As a driven leaf

parshat bechukotai, leviticus 26

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse on May 26th at 8:00pm Eastern. This week we see the flip side of not owning our land. We are exposed to exile and alienation, both physical and emotional. But mostly, we are struck by the almost too rich vocabulary and overly haunting imagery the Torah exhibits for a people without a land.

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this land is MY land

parshat behar, leviticus 25

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on clubhouse on Thursday May 19th at 8:00pm Eastern for Madlik Lag B’Omer … full of sparks, flames and disruptive Torah. The earth is the Lord’s resonates throughout the Torah nowhere stronger than in the laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years. We explore what a Promised Land means when land ownership is only temporary.

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life after death

parshat emor, leviticus 21

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on May 12th 2022 for a discussion of the Biblical taboo against contact with death. We explore Biblical and Rabbinic texts and wonder what the Torah’s aversion to death teaches us about life.

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Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we discuss the Biblical taboo against contact with death. We wonder what the Torah’s aversion to death teaches us about life.  So put away your fancy books on theology and metaphysics.  Forget for the moment about mysticism and concepts of the afterlife and let’s talk about our lives.  Let’s talk about life after death.


So welcome to Madlik. I am broadcasting live from Tel Aviv, Israel, and I'm joined by Rabbi Adam Mintz in New York City. So we are combining both in traditional Jewish fashion, Israel and the Galut. And I must say that I got to Israel maybe a week, a week and a half after Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day and, and all of the flags are still streaming from balconies, and from trees and from cars. And I'm reminded that in Israel, something very strange happens on Independence Day. First, there's Yom Hazicharon (Remembrance Day), which is probably the saddest day of the year, where those of you who have been in Israel, the most moving profound ceremony, ritual takes place where for one minute, the sirens are blasted. People literally stop their cars on the highway and stand at attention and respect (for the fallen soldiers) next to their cars. And then the next moment the day is over, and the happiest day of the year occurs. And I will call that for today's purposes, life after death. So we are not talking about the afterlife. As I said in the introduction, we are talking about life, and we're talking life in the shadow of death after death with death. And with that, we are going to jump right in to this week's parsha it's potshat Emor. And it's Leviticus 21. God said to Moses, speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron and say to them, none shall defile himself or any dead person among his kin. לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ לֹֽא־יִטַּמָּ֖א בְּעַמָּֽיו, except for the relatives that are closest to him, his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, and his brother. And then it goes on to say, They shall not shave, smooth any part of their heads or cut the side growth of their beards, or gash their flesh, they shall be holy to their God, and not profane the name of their God, for they offer God's offerings by fire, the food of their God, and so must be holy. And those rules apply to any profit to any priest or Cohen. But then in verse 10, it goes on to say, the priest who is exalted above his fellows, הַכֹּהֵן֩ הַגָּד֨וֹל, the high priest, on who's had the anointing oil has been poured, and who has been ordained to wear, the vestments shall not bear his head in warning or rent his vestments, he shall not go in where there is any dead body, he shall not defile himself, even for his father or mother. So correct me if I'm wrong, Rabbi. But really, this is the first time that the Bible in this cycle of the reading is addressing head on the laws of impurity. And the most basic cause of any impurity in Judaism is coming into contact with death. And it's so much of a taboo that a normal Cohen cannot go to a funeral of a cousin. He cannot mourn for a friend by going to a cemetery. The high priests can't even mourn and come into contact with his own parents. So first of all, am I right that the source of all impurity in the Bible is death, and two here we are what can we make of this?

Adam Mintz  04:40

So, first of all, this is an amazing beginning of the of the weekly parsha. Yes, the source of all impurity in Judaism in the Torah is death. You see, Judaism is a religion of life. The Torah says Ve'Chai Ba'hem, you should live by the laws, and therefore death is the opposite of that. And therefore death. Death is impurity. It's interesting that the idea of life versus death comes up, I'll just talk about in another context, and we'll bring it back to the Cohen. You know, we're told to choose life, That's why if someone puts a gun to your head and says, I'm going to kill you, unless you violate Shabbat, or unless you eat not kosher, you're supposed to eat not Kosher or violate Shabbat. Rather than die. Ve'Chai Ba;hem we live by the Torah, the Torah wants us to live not to die. There are only three exceptions to that. That's idolatry, adultery and murder. But those are just exceptions, basically, you're supposed to live. And here the Cohen. Who himself in this case, it's basically men, because they are the ones who worked in the temple, they are required to remain holy, to remain holy means that you are not allowed to come in contact with death. It's interesting actually, that a regular Coben is allowed to come in contact with death for a close relative, the high priest is not allowed to come in contact with death, even for a close relative. And I wonder Geoffrey, which is more surprising, is it more surprising that the Cohen is allowed to come in contact for a close relative or that the Cohen Gadol is not allowed to come in contact with a close relative, I would suggest maybe that what's surprising is that the regular Cohen can come in contact with, with death in any situation, because the Cohen needs to stay away from death, since the code needs to always be available to work in the temple.

Geoffrey Stern  06:53

You know what's amazing to me.... And I think to answer your question about the different gradations here, I think that these are paradigms. In other words, the exceptions are and exceptions probably come from just human social concerns. I mean, a normal priest is a normal priest. He's not quite at the level of the high priest. So he can make an exception to the rule, the Cohen Gadol the high priest can make no exception to the rule. But what the statement that it's saying, what strikes me is that it associates this with being holy. Last week, we had the Parsha called Kedoshim and we talked about what holiness was. And the last thing we mentioned, was, we didn't say that holiness is not coming into contact with death. So this is really a profound statement of not simply, as you say, that Judaism is very this worldly, and, you know, you can you can almost do any sin, it says ve'chai ba'hem And when we raise up our glass, we say, L'Chaim, I get all that. But this is a level deeper a letter for a level farther, because what this is saying is part of God's message, or maybe the core of God's message is you don't need death. And the interesting thing is, I think that the classic rabbinic sources kind of take up upon this. I mean, if you think about this, the purpose of religion, normally when we talk about what is religions, most primary function, it's to explain to us the unknown. It's to comfort us when we need comfort. It's when we face the abyss, it is literally to answer the question of death. And here we are saying that in God's book, holiness, is to not dwell, not focus on death. And here's how the rabbinic sauces in my mind kind of approach it. They take the verse that is right before our verse at the beginning of our portion Leviticus 20: 27, A man or a woman who has a ghost or a familiar spirit shall be put to death; they shall be pelted with stones—and they shall retain the bloodguilt.. And the Tanhuma says, Why are those verses put right before the verses that we just read? It's because God says to the Jewish people, do not inquire of ghosts. Remember, many people, even up till today, will look for inspiration amongst the spirits of those who are dead with those who are past a necromancer. And what God says is you don't have that choice. I am your God, you come to me, You shall not inquire of spirits and in a sense, I think that's explaining the connection between God being holy, that his temple is holy and an aversion to dwelling, inquiring focusing on death. Do I have a leg to stand on here?

Adam Mintz  10:11

I mean, I think you do that's interesting that you connect the two. Let's let's talk bigger picture, the connection between this week's portion and last week's portion. Kedoshin means to be holy means not to be impure, not to come in contact with death. So the entire parsha actually, last week was about life, how you live your life, what you need to do fear your parents keep the Sabbath do all of those things. And then this week, it's about stay away from death. It's the flip side isn't?

Geoffrey Stern  10:55

It? Is it is there's no question about it. And you know, I'd like to focus a little bit on your insight that you said, Why is there an exception for your parents, and in the case of the Cohen Gadol even that exception doesn't exist. It's fascinating that the rabbi's say that once Rabbinic Judaism began, they say that you can make an exception also for righteous people. And for scholars. It says אין טומאה לצדיקים ולא לחכמים, and that's in the Midrash Aggadah, Leviticus. But they say that at Yehuda HaNasi's funeral, even Kohanim came and felt that because he was so righteous, they could defile themselves. So I think you're right, in asking that question. There is an aspect of this, that while we don't linger, while we don't focus on death, because we have this amazing connection with God, there are certain people that have a valid right to that connection as well. And that's our parents, both, our physical parents, but also the righteous. So I think there is the exception is real. And that's kind of fascinating.

Adam Mintz  12:16

That is fascinating that Midrash is actually fascinating that the exception is extended to righteous people. I think there are two ways to say and if you want to be Talmudic about it, you could say that those people don't have ritual defilement. Or you could say that you're allowed to ritually defile to those people. And I think the second is correct, meaning a Cohen, in the time of the temple, who went to their father's funeral, would then have to go to the mikveh, to the ritual bath, and be sprinkled with the ashes of the red heifer, they would have to go through a purification process. It's not that becoming tameh, to your parents doesn't make you tameh, it makes you to tameh, it's just that your obligation to your parents overrides the prohibition against becoming today. I think that's a nuance, but I think it's an important nuance.

Geoffrey Stern  13:19

You know, so far, we've talked about these laws almost in a vacuum. We've said that, you know, any religion is there to explain death, any religion talks about how you react with those who have passed into the nether world. And, we really said that if you read this text as straightforwardly, it's making a stand. It's saying that we Jews have a direct connection to God. And therefore, we push back from the dead and the nether world and all that, but I want to explore something that has always fascinated me. And this week, I actually explored it because it seems so obvious to me in terms of a historical context, you know, the Jews came out of Egypt. And you don't have to be an Egypt scholar, to know what the Egyptian religion was all about. I mean, the pyramids are the wonders of the world, you have to believe that every citizen of the Near East knew about Egyptian metaphysics and the Egyptian belief in the next world. And then if you look at the Jewish people, and after all, what were we building? We were building pyramids, which were literally to take the pharaohs and the upper class to the next world. So I said to myself, isn't this a rejection also, of all that Egypt represented? We have that theme throughout the Bible. So I look back and you know, the first interesting thing About the Cohanim, the priests in Egypt, is that they had land, and our priests have no land. So if you look at a Genesis 47, and it talks about Joseph, taking away all the land of all the people as they had to come and get food for the seven year famine, it says in 47: 22, only the land of the priests רַ֛ק אַדְמַ֥ת הַכֹּהֲנִ֖ים, he did not take over for the priests had an allotment for Pharaoh, and they lived off the allotment. So here we definitely have this contrast already, between the priests in Egypt, and the priests, in Judaism in biblical Judaism, where they never had any land. And then you start to think about other parts of our verses. For instance, if you noticed by the high priest, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, it says, You shall not shave, you shall not cut the corners of your beard. And all of us who have ever seen pictures of the Egyptians, as opposed to Babylonians, who had a healthy beard, and Persian kings, they were saved. So it seems to me that part of this is a rejection of all that Egypt represented. And before I asked you for your opinion, you know, Rabbi, one other data point was when Joseph died, and it said that he was embalmed. But he was it was done so in a way that ensured, not that he would go into the nether world, but that he could be taken with them. So it just seems to me that there were these minor reference points to facts about the Egyptian religion, and that if one was reading it from this context, this is just one more rejection of everything that Egypt represented, does that resonate with you?

Adam Mintz  17:22

It's fantastic. Actually, I mean, the idea of connecting the Cohan of Egypt, with the Jewish Cohen, I think, is a really interesting thing. First of all, you have to know the Torah never makes that connection. I mean, the Torah talks about Cohanim. But the Torah never makes that connection. But what you're saying is that our priesthood is actually the opposite of the Egyptian priesthood. And that the purpose of our priesthood is to show that the Egyptians did not have it, right. Meaning we don't have a priesthood where the where the priests owns everything. It's a priesthood where the priest has nothing. So the purpose of the introduction of priests and the tau raise to show what's important in Judaism. That's a great idea isn't that we kind of we kind of undermine the pagan society.

Geoffrey Stern  18:21

Well, but it's not only pagan, if you think I mean, the easiest, I'm sure I could pick any religion. But if you look at the Catholic religion, for instance, what is the power that the church has over the people? It's the pearly gates, it's damnation, or it's go to heaven. And literally, it is the biggest cudgel, the biggest stick of that religion. And I argue that Egypt again was all about that. It was all about the afterlife. And here we have a religion that yes, that's why the Kohanim in Egypt and it uses the same word. We always think of Cohanim like Cohen... Cohen's a nice Jewish name. But Cohanim means priests. And when the Bible refers to Egyptian priests, it refers to Kohanim but no wonder they had land because they had all the power. They controlled everything and here we have, the Jewish Priest doesn't have that land doesn't have that power. And to me, the punch line if you'd look at the opposite of the pyramids, is Deuteronomy 34: 6 and God buried him meeting Moses in the valley in the land of Moab near Beth poor, and no one knows his burial place to this day. Here our leader, and in the Bible at times it says Moshe was like a god Moshe was like a pharaoh. Here our leader is buried in an unmarked grave. You cannot but have a takeaway from This, that this is a radical rejection of all that was Egyptian and that's kind of natural, is it not? We were freed slaves.

Adam Mintz  20:08

Yeah. Good. I think that's all good and I gotta make one additional point, the story of Hanukkah, right B'yemai Matityahou ben Yohanan Cohen Gadol.  The story of Hanukah was actually the victory of the Cohanim. And what happened was after the story of Hanukkah, the Cohen, the High Priest actually became the king. And Ramban, Nachmanides says that that family was punished, because the Cohen is not allowed to be the king. There's a separation between church and state, the Cohen is not allowed to be the king separation of church and state, that's not great.

Geoffrey Stern  20:48

Well, absolutely. And you can almost equate the downfall of [Temple] Judaism. That was the beginning of that slippery slope, all the way to Herod. And all that when we we gave up that separation of literally, of church and state, you're absolutely correct. That absolutely amplifies what I was saying. I mentioned a few minutes ago, that the rabbi's kind of took away from these biblical verses some lessons and the first lesson they took was that you can defile yourself for a teacher. And that there's something profound in Judaism in terms of the respect we have for our parents for our past, and for the education and the transmission of our tradition, that is at the same level, possibly, or gets close to the same level as this relationship that we have with God. But the rabbi's went even further, and I'd like to explore some rabbinic texts that relate to the way they valued life. So one interesting, and this is a piece of Talmud that I searched for, because I knew it was there. And I said, you know, it's the old question of you know, two guys walk into a bar. What happens if a funeral possession and a wedding possession meet on a crossroad. In Ketubot 17a it says the sages taught one reroutes the funeral procession for a burial of a corpse to yield before the wedding possession of a bride. מַעֲבִירִין אֶת הַמֵּת מִלִּפְנֵי כַלָּה And the reason they do that is because the wedding represents the future. And the burial is the past. And again, I put it within the context of other religions, that deify, that make this realm of the afterlife as the fulcrum that guides our observance, and just a very simple rule like this is a profound statement, is it not?

Adam Mintz  23:08

It really is. These great Talmudic statements where you have one thing versus the other, you know, they have a case where yet where you have a chance to save your father or your teacher, who do you say first. What is considered to be more important, a funeral or a wedding, which is considered to be more important. I always like to study those pieces of the Talmud by asking the following question, what would we have thought if the Talmud hadn't given us an answer? What would you have thought to a bit in the right answer?

Geoffrey Stern  23:38

I don't want to get into social commentary. And maybe this doesn't apply to your synagogue and to modern, Orthodox, observant Jews, but I belong to a conservative synagogue. And I know that around the holidays, they will say services begin at this time, and Yizkor is at this time. Even Lincoln Square synagogue has a free Yizkor service. Yizkor is when we remember those who have passed away and it seems that even till today, even within our Judaism, we focus upon that aspect because we know that's what brings in people to our religion, but at the end of the day, those of us who are involved in our religion 365 days knows that it's really the wedding's not the funerals. It's really the Simchat Torah and the Purim and the Hanukkah, but nonetheless we default to using the hook of the afterlife the Netherworld? Am I wrong, am I being facetious and cynical?

Adam Mintz  24:54

What about the fact that what brings people to shul is Kaddish? Right?.

Geoffrey Stern  25:00

Yeah. And neither one of us is putting it down obviously. But nonetheless, you can ask the question: Why is Kaddish such a draw and not? You know, listening to the Torah? You know, why did you say the Torah reading begins sharply at 10:00?

Adam Mintz  25:18

We know the answer and I guess that's the that's the problem, right?

Geoffrey Stern  25:22

Yup. So I want to dig a little bit deeper. We it's very trite to say that the rabbi's were this worldly, and they loved life. But there's another thread that I find fascinating and Ketubot 103b It says: When Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi fell ill, Rabbi Ḥiyya entered to be with him and found him crying. He said to him: My teacher, for what reason are you crying? Isn’t it taught in a baraita: If one dies while laughing, it is a good sign for him; while crying, it is a bad sign for him?... Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said to him: I am crying for the Torah and the mitzvot that I will be unable to fulfill after I die. The sense that only someone of flesh and blood can feed the poor, can put tephilin on his arm can make the decision whether to be faithful to his wife or not, can study the Torah, this lack of looking at the next world as the ultimate goal and reward. It's absolutely lacking here. This gives religious substance to our life on Earth. Is it powerful?

Adam Mintz  26:44

Very powerful. So what do you make of that statement? I think it's great.

Geoffrey Stern  26:48

I think you can only take it at face value that just as those of us who come into contact with, with a friend or family who passes away, and we walk out we go, you know, we got to savor every moment on this beautiful earth. It's as good as it gets. There's such a focus on the only thing that we can do is in this world. You know, it reminds you of that Midrash where the angels were arguing with God, saying, why God are you giving the Torah to Moses, give it to us we're pure. And all the arguments are because Moses can sin and he's human, and he's hungry, and he has to work and he has to make sure he's ethical. You don't have any of those issues. That's kind of the way the Rabbi's, especially in a text like this are looking at the next world. Maybe it's a place for reward. But it's not a place for spiritual growth. It's not a place where you can learn one day what you didn't know the day before.

Adam Mintz  27:49

Yeah, I think that that's all good. I mean, the idea of this world versus the next world, how do we live our life? Are we supposed to worry about this world? Are we supposed to be concerned about the next word?

Geoffrey Stern  28:03

You know, and you don't even have to go to rabbinic sources. If you go to the psalms that we read when we sing Hallell it says lלֹ֣א הַ֭מֵּתִים יְהַֽלְלוּ־יָ֑הּ וְ֝לֹ֗א כׇּל־יֹרְדֵ֥י דוּמָֽה. The dead cannot praise the Lord, nor any who go down into silence. I shall not die but live and proclaim the works of the LORD. The LORD punished me severely, but did not hand me over to death.

Adam Mintz  28:28

I mean, King David knew the answer, right?

Geoffrey Stern  28:31

So you could look at it from the point of view of someone who's in pain and someone dying. But from the perspective that we're looking at, it's no this is the best life that we have. And it's fascinating that when the rabbi's did put together an afterlife, it was Techiyat Hameytim it was coming back with a body they were so focused, so committed to life as we know it. I just want to share one law that actually is in the Misheneh Brura and the Shulchan Aruch till today and the Gomora Berachot says one may not walk in a cemetery with tephilin on his head and a Torah in his arm and read from it. If one does so he commits a transgression due to the verse. He who mocks the poor blasphemed his creator. לוֹעֵג לָרָשׁ חֵרֵף עוֹשֵׂהוּ And there are other laws. In the Mishna Brura  that says you can't wear ztitzit, a talit in a cemetery. And again, it harps on what Rob Yehuda HaNasi said, You can be the biggest tzadik in the world buried and visited by by 1000s of Hasidim. But you can't do mitzvot anymore. And so if somebody shows up to a beit kevarot to a cemetery wearing tephilin, he is mocking the dead. And the flip side of that is that every breathing moment that we have the obligation but the privilege of being alive.

Adam Mintz  30:04

I think that's the best thing. That's the best word so far. And that is, we have the privilege to do all these things. Isn't that a great thing? We have the privilege to do these things. Once you die, you no longer have the privilege to do these things anymore.

Geoffrey Stern  30:21

Yep. And and, and it comes across, not as some sort of ethical message or a drash. But it goes all the way through to the Halacha and the fact that when you leave the cemetery, you wash your hands, we give great respect for the dead. And I should say that the laws even for a Cohen, if there's no one else to bury somebody, you got to do it. It's called a Meit Mitzvah.

Adam Mintz  30:49

I'll tell you another interesting thing about respect for the dead, you know, some people wear their tzitizit out of their shirts, you know, they wear they wear their tzitzit hanging. You know, that when you go into a cemetery, you're not allowed to have your tzitzit hanging out, because that would be embarrassing for the dead. We take that so literally, that would be considered embarrassing for the dead. Isn't that interesting?

Geoffrey Stern  31:13

It's interesting. But again, it's a it's a little trivial example of a profound message.

Adam Mintz  31:20

One more example of the same message.

Geoffrey Stern  31:24

And that love of life that we have isn't just a simple L'Chaim. It's a love of everything that we can do with every breath that we have in every blessed moment that we have. And that ultimately, is why a rejection of death is something that is holy, and it is an affirmation of our relationship with God and life and that to me is an amazing message.

Adam Mintz  31:51

Fantastic. Enjoy Israel. Shabbat shalom, everyone else Shabbat Shalom and we look forward next week to returning to our regular scheduled time at 8pm Shabbat Shalom everybody

Geoffrey Stern  32:00

Shabbat Shalom to everybody. Bye bye

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divide and sanctify

parshat kedoshim – leviticus 19 – 20

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on May 5th 2022 as we ask: what does it mean to be holy? Does holiness divide or unite us? Join us as we ask whether the revolutionary perception of holiness contained in the biblical text is eclipsed by puritanism and sectarianism.

Sefaria Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00 PM Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we ask: what does it mean to be holy? Does holiness divide or unite us? so settle down and cut yourself a slice of pie for this week’s episode divide and sanctify.


Well, welcome to another week of Madlik disruptive Torah. And as we were talking about in the pre-show, usually, Kedoshim, the Parsha that we have this week is kind of wrapped with Acharei Mot, the parsha that we read last week, so it kind of gets buried in the lead. And it's rather exciting to me at any rate, to have the focus today just on the parsha of Kidoshim. And I must say that there is an Israeli expression that I heard recently this amuses me because secular Jews say it when they quote somebody who's passed away. They say Acharei Mot Kedoshim Emor. Is that correct?


Adam Mintz  01:34

Rabbi, that is what they say.


Geoffrey Stern  01:37

And all that is doing and I've heard that from secular Jews. So it's, it's kind of become part of the standard expressions, it combines the first name of the three parshiot , and it means after death, you are holy in what you say. And so when you quote somebody who's passed away, and you give them a little extra credit, you say, Acharei Kedoshim Emor . And just always love instances where things that are innocuous, Jewish halachic. biblical laws have entered the speech of everyday Israelis.


Adam Mintz  02:18

It's a great it's a great saying, isn't it?


Geoffrey Stern  02:20

Yeah, I love it. So anyway, we are in Leviticus 19 and 20. And what I am going to do the word kedoshim means holy, as I said in the intro, I believe that we are all going to be surprised by what the Bible considers holy. And so what I'm going to do is kind of read verses selectively, because my bias is normally when we think of something that's holy, we think of ritual, we think of taboo that you can't touch it, that it's pure. And I think you'll be surprised by where the emphasis of the holiness is. So let's dive right in. God spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the whole Israelite community, and say to them, You shall be holy for I Your God am holy. You shall each revere your mother and your father, and keep my Sabbath. I God am your God. You shall not pick your vineyard bear or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard, you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger, I Hashem am your God. That's the kind of repetition You shall not steal. You shall not deal deceitfully or falsely with one another. You shall not swear falsely by my name. profaning the name of God, I am HaShem. You shall not defraud your fellow Israelite You shall not commit robbery, The wages of a laborer so not remain with you until morning, you shall not insult the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind, you shall fear your God, I am HaShem your God. You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kin fairly. (16) Do not deal basely with members of your people. Do not profit by the blood of your fellow [Israelite]: I am ה'. (17) You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kin but incur no guilt on their account. (18) You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against members of your people. Love your fellow [Israelite] as yourself: I am ה'. (19) You shall observe My laws. You shall not let your cattle mate with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; you shall not put on cloth from a mixture of two kinds of material. (20) If a man has carnal relations with a woman who is a slave and has been designated for another man, but has not been redeemed or given her freedom, there shall be an indemnity; they shall not, however, be put to death, since she has not been freed.kinds of seed you shall not put on a cloth from a mixture of two kinds of material. If a man has kind of relations with a woman who is a slave and has been designated for another man, but has not been redeemed or given her freedom. There shall be indemnity they saw will not, however be put to death. Since she has not been freed. I kept on reading the last pot, because that's I think what most of us predicted would be here, there would be laws of sexual and chastity, there would be laws of mixing us the seed of flax, these who came that we had talked about earlier. But that's almost the end of it in the middle. All of these laws don't normally refer to us as the holiness laws. And the fact that it starts by saying, kind of you shall be holy, because I am holy. God doesn't have these kinds of relationships. He doesn't pay his workers, so to speak. So to me, it's a really radical definition of holiness. Are you struck in that way as I am rabbi.


Adam Mintz  05:58

Well, I'm struck by the definition of holiness. I'm struck by the fact that the Torah waited until the middle of the book of Vayikra, to talk about holiness. If it's so central, shouldn't the Torah start that way? It kind of sneaks up on us here, does it?


Geoffrey Stern  06:15

Well, maybe we've been preparing for this all this time, right?


Adam Mintz  06:20

that that itself is a dvar Torah. That dvar Torah 's says that we weren't ready to be holy, yet. We needed all the Torah up to now to get to holiness. I wonder whether that's true. That's a nice Dvar Torah right. I wonder whether that's true?


Geoffrey Stern  06:35

Absolutely. I mean, I think the other thing which comes out clearer in the Hebrew than it does in the English is, I wouldn't say it's a sing song. But it starts by saying, I am holy, therefore you should be holy. And then it rolls out one or two or three verses, and it repeats. It has like a drumbeat. I am your God,


Adam Mintz  07:00

Well, that's, that's the refrain. And that's the refrain from the first verse, Be holy, because I'm holy, and because I am your God, because I am your God. It seems to be that either God is seen as having these moral traits, or we need to have moral traits, because God is our God, meaning that we need to be moral, that's part of our religious obligation. You don't need to say fast on Yom Kippur, because God is God, because that's a part of the ritual. But to be moral, you may think that has nothing to do with God. The answer is yes, Ani Hashem. It's only because God is God.


Geoffrey Stern  07:45

So one fascinating interpretation. And I think one of the themes that we are going to kind of find today, and it's something that always impacts me, is those of you who have ever studied higher biblical criticism, where they look at the texts of the Torah as though they're written in different formats, possibly they were edited and put together. If after you study the higher biblical critics, you go back and study the traditional rabbinic interpretations, you find that this is not a discovery, the rabbi's themselves.... because they lived this language and they live these laws. They were very attenuated to when there was a change in types of phraseology. So one rabbi, Rabbi Hiyya taught: this section, and he says parsha zoo, was spoken in the presence of a gathering of the whole assembly, because most of the essential principles of the Torah are attached to it. Rabbi Levi said because the 10 commandments are included therein.  And I quote this In brief, but it goes on to map, literally map every one of the 10 commandments on to these verses. And what I want to focus on for a second is number one, that the rabbi's call it this parsha. This whole sense of having parshat hashavua ...  you know you don't really find references in the Talmud, correct me if I'm wrong, Rabbi


Adam Mintz  09:28

No, you're 100% right. The Talmud... in many places they had a triennial cycle. They didn't finish the Torah every year. They finish it every three years. So therefore, they didn't have parshat Hashavua the way we have it. That was something that developed only over the centuries. That's absolutely right.


Geoffrey Stern  09:46

But not only that, you'll never get in the Talmud where they refer like oh, yeah, like we saw in parshat Noach. Or what we saw in parshat Mishpatim.  They do have a concept of parsha. And when they refer to a parsha they mean a chapter, a piece that's clearly unique and stands on its own. And that's why again, I find if you study the rabbi's in that way, after you study higher biblical criticism, they're really talking about the same thing in different manners. So the first thing is this Rabbi Hiyya talks about this parsha, and he's not talking about Pasha hashavua, , He's talking about this segment that is clearly stands on its own and is one literary, unitary piece. And then he says that this is a piece that was said in public. And of course, the word that he uses B'hakel. And we know that there is a commandment to gather all the people at certain times and to read from the toe a biblical commandment. So he is really saying this is a very, very important piece. And then when you add to that this Rabbi Levy, who says it's really a restatement, or I'd say, a parallel presentation of the 10 commandments, that becomes fascinating.


Adam Mintz  11:12

That's fascinating. I mean, first of all, you know, it's interesting about the Ten Commandments. So you know, we are all sensitized to the fact that the Ten Commandments are what we like to call the top Ten Commandments, means the top 10 laws, but actually, that's not the way the Torah presents them. You know, the laws and the Ten commandments are not somehow more important than, you know, the little laws, you know, the laws of Shatnes, the prohibition against wool and linen. The idea in the Torah is that all laws are of equal importance. So that's interesting, isn't it?


Geoffrey Stern  11:47

You know that they used to say, the Ten commandments in services every single morning. They only changed that, because Christianity thought that the Ten commandments were the only commandments that you had to listen to. And in order to prove the Christians wrong, they took that out of the Davening. But they used to say it in the davening. It is absolutely. The issue that you raise is a complex one, because many non-Jews would come to us and try to focus on the Ten commandments. So for instance, there was a custom to stand for the Ten commandments. And then people said, Well, if we just stand for the Ten commandments, that might be an interpretation that it's more important, and that laws like Shatnes don't mean as much. So we'll stand for the whole thing. So it was a sensitive issue. But there's no question. At the end of some of these re-statements, it does say these are the Ten commandments, even if it's not the one that we target, there's something you know, call it numerology, there was something packed about Aseret Hadibrot because, obviously, Moshe came down with the 10 commandments, you can't dilute that.  So this is an ongoing theme in Madlik, where the way we Jews practice and study our Judaism has, through better or worse been affected by non Jews, by Christians, by others, whether we have been a reflex against that, or simply other dispositions. But absolutely, what you're just saying is what I was trying to say. And so there's no question that this is a very important segment. Now one of the things that I think Henry even mentioned it last week, because he read this portion as his bar mitzvah. The second half of our portion today talks about all the forbidden sexual relationships. And I think even last year for this podcast, we focused on same-sex and the prohibition against same-sex. It's all at the end of this portion. And because we operate in this portion of the week, we tend to lump them together. But I want you to listen very carefully to Vayikra Raba.  Vayikra Raba says as follows. Rabbi Judah Ben Pazi  asked, Why was the section dealing with Consanguineous relationships placed next to the section dealing with holiness? So in Hebrew, it says, Why was parshat arayot connected to parshat Kedoshim. So the rabbi's understood that these were two totally different sections. And just like sometimes they ask, why are the laws of this Sabbath connected or juxtaposed to building the Mishkan; the tabernacle. And they learned something from it. Here, too, these two sections were clearly different. And the laws of the Forbidden incestuous, and other relationships is not kedoshim. It's a way out. It's a section that deals with that topic. And that too, is fascinating to me, because it does impact what Kedoshim is, we can ask why they were put together. But kedoshim by itself doesn't include those things.


Adam Mintz  15:40

Yeah, that's interesting. So what do you make of that?


Geoffrey Stern  15:45

So again, it absolutely emphasizes what I took away when I read Kedoshim this year afresh. And what I was reading about was, yes, there was some things about the Sabbath. We'll get to that maybe in a second. And clearly, it did talk about the mixed species. But for the most part, when it says, Be holy, because I am holy, because I am your God. It's about paying the laborer on time. It's about having scales that are correct. It's about telling the truth. Even when it talks about not taking God's name in vain. It means when you swear an oath against somebody else, it is so interpersonal, it is so social, that I think it's a revolutionary interpretation of a term that we typically associate with ritual and taboo and those types of things.


Adam Mintz  16:46

I think that that's right. I'll just tell you in these months between Peasach and shavuot, there is a tradition each week to study Perkei Avot... , which is the ethics of the Fathers, the laws of morality, begins Moshe kibel Torah Be'Sinai  umsur l'Yehoshua it has the list of the trend of the transmission. Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai and pass it to Joshua. Joshua to the elders and the elders, to the members of the great Knesset; of the great assembly. So the question is asked, Why does the laws of morality give us this line of transmission? Isn't it true about all the Talmud, it's all part of the transmission? The answer is that we know that the obligation to fast on Yom Kippur? Or the obligations, to eat matzah on Pesach. We know that comes from God, you don't need to tell me the transmission. But it could be that the laws of morality have nothing to do with the Torah that the laws of morality have to do with the way people behave in the society that we come from. And the answer is No, the answer is Moshe kibel Torah Be'Sinai, that that that also is part of our tradition, being moral is part of our tradition, which I think is really a nice idea.


Geoffrey Stern  18:08

And I would emphasize that. That when you look at Kedoshim, and you read it on Saturday, on Shabbat, anew, you will see if you take just this segment of kedoshim, and you don't go into the latter stuff that talks about all of these incestuous and [forbidden] sexual [relationships] and passion and all of that you will see it is very ethical when we say ethical, ethical between ben Adam l'chavero between man and his fellow. And it's social. And so it's not "also"...  we just heard that this is read in public, this is a rephrasing of the Ten commandments. It's "emphatic", and I think that is so powerful. So I want to go back to what Kedoshim means and how it was taken. But before I do, I can't but talk about one little juxtaposition that came up. And it says in "keep my Sabbath". And I "honor your parents" and Rabbi correct me if I'm wrong, but in the standard tradition of the Ten commandments, you also have the same juxtaposition. You have the fifth commandment is to keep the Sabbath and the sixth is to honor your parents. Am I right?


Adam Mintz  19:31

Four and Five, Four is Honor the Sabbath and five is honor your parents.


Geoffrey Stern  19:36

Okay. So Rashi here gives the traditional explanation because when I say he gives an explanation. It's based on a question, why are these two laws always combined? And is two really high, high profile places where they are combined, and he says is, this is the traditional explanation that you have to honor your parents. But in a situation where your parents tell you to break the Sabbath, you don't have to listen to them. And I want to ask you point blank rabbi is, is the question a good question? And how does the answer resonate with you?


Adam Mintz  20:23

I mean, the question is not a good question, but the answer is a good answer.


Geoffrey Stern  20:28

oooooh,  I would go the other way. Why do you think the question is not a good question?


Adam Mintz  20:32

You think the question is good? The questions a made up question.


Geoffrey Stern  20:35

When it talks between four and five of the Ten commandments? I think the question is a made up question. But when you look at our verse here, that combined in one verse, Leviticus 19: 3 it says, "You shall each revere your mother and your father, and keep My sabbaths: I ה' am your God."  I think that's a good question.


Adam Mintz  20:58

Good. Okay. I think that's a good question.


Geoffrey Stern  21:01

Okay, so now we agree, it's a good question. Now, why do you think it's a good answer?


Adam Mintz  21:09

You you started, you tell me do you like the answer?


Geoffrey Stern  21:13

I don't like the answer. I think the answer? You know, it's a good question. Why are you lumping these two things that have nothing to do with with each other together? And we come up with a innocuous situation of a Ba'al Teshuva, or something, someone who's more religious than his parents?


Adam Mintz  21:34

Let me tell you the reason I think that it's a bad question, is because the only reason they asked the question is because they have an answer. If they didn't have an answer, they would never ask.


Geoffrey Stern  21:47

Okay You know what I mean, right. Before we get to the answer, everything in the Torah is next to one another, right? I mean, they could ask that question on every single verse in the Torah. Why is this next to this? But this is in the same verse? It's in the same verse,


Adam Mintz  22:05

But they could ask the question so many times, the only reason he asked that question is because there's an answer. Now, okay. So the answer is, so what happens if your parents tell you to violate the Shabbos? So it comes to tell you that Shabbos wins over your parents? Because I am God? Now, that's an interesting moral kind of dilemma, which is who do you listen to your parents or God? That's a great kind of question. Because I think you can make a pretty good argument that maybe you should listen to your parents, your parents are your parents.


Geoffrey Stern  22:43

So I am going to give a radical new interpretation...  is that okay? Heard first here on Madlik.  And this is not a interpretation that I think is the peshat, the original intent, but it is a little bit of drash. And it's looking at it through our modern eyes. For many of us, we will late Shabbat to family, we relate Shabbat to families coming together. There is an Israeli, not for profit, and it's secular, and it is arguing for some sort of public transportation system on Shabbat. And their argument is for people who don't have a car, how do you have Shabbat Friday Night Dinner with your parents. And I have in the source notes their most recent ad from Valentine's Day, and it has a picture of a challah and it says אהבה אמיתית זה לבוא איתה לארוחת שישי אצל ההורים, to come with this collar to the Friday night dinner with her parents. And then it says we should have some sort of public transportation. But what I do believe is that for all of us, it resonates the connection between Shabbat and family and whether that was the original intention or not. But I do think there is a very strong intention and that we should lean over backwards to make sure that of all of the oneg all of the joy that you can celebrate on Shabbat. The one joy that we should lean over backwards to make possible is for children to be with their parents.


Adam Mintz  22:53

Good Good. I like that. I mean, that's first heard on Madlik, but I like it.


Geoffrey Stern  24:49

So I'm going to have to contact Yisrael Hofsheet and give them some material that came out of Madlik. Okay, so let's get back to this concept of Kadosh holy. So, while she says something very interesting, you shall be holy. This means keeping aloof from forbidden sexual relations. So he studies the same Midrash that I quoted a second ago, that refers to the two parshiot the two sections individually, he is follwowing that. But what is amazing is the language that he use, הֱווּ פְרוּשִׁים מִן הָעֲרָיוֹת. So, there is an expression  קדושים תהיו פרושים תהיו   that means you shall be holy, you shall be separate. And in many sense that falls into the traditional understanding of what holiness is, when I say the mountain is holy, I have to step back, I have to make sure that I don't come into contact with my wife for three days, I have to look at it as a holy mountain sanctified it is a separation, it is holier than now it is an other, it is beyond the material. And that's one level of what he's saying. And therefore it's very natural for him to link our little segment that we read of kedoshim as a holiness with the next one, which was פָּרָשַׁת עֲרָיוֹת, which was the sexual perversions. But I want to talk about the history of this idea. Because the English translation of Peru Shem is actually Pharisees. In other words, Rabbinic Judaism, whether they refer to themselves this way, or this was a label that was put on them were called Perushim. And in a sense, that was their sense of holiness.


Adam Mintz  27:03

So I'm going to tell you a secret. See the Pharisees refer to a group that became the rabbinic Jews. They were a group during the Second Temple period. There were the Pharisees. And there were the Saducees. In Hebrew, we say the Perushim. And the Zadukim, the Zadukim were the priests. They were the ones who ran the show. The Peru Shem, the fat juicy, the SAT and the Pharisee. Sorry, they were not the ones who are the leadership, they were the average person. How did they make themselves special, even though they were not the ones who were the priests who worked in the temple. What they did was they separated themselves from forbidden foods, from foods that were Ta'amei from foods that were ritually impure. So what's amazing is they were known by that practice, and therefore they were called Perushim. So actually, it's exactly the same term. The term is people who separate themselves exactly the same term. Isn't that interesting?


Geoffrey Stern  28:21

It is absolutely interesting. And from a certain perspective, there is in the notes, you'll see modern scholarship that I bring. So there's an argument of whether this was a term that was a derogatory term like these guys are the outsiders, these guys are the rejectionists or whether it was a term of pride, and you are following a line of thought where they separated themselves from and they observe the types and the other laws of purity and are in at a higher level. And I don't think there's the verdict is not really out on this. But what I want to focus on is again, this concept and those of you who are attenuated to Hebrew, now we've used the same shoresh, the same three letter shoresh twice in the same segment, we talked about a "Parasha", which is a division of the Torah into different segments [literary pieces] , and we've talked about now holy is to be separate. And then there was this sect that really either was tagged as separatists or proudly wore the banner of being separate. But they were the same rabbis who wrote in Perkei Avot that you should not be אַל תִּפְרֹשׁ מִן הַצִּבּוּר. So they understood the problems of sectarianism. They understood the problems of this division.


Adam Mintz  30:03

So say it even better. That is it's okay to be separate and ritual matters. It's not okay to be separate and communal matters. And that's amazing.


Geoffrey Stern  30:14

I think they struggled with it. I mean, these are the same rabbis who said the temple was destroyed because of Sinat Hinum. They understood this was a time where they were different sects. And this was a time where we were tearing ourselves apart. And so what I would like to finish with is, and I don't know how I got here, but there was a term that Solomon Shechter came up with, which is a very strange term, and it's called Catholic Israel. And he brought it up in a speech where he dedicated The Seminary, the conservative seminary, and you have to understand when he dedicated that there was no real Orthodoxy in America, he was really trying to address Reform and all that. But what he said was amazing, and what the takeaway was, was amazing, and he says, What unites all of Judaism is that if you look back in history, and you look at, for instance, the Kararites who were literalist or fundamentalists who only listened to the written word and argued with the Pharisees, he says, they triggered a response in Rabbinic Judaism, to focus more on the texts to focus more on our tradition. So what he says is, we do have a lot of separation, we have different portions, we have different sects within us. But if you study those portions, and if you study those different movements, and you bring it all to your present in Torah learning, you have a Catholic Israel, which means a united Israel and a holy Israel. And I think that's a fascinating, fascinating idea, as we focus on the connection between Kedusha; holiness and separation


Adam Mintz  32:10

That's a great way to end because to imagine that he said that 120 years ago and we're still talking about it and trying to figure out its relevance for today that's really a nice idea. So thank you Geoffrey. I think we really kind of try to get to the bottom of what you do shot is but also what the verses at the beginning with Shabbat and parents and try to understand the tension there I think it's a parsah full of great things. Enjoy everybody and next week join us when we'll have a lunch and learn as we study parshat Emor together.


Geoffrey Stern  32:47

It will be at one o'clock Eastern because I will be in the Holy Land. Shabbat Shalom you should all be Kodesh bye bye


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parshat achrei mot – leviticus 16

A live recording of Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse on April 28th 2022 for Madlik Disruptive Torah. A goat is thrown off a cliff to atone for our sins. A troubling rite with a rich history for the Jewish people and for Christianity that believes in a Savior who died to expiate the sins of mankind.

Sefaria Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam mints I host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. We’re back from spring break with fond memories of our Passover Seder, where we sang about a goat My father bought for two zuzim, Had Gad Ya Had Gad Ya. Today, we encounter another goat. This goat is thrown off a cliff to atone for our sins, a troubling rite with a rich history. So welcome back to reality, and join us as we explore Scapegoating.


Well, welcome back from spring break. Here we are the Madlik podcast. It's on all of your favorite channels, Apple podcasts, and Spotify. So, if you like what you hear today, you can go ahead and share it with your friends, listen to it, and give us some comments as well. So Rabbi, welcome back from Israel. Here we are, we didn't miss a parsha because no one has been reading from the weekly parsha in the Torah. For the last two weeks, it's been Passover. And we are back in Leviticus, we're in chapter 16. The name of our parsha is Acharei Mot, which actually skips back a few parshiot to when Aaron's two sons died for bringing a sacrifice that was strange and not requested. So here we begin, in chapter 16. And God spoke to Moses after the death of his two sons. And it just carries on from there and talks about what the Aaron and the other Kohanim need to do. And then it begins with a very strange, rite, and it says in verse 5, from the Israelite community, he shall take two he goats for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering. And it goes on Aaron shall take the two he goats and let them stand before God at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and how you shall place lots upon the two goats. One lot is marked for God, and the other is marked for Azazel. Aaron shall bring forward the goat designated by the lot for God, which is he to offer as a sin offering, while the goat designated by the lot for Azazel shall be left standing alive before God, to make expiation with it and to send it off to the wilderness of Azazel. And then it goes on further and it says, Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated agent. Thus, the goat shall carry on it all their iniquities, to an inaccessible region, and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness. V'nasa ha se alav et kol avnotam. The one who set the Azazel goat free, he shall also wash those clothes and bathe the body and water. After that they may we enter the camp. And then finally, it ends by saying, and this shall be to you a law for all time, in the seventh month, on the 10th day of the month, you shall practice self-denial, and you shall do no manner of work neither the citizen nor the alien who resides amongst you. For on this day atonement shall be made for you to purify you of all your sins, and you shall be pure before God, it shall be a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practice self-denial. It is a law for all time. And obviously we're talking about Yom Kippur war, and it has the verse in it כִּֽי־בַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּ֛ה יְכַפֵּ֥ר עֲלֵיכֶ֖ם לְטַהֵ֣ר אֶתְכֶ֑ם מִכֹּל֙ חַטֹּ֣אתֵיכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֥י ה' תִּטְהָֽרוּ׃, which is words that we say at the high point of the Kipper service. So this has so much in it Rabbi for us to discuss It's almost hard to figure out where to begin. But as we discussed in the in the pre -how, this is the source literally, of scapegoating, which is a modern day word. It's something that came right out of this strange rite, and we use it even till today. So Rabbi, what about it? Is of the most interest to you? Is it that we put our sins upon an animal? Is it that the animal is not the animal that we sacrifice in the temple, but we send out to the wilderness? What about this is striking to you? Are you surprised by anything? Are you troubled by anything? What does it mean to you?


Adam Mintz  04:50

The idea that we symbolically get rid of our sins by placing the sins on this goat the scapegoat, I think is a is a such an interesting idea. I mean, it's a unique idea, in the sense that you don't find it anywhere else in the Torah. You never have this kind of symbolic, you know, transference that's really what it is. We're transferring our sins onto a goat. Isn't that fantastic? I mean, isn't that you know, like, like, how in the world does that work? And it seems to be כִּֽי־בַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּ֛ה יְכַפֵּ֥ר עֲלֵיכֶ֖ם לְטַהֵ֣ר אֶתְכֶ֑ם מִכֹּל֙ חַטֹּ֣אתֵיכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֥י ה' תִּטְהָֽרוּ׃, just like you said, On this day, God will forgive us for our sins, atone for our sins. It sounds like it actually works. Somehow this magical formula of placing our sins on the head of the goat works.


Geoffrey Stern  05:43

I mean, I agree with you totally. On the other hand, in a sense, I disagree. Because if you think back at religion, and I'm talking about the most primitive forms of religion, where powers are imbued upon inanimate objects, it's called Totem. It's called taboo. In fact, it's almost natural, this concept of even when we sacrifice an animal when we sacrifice a human being, are we not somehow placating the spirits? Are we not engaged in this what you were describing as projecting, displacement, focusing our feelings of aggression our hostility and it's, it's something that's primitive, but I was just quoting from the medical definition of scapegoating. It's something that we have done for ever, you know, when when your kid stubs its toe on the table, and you hit the table and say, bad table, what you're really doing is reenacting this very primal urge of us to, to get rid of the evil, to push it out, and also to bring in the holy. So on the one hand, it's very strange. But on the other hand, it's not really surprising at all.


Adam Mintz  07:23

So that's interesting. So I will tell you, that generally, when it comes to sacrifices, you know, sacrifices are a strange thing. Why does Judaism put such an emphasis in the Torah on sacrifices. It's not something we can relate to today, we don't have sacrifices. But in the Torah, the torah spends basically an entire book of the Torah, the Book of Leviticus, talking about sacrifices. So Rambam, Maimonides, has this theory that sacrifices were the way that the ancient world worship their gods, and therefore the Jews worship their God in the same way. But Ramban, Nachmanides, has a different explanation. He says that basically, every sacrifice is a transference. Really, we should be sacrificing ourselves to God. But practically, that won't work out very well, because we sacrifice ourselves to God, that wouldn't be a next sacrifice, that would be it. So instead of sacrificing ourselves, we sacrifice an animal in our stead, in our place. And if you take that explanation, actually, the scapegoat of Yom Kippur is very much in line with the idea of sacrifice.


Geoffrey Stern  08:45

So again, I totally agree with you. But one of the reasons why this has become such a subject of discussion, even we'll see with the Ramban, who you just quoted, is because it juxtaposes this sacrifice of the goat to Azazel. And we'll get into what Azazel could mean in a second to the sacrifice that is given in the temple to God. And then of course, there's this lot this, goral, you picked one goat, and it is for God. And the other one is for Azazel, could it be a place? Could it be an alternative God? Could it be an alternative power? So I think that as troubling as just the very act of throwing a goat off a cliff and putting all of your sins on it is then that's compounded by the fact that the person who does it needs to clean themselves before they can come back to the congregation. And so there's a sense of, we're doing something that's unorthodox pardon the expression. And then it has to be countered, as opposed to the other goat. So in your scheme of things, Rabbi, we have now two sacrifices, the one that is to Hashem, to God is a typical type of sacrifice. But that's not the one that we put all of our sins on. So Ramban needs to come up with an explanation to explain this alternative sacrifice.


Adam Mintz  10:38

Okay, so you've said a mouthful there, there's a lot of different pieces of this. So the first interesting thing is the lottery the lot. And that is you take two goats, and it seems to be random. And that is that you know, which goat goes to God and which goat goes out to the desert is literally random. That's so interesting, because we know that in many ways, life is random, and which is gonna go to God and which is gonna go out to the desert, it's random, it's by chance. That's such a, that's such a powerful idea. You know, we try to control so many things in our lives. And in the end, the ultimate, the ultimate decider of our fate is random. So that's the first interesting thing. But this idea, you see one sacrifices to God. The question is, what is the other goat that goes to the death according to many people, and Rabbi Soloveitchik, Rabbi, Joseph Soloveitchik, was famous for saying this, actually, that when the goat that goes to the desert is also a sacrifice. It's just a special kind of sacrifice. It's a sacrifice that it doesn't go on the altar. It's a sacrifice that goes to the desert. But that also has the status of a sacrifice, it sent to the death. But in a way, it's our way of asking God to atone for all our sins. So that's really a very interesting idea that the one that we send away, is also sent away, but it's also kind of towards God.


Geoffrey Stern  12:22

So the thing that really bothers I think the Jewish commentators is exactly this juxtaposition. And some of them focus on the fact that one of them is to God, it's more to God. And the other one is to some other force. And the the traditional Jewish sources point out also that one of the words that's used in the verses that I read a few minutes ago, where I said that this is a aw forever, it says it's a Chok. And those of you who are attenuated to, to the Hebrew know that while Chok can mean law, in many instances, it's referring to a law that is not so logical, that defies logic, maybe even more that contradicts our logic. So we've talked about the Red Heifer where the priest that brings the red heifer, which is made to purify someone who's come into contact with death. So it's Metahar et hatemaim u' mtameh et ha tehorim, it purifies the impure, and it profanes the pure, and you have a little bit of that here, and so the rabbi's pick up on this, and they say that this is one of those Chukim, this is one of those laws that defies logic, but Ramban, who you quoted earlier, goes even further. He says that this almost smacks of idolatry. This almost smacks as though one is sending a sacrifice to another being he writes, it's for this reason that our rabbis have interpreted and my statutes you shall keep these are matters against which the evil can the inclination raises accusations, and the adult who is likewise bring charges such as, and he goes on and lists and he says, They accuse us in connection with the goat that is sent away to Azazel because they think that we act as they do. So here this is not some profound question. question of why when you purify do you become impure? Here, this smacks of Bible comes out against idolatry. And here we are sending a sacrifice to this Azazel. So maybe it's a good time to discuss what Azazel might mean. And if in fact, we're talking about the Bible recognizing other powers, other forces other gods, maybe a Satan. Is that something that is here?


Adam Mintz  15:35

Good. That's an interesting topic. So just from reading the Torah, it sounds like Azazel is the desert. Right? It sounds like Azazel hamidbarah, the Torah says to Azazel which is in the desert. So it sounds like as well as the desert. Now you raise an interesting point, Jeffrey. Because it might mean that as Azael is a power, or a god-like being in the desert, that is how is good in the desert, that our God is in the temple. And then there's Azazel, which is in the desert. So it's not clear. But what happened was the rabbi's identified Azazel with the desert, rather than, you know, that addressing this question of potentially another deity being Azazel, they just identify Azazel as being the desert, you send it out to the desert, you send it away, far away. And we were talking in the pre-game, about how Azazel became came to mean hell. And probably it's related to that. Hell is the sense of far away the bad place with all the sins, right. And that's also the sense that you get, at least from the way the rabbi's understand the verse.


Geoffrey Stern  17:00

So I think the name of this episode is scapegoat. And of course, like any other great word that comes from the King James Bible, but the word Azazel. First of all, it has "oz" in it "oz" means strength and power. And again, as much as the rabbi's would love to say that it just means the wilderness, you can't get away from the fact that it's juxtaposed to this one is to God. And this one is to something that's not God. And I think that they were very sensitive to. And so there are some that talk about Azazel as a demon. There were some that look at az azal, which means Ez is a goat, and zaal means to leave. And that through the Septuagint and others is probably how the King James Bible translated the word it's, it's not even a goat. It's azazel became the scapegoat, which is kind of a fascinating, departure in the history of words. But the Ramban quotes, a Midrash, an older rabbinic tradition. And he says something that is absolutely amazing. He quotes Rabbi Eliezer and it says, the reason why they would give someone else the reason why they would give Sammael [i.e., Satan] a conciliatory gift on the Day of Atonement, he calls this a Shochad; "gift" does not do Shochad justice. Shochad is a bribe. And the Ramban picks up on a tradition where the goat is not to God, but it is to Satan. And it is a bribe to Satan. So I think there are some rabbis as you say, that talk about just the wilderness but there is no question that there's a rich tradition that goes in various other traditions that don't necessarily have to say Azazel is another god or power, but it does admit acknowledge within Judaism there is this Yetzer Hora, this inclination that we have for bad and it's personified in this Satan who always seems to be out there. Is Shochad l'Satan a bribe to Satan as radical a thought to you Rabbi as it is to me.


Adam Mintz  19:51

It's tremendously radical, but I have to tell you that Satan plays a very critical role in the Rosh Hashanah and the Yom Kippur service, we have an interesting tradition. The tradition is to blow the shofar every morning after services during the month of Elul before Rosh Hashanah and of course the real blowing of the shofar is on Rosh Hashana a custom developed over the centuries not to blow the shofar on the day before Rosh Hashana we take a break between the blowing during the month of lol and the blowing on Rosh Hashana and the reason given is Kidei l' Arev et hSatan, to confuse the Satan what does that mean to confuse the Satan that you know the Satan will think that shofar blowing his over that you know we finished that our holidays are over and he'll therefore he'll go on vacation and he won't bother us on Rosh Hashanah and therefore will be Satan-free on Rash Hashanah. When we blow the shofar. It's a great image because it's just like Shochad l'Satn, we try to get rid and we do whatever we can to get rid of the Satan. We trick them by not blowing the shofar on the day before Rosh Hashanah, and we send them bribes. The idea is that somehow the Satan interferes with our relationship with God. And we want to get rid of the Satan so that we at least on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can have a direct relationship to God without any interference. Isn't that a great idea?


Geoffrey Stern  21:36

Well, it's a great idea in the sense that all of these ideas that admit to these other powers like Satan, in a sense, crack the perfect package of monotheism. Because in the in the Talmud, the opposite of monotheism is Shtei Reshuyot, there were two powers, there's good and evil. And in a sense, this is something that as I started by saying, because I quoted the psychological definition, the medical decision of scapegoating is so primal to our existence, that even as much as Judaism, and our texts argue for, there's only one God. And there's only one power. We recognize, through these traditions, that there were other powers, there were things beyond our control, there were things that we don't understand and can control. And that, you know, the truth is, there's also a tradition before Yom Kippur that you shlug kapparot, you take a pigeon, and you hold it over your head, and then that was modified, and you take some money, and you hold it over your head (and put your sins on it). But again, it gets back to this primal need that we have. It's a zero-sum solution, that if we, if there's bad, we have to replace it with good and that bad has to go somewhere. And I think that's why studying texts like this is so helpful, because it puts us in touch with problems that humankind has been struggling from time immemorial. And this will clearly puts a picture on it. So yes, we blow the shofar to confuse the Satan. So you know, Nachmanides, the Ramban say what he brings into this discussion is he brings a little bit of a solution. And what he says is that if the priest would dedicate the merely by word of mouth and say, one for the Eternal, and one for Azazel, that would be like worshiping Azazel, or taking a vow in its name. So Ramban is actually calling as Azazel, another power, call it Satan or whatever. But Ramban makes an argument that hat changes everything is that God is telling us to do it. And he brings an example of let's say, there's somebody who's not such a nice person, but your father tells you, he wants you to eat with them. Your father tells you; he wants you to entertain them. So that modulates everything. And in a sense, what Nachmanides, Ramban is doing is he is saying that, yes, this smacks of idolatry. And yes, this smacks of admitting that they are powers other than God, but God is commanding us to do it. And I think that's also a fascinating concept, both in terms of theology, but in terms of how our religion has kind of adapted to the quirks of humanity.


Adam Mintz  24:59

So I I'll tell you, first of all, that's fascinating. I love that I think it's fascinating. I'll tell you a little bit about the history of religion. The biggest problem in religion is why bad things happen to good people. Right? It's not fair, why does bad happen to good people. And most religions solve that problem by saying that there are two forces a force of good and a force of evil, and basically the force of good and the force of evil, the god of good, the god of evil, they fight with each other every day. And sometimes the god of good winds, and sometimes the god of bad wins. Now, Judaism doesn't believe that because Judaism only has one God, but it still believes in that force of evil. And that force of evil is the Satan. And we also have to deal with that problem, that the that the force of evil is all over the place, and we need to try to get rid of it. And I think that relates to what you just said. And I think that relates to the Ramban about a Shichad l'Satan, I think especially on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when we want to have a direct line to God, we need to get rid of the Satan, because the Satan kind of distracts, you know, or kind of interrupts that direct line that we have to God.


Geoffrey Stern  26:21

So it's fascinating in terms of theology, that within Christianity, there was also a concept of the Ransom Theory of Atonement. And of course, what is missing from this whole picture, because we are celebrating, maybe celebrating is not the right word. We are commemorating Holocaust Day today, where 6 million Jews were sacrificed. That word Holocaust comes from incinerating a sacrifice. And the concept morphed very quickly, that there was this ability to put one sins on somebody who could then atone. Remember, we started with talking about the two sons of Aaron, and it segwayed right into this, the same idea was taken by Christianity, to make Jesus into also this, this person who went through the steps of the cross. And people were putting the screaming at him and saying how bad he was, and he was taking all of the sins of the people and he got that, from Isaiah. Isaiah in 53, talks about (1) “Who can believe what we have heard? Upon whom has the arm of the LORD--a been revealed? (2) For he has grown, by His favor, like a tree crown, Like a tree trunk out of arid ground. He had no form or beauty, that we should look at him: No charm, that we should find him pleasing. (3) He was despised, shunned by men,-b A man of suffering, familiar with disease. As one who hid his face from us,-c He was despised, we held him of no account. (4) Yet it was our sickness that he was bearing, Our suffering that he endured. We accounted him plagued, Smitten and afflicted by God; (5) But he was wounded because of our sins, Crushed because of our iniquities. He bore the chastisement that made us whole, And by his bruises we were healed. (6) We all went astray like sheep, Each going his own way; And the LORD visited upon him The guilt of all of us.” So Christianity took it from our texts in Isaiah, that we can also become that suffering servant who accepts these sins. So this is a very dangerous concept too. And I think I'd like to finish by saying how Judaism took it in alternative directions, the same phrases that you will find about the  the scapegoat, taking all the sins and washing away all the sins also said about the day of Yom Kippur. So in pure Heschelian fashion, we transferred the concept of putting our sins on a person on a body on something material into something in time. And I think that's ultimately what even though the Yom Kippur service has remnants, as you were describing rabbi, of the Satan and of putting our sins on something else, it also transcends it I believe, by giving us a way out where God commands us to, to to get rid of our sins, put them behind us and move on. But it is a fascinating, troubling subject.


Adam Mintz  29:56

It's fantastic that that is such an interesting idea and I think you know, we took off a couple of weeks and now we're back. This is really an interesting discussion. There's so much here scapegoats and transference and bribes for the Satan it was a great way to come back. We wish everybody a Shabbat Shalom, enjoy the parsha. And we look forward to seeing you next week when we discuss the code of morality, the parsha of kedoshim. Shabbat Shalom to everybody,


Geoffrey Stern  30:24

Shabbat shalom. I almost feel like I need another spring break after this one. We'll have Shabbat to revive us. And we'll see each other all next week. And I will stick around if anyone has any suggestions, questions something that they want to discuss on this subject? Because it's certainly a subject that is interesting to us. Henry, what says you?


Henry Feurstein  30:48

Okay, people, just in hearing that the last analysis that the rabbi gave? I'm, I don't understand. I don't understand. What was God's purpose in setting this setting this whole this particular system up? Was he just trying to make it easy for us, for the Jewish people or the Israelites to kind of wave a magic wand? And now you're forgiven? It? I mean, that's an easy solution. Is that what God intended? Or is it something deeper than that?


Geoffrey Stern  31:23

See, my take is that God, or the Bible, or the wisdom of our tradition, has recognized certain primal needs that we have. And its job is to recognize, acknowledge, and then possibly redirect. But I really do feel that unless you can address these primal needs, you can't transcend them. And I was not being a snide when I said, when that you know, two year old has stubbed their toe, and you and you smack the table and you say, bad table, we really do have this belief that if something bad happens, there has to be a culprit. And if there's impurity, the only way to get rid of it is this kind of quid pro quo. But you know, we're living with scapegoating. Look at Putin. He started a whole war based on a false accusation. We Jews know everything about a scapegoating. And we also know about the other side of it, which is as ugly, which is somehow believing that suffering will bring redemption. And these are all ideas that came out of this concept, which I don't believe started with Judaism. And that's what my real answer to you is that the Bible is recognizing a tradition, a human response, and trying to deal with it. That's so when you say did, why would God do this? I think that it's this old concept of lo dibra Torah ela b'lashon bnei Adam, that the Torah speaks in the language of man. And that doesn't mean just language, it means in the symbols in the social institutions, and I think that's ultimately what I see is happening here.


Henry Feurstein  33:22

Yeah, but what concerns me is there's no, you expecting this process should bring some sense of our level of repentance from the people. There's no I mean, they're not doing anything. They're just saying, you know, Hocus Pocus, I put my hand on the goat's head, and I'm done. There's no commitment. There's no investment by doing that. That's why That's why I asked the question what was God's you know, intention in this was just to make it easy for us and so that we will continue to follow him or her.


Geoffrey Stern  33:50

Yeah. I mean, you you wonder, the rabbi's that agonized over the fact that this is a bribe to Satan. Well, what is a sacrifice to God? Does that mean that that's okay, because it's a bribe to God. I mean, what is this whole tradition? Is it no less hocus pocus when one gives charity and wants to get a good outcome from it? You know, we're trying to control our fate in some, hocus pocus like manner. And it's natural, but it doesn't really matter whether it's to azazel or it's to God in either case, it's I think, from a modern perspective, we feel it's, it's lacking.


Henry Feurstein  34:37

So if this was so important, why was it addressed as a one-off? It wasn't set up as a system to continue it was the one-off you do it, you send the goat to azazel that's the end of it. That doesn't seem to have any, like stick to itness


Geoffrey Stern  34:58

you mean that they we have this one? exception..



no, no, not a one exception. It's just a one-off. Meaning, you know, you have the goat you have that you have God's goat and you have Satan's goat. I mean, just to make it simple, and we don't ever do it again, there's just this one time in the desert, that God commands us to do this.


Geoffrey Stern  35:18

No, no. It happened as long as there was a temple this used to actually happen.


Henry Feurstein  35:26

That's not what the Torah says. It doesn't always, always says you shall have the sacrifices, or you shall celebrate this holiday or you shall on Yom Kippur not anoint yourself. But it's an every year profits and every year concept. Here, there's just a one -ff and it seems like it's important


Geoffrey Stern  35:45

that the you know, look, I think there's another challenge to the text when it begins, there is no association with Yom Kippur. It's only towards the end that it does. So if you if you look, for instance, at Rashiat the beginning of Leviticus 16, he says he goes out of his way to say this is on Yom Kippur. But and his proof is that if you continue eating at the end, it says it's on Yom Kippur. But I think you're right in the sense that there is this tension here, whether this was only for Yom Kippur number one, but in terms of Yom Kippur. It says this shall be to you a law for all time and the rabbi's interpreted this and normative Jewish law interpreted it, as every year they had these two sacrifices, and you have Talmudic stories in in the tractate of Yoma, where it actually describes how this person would go, on Shabbat Shabaton where you're not allowed to go outside of the Tachum, outside fo the 2,000 amot, and they would set up little Sukkot, it almost sounds like a marathon, where there were people lining on the side of the road. And it actually says they had food that they were offering him on Yom Kippur. And in case he got weary, because it was a good trek to go out of town, so to speak, to get out to the suburbs and the wilderness. And it has a beautiful expression. It says that he never took the food. But it's called something called pas b'salo.... He had bread in his basket, he knew that if he got if he got too weary, he would be able to get some bread. So it gave him that extra confidence. So maybe at the end of the day, that's what's happening here. That God commands us to do something that's almost pagan, that's almost outside of everything that the Bible stands for. Just to move us along. Maybe that's that's part of it. But I mean, that's certainly in the tradition that says that Judaism is an amalgamation of earlier traditions that are modulated.


Henry Feurstein  37:56

I know this ended up at the, the end of the Azazel concept is yes, you and you shall commemorate on the Day of Atonement, you know, all the things you years it's not a day of happiness. It's a day of not sadness, but it's a day of repentance. I get that is what you're saying is that the Azazel concept would predate Yom Kippur, at the at the at the temple, they would actually do something like this,


Geoffrey Stern  38:22

oh, this was done at the temple. In in temple times, they would stand at the, at the gate of the temple, and they would take this lot, and they would take one goat for God and they would take the other goat, bring him to the wilderness. Absolutely. There's a place even in Israel today that they identify as this is Azazel, this is where it is. So no, this happened. This definitely was documented. And I think, again, getting back to the Jesus thing, when Jesus went the Stations of the cross and people were pelting him, and he was carrying the course, the Christians made this comparison, that he was like the goat of Azazel in the sense that all of the sins were being put upon him. The trick that the Christians claim that God came up with was that he was resurrected and came back to life. So they had their cake and eat it, which I'm allowed to say now that it's not Pesach. But you know, this is a very historically if you think of the persecuted Jews as a scapegoat, and that the concept basically came from our text, not created, not created, but I think you preserved here and made popular and a part of the nomenclature is fascinating.



What makes you what rather what makes you think there's something that predates the there's a concept that predates this particular one.


Geoffrey Stern  39:55

In one of the sources that I have in Sephira. It looks at this into terms of the ancient Near East and it shouldn't be surprising because this concept of putting one hands on something and then sacrificing is the most obvious a pagan concept. I think that should not surprise


Henry Feurstein  40:15

is the operative word is that it's a pagan concept


Geoffrey Stern  40:18



Henry Feurstein  40:19

It's not us it's you know and yet we yet we are, excuse my expression, we have resurrected that concept in our in our you know tradition or history.


Geoffrey Stern  40:30

Absolutely yeah this is one of the few cases where it's not a surprise that we find it within the cultural milieu what's surprising is that we retained it and we actually sanctified it. Okay, Henry, I look forward to coming to shul this Shabbat and hearing you read the Torah, I'm gonna have to guess which shul you go to. Okay, Shabat shalom, everybody. Bye. See you all next week.

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Loose Lips and Leprosy

parshat metzora, leviticus 14

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on April 7th 2022 as we explore how the affliction of Leprosy became identified with slander in Rabbinic texts. We’ll watch our tongue as we revisit the theme of Mitzvot as symbol, language and metaphor.

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Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, I host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Today we explore how a skin condition became identified with slander in rabbinic tests. So rinse your mouth and wash your face and join us for loose lips and leprosy.


So welcome, Rabbi, another week of Madlik disruptive Torah. And I was all prepared to say to you, you know, maybe the reason why leprosy was compared to speaking evil was because there was a quiet week in the parshiot and no one had anything to talk about, you know,  especially in this cycle where we have, it have Tazria and Metsorah, two portions that are just very hard to connect to. I mean, they talk about houses that get mold in them and all sorts of stuff that we can hardly relate to. And then as I started doing my research, I said, you know, this is a little bit more than just filling in the white space, the amount of texts that are invested in making the association between this skin condition which is called leprosy and the English translation probably isn't quite that. And the evils of speaking evil slander are all over the place, the sections that you go to when you do a search, don't have an isolated paragraph they go on and on. So I think we're actually in for a little bit of a treat. It's not something that most people have not heard of, I think it's fairly common knowledge that leprosy and lashon hara are identified. But I think we might be a little bit interested and surprised by how deep, profound and maybe even directions are taken that we weren't expecting. So let's begin with Leviticus 14, 1-3. And it says God spoke to Moses saying, this shall be the ritual for a leper at the time of being purified. When it has been reported to the priests, the priests shall go outside the camp. If the priest sees that the leper has been healed of the scaly affection. And then it goes on to describe different types of this dermatological ailment, and different levels of purity. But one thing is pretty clear that it is done outside of the camp, it is done outside in the open. And somehow it piqued the interest of the moralists who connected it to speaking evil. So let's stop here. Do you think a simple drash, hermeneutics that the connection was made? Do you think its inherent in the text? How do you explain it?


Adam Mintz  03:26

Well, first of all, you started by saying that we have two weeks of this, which is fascinating, right? We have two weeks of these kinds of pashas, which are hard to kind of find relevance. But I think the idea of biblical diseases is a fascinating topic. And what I mean by that is, I think we may have mentioned last week, when you think about, you know, the characters in the Bible, nobody dies of disease. How is that possible? Right? Nobody dies of cancer. Nobody has a heart attack. Everybody seems to die of old age. The one exception in the book of Genesis is that Rachel dies in childbirth. But that's not exactly sickness. Why doesn't anybody gets sick? I think the answer is that according to see in the pre penicillin era, when they couldn't cure diseases, they had to somehow get their arms around desease. The only way they knew to get their arms around disease was by saying that the disease was a punishment for a sin. So no, it's not inherent in the text. But basically, the text has no choice, but to suggest that there's a reason for it. And the reason has to be a sin. Mitsora, sounds like Motzzi shem Rah, which is The Hebrew word for gossip. That's really where it's a similarity of, of words, it's a similarity of hearing of, of, you know, a pronounciation. That's really the connection.


Geoffrey Stern  05:17

So I love the fact that you make us aware that in the Bible till now, yes, there are people that are killed as a punishment, they're swallowed into the earth, things like that. But in terms of especially the main characters, the pivotal characters, they just die. And you know, they were beautiful euphemisms for that they are gathered into their people. And we focused a little bit on that. But you're right, there is no particular disease. And as someone who has just this past week, experienced death in a hospital, you know, you got to put something in the death certificate, you can say, this 95 year old person died of old age, it's got to be something conjunctive heart disease, pulmonary failure. And you're absolutely right, that, although this doesn't necessarily talk about death, but it does focus on a disease on an ailment. And the Rabbi's, as you say, in Erochin 15b Reish Lokish says, this is the law of the leper. This means this shall be the lowest of a defamer motsi shem rah. So on the one hand, you kind of scratch your head and say, Well, if it was that, why didn't you say it? But on the other hand, I think what he's doing is tied into what you talked about. And this is kind of controversial, because in a sense, what we're saying is bad things happen to bad people. And that's a very scary concept. On the one hand, in terms of morality, and edification, it's nice for us to think if we do something bad, we might get punished, our bodies might misfunction, whether if we abused them by eating the wrong thing, or saying the wrong thing. So it is a slippery slope. But let's talk first about the positive side that it's trying to take a moral message or moral meaning from an ailment, such as what is called leprosy. And I think what we can certainly do is focus on what directions, the texts kind of take this for now. And maybe later, we'll come back to the other aspect of it. Which is, are you really saying that bad things only happen to bad people, and that if someone who seems to be righteous gets a skin ailment, you can assume that he must have been speaking Loshon Hora?


Adam Mintz  07:54

Right. I think that that really is the question of the parsha. If you had to get the parsha down to one question, though, that really is the question about how you connect Loshon Hora to this skin ailment. There's another question by the way, what exactly is the ailment? So in the title, you called it leprosy? But you said that it's not really leprosy. Most of the scholars identify it more with psoriasis. You know, it's interesting leprosy. You know, until very recently, the Western world was scared of leprosy on Roosevelt Island, there's actually a leper hospital. It does not use this a leper hospital anymore. But there's a building that is a leper hospital. A leper hospital means that the people were afraid of lepers. They thought that leprosy was contagious. And therefore people who got leprosy were literally put in a hospital away on Roosevelt Island away from everybody. People were afraid of leprosy. Isn't that interesting? I wonder whether that's connected to our parsha?


Geoffrey Stern  09:09

Well, I do think that leprosy or any type of dermatological skin ailment is distinct from other ailments. You can be walking around with heart disease and no one knows it. You can have any sort of disease of internal organs, no one knows it. I think what's unique about whatever this is, whether it's leprosy or some other variation, is that you can see the disease. You're wearing it on your shirt sleeves, so to speak. And I think that is what possibly guides the rabbi's and some of the commentaries that say, not only is it a punishment, but it's a punishment for something that somebody does in private and has implications to the public, and therefore the punishment is made to fit the crime, midah keneged midah, and you are punished in public for something that you did to hurt somebody in private. And that I think, is a little bit of a clue as to why the rabbis thought that leprosy had to do with Motzei Shem rah. Motzei means like, in Yetziat Mitzrayim, taking something out into public and Shem Rah obviously, we know from Wisdom literature for Mishlei, that the most important thing that anybody has is a good name. So am I correct in saying that the rabbi's kind of make that connection here,


Adam Mintz  10:50

They definitely make that correction. And you're right Shem Rah is the opposite of a Shem Tov. Actually, the Misheneh in Pirkei Avot says that what you need the Keter shem tov oleh al gabeyhem.  That the most important thing of all was to have a good name. And that's really that's important idea.


Geoffrey Stern  11:12

So I think we've established that one of the connections besides the play on word, which is probably a little artificial, One of the connections is this public private space. But the other is, is in the narrative itself in Numbers 12, we learn of Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses, because of the Kushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they had a problem with either her being a Cushite, or something to do with their marital relationship. And then it goes on in verse 10. And when the cloud was removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. And Aahron looked upon Miriam, and behold, she was leprous. And the commentaries and the Midrash start to do something that we're now going to encounter, which is, this is a sin that is full of nuance. This is a sin that scholars up until the great Chofetz Chaim who wrote a complete book, just on the laws of lashan hora, were totally aware. How do you distinguish between saying lashon Hora and listening to it? How do you respond if you hear it? So here in this particular case, the Ibn Ezra, and also the Gemora says that Aaron was punished t0o because he listened to it. But in any case, I think here is a clear connection between speaking bad of somebody speaking bad of somebody's private affairs, marital affairs, maybe even race and the affliction of this dermatological condition.


Adam Mintz  13:02

I think that that is absolutely correct. Now, there is an interesting question about why turning your skin turning white is the appropriate punishment for Lashan Hara. I think that's a good question to ask. And I think probably the answer is that when you speak Lashon, Hara, you want to harm other people. And, you know, like you're acting as if you're superior to other people. If I gossip about you, I'm feeling superior to you. And, you know, the way to handle someone who appears to feel superior is to embarrass them publicly. And if their skin turns white, they're embarrassed publicly. So that's also an interesting twist on all of this, that actually the punishment, we would say the punishment fits the crime.


Geoffrey Stern  13:56

Well, I think that normally we think of white as something that's pure. When the thread on Yom Kippur turns from red to white, we know that our prayers have been answered. But what you raise is this issue of embarrassing someone and in Hebrew, it's Malbin Panei chavero. So those of you who know Hebrew Malbin comes from the word Lavan, which is white. And the concept is if you embarrass somebody in public, the blood leaves their face, they turn white, and maybe there's that connection.


Adam Mintz  14:33

Good. I liked that also, that's good. Malbin Pnei Chavero, So you embarrass them, they turn white, so your skin turns white too. The other thing that's interesting is what happens to you if you get this disease and what happens is that you have to leave the camp. Badad Teashev. Now that's very relevant to us. Because we have a term for that these days, you call it quarantine, right? You have to leave the camp, you can be with other people. Now, everybody knows everybody who's had COVID knows how depressing it is to be in COVID quarantine. And here, this is what they did, they put them in quarantine, they had to go outside the camp, they couldn't interact with anybody in the camp, that's also very relevant to the sin that they violate.


Geoffrey Stern  15:31

So obviously, this concept of you think you hurt somebody with just language. But it has physical consequences. And I think there's that connection as well. Not only is there that momentary loss of face color, so to speak, but you can do infinite damage. I mean, we all know, unfortunately, from what happens on the internet, where there are companies designed to help you clear your name, you know, the old story that I believe came from the Chafetz Chaim . And that says that speaking evil is worse than any other sin. Because it's like a pillow full of goose feathers, that once you open it up, you can't control where those goose feathers go. And if you want to repent and you're asked to retrieve all of those goose feathers, it's almost impossible. So the idea is you start by speaking.... speech only. And then you end up by creating hurt that is not easily retrieved or taken back, it leaves an indelible mark,


Adam Mintz  16:49

That is a great image. I mean, that's a famous Chofetz Chaim. But that idea of you can't control. And we all know it, right? Once you start once something's on the internet, it goes places you never would have imagined, you know, what, what do they say, don't put anything in an email that you wouldn't say, to the whole world that you wouldn't publish in the New York Times. Because potentially that's what's gonna happen to it. And that's really the image of the Chofetz Chaim long before there was email.


Geoffrey Stern  17:20

And the Hebrew expression is HaChosed BeKesharim loke begufo. Someone who is "choshed" who suspects somebody of being evil, and they are kosher, they get hurt bodily. So there's, you know, it's, it's when I started, I forgot all of these nuances. And I said, you know, we all sit around the table on Friday night and somebody says, Did you hear what happened to this one? And we all say, don't say lashon Hora. Let's not get down there. You see the side of a bus in Israel. And if you Google the word loshen horah, when you look at the images, it's amazing. People have bumper stickers that say don't speak loshon horar. But loshon hara  taken by the rabbi's and parsed by the rabbi's gets into all sorts of things. There's the story of Rav Kook who would see a car driving on Shabbat and instead of throwing a stone, he would say Mazel Tov, because in his mind, why else would you be driving a car on Shabbat if you weren't going to have a bay? So that's the "dan lekav zechut" That's when you think that whatever anybody does, there must be some righteousness in it. It's the opposite of "Choshed bekasherim" We've we've come across this concept of listening. Aaron, according to the Midrash was also punished with leprosy. It came and it went faster, but he just created an audience for it. So there's that aspect of it. But the one fascinating point is that all of the commentators, as they begin to speak, say, although this is not a commandment, and of course, there is a commandment that says "lo telech rachil b'amecha", you should not go about and speak. Raheel will, he looked is certainly a synonym to LaShan Haoran, but because of the context that it's in, and it talks about judging and showing favor to the poor and deference to the rich, and it talks about judgment, the actual use of Raehilut it is probably more legal. It has to do with giving evidence when you have to say something bad about somebody and where that's not necessary, where a judge who leaves the court doesn't necessarily have to say, well, it's not that all of us agreed that he was blameless. But nonetheless, there's this commandment, quote unquote, commandment that has definitely taken root within Judaism in a very impactful way, even though it's truly not one of the 613 commandments. And what does that say about sometimes you need to be commanded? And sometimes maybe you should figure it out in your own.


Adam Mintz  20:31

Yeah, I mean, that's also interesting, that, you know, right, you know, sometimes it's better not to be commanded, right?


Geoffrey Stern  20:40

Yeah, we've definitely come across that, even with the two sons of Aaron, who were killed in service, so to speak. So there is that tension there. But this certainly became very mainstream. The interesting thing about the word Racheel, and where he looked, that is different slightly from LaShawn Hara is Rashi. In the verse in our numbers that I just quoted, he goes on to talk about why does it say "holech racheel", and he starts making comparisons between sellers of merchandise and tailbearers. And so now he's talking about those people who almost make a living out of exposing other people's private lives. And that's certainly something that rings true to us today, where, you know, if you say something bad, it's gonna get a lot more hits than if you say something that's nice. In this whole weather, it's the National Enquirer, this whole element of character assassination, that seems to be so part and parcel of our politics. You know, it's the more you think about it. This is a profound aspect of social life. And it ultimately is a blemish in terms of social mores. It's at the basis of so many bad things that affect us.


Adam Mintz  22:20

That is absolutely correct. I mean, it's interesting how we started with with tsarat, with leprosy, and we kind of are able to connect it all the way through to all these fascinating ideas.


Geoffrey Stern  22:33

Well, and I think in a sense, that's why leprosy is not a bad translation, not because medically it's correct. But because, as you mentioned, yes, this this thing of calling out leper leper, maybe it was considered contagious. And that is clearly something that speaking bad, or even nurturing a society that lives off the secrets of others, that lives off the talking about others. Is something that is clearly contagious, you know, you get into I think I came across an article from Rabbi Sacks of a teenager who committed suicide because of what people was saying about her. We live in a hyper situation with regard to these these visceral attacks, and visceral impact of words.


Adam Mintz  23:36

Yeah, I mean, obviously, that's true. I mean, the internet makes these things so much more complicated, doesn't it?


Geoffrey Stern  23:45

It certainly does.


Adam Mintz  23:47

Because all of these things, we're talking about the the feather pillow, the the idea of "rachil", you know, the word rachilut, comes from the word rachil, the word rachil means a merchant. And the way they explain it is that a merchant goes from place to place. And that's what our Lashan Hora does, it goes from place to place; the same idea, is it not a powerful image? That actually comes from Rashi.


Geoffrey Stern  24:19

It actually does. And the other thing that while she says is he quotes a French word, which comes from spy "espiement". The idea is not simply to come across this foul secret, but to look for it to make an industry of it. Let's get back a second to the episode of, of Miriam and Aahron. So the commentaries have, you know, tried to figure out what was the content of Miriam's loshon hora. So if you recall when I quoted it, there were two things that come to mind. One is she said Moses, his wife was a Cushite. And I thought for sure that a Cushite means an African or black person. And I was sure that I would find in the commentaries, a level of bias of bigotry. I was sure that I would find something that harken back to us discussion with the Reverend Washington, way back when of the of the sin of Ham. And the reason I was so sure about it is because I remember as clear as day having an argument with my study partner at the Yeshiva where he was talking about listen, black people, you know, it's no compliment. Look what happened with Miriam, and to my grand satisfaction. And maybe it's because I didn't have enough time, I did not find one classical commentary that read into this a racist remark. What they all focus on, is that she was distinctive, like a Cushite, because actually, in the Bible, it says that she was a Midianite that he married a girl from Midian. So they explained that she stuck out in the crowd, her beauty was so striking. It was like a dark skinned person amongst white skinned people. But one of the things that Reverend Washington told us and I think some of us learn is that skin color as a derogatory characteristic is a fairly new phenomenon. But again, I was pleasantly surprised on the one hand, but I think I cannot say conclusively, but anecdotally, I do find in certain circles of Jews, that there is a high level of bigotry and bias. The word Shvarter is used in a negative way. And I know that Lushan hara and the laws that we're talking about today a studied in detail, but I think this core essential aspect of it seems to have lost thieri attention, whether it's even Jews of color, Sefardin and some members of Haredi society. And again, we all have it, we all have this, but I would like to think one of my takeaways from today's discussion is that on the one hand, talking in a bigoted fashion, whether you believe in bigotry, or you're just using the words of the past, is lashon hara, and it needs to be called out. And that the the types of conversations that we have where the youth is getting too hypersensitive (politically correct) , and you can't get hypersensitive about lashon hara, if the Chofetz Chaim taught us anything, he wrote a book on every aspect of it. And he said, The Power of Words is profound.


Adam Mintz  28:05

There is no question that that's right. I mean, and obviously, that's right, in terms of bigotry. And it's terrible, that we live in a world where there is so much bigotry. But what's fascinating is the Torah kind of goes out of its way to not be bigoted there, it'd be easy to be bigoted there. Right, it'd be easy to say that they were worried about was the fact that he married a woman of color, but they go out of their way to say no, that's not what we're talking about. It's almost as if they're sensitive to that very point.


Geoffrey Stern  28:43

I couldn't agree more. The other commentary as to what Miriam was saying that was negative was that she said, she overheard a conversation of two people who had become prophets and had separated from their wives, and overheard Moses's wife say, Yeah, I know what that's about. So they were getting into the private marital affairs of Moses. And I think that to the aspect of lashon hara, that many times we can ignore it sexually and in you, innuendo. And this is the kind of core case history everything else becomes commentary. So I think that's another takeaway. We're running out of time, I would like to focus a little bit on the first instance, of leprosy in the Bible. And that goes back, believe it or not to the burning bush, in Exodus 4. If you recall, Moses is striked by the fact that the Bush is burning and not consumed. And he says, What happens if the people of Israel don't listen to me? So the first thing that God says is grab the staff and throw it down. (5) “that they may believe that ה', the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, did appear to you.” (6) ה' said to him further, “Put your hand into your bosom.” He put his hand into his bosom; and when he took it out, his hand was encrusted with snowy scales!  (7) And [God] said, “Put your hand back into your bosom.”—He put his hand back into his bosom; and when he took it out of his bosom, there it was again like the rest of his body.— So this is the first instance of leprosy that is related to something that Moses said, the traditional commentary say, he doubted the people of Israel, He said to God, they're not going to believe that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is there for them. And for that sin, he was punished. And isn't it interesting that we have Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, three siblings who all all kind of case studies in tsoras.


Adam Mintz  30:57

So let me tell you what's fascinating to me about that story. It's amazing that Moshe gets leprosy for speaking lashon hara before the Torah tells us that you get leprosy for speaking lashon hara. The Torah hasn't gotten there yet. But Moses gets it anyway. It seems to me from that story, that this was a common belief in the ancient world that the punishment for lashon hara was leprosy. In Jewish and Egyptian culture in all cultures, everybody knew if you get leprosy, I know what I did wrong. It's like if you wake up tomorrow, and you have COVID, God forbid, so you know, you're exposed to somebody with Covid. If you wake up tomorrow with a white skin disease, you know, you spoke lashon hora. And that's what happened to Moshe, the Torah doesn't need to tell us that that's what happened. That's an automatic. That's why you get leprosy. Isn't that interesting?


Geoffrey Stern  31:56

It is interesting. It's also interesting, that from this perspective, Lashon hara is when you speak badly of a people. So in a sense, when Israel is the only nation in the United Nations that gets blamed for crimes that it does possibly do, or where it falls short. But it's one amongst the family of nations, that's loshan hora also. And for those of us who are can can talk about a whole people in in one broad stroke, and say that they are thus and they are the other that also lashon hora. So it seems to me that the more your journey through our texts, you see the profound effect that words can have to both heal, but also to hurt. And I think at the end of the day, this brings it back to the Egypt story. This brings it back to a story of believing in our people, ultimately believing in ourselves, it comes down to national pride, and it comes down to giving that same pride to other peoples and to other nationalities, and that the Exodus story therefore is so universal,


Adam Mintz  33:14

and you know what it goes to show that the most irrelevant of parsha's is also the most relevant of parshas. I want to wish you Shabbat Shalom. And the next two weeks there is no parsha because the next two weeks is Pesach so therefore, we look forward to seeing everybody three weeks from now when we continue with another great parsah the parsha of Acharei Mot. Hg Sameyach everybody enjoy and look forward to seeing you in a few weeks Chag Samayach.


Geoffrey Stern  33:43

Chag Sameyach, Shabbat Shalom and I love it Madlik Spring Break. See you all in three weeks.

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of woman born

parshat tazria (Leviticus 12)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on Thursday March 31st 2022 as we use the Torah’s treatment of postpartum impurity to explore postpartum depression, gender definition and female sexual needs and rights, to name a few stimulating topics…

Sefaria Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, I host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Today, we use the Torah’s treatment of childbirth to explore postpartum depression, gender definition, and female sexual needs and rights to name a few stimulating topics. So put away your Masters and Johnson forget about your chosen pronouns, and ditch your favorite child rearing book and join us as we explore Of Women Born. Boy, did I fit enough in that intro?


Adam Mintz  00:55

I don't want to miss it either.


Geoffrey Stern  00:58

I mean, you know, usually we focus on just a few verses, but I gotta say that this week, boy, oh, boy, there were so many topics and they all relate to the subjects that I described. So let's just jump in Leviticus 12: 1-5 "God spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the Israelite people. Thus, when a woman at childbirth, bears a male, she shall be impure seven days, she shall be impure as at the time of her menstrual cycle. On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised, she shall remain in a state of purification for 33 days, she shall not touch any consecrated thing nor enter the sanctuary until her period of purification is completed. However, if she bears a female, she shall be impure (twice as long,) two weeks, as during her menstruation, and she shall remain in a state of blood purification for (not 30 days, but) 60 days." So there's so much to unpack here. Why is she impure? Why does she bring a sacrifice? And yes, why is there a difference between whether she has a boy baby, or a girl baby, and as a new father, grandfather of a baby girl who's today, four weeks old.... This is really pertinent to me. So Rabbi, what is the most interesting, stimulating, engaging question that comes to your mind from these verses?


Adam Mintz  02:52

So to me, the question of why the period of purification is different if you give birth to a boy or to give birth to a girl? To me, that's always the hardest question. And I don't know even after all these years, whether I have the perfect answer.


Geoffrey Stern  03:11

So I'm going to go out on a limb here, and I know that we are supposed to be having Disruptive Torah. And I'm always gonna be dredging and saying, "Why is this gender different? And why is this like this?" But I've got to tell you, that I actually believe that the issues that are raised are more important than necessarily the conclusions that are reached. So let's begin with your question about why is it different if you have a baby boy, and why is it different if you have a baby girl? So the most I think accepted answer comes from the Talmud in multiple places. I'm gonna quote Nida 31b. And it says and the students of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, not a small Rabbi further inquired of him. What reason does the Torah say that a woman who gives birth to a male is ritually impure for seven days, but a woman who gives birth to a female is impure for 14 days. Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai answer them. When a woman gives birth to a male. Everyone is happy, and she regrets her oath, that she will never engage in sexual relations with her husband. Already seven days after giving birth. She's so happy that she had a baby boy, she forgets about all the nasty things she said about her husband and having sexual intercourse with her husband. By contrast, after giving birth to a female, over which everyone is unhappy, she regrets her oath only 14 days after giving birth. So it takes her twice as long to get over the fact that every woman during childbirth, as they are living through the hevlei Leadah, the pangs of giving birth, and are saying, How did I get into this situation? Am I crazy? I'm never gonna touch my husband. Again. It's a question of how quickly she gets over it. So that is the traditional answer. Rabbi, how do you how do you take that, and I assume that you were as happy when you had a girl as you had a boy, so I'm putting you on the spot.


Adam Mintz  05:46

I don't know what that means. I'll tell you the way I always understood it. And we'll see if that's what the Talmud means. I always understood that the period of purity is longer for a girl. Because giving birth to a girl is actually more significant than giving birth to a boy, because a girl is herself going to have children. So actually, the period of purity is not only for your daughter, but for all of the generations that are going to come from her, which doesn't apply to a man.


Geoffrey Stern  06:20

You know, I have not seen that explanation in all of the traditional commentaries is that your own Hidush?


Adam Mintz  06:28

I heard it a long time ago from George Rohr. George Rohr runs the beginners service at KJ on the east side, you know, it's hard to run a beginner service on these kinds of weeks, because the beginners asked hard questions, because they don't have any background. And that's the way he always used to explain it. And of all the explanations, that explanation is the best explanation I've ever heard. I don't know if it's perfect, but it's the best explanation I've ever heard.


Geoffrey Stern  06:58

So we're gonna get to a bunch of explanations, but one of them is similar in terms of the compound nature of a woman having a woman. But I absolutely love George Rohr's explanation. I think that's fantastic. That is just beautiful. So what I take away from this is I focus less on the kind of the characterization of social norms of a time where everybody wanted a son to carry on their family name, everyone wanted a son to carry on the business, and I get it. But what I love about this is that it focuses on the psyche of the woman. And it focuses on the fact that having a baby is a major milestone. And that psychologically, it is difficult for the woman. I've been preaching since the beginning of Leviticus, that sacrifices are made to help us deal with pain, with pleasure, with joy with thanks. And if this isn't a case study, in a sacrifice being created to deal with postpartum with giving birth, you've been carrying this child inside, the pain of giving birth is traumatic. And here, the Torah is distinguishing between nuances. Forget about the gender issue. I just love the fact that it's focused on you got to deal with different people in different ways. And then you talk about I mean, again, and it engenders an explanation like George Rohr gave, which is, yes, I'm giving birth to a woman who is going to go through this. I just love it. So I in terms of my reaction that I just love, the fact that the Torah is seems to be really empathizing with the emotional impact. I want a quote from Tzeror Ha-Mor of R. Abraham Saba (1440–1508)  Oh, and by the way, I found some beautiful monographs and some very scholarly studies that were done on these verses, and they were all in the notes on Safaria. If you look at his he goes into this birth, Pang things. And he uses words lay like God היודע הלבבות, who knows the souls of people. And again, he's focused on the fact that in his milieu, having a boy was different than having a girl, but I'm focusing on that he goes on to say, היא עצובת רוח בעצב כפול that when the woman has a girl, she is doubly depressed. And again, I'm not focused on the girl, I'm focused on the depressed, I'm focused on the fact that a commentator is focused on עצובת  and עצב . On the fact that you can have a very strong dose of depression, and then he uses another thing, and he says, so therefore the total gives the woman two weeks to recover, התורה שירדה לסוף דעתה, it goes down and understands her mind. And that's what as lovely and as wonderful as I love to be the contrary guy, I also want to appreciate that whether it's in the actual verses themselves, or in the commentaries and the tradition, here, we're looking at something that has become recognized as a very important; postpartum depression, and focused on how you address it. And did they know how to address it perfectly. 1000 1500 years ago, maybe not, we can discuss that, but they wanted to address it. That's my takeaway.


Adam Mintz  11:10

So I like I love that point. That point that they wanted to address it, that maybe they didn't have all the tools that we have, you know, we are very sophisticated. Now we're educated, we have a lot, but they wanted to address it, I liked that idea that there are some things that are kind of built into the human psyche that people have been trying to deal with since the beginning of time. That's really a nice idea, isn't it?


Geoffrey Stern  11:35

I love it, I just absolutely love it. And, you know, this is typically a parsha that people have difficulty talking about. But I mean, here in these three, four verses, the fact that it distinguishes between gender bothers me less than the fact that I'm aware that it distinguishes between personal responses to similar situations. So let's drill down a little bit deeper. You talk about, maybe their understanding of science was limited. So in some of the monographs that I quote, it's fascinating that there was a concept out there in Greek medicine. And it goes to Galen, and it goes back to Hippocrates. In the fifth century, that a female fetus takes longer to develop than a male. So again, the rabbi's looked at the science, the best science that they had. And there were some traditional commentaries who go back to that and explain it based on that. And the fact that they explain it means they were bothered by it, too. And how great is that? That 1500 years ago, there were rabbis who we all like to say are the patriarchy and you know, men writing for men? And they were concerned about why does the Torah distinguish between men and women? And again, it was based maybe on a false thing. And you can you can give any kind of commentary; you want to why it would take longer for a female fetus to develop. But again, it was using the best science that they had, and asking themselves, why is there this difference, which is based on the premise that men and female are equal, and I love that too.


Adam Mintz  13:37

I love that too. I mean, that is interesting. Again, it doesn't really matter whether the Greek science is correct or not. The point is that they're addressing this topic. And I think that's great.


Geoffrey Stern  13:47

But as we continue this discussion, and it's kind of like when you have a challenging problem like this, it's kind of like a Rorschach test, every Rabbi brings to the question, his own baggage and his own perspective. So the most amazing monograph that I quote, is based on a few Rabbi scholars who similar to what you quoted about George Rohr, talk about this is a compounded issue, meaning to say, Why does a woman who gives birth to a woman need two weeks and a woman who gives birth to a man only one week, and one of the answers that they give is that not only is she suffering addressing, compensating for her own life, but she is addressing the life of the mother of all mothers, which is Eve which is Hava and it's very rare in Jewish tradition that we have reference to what the Christians call Original Sin and The Fall. But if you all remember when we studied Genesis, we know the punishment that Adam was given was that he had to work and toil by the sweat of his brow. But the punishment that Eve was given his that she would give birth under pain. And so they harken this back to the original sin, which again, you can interpret in in all different ways. Have you ever heard of this kind of connection? And how does it resonate with you, Rabbi,


Adam Mintz  15:38

it resonates, I liked that explanation. And I agree with you. I like the compound nature of the these kinds of explanations. And I think that's interesting. Now, it's an interesting question about whether Original Sin is ultimately a Jewish idea.


Geoffrey Stern  15:56

Well, I think it's definitely an idea that Christianity took from us. And as a result, we raise our eyebrows when we see commentaries that reference it. But there was no question that the book of Genesis is not a storybook, that things in it are very important, and that the story of Adam and Eve explains our mortality. It explains the struggle of earning a livelihood that we've talked about when we talked about Lechem and Milchama, and now we're talking about childbirth. It explains the struggles of life. So I don't think there's anyone who takes the Bible seriously. Who would ever say, nah that's just a fairy tale? It was, we're talking about chapter two, of the Bible. And so the change of man, mankind leaving Eden.... You can call it The Fall, you can call it Original Sin. But whatever you call it, it's, it's if you take your Bible seriously, it's important.


Adam Mintz  17:05

There is no question that that's right. And it was interesting what you just said, and that is, it doesn't really matter what you call it. The question is how it helps you understand some of these complicated laws in the Torah.


Geoffrey Stern  17:19

So I want to go in a completely different direction now. We've kind of looked at the gender issue a little bit. Now I want to look at the question of why is a woman who gives birth to a beautiful child giving a sacrifice in the first place? What did she do wrong? What does she have to ask penitence for? And we've kind of focused on it a little bit, in terms of she made an oath, but let's hit the nail on the head, it needed the masechta the Tractate Nida 31b. It says the students of Rabbi Benue Hashem and when I asked him, Why does the toe say that a woman after childbirth brings in orphaning. He said to them at the time that a woman crowd to stick of birth. Her pain is so great, that she impulsively takes an oath, that she will not engage in intercourse with her husband ever again. So that she will never again experience this pain. Therefore, the Torah says that she must bring an offering for violating her oath, and continuing to engage in intercourse with her parent, her husband. So now we're talking on a whole different level. We're starting to talk about marital relationships, and we are focused on the woman in terms of what she might say during the pangs, the struggle of childbirth to her husband, but before I ask for your opinion, I want to quote the flip side of this discussion, because the flip side is much more radical. What I just told you now again, comes from the patrimony that guy's upset, his wife won't touch them. She gave birth and you know, he wants his conjugal waits. Here's what the mission in q2 boat 61 B says, with regard to one who vows that his wife may not derive benefit from marital relations with him. Beat samurai says he may maintain this situation for up to two weeks. But beyond that he must divorce her and give her the payment for her marriage contract. Paid Hillel says he must avoid sir, if he continues beyond only one week and the Gomorrah continues. Where do they learn this from Big surprise from our verses. So now we're not talking about the husband rights to conjugal rights. We're talking that any woman can say to her husband who wants to be either holier than thou, or he, he's not looking at her. He's not smiling at her. He's not caressing her. She can say, Listen, buddy, the verse that we just quoted from Viagra, whether you go like beit shamai or beit Hillel, it's one or two weeks, and if you can fulfill my sexual desires, I have a right to divorce you and you have to make full payment. How many documents do we have that provides such a representation of women's rights? To conjugal rights? Are you blown away like I am


Adam Mintz  20:53

blown away? That's amazing. That's actually amazing.


Geoffrey Stern  20:57

I mean, you know, I started by saying in the intro, throw away your Masters and Johnson


Adam Mintz  21:04

So let me just say that the Torah in the in the book of Exodus, when it talks about a husbands responsibility to his wife, conjugal rights are seen as the husband's responsibility to his wife. It's not this explicit, but the Torah does. Say She-era Kesuta lo dibra, Ona'ata means conjugal rights, so that he has the responsibility to give her conjugal rights. So the idea that that's the woman's right is actually there in the Torah, but it's not this elaborate.


Geoffrey Stern  21:39

But I mean, think of how radical the Fear of Flying and the Kinsley study, and all of this stuff was in the 60s. And here you have the rabbi's talking about a wife's right to sexual fulfillment.


Adam Mintz  21:59

Crazy, totally crazy.


Geoffrey Stern  22:01

So that's why I find this verse and these three verses and the discussions that are currently about them. So mind blowing. So let's move on a little bit. There are some commentaries who notice something interesting about our verses, if you remember, it says when it's talking about a male, that you shall be impure seven days. And then for another 30 days, you're going to go through this other cycle. But in verse three, it says, On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. And that, of course, we all know is Brit Milah, is circumcision. And normally, we take that to be something that relates to Abraham, and it relates to a covenant, so forth and so on. But you don't have that parallel on the female side. And so I quote, a wonderful study called Gendering a child with Ritual by Dr. Christine Hankinson Garraway, where she talks about the importance in ancient societies and she goes back to Akkadian and Hittite things about announcing the gender of your child, clearly, if we've learned anything so far, and I say so far, because we're going to go in a different direction in a few minutes. But so far, gender matters. If you have a boy, you feel one way, if you have a girl, you feel another way. But what she does is she takes the double week as something that balances the Brit Mila. So for the male, the way of introducing it to the community, as I had a male son, you have this milestone this, this rite of [passage], of circumcision. And if you have a girl, you show that by the two week period, by the 60 day period, she takes it to be something along those lines, which again, to me, I kind of back away and say it's not so much about gender, but that everybody has the right and the ability to announce their child joining their family, their community, the world in different ways. But she takes it as a positive and that's kind of fascinating.


Adam Mintz  24:40

That's very fascinating. I mean, that's, that's interesting to take it as a positive. Who is she,


Geoffrey Stern  24:48

You know, it's in if you look at the source, there's this wonderful blog, it's I believe, and the level of this scholarship is extremely high. But she's a either a rabbinic student or something. And, and look, I love the source sheets that we always include with our podcast. And if you go there you can, you can do like I do, which is Hafoch bo v'hafoch bo de kulo  bo, you can, you can dig in them, there's so much learning there. But again, see uses as a as a way of distinguishing and announcing the gender of your child.


Adam Mintz  25:32

It's very interesting. I think that that that's all you know, sometimes you say that when there are so many different suggestions about the reason for something, it's because nobody really knows the reason. It's not like, Yeah, I know, this is the reason I know, this is the reason everybody's all over the place, because nobody really knows the real explanation.


Geoffrey Stern  25:55

Absolutely. And it opens itself up for new interpretation.


Adam Mintz  25:59

You know, we haven't discussed one possibility that this was just part of the culture of the ancient world that all religions had.


Geoffrey Stern  26:09

Well, and to a degree, if you read her monologue, she says, yes, there was at least in the ancient Near East in the in the Hittite, and the Acadian communities, there was this sense of announcing and bringing into the community.


Adam Mintz  26:23

Oh, so she does raise that as a possibility.


Geoffrey Stern  26:26

She does. So what I'd like to take away in the next last segment, because we have so many segments to this discussion, is she talks about gender announcing. Now I want you to listen to the Talmud in Nida 40a. And the Gomorrah asks, and what do the rabbis derive from the superfluous expression, so the rabbi's are torn over every extra word in the Torah. And if you notice, when I read about if a boy is born, it says the following, and then it goes says and ve'im nekeva teled which means and if a girl child is born, and all of this commentary say, Why does it need to say if it's a girl? Why does it have to say "was born"? So the Talmud, and Anita says as follows why, for this superfluous expression, the Gemora answers, in their opinion, that expression is necessary to include the birth of a child whose sexual organs are indeterminate, which in the Talmud is called a tum tum, or a hermaphrodite an androgenous, which has a child that has both sexual organs, as it might enter your mind to say that the words male and female are written in the passage to only talk about them, therefore, it teaches she "gives birth", that is the birth itself, not the sex of the offspring that matters. Are you kidding me? This sounds like don't give me labels. If a child is born, I don't care what sex he is, or she is, I don't care what pronouns she/he/it's going to have. I mean, this, this verse blows me away. And in bottom line, what it says is, if you have a child whose sexual identity is in question, you do two weeks, and you do 60 days, but we learn it from the fact that "it is born". It's a child that is born, and it doesn't have to be male or female. I'm blown away that.


Adam Mintz  28:40

I love that.  I mean, that is really amazing. I mean, you know, they derive it in, you know, in kind of classic rabbinic way. But what is the message that it gives us such an amazing thing isn't?


Geoffrey Stern  28:51

It is and, and again, it's the way we moderns read it, because we can read it differently than either they meant it or that it's been read for 1500 years. But I do believe that the way I just read is true to the text.


Adam Mintz  29:13

I think when you read it is fantastic. I love that.


Geoffrey Stern  29:15

So the last thing that I'm going to bring up is the question and I called this discussion of woman born. And for those of you who know your Shakespeare, you know that at the beginning of Macbeth, he is told he will be killed by someone who was not of woman born. And of course the punch line was that he was killed by someone who was born via cesarean and there was not of woman born. So the rabbi's also bring that into the discussion and they talk about where it says that from this, we learned that if you are born from cesarean, we all know those of us who have had cesarian births or children have had cesarian births. You don't do, for instance, the redeeming it from the Cohen, it wasn't literally Peter Rechem. It didn't open up the womb, the rechem but all other things that have to do with being a firstborn, whether being responsible [a double portion]  or whatever, is still there. And the word that it uses for cesarean is Yotsei dophen. And today in modern Hebrew, when you say that something is Yotsei dophen what do you mean is it's exceptional? It's out of the ordinary. And I just love the fact that everything that we've been teaching, so the Mishnah in Berachot 47b says Rabbi Shimon says the first son is a firstborn with regard to inheritance, if he is his father's first son, and then it goes on to say but if she bears a girl, again, they're focused on this extra word "teled" that the apparently superfluous term "she bears" serves to include a child born by cesarean section, yotzei dophen. So I would conclude by saying that these verses that have struggled and been difficult for many people, especially people that are very gender conscious, you can read them in a way that absolutely opens up our minds and makes us think yotze dophen, which is out of the box, and to explore things that obviously intrigued our forebears and continue to intrigue us today. But ultimately, just love and admire the miracle of childbirth and everything that it means for us.


Adam Mintz  32:19

I think that's beautiful. This was a great topic. Thank you so much. Enjoy this this amazing stuff this amazing topic, everybody. Have a happy Shabbat and a happy Rosh Chodesh and we look forward to seeing you next week. As we will tackle Metzorah and get us ready closer for Passover. He well everybody.


Geoffrey Stern  32:40

Shabbat Shalom to everybody. And I just want to say that tonight is the week of my father's Yotzei he passed away five years ago Yehuda Leib ben David Shmuel, and this learning is dedicated to him and to Don Lebell who is if my stepfather who is an amazing person and was a very loving friend of my father, and it's dedicated to birth and the cycle of life so Shabbat Shalom to everyone. And see you all next week. Shabbat Shalom


Adam Mintz  33:15

when we remember your father so fondly, and we look forward to many years of studying together in his memory.


Geoffrey Stern  33:21

Thank you so much.


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No Martyrs No More

parshat Shmini (Leviticus 10)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Michael Posnik, recorded on Thursday March 24th 2022 on Clubhouse as we ask: Was the death of the two sons of Aaron a tragedy or the ultimate sanctification of God’s Name…. or both? We explore the concept of martyrdom in the Bible and Rabbinic texts and into modern times with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the creation of the State of Israel.

Sefaria source sheet:


Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at madlik we light a spark with shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. I host Madlik disruptive torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Today I ask was the death of the two sons of Aaron; a tragedy, or the ultimate sanctification of God’s name, or both? We’ll explore the concept of martyrdom in the Bible in rabbinic texts and into modern times. So keep your head low, and join me for No Martyrs No More


So Michael, I am so overjoyed that you are here with us. Because I think we're all going to benefit from your insight. This week's pasta is a tough one. We've spent weeks in Leviticus, with dry subjects about sacrifices, we've tried to make them relevant, and about a tabernacle and a temple as a holy place. But here is where the drama begins. This is a real tragedy that occurred. And I was surprised as one should be every year when one reads these texts, one needs to find something new. And when I mentioned to you a few minutes ago that we were going to discuss this, you said are we going to discuss the silence? Well, let me read the verses and I'm going to pick something slightly different. But we'll see in just a few words, how it's not only the silence, but what is said that is so haunting. So in Leviticus 10, 1-3 it says "Now Aaron, Sun Nadav and Avihu each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it. And they offered before God, alien fire, which had not been commanded upon them, and fire came forth from God and consumed them. Thus they died at the instance of God. Then Moses said to Aaron, this is what God meant by saying through those near to me, I show myself holy and gain glory before all the people. And Aaron was silent." And I have always focused on the "Eish zar", the foreign flame, the fact that the sacrifice was not commanded. And of course, I've always focused on Aaron's response, but what I neglected to focus on and what I would love to discuss today is Moses his response. And Moses says, This is what we mean when we say "bekrovai ekadesh" , by those that are near me, I am made holy "ve'al pnai kol ha'am echabeid" And through all of the people, I will be given honor. We spent so much time Michael talking about what was the sin of Nadav and Avihu. And Moses, his response doesn't even indicate that they did anything wrong, Moses response to say, look, here's an example of how we can sanctify God. What could this possibly mean?


Michael Posnik  03:42

It's a that's the big question. What is strange fire? What did they think they were doing? What does it mean to offer a sacrifice without being commanded to offer a sacrifice? And finally come back to Aaron's question? What might he have said, had he not been struck dumb in some way? And then like you say, Moses doesn't even answer, doesn't even dwell on the question.


Geoffrey Stern  04:11

So let's look for a second at our old buddies, the traditional commentaries, because again, I have never focused on Moses response. But if you look at the traditional commentaries, like Rashi, Rashi says, And he quotes, the Midrash, Moses said to Aaron, this is what God meant by saying, so he's quoting somewhere else, like, Hey, this is a textbook case of something that we've heard before. And Rashi says, the verse that he's quoting, is there I will be met by the children of Israel in the tabernacle, and shall be sanctified by my glory. This is a verse in Exodus. So way back in Exodus, God is saying that one day I'm going to have a temple, it will be Sanctified by my glory. And the Midrash says read not by my glory Bechvodi, but read "b'michvodi"  with my honored ones. So, Moses said to Aaron my brother, Aaron, I knew that this house was going to be sanctified by those who are beloved of God. And I thought that it would be either through me or through you. Now I see that those; the sons are greater than me and then the end, they were the ones who made this house holy. So here we are, we believe we we have a tradition that despises rejects, human sacrifice, especially the most obvious form of human sacrifice, sacrificing one sons. And here we have Moses saying, You know what, I thought we; you and me, Aaron, we're going to have to make the ultimate sacrifice. And in fact, our children are greater than us. So Rashi doesn't shy away from this reading, to him, it's it's the most obvious it's a case of martyrdom, which is exactly what the subject of today's talk is. Because if we feel that martyrdom, and sacrifice in the sense of giving the best and the brightest and the best of ourselves, is abhorrent, we have to be able to confront it when it occurs. And maybe by reading this, we're struggling with the texts, but Moses was right in it. How else can you read Moses?



I don't know. I have a question for you. What does it mean sanctified by my honor? What is it? What does that mean to you? In plain, plain talk


Geoffrey Stern  06:59

in plain English, we talk all the time about something called a Kiddush Hashem. When you and I, Michael do something good when we help that old lady across the street, and we are wearing our kippah and our tzitzit are flying. Someone who sees us says, wow, is that must be a wonderful tradition that these guys are helping little old ladies across the street. And when God forbid, the opposite occurs. We talk about a Hillul Hashem, we are somebody who should be representing God. And by the way, one of the most beautiful interpretations I've ever heard of the concept of in the image of God, but Tzelem elohim is that we are all representatives of God. So when we human beings do something good. That's a Kiddush Hashem that honors God. And when we do something bad, it, it means it profanes God, and that's the typical modern-day translation and tradition. But what we are tapping in here to answer your question is Kiddush Hashem for many generations meant ultimately giving your life for God, which to us seems absurd and abhorrent. But we are going to explore texts today, where kiddush Hashem literally, the ultimate form means to sacrifice one's life. And that's something that I don't think we can be quiet. I don't think we have the luxury of Aaron, to be quiet. I think we need to speak up.



Yeah, thanks for the explanation of it. There's also a sense of that they were not commanded to do it. You know, so what are they? Are they trying to do more than the usual person are they trying to bring something strange or unacceptable to the Mikdash? How do you understand that?


Geoffrey Stern  09:21

So I think, you know, many of the traditional commentaries who focus on that are trying to find out what they did wrong to deserve being killed. And I think that's a very valid discussion. And the parameters go all the way from maybe they were drunk. Maybe there's this concept in the Talmud that says, It is more a value to do something that is commanded than something that is not commanded, which in a sense is counterintuitive. You know, when you asked me to pick you up from work, because it's raining and all that, and I do it that's one thing. But when I look outside the window and I see it's raining and I say I don't want Michael sitting out the rain and I'm waiting for you, you would think that someone who's lo mitzaveh is yoter then someone who is m'tzveh.   So the rabbi's discuss this, and ad nauseum. But again, what I'm intrigued by today is not to understand why this punishment happened to these two sons of Aaron, but to look at the traditional commentaries who don't stop with Rashi. They go to the Ibn Ezra to the Ramban, all of them are lined up and saying that these words, and one of the verse that are we to you shortly, is almost the source for this really, so foreign, and I would, I would almost say un Jewish concept of God wants us to sacrifice ourselves, or the highest form of sanctifying. God's name, is to give up one's life. And that, to me, is where I want to focus.



You see them as martyrs, as people are sacrificing their lives in the name of God B'shem Hashem.


Geoffrey Stern  11:34

Yeah. And so that's what verse 3 says, And Moses said to Aaron, and this is what God meant when he says, "Those near to me, make me holy", that these are my chosen, these are the apple of my eye "Bekrovei ekdesh: I won't be made holy by the punishment of my enemies, it's those that are close to me. And then it adds "ve'alpnei kol ha'am echabed' there are two elements hee... and it kind of gets back to tncept of the first fruits, and the choicest produce goes to God. And that's fine, I get that that's hidur mitzvah. But here we're saying, and we know where this comes from. This comes from what we thought, Judaism rebelled against. When months ago, we studied the binding of isaac Akedat Yitzchok. We explained that we Jews, for the most part refer to it as Akedat Yitzchak  becasue he wasn't sacrificed. He was just bound; it was just a test. And then we found that the Christians call it the sacrifice of Isaac. And in fact, they are even within our own tradition, in the Perkei d'rav Eliezer. It says that, actually, he was killed, and he was put back to life. And again, we say, if that's the case, how can we celebrate the Akeda? Again, it's a it's a story of a father sacrificing his sons, as Malach is, and we believe that Malach is exactly what we reject it. So what I'm what I'm struggling with what I'm what I'm wanting to explore today, is, how deep is this tradition? Is it staring us in the eye? And are we whitewashing it? Or is it and therefore, you know, like any other text until you recognize something, whether in your life, or whether in your holy texts, you can't really reject it until you see it first. And you and you see how it developed. And that to me is so fascinating here because it's  written exactly the way washy and the Ibanez was say it is that this is a source case, for God asking us to die al Kiddush Hashem, and that is how he is sanctified.


Michael Posnik  14:18

It's a pretty strong case.


Geoffrey Stern  14:20

It's a scary case.


Michael Posnik  14:22

And my mind keeps going back to what is meant by strange fire.


Geoffrey Stern  14:31

You You're still you're focused on a strange fire. And I think you're absolutely right, we can ignore that part of the story as we can't ignore Aaron being quiet. But I do think that to focus a second and what is said outright that Moses says "this is what is meant". So let me give you a little bit of a sense of how this worked out in in Jewish in Jewish history. So there's a tradition that there were 613 commandments. And as a result, there was a tradition of books written starting with Maimonides  on what those commandments are. And the Ninth Commandment, according to Maimonides, is that God commanded us to sanctify his name, said "Tzivanu l'kadesh et shmo". And he says, and where do we learn this from a little bit further in our book, Leviticus 22, where it says, and I shall be sanctified in the midst of the children of Israel, very similar to our verse here. And it says that you are commanded to publicize our true faith in the world and in God, even at pain of being killed. But it says, but rather Maimonides rights, we must give ourselves over to dying and not deceive him to think that we have denied God, he be exalted in our hearts. And this is the commandment of sanctifying, God's name Mitzvot Kiddush Hashem and it was designated publication, this this concept here  to be Mefarsem , "Vyekashu et ashem brabim". And again, that came out of the second part of our verse where Moses said, I not only am I sanctified by those close to me, but then he goes on to say and gain glory before all the people that this is a show case. And it's a very, very troubling thought, if you go through Jewish history. So the question is, number one, what did it take for us to transition away from this? And what do we now need to see in some of the biblical texts that we never saw before? We call this Madlik Disruptive Torah. But this is certainly a disturbing, disruptive thought. And we can't hide from it.


Michael Posnik  17:08

Yes. Keep going, because this is all new material for me. And what is it? What does it really mean to sacrifice yourself for for God? Even if that's not your intention?


Geoffrey Stern  17:21

You know, I think and you would be the, the the authority on this. But in the Shakespearean tragedy, for instance, there too, you have this element of you know, from the beginning, something bad is going to happen. But it's a tragedy. I would say the heresy here. The heresy that Moses is speaking kivi'yachol, if you could say is that this is the sanctification of God's name.  not a tragedy. We're not Yes, yes. Yes. Yes. So here's an interesting thing. If you look up the Arab word for a motto, we all know it unfortunately, we all know it. It's a Shaheed so the word Shaheed comes from the same, Semitic source, as the Aramaic word for Sahadi, which means a witness. And in the Quran, the word Sahid is used predominantly as a witness, and it's only once used as a martyr. But again, I think what we learn from that is there's this element of somehow giving one's life for God. That means that one is giving witness to the power of God. That this is another nuance of not only are I sanctified by those close to me, the most precious, but by doing it in public somehow, it shows how great God is. And we can look at other nations such as Islam, and find that distasteful but it seems to be in our tradition too. This, this somehow, that sacrificing is something that can be turned into anything than it really is, which is a total desecration of life.


Michael Posnik  19:32

Right. A question comes up if you don't mind. What do you think the effect of Nadav and Avihu, what happened to them is on the people who are watching this,


Geoffrey Stern  19:47

So my gut reaction is fear. My gut reaction is and this again adds a nuance to our conversation is making God holy. We know there were many interpretations of what is holy. You know, one of the most simple interpretations is Kedoshim ti'hu, perushim ti'hu"  that which is holy is other than us. It's on a whole other level. And, you know, we moderns, we love to feel at home, in our synagogues, we love to feel at home with our rituals. And again, there's this whole other tradition, that this is something that is beyond our understanding beyond our power, and that we truly should be shitting in our pants, so to speak. And again, that's very distasteful to us. But I think there's definitely an element of Kodesh, you're standing on holy ground, step away from the mountain, so to speak. And we can't ignore that. I mean, if we're trying to be honest with how the language is used. So I mean, the truth is, in Jewish history, we we actually find instances where this Kiddush Hashem was taken to the very extreme that we see it, you ask, what was the takeaway from the two sons of Aaron, what did the people there? And what did history take from that? And I think that there was a very strong tradition, the Aleinu prayer, that we say at the end of services, traditionally, that was associated with martyrdom, and that was associated with a proclamation that my religion is the true religion, it is better than yours. There were instances where, during the Crusades, there were Jewish communities, who almost stood up. And in a spectacle, I took their own lives or gave themselves to martyrdom. It's hard again, for us to either comprehend, or to condone. But again, it's this very strong, I guess, urge, within a certain aspect of the, the religious mind, and maybe to make it more relevant to us, you know, how many times do we use religion and God to counter our own best interests and feel that somehow that is serving God? I mean, I think that's the real opportunity here, it gives us an opportunity to explore what the urges are, I mean, you know, I'm, I'm of the mind that, whether you believe in God or not, just as there is this instinct (capacity) for music and art that we can explain, we can't touch, but somehow there is a dimension of the human condition that has within it, the artistic feeling, and music, I think religion is the same. And so in a sense, we're all in this boat together, because we all have to address this desire to destroy in order to sanctify maybe that's the shortest way that I put it,


Michael Posnik  23:28

Say some more about that destroy in order to what is destroyed, in order for the sanctification to happen.


Geoffrey Stern  23:35

Well, well, in this case, and in the case of the sacrifice of Isaac, the concept was in order to prove one's fealty to anything, but in this case to God, one has to destroy what is the most precious to you? You know, I said in a previous episode, that the the Law that God is reading up in heaven when he was visited by Akiva was the law of the purification of the red heifer. And what really challenged God I believe, was that it's metaher et hatemayim umtamei et hatehorim. It purifies those who are impure, but it makes impure those who are pure. And it's this, this concept, that it's a zero sum game, that you somehow can't achieve holiness without losing something. And I think that's what I meant when I said, that you in order to sanctify, one needs to destroy and it's I'd like to think that it bothers God up in heaven and that's why he studied that text.


Michael Posnik  24:56

Geoffrey, what do we know about this in our lives? In your life in my life, what do we know about this? About destroying something in order to achieve a greater level of kedusha? What do we know about that?


Geoffrey Stern  25:14

When maybe the question is even bigger, you know, it's not so much a level of kedusha, but those of us who find ourselves sometimes being our worst enemy, our own worst enemy is the expression. And it's this sense of in order, in order to achieve something we have to break,  I don't know, but I think it's healthy to, to kind of confront it, to see that this was a very mainstream idea within our tradition. And if we reject it, like I think many did ...... there's a phrase within the ole knew, that talks that we have taken out of most of our ciders, but on the other hand has been retained. That talks about that we bow down to the truth, and you bow down meaning maybe Christians and Muslims to hevel and Rek sh'eyn Yoshia (to vanity and emptiness that doesn't save)  this, this competitive religion that's part of it also, in terms of doing it in public, so as to so that one, religion is better, I think maybe it's part of this zero sum game mentality. But what I'd like to do in the minutes that remain, is to my mind, to see how Jewish tradition has turned the corner and done it in a sense with eyes wide open. And in the source sheet, I bring the texts. I think that in Jewish history, the last time that martyrdom was discussed and given away was a combination between the Warsaw ghetto and the State of Israel, when Ben Gurion was very much against iconizing Masada. He thought that Masada was exactly the wrong message. Ben Gurion said not Masada and not Vishy. And by this he meant he did not want to get into a Masada type of struggle with the physical body of the nation could be destroyed in a desperate and hopeless battle. And, and when they went further, and he looked into the Masada story, he said that they actually killed themselves. And this is not what Israel is about. I mean, when we look at the Ukrainians to bring it home today, they're not looking to be martyrs. They're fighting for their land. On You know, the topic of the conversation today, I called No Martyrs No More, which was a play on "no war no more". Because there's a part of war where somehow, we feel we are sanctifying something and the truth is your sanctifying nothing. And that's not to say that there aren't things worth fighting for. And when necessary, there are things worth dying for. But I think that the modern state of Israel really was founded because they understood that there is no sanctification in Nadav and Abihu, and that, in a sense, they had to purge that in order to, to build something constructive. And I think that when I look at the Ukrainians today, and I'm so inspired, it's because they're finding within themselves something that they didn't even know existed, where they want to fight for their homeland, and they want to fight for freedom, but it's positive. And I just feel that we one of the takeaways that we need to have when we read these ancient texts, is to discover our own neurosis, so to speak, and by discovering it possibly be able to talk it through. And that's the discussion that I want to have. And I'm curious for your thoughts now that you've had half an hour to think about it. In literature in theater, does this also trigger any insight that you have


Michael Posnik  29:44

I'm thinking about a Tale of Two Cities that "It is a far far better thing I do", where he let himself be put to death force for the sake of somebody else? And I look at it also from a point of view of In order for us to achieve or come near or have access to the purest and most Tzelem Elohim of us, right? We have to sacrifice we have to get rid of stuff that's in the way. Every day we're trying to do that, it seems to me, we do have a sense that what's deep within us is pure, and good. And divine, if you will, or that Tzelem Elohim, the piece of that, that that each of us carries. It's not accessible to all to us all the time. It needs it needs to be, we have to see what's in the way. So and this may be related to what you're what you're speaking about, that something has to be removed in order for, if you will a producer to be revealed? Or the energy that was in the way has to be transformed into a greater energy, into a pure energy? That's what comes to my mind.


Geoffrey Stern  31:05

But it's a narrow path, it's it's very easy to make it perverse.


Michael Posnik  31:11



Geoffrey Stern  31:11

I think at the end of the day, when when Aaron is quiet at the end, you know, I understand his, his not being able to respond to that.... for obvious reasons, but I don't think that we can be quiet, I think that we need to, we need to call it out, we need to call out tyrants. Who are you know.  Putin is going through a whole different algorithm here. But there are enough Holy Wars out there and there are enough people who feel that you've got to, you know, break the eggs to make breakfast. And I think by identifying it, we can hopefully find it within ourselves and get rid of it and focus on the real holiness that you were discussing, where we remove the impure.


Michael Posnik  32:06

That's what friends are for. That's what study is for prayers for to help us see what's in the way to what I call what's in the way but you said to crack the shell that's actually keeping the egg from nourishing us.


Geoffrey Stern  32:22

Amen. Well, so butts alone. And I look I look forward to continuing this discussion. I think today was as much a struggle as it was a discussion, but maybe, but from every struggle comes hopefully something positive so Shabbat Shalom to you all, and we'll see you all next week.

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Purim, St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras & more

parshat Tzav (Leviticus 6 – 7)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on March 17, 2022 on Clubhouse. Grab a drink as we explore this week’s Torah reading and how it relates to Spring Folly and Spring Cleaning. Exposed to the ingredients that are used in the sacrifices we realize that Hametz, Matzah and Bread (not to mention, hard liquor) have significance unrelated to the Exodus story and more related to the trials, violence as well as joys of life.

Sefaria Source sheet:


Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and that mADLIK we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz We host Madlik disruptive Torah and clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite podcast platform. Today, the gods of folly are shining on us, as Purim coincides with St. Patrick’s Day so grab a drink as we explore Purim St. Patrick’s Day Mardi Gras, and more.


So welcome and l'chaim to you all. Thank you so much for joining us today. So Rabbi, are you struck as I am that here we have Purim the same day as St. Patrick's Day. And you know, Mardi Gras, which is I guess, before Easter, which is like Lent, and is also a kind of crazy, crazy holiday. And then I'm in LA with a lot of Persians and it's also Narouz. And so as far as I understand Narouz is also a New Year's holiday. It does have one interesting facet to it. I mean, it's a feast, a major feast, and I guess the Persians are like the Jews in that regard. The what's the point of celebrating if it doesn't include food. But it also includes an interesting aspect, which is shaking of the house where in some communities they actually take all the furniture out, they definitely shake the carpets. So there's an element in many of these holidays of both folly and maybe a little bit of alcohol and frivolry as well as a little bit of spring cleaning. Some refer to the beginning of Lent, as there's something called Clean Sunday. And they all obviously coincide with with spring. So is this a coincidence? Or do you like me think that there's some tzad Hashava, something that connects them all?


Adam Mintz  02:35

There has to be something that connects them. It's just like we've spoken in the past about the fact that in winter, everybody has a holiday of lights, whether it's Hanukkah, or Christmas or Kwanzaa, everybody has a holiday. And we understand that because it's when the days are short, and it's cold and it's dark, you need a holiday of lights, there must be something about the beginning of the spring that requires us to let go. And to start anew, there must be something there that connects all these holidays. And I look forward to exploring that with you tonight.


Geoffrey Stern  03:10

Absolutely. Now, I think the easy one for us because Christianity is so related to Judaism, is that certainly lent I understand the word comes from long, which is the days are getting longer. We just changed the clock for that very reason. And there's no question that we all know that Lent is a time where Christians are more observant, where Christians take upon themselves certain stringencies And I think the most obvious connection between Mardi Gras and Carnval in Brazil, and Lent is that this sort of a release before you begin TwshuvaI mentioned last week, St. Augustine said, you know, Lord, make me chaste, but not quite yet. And there's a little bit of that working here where you you go ahead and get wild and release. And then you get very serious. And I'm wondering, you spoke last Shabbat I believe in your synagogue between the connection between Purim and Pdsach. And I know that we're supposed to start studying about Pesach right after Purim ends, what was the connection between Purim and Pesach that you talked about?


Adam Mintz  04:34

So I what I talked about was the fact that Purim and Pesach both represent redemptions. Purim is one kind of redemption; Purim was the redemption of the Jews from Persia. And Pesach is a different kind of redemption, the redemption the Jews from from Egypt, but we made we put the two holidays next to one another. And the explanation that I talked about last week was The following that this year is a leap year. The Leap Year means that there are two Adars this year. And because there are two Adars is this year, the question is when to celebrate Purim? Should we celebrate Purim in the first Adar or the second Adar? And the Talmud says that we celebrate Purim in the second Adar so that we can connect the two redemptions to one another? So there's no question that they're connected. And another interesting thing that already you know, Purim has been over here in New York for about an hour. And already, there's talk that you have to start preparing for Pesach. The The Talmud says that 30 days before Pesach, you have to start studying the laws of Pesach. Maybe by talking about that law, we fulfill that obligation. And therefore tonight is 30 days before Pesach. Actually, four weeks from tomorrow night will be the first Seder. It's hard to imagine, but four weeks from tomorrow night will be the first Seder. In addition, some people have the tradition that they do not eat matzah, between Purim and Pesach. The Mintz family has that tradition. We're done with matzah. Until Pesach we are done with natzah we will not have matzah. And the reason is that kind of gets us excited about Pesach when we sit down and have Matza at the first Seder, it's something we haven't had in a month. So there definitely is a connection. Somehow poram builds up to Pesach somehow.


Geoffrey Stern  06:40

Do you think at all that drinking all of a scotch and beer is we're getting rid of the Hametz already 30 days before it is?


Adam Mintz  06:51

But I think that your question is a good question. And that is why is it that we drink on Purim? I think that is an interesting question. And you said that the Persian holiday also drinks. So where does the drinking come from?


Geoffrey Stern  07:10

So the Persian holiday is like I said Narouz, and they have something called “khooneh tekouni”, which means literally shaking the house, and that's part of their cleaning thing. I don't know whether they drink Obviously, today, so many Persians are Muslim, that they probably don't drink. But now Narouz is a pre Muslim holiday. It's really going back, which is kind of fascinating. again, I reset the room, and we're talking about basically holidays that come from Persia before Islam. We're talking about Christianity that came out of Judaism, and then obviously, Judaism, and they all have these two different themes. One is some sort of release. It seems frivolry, folly before you get very serious, and the other one is cleaning. You know, we because we know of Western Christianity. We know about Ash Wednesday. But as I said before, there is this Clean Monday and part of the Clean Monday in the Eastern Church literally has to do with doing Teshuvah, they read the same psalms that we do before we do Rosh Hashanna. There is definitely a build up to the climax of redemption which we share. That is Pesach. And you pointed out that there is this inextricable connection between Purim and Pesach. I mean this year, you could make the case that had we not had an "ibur Shana" a "Shana Me'uberet' a leap year, I would be talking to you right now at the Seder


Adam Mintz  09:05

There's no quetion that that's right.


Geoffrey Stern  09:05

This would be this would be the Seder. And so I think that there's there's something about Purim. One of the beautiful Midrashim, or words that people say about Purim is that Yom Kippur is a "Yom ki Purim" that Yom Kippur is like Purim and Yom Kippur clearly as the most serious holiday of the year. And poem is probably the most frivolous. And there's no question that one of the things that we need to talk about tonight is the connection between the two, that these are the two extremes and are the two extremes connected at all? Are there pathways for some people to find God and spirituality and redemption through very serious introspection and for others from pure undulated Joy, I think that's another wonderful question that we can discuss.


Adam Mintz  09:12

That is a very good question to discuss. Yes.


Geoffrey Stern  10:14

So so, you know, the fascinating thing is that one of the connections that we have is that on Pesach, they are very stringent laws about what you can't have. And you know, I said a second ago, that is there a connection between drinking the liquor which is basically Hametz because it is grain that has fermented, which ultimately is what Hametz is, and what you're not allowed to do on Pesach. And so, you know, really at Madlik, we discuss the pasha every week. And in this week's Parsha, we have a fascinating insight into things that we normally associate only with Passover, and that is leavened and unleavened bread. So if you look at Leviticus 6 and 7, it starts going through the different sacrifices and what I love about the different sacrifices. And I've talked about this before. I think that in our synagogue services, we need to modify our synagogue services so just like, there's minha service, which is the afternoon service, but which is actually modeled after a particular sacrifice called the minha sacrifice. They have to be services for different people at different times, feeling different emotions and having different spiritual needs. But in any case, we go through the different sacrifices that are bought. And we will see in a second that some of them have no unleavened bread. And some of them have a mixture of leavened and unleavened, and some of them emphasize the leaven. So it's again, a kind of variation on the theme that I think we're talking about which of these opposites, there's a place for the opposites. So in Leviticus 6, the first sacrifice that it talks about, and you can almost read these as recipes is the תּוֹרַ֖ת הַמִּנְחָ֑ה the meal offering and and again, we have a service that we do every afternoon, that is modeled after that. And it says in verse 9, it shall be eaten as unleavened cakes, in the sacred precept, they shall eat it in the enclosure of the Tent of Meeting, it shall not be baked with lemon. So those of us who believe that the whole Simbiology of Leaven has to do with the Jews leaving Egypt and not having time to bake their bread have to take a step back here, because obviously, we're being exposed to a grammar, to a vocabulary that says certain things about a sacrifice. When it says, and this one, you can't use Leaven, as opposed to the sacrifice of well being the  זֶ֣בַח הַשְּׁלָמִ֑ים, and that is made of unleavened cakes with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil and cakes of Choice flour, the offering with cakes of leaven bread. So here, all of a sudden, in this other sacrifice, we have a mixture of leavened and unleavened. And there's a wonderful commentary that kind of drills down into this and says, Well, you know, this is a זבח תורת שלמיו it's about your peace. It's about your wholeness, and thanks, and it has to have the leavened bread. And it's fascinating that he says that, you have to eat it very quickly, which causes you to invite more people. So many of these sacrifices had to be eaten. We always think of a sacrifice as something that gets burned and destroyed. But most of the sacrifice, at least many of them had to be like the Passover sacrifice. They had to be eaten with a bunch of people. And so the one commentary which is the Emeka Davar, which I have in the source sheet and didn't have chance to translate it, but it talks about number one, if you're celebrating you have to have leavened bread. And two that you have a time constraint, which requires you to share your joy with other people. So I think the takeaway from all of this is that there is a much more universal vocabulary of what leavened means and what unleavened bread means. And we have to kind of enlarge our universe of discourse when we discuss these things, and it will help us on Passover, but it will also help us the rest of the year. What does leavened and unleavened mean to you, Rabbi?


Adam Mintz  15:39

So you gave a great introduction. Thank you, Geoffrey. And obviously, this is relevant thirty days before Passover, generally speaking, the rabbi's understand leaven, as a sign of wealth. Now that comes from the Pesach story, that matzah is called the bread of affliction the bread of poverty, right? Poor people can't afford a whole piece of bread. So that's why we break the matzah. You know, at the Seder, just looking forward to the Seder we we make the afikomen how do we make the afikomen we break the middle matza in half right. That's the tradition everybody breaks the middle matza.  One of the reasons you break the middle Matza in half is because matzah is the bread of poverty. Leaven; bread that rises is considered to be assigned of wealth, generally speaking, the rabbi's explain the Torah there are only two sacrifices that have leavened bread, the Toda the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and on Shavuot, on Pentecost, the Shtei halechem the sacrifice the represents the new crop. Those are the only two sacrifices the whole year that have leavened bread. And the way they explained it is as follows. Generally speaking, sacrifices are our sign of humility, as we stand before God. But two times you don't want to be humble. When we give thanksgiving to God, we want to throw everything to God, we want to give him the best, right? Because we're so thankful we want to give him even leaven bread. And the same thing with the sacrifice of the two breads, the Shei halechm, that's a celebration and we celebrate, then we want to do the best we can do we want to we want to kind of show off our wealth and our success. So actually, the idea of leaven and unleavened is very much connected to Pesach the idea of leaven being something, you know, wealth and prosperity and unleavened as poverty. But I think the key jump here is .... and this is a very important jump. And that is unleavened also means humility. And that you know, Passover is supposed to be a holiday of humility. They explain the Hasidic rabbis explained that Mitrayim, that's Egypt could also be a be pronounced the Mitzarim, which means tight places. Mitzrayim was tight places. It was a place where it was hard to get around, right with the Jews didn't have flexibility. They were slaves. They were in tight places. And only when they left were they able kind of to exhale. So the experience of slavery was was an experience of poverty, of difficulty of unleavened bread.


Geoffrey Stern  18:30

You know, I love the Hebrew Mitzrayim is like Metzar, which is a narrow place. Well, all of us know the the Yiddish or anglicized version of tzarot, Xtores, Gehakta tzores, it comes from the same word tzar, which is narrow. And then you talked about the bread, the Hametz is always associated with wealth, but the Hebrew word for wealth is Ashir Ashreynu also comes from that there's not always a negative connotation to being rich, because richness can be in material goods, but it can also be ASHRAE yoshveh vetecha those of us who are complete and whole and rich, in in spiritual things


Adam Mintz  19:28

And that's the idea of gratitude, that when we express gratitude, we want to be complete and rich and wealthy and give it up, give it all we got, I think is what we would say in English.


Geoffrey Stern  19:40

You know, it's amazing to me the part of the Haggadah called Maggid has only one requirement and it says in the Mishnah that you have to say the verses that are said, when you bring the Bikurim the Those loaves of the first, the first grain, which is amazing. If you think of it here you are at a meal that you are eating only Mtzah and not hametz. And you are quoting, you know, the part that begins with my forefather was a wandering Aramean. That is what somebody says, correct me if I'm wrong, when they raise up those the elevation offering two loaves of bread to thank god, is that also the a little bit of this duality here?


Adam Mintz  20:38

Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. It's a tension is, I would say a balance. But I think the better word is a tension. And I think that's really interesting that there's a tension between the idea of humility, and the idea of gratitude, you know, with all that we have.


Geoffrey Stern  20:59

So you know, the word that is hametz, now that we've kind of pulled it away from the Passover Exodus story, and we talk in terms of, it's kind of a universal at least as far as the ancient Near East, it meant something, hametz meant something. And, and lechemmeant something. And I'd like to look at that for a second. The word Hametz can mean sour. You know vinegar in modern day Hebrew, is Hamutz. It's when something ferments, it also can mean something that has gone bad. It's deteriorated. It's gotten stale, so to speak. And I think one of the aspects that unites all of the responses to the spring is to kind of wipe away that which has kind of deteriorated over the winter, and look at the new crop and the new sproutings and spring has come. And I think there's a level of that is well here. You know, hametz has a sense of, you know, in the in the New Testament, they taught they criticize the Jews for being a hametz. And they took that right from our tradition, because in our tradition, the hametz obviously needs heat, which translates into passion to rise. It's been associated with redness with with the passion of anger and stuff like that. It's been associated. on the one hand we've seen with ashirut which is can be both richness in a bad sense. But clearly, richness also, in a wonderful sense. But then also, this aspect of the evil inclination and the passion of the moment, and then the deterioration and you want to wipe off the old and bring in the new.


Adam Mintz  23:28

Yeah, I mean, there's no question that That's right. And I think that's a tension that plays itself out in so many different areas. But sacrifices is one of those areas, and the holiday of Pisa is another one of those areas. On one hand, matzah is a bread of affliction. At the same time, matzah is the bread of freedom. How can it be that the matter of affliction is also the motto of freedom? The answer is that that's what we always that that's what we always, you know, have a tension between how to how do we look at things, you know, do we do we see things as our opportunity for leaven for opportunity for all of these things? Or do we say no, that we need to be humble? And I think the answer is it of course, both are true.


Geoffrey Stern  24:10

You know, and of course, bread, you know, takes us back to the sin of eating the apple. In Genesis 3, Adam is punished, and it says, By the sweat of your brow, shall you get bread to eat until you return to the ground. Every time we make a blessing over a challaha we say hamotzi Lechem min haAretz. And we are clearly making reference to this verse and again, it's a question Is this a curse? Is it a curse to work? Or is it the reality and the joy of being human? Because you know I'll never forget when the peace treaty was made between Begin and Sadat, the verse that Menachem Begin quoted was Hazorim b'dima yikzaru He who sows in tears will reap in joy. There's a part of our tradition that puts down labor. And there's a part of our tradition as we visited in recent episodes, that celebrates labor. And here too, there's this sense of struggle, we can not but admit the connection between Lechem and milchama...  and war, the struggle of life, the struggle between crazy people like Putin, who want more bread, who have a desire for more who need to have that struggle. It's all in here. Is there a connection between milchama and lechem?


Adam Mintz  26:04

I never thought of it. But you know, maybe there is maybe, you know, maybe that's what we fight for. And you know, maybe that's part of the challenge, milchama, Lacham, the word lachamand the word Lechem. I mean, it's no question the word lacham, and the word lechem is the same word. I wonder what the connection is between the two. That's very interesting.


Geoffrey Stern  26:25

So the connection that that I made, I haven't seen that much, it seems clear to me, the connection that I think you find in the text of the Bible is the opposite. In other words, I go from war and conflict, to lechem which is the staple of life, and that at the end of the day, it's the fighting over territory, over turf. But the Bible goes the opposite direction. So in Numbers, when it talks about the spies coming back from seeing the land of Canaan, it says, כִּ֥י לַחְמֵ֖נוּ הֵ֑ם, they will devour us, they will eat us like bread. And they say אֶ֣רֶץ אֹכֶ֤לֶת יוֹשְׁבֶ֙יהָ֙ it's a land that eats its settlers. But there's no question that there is a connection between the struggle to eke out a living and to provide, and the struggle of limited resources. And war and conflict.


Adam Mintz  27:37

There is no question that that's right. I mean, and that, you see that so strongly, and you know, in what's going on in Ukraine, you know, what, what are we fighting about? Are we fighting lacham about Lechem is ultimately all war, about bread, about success, about you know, about being prosperous, is that what war is about is luck, calm and left him the same thing, or lacham and lechem opposite things?


Geoffrey Stern  28:09

So, you know, I think at the end of the day, this this conversation of lechem of bread and matzah and unleavened bread, and both of them have connotations that are very opposite. You know, as you mentioned, matzah can be both the lechem Oni, it can be the bread of the poor person. But it can also be the bread of the person who doesn't need those riches (whose self sufficient/fee) who's pure and doesn't require the passion has that that mindset of serenity. And the same goes for the bread, it it can be richness and material, but it can also be the ashrey Yoshvey the pure wealth of prosperity, and it can be this joy that people have when they bring the first fruits and they thank God for it. And I think this confluence that we see here in the sacrifices, but also in these traditions that we see that this connection between Purim and Passover.  think there's a line between the two and we all have to find a spot on that line or spots on that line. It makes it so fascinating this, this wonderful month that we are entering now, we make this transition from the giddiness of drinking to excess, and then sitting down at the Seder and redemption is somewhere in there. It's to me I just, I love Purim, I have to say it's one of my favorite holidays. I've been at Purim meals, where people have gotten drunk fathers have talked to their children, their grown children, and just kind of share their soul with them as one would never hear. And it's a beautiful holiday. And it's a surprise....


Adam Mintz  30:30

That is really a good word for Purim is a surprise, right? You never know what to expect on for every holiday, you know what to expect, you know what Yom Kippur is going to bring? You know how you're going to feel you know what the davening is like, you know what shul is like? It's very much the, you know, expected Purim is always a surprise. That's a very smart idea.


Geoffrey Stern  30:57

A pleasant surprise, and it can be a troubling surprise.


Adam Mintz  31:01

It could be a bad surprise, surprise, right? You never know. And I think you need to build surprises it. I wonder whether that's what the drinking, what the frivolity. I wonder whether that's part of it, the idea of having a surprise?


Geoffrey Stern  31:19

Well, you know, certainly one of the themes of Purim is Vinehapachu which means to turn things on their head, you know, we know you're supposed to get drunk. So you don't know the difference between cursed be Haman and blessed be Mordechai. But I think our little exploration today that tied into to both the holidays that are celebrated by many different peoples on this day, and the Parsha that we're reading, certainly shared that with us. There's this delight that we can have this open tent that welcomes everybody, no matter what path they come from, whether it's joy or sadness, there's a message for all of you. And that's kind of also the message of the Parsha. As you read it this Shabbat, there's a sacrifice for everybody. And I think, again,I've been preaching that these aren't so much sacrifices, as ways of relating and ways of expressing different emotions at different moments.


Adam Mintz  32:21

I think that's beautiful. I want to wish everybody again, a Happy Purim for those people who still have for him a Shabbat Shalom, it's a confluence of Shabbat and Purim and all the good things right after Purim comes to Shushan Purim. In Jerusalem they're actually just beginning their celebration of Purim now, they celebrate the day afterwards, the 15th day of Adar. So Shabbat shalom. We look forward to next week to as we continue our travels through the book of Vayikra, the Book of Leviticus, Shabbat Shalom,


Geoffrey Stern  32:49

Shabbat shalom. Hag Purim samayach, to you all. We'll see you all next week.

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Oops I did it again

parshat Vayikra (leviticus 4)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz for a discussion on Clubhouse recorded on March 10th 2022. With the first mention of the Hebrew word for a mistake (Shegaga) we explore the Biblical and Rabbinic idea of the stain, intention and the etiology of sin either as a deficiency in character or treatable condition.

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Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we start the book of Leviticus which deals primarily with the sacrifices.  At the end of the day, the temple sacrifices fulfilled religion’s primary function.  How do we deal with our shortcomings, our guilt, and yes, our joy.  How do we deal with the human condition.  We encounter the first mention of the Hebrew word for a mistake: Shegaga….  Which comes from the same word as Meshuga.  So join us today, with all your imperfections and idiosyncrasies as we say: Oops I did it again!


Well, welcome to another week of Madlik. It is great to have you all here. It's just a few days before Purim. And we are starting the book of Vayikra, as I said in the intro, and I think we will touch upon both subjects. So let me dive in. We're going to focus on really just one verse actually one word that occurs for the first time in the Bible, we've been reading it for a bunch of months and two volumes, and we've never had this word and Leviticus for two it says, "Speak to the Israelite people, thus, when a person unwittingly incurs guilt in regard to any of God's commandments about things not to be done, and does one of them." And then of course, it goes on and describes what you do to bring a sin offering when you make a mistake. And as I said in the introduction, it says "ki techte b'shegaga", someone who sins "'Het" we've had before "B'Shegaga" means, by mistake, inadvertently, in error. And it's a Hebrew word. And it hasn't really occurred till now, which is kind of interesting. And it struck me as fascinating rabbi, what are your thoughts on Shegaga?


Adam Mintz  02:24

Well, the first thing you point out is that the idea that it hasn't appeared yet, is very interesting. It does appear later "Ki L'chol Ha'am B'Segaga", that one of the one of the ways that you kind of whitewash a sin is to say that it wasn't intentional, but rather it was by accident. Now, I think that the idea of by accident, is really an interesting idea. What does it mean by accident? You know, there are different types of accidents, you know, someone who violates the Shabbat, or let's take a different example, someone who eats a Hametz;  bread on on Pesach. Now, they didn't know that it was Passover. So they knew that you weren't allowed to eat meat on Pesach. But they didn't know that it was Passover. That's what you call a Shegaga. It was a mistake. But you know, when I hear about that, you know what I think to myself? Silly, why didn't they know it was Pesach That was their mistake. So actually, it's a mistake, but it's an avoidable mistake. And I think we have to make a distinction between mistakes that are avoidable, and mistakes that aren't avoidable.


Geoffrey Stern  03:49

So I love the fact that you started with that verse that resonates from the Yom Kippur service. He was B'chol Ha'am Besegaga" if I recall


Adam Mintz  04:00

Its from the Kol Nidre Service


Geoffrey Stern  04:01

Yes. And in a sense, it takes this concept of "it was a mistake", as the ultimate defense. And when all is said and done when all the briefs and the arguments have been made, if all else fails, you say it was a mistake. And I get where you're coming from where, how many mistakes can you make? You forgot that you're not allowed to eat Hametz on Pesach, you forgot that it was Pesach, you forgot that you were eating. But at the end of the day, this is a very powerful arguments that we are given. And I started by talking about the human condition. And I think to a large degree, the the Bible is recognizing the human condition in have enough a board sense with all of the sacrifices that we give, let's face it, you know God doesn't need our sacrifices. But somehow people turn to religion, when bad things happen to good people when there are inadvertent circumstances, when tragedy occurs, or when they fail. And this concept of on Yom Kippur on Kol Nidrei, it says, you know, we're human at the end of the day. There's there's two verses, and I just basically looked at a concordance. For those of you who don't know what a concordance is, you can look up a biblical concordance and look at the occurrence of every word in the Bible. And that's why I felt confident in saying that this word hadn't occurred till now. And it does occur occur later in places like Ecclesiastes; Kohelet. It says, "Don't plead before the messenger that it was an error, but fear God", and that's kind of in line, the way you were talking, you shouldn't have to fall onto this crutch. But nonetheless, it does say that is the ultimate crutch where you say to God, you know, we're clay in the hands of the potter, You created us, we are imperfect. In Ecclesiastes 10. And again, the word Shegaga, is not used all that much, other than in reference to this sacrifice. It says, "There's an evil I have seen under the sun as great an error as committed by a ruler." So that somehow rulers are permitted to make mistakes. You know, we all hope that Putin wakes up one day and says, I made a mistake, I control the press, I can call this thing of victory, and walk home. And we would love if he would take advantage of that loophole. But in a sense, the Bible by giving us this sacrifice of Shegaga, by recognizing that we can commit mistakes, is making us all of those rulers and maybe this is a no a new interpretation of a kingdom of priests and a Holy nation.


Adam Mintz  06:28

I mean, I think all of that is true. And it's interesting, you say you looked at the concordance. I mean, it's it's an interesting thing, how the Torah looks at sin. You know, whenever you look at sin, you're gonna have the idea of Shegaga, because that's obviously the way you define sin is either intentional sin, or unintentional sin. What's interesting about the first two books of the Torah, is they don't really look at sin. Now, the Jews did sin when they worship the golden calf. But there was no issue there that it was Shegaga. Moshe doesn't say to God, hey, forgive the people. Because you know what? They didn't mean it. They did mean it. Right. That wasn't that wasn't a good, I wasn't a valid argument to say they didn't mean it. So I think Geoffrey, sometimes we have to take into consideration the fact that Shegaga is not always a good excuse.


Geoffrey Stern  07:58

You know, I think you're right. And I think the words that we've had till now, describe the action. So an "Averah" is when one is "over" one passes over the line. One breaks the rule. "Het has the same kind of connotation. Shegag is less involved with the action, and more involved with the intention. And that's why I think it's so fascinating because it reflects more on who we are, and what brings us to the kind of the etiology of sin. And that's why I think it's so fascinating. But you're right, it appears only here. And it appears only now that we have this institution, this vehicle that somehow enables us to deal with the sin. I want to quote on Nachmanides this verse, and he picks up on the fact that it says, If a soul shall sin in error, "nephesh ki tecta b'shegaga", and it says, Since the process of thinking is centered in the soul, and it is the soul which commits the error, Scripture mentions here "nephesh" soul, the reason for the offerings for the erring soul is that all sins even if committed, unwittingly, produce a particular stain "Mum Ba", and of course, I was reminded of Philip Roth's novel called The Human Stain. But we've kind of moved from the Act, which is the activity which is the Avera or the 'Het and the Shegaga, which is the intention and now we're talking a little bit about the outcome of sin. And I'm wondering what your thoughts are in that regard, forgetting about sinning against somebody or breaking a rule? What does it do to our soul is what I think Nachmanides brings on to the discussion table.


Adam Mintz  10:02

So that is an interesting question. And that is that sin, Nachmanides says, sin is bad for the soul, even if it's B'Shegaga. And that's why you need a sacrifice. We've got a bit all around this. But we haven't actually talked about how it comes up in our parsha. It's that something B'shegaga also requires a sacrifice. That, in a sense, is surprising. Why should something that's B'shegaga require a sacrifice? I would think actually the opposite, that if it's B'shegaga there shouldn't be a need for a sacrifice, because you didn't do it on purpose. But the answer is no, you still have to give a sacrifice, because it does something bad to the soul. That's an interesting idea. I don't know if that idea is so obvious, but that's an interesting idea.


Geoffrey Stern  11:02

But I think it raises our consciousness to a degree because if you sin on purpose, it's almost less likely that you're going to have the anguish and the psychological challenges of someone who is otherwise pure and well intentioned, who does or is forced to do, or finds themselves in extenuating circumstances. So I think you're right, it is strange, but if you think about it a little more deeply, it actually makes a lot of sense. You know, there are many verses and rules that we've come across already, that say, if you break the Sabbath, here's your punishment, you get the lashes, you know, whether you've ever repented or not, is another question, maybe you're even forced to bring a sacrifice. But it seems to me the real anguish is that middle market of people who find themselves in extenuating circumstances, who have a very high code of conduct, but then it comes to a family member that they had to help, or it comes to providing food or saving themselves, and you can't do it all. And that is the area to me of shegaga and it can make you crazy, and that's where Meshuga comes from.


Adam Mintz  12:25

That's funny, because we need clarity, things need to be clear, they either are or they aren't, the minute the minute, you're not quite sure, then you get crazy


Geoffrey Stern  12:37

And this this sense of the stain of sin. So yeah, you know, you could kind of think in terms of the easy stuff. So if you eat non kosher food, and you believe that non kosher food almost creates a filter it dulls the soul. So yeah, you can go on a diet, you can purge, you can say, I'm not going to eat that non kosher food anymore. But maybe the residue is there. It's like, you know, smoking that pack of cigarettes or being exposed to a virus or a toxin, it has an effect, whether you wanted it or not. And that also is part of the anguish, even if you are 100% well intentioned. And again, it back gets back to when when bad things happen to good people, we always think of that in sense of, they get punished, or they lose their money or their house burns down. But what happens if that bad Is these the circumstances that force them to to do things against their moral code? There, you bring up something else? And that is, what does it mean to sin? Is to sin to violate a ritual? Or is to sin to violate a moral code? Or both? When it says shegaga, have you violated a moral code? Or have you just violated the Shabbat? And and to pick up on your original example of eating the Hametz on Pesach? And maybe not knowing it's also the sin of ignorance enters into it as well. But I mean, from a technical point of view, the the sacrifice of the shegaga is brought what, by volition, or is it assigned? How does that all work?


Adam Mintz  14:33

How do you define whether it's a Shegaga? The court actually has to define whether it's a shegaga  and a lot of it has to do with your own admission. Because again, you eat hametz on Pesach, but you say it's a shegaga, because I forgot it was Pesach. Now, that's really in your own head. You could be lying, but the Torah seems to take your word for it. Isn't that interesting? I didn't think of that ,bBut isn't that interesting?


Geoffrey Stern  15:04

Absolutely. And that's where the intentionality comes up. So there's a karban hatat, which is a sin offering. And then there's the one that we're talking about, which is for a mistake or an unintentional.


Adam Mintz  15:17

Now, there are a lot of different mistakes in this week's portion, there's a mistake of the individual, there's a mistake of the Nasi of the head of the people. There's a mistake of the Cohen Gadol, there are a lot of different kinds of mistakes. Not all mistakes are the same. Now, that is super interesting. We also understand that. You know, if the President makes a mistake, that's different than an average person making a mistake. Think about Ukraine, think about the pressure on President Zelinsky. Right. I mean, if he were to make a mistake, that would have catastrophic, consequences. But a regular person makes a mistake. It's much less catastrophic. So there are different kinds of sacrifices, depending on what the mistake is.


Geoffrey Stern  16:03

So, you know, I come back to looking at the institution of the temple and looking at the institution of the sacrifices in a whole new way. Looking at them almost from the perspective of a psychoanalyst, where, this is where people come to deal with the different issues that they've encountered. Some are forced to come some come of their own. And that I think, is fascinating to me, because many people find the whole book of Vayikra, of Leviticus as a nonstarter. It's so far removed from us, it's so remote from the world that we live in. So that's that's kind of an insight I walked away a little bit with as I started focusing on this one concept of Shegaga. But But I would like to move forward a little bit in terms of this dynamic between; is it better not to have ever sinned not to have what Nachmanidis has called the stain of sin, or this other concept that is so part and parcel of Judaism which is to tshuva, which is returning.  And the Gemara  in Berakot 34b relates as follows. "That Rabbi a Abbahu holds that penitentes are superior to the righteous as rabbi or Abbahu said in the place where penitent stand, even the fully fledged righteous do not stand. B'makom she'baale teshuva omdin tzadikim gemurim aynom omdim"  It's a radical statement and he brings a verse to prove that it's true, because it says "Peace Peace upon him who is far and for him who is near" (Isaiah 57: 19) "Peace in greeting is extended first to the one who is far the ba'al Teshuvah, the penitent and only thereafter is peace extended to him who is near; the full fledge righteious.. So this really hits on their head, this concept of the stain of sin. And according to this one rabbi rabbi Abbahu , it would almost be you know, if it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger. If you've lived a life where you might have failed, but you've done Teshuva, you've come back. Even the most righteous pietic person who's never encountered any sin can stand in your fur amos.


Adam Mintz  18:39

So that of course is a very, very famous Gemara. I always wondered about that Gemara does that Gemara mean that we should all try to sin. Because if we sin and then we do tshuva, then we repent, then we're in a higher level than the person who never sins. It can't mean that. It just can't mean that. It means you know, it's it's kind of written as a way to make the person who's the penitent feel better, that they're on a higher level. But I can't believe that they really think that if you're perfect, that you're on a lower level, I'll just tell you, just talking about the idea of sinning. There's a very, very famous Midrash that talks about perfect people. And it says that there were only four perfect people in history, only four perfect people. Benjamin was the brother of Joseph Amram, who was the father of Moshe Yishai, who was the father of King David and Kilav who was the son of King David. Now that's an interesting Midrash to begin with. Because what you see is that great people can never be perfect But great people need to be connected to perfection. So Moses, his father was perfect. Moses had to know perfection. But Moses himself couldn't be perfect. David was connected to perfection, his father was perfect, but he himself couldn't be perfect. So the idea is more a statement of reality. Nobody is perfect. And therefore you should know that where the penitent sits, that's the highest level, I think that's an important thing to keep in mind when you quote that Gemara.


Geoffrey Stern  20:33

So my take from what you just said, is that, you know, we can talk about who is far who is near, but for having peace, and it does say peace, peace, you need both, you need the benchmark, and then you need the one who might stray and in return, so to speak. You know, you said that it can't possibly be the golden rule that you sinned first, then you repent, I believe it was St. Augustine who once uttered  his famous "insincere prayer", "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet." And so I think he nodded. He nodded to that, which is the experience of the world. And again, that talks to the different stages of life, and that maybe we do need to go through the stages. So you said that you thought this Berachot Talmud was written to assuage the guilt or the bad feeling of the repentant. And this kind of gives you a motivation, where somebody says, I'm so down in the hole, how can I ever, you know, make my way back up? And then you bring Abuhuhu's whose opinion and you say, no, no, no, you're going to be right next to the pearly gates so to speak, because God loves penitents.  There was a great Hasidic rabbi, whose job in life was not make people feel comfortable. He was the Kutzke Rebbe and he was known for saying things that were very harsh and abrasive. The Kutzke Rebbe was asked, so why can't that Tzadik Gomer stand in the four cubics of the ba'al Teshuva? The Kutzke Rebbe said, "because it stinks too much". And, and he was getting back to this concept of the stain of sin, that we can give all these consoling words. But ultimately, you know, at the end of our lives, we're battered we're torn and yes, we are maimed by some of the the moral failings that we've had in the mistakes that we've made. And I just love this Talmud because it engenders this kind of conversation. And it does have you know, two totally different aspects that you could read into it. But again, it focuses on the stain of sin, which I would like to call the the Human Stain and I love it for that.


Adam Mintz  23:14

That's a great Kotzke.  I didn't know that Kotzke, but that Kotzke is what I'm saying. He's known for turning everything on its head. So that that Talmud from Berakot suggests that the Ba'al Teshuva is on a higher level. And the Kotzke kind of cynically says can be right. That's not what it means and reinterprets it, so that's nice. I like that Kotzke. I'm gonna use that Kotzke.


Geoffrey Stern  23:43

I'm happy. So so another source and another concept in Judaism and especially in Rabbinic Judaism is "Onus Rachmana patrei"  That if you are forced to do something, if someone holds a gun to your head, or Let's call a spade a spade, the worst possible situation a rape, a sin is committed on her. And so, Robbie Bahama said that the Merciful One exempts a victim of circumstance beyond his or her control for punishment, as it is said with regard to a betroth woman who is raped. So actually the use case the primary case, that is brought for that is the one of rape and that's an important situation to know as long as we're talking about the stain of, of sin, because there are many places in the Torah where whether it's the bastard child or it's whatever where we find that stain of sin and it becomes very troubling. And I think as troubling as it is, I think the the gold standard Is that ultimately? No. If it's under duress, if it's beyond your control, we give you the sacrifices, we give you all the help, but you need to know the stain isn't there.


Adam Mintz  25:14

Yes, I think that, you know, can we go back to that Nachmanides, the idea of the stain of sin? What does that mean the stain of sin? How do you understand the stain of sin?


Geoffrey Stern  25:30

I mean, the word he uses his "Moom", which literally is an imperfection. But he's talking about the soul. And it really gets to the core question, which is, is the soul of humanity, which is ultimately God given? Is it something that can be misdirected? Is it something that can be kind of bruised? But is it ultimately pure? Or can the soul itself become something that is less than holy? And I think that's that's the real issue here. He focuses over us on the fact that it says, If a soul shall sin, and he talks about this is all about the soul and ultimately, the soul can be corrupted. But I think that's that's the real question here. You know, we're all given the same soul but we're not necessarily given the same chances in life and stuff like that. And it comes down to a really basic question why they're evil people. Or they're just people that act evily, I don't know, is the soul ultimately pure? Or can the soul become stained and blemished?


Adam Mintz  26:48

Good question. So Nachmanides was a Kabbalist. And Nachmanides as a Kabbalist believe that the soul can become stained. There's a direct correlation between the two things, right, the capitalists believe in this kind of mystical view of the soul, and the soul can actually become stained. And when the soul is stained, so what do you do? You bring a karban hatat and then that unstains soul, it's like it gives the soul a shower. But you know, that's an interesting idea. Maimonides doesn't accept that. Maimonides doesn't think it has anything to do with the soul. Maimonides was a rationalist. He says you need a sacrifice. Because if you violate something, then that's a bad thing. You did something wrong, you may not have intended it, but you did it wrong. And if you do something wrong, you need to bring a sacrifice. So my Maimonides has a whole different view. He has kind of the rational legalistic view and Nachmanides has the Kabbalistic view that your soal is stained. Interesting, both are legit. I think both make a lot of sense. But you have to know they're two different arguments.


Geoffrey Stern  28:09

So I think from the Talmud, the greatest argument against Nachmanides, is given in Sota 3a by Resh Lakesh. And he says, A man commits a transgression only if a spirit of folly enters him, "Eyn adam over avera ela im kein nichnas bo ruach shtut" those of you who know Hebrew, when your child starts doing silly little things in doodling, you say stop with that "Shtuyot" stop that silliness. And I think what he's saying is that at the end of the day, we're all pure. And if we sin, some craziness, ..... we get back to this Meshuga aspect of Shogeg. And this is a very important argument. For instance, here's where the rubber hits the road. In Israel today. I'm knowledgeable in an organization that's fighting drug addiction. And till today in the Israeli healthcare system, drug addiction is looked at as a shortcoming in character and not a medical condition that can be cured. And it comes down to this. Is it a Shetuyot is it something where something happened to this person, Thank God I'm not sitting in his shoes or haven't been in his situation, and I just have to cure it. I have to take away that Shetyot. I have to take the way that that stain and I think it's a it's a beautiful approach with regard to drug addiction. I think it's a driving mandate that we have to have. We can't look at certain people as sinners that have failed. We have to look at them as brothers and sisters who need our help and need to be given the same chances that we have,


Adam Mintz  30:02

I think that's beautiful. I mean, that's actually a nice way to kind of pull it around. And that is you know, nichnas bo ruach shtut"  That's interesting. You've connected it to Shetuyot to silliness. I always thought nichnas bo ruach shtut is not silliness but stupidity. Right, you're being stupid. to sin is to be stupid. It's  nuanced. But there's a little bit of a difference between being silly and being stupid. You don't say to your kids, you're stupid. You say you're being silly. But you know, but nichnas bo ruach shtut" is more critical than that. It says you're being stupid,


Geoffrey Stern  30:45

Or ignorant. But I hear what you're saying.


Adam Mintz  30:48

I'm saying all these words are interesting. But I think they're interesting, because each one of them should right Geoffrey's a little different.


Geoffrey Stern  30:54

Yep, they are nuanced. So I promised that we would tie this into Purim. And here's where it ties into poram. Esther is going to save the Jews. But in order to save the Jews, she has to sin. She has to, for the first time of her own volition, lie with the king. And that means two things. The rabbi's learn as she goes to Mordechai and says I want you to assemble all the Jews who live in to Shushan and fast on my behalf do not eat or drink. She says Then I shall go to the king through it is contrary to the law. And if I perish, I perish. Ka'asher Avadati Avadati, the most chilling words to my mind in the whole Purim story, and the rabbi's interpret that to mean since I am going now by my own volition, I'm not being forced to lie with this king. And since I am married to Mordechai, I will now not be able to return to Mordechai. So they say Why does it say Avadati twice the first time is because I'm going to sin against God. And the second is because the stain of what I'm going to do is going to impact my life. We don't need to even comment on it. The profundity the power of that statement drives home I think some of the issues that we've been, I wouldn't say playing with but dealing with this evening.


Adam Mintz  32:26

That's really nice. That's a beautiful way to end it. I wish everybody a Shabbat Shalom and a Happy Purim. I will look forward to seeing you next week which will be right after Purim which will be super nice,


Geoffrey Stern  32:37

Shabbat Shalom Hag Samayach, let all our bad turn to good wishing you all well.

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