בִּשְׁגָגָה

 וְהָיוּ לָכֶם הֶעָרִים לְמִקְלָט, מִגֹּאֵל; וְלֹא יָמוּת הָרֹצֵחַ, עַד-עָמְדוֹ לִפְנֵי הָעֵדָה לַמִּשְׁפָּט

The six cities of refuge were designated for all inhabitants regardless of citizenship “For the children of Israel, and for the stranger and for the settler among them,” and where designed to break  the pre-existing rules of Blood Feuds whereby a relative of the murdered was required to redeem the blood    גֹּאֵל הַדָּם of his relative by killing the murderer, even if the murder was accidental.

The City of Refuge is first and foremost the antidote to the negative aspects of clan  and tribalism.  The refuge cities עָרֵי מִקְלָט along with the monetization of lex talionis (eye for eye see Lev. 24:19 and Talmud Baba Kamma, 83b–84a) represented the Hebrew Bible’s frontal assault on the zero-sum mechanics of blood-for-blood honor killings.

Ironically, Israelis call a bomb shelter a Miklat  מִקְלָט.    The connection between the modern day bomb shelter and the Biblical city of refuge is profound. The modern day Miklat protects Israeli citizens from the attacks of  terrorists who wish nothing positive, but only to take revenge for prior injustices and to redeem the blood of fellow clan members.  In a very real sense, the Iron Dome Missile Defense system, the Miklat, and the security wall are all designed to end the cycle of violence.

When these same terrorist shoot rockets without  sheltering their own citizens  from the inevitable return fire, they are striving to escalate the blood feud, ditto for the use of their citizens as human shields.

The cinematic image we share of the fugitive finding refuge in a church shows how this legal institution of the City of Refuge survived in Church law and popular culture, but what is less well known, is how primary this message was to Muhammad’s message and early Islam.

According to Joseph Schacht, the celebrated Columbia professor of Arabic and Islam, Muhammad reformed the norms of retaliation with the introduction of  blood-money “because of the main aim of the Prophet  – [was] the dissolution of the ancient tribal organization and the creation of a community of believers in its stead.” [An Introduction to Islamic Law, Joseph Schacht, p 13-4)

See Quran Sura 4: 92

And never is it for a believer to kill a believer except by mistake. And whoever kills a believer by mistake – then the freeing of a believing slave and a compensation payment presented to the deceased’s family [is required] unless they give [up their right as] charity. But if the deceased was from a people at war with you and he was a believer – then [only] the freeing of a believing slave; and if he was from a people with whom you have a treaty – then a compensation payment presented to his family and the freeing of a believing slave. And whoever does not find [one or cannot afford to buy one] – then [instead], a fast for two months consecutively, [seeking] acceptance of repentance from Allah . And Allah is ever Knowing and Wise.

According to Schacht, Islam after Muhammad continued this evolution away from tribal revenge killings and toward the rule of law and restitution.

The Umayyads did not interfere with the working of retaliation as it had been regulated by the Koran, but they tried to prevent the recurrence of Arab tribal feuds which threatened the internal security of the state, and they assured the accountancy for payments of blood-money, which were effected in connexion with the payment of subventions. ibid. Schacht p. 24

Schacht, who was not Jewish, believed about Islam what many of his contemporary Jewish Scholars had concluded about Judaism, namely, that there was at one time a  “living tradition” where ideas took on a life of their own and evolved forward, even if projected back to engender authenticity. (see Remembering Joseph Schacht (1902‑1969) by Jeanette Wakin) [1]

With regard to the subject at-hand, Schacht concludes that:

 The considerable restriction of blood feuds was a great merit of Muhammad’s. According to Bedouin ideas, any member of the tribe of the killer, and even more than one, could be killed if homicide had occurred. Islam allows only the killer himself (or several killers for one slain), to be put to death, and only if he is fully responsible and has acted clearly with deliberate intent; Islamic law further recommends waiving retaliation. Ibid Schacht p 185

It’s a shame that, in the Islam we encounter today, the movement by the Prophet Muhammad and early local schools against tribalism and blood feuding was not permitted to develop further.  It’s a shame that both Jews and Muslims do not have a miklat, a shelter, refuge and sanctuary to protect them from the evils of bloodletting and the cycle of violence that it drives.

In the meantime, the civilized world should honor and emulate the shelter that Israel provides it’s citizens as not only an acclimation of life but also as a concrete and practical strategy to break the cycle of violence and bloodletting.

 

———————

[1]  Writes Wakin: “Not surprisingly, scholars in the Muslim world in general are unable to accept Schacht’s discoveries or face their implications. … The understandable fear among modern Muslim scholars is that the great edifice of the religious law, and thus Islam itself, will collapse if it is shown to have been the product of human minds. Schacht’s findings can, of course, conceivably be put at the service of a liberalizing movement, but this has not yet been attempted.”

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the compromised land

parshat matot

Previously, when Moses is confronted with a difficult question requiring a pragmatic solution he lets God do the heavy lifting.  As the Children of Israel stand on the cusp of the Promised Land, Moses finds the moxy to craft the compromise.

Moses is approached by the leaders of the tribes of Reuben and Gad.  These men are herders not farmers.  They have noticed that the land on the East Bank of the Jordan River is more suitable for livestock.  Following in the footsteps of Zelophehad’s daughters and Jethro before them, they approach Moses and the Elders. (Numbers 32)

The children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spoke unto Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and unto the princes of the congregation, saying: … the land which the LORD smote before the congregation of Israel, is a land for cattle, and thy servants have cattle.’ And they said: ‘If we have found favour in thy sight, let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession; bring us not over the Jordan.’

 וַיָּבֹאוּ בְנֵי-גָד, וּבְנֵי רְאוּבֵן; וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל-אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן, וְאֶל-נְשִׂיאֵי הָעֵדָה לֵאמֹר

 הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר הִכָּה ה’ לִפְנֵי עֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל–אֶרֶץ מִקְנֶה, הִוא; וְלַעֲבָדֶיךָ, מִקְנֶה

  וַיֹּאמְרוּ, אִם-מָצָאנוּ חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ–יֻתַּן אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת לַעֲבָדֶיךָ, לַאֲחֻזָּה:  אַל-תַּעֲבִרֵנוּ, אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן

One can just picture Moses’ face dropping in disbelief and sadness.  Here, the land of Israel had not even been possessed and already two of the twelve tribes want to modify and dilute the dream.  The tribes of Reuben and Gad were the first post-Zionists, only they hadn’t even settled in Zion yet!

Moses’ anguish is deeper. The student of the Hebrew Bible will recognize that from the days of Cain and Abel, there has always been a biblical tension between the farmer and the herder.  While both are necessary, it is an agricultural society, with laws of tithes and sabbatical years that fill the Hebrew law code for the new land.  The slaughter of animals is relegated to the sacrificial cult.  The farmer invests in the land and lives off the sweat of his brow; the herder takes from the land and moves on. The life of the nomad, the hunter and gatherer had served the people well in exile, but now that they were settling in the Promised Land, it would be sustainable agriculture which insured the future.

It was not just that these two tribes didn’t want to complete the journey, their chosen profession manifested a rejection of something deeper.  Just as the word for Cain קַיִן  is derived from the word possessions (see Genesis 4:1) so too does the word for cattle  מִקְנֶה has a materialistic  sense to it.   Rashi picks up on the misplaced materialism of these two tribes projected in the text…

They approached him and said, “We will build sheepfolds for our livestock here and cities for our children. (Numbers 32:16)

 וַיִּגְּשׁוּ אֵלָיו וַיֹּאמְרוּ, גִּדְרֹת צֹאן נִבְנֶה לְמִקְנֵנוּ פֹּה, וְעָרִים, לְטַפֵּנוּ

We shall build sheepfolds for our livestock here: They were more concerned about their possessions than about their sons and daughters, since they mentioned their livestock before [mentioning] their children. Moses said to them, “Not so! Treat the fundamental as a fundamental, and the matter of secondary importance as a matter of secondary importance. First ‘build cities for your children,’ and afterwards ‘enclosures for your sheep’” (verse 24) – [Mid. Tanchuma Mattoth 7]

 נבנה למקננו פה -חסים היו על ממונם יותר מבניהם ובנותיהם, שהקדימו מקניהם לטפם. אמר להם משה לא כן עשו, העיקר עיקר והטפל טפל, בנו לכם תחלה ערים לטפכם ואחר כך גדרות לצאנכם

There is another element inherent in the request of these tribes that must have peeved Moses.  The promise of the Promised Land was to put an end to the incessant wandering of the Hebrews.  The Hebrews (עברים) were the descendants of people like Abraham and the wanderers in the desert, who had forged (passed over עבר) the river and come to settle in the land.  These tribes, like Cain were choosing the life of the wanderer. they were asking permission not to cross the Jordan both physically and ideologically.

אַל-תַּעֲבִרֵנוּ, אֶת-הַיַּרְדֵּן

Moses barely hides his anger.  He points out that these two tribes are setting a bad example and missing the whole point of the episode of the 10 scouts who were responsible for the 40-year delay in returning to the Land of Israel (Numbers 32: 7 – 13)

And wherefore will ye turn away the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the LORD hath given them? … Thus did your fathers, when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to see the land. .. Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I swore unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob; because they have not wholly followed Me; … And the LORD’S anger was kindled against Israel, and He made them wander to and fro in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the sight of the LORD, was consumed.

   וְלָמָּה תנואון (תְנִיאוּן), אֶת-לֵב בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל–מֵעֲבֹר, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַן לָהֶם, ה

   כֹּה עָשׂוּ, אֲבֹתֵיכֶם, בְּשָׁלְחִי אֹתָם מִקָּדֵשׁ בַּרְנֵעַ, לִרְאוֹת אֶת-הָאָרֶץ

 אִם-יִרְאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים הָעֹלִים מִמִּצְרַיִם, מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה, אֵת הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב:  כִּי לֹא-מִלְאוּ, אַחֲרָי

  וַיִּחַר-אַף ה, בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיְנִעֵם בַּמִּדְבָּר, אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה–עַד-תֹּם, כָּל-הַדּוֹר, הָעֹשֶׂה הָרַע, בְּעֵינֵי ה

Writes Rashi (picking up the Cain motif):

He made them wander: He moved them about from place to place, as in נָע וָנָד “a wanderer and an exile” (Gen. 4:12).

 וינעם – ויטלטלם. מן נע ונד

Knowing Moses’ frustration and anger management issues, one would have expected him to lash out.  And while he does engage in a vigorous debate with these non-settlers he resolves the issue with a grand compromise.

The leaders of the tribes of Reuben and Gad agree to participate fully in the conquest and only once their brethren are settled will they return to their outpost on the East Bank of the Jordan. (Numbers 32: 18-19)

We will not return unto our houses, until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance.

For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan, and forward, because our inheritance is fallen to us on this side of the Jordan eastward

לֹא נָשׁוּב, אֶל-בָּתֵּינוּ–עַד, הִתְנַחֵל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אִישׁ, נַחֲלָתוֹ

 כִּי לֹא נִנְחַל אִתָּם, מֵעֵבֶר לַיַּרְדֵּן וָהָלְאָה:  כִּי בָאָה נַחֲלָתֵנוּ אֵלֵינוּ, מֵעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן מִזְרָחָה

In a sense, the permission by Moses for these outlier tribes to settle on the East Bank of the Jordan, was a testament to his maturation and growth as a leader and his understanding that ideologies need to be compromised in order to achieve dreams.

Three thousand years later when Ben Gurion and the mainstream Zionists were given the choice of a partitioned promised land they too accepted the compromise.  Ironically, those rejectionists let by Ze’ev Jabotinsky who rejected the Partition Plan used Reuben and Gad’s East Bank settlement as the basis for an argument against compromise and for a Greater Israel.

The East of the Jordan (Hebrew: שמאל הירדן‎) is a poem written by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the Revisionist Zionist leader, a song that became one of the most known leading songs of the Revisionist Zionist youth movement, Betar. The song includes four Stanzas. Each stanza ends with the following line which is the main political message and theme of the poem:

Two Banks has the Jordan
This is ours and, that is as well.

The main theme of the song also influenced other Zionists’ poems, and its main theme appears also in Raise Up the Barricades, by Michael Eshbal, also one of the Betar youth movement’s well known poems, which says of the Jewish state: “To establish the state on both sides of the Jordan”.

(see Wikipedia  The East Bank of the Jordan) and see note below with complete lyrics and background of the heated debate between Jabotinsky; the uncompromising revisionist, and Weizman; the pragmatist. [1]

The rift between these two groups culminated in the Altalena Affair where in 1948, Ben Gurion, the heir to Weizman and the leader of the month-old State of Israel squared off against Menachem Begin, the heir to Jabotinsky and head of the now illegal paramilitary group; the Irgun.  To make a long story, short, Ben Gurion ordered the sinking of the Altalena. Sixteen Irgun fighters were killed and more than 200 were arrested.  Begin never forgave Ben Gurion, but in 1979, it was Begin who made the ultimate compromise in returning Sinai to Egypt.

The Altalena was our Hamas moment.  The Palestinians have absorbed many ideas, concepts from the Zionists. The Palestinians use words like “right of return” and “diaspora” and also have adopted a nationalistic desire for a state similar to the Zionists.  It is time that they also learn to compromise their ideals and unconditionally reject rogue players and ideologically driven militarists.  There was no room for the Irgun once the State of Israel was established, and there is no room for non-state players like Hamas if the Palestinians are to have their own state.

Today, as once again Israel is forced to wage war with Palestinian rejectionist and terrorist groups, we need to remember and remind the world not only regarding the sacrifices that we have made, but also the equally courageous compromises that we and our most idealistic leaders have made.

We will have peace with our neighbors not only “when they love their children more that they hate us” (Golda Meir), but also when they learn, that in order to deserve a Promised Land, you need to accept a Compromised Land…

—————–

[1]

In 1922, in an effort to appease Abdullah, British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill excluded 77% of Palestine from all legal stipulations dealing with Hebrew aspirations. The first in a series of four White Papers was issued, significantly limiting Jewish immigration and severely truncating the Israeli homeland’s borders. A Hashemite Arab kingdom was consequently established in the majority of Palestine. This artificial state came to be known as Trans-Jordan. Thus the Jews were left with only 23% of what the Balfour Declaration and League of Nations had stipulated.

During Jabotinsky’s stay in the United States, he received news of Britain’s perfidious White Paper. While the more pragmatic Zionist leaders, led by Chaim Weitzman, were willing to accept whatever borders they could receive, Jabotinsky contested the injustice on principle and even composed a song championing Israel’s claim to both banks of the Jordan River.

As a bridge is held up by a pillar
As a man is kept erect by his spine
So the Jordan, the holy Jordan
Is the backbone of my Israel.

Two Banks has the Jordan –
This is ours and, that is as well.

Though my country may be poor and small
It is mine from head to foot.
Stretching from the sea to the desert
And the Jordan, the Jordan in the middle.

Two Banks has the Jordan –
This is ours and, that is as well.

From the wealth of our land there shall prosper
The Arab, the Christian, and the Jew,
For our flag is a pure and just one
It will illuminate both sides of my Jordan.

Two Banks has the Jordan –
This is ours and, that is as well.

My two hands I have dedicated to the homeland,
My two hands to sword and shield.
Let my right hand whither
If I forget the East Bank of the Jordan.

Two Banks has the Jordan –
This is ours and, that is as well.

In the wake of Zionism’s meek response to Churchill’s treacherous White Paper, Jabotinsky condemned what he called the “erosion of Zionist demands” – the leadership’s apprehension to clearly state that the goal of the Zionist Movement is a sovereign Hebrew state. He argued that Zionism no longer demanded but instead adopted the exile attitude of “shtadlanut” – trying to curry favor in gentile eyes. The issue of Trans-Jordan and the evolutionary leadership’s inability to state clear Zionist goals became issues of heated discussion within the Movement, leading to Jabotinsky’s resignation from the World Zionist Executive. His resignation, however, did not stem from disillusionment with the Zionist ideal, but rather with the officials at the helm. It occurred to Jabotinsky that his generation was not ready for the revolutionary character of Herzlian Zionism. A movement had to be born that would create a new type of Jew, free from the idiosyncrasies and inferiority complex of the exile – like the champions featured throughout the Hebrew Bible. By bringing about a revolution in values and self image, Jabotinsky hoped to revive the ancient spirit of the proud Israeli hero. Along with a number of veterans from the Zionist Movement, he established the Union of Zionist­-Revisionists (Hatzohar) which called for the immediate establishment of a Hebrew state with an Israeli majority on both sides of the Jordan. (see:  Zionist Freedom Alliance)

Revisionist Zionism came into being as a direct challenge to the policies of Chaim Weitzman. Two diametrically opposed ideologies were now battling for commandjabotinsky over the Zionist Movement. Jabotinsky advocated a forthright approach of presenting fundamental Zionist aims explicitly. He was against the propounding of half truths, whether to the Hebrew masses or to the gentile nations. Like Herzl before him, Jabotinsky rejected “muted Zionism” and refused to “turn the Zionist Movement into a fraternity of whispering, conspiratorial smugglers”. Opposing him, Weitzman advocated a cautious struggle and the application of “one step at a time” tactics. But Jabotinsky demanded a return to Herzlian Political Zionism with stated goals set forth in a charter.

 

 

 

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celebrating women and ending tribalism

parshat pinchas

There are followers of the Supreme Court who monitor decisions like baseball fans keep batting statistics. I’ve been keeping track of the Divine Court and by my count we do really well when we go directly to God.  It’s a shame we don’t ask more difficult questions of our Spiritual leaders and go directly to God more often.

First in Exodus 18:24-26 Jethro questions Moses’s top down judicial system and, with God’s input, we get a workable court system.  Score 1 for the people.

In Numbers 9:8 Moses was asked by men who were impure or had travel plans, whether they may bring the Pascal offering at a later date, and again, with God’s intercession, we get the one and only make-up ritual sanctioned by God. Score 2 for the people.

And then there’s the daughters of Zelophehad Numbers 27 1-12:

Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad, … And they stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, at the door of the tent of meeting, saying: Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not among the company of them that gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah, but he died in his own sin; and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he had no son? Give unto us a possession among the brethren of our father.’

And Moses brought their cause before the LORD.

And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying: If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter. …. And it shall be unto the children of Israel a statute of judgment, as the LORD commanded Moses.’

And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Get thee up into this mountain of Abarim, and behold the land which I have given unto the children of Israel.

 וַתִּקְרַבְנָה בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד

 וַתַּעֲמֹדְנָה לִפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה, וְלִפְנֵי אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן, וְלִפְנֵי הַנְּשִׂיאִם, וְכָל-הָעֵדָה–פֶּתַח אֹהֶל-מוֹעֵד, לֵאמֹר

  אָבִינוּ, מֵת בַּמִּדְבָּר, וְהוּא לֹא-הָיָה בְּתוֹךְ הָעֵדָה הַנּוֹעָדִים עַל-יְהוָה, בַּעֲדַת-קֹרַח:  כִּי-בְחֶטְאוֹ מֵת, וּבָנִים לֹא-הָיוּ לוֹ

 לָמָּה יִגָּרַע שֵׁם-אָבִינוּ מִתּוֹךְ מִשְׁפַּחְתּוֹ, כִּי אֵין לוֹ בֵּן; תְּנָה-לָּנוּ אֲחֻזָּה, בְּתוֹךְ אֲחֵי אָבִינוּ

לִפְנֵי ה’ וַיַּקְרֵב מֹשֶׁה אֶת-מִשְׁפָּטָן

 וַיֹּאמֶר ה’, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר

 כֵּן, בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד דֹּבְרֹת–נָתֹן תִּתֵּן לָהֶם אֲחֻזַּת נַחֲלָה, בְּתוֹךְ אֲחֵי אֲבִיהֶם; וְהַעֲבַרְתָּ אֶת-נַחֲלַת אֲבִיהֶן, לָהֶן

 וְאֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, תְּדַבֵּר לֵאמֹר:  אִישׁ כִּי-יָמוּת, וּבֵן אֵין לוֹ–וְהַעֲבַרְתֶּם אֶת-נַחֲלָתוֹ, לְבִתּו…ֹ

 וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, עֲלֵה אֶל-הַר הָעֲבָרִים הַזֶּה; וּרְאֵה, אֶת-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי, לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

Three out of three decisions for the people is a pretty good record.  It’s a shame the Children of Israel did not approach the divine bench more frequently, but the lesson is clear, we have to badger our leaders with inconvenient questions and force them to question the status quo and acknowledge those annoying facts.  If they don’t have the answers we need to go to a higher authority.

Rashi wonders why the biblical editor chose to place Moses’s iconic  “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” moment next to the account of the daughters of Zelophehad.

Go up to this mount Abarim: Why is this [passage] juxtaposed here [with the previous passage]? When the Holy One, blessed is He, said, “You shall certainly give them…” (verse 7), he [Moses] said, “The Omnipresent commanded me to allocate the inheritance! Perhaps the decree has been annulled, and I will enter the Land?” The Holy One, blessed is He, said to him, “My decree remains as it was” (Mid. Tanchuma Pinchas 9).

 עלה אל הר העבריםלמה נסמכה לכאן, כיון שאמר הקב”ה נתן תתן להם, אמר אותי צוה המקום להנחיל, שמא הותרה הגזירה ואכנס לארץ. אמר לו הקב”ה גזרתי במקומה עומדת

It’s a sad and unsatisfying explanation….  God gives Zelophehad (the father) the ability to retain his tribal plot of land in the Promised Land and Moses asks: “What about me?” ..  I think it misses the point.  Moses didn’t take God up to the Mount of Abarim to teach God a lesson, God took Moses to the mountaintop to teach Moses a lesson. More to the point, the daughters approached God primarily to claim what was theirs, not to insure that their father had a legacy.  Sure they diplomatically couched their argument in terms that would appeal to a patriarchal society: “Why should the name of our father be done away” לָמָּה יִגָּרַע שֵׁם-אָבִינוּ but what they were really looking for was equal property rights: “Give unto us a possession”  תְּנָה-לָּנוּ אֲחֻזָּה

Moses and all the men gathered in front of the Tent of Meeting lacked the vision thing….  They couldn’t see beyond their male chauvinism and they couldn’t see beyond the confines of tribalism.

God took Moses up to the mountaintop to let him see the vision of a Promised Land which was not to be confined to male dominance and tribal paternalism… that’s why the Mountaintop moment is placed right after the daughter’s day in court.

To their credit, some Rabbinic sages saw this enlightened message too.  Listen and smile…

“Their eyes saw that which Moses’ eyes did not see” (that is that there are times when women can see something that even someone as great as Moses, who spoke with the Shechina “mouth to mouth,” did not see.) And God consented to their words unequivocally: “Correctly have the daughters of Zelaphchad spoken.”  God listened to their claim (“God conceded the truth!” Avot D’Rebbe Natan Ch. 37) and changed the laws of inheritance to make them more egalitarian (relatively, as should be understood) see this quote in a lengthy polemic between R. Ysoscher Katz in a letter to Rav H. Schachter in Hebrew on page 3 here.

R Ysoscher Katz Letter to Rav H Schachter

R Ysoscher Katz Letter to Rav H Schachter

ומודה על האמת – זה משה, שנאמר: (דברים ה) “ויאמר ה’ אלי וגו’ הטיבו (את) כל אשר דברו”. וכן הקדוש ברוך הוא הודה על האמת שנאמר: (במדבר כז) “כן בנות צלפחד דוברות”

Yalkut Shimoni (Yehoshua 15, also appears in at least one other midrashic source): see comment by Emma here

Since the daughters of Zelophehad saw that the land is divided to males and not females, they gathered everyone together to get advice.  They said that the benevolence of humans are not the same as the benevolence of God.  The benevolence of humans (lit. flesh and blood) is [favored] on males more than females, but He who said “Let the world be” is not so [biased] in His benevolence to males and females, and on all [other genders?], as it is written “He gives bread to all flesh, He gives to animals bread.. and as it is written “God is good to all and His benevolence is on all of his creations.

כיון שראו בנות צלפחד שהארץ נתחלקה לזכרים ולא לנקבות, נתקבצו כולן זו על זו ליטול עצה, אמרו לא רחמי בשר ודם כרחמי המקום, רחמי ב”ו רחמיו על הזכרים יותר מהנקבות, אבל מי שאמר והיה העולם אינו כן רחמיו על הזכרים ועל הנקבות, ועל הכל, שנאמר נותן לחם לכל בשר, נותן לבהמה לחמה, ואומר טוב ה’ לכל ורחמיו על כל מעשיו

Similarly, but with less nuance regarding the male chauvinistic bias it is written in the Sifre’ (quoted in Torah Temimah)

And the daughters of Zelaphchad came close: Since the daughters heard that the land will be divided by tribes and not to women [ed interesting juxtaposition] they all gathered to get advice.  They said, “Not like the benevolence of flesh and blood is the benevolence of the Holy One.  Blood and flesh is benevolent on males more than females, but the Holy one is benevolent on everyone as it is written (Psalm 145) “and His mercy is on all His creations”

 

Sifre Tzelofchod

Much as been written lately about using the way a society treats its women as a gauge to determine whether that society can support democracy and the rule of law. It seems to me that that in the biblical text and in the Rabbinic texts we have visited, there is an additional link made between women’s rights and a post-tribal society.  It is afterall, tribalism that is responsible for so much of the blood-letting, honor killings and cycle of revenge killings that mars our world today.

What did Moses see at the mountain top?  Maybe he saw into the future, in the streets of Jerusalem, women dancing and celebrating the end of misogyny and tribalism….. The 15th of Ab when not only could women inherit, they could also marry outside of their tribe. Let’s hope that such a vision is in our future too….

Babylonian Talmud, Ta'anit 30b

Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 30b

 

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no miracles today

parshat balak

My sister (the famed chocolatier and proprietor of Bond Street chocolate) recently told me the following joke:

So there’s these 2 muffins in an oven. They’re both sitting, just chilling and getting baked. And one of them yells “God Damn, it’s hot in here!” And the other muffin replies “Holy Crap, a talking muffin!”

I thought of this joke when reading the account of Balaam; the pagan prophet-for-hire, conversing with his talking donkey.  The donkey senses a threat on the road ahead and refuses to proceed.

Numbers 22: 28-30

And the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam: ‘What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?’  And Balaam said unto the ass: ‘Because thou hast mocked me; I would there were a sword in my hand, for now I had killed thee.’ And the ass said unto Balaam: ‘Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden all thy life long unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee?’ And he said: ‘Nay.’

וַיִּפְתַּח יְהוָה, אֶת-פִּי הָאָתוֹן; וַתֹּאמֶר לְבִלְעָם, מֶה-עָשִׂיתִי לְךָ, כִּי הִכִּיתַנִי, זֶה שָׁלֹשׁ רְגָלִים

וַיֹּאמֶר בִּלְעָם לָאָתוֹן, כִּי הִתְעַלַּלְתְּ בִּי; לוּ יֶשׁ-חֶרֶב בְּיָדִי, כִּי עַתָּה הֲרַגְתִּיךְ

וַתֹּאמֶר הָאָתוֹן אֶל-בִּלְעָם, הֲלוֹא אָנֹכִי אֲתֹנְךָ אֲשֶׁר-רָכַבְתָּ עָלַי מֵעוֹדְךָ עַד-הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה–הַהַסְכֵּן הִסְכַּנְתִּי, לַעֲשׂוֹת לְךָ כֹּה; וַיֹּאמֶר, לֹא

The story culminates with the historic blessing of the people of Israel: How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, thy dwellings, O Israel!

מַה-טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ, יַעֲקֹב; מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ, יִשְׂרָאֵל

We start our prayers every morning with this blessing and it is engraved on most Synagogue Arks.  The blessing is deemed so seminal that it was considered to be included in the Shema Yisrael declaration of faith [1]

What intrigues me is why Balaam, the biblical editor or the major commentators fail to exclaim the classical Hebrew version of: “Holy crap… a talking ass!”

One can only assume that the issues raised were judged too important and the majesty of the poetry put into Balaam’s mouth, too sublime, for anyone to have a Disney moment.  But it may have to do with the deep aversion in our tradition for gratuitous miracles.

Says the Mishna (Ethics of the Fathers / Perkai Avot 5: 6)

Ten things were created at twilight of Shabbat eve. These are: the mouth of the earth [that swallowed Korach]; the mouth of [Miriam's] well; the mouth of [Balaam's] ass; the rainbow; the manna; [Moses'] staff; the shamir; the writing, the inscription and the tablets [of the Ten Commandments]. Some say also the burial place of Moses and the ram of our father Abraham. And some say also the spirits of destruction as well as the original tongs, for tongs are made with tongs.

The Mishna is saying that all the apparent miracles that appear in the Bible and later Jewish history, were actually pre-ordained and not miracles at all.  They were written into the DNA of creation, and like a mutation, are not outside of nature, but a force within it.

Maimonides takes this Mishna quite seriously, in his commentary to Avot, in his Shemona Perakim and again in his Guide for the Perplexed. [2]  In a previous blog I have expanded on the aversion to miracles in classic Judaism (gratuitous miracles).  For the purposes of our discussion, let’s agree that there’s no crying in baseball and no miracles in Judaism.

All miracles were pre-scripted into creation.  Some like the splitting of the Red Sea were scripted into creation on the day; day two of their creation. Some miracles which were critical to the survival of the Jewish People (the Meiri’s opinion) were scripted into creation during that amorphis and magical twilight time of sunset between the sixth day of toile and the holy habbat.

But let’s also recognize the corollary, namely, that everything in nature now becomes a miracle of creation.  Every moment, becomes a “Holy crap it talks” moment.

It is this lesson that is ultimately the lesson of Balaam and the power of his simple prophesy.

How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, thy dwellings, O Israel! מַה-טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ, יַעֲקֹב; מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ, יִשְׂרָאֵל

The tents of these simple Israelites camping in the desert was more miraculous than a talking donkey or a splitting sea.

It is this lesson that tempted the Rabbis to include Balaam’s blessing in the twice daily shema declaration of every Jew.

It’s called an everyday miracle and it’s worth remembering, every day and especially at those times between darkness and light, holy and profane, war and peace, hope and despair… it’s all we have and it’s as good as it gets.

בין השמשות

 

 

 

 

——————–

[1] (Berachot 12b

berachot 12a shma

Berachot12a copy

[2]

Our Sages, however, said very strange things as regards miracles: they are found in Bereshit Rabba, and in Midrash Koheleth, namely, that the miracles are to some extent also natural: for they say, when God created the Universe with its present physical properties, He made it part of these properties, that they should produce certain miracles at certain times, and the sign of a prophet consisted in the fact that God told him to declare when a certain thing will take place, but the thing itself was effected according to the fixed laws of Nature. (Guide II:29)

In the Eight Chapters  (pp 90-91) Maimonides writes:

The Mutakllimun (Islamic school of philosophy) are, however, of a different opinion in this regard, for I have heard them say that the Divine Will is constantly at work, decreeing everything from time to time. We do not agree with them, but believe that the Divine Will ordained everything at creation, and that all things, at all times, are regulated by the laws of nature, and run their natural course, in accordance with what Solomon said, “As it was, so it will ever be, as it was made so it continues, and there is nothing new under the sun”. This occasioned the sages to say that all miracles which deviate from the natural course of events, whether they have already occurred, or, according to promise, are to take place in the future, were fore-ordained by the Divine Will during the six days of creation, nature being then so constituted that those miracles which were to happen really did afterwards take place. Then, when such an occurrence happened at its proper time, it may have been regarded as an absolute innovation, whereas in reality it was not. 1

 

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Interview about Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach with Natan Ophir

Originally posted on The Book of Doctrines and Opinions::

Most people who even briefly knew Reb Shlomo Carlebach understood that he had a multifarious life with many interesting turns. Natan Ophir (Offenbacher) has recently published a chronology of the events in the life of Reb Shlomo called Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission, and Legacy(Urim Press, 2013).garnered from an exhaustive range of interviews making it the first place to look in order to know about these twists and turns. The book is best on people, place, and dates and at many points reads like an almanac.

The book does not seek to push to understand his personality, mission, or contradictions of his persona. It mentions Reb Shlomo’s dark side but quickly moves on to other topics. The interviews are most thorough when dealing with Orthodox youth influenced by him in the 1950’s and least complete when discussing his connections to the Greenwich Village music scene or his connection…

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judaism: a dirty business

Parshat hukat

The Red Heifer is actually a rather simple ritual.  Death, the result of man’s original sin in Eden and the ultimate insult to our spiritual immortality; makes us ritually impure and is in need of an antidote.  The Red Heifer is that antidote.

The sacrificial cult and culture contained in the Hebrew Bible provides the mother of all sacrifices, an unblemished red cow, which is to be sacrificed, and whose ashes are to be mixed with water and sprinkled by a priest onto those defiled by contact with the dead.  End of story.

But for reasons to be explored below, the Red Heifer represents THE puzzling paradox of the Jewish Religion. (Numbers 19: 2-10)

This is the statute of the law which the LORD hath commanded, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer, faultless, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke. [1] And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up without the camp in a clean place, and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water of sprinkling; it is a purification from sin. And he that gathereth the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even; and it shall be unto the children of Israel, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among them, for a statute for ever.

 זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה, אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה יְהוָה לֵאמֹר:  דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה אֲשֶׁר אֵין-בָּהּ מוּם, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-עָלָה עָלֶיהָ, עֹל.

[2]

 וְכִבֶּס בְּגָדָיו הַכֹּהֵן, וְרָחַץ בְּשָׂרוֹ בַּמַּיִם, וְאַחַר, יָבֹא אֶל-הַמַּחֲנֶה; וְטָמֵא הַכֹּהֵן, עַד-הָעָרֶב.

וְהַשֹּׂרֵף אֹתָהּ–יְכַבֵּס בְּגָדָיו בַּמַּיִם, וְרָחַץ בְּשָׂרוֹ בַּמָּיִם; וְטָמֵא, עַד-הָעָרֶב.

  וְאָסַף אִישׁ טָהוֹר, אֵת אֵפֶר הַפָּרָה, וְהִנִּיחַ מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה, בְּמָקוֹם טָהוֹר; וְהָיְתָה לַעֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמִשְׁמֶרֶת, לְמֵי נִדָּה–חַטָּאת הִוא.

 וְכִבֶּס הָאֹסֵף אֶת-אֵפֶר הַפָּרָה, אֶת-בְּגָדָיו, וְטָמֵא, עַד-הָעָרֶב; וְהָיְתָה לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְלַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּתוֹכָם–לְחֻקַּת עוֹלָם.

Rashi immediately goes on the defensive:

This is the statute of the Torah: Because Satan and the nations of the world taunt Israel, saying, “ What is this commandment, and what purpose does it have?” Therefore, the Torah uses the term “statute.” I have decreed it; You have no right to challenge it. — [Yoma 67b]

זאת חקת התורה; לפי שהשטן ואומות העולם מונין את ישראל לומר מה המצוה הזאת ומה טעם יש בה, לפיכך כתב בה חקה, גזירה היא מלפני ואין לך רשות להרהר אחריה 

Sprinkling some water and “poof” your sins are washed away give us moderns the Heebie jeebies, but also seemed to trouble non-Jews of the 1st Century. (Pĕsikta Dĕ-Rab Kahăna, Chapter 4 Parah Aduma)

RHeifer pesikta rav kahana 4 1[3]

But what really made the Red heifer into a theological flash point was the fact that while it purified the impure, the priests involved with it’s preparation and with the sprinkling, were made impure.

מטהרת את הטמאים ומטמאה את הטהורים

[as formulated by Saadia Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions 3:10] [4]

 

RHeifer pesikta rav kahana 4 2It is hard to understand what made this paradox so perplexing.  After all, if you take a glowing piece of molten metal and put it into a cold pot of water…. The water gets hot and the metal gets cool.  In physics, we call this the law of conservation of energy which states that the total energy of an isolated system cannot change.

Which brings us to God and religion…

The Pĕsikta Dĕ-Rab Kahăna devotes a whole chapter to the Red Heifer and starts as follows:

RHeifer pesikta rav kahana 4 start 1

RHeifer pesikta rav kahana 4 start 2What makes the Red Heifer so audacious is that ultimately it is God who purifies the world and according to the law of the Red Heifer (and the law of the conservation of energy) … God must become impure in the process.

This heresy lies behind the Lurianic Kabbalistic concept of Tzimtzum (צמצום   contraction/constriction/condensation/withdrawal”) that God began the process of creation by “contracting” his infinite light in order to allow for a “conceptual space” in which finite and seemingly independent realms could exist.  If God’s purity is in His infinite nature, then to allow a finite world to exist, He had to contract, or compromise His purity.

This heresy lies behind a lesser known concept sported by Maimonides known as the “gracious ruse” a concept perhaps borrowed from the second-century-C.E. philosopher Alexander of Aphrodisias who developed the theory of divine condescendence (Greek synkatabasis; cf. Arabic talattuf Hebrew:   הערמה האלהית  ibn tibbon ).  Maimonides uses this concept of the Divine trick to explain why God permitted Judaism to be compromised with so many artifacts of paganism:  “It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God (literally “gracious ruse”), as displayed in the whole Creation, that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service; for to obey such a commandment it would have been contrary to the nature of man.  Part III, chapter 32

Ultimately, this is the heresy that gave birth to the concept that the suffering, even death of a holy person can purify and redeem the Chosen People. (read Isaiah 53 excerpted below )

He was despised, and forsaken of men, a man of pains, and acquainted with disease, and as one from whom men hide their face: he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried; whereas we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded because of our transgressions; he was crushed because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed. All we like sheep did go astray, we turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD hath made to light on him the iniquity of us all. … Yet it pleased the LORD to crush him by disease; to see if his soul would offer itself in restitution אָשָׁם נַפְשׁוֹ, that he might see his seed, prolong his days, and that the purpose of the LORD might prosper by his hand: Of the travail of his soul he shall see to the full, even My servant, who by his knowledge did justify the Righteous One to the many, and their iniquities he did bear.  Therefore will I divide him a portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty; because he bared his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many וְהוּא חֵטְא-רַבִּים נָשָׂא, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Of no surprise, scholars, even Jewish scholars, have seen this Suffering Servant as a precursor of the, initially Jewish expectation that a messiah will come who will die for our sins (see The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ by Daniel Boyarin pp150-)

See also “Said R. Ammi, Wherefore is the account of Miriam’s death4 placed next to the [laws of the] red heifer?5 To inform you that even as the red heifer afforded atonement [by the ritual use of its ashes], so does the death of tie righteous afford atonement [for the living they have left behind].  (Moed Katan 28a)

It’s a slippery slope and a short walk to go one step further and require that not the messiah, but God Himself must commit the ultimate compromise and …. Die, so that we can live.

It’s no wonder that when Moses goes up to heaven to visit God he finds God studying the Torah portion of the Red Heifer!

When Moshe went up to the heights of heaven, he heard the voice of the Holy One, blessed be He, as He sat engaged in the study of the passage on the Red Heifer, citing a law in the name of the sage who stated it: “Rabbi Eliezer said: The heifer whose neck is to be broken must be [not more than] one year old; and the red heifer [not more than] two years old.”

Moshe said before the Holy One, blessed be He: “Master of the Universe, worlds above and worlds below are in Your domain, yet You sit and cite a law ascribed to flesh and blood!”

The Holy One, blessed be He, replied: “Moshe, there will arise in My world a righteous man who, [in his concern for the purification of Israel], will begin his instruction of the Oral Law with the passage on the red heifer, and so I, [also concerned for the purification of Israel], say: ‘Rabbi Eliezer said: The heifer whose neck is to be broken must be [not more than] one year old; and the red heifer [not more than] two years old.'” [Pĕsikta Dĕ-Rab Kahăna, Chapter 4] [5]

Fortunately for us Jews, Christianity took this heresy and ran with it.  We Jews replaced the laws of the Red Heifer and the sacrificial cult with prayer and water works… washing our hands and dunking in the mikva (ritual bath). Mishna Yoma 8:10

Rabbi Akiva says: Fortunate are you O Israel! Before whom do you purify yourselves? [And] who purifies you? Your Father in Heaven! As it is said: “I will sprinkle upon you pure water and you shall become purified” (Ezekiel 36:25), and it is further said: “The hope [dewn] of Israel is the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:13), just as a mikvah purifies the defiled so too, does the Holy one Blessed is He, purify Israel

אָמַר רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא

אַשְׁרֵיכֶם יִשְׂרָאֵל

לִפְנֵי מִי אַתֶּם מִטַּהֲרִין

וּמִי מְטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם

אֲבִיכֶם שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם…

וְאוֹמֵר, (ירמיה יז) “מִקְוֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל יְיָ” -

מַה מִּקְוֶה מְטַהֵר אֶת הַטְּמֵאִים

אַף הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מְטַהֵר אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל

Akiva changed the model.  Unlike the water of the Red Heifer, the water of the ritual bath (mikveh) is not a zero sum game.  The impurity removed from the impure in the mikveh is not transferred to the living water (בְּמַיִם חַיִּים) of the mikva (Leviticus 15:13), and so presumably God need not be compromised and made impure when He purifies His people.

Judaism may be a dirty business, but fortunately we have Akiba and God Himself reviewing the texts and massaging the data.  As for me… and it’s hot outside… I’m going to take my pre-shabbat dip.

—————–

For a wonderful (hebrew only) source of texts on Parah Adumah go here.

[1] And ye shall give her unto Eleazar the priest, and she shall be brought forth without the camp, and she shall be slain before his face. And Eleazar the priest shall take of her blood with his finger, and sprinkle of her blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times. And the heifer shall be burnt in his sight; her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, with her dung, shall be burnt. And the priest shall take cedar-wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer. Then the priest shall wash his clothes, and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he may come into the camp, and the priest shall be unclean until the even.

[2]

וּנְתַתֶּם אֹתָהּ, אֶל-אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן; וְהוֹצִיא אֹתָהּ אֶל-מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה, וְשָׁחַט אֹתָהּ לְפָנָיו.

וְלָקַח אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן, מִדָּמָהּ–בְּאֶצְבָּעוֹ; וְהִזָּה אֶל-נֹכַח פְּנֵי אֹהֶל-מוֹעֵד, מִדָּמָהּ–שֶׁבַע פְּעָמִים.

וְשָׂרַף אֶת-הַפָּרָה, לְעֵינָיו:  אֶת-עֹרָהּ וְאֶת-בְּשָׂרָהּ וְאֶת-דָּמָהּ, עַל-פִּרְשָׁהּ יִשְׂרֹף.

וְלָקַח הַכֹּהֵן, עֵץ אֶרֶז וְאֵזוֹב–וּשְׁנִי תוֹלָעַת; וְהִשְׁלִיךְ, אֶל-תּוֹךְ שְׂרֵפַת הַפָּרָה

[3]

שאל עובד כוכבים אחד את רבן יוחנן בן זכאי: אילין עובדייא דאתון עבדין [הדברים האלה שאתם עושים] נראין כמין כשפים. אתם מביאים פרה, ושורפין אותה, וכותשין אותה, ונוטלין את אפרה, ואחד מכם מטמא למת מזין עליו שתים ושלוש טיפין [=טיפות (של מי הפרה)], ואתם אומרים לו: טהרת

[4]

R saadia gaon egel arufa-english1

The Book of beliefs & Opinions, trans Samuel Rosenblatt pp 177-8

The Book of beliefs & Opinions, trans Samuel Rosenblatt pp 177-8

R saadia gaon egel arufa

R. Saadia Gaon, Emunah Vedayot, 3:10

[5]

RHeifer pesikta rav kahana 4 moshe up at sinai

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Filed under Bible, divine birth, Hebrew, Judaism, magic, Shabbat, social commentary, Torah

the first fashion statement

parshat korach

It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when clothing designers wouldn’t dare put a logo, let alone a product endorsement on clothing.  It’s all the fault of a French tennis star named René Lacoste, nicknamed “The Crocodile“ who, in the late 20’s developed a shirt that was more accommodating to movement.  According to the Smithsonian, Lacoste “had a logo of the reptile embroidered onto his blazer. It became his personal brand before there was such a thing.”

izod-rene-lacoste-crocodile-big

According to Wikopedia “One of the earliest examples of T-shirts with a logo or decoration can be found in the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz”. Three men attending to the Scarecrow at the Wash & Brushup Company in Emerald City are seen wearing green T-shirts with the word “Oz” printed on the fronts.”

dorothy-gets-cleaned-up-at-the-wash-and-brush-up-company-3

The rest, as they say, is fashion history.  Nowadays, every commercial and celebrity brand, let alone political position, hosts clothing that carry their graphic message.

The Biblical source for clothing with a message lies at the feet of a radical named Korach who made a political argument from an all blue prayer shawl. The impact of his fashion statement was so profound that an expression in Modern Hebrew was coined to describe someone who thinks too much of himself.

In modern Hebrew idiom, the sarcastic expression, “a completely blue tallit” (טלית שכולה תכלת) is widely used to refer to something that is ostensibly, but not really, absolutely pure, immaculate and virtuous. .. The phrase “more kosher than tzitzit” is a Yiddish metaphoric expression (כשר’ער ווי ציצית) with similar connotations but is not necessarily used in a sarcastic sense. It can refer, in the superlative, to something that is really so perfect and flawless as to be beyond all reproach or criticism. (see Wikipedia – Tallit)

Poor Korach.  He made a good argument to democratize religion, but instead of wining the debate he was forever remembered as the guy guilty of the fashion faux pas of wearing the blue tallit and who, in the words of Isaiah 65:5 (following the King James translation) strutted as though he was “holier than Thou”.

Here’s the backstory:

Numbers 15 ends with the commandment to all Hebrews to put fringes on any four-cornered garment

Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them throughout their generations fringes in the corners of their garments, and that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread of blue. (Numbers 15:38)

דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם, וְעָשׂוּ לָהֶם צִיצִת עַל-כַּנְפֵי בִגְדֵיהֶם, לְדֹרֹתָם; וְנָתְנוּ עַל-צִיצִת הַכָּנָף, פְּתִיל תְּכֵלֶת

Followed immediately with the narrative of the Korach Rebellion.

Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; and they rose up in face of Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty men; they were princes of the congregation, the elect men of the assembly, men of renown; and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them: ‘Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?’ (Numbers 16: 1-3)

  וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח, בֶּן-יִצְהָר בֶּן-קְהָת בֶּן-לֵוִי; וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב, וְאוֹן בֶּן-פֶּלֶת–בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן

  וַיָּקֻמוּ לִפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה, וַאֲנָשִׁים מִבְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתָיִם, נְשִׂיאֵי עֵדָה קְרִאֵי מוֹעֵד, אַנְשֵׁי-שֵׁם

וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ עַל-מֹשֶׁה וְעַל-אַהֲרֹן, וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם רַב-לָכֶם–כִּי כָל-הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים, וּבְתוֹכָם ה ; וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ, עַל-קְהַל ה

Writes Rashi:

What did he do? He went and assembled two hundred and fifty men, heads of Sanhedrin, most of them from the tribe of Reuben, his neighbors. ….. He dressed them with cloaks made entirely of blue wool. They came and stood before Moses and asked him, “Does a cloak made entirely of blue wool require fringes [’tzitzith’], or is it exempt?” He replied, “ It does require [fringes].” They began laughing at him [saying], “Is it possible that a cloak of another [colored] material, one string of blue wool exempts it [from the obligation of techeleth], and this one, which is made entirely of blue wool, should not exempt itself? – [Midrash Tanchuma Korach 2, Num. Rabbah 18:3]

מה עשה, עמד וכנס מאתים חמישים ראשי סנהדראות, רובן משבט ראובן שכיניוץ…. והלבישן טליתות שכולן תכלת. באו ועמדו לפני משה. אמרו לו טלית שכולה של תכלת חייבת בציצית או פטורה. אמר להם חייבת. התחילו לשחק עליו, אפשר טלית של מין אחר חוט אחד של תכלת פוטרה, זו שכולה תכלת לא תפטור את עצמה:

Notice , that Korach didn’t just make a hypothetical argument… he actually hired a tailor and put on a fashion show!

One could argue that the ultimate sin of Korach was that by making his fashion statement, he separated himself from the congregation.

Writes Rashi:

Korah… took: He took himself to one side to dissociate himself from the congregation, to contest the [appointment of Aaron to the] kehunah. This is what Onkelos means when he renders it וְאִתְפְּלֵג,“and he separated himself.” He separated himself from the congregation to persist in a dispute. Similarly, מה יקחך לבך, “Why does your heart take you away?” (Job 15:12) meaning, it removes you, to isolate you from others (Midrash Tanchuma Korach 2).

ויקח קרח: לקח את עצמו לצד אחד להיות נחלק מתוך העדה לעורר על הכהונה, וזהו שתרגם אונקלוס ואתפלג נחלק משאר העדה להחזיק במחלוקת, וכן (איוב טו, יב) מה יקחך לבך, לוקח אותך להפליגך משאר בני אדם

But it’s also the way he did it.  Talk about wearing our religion on your sleeve, he exploited a ritual mitzvah to make a syncratic point…. Forget about the fact that the blue die techelet was a royal blue which had a price to match… these blue prayer shawls were ostentatious and elitist…  Come to think of it… Korach wasn’t making an argument for every plebian Jew, but rather for his caste…

But I digress… here’s the pet peeve that Korach raises …. The growing trend to imprint one’s eschatological beliefs on your kippah.

It used to be that if you had something to say, you’d get it imprinted on the inside of the kippah…. “Joey’s Bar Mitzvah”, “Harvey and Sheila’s wedding” … no big message here.

I don’t know if it was the Jews for Jesus who started this trend

jfor j shirts

But any observant Jew will admit that eschatology has hit the kippah industry in a big way.

First there was the Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman (Hebrew: נַ נַחְ נַחְמָ נַחְמָן מְאוּמַן‎) kippah.

4967_22_centimeter_black_knitted_na_nachman_breslov_kippah_with_tassel_view_1

The phrase is a Hebrew language name and song used by a subgroup of Breslover Hasidim colloquially known as the Na Nachs. The complete phrase is Na Nach Nachma Nachman Me’uman. It is a kabbalistic formula based on the four Hebrew letters of the name Nachman, referring to the founder of the Breslov movement, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.  The words come from an alledged “Letter from Heaven” from the Rebbe which reads:

my fire will burn until
Messiah is coming be strong and courageous
in your devotion
Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman

Most Breslover Hasidim do not use Na Nach Nachma (some groups actually oppose it) and not everyone believes it is an authentic writing from Rebbe Nachman. (see more: Wikipedia)

So while it is escatological, it is also divisive…..

Next came the kippot of those Chabad Hasidim who believe that the recently deceased Rebbe; Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, is the messiah. The Chabad “Yechi” yarmulkes have the slogan “yechi adonaynu moreynu v’rabbaynu melech hamoshiach l’olam va’ed,” “long live our master our teacher our rabbi king messiah forever and ever” embroidered or printed on them.

Chabad kippah

According to Wikipedia (I have left the links to the footnotes) “While some believe that he died but will return as the Messiah,[3] others believe that he is merely “hidden”. A very small minority believe that he has God-like powers,[4][5] or is the “creator”[6] while others negate the idea that he is the Messiah entirely. The prevalence of these views within the movement is disputed,[7][8][9][10][11] though very few will openly say that Schneerson cannot be the Messiah.[7]

Once again, this escatological kippah is divisive.

To prove the point, the IDF has recently ruled that it is prohibited for soldiers in uniform to wear a kippa with writing on it.

I believe that our prayer shawls should be nondescript in color and that our kippot should not advertise an end-of-days message.  But…. Following the “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy, I am pleased to announce that Madlik has decided to offer it’s own eschatologically correct kippah to be known as the LoBa™ Kippah…. Stay tuned!

 

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