my children are my buildings

parshat noach – haftarah Isaiah 54

This is my first post after completing a post on each of the parshat of the week… so I haven’t really decided yet what the focus of future posts will be.

To see previous posts on parshat noach you can go to of noah’s ark, cathedrals in time and jewish ships where I explore how Noah’s ark may have been the first temple…. or cathedral in time.

In a recent post sustainable kashrut, I explore the origins of kashrut and the biblical predisposition for vegetarianism… which Rashi cites in reference to Noah.

Since Noah was my Bar Mitzvah portion, I’d like to share something I learnt from an archaeologist in a car returning from a visit to Masada.  I was telling the archaeologist what I planned to say on the occasion of the dedication of a building for Graduate Studies dedicated by my dad Jerome Stern at Bar Ilan University.  I was going to quote Isaiah 54 and the Talmud’s interpretation.

The verse from Isaiah 54 is the haftorah for parshat Noah.  It says:

And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children.

וְכָל-בָּנַיִךְ, לִמּוּדֵי יְהוָה; וְרַב, שְׁלוֹם בָּנָיִךְ

The talmud in Berachot 64a goes as follows:

R. Eleazar said in the name of R. Hanina: The disciples of the wise increase peace in the world, as it says, And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children.  Read not banayik [thy children] but bonayik [thy builders].


This piece of Talmud is actually cited in the Sabbath prayers after the Eyn Keloheynu prayer.

In my comments at the building dedication, I planned to say that this might be the first building that my dad had built…but  in the tradition of the Talmud in Berachot, he had been setting an example for his kids and mentoring artists and supporting education all his life…  building human beings…

The archaeologist turned to me and said…. “the talmud in Berachot is actually not an interpretation of Isaiah… it is based on a variant reading of Isaiah that has been preserved in the Dead Sea Scroll version of Isaiah.. whose text is actually thy builders!”

and here it is:



There are a number of lessons here…1)  It’s a good idea to talk Torah while riding or walking… especially if one’s companion is a scholar.  2) We are always discovering new material that helps us understand our sources and text. 3) our sense of oral traditions needs to include variations in texts… and finally… our kids are really our greatest building.. not just according to the Rabbis of the Talmud, but even according to the Ancient Prophets.

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regarding moses

parshat Vezot Hab’rachah and simchat torah

Eight verses before we finish reading the Torah, Moses dies.  Since in Deuteronomy 31:24-26 Moses is purported to have given the completed book of theTorah (סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה  ) to the Levites, this is problematic… How could Moses have finished the Torah … posthumously?

So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD.

 וַיָּמָת שָׁם מֹשֶׁה עֶבֶד-ה’, בְּאֶרֶץ מוֹאָב–עַל-פִּי ה’


And Moses… died there: Is it possible that Moses died, and [then] wrote, “And Moses… died there”? But [the answer is:] Moses wrote up to that juncture, and Joshua wrote from then on. Says Rabbi Meir: But is it possible that the Torah Scroll would be lacking anything at all, and yet Scripture states (Deut. 31:26),“Take this Torah Scroll” [and Moses commanded this to the Levites; so, according to the above opinion, is it possible that the Torah Scroll referred to there was an incomplete one, up to the juncture of Moses’s death? This cannot be!] Rather, [continues Rabbi Meir, we must say that] The Holy One, blessed is He, dictated this [i.e., the verse “And Moses… died there”], and Moses wrote it in tears. — [B.B. 15b, Sifrei 33:34]

וימת שם משה: אפשר משה מת וכתב וימת שם משה, אלא עד כאן כתב משה, מכאן ואילך כתב יהושע. ר’ מאיר אומר אפשר ספר התורה חסר כלום, והוא אומר (לעיל לא, כו) לקוח את ספר התורה הזה, אלא הקב”ה אומר ומשה כותב בדמע

The image of Moses writing his own epitaph, in addition to not making it to the Promised land… is heart wrenching. on a human level But as students of the Bible, we cannot help but note that whichever Rabbinic opinion one accepts, either the Torah had at least one additional author besides Moses, or, at a minimum, the writing of this book continued even after the death of it’s author… whether his actual death or his literary death.

In a previous post I have referenced a legend in the Talmud, where the rabbis declare that the Torah is no longer in God’s hands and it is up to future generations to decide the law.  God smiles at this affront and says “My children have defeated (or eternalized) me!”

Now it is Moses turn to discover his eternity in the eternity of his Torah.


Rab Judah said in the name of Rab, When Moses ascended on high he found the Holy One, blessed be He, engaged in affixing coronets to the letters. Said Moses, ‘Lord of the Universe, Who stays Thy hand?’ He answered, ‘There will arise a man, at the end of many generations, Akiba ben Joseph by name, who will expound upon each tittle heaps and heaps of laws’. ‘Lord of the Universe’, said Moses; ‘permit me to see him’. He replied, ‘Turn thee round’. Moses went and sat down behind eight rows [in the cheap seats for the less gifted students ed] [and listened to the discourses upon the law]. Not being able to follow their arguments he was ill at ease, but when they came to a certain subject and the disciples said to the master ‘Whence do you know it?’ and the latter replied ‘It is a law given unto Moses at Sinai’ he was comforted. Thereupon he returned to the Holy One, blessed be He, and said, ‘Lord of the Universe, Thou hast such a man and Thou givest the Torah by me!’ He replied, ‘Be silent, for such is My decree’. (Babylonian Talmud, Menachot 29b)

  אמר רב יהודה אמר רב

בשעה שעלה משה למרום

. מצאו להקב”ה שיושב וקושר כתרים לאותיות

אמר לפניו

רבש”ע מי מעכב על ידך

אמר לו

אדם אחד יש שעתיד להיות

בסוף כמה דורות

ועקיבא בן יוסף שמו

שעתיד לדרוש על כל קוץ וקוץ

תילין תילין של הלכות

אמר לפניו

רבש”ע הראהו לי

אמר לו

חזור לאחורך

הלך וישב בסוף שמונה שורות

ולא היה יודע מה הן אומרים

תשש כחו

כיון שהגיע לדבר אחד

אמרו לו תלמידיו

רבי מנין לך

אמר להן

הלכה למשה מסיני

נתיישבה דעתו

אמר לפניו

רבונו של עולם

יש לך אדם כזה

ואתה נותן תורה על ידי

אמר לו

שתוק כך עלה במחשבה לפני

The term “a law from Moses at Sinai”   (הלכה למשה מסיני ) is used profusely in rabbinic literature, and unlike the phrase “The Torah is not in heaven”, “a law from Moses at Sinai”   has legal standing.  It is used whenever there is not a clear textual source for a law, but the contemporary rabbinic authority believes it to be binding.  In modern Hebrew one uses this expression to characterize a rule, belief or practice that is not to be questioned… Speaking of one’s boss: “What does he think … it’s a law from Moses at Sinai?”

For me, the power of this story is that it not only provides a justification for reinterpreting and modifying Jewish practice, but in so doing, it reveals the secret of the immortality of the Torah and Jewish learning.  By linking Moses with Akiba and putting them in the same study hall this magical aggadah showcases what is done on every page of Talmud, when multiple scholars, not to mention you the student, engage in a conversation bridging the constraints of time.  Biblical characters refute sages of the Ancient world who in turn have their words sliced and diced by medieval Rabbis.

At the end of the day… and it was the end of Moses’ day.. this story gives us all the secret of immortality and… for Moses, it gives him his promised land.

I am reminded of a scene in a movie starring Harrison Ford called Regarding Henry.  Henry, is a highly paid and ruthless corporate lawyer who gets shot in the head and needs to re-claim his identity and re-learn everything he ever knew.  In the scene, his  daughter is reading him a book and Henry is spellbound…. Henry can’t read a simple children’s book.  “Who taught you that?” asks Henry.  Replies his daughter…  “You did dad… you did.”

To follow in the footsteps of Moses, we need to teach our children (and friends) well… for it is in our teachings, questions and comments… that we live forever.

With this post I finish what I set out to do over three years ago… to write a post on every one of the weekly Torah portions… and with the help of my readers…. touch eternity.

Hazak Hazak Venitchazek

חֲזַק חֲזַק ונתחזק

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the jewish cathedral

Shabbat Sukkot

There’s a story of two Hasidic rebbes sitting in a sukkah.  In answer to the question of “what’s your favorite mitzvah?”, one rebbe replied that the Sukkah was his favorite commandment, because when you sit in a sukkah, you are surrounded on all sides by the holiness of the commandment.  The other rebbe preferred the Sabbath.  “You can walk out of a sukkah, but you can’t walk out of the holiness of the Shabbat.” said he.

When hearing this story, I am reminded of Abraham Joshua Heschel ‘s insight that Shabbat is a “cathedral in time”.

The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn, a shrine that even apostasy cannot easily obliterate: the Day of Atonement. According to the ancient rabbis, it is not the observance of the Day of Atonement, but the Day itself, the “essence of the Day,” which, with man’s repentance, atones for the sins of man.

Now what was the first holy object in the history of the world? … “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” There is no reference in the record of creation to any object in space that would be endowed with the quality of holiness.  …. it seems as if to the Bible it is holiness in time, the Sabbath, which comes first.

But here’s my question… what was the response of the first rebbe?  Did he fold his hands and agree that the holiness of time trumps the holiness of things?  And what about our cathedrals, our homes, our homelands and our things… can their holiness transcend or at least engage the holiness of time?

It seems to me that while you can’t walk out of the Sabbath, it’s holiness cannot be sustained indefinitely…. When the stars come out, the sabbath is over.  You can walk out of the sukkah, but it embodies a holiness that can be sustained.. at least through the complete cycle of a week.

During Sukkot, we add a prayer: “May the All Merciful establish (raise) for us the fallen Sukkah of David”

הרחמן הוא יקים לנו את סוכת דוד הנופלת

The notion of the “fallen Sukkah” come from the prophet Amos (9:11)

In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof, and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old;

 בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, אָקִים אֶת-סֻכַּת דָּוִיד הַנֹּפֶלֶת; וְגָדַרְתִּי אֶת-פִּרְצֵיהֶן, וַהֲרִסֹתָיו אָקִים, וּבְנִיתִיהָ, כִּימֵי עוֹלָם

And I wonder whether “the Sukkah that has fallen  סֻכַּת הַנֹּפֶלֶת is best translated as the tabernacle that has fallen, or whether it is the Fallingsukkah.  (compare Frank Loyd Wright’s Fallingwater).  It seems to me that David’s Fallingsukkah is always in flux and engaged in a permanent dialectic between continuity and renewal, sustainability and disruption.  The Jewish Cathedral is a temporary structure, which by definition, can never be permanently destroyed nor can it achieve the stasis of permanence.  The Fallingsukkah informs the way we relate with the world of the physical.  The Fallingsukkah and it’s notion of holiness of things, continues the discussion begun by the notion of the holiness of time that Heschel began.

Ultimately, it is the Fallingsukkah which represents to culmination of theJwish New Year’s penitential season.

From the first day of Ellul until the last day of Sukkot we read Psalm 27 every day.

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to behold the graciousness of the LORD, and to visit early in His temple.  or He concealeth me in His pavilion (lit. Sukkah) in the day of evil;
He hideth me in the covert of His tent; He lifteth me up upon a rock.

אַחַת, שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת-ה’–    אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ
שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית-ה’,    כָּל-יְמֵי חַיַּי;
לַחֲזוֹת בְּנֹעַם-ה’,    וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלו

כִּי יִצְפְּנֵנִי, בְּסֻכֹּה–    בְּיוֹם רָעָה:
יַסְתִּרֵנִי, בְּסֵתֶר אָהֳלוֹ;    בְּצוּר, יְרוֹמְמֵנִי

It would seem that the choice of this Psalmֹ  of David addresses the tension between permanently dwelling in the house of God and being just a transient visitor, the dichotomy of taking refuge upon a rock or in a tent.

Fortunately, one day every sukkot, we get to enjoy both the wonder of the temple built in time and in space… Shabbat Sukkat Shalom

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lulav ring project

The lesson of Sukkot is “less talk – more action” … and in that spirit here is how you can make a lulav ring to bind your lulav, willows and myrtle branches (arba minim) or just make a finger ring for a friend or lover….

All Israel is bound one to the other

כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה

Before inserting the Lulav (palm branch) into the holder, remove one palm leave by pulling it down and off the stem.  Using your thumb, gently open the branch.

Before inserting the Lulav (palm branch) into the holder, remove one palm leaf by pulling it down and off the stem.  Using your thumb, gently open the branch.


Pull the two branches apart.  You can now make 2 lulav rings !

Pull the two branches apart. You can now make 2 lulav rings !

Fold one branch at a 45o angle

Fold one branch at a 45o angle

Fold end at a 90o angle and flip branch over and repeat.

Fold end at a 90 degree angle and flip branch over and repeat.

Lulav Ring 5

Insert tip into fold and pull through. Pull through again but don’t pull

Insert tip into fold and pull through.
Pull through again but don’t pull all the way … it’s a ring

Lulav Ring 7

Your ring is ready.  You can use a few for your Lulav and make extra for friends and family!

Your ring is ready. You can use a few for your Lulav and make extra for friends and family!




























Hands courtesy of Abigail Stern – circa September 2001

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sweet new year

rosh hashanah and parshat ha’azinu

There’s a custom to dip apples, Challah and pretty much anything else into honey on Rosh Hashana… for a sweet new year.  It’s important that we begin the new year with transparency, so let’s come clean… the honey of “milk and honey” is not bee honey… it is fig honey.  And in the spirit of full disclosure, let’s note that bee honey’s kashrut bona fides is problematic.

If you pay attention to the Rashi on Deuteronomy 32: 13 you will note that honey, when mentioned in the bible is fig honey….

He made them ride upon the high places of the earth, that they would eat the produce of the field. He let them suck honey from a rock, and oil from the mighty part of the crag.

יַרְכִּבֵהוּ עַל בָּמֳתֵי אָרֶץ וַיֹּאכַל תְּנוּבֹת שָׂדָי וַיֵּנִקֵהוּ דְבַשׁ מִסֶּלַע וְשֶׁמֶן מֵחַלְמִישׁ צוּר

Says Rashi:

He let them suck honey from a rock: It once happened in [a place in Israel called] Sichni, that a man said to his son, “Bring me pressed figs from that barrel.” The son went [to the barrel, but instead of finding pressed figs,] he found honey flowing over its brim. The son retorted, “But this is [a barrel] of honey [not figs]!” His father responded, “Dig your hand deep into the barrel, and you will bring up pressed figs from it!” [Pressed figs are as hard as a rock. Thus, we have an illustration in the Land of Israel of “sucking honey from a rock.”]- [Sifrei 32:13]

ינקהו דבש מסלע  מעשה באחד שאמר לבנו בסיכני הבא לי קציעות מן החביות. הלך ומצא הדבש צף על פיה. אמר לו זו של דבש הוא. אמר לו השקע ידך לתוכה ואתה מעלה קציעות מתוכה

So if tradition wanted us to start off the new year with sweetness… why not good old fig honey from the land of milk and honey ? (Exodus 3: 8  אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבָשׁ)  Afterall… “sucking honey from a hard date, might even make a good sermon….

As for the presumed kashrut of bee honey….

The Talmud in Bekorot 7b is discussing the Mishnaic principle that: That which goes forth from the unclean is unclean and that which goes forth from the clean is clean”

An objection was raised.  Why did [the Sages] say that honey from bees (   דבש דבורימ   ) is permitted? One opinion suggests that the bees do not excrete honey as an animal does milk, but rather that bees just produce it: “Because the bees store it [from the sap of flowers and plants) up in their bodies but do not drain it from their bodies”  (literally “They (the bees) bring it into their bodies, but do not bring it out of their bodies”





Clearly, not all the sages were satisfied with this explanation… “As Rav Yaakov says, saying “Honey, the torah ( רחמנא  “Rachmana” from “Rechem” womb meaning merciful) permits it (by Divine decree)..

So this sweetness that we begin the new year with, is a complex sweetness.  It is a sweetness that proclaims that sweet, pure and holy things can come from forbidden places.  It is a sweetness that proclaims that good can come from bad, that every dog has his day, that even the sinners among us, nay maybe, only the sinners among us, can produce the nectar of our God.  The bee honey produces sweetness from a hidden, secret place… an unexpected place… or as the great Shlomo Carlebach sang… “you never know, you never know, you never know..”

At the end of the day, the sweetness of the honey is permitted only by God’s decree.. God’s concession to mankind.  Our first taste of the sweetness of a new year is by the grace of God.. It’s as if God is smiling and reminding us with a wink … ‘Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.’ (Proverbs 9: 17)

מַיִם-גְּנוּבִים יִמְתָּקוּ;    וְלֶחֶם סְתָרִים יִנְעָם

…. not such a bad message for a deviant jew such as I….

It’s nice to know that we not only start the year with this sweet touch of the perverse, but to know that, by tradition, children who learn the Hebrew aleph bet for the first time… learn it with this same sweet bee’s honey.

cheder honey 1

Rituals of Childhood: Jewish Acculturation in Medieval Europe ,  by Ivan G. Marcus


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the low-down on the jewish new year

If you’re interested in the low-down on Rosh Hashanah, please read my previous post you are not my boss.

Thanking all my faithful, and not-so-faithful followers for your readership and wishing us all a year of radical independence and the responsibility it implies.

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it’s not in heaven

parshat Nitzavim-Vayelech

Whether Deuteronomy was written by Moses or many years later [1], this fifth book of the Pentateuch “introduces into the Bible for the first time the concept of canon – a bounded accepted body of authoritative literature. [2] See for instance Deuteronomy 4:2   and Deuteronomy 13:1

Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it

 לֹא תֹסִפוּ, עַל-הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם, וְלֹא תִגְרְעוּ

All this word which I command you, that shall ye observe to do; thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.

 אֵת כָּל-הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם–אֹתוֹ תִשְׁמְרוּ, לַעֲשׂוֹת:  לֹא-תֹסֵף עָלָיו, וְלֹא תִגְרַע מִמֶּנּוּ

So when in Deuteronomy 30:12 we read:

It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say: ‘Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?’

 לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם, הִוא:  לֵאמֹר, מִי יַעֲלֶה-לָּנוּ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ, וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ, וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה

We should not be surprised to find this interpreted as still another proclamation of closure:

Moses said to them, “Do not say, ‘Another Moses will arise and bring us another Torah from heaven,’ for I say to you, ‘It is not in heaven’ – no part of it remained in heaven.  (Devarim Rabah 8:6)

If you’re familiar with this blog, you can guess that “closure” is not on my top-ten list. To the contrary, I embrace the contradictions and dueling dialectic inherent in our religion where faith is complimented by rejection and purity is informed by impurity (see especially neither/nor and [3] )

I believe that the Rabbis shared my disdain for closure and they voice their embrace of a living, growing, struggling and dynamic Torah in one of the most wonderful Aggadic stories in the Talmud.

The story is referred to as the oven of Achnai (תנורו של עכנאי  and is found in Baba Metzia 59b

The details of the oven are not important.  Let’s just say that Rabbi Eliezer argued that the oven was not a utensil which needed purification before use and the Rabbis disagreed. It’s at this point that the fireworks of the preeminent Talmudic argument begin.

It is taught: On that day R. Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument, but the Sages did not accept any of them. Finally he said to them: “If the Halakhah (religious law) is in accordance with me, let this carob tree prove it!” Sure enough the carob tree immediately uprooted itself and moved one hundred cubits, and some say 400 cubits, from its place. “No proof can be brought from a carob tree,” they retorted.

And again he said to them “If the Halakhah agrees with me, let the channel of water prove it!” Sure enough, the channel of water flowed backward. “No proof can be brought from a channel of water,” they rejoined.

Again he urged, “If the Halakhah agrees with me, let the walls of the house of study prove it!” Sure enough, the walls tilted as if to fall. But R. Joshua, rebuked the walls, saying, “When disciples of the wise are engaged in a halakhic dispute, what right have you to interfere?” Hence in deference to R. Joshua they did not fall and in deference to R. Eliezer they did not resume their upright position; they are still standing aslant.

Again R. Eliezer then said to the Sages, “If the Halakhah agrees with me, let it be proved from heaven.” Sure enough, a divine voice cried out, “Why do you dispute with R. Eliezer, with whom the Halakhah always agrees?”

But R. Joshua arose and exclaimed: ‘It is not in heaven.’  What did he mean by this? — Said R. Yermiah: That the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice, because Thou hast long since written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, After the majority must one incline.

Nathan met [the prophet] Elijah and asked him, “What did the Holy One do at that moment?” Elijah: “He laughed [with joy], saying, ‘My children have defeated Me, My children have defeated Me.'” [4]

The story actually continues and includes a tragic ending for Rabbi Eliezer [5] , but for our purposes, we stop here. It is an amazing story and not surprisingly many students of the Aggadic stories in the Talmud count it as a favorite… I’ve heard that it was even made into a dramatic play.

The story needs no commentary, but I should add that I first heard this story from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin who gave an alternative translation for God’s punch line: ‘My children have defeated Me”.  ניצחוני בני the word ניצח  means to win, but it’s root, נצח  means eternity.  According to Riskin, an alternative reading is “My children have immortalized Me, My children have immortalized Me”.

Daniel Boyarin in his essay  Old Wine in New Bottles: Intertextuality and Midrash, sees in this story (and Midrash in general) an example of “recreating a new moment of “Oral Torah,” which is, at the same time, always a new and present text as well as a reading of the Written Torah. In literary terms, there is a tension between the meaning of the quoted text in its “original” context and in its present context. What is so striking (and strange) about midrash is its claim that the new context is implied by the old one, that the new meanings (Oral Torah) revealed by recontexting of pieces of the authoritative text, are a legitimate interpretation of the Written Torah itself and indeed given with the very revelation thereof…”

So much for traditional midrash.  According to Boyarin, this story goes one step further

“The point which has been missed is that R. Yehoshua’s “It is not in heaven” is an out of context citation. (ed. see above and the full text of Deuteronomy 30: 12 and what follows)  R. Yehoshua is arguing with God from God’s own Text. You have given up Your right as Author and even as Divine Voice to interpret Your Torah when You said, “It is not in heaven.” But R. Yehoshua’s act is not only constative, describing or making a claim about interpretation, it is also performative, instituting and creating by its doing, the Oral Torah. For “it is not in heaven” is itself not in heaven. R. Yehoshua breaks it out of context and re-cites it in his own…

Without fanfare, R. Yehoshua uncovers radical new meaning in this verse, simply by reinscribing it in a new context. “It is not in heaven” does not mean only that the Torah is not beyond human reach but that it is beyond Divine reach, as it were. And God laughing with pleasure admits that R. Yehoshua, the faithful disciple, has indeed discovered a meaning which was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, even though He Himself was not aware of it until now. “My children have defeated Me”; they have striven with Me and won. God laughed and, in that laugh, midrash was born.”

Boyarin points out that the unnecessary commentary on “it is not in heaven” based on the second text of “following the majority” is a late addition. R. Yermiah, its author, lived centuries later than the tannaitic protagonists of the story itself.

“Yermiah’s approach is tamer than the “original” meaning of R. Yehoshua’s statement, precisely because it does not involve the wresting of the Torah from Heaven in its very utterance, as his does. R. Yermiah talks about the absolute right of the interpreter to interpret; R. Yehoshua demonstrates how radical that right is. …. God’s assent to this radical act, His laugh of pleasure, establishes its legitimacy and thereby figures the regenerating and preserving function of the intertext.

Midrash is interpretation because it shows how meaning is created in the (nearly) infinite dialogical relations of text to text within the Torah and of the readers’ discourse to that of the Other.”

Both Boyarin and Riskin see in God’s response His pleasure in both the “disruptive” and “reconstructive” features of midrash.  Ultimately this double movement of disruption and regeneration is precisely the raison d’etre and life-force in Jewish learning and future… and if God disagrees… it’s too bad, because the Torah is no longer in heaven..


[1] Deuteronomy – Devarim also known as Mishne Torah – the second or repetition of the Torah was, in the opinion of most Biblical scholars begun in the pre-exilic sixth century BC and finally edited in Exile by Ezra

[2] see The Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy by Everett Fox p 842

[3]  “One of the most characteristic features of midrash is the way in which, as a reading practice, it violates the context of the texts being interpreted and cited. This is often cited as evidence for either the naiveté or hermeneutic bad faith -of the rabbis;’ Old Wine in New Bottles: Intertextuality and Midrash, Daniel Boyarin p542

[4]  H.N. Bialik and Y.H. Ravnitzky, eds., Sefer Ha-Aggadah (The Book of Legends), translated by William G. Braude, Schocken Books, NY, 1992). page 223 Hebrew below:

אמר להם (רבי אליעזר): “אם הלכה כמותי חרוב זה יוכיח”. נעקר חרוב ממקומו מאה אמה… אמרו לו: “אין מביאין ראיה מן החרוב”. חזר ואמר להם: “אם הלכה כמותי אמת המים יוכיחו”. חזרו אמת המים לאחוריהם. אמרו לו: “אין מביאין ראיה מאמת המים”. חזר ואמר להם אם הלכה כמותי כותלי בית המדרש יוכיחו. הטו כותלי בית המדרש ליפול. גער בהם רבי יהושע אמר להם: “אם תלמידי חכמים מנצחים זה את זה בהלכה, אתם מה טיבכם?!” לא נפלו מפני כבודו של רבי יהושע ולא זקפו מפני כבודו של רבי אליעזר ועדיין מטים ועומדין. חזר ואמר להם: “אם הלכה כמותי – מן השמים יוכיחו”. יצאתה בת קול ואמרה: “מה לכם אצל רבי אליעזר שהלכה כמותו בכל מקום”. עמד רבי יהושע על רגליו ואמר: “לא בשמים היא”. [ציטוט מתוך דברים ל', י-יד: "...כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם -- לֹא-נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ, וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא. לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם, הִוא: ... כִּי-קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר, מְאֹד: בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ, לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ."]. מאי לא בשמים היא ? [מה הפירוש: לא בשמים היא?] אמר רבי ירמיה: שכבר נתנה תורה מהר סיני, אין אנו משגיחין בבת קול, שכבר כתבת בהר סיני בתורה: “אחרי רבים להטות” [ציטוט מתוך שמות כ"ג, א-ג  בהמשך מספרת הגמרא שאליהו הנביא נשאל מה אמר הקב"ה באותו זמן. סיפר אליהו כי האל "חייך ואמר ניצחוני בני, ניצחוני בני"]


[5] read in the original Baba Metzia 59b or read for example The Talmud Revisited: Tragedy and “The Oven of Aknai” By Janet Madden




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