Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse on NEW TIME Thursday evening October 28th at 8:00pm Eastern as we explore the Bible’s euphemism for death: “and he was gathered unto his people” as an opportunity to question our assumptions regarding the biblical view of the afterlife … with much appreciation to Jon D. Levenson. Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life
A live recording of Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse October 22nd 2021as they ask: Was it the Binding of Isaac or the Sacrifice of Isaac and what difference does it make? We use the seminal story of the miraculous birth of Isaac and the hints at the sacrifice and subsequent resurrection of Isaac in the biblical and later Rabbinic texts to explore the meaning of these themes in Judaism and Christianity.
Welcome to Madlik disruptive Torah. I should say we’ve been doing this every week at four o’clock eastern on Friday. But because the nights are coming sooner, we are going to move to 8pm on Thursday. And I hope that all agrees with you. But if it doesn’t fit into your schedule, do remember, I’m going to try to publish the podcast now on Friday, so you will have it before Shabbat. So what we mean by disruptive Torah is that we hopefully look at the ancient texts through new lenses, new angles, and share those insights with you and invite you to introduce your own. But hopefully walk away thinking about these texts a little bit differently. Sometimes it’s a little unsettling, but that’s all good, because it means that the ancient texts remain live and vibrant with us. And today, my friends is no exception. We are in Vayera, it is, I believe, the fourth portion that we’ve read in the book of Genesis, and it contains some really repetitive themes that we’ll touch upon. And one theme that maybe it’s unique, and maybe it’s not. And that’s one of the things that we’re going to discuss. The repetitive theme is a miraculous birth. A barren mother may be in today’s portion, because we’re talking about Abraham and Sarah. maybe even an impotent Father, we don’t know he was 100 years old, and a miraculous birth of a child. And that is a theme that actually does appear over and over and over again, and we’re going to get to that. But there’s another…. I won’t call it a theme, because it might be a theme. But it also might be a unique incident. And that is what is called by the Jews, typically the Binding of Isaac, and what is many times called by Christians, the Sacrifice of Isaac, and we will actually get into the question of is it the sacrifice? Or is it the binding of Isaac? And does it make a difference? But in any case, let’s start with the biblical account in Genesis 22. And it says, “And it was after these things that God put Abraham to the test. He said to him, Abraham, and he answered, Hineni, here I am. And he said, Take your son, your favorite one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah Lech L’cha el Eretz haMoriah. and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you. So early the next morning, Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac, he split the word for the Burnt offering, and he set out for the place of which God had told him. And on the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his servants, you stay here with the ass, and the boy and I will go up there, we will worship and we will return to you. Abraham took the wood for the burn to offering and put it on his son, Isaac.” And we’re going to look a little bit further into the story. I don’t think I need to read it all at this point, because so many of you know this iconic story, and possibly are troubled by it. But as you know, Abraham and Isaac walked silently up to the mountain together. And at certain point Isaac says to Abraham, Hey, Dad, I don’t see that you have a lamb with you. And Abraham says, enigmatically. God will provide the lamb. And then he binds Isaac, and has the knife raised above his throat, if you will. And an angel calls down from heaven, Abraham, Abraham, don’t touch the boy. And that is this story. So the question that I pose to all of you, and you’re all welcome to raise a hand and come up and discuss, I’m sure we all have opinions. But first to you rabbi, is this a unique incidence? Or is this part of a theme? This sense of sacrificing your child? Certainly, if you take it literally, Judaism is against in the Bible is against child sacrifice. Maloch is famous for that. But whether in the literal sense or in a larger sense, the sense of giving up to prove one’s faith or to prove something? Is this unique, or is this part of a general theme that I’m missing?
Adam Mintz 04:59
Good question. I mean, obviously, this is the most important question in the entire Bible. So the answer is it’s a unique story. And let me just back up a minute. You started by saying, Geoffrey, that the there’s a difference between the way the Jews refer to it and the way the Christians refer to it. The Christians refer to it as a sacrifice of Isaac, the Jews refer to it as the binding of Isaac. The Binding of Isaac is actually the translation of the biblical word Akeda, which is the word that we find in the Torah. “L’akod” means to bond. Now the first amazing thing Geoffrey is that that word to bind “L’akid” is a unique word in the Torah. It only appears once in this context. So even in terms of the word, we know that this is an exceptional story. And the story is exceptional. There’s no other story like it. The question of course, is what’s the lesson of the story and again, we invite everybody to raise your hand that will bring you up to you can share. So very famously, there was a Danish philosopher by the name of Soren Kierkegaard. Most people don’t know Soren Kierkegaard except for his view about the Akeda. He says that the story of the Akeda is that God asked Abraham to sublimate the ethical which means to squash his ethical behavior of treating his son well, for the sake of listening to God. Recently, there was a book written by a professor at Yeshiva University, by the name of Aaron Kohler. And Aaron Kohler took issue with Kierkegaard. He said, You’re right. That’s what God says to Abraham, sublimate your ethical to listen to me. But then the angel comes, and the angel says, Don’t kill him. And what Professor Kohler says is that the lesson that the angel is trying to teach Abraham is that: Know, the ethical is the most important, what’s most important is how you treat your children, even at the expense of listening to God. And that’s the lesson we should walk away with. [Unbinding Isaac: The Significance of the Akedah for Modern Jewish Thought Hardcover – 2020 by Aaron Koller] But I think that’s an amazing dispute is the lesson of this story, that we need to listen to God above all else, even if he tells us to do something unethical, or no, is the punchline of the story that the ethical is the most important.
Geoffrey Stern 07:45
I think that’s a great insight. And of course, part of your resolution of the problem is how it ends. In other words, the story may or your explanation, or that of the rabbi would be different. If in fact, Isaac was sacrificed but as you say, the punchline is that he wasn’t sacrificed. And that teaches us something. And that teaches us that the ethical, is more important, but I want to I want to pick up on Kierkegaard, because Kierkegaard believed that this was a test of faith, but the faith that Kierkegaard believes that the faith that God was testing in Abraham was Do you believe when I told you, that your children, you would have children and that they would be like the stars of the heaven and the sands and all that, do you believe that I will be able to fulfill that promise. And because Kierkegaard was Christian obviously, the way he tweaked that slightly was, Do you believe that even if I kill Isaac, I will resurrect him and you will still have him? Do you believe that I am capable of asking you to, in a sense, physically end my prophecy, and that I can still fulfill my prophecy? And I want to, to quote a verse that actually supports Kierkegaard a little bit, and this is Genesis 22. I read it during the introduction. And if you recall, it says, then Abraham said to his servants, you stay here with the ass, the boy and I will go up there, we will worship and we will return to you. We will return to you. So what the commentary would say that Abraham was a man of faith. He knew that God was asking him to sacrifice his son. But somehow, he knew in his heart of hearts, either that there was going to be an angel at the last moment, the deus ex machina, or that even if he killed him, he some how would rebuild, we birth, Isaac, and give it back to him? If you look at Rashi on that verse, Rashi says he prophesized that they would both return. So he understands the intent of this verse, and Rashi’s explanation is in the middle of being tested. He also knew that somehow it was going to work out. In a sense, you could say that Rashi and Kierkegaard are on the same page. Another Rabenu Bahia says and we will return to you. At that time Abraham intended to bring back Isaac’s bones for burial. And this is why he said we will come back. I mean, the commentary are very sensitive test to this. And you could also say clearly, that he was fooling them because he didn’t, as we discussed last week, he figured if he told these guys, he was going up to kill his son, they might stop him. But this notion that in fact number one, that the challenge here and I think Rabbi Avraham Bronstein mentioned it last week, Was this an ethical question that was confronting Abraham in the Akeda? Was it the emotional question of losing his son? You certainly don’t feel that in the text. There’s no angst here? Or was it this question of God promised he was going to give me progeny? Now he’s asking me to destroy the possibility of that promise? Do I still believe in the promise?
Adam Mintz 12:10
Yes, there’s so much there to build on. Let’s let’s talk about Rashi for a minute. I’m just trying to parse all the different things you talked about. Let’s talk about Rashi. You think that Kirkegaard and Rashi are saying the same thing. That what Rashi saying is that God asks Abraham to do it, even though it’s unethical. You think Rashi’s sensitive to that? That’s interesting.
Geoffrey Stern 12:41
I’m not sure that part of it, I what I was picking up on was another part of Kierkegaard that I discovered that Kierkegaard identifies the question of faith, and the question of faith has to do with this promise of future generations. And what Rashi is ultimately saying, and what Kierkegaard was saying is that that was the faith part that was being questioned.
Adam Mintz 13:05
Oh OK, good, I like that.
Geoffrey Stern 13:09
What Rashi is saying is that this man who is now being tested for his faith prophesizes is that everything is going to work its way out? That he prophesized that even if he listened to God, somehow, and you can conjecture that it was because there was going to be an angel to stop it. Or there was going to be something else like a resurrection. And I’m going to read a text now about the resurrection, …. because that is the critical difference, I believe, between the term the sacrifice of Isaac, and the binding of Isaac. So listen to Perkei d’Rabbi Eliezer. “Rabbi, Jehuda said, when the blade touched his neck, the soul of Isaac fled and departed. But when he heard his voice from between the two Chrubim, the two angels saying to Abraham lay not thine hand upon the lad, his soul returned to his body, and Abraham set him free. And Isaac stood upon his feet. And Isaac knew that in this manner, the dead in the future will be quickened, he opened his mouth, he said, blessed art thou our Lord our God Mechiyeh Hameytim, who brings back the dead. So here is a source that looks at this as part of a bigger theme. And the theme is that God who gives life God is capable of re giving life. And this kind of concept of resurrection of the dead, finds its first instance, in the story of the sacrifice of Isaac.
Adam Mintz 14:55
Good. I mean, that medrish is playing with an idea that Abraham actually killed Isaac, and that Isaac was brought back to life. I didn’t know that Midrash, Thank you, Geoffrey. Because it says it pretty explicitly. I will tell you that the tradition in Judaism not in Christianity, in Judaism, the place where that tradition really evolves, that Abraham killed Isaac. And then he came back to life was actually something that Jews in Germany and France during the crusades, when Jews were given the choice, whether to die or to convert to Christianity, and they chose death, over conversion to Christianity. There were some people who saw that decision of death, rather than conversion to Christianity as an experience of th4e Akeda. And there’s a professor in JTS by the name of shalom Spiegel, who wrote an entire book called The Last Trial, in which he collects all of the sources that suggests that Abraham actually killed Isaac. I didn’t know that Midrash but that Midrash says it’s so explicitly Baruch Ata Hashem Mechayeh Hameytim that Isaac is brought back to life. My problem, Geoffrey, with that Medrash is that it’s not explicit in the text. The text doesn’t seem to say that Abraham killed Isaac. Mechayei Hameytim doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of the text. I’ll tell you another text. On Rosh Hashannah in the Mussaf prayer, we also talk about the Binding of Isaac. And there we say to God, God, have compassion upon us. The same way that Abraham was willing to give up everything, in order to listen to you to sacrifice his son, as a reward for that mayyou God have compassion upon us. And that’s an interesting idea. What we say to God is just like Abraham, sublimated the ethical, he was willing to kill his son, because you said it, you should sublimate your desire to punish the people and be nice to us. But even that midrash even that, that quote, from the prayers doesn’t suggest that Abraham actually killed Isaac, that’s in the preliminary part of the story, that Abraham was willing to do it, not that he actually did it. And I think that’s an important point that Professor Kohler makes. And that is we need to distinguish between what the beginning of the story says, and what the punchline says.
Geoffrey Stern 18:13
So I just want to comment on Professor Spiegel, but also the fact that we are living right now in a golden age of Christian Jewish Studies. And by that I mean that the notion that many times that Christianity took ideas from Judaism. But now scholars like Daniel Boyarin John Levinson and others are saying, Yes, but this gives us license to look into Christianity, and through looking at Christianity possibly understand some of our texts and traditions. And this is based on the assumption that Christianity was trying to convince the Jewish people to accept this new Messiah. And they argued from existing traditions. Making something up would not have gotten them very far. So scholars like Spiegel and Levinson are now looking through our texts, and they’re coming up with amazing material. So for instance, we read in Genesis 22, 6, Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, and put it on his son Isaac. Here’s what Bereshit Rabbah said, Robert says, And Abraham took the word of the burnt offering, like one who carries his own tzlav, his own stake on his shoulder, he literally says, like carrying your own cross. So again, according to this way of looking at some of these texts, it’s not as though when the New Testament describes Jesus as carrying his own cross, it might have been very conscience to, in a sense, type. into and latch into these existing traditions. You mentioned the mussaf service of Rosh Hashanah there’s even a bigger parallel with Passover and the pascal lamb. With Rosh Hashanah we have the ram’s horn and that’s important, but with the pascal lamb listen to what the the Bible in Exodus 12 says. If you recall the Jews are leaving Egypt the firstborn sons are being killed. Everybody is an Abraham in Egypt killing their Isaac, and the blood on the houses where you shall be staying shall be a sign for you. When I see the blood I will pass over you so that no plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. The Mechilta d’Rab Yishmael says, What is the intent of this and I shall see the blood, I shall see the blood of the binding of isaac as it is written and Abraham came to the place, the Lord will see Hashem yiraeh. But he was about to destroy the Lord said, and he repented himself of the evil. What did he see? He saw the blood of the binding of Isaac. So there are two issues that are fascinating here. One is that he makes the connection to a very powerful theme of the pascal lamb to the sacrifice…. sorry, I misspoke to the binding of Isaac. …And second, he talks about the blood of Isaac, so you can try to answer that Rabbi and say that maybe Isaac was nicked before the angel interrupted. But where does the blood of Isaac come all of a sudden. And so you have in this week’s parsha , at the end, it says Abraham then returned to his servants, and they departed for Beer Sheba. So the commentaries pick up on saying, why does it say Abraham then returned? Why doesn’t it say Abraham and Isaac returned. So the Ibn Ezra says, Isaac is not mentioned because he was under Abraham’s care. Those who say that Abraham slaughtered Isaac and left him on the altar. And following this, Isaac came to life are contradicting scripture. The point that I’m making is, Ibn Ezra would not say this, if there weren’t people arguing the case and you’re right, it might have been Christians. But again, we’re talking about levels of texture and tradition that are clearly part of this story. In the classical rabbinic texts, they certainly become more profound as history goes forward. This Levinson talks about the Maccabees, were the first to really begin this concept of the Techiyat Hameytim , the resurrection of the dead in Judaism. And if you read the book of the Maccabees time and time again, when they are sacrificing themselves to the Greeks, rather than break the law, they reference Akedat Yitzchak . So there is something there. And that’s why I raised my original question. Is it the binding of Isaac? Or was it the actual sacrifice of Isaac? And does it make a difference?
Adam Mintz 23:38
So I think all those points are amazing points. You took us on a journey through rabbinic literature. And the answer to your question, Geoffrey is yes, it makes a difference. The sacrifice of Isaac is one thing, the blood of Isaac as part of the sacrifice of Isaac. The Binding of Isaac suggests that there was a binding but they didn’t actually kill it. But Michael is up here. So Michael, why don’t you take it away?
Michael Stern 24:07
Thank you, Rabbi. Thank you, Geoffrey. I understand that sacrifice is giving up something for the sake of something else or giving up something you want to keep. They say no sacrifice is too great when it comes to children. So binding is for me like a straight jacket. And sacrificing is giving up something. And when it comes to children, I think in this golden age, there is a liberation from old belief systems from the shoulds and shouldn’ts, and the young generation today and every young generation questions, the traditions and the ways of the forefathers. And so a father has to, as I understand fatherhood, bless his children, and sacrifice his own. My children, I don’t like that my children, I understand that children are there to raise as best you can, and then send them off and bless them and be wind under their wings. And then there is the prophecy of return. When you do come home alone, like Abraham came home alone, but he, like parents go home alone, empty nesting, and then maybe, and I bet the children come home. And they come home with their own stories, and their own new traditions and their own new ways that they’d fought hard to birth.
Geoffrey Stern 25:49
Thank you, Michael.
Adam Mintz 25:50
Michael, thank you so so much. I mean, I think that’s a whole different way of looking at children. And I think that is something that if you bring that out from the story, I think that’s beautiful.
Geoffrey Stern 26:01
So the question is, what now becomes the takeaway? One of the scholars, who I’ve read, who’s fascinating here, talks about this break of natural birth, meaning to say, and I started by talking about this week’s parsha, we have two themes. One is, we can now call it this potential sacrifice of Isaac, and his rebirth, and the other is miraculous birth. And by miraculous birth, I should say that every parent group from Abraham forward, it didn’t occur before. As far as I could tell Adam and Eve did not have a problem conceiving. But from Abraham and Sarah going forward, every patriarch and great prophet, is born out of miraculous situations. And in fact, Abraham and Sarah had to even change their name. They were a Abram and Sarai had to change their name in order to give birth, changing one’s name is being reborn. Yes, in the Bible, it means being reborn already in the Old Testament. And then they have at 90 for Sarah, and 100. For Abraham, they have this miraculous birth. And you can look at the language which is fascinating. It says, and God visited Sarah veHashem pakad et Sarah, like he said, Now, there’s a great movie with Woody Allen, and it’s called The Front and he’s being grilled to see if he knows any communists. And finally, he says, Do you mean in the biblical sense, and of course, what he’s talking about is something called carnal knowledge, which is that the word know, Adam knew Eve can mean carnal relations. Well, there’s also something called a conjugal visit. And the word pakad is used mostly in Rabbinic Judaism. And many times as a euphemism for a conjugal visit, meaning to say if someone is about to go on a trip, Hayav adam lipkod et ishto lifei nesiato.. a man has to visit his wife before he leaves. So what I’m trying to get at is not to necessarily say we have a story of a virgin birth here, or the alternative, which is a barren mother past menopause, and an impotent father in his hundreds have a baby. The point is that it’s miraculous, and that it is an absolute break with natural birth. And that’s how I’m kind of taking your comment, Michael, which is that there is a big theme in Judaism that you need that break, let’s not forget that when Abram began his journey from Haran, it says, you leave your father’s house, you’ve got to leave your parents to find yourself. And according to that interpretation, that’s what happens if Isaac gets sacrificed. He is being brought up to this mountain by a man newly reborn as Abraham who was given a child, a miraculous child. And now he himself is having to go through this miraculous transformation of of dying and being reborn. So you could argue that both themes that we’re seeing here Michael, are very along the lines that you are talking that redemption, liberation, full actualization can only come when you break possibly and it doesn’t have to be forever, it might be momentarily the umbilical cord of natural birth.
Michael Stern 30:06
And that is the pain in suffering and sacrifice and pain in the binding. Because wearing straitjackets I can attest is painful. So real unbinding and sacrificing is painful and sacrifice and releasing the pain in the unbinding.
Adam Mintz 30:30
That’s nice. You’re taking the other side, not the binding, not the binding Geoffrey, but the unbinding …. an interesting twist
Geoffrey Stern 30:37
But that’s what happens when you talk about the sacrifice of Isaac, you’re ultimately talking about the resuscitation and rebirth as a new person. You know, the takeaways are kind of fascinating. And the takeaways make this less of extra ordinary incident. And actually, something very apart of what a Judaism I turned out to be. This guy who I quote, says that it doesn’t stop here. He says, if you think about all of the patriarchs, whether Jacob going to sleep, and the angels coming down and going up, which could be a metaphor for dying and being reborn, whether it’s fighting with the angel to the last moment. So it seems to be a very basic theme. But as we started rabbi, and you talked about the key is how the story ends. I do believe that if we benefit a little bit from reading those rabbinic texts, through new lenses, with a little bit of help, from the way Christianity took this motif, it does become something that becomes both thematically important, but also, in a sense, edifying in the sense that we all need to be reborn. And the question is what we do with our life, and that more to the point that all of our births have to be miraculous. And that in a sense, God is the third partner in our in our births. And that is something that is a very famous rabbinic text. So maybe that is a little bit of the takeaway of what otherwise can be a very challenging, depressing and rattling story in the Bible.
Adam Mintz 32:43
Thank you so much, Geoffrey, amazing conversation today. We look forward Enjoy your Shabbat everybody. We look forward to seeing everybody this Thursday night 8pm Eastern Daylight Time and we will discuss the portion of Hayei Sarah. Geoffrey, have a great trip to Israel. And we will see you from Israel on Thursday night. Everybody Shabbat shalom.
Join Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz, Rabbi Avraham Bronstein and friends as they explore various ways of viewing Abraham’s epic journey and how it reflects our own. Recorded on Clubhouse on Friday October 15th, 2021
Geoffrey Stern 00:00
So everybody, welcome to Madlik. This is our weekly clubhouse where we do what we call disruptive Torah, which means that we look at the Torah through slightly new lenses from a new angle, and hopefully inspire all of us to do the same and to think freshly about our ancient texts. And we do record and we post as a podcast on Sunday. And so if you enjoy what you hear, go ahead and listen to the podcast, give us a few stars, say something nice and share it with your friends. And with that we are literally beginning a journey because today’s Parsha is Lech Lecha, which is the beginning of the epic journey of Abraham. And the words Lech Lecha are open, as is his journey to multiple interpretations. And I’m sure we’re going to get into them all. But basically, in Genesis 12: 1, it says, “And the Lord said to Abraham, go forth from your native land “Lech Lecha Meartzecha” , from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you, I will make of you a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those that curse you. And all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” And certainly we know that the Abrahamic families are far and wide. Both Islam and Christianity all account their faith and their journey to Abraham. So this is a man who began a wild adventure. So let’s start by asking you in the audience and our panel? What is striking to you about the onset of this epic journey and Lech Lecha?
Adam Mintz 02:00
I’ll start by saying that what strikes me about Lech Lecha more than anything else, is the fact that the background is not there. We don’t know anything about what led to God saying to Abraham leave your father’s house, and, you know, go to this land. And I wonder why that is? If the Torah tells you something, there’s a reason for it. And if the Torah doesn’t tell you something, there’s a reason for it. And I wonder what the reason that the Torah doesn’t tell you is here.
Geoffrey Stern 02:36
I think that’s a great question, Michael?
Michael Posnik 02:41
Yes, it’s a wonderful question. Having worked in the theater for so long, when anything happens on stage, you try to find out from the actors, where they came from, so that when they walk in, they walk in with a bit of history. So I got an opportunity, as I said, to study the Zohar with my friend Misha Shulman, a rabbi, and I’ll share with you some of what we found. It begins with a principle. It says nothing is aroused above, before it is first aroused below, so that what is aroused above rests on it. So the indication is, the work below has to be done first. Before anything can happen from above, there has to be an awakening. So it says here, the secret behind the words Lech Lecha is that Hakadosh Baruch Hu (the holy one blessed be he) inspired Abraham with the spirit of wisdom. Abraham knew how to judge the spirits and the winds of the civilized world. He observed them, weighed them in the scales, and knew how to connect them to the powers and trusted to govern the inhabited places of earth. And he measured and observed very carefully. And he realized that the whole middle point of the inhabited world is the point from which the whole world moves out to all its corners. Then he discovered, continuing to observe in weigh, in an effort to determine the nature of that central point of the creation, but he was unable to understand it. So he could not cleave to it. It says, he saw the strength of that place, HaMakom, and realized that he could not understand it. Abraham knew and checked all the governors and rulers of the world that had dominion over the entire civilized world. And he was examining all those who governed and ruled over directions of the inhabited world. And he learned how to exercise their power over one another. But he still when he reached the place, the point of Malchut (Rulership), he saw the force of those depths that he couldn’t understand it. As soon as Hakadosh Baruch Hu noticed his awakening and his passion. He immediately revealed himself to Abraham said, Lech Lecha, go learn perfect yourself. So those other words of the Zohar in translation. So you want to know what he was doing before? He was learning everything there was to know about the entire creation and the Center, the core of it was this mystery that could only be filled by Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
Geoffrey Stern 05:46
So so I’m not sure whether what you’re saying is an answer. Or it begs the question, because it seems to me that as you look through the commentaries, you’ve given a beautiful commentary from a mystical point of view. So a mystic feels free to project on to Abraham, what he imagined him going through the this story that most of us learn in cheder, in Hebrew school, is the famous story of Abraham’s father who had a store where they sold idols. And he let Abraham be an idle sitter, if you will, to take care of the store while he went away. And one after the other people came in, either to buy an idol or to give an homage, some food to the idol. And similar to Michael, when you were talking about Abraham, somehow, it doesn’t really in this regard, say where he came to these revelations. But he engages in almost a Socratic dialogue, saying, Well, why are you feeding this idol? If it was made just yesterday? Why are you worshiping Him? If he has eyes and he can’t see if he has he is if he can’t hear. And again, I’m not sure that this midrash, which most kids walk away thinking as part of the text, but it’s not, begs the question or answers it or maybe what it says. And we can discuss some other perspectives on what led Abraham to this moment. Maybe what it says is that Abraham’s journey is our journey, and that all of us, therefore have license or maybe an obligation to project on to Abraham, that journey of discovery of the hidden mystery, if you will, as you put it, of the universe.
Adam Mintz 08:07
I like that. I like the idea that Abraham’s journey is our journey, the Sefat Emet, one of the Hasidic masters, says that God says Lech Lecha to everybody, it’s just Abraham was the first person who actually heard
Geoffrey Stern 08:28
If you join Madlik a few minutes before four, we always ask Rabbi Adam, what he’s going to speak about in synagogue on the coming Shabbat. And he intimated that it’s not altogether clear that what we just read, is actually the full story, even from the text. I’m not sure who divided up the Torah into portions, who divided it up into chapters, maybe one day we’ll spend a session going over that. But if you look a few lines before the beginning of our Torah reading of Lech Lecha, it actually has either a variant or a supplemental account of what actually happened in Genesis 11. It says, “Terach, took his son Abraham, his grandson, Lot, the son of hawan, and his daughter in law, Sarai, the wife of his son Abraham, and they set out together from Or of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan. But when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there.” So just as in Genesis 1 and 2, we have two stories of the creation of Adam and Eve. Here too. It seems almost as if we have two stories of leaving Haran. In chapter 11 of Genesis. It doesn’t give credit to Abraham. It doesn’t say that Abraham left his father this To Rebel Without a Cause this rouser of breaking of the the loaded idols of his parents here, it says that his father took him and his grandson and his wife, and maybe they didn’t make the whole trip. But certainly from this text, it looks as though his father was involved. And I’m wondering, not only do we have a license to look at this story through our own eyes, but we have a license to say, Abraham could also envision it with his own eyes. How many times do we as children envision certain things that we believe we’ve come up with on our own, and in the second telling, maybe we realize, we got that from dad, or we discovered that for mom, and I’m wondering if a little bit of that is going on here as well, what thinks you?
Michael Posnik 10:55
Clearly, we all receive a good part of our personality from parents, there’s no doubt that it may well be that the man who made idols, made idols but didn’t believe them. It’s possible that that was his business, and he knew it was a good business. I don’t know, the question that comes to my mind is, when they left, where did they think they were going? And how many times in our lives do we have a destination in mind, but something wonderful or not so wonderful happens, and our destination has to change? In Abraham’s case, it seems to me they were headed towards Or of the Chaldeans or whatever that was, where they were headed. And then God says, I’ll show you where to go. So it’s completely open. It completely impromvisatory, if you will, spontaneous, he asked to just go and follow that son. whatever direction they were going, that’s, that’s been my experience in life, actually, I lived my life where I was intending something or nothing, and suddenly, I hear a voice to go in that direction. ….I met wonderful people.
Adam Mintz 12:17
I just want to point out Geoffrey, you know, this story of the family of Abraham, traveling from Or Chasdim to Haran all of that, you know, this is really the first time in the Torah. And this is already the third portion where people travel. Each of the two, previous Parshot has talked about genealogies talked about different people. And it almost never says they started here, they went there. So what you see at the very least is the Terach is exploring. And I think you get credit for exploring, even if you have bad intentions, the idea that you want to explore, is it itself something that we encourage. And I think that’s an important point.
Geoffrey Stern 13:23
Well, I mean, a little bit later in the portion, we get into some fights and interactions between Abraham and other people. And obviously, it’s only when you interact with other people, that people get to name you and you get to name yourself.
Michael Posnik 13:39
Just jump in for a second. I’m thinking about Cain who is Nad veNad, who is constantly in motion from place to place with no direction.
Adam Mintz 13:51
Correct and that was God. That was the punishment. he had to travel. Here is the first time we have traveled where he chooses to track.
Geoffrey Stern 14:01
So but let me let me go a little bit later on, you know, Abraham strikes to be defined and to define himself and he gets involved in some battles with other kings, and his brother gets kidnapped. And in Genesis 14, it says “And a fugitive brought the news to Abraham, the Hebrew who was drilling at the terebinths of Mamre”, and this is the first time to my knowledge that Abraham is actually called a Hebrew. “L’Avram HaIvri” and Rashi quite rightly says, the one who came from the other side of the river “Mever HaNahar”. And so in one verse, not only is Abraham defined as this traveler, as this person who’s defined by not where he is but where he is coming from, but it is kind of interesting that a fugitive is the one who is giving him a message. We almost are in a world that is populated in a different way. And it’s not simply one heroic person, but we’re surrounded by a world in flux. And it gives I think, more emphasis to this whole concept of Lech Lecha, in terms of a journey, I do believe that we’re all kind of on the same page here. In terms of this process. There is this trite saying where “life is a journey and not a destination”. And whether it is literally Abraham, beginning on this journey, or whether it is the fact that maybe he didn’t quite start it all by himself, but his father started it, but didn’t finish it. And that kind of echoes this concept of we never finish our journey. And our journey is only the beginning of a bigger journey. It’s just so emblematic of what Abraham created, and what the story values, I think. So what what makes us of “God” here? Because I think so many of the interpretations revolve around the birth of monotheism. Michael, you were talking from a kabbalistic point of view, that it was clear that what instigated this departure was some eureka moment or some lifelong struggle for identifying the mysteries of the universe. But if you look at the text itself, you know, I don’t think there would have been our person in that ancient world who would have done anything unless he was inspired by the Spirit. The fact that God said to him make this journey, you know, God spoke in the Epic of Gilgamesh to… the gods was speaking all the time. There’s nothing inherent in this tale that leads one to believe that Abraham created some revolution in theology. And I’m just wondering if that is something that resonates at all with you? Or is it clear that this man began his trip because of some theological inspiration?
Adam Mintz 17:37
I don’t think anything is clear. And I don’t even know what a theological revelation means. What you just said was right. We talk about Abraham as being the first Jew. The truth of the matter is that scholars all say that’s not technically correct. Jews are related to Judah. It only came later. Abraham is the first monotheist
Geoffrey Stern 18:06
Well, he’s the first Hebrew he’s the first Iviri.
Adam Mintz 18:09
right Ivri. He’s separate from everybody else. He recognizes God. There’s a very famous Rashi. Rashi says that when they were traveling, it says that Abraham, “converted” is the word Abraham megayeret et ha anashim veSara mgayeret et aha nashim” and Sara was converting the women, “converting” does it mean converting like we have today. It means the day actually we’re teaching monotheism. They believed that monotheism was something that needed to be taught, that needed to be spread to all different people. And I think that’s really interesting.
Geoffrey Stern 18:56
You know, I could make the argument that Abraham was the first atheist. And what I mean to say is, if you look at Abraham from the perspective of Terach, or if you follow the story of Nimrod, who puts him into a fiery furnace? Here is a guy who’s saying that everything the world believe was a God does not exist. He says, No, the sun has no power, the stars have no power, this Totem, this animal, it has no power. And and what he was claiming, was, in fact, of a power and of course, this is all a projection of the Midrash, or of Maimonides or of the Zohar was this hidden this unseen, untouchable thing from the perspective of the landed powers that be he was denying God, he was denying all that they believed in and from that perspective it leads all the way to Spinoza, who was excommunicated by saying God is no way but God is everywhere. Maybe he was the first secularist.
Avraham Bronstein 20:13
You remind me of Peter Brown. So Peter Brown, the great historian of the Roman Empire, and one of his books about religion in the ancient Roman Empire, or the classical world, talks about how the Judeans, the original Jews were seen as atheists by the more polytheist, pre Christian Roman Empire at the time, because they couldn’t comprehend how Jews maintain the belief not in their God, but in a god. It didn’t make any sense to them.
Geoffrey Stern 20:44
Fantastic. Yochanan welcome to the bima
Thanks, thanks. Thanks so much for having me. By the way, Rabbi Maza, the Chief Rabbi of Moscow, 400 years ago, he says what you just said. So he says that Abraham was a kultur b’kalim . He was like, like you said, he was the first secularist or atheists to to deny all the deities, all the old the religions of the environment.
Geoffrey Stern 21:14
I think that’s fantastic. We forget sometimes, because Judaism is 3000 years old, that there was a time where it was the rebel in the room, and it was offering ideas that seemed to break all of the accepted beliefs. So we’re moving along, I want to talk a little bit about Lech Lecha the words itself. And I think if you had to translate it, simply, you would say lech means to go. And lecha means to yourself. And in Rashi, his interpretation is for your benefit. L’hanatcha, l’tovatcha for your good. But as any good researcher will do. One, will look to see where else these two words come together. And I know of one other place where they come together, I don’t have the confidence to say it’s the only other place where they come together. But it is certainly a very prominent place. And it is in Genesis 22. And similar to our text God comes forward and says Abraham, and he says who I am. And he says take your son, your favorite one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. He says ulech lecha el eretz hamoriah. And so iconically. In Perkai Avot it says that Abraham had been given 10 tests in his life. And the commentary say the first and the last test both began with lech l’cha. And so the two are certainly connected. But it makes one wonder if Rashi’s interpretation is correct. Because certainly it’s a hard sell to say that as you’re asked to take your son, you only son that this is for your benefit. Another parallel and then I’ll open it up to discussion is that notice the cadence in both of these renderings. In both God steps it up. God says in our parsha, he says to go from your land, from your father, from your home. And on the Akida, the The Binding of Isaac, he does the same thing. And of course, the commentaries say, well, it’s a test. So it’s to give him more benefit, to give him more credit for the different steps that he’s taken. But what makes all of you about this connection between the Lech l’echa of leaving a land a temporal place, and this lech lecha of this amazing, challenging, tragic test towards the end of his life?
Adam Mintz 24:31
Well, let me ask you, you know, Geoffrey, the question is, which was more challenging, right? Was it harder for him to leave everything that he had grown up with? Or was it harder, not knowing what God’s stood for? Or maybe at the end of his life, he learned to trust God already. And even though God said sacrifice your son, maybe he had enough trust in God to believe that, I don’t know how it’s gonna work out okay, but somehow is gonna work out Okay.
Geoffrey Stern 25:05
One of the commentators says that it relates to this testing that in lech l;echa we come literally to our essence to find out to discover who we are. And one can make the argument that one only knows who one is when one is tempered with the test and the experience of life, another commentary and I kind of love this and this, maybe he resonates a little bit with what Michael was saying about the esoteric texts of the Kabbalah. Emek Davar says that it is Lecha (only to you) a secret. So Lech Lecha, this is something that was hidden only to the recipient. This is a private journey. And so he says, when it comes to the binding of isaac, he says to Abraham, keep it quiet, because if anyone else knows this crazy mission that you’re on, they are going to resist. So Lech Lecha it’s a hidden message. But I do believe that the, the fact that this iconic term was used in both instances is certainly fascinating. Uri welcome to the bema
Thank you so much.
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz as they explore various ways of viewing Abraham’s epic journey and how it reflects our own.
Recorded on Clubhouse on Friday October 15th, 2021
[To Reverend Dumisani Washington] Thank you so much for being with us. On our clubhouse when you come up to the platform, we say first of all that you’re coming up to the bimah [the podium or platform in a synagogue from which the Torah and Prophets are read from]. And then second of all, when we make you a presenter, we give you smicha… So that means that you are ordinated. So instead of Reverend, we’ll call you Reb. Is that okay?
Dumisani Washington 00:20
That sounds good to me. Sounds good, no problem.
Geoffrey Stern 00:23
So anyway, welcome to Madlik. Madlik is every week at four o’clock, and we do record it and post it as a podcast on Sunday. And if you listen to it, and you’d like what you hear, feel free to share it and give us a few stars. And what we do is disruptive Torah. And what we mean by disruptive Torah is we look at the ancient text of the Torah, with maybe a new lens, or to see a new angle. And today, I’m delighted to say that we’re not only looking at it through a new lens, but we’re looking at it through another lens, a lens of a pastor, of a man of God, who we will learn about his mission. I heard about it on clubhouse one evening, I was scrolling, and I stumbled upon you Reverend, and you’re on a mission and you see Judaism and you see Zionism from a whole new perspective. So I want to thank you for coming on. And I want to say that, as I told you, in my email that I sent you that you know, every week about Saturday on Shabbat, on Sunday, I start thinking about what I’m going to pick as a subject matter for the coming Madlik session. And I purchased your book maybe two months ago, and it was sitting by the side of my bed, and for some reason, and of course, I’m sure there are no coincidences in this world. I picked it up this Shabbat. And it starts with our portion of Noah, it starts by talking about the line less traveled by us Jews of Shem’s son Ham. And I should say that nothing is written for no reason in the Bible. And when it gives you a genealogy, it’s because of what comes in the future. And many of us Jews will look at the genealogy in Genesis 10. And focus on Shem… with Semites. And that’s where the name comes from. And we go down that path, and your book starts. And of course, I should say that your book is called “Zionism and the Black Church, Why Standing with Israel will be a Defining issue for Christians of color in the 21st Century”. And it begins by traveling down this path less taken, of Ham. Welcome to Madlik. But if you could begin by touching upon our portion of the week, no off and and and discussing what you see in it, and maybe your mission.
Dumisani Washington 03:06
Absolutely. And thank you, again, Rabbi for having me on. Yes, there are six chapters in “Zionism in the Black Church”. And the first chapter is entitled The African Biblical Tie to Israel. And so we as I say, in the book started the beginning, right, we start at the beginning of the Scriptures, and so as you know, between the two portions of “Bereshi” I believe whether the towards the end is when Noah was first introduced, but of course in “Noach” there’s the explanation of the nations where all the nations of the earth come from, from Noah’s three sons Shem, Ham, and Jafet. And so we recognize that in the Scriptures, it is said that Ham has four sons. And there’s a couple of unique things as you know, you read the book, that the scriptures that in the law of Moses deals, Psalms and some of the prophets, there’s a term that’s given several times in the scripture about Ham’s descendants harms the sentence differently, then either Jafet or Shem. The land of Ham is actually something that’s in the scriptures. And I don’t know what that Hebrew word is … “Aretz Ham” … I never looked at that part of it, Rabbi but it talks about that, which is really interesting because there’s not, to my knowledge, and I’ve kind of looked at for a little while, a similar rendering like the Land of Japhet or Land of Shem. Right? We’re obviously the genealogy is there, right? But there’s not the same thing that deals with the land and the peoples …. interesting and we’ve come to know that of the four sides of Hem, which are in order Kush, which you know, is where obviously the Hebrew for later on Ethiopia I believe is a Greek word, but from that region Mitzrayim, which is Egypt. Fut or Put which is Libya, and then Canaan, which is Canaan, right? So those four sons who come from him. But interestingly in the scriptures when it says land of Ham, it almost exclusively refers to Egypt and Ethiopia, what we would call today, Africa, right? This region. And again, you’re talking about an antiquity these regions were much broader in size. And they are today if you look at the map today, you see Egypt as a small state and go down to the south, west, south east, and you’ll see Ethiopia then you see Yemen, you see Kenya, well, obviously all those states weren’t there that happened much later in modernity is particularly after the colonial period where those nations were carved up by a few states in Europe, and they were given certain names everything right, but these were regions in the Bible. And so Kush, the land of Kush, and the land of Mitzrayim, they’re actually dealt with many, many times. Right? After the words obviously “Israel” and “Jerusalem”. You have the word Ethiopia, I believe one of the Ethiopian scholar says some 54 times or something like that the word Ethiopia actually comes up in the Bible, obviously not as many times as Israel or Jerusalem but more than virtually any other nation other than Egypt. Right? So Egypt obviously that we know too. Africa plays a huge role in Israel’s story right? The 430 years in slavery is in Africa, right? The Torah was received at Sinai: Africa. All these things happen in Africa. At some point God tells Jeremiah during the time of the impending doom, the exile that will happen at the hand of of Nebuchadnezzar and God says to to the Israelites to the Judeans, and “don’t run down into Egypt, Egypt won’t be able to save you.” Why does he say that? Well, because historically the Israelites would go to Egypt when it until it got safer, right? For those Christians who may be on the call, you’ll know that in the New Testament, Jesus, his parents take him down into Egypt because Herod’s gonna kill him. Right? So there’s this ongoing relationship between Ham and Shem, that’s very intertwined. Moses, his wife, or his second wife, depending on how you interpret it…. Some of the sages. She’s Ethiopian, right? She’s kushite. So you have this interchangeable thing all the time, throughout the scriptures, but actually starts with the genealogy. And I’ll say just one last thing, rabbis ….. we’re opening up. This is also unfortunately, as I mentioned, the book as you know, the misnomer of the quote unquote, “Curse of Ham”, as we know in the text, Ham is never cursed for what happens with Noah it is Canaan that is cursed. And he actually says, a curse that Canaan become a servant of servants shall he be, even though it was Ham who however you interpreted…. I’ve heard many different interpretations of “uncovered the nakedness he saw his father, naked,” but somehow, for whatever reason, Noah cursed Canaan, not Ham. Who is Canaan… is one of him so’s, his fourth son, as we know those who are listening, you may know that it is The Curse of Ham, quote, unquote, that has been used sadly, unfortunately, among many other things as a justification of the slavery of Africans. Right? That somehow, Africans are quote, unquote, “Cursed of Ham”, therefore, the transatlantic slave trade, the trans Saharan slave trade, those things are somehow… God prescribed these things in the Bible, the curse was making him black. That’s why he’s like all those things that are nowhere in the text whatsoever, right? skin color is not in the text. slavery as a descendant of Ham. None of those things are in the text. What’s in the text? Is that Canaan is cursed for that? And so we start there, Rabbi, and from there trying to walk out this whole Israel Africa thing.
Adam Mintz 08:47
First of all WOW… thank you so much. I just want to clarify in terms of color, I think that’s a very interesting thing. It’s very possible that in the biblical period, everybody was dark.
Dumisani Washington 09:00
Yes, sir. I mentioned that in the book as well. But yes, sir. Yes, yeah. All right. Sorry,
Adam Mintz 09:04
I didn’t see that in your book. But that’s important, you know, because a lot of people are caught up in this color thing. Did you know that there’s a distinction, we don’t know it for sure but it makes sense that everybody was dark in those periods. So that the difference in color was not significant. So when, when Moses marries goes to Ethiopia, maybe is king of Ethiopia, and marries an Ethiopian. And the idea is that he marries a foreigner. The fact that she’s darker may or may not have been true.
Dumisani Washington 09:39
Yes, absolutely. No, thank you Rabbi. And I do touch on that, as well. We say in the terms in this modern term, even in my book, I use the term Christians of color and I don’t usually use those terms just in when I’m speaking. I did it that way in the title so that it would be presented in a way that is going to deal with some provocative things but hopefully the people that they read it they’ll see what I mean by that and if you’re talking about the Israelite people, the Hebrew people they are what I call an afro Asiatic people. Israel is still at that at the point of where those two continents meet right Southwest Asia northeast Africa is landlocked with Egypt I tell people God opened up the Red Sea because he wanted to right … He’s big and bad and he can do what he wants to do but you can literally; I wouldn’t recommend it obviously, but you could literally walk from Egypt to Israel and you always have been able to for 1000s of years that has always been the case and so you have a people that in terms of skin tone or whatever… Yes, absolutely, they would be what we would call today quote unquote people of color right and so unfortunately particularly in our country we all know race and colorism is such a huge topic and it’s often so divisive and it’s used in so many different ways and we know much of that goes back to whether slavery, Jim Crow, people being assigned work obviously based on how dark or light they are all of those things but the problem as you all know is that those things aren’t in the Bible right? There’s no God likes this person doesn’t like this person, this person’s dark this person’s like, that type of thing. But again, that’s what men do, we are fallen creatures, we read what we want to read into the text, and then we use it unfortunately, in a way that’s not helpful. Let me just say and pause here, I can tell you that as a Christian pastor, over the years of my just delving into what we often call the Jewish roots of our faith, by studying Torah with rabbis and with other Jewish scholars, my faith has been more important to me than ever in that it helps me understand even more so right, what is the Hebrew in this word here? What do the sages say about that, that’s been a fascinating journey for me, over the last 30 some odd years since I’ve been doing this particular work.
Geoffrey Stern 11:58
So I just want to jump in, you said so many things. But there is in this verse that we are reading today, the word “ashkenaz”, he was one of the children of of Shem, and you quote, an Ethiopian Rabbi named Ephraim Isaac, and this is a sample of some of the humor in your book or the sense of discovery. And somebody said to him, You don’t look Jewish. And he said:, “Ethiopia is mentioned the Bible over 50 times, but Poland not once.” And I feel like that was, that was a great line. And what it really talks to is our preconceptions, and your book, and your vision, and your mission breaks preconceptions of what it is to be a Jew, what the mission of a Jew is, but most importantly, what the relationship is between the Jewish people and the African people. And one of the things that you touched upon was the sense of Mitzraim and Kush , and in your book, you really talk about how many times they’re interchangeable, because really, it is the same area and those of us who think about Mitzrayim, or Egypt, we focus on the Exodus story, we focus on the pharaoh story. But as you mentioned, the prophets later on, we’re having to talk to the Jews about not going back, because ultimately, the experience in Egypt was always favorable, it was our neighbor, and it was our place of refuge. Abraham goes down there with Sarah twice, Jacob sends his kids down there during a time of famine. The relationship and the reference to a Ham and to Mitzrayim and to Kush is a very positive one. And yes, it does say in our week’s parsha of all of the children, it says, “b’artzetam v’goyehem” , that they have a special language, and they have a family and they have a land. So the fact that we are neighbors is so important in the biblical context. So I said if we were going to walk down this wonderful path, and I would love for a second to talk about your mission about reuniting our two peoples and some of the challenges that you have. Clearly you don’t speak to groups like us very much, although I think that I’m going to have an opportunity later to say that I think you should, because there’s so much that we can learn. But what is your mission? How did you discover it? And what are your challenges?
Dumisani Washington 14:40
Well, I’ll do it concise, just because I don’t want to take up too much time to firstly touch as much as we can. I am the founder and CEO of an organization called The Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel. I started it in 2013 but for about nearly seven years, I was not as active I started it. I did a lot of touring and a lot of speaking throughout the United States, churches, sometimes synagogues as well. And with this mission, it was a mission that was really placed in my heart. Actually in 2012, my first trip to Israel, I went as a guest of Christians United for Israel, I would come later on to join the staff with CUFA. But I was a guest pastor, I knew some friends who were part of the organization. And the short version of that story was my first tip ever, I’m in Israel, I’m at the Western Wall of the kotel. And I have a very intense experience in which I feel although Africa and Israel were passions of mine already, but the fusing of those two things together and a real work in which we continue to strengthen the alliance between Israel and Africa. And then obviously, in the States in the black and Jewish community. And there and finished the first edition of the book now, what you have there Rabbi is the second edition. And we started this organization for that very purpose to do both of those things continue to strengthen the black Jewish relationship, and also the Israel Africa Alliance. And so the challenges have been probably more than any other thing disinformation, right? There’s a lot of false information that’s there, when it comes to those things that would seek to divide and separate when you’re talking about whether Africa Israel, now we’re talking about the modern state of Israel, obviously, the rebirth of Israel in 1948. Israel’s close ties with African nations throughout the continent, starting especially with Golda Meir, the foreign minister, all the way up into the 70s, where you have, as I mentioned in the book, Israel has more embassies throughout Africa than any other nation other than the United States, African economy, some of them are thriving, a great deal. You have a lot of synergy between the African nations and Israel. And after the Yom Kippur War in 1973, like never before Israel’s enemies target that relationship between Israel and its African neighbors for different reasons. One of those is voting in the United Nations, right? And that became very much of a challenge. So one of the greatest challenges is, is information. What we share in the book and when we do our organization, we teach what we call an organization “Authentic History” is really simply telling what happened, how did something [happen]. Whether we’re talking about biblically, whether we’re discussing the parsha or we’re talking about historically, right? We’re talking about what the relationship was, and is. Why those connections there? And I’ll just give one quick example if you’re talking about black Jewish synergy in the United States, not just Dr. King’s relationship with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in the civil rights community, not that it happened, right? But why, what was that synergy about? Right? So we’ve delve into that. We share from the documents from the Rabbinical Assembly; Dr. King’s most famous words regarding Israel that were recorded 10 days before he was killed, right, why? And as a pastor, what we call a prophetic moment. Why 10 days before he’s taken from us, is he telling the black community in the world to stand with Israel with all of our mind and protect its right to exist? Why is he saying these things? What’s so important about it. And even the generation before? Why was it a black and Jewish man who changed the trajectory of this nation, Booker T. Washington, and Julius Rosenwald; millions of now first and second generation, slave; free slaves, right? but who had no access to education, not in a broader sense, and why that synergy saw some 5400 Rosenwald schools built throughout the segregated south. We touch on those historical points, and we delve into why that black Jewish synergy has been so powerful for so many people for so long. So that is our mission to strengthen those ties, because we believe that there’s a great future ahead.
Geoffrey Stern 19:05
You did such amazing research. I mean, I can tell you I never knew that Herzl said about Africa, “that once I have witnessed the redemption of Israel, my people, I wish to assist in the redemption of the Africans.” And that is taking a small quote out of a full paragraph where the histories of the two people are so similar. I mean, it comes to us as a pleasant surprise, these synergies but it shouldn’t because both our peoples have really traversed and continue to reverse the same pathway. And you quote Marcus Garvey and even Malcolm X and William Dubois. Malcolm X says “Pan Africanism will do for the people of African descent all over the world, the same that Zionism has done for Jews. All over the world.” there was a sincere admiration for this miracle of a people returning to its land, we were talking before you came on about this whole kind of image of an ark. And it reminds you of Odesyuss… and it reminds you of all of these stories of man going on this heroic journey to find their their roots to come back, gain, experience and come back to their homeland, to their Aretz.. On the one hand, your job should be very simple. I guess, like any other fights, the closer you are, the bigger the friction can be. And there’s nothing bigger than the friction between brothers. But it’s such a challenge to address, as you say the misinformation.
Dumisani Washington 20:51
Absolutely. And this is, again, why that’s our primary goal. And then as part of what our mission is, we have launched here just recently, an initiative called The PEACE initiative. And PEACE is an acronym for Plan for Education, Advocacy, and Community Engagement, and the short version of that, again: We recruit young, black American and African young people from certain cities throughout the United States, a group of them, they go to a 16 week study course having some of the same conversations we’re having now, including the modern state of Israel, ancient Israel, the United Nations, all these things that intersect when it comes to the black Jewish relations, then they will travel to Israel for about 10 days, and returned to the cities from where they’ve been recruited, and be the hub of black Jewish synergy in their communities. We believe with our organization that one of the reasons for the synergy that we’ve seen in the past, whether it was at the turn of the century with Booker T Washington, and Julius Rosenwald, or the mid part of the century with Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel, right now we are in different challenges, there are challenges that face particularly the more vulnerable black communities. And we see that that synergy could really address so many issues, whether it’s education, whether it’s jobs, those types of things, they can be really be addressed in a very holistic way. And really harnessing that synergy between the black and the Jewish community. And this is what we are doing. An Israel advocacy that is also rooted in these communities. And it’s amazing. We see already rabbis and black pastors are working together all over the country. So that continues to happen. But we want to highlight those things even more and go even further in meeting some of the challenges what we call MC ambassadors will be leading that in different cities across the country.
Geoffrey Stern 22:02
That’s amazing. I want to come back to this sense of self-discovery and pride. And we always talk about it from our own perspective. So if you’re African American, you want to make sure that your children believe that black is beautiful, that they come from an amazing heritage to be proud of who they are. And if you’re Jewish, you want the same thing. But it seems to me, and you kind of cage the question in this way, “Why standing with Israel will be a defining issue for Christians of color”, when we as Jews can see ourselves in the black community as we did during the civil rights movement that redeems us. And that empowers us. And I think what you’re saying, and I don’t want to put words into your mouth, but the same thing works in reverse. That in a sense, when the African community can recognize in Israel, its own story. It also can find a part of itself. Is there any truth there?
Dumisani Washington 23:50
I believe so Rabbi. I believe that that’s exactly as a matter of fact, what we saw was the synergy. So let me use the example and go back to the early 1900s with Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald. The way that story happens, as you may know is that Booker T Washington writes his seminal book “Up From Slavery”. Julius Rosenwald, who lives in Chicago at the time, is very active in his community. As a matter of fact, he was active, using his wealth; of those of you who don’t know of Sears Roebuck fame, he is the one who took his company to this whole different level, economically and everything. And so with his wealth as a businessman, he’s helping the Jews who are being persecuted in Russia. And one of his own testimony, I don’t say this part of the book, but I kind of alluded to it, that here he is driving to work from the suburbs to where his factory is where his store is, and he’s passing by throngs of black people who’ve left the South, right? looking for a better life, but they’re living in very, very bad conditions, a lot of poverty and everything. And he says to himself, basically, if I’m going to do all of this to help Russian Jews right, way over the other side of the world, and I have this human crisis right here, where I live, I want to be able to do that and his, his Rabbi was Emile Hirsch, one of the founding members of the NAACP. Right? So his Rabbi encourages him. And we see this with our Jewish brothers and sisters all the time, see yourself, do help, do use your wealth, use your ability, right? To help. And so he reads Booker T. Washington’s book he’s taken with him, they begin to correspond. And Booker T. Washington says, Here’s how you can help me I’m trying to build schools for my people who don’t have access. And Rabbi to your point. Here is this man, this Jewish man who is very well aware of his history, he knows his People’s History of persecution and struggle and triumph, right? Very much sees himself in that black story, and then he uses his ability. It’s amazing even what he does; there’s a Rosenwald film about Rosenwald schools, I believe his children were the ones who produced it. And they were saying that what he actually did was pretty ingenious, he put up a third of the money, the black community raised a third of the money, and then he challenged the broader white community to partner with them and bring the last third and that is how those Rosenwald Schools began. Because what he wanted to do, he wanted to see people come together, he wanted to see them all work together. Even though Booker T. Washington passes away only three years into that, right, that venture continues on Julius Rosenwald goes and sits on the board of the Tuskegee college, Tuskegee University, right? There’s this long connection that’s there. So in that struggle, the black American community, and he connected with this black American leader, the one of the most prominent of the time, Booker T, Washington, and they, like I tell people, changed the world. Like, can we imagine what the United States would have been if you had those millions of now freed slaves, right? with no access, and particularly those who are living in the Jim Crow South, no access whatsoever to education, Would the Harlem Renaissance have become what it become, with the black Wall Street, whether it was in Tulsa, whether in Philadelphia, these things that explode because of the access to education to now these first and second generations of people coming out of slavery, right? So I believe that that’s the case and which is why I’ll say again, here today, some of those challenges are there, some of the challenges are different than they were, obviously 50, 60, 70, 80 years ago, but we believe in organization that those challenges can be met with that same amazing synergy between the black and the Jewish community.
Geoffrey Stern 27:26
A lot of people would argue that the rift or the change of the relationship between the African American community and the Jewish community was when the Jews or Israel stopped being looked at as the David in the Goliath story and we won the Six Day War. And how do you ensure that the facts are told, but also as you climb out of the pit, and as you achieve your goals, you shouldn’t be necessarily punished for being successful. Success is not a sin. It’s an inspiration. But it seems to me that’s one of the challenges that we have, especially in the Jewish community for our next generation of children, who really do see ourselves not as the minority and don’t see ourselves anymore mirrored in the African American community.
Dumisani Washington 28:25
But one of my favorite things about the Jewish tradition of the Seder, is that you all lean and recline in the Seder today, and you tell your children, when we had the first one, we sat with our sandals on, our staff, in our hand, our belts ….because we were slaves leaving slavery, but now we are no longer. And that whole ethos of telling children, right? There’s a strong parallel in the black American community, right? The whole point of going from struggle to a place where you can live in peace or at the very least, you recognize and realize the sacrifice of the people who came before you right? And I won’t step into the controversial for lots of different reasons, we’ll be able to unpack it, but let me just say this, for the black American experience when you’re talking I often teach this in our sermons and other things that arc …. and let me say again, no, people are monolith. Obviously we just kind of put that on the table, all the Jews arent’ alike all black Americans aren’t alike….. Having said that, there is an overarching story when you talk about black Americans, who, from slavery to Jim Crow, segregation, black codes, all of those types of things to the modern era. And that story cannot accurately be told without talking about God and His people. In other words, when you’re talking about the spirituals “Go Down Moses”. “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” and I talked about that in the book, these songs that are rooted in the scriptures, most of the time in, in the Tanakh, our Jewish brothers and sisters’ side of the Bible. I mean, sometimes in the New Testament, most of the time, these songs are being sung in hope. And that hope was realized, right? It’s not an Negro spiritual song technically, but I put it in that category, part of the greatest one ever. I mean, how it culminates would be “Lift Every Voice and Sing” us a song that today has all these political things connected to it for lots of different unfortunate reasons. But when James Weldon Johnson wrote that song, wrote it as a poem? Those stanzas and anybody listening to this, I want to tell Google that Google Lift Every Voice and Sing”; just read the words. And this was a very powerful, very, very much God and God’s love, and our hope and our faith and our trust, and our honoring the people who came before us; all of those things. And he talked about being free. Now, it’s written in 1899. Right? You still have questions. I mean, there are no laws against lynching there going on, it’s still crushing racism. However, he as a father in the black community is not only acknowledging what God has done, there’s amazing things that are happening. One of the economist’s that I quote, in my book, Thomas Sol said that the black community after slavery, and less than 50 years after slavery went from 0% literacy to almost 50% literacy, in that half a century, something economic historians say has never happened before. And now you’re later on, you’re talking about the black Wall Street, you’re talking about black oil barons and landowners and factory owners, right? You’re talking about this black middle class emerging. There’s been no civil rights bill, right? There’s been no Pell grants for school. These things don’t even exist yet. We’re talking about the 19 teens and the 1920s. You’re talking about black people who had previously been slaves for hundreds of years. Why am I saying all that we as a people know full well; if we know our history, know full well what it is to come from all of those dire situations into a place of blessing, even though there may be struggles just like our Jewish brothers and sisters. We are convinced an organization that as we know, as a black community, particularly younger people that we are talking with, and teaching, as we know and appreciate our history, not the history that’s regurgitated in terms of media and, and for political purposes. But truly our history, there is a great deal to be proud of about that. And to see, as I said in the sermon a couple of months ago, not only does it not a victim narrative, I descended from superheroes, my people went through slavery, Jim Crow, and still build on Wall Street still built the Tuskegee Institute. Still, we’re soldiers who fighting for their own freedom in the Civil War. I mean, you’re talking on and on and on things that they should have never been able to accomplish. When I consider what they accomplished with not very much help often. I recognize the greatness of the heritage that I come from, then that allows me to see an Israel rise like a phoenix from the ashes and not spurn that but recognize that our Jewish brothers and sisters have gone through millennia of this and Israel then to be celebrated, not denigrated.
Adam Mintz 33:12
Thank you. We want to thank you. Your passion, and your insight is really brought a kind of a new insight to our discussion here. We really want to thank you, you know, we at Madlik we start on time and we end on time, Shabbat is about to begin in just a little while. Hopefully we’ll be able to invite you back in the future as we continue this conversation. But I know I join Geoffrey and everybody on the call and everybody who’s gonna listen to the podcast. Thank you for joining us and for really your insight and your passion. You really leave us with so much to think about as we begin the Shabbat.
Dumisani Washington 33:51
Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Adam Mintz 33:53
Thank you Geoffrey, Shabbat Shalom, everybody,
Geoffrey Stern 33:55
Shabbat Shalom. And Reb Dumisani, you mentioned the songs. There’s a whole chapter in your book about Negro spirituals. And as the rabbi said, w are approaching the Shabbat. And as you observe the Sunday we observed Saturday, but you know that the secret of living without a land or being on a difficult mission is that Sabbath, the strength of the Sabbath, and the connection between Noah and the word Menucha which is “rest” is obvious. And there was a great poet named Yehuda halevi. And he wrote a poem about the Yona; the dove that Noah sent out of the ark to see if there was dry land. And he he said that on Shabbat. Yom Shabbaton Eyn L’shkoach, “the day of Shabbat you cannot forget” Zechru l’reach Hanichoach” He also uses Reach Nichoach which is a pleasing scent,Yonah Matzah Bominoach, the yonah, the dove found on it rest v’shom ynuchu yegiah koach and there in the Shabbat , in that ark of rest on that ark of Sunday or Saturday is where we all gain strength. So I wish you continued success in all that you do. And that this Shabbat and this Sunday we all gather the strength to continue our mission. But I really do hope that we get another chance to study Torah together. And I really hope that all of the listeners go out and buy your book, Zionism in the Black Church because it is an absolute thrill. And I understand you’re coming out with a new book that’s going to talk more about the Jewish people and the various colors and flavors that we come in.
Dumisani Washington 35:55
Hopefully to put that out next year sometime. Absolutely.
Geoffrey Stern 35:59
Fantastic. Well thank you so much so Shabbat Shalom and we are we are in your debt.
Dumisani Washington 36:05
Thank you. Shabbat Shalom and looking forward to bye bye
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse Friday October 1st at 4:00pm (ET) as we discover the quintessential Jewish theme of Exile and Return …. at the very beginning of creation. We explore this theme, normally associated with Exodus and the national narrative of the Jewish People as primal to the Bible’s presentation of the human condition and our heroic struggle.
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse Friday September 24th at 4:00pm (ET) as we use the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) to explore the fundamental difference between Torah (given at Sinai to the Israelites) and Wisdom (which we inherited from our neighbors in the Ancient Near East). We wonder what each tradition has to teach us and why traditionally we read/need Wisdom after the High Holidays and during Succoth.
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse Friday September 17th at 4:00pm (ET). With the Yom Kippur liturgy fresh in our minds we explore a disturbing, persistent and infantile argument for forgiveness… that God forgive us for His sake. Using equal measure of Chutzpa and shaming, we argue that God, as our Father and as our Creator is ultimately responsible for our sins, the sins of his children/creations. We ask: How does God Respond? How should we respond?
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse Friday September 10th at 4:00pm (ET) as we review the septennial Hakhēl convocation where the Torah is read publicly every seven years. We use this as an opportunity to explore the revolutionary nature of the Hebrew Alphabet from both a social and technological perspective. In so doing, we may shed some light on the proliferation of alphabetical acrostics in the Psalms, later liturgy, piyyutim and especially on the High Holidays.
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse Friday September3rd at 4:00pm (ET) as we explore the verse in Deuteronomy 30 that proclaims that the Torah is not in Heaven. We explore it in context and in the agada. We take a literary journey into the iconic story of the oven of akhnai.
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse Friday August 27th at 4:00pm (ET) as we explore the roots of the concept of the Chosen People looking at the Favored sons and wives of Genesis and at the concept of Covenant and antecedent Hittite suzerainty treaties. Was Tevya right and should God choose someone else for a change?