Pour out your Wrath on my Hametz

– An exploration of the prayers and visions of redemption expressed at the climax of the Seder 

Listen to the madlik podcast:

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The podcast was recorded in front of a live audience at a Kavanah session at TCS The Conservative Synagogue of Westport, CT.

For   see Sefaria Source Sheet see: Pour Out Your Wrath on my Hametz and  Where has all the Hametz gone?

 

notes

1. A Night of Watchings ליל שמרים

Exodus 12: 42

ליל שמרים הוא לה’ להוציאם מארץ מצרים הוא־הלילה הזה לה’ שמרים לכל־בני ישראל לדרתם

That was for the LORD a night of watchings (Shemarim) to bring them out of the land of Egypt; that same night is the LORD’s, one of watchings for all the children of Israel throughout the ages.

‘R. Joshua says, In Nisan they were delivered, [and] in Nisan they will be delivered in the time to come’. Whence do we know this? — Scripture calls [the Passover] ‘a night of watchings’, [twice – which means], a night which has been continuously watched for from the six days of the creation. (Rosh HaShana 11b) [i]

2.   The Four Cups – The Four stages of Redemption

1.     I will bring you out from the suffering of Egypt

                                                                                          וְהוֹצֵאתִ֣י אֶתְכֶ֗ם מִתַּ֙חַת֙ סִבְלֹ֣ת מִצְרַ֔יִם

  1.      and I will save you from enslavement

                                                                                                       וְהִצַּלְתִּ֥י אֶתְכֶ֖ם מֵעֲבֹדָתָ֑ם

  2.      I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements

     Exodus 6: 6                                                      וְגָאַלְתִּ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ בִּזְר֣וֹעַ נְטוּיָ֔ה וּבִשְׁפָטִ֖ים גְּדֹלִֽים

  1. and I will take you for me as a Nation, and I will be for you, the Lord”

     Exodus 6: 7                                                      וְלָקַחְתִּ֨י אֶתְכֶ֥ם לִי֙ לְעָ֔ם וְהָיִ֥יתִי לָכֶ֖ם לֵֽא-לֹהִ֑ים

3 The Climax of the Seder – Opening the Door for Elijah

Bless and drink the third cup of wine..

Pour the fourth cup of wine and pour the cup of Eliyahu and open the door.

שְׁפֹךְ חֲמָתְךָ אֶל־הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יְדָעוּךָ וְעַל־מַמְלָכוֹת אֲשֶׁר בְּשִׁמְךָ לֹא קָרָאוּ. כִּי אָכַל אֶת־יַעֲקֹב וְאֶת־נָוֵהוּ הֵשַׁמּוּ. שְׁפָךְ־עֲלֵיהֶם זַעֲמֶךָ וַחֲרוֹן אַפְּךָ יַשִּׂיגֵם. תִּרְדֹף בְּאַף וְתַשְׁמִידֵם מִתַּחַת שְׁמֵי ה’

Pour your wrath upon the nations that did not know You and upon the kingdoms that did not call upon Your Name! Since they have consumed Ya’akov and laid waste his habitation (Psalms 79:6-7). Pour out Your fury upon them and the fierceness of Your anger shall reach them (Psalms 69:25)! You shall pursue them with anger and eradicate them from under the skies of the Lord (Lamentations 3:66).

First found in Mchzor Vitry compiled by a pupil of Rashi in the 11th century.

4.  Pour Out Your Love – Alternative reading

Pour out Your love on the nations that know You

And on the kingdoms that call upon Your Name

For the loving-kindness that they perform with Jacob

And their defense of the People of Israel

In the face of those that would devour them.

May they be privileged to see

The Succah of peace spread for Your chosen ones

And rejoice in the joy of Your nations.

שְׁפֹךְ אַהֲבָתְךָ עַל הַגּוֹיִים אֲשֶׁר יְדָעוּךָ

וְעַל מַמְלָכוֹת אֲשֶׁר בְּשִׁמְךָ קוֹרְאִים

בִּגְלַל חֲסָדִים שֶׁהֵם עוֹשִׂים עִם יַעֲקֹב

וּמְגִנִּים עַל עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל מִפְּנֵי אוֹכְלֵיהֶם.

יִזְכּוּ לִרְאוֹת בְּסֻכַּת בְּחִירֶיךָ

וְלִשְׂמֹחַ בְּשִׂמְחַת גּוֹיֶיךָ.

“Chayyim Bloch (1881-1973) reported that he found an unusual version of this prayer in a manuscript haggadah that had been compiled in 1521.  He states that this manuscript, which included other poems that are not found in standard haggadot and differing versions of the text, had disappeared during the Holocaust without a trace.  Fortunately, he claims, he retained some notes with this prayer… ….  Chayyim Bloch has a reputation for presenting new texts as ancient documents.” The JPS Commentary on the Haggadah, Joseph Tabory, 2008 Jewish Publication Society p55

5.   Earlier alternative tradition – SIMEON BAR-ISAAC c950[ii]

אויל המתעה מרגיז ומחטיא        בלעהו קלעהו ועוד בל יסטיא

געול המגאל ומטנף טהורים        דחהו מחהו מלבות והרהורים

התל המהתל ומפתל ישרים        וכחהו שכחהו ולא יקומו אשרים

זבוב המארב במפתחי הלב         חנקהו נקהו ולב חדש תלבלב

טמא המזוהם ומסית להאשים    יעהו צעהו בלי ענוש בענשים 

כלי אשר כליו רעים                 לפתהו כפתהו מקום בית מרעים

מנון המפנק מנוער לאחרית       נדחהו קדחהו מהשאיר לו שארית

שאור המעפש ומבאיש העסה    עקרהו נקרהו חטא בלי לשא

פתלתל המנקש ומעקש דרכים    צרפהו ערפהו בלי היות סרוכים

קוץ המכאיב וסלון הממאיר      רעלהו העלהו כרם להפאר

שפוך מי טוהר דמים להדיח      תחטאנו באזוב תכבס ותריח

שני מתלבן עולם ונושע           ברחמים יצדיק חקר כבודם לשעשע

חוזק זרע יחשוף וישיב           וכשנים קדמוניות אותנו ישיב

Destroy and cast away the seductive folly which excites man to sin, so that he may mislead us no more.

Cast away and blot out from our hearts and thoughts the pollution which defiles and pollutes the pure.

Mislead the deceiver, who causes the straight to be crooked; rebuke him and discard him so that idolatry shall not be established.

 Strangle and clear away the gadfly that lurks at the gate of the heart, so that a new heart may flower (within us).

Sweep utterly away the unclean and foul who seduces us to sin, that he may not cause us to be sorely punished.

Seize the rogue whose instruments are evil, bind him fast, lest the house of the evildoers rise again.

Repel and burn him that was brought up delicately from a child, and has in the end become a master, so that no remnant be left of him.

Remove and destroy the moldy leaven which spoils the dough, so that it may not involve us in sin.

Cause the intriguer, who ensnares us and leads us astray to be burnt out; break his neck, so that he should have no followers.

Poison and uproot the pricking thorn and piercing briar, lest it spoil the vineyard.

Pour out water of purification to rinse away our guilt, purge us with hyssop, and wash us clean.

Let the scarlet (sin) be whitened that we may be saved for ever; may he justify us in his mercy, and delight in the search of our glory.

May he lay bare his powerful arm and bring back our captives, and restore us to our former condition as in the days of old.

From: The Authorised Selichot for the Whole Year by Abraham Rosenfeld 1978 p. 150 Selichot for the Eve of the New Year.

 

6.   Two views of Redemption – inner/outer – personal/national

“The considerations I would like to set forth in what follows concern the special tensions in the Messianic idea and their understanding in rabbinic Judaism. These tensions manifest themselves within a fixed tradition which we shall try to understand. But even where it is not stated explicitly, we shall often enough find as well a polemical side-glance, or an allusion, albeit concealed, to the claims of Christian Messianism.

Judaism, in all of its forms and manifestations, has always maintained a concept of redemption as an event which takes place publicly, on the stage of history and within the community. It is an occurrence which takes place in the visible world and which cannot be conceived apart from such a visible appearance.

Christianity conceives of redemption as an event in the spiritual and unseen realm, an event which is reflected in the soul, in the private world of each individual, and which effects an inner transformation which need not correspond to anything outside.

But it remains peculiar that this question concerning the inner aspect of the redemption should emerge so late in Judaism—though it finally does emerge with great vehemence.”[iii]

7.  The leaven in the bread – The original Passover Purge

Jewish

a.

שִׁבְעַ֤ת יָמִים֙ מַצּ֣וֹת תֹּאכֵ֔לוּ אַ֚ךְ בַּיּ֣וֹם הָרִאשׁ֔וֹן תַּשְׁבִּ֥יתוּ שְּׂאֹ֖ר מִבָּתֵּיכֶ֑ם כִּ֣י ׀ כָּל־אֹכֵ֣ל חָמֵ֗ץ וְנִכְרְתָ֞ה הַנֶּ֤פֶשׁ הַהִוא֙ מִיִּשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מִיּ֥וֹם הָרִאשֹׁ֖ן עַד־י֥וֹם הַשְּׁבִעִֽי

Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the very first day you shall remove leaven from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day to the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. Exodus 12: 15

b.

“Sovereign of the Universe, it is well known to You that it is our will to do Your will. Who prevents us from doing so? The leavening agent in the dough (the evil inclination within us) and our subservience to the nations. May it be Your will to save us from these so that we can return to fulfilling Your commandments wholeheartedly.” Prayer of Rabbi Alexandrai

c.

May it be Your will, Lord, our G-d and G-d of our fathers, that just as I remove the chametz from my house and from my possession, so shall You remove all the extraneous forces. Remove the spirit of impurity from the earth, remove our evil inclination from us, and grant us a heart of flesh to serve You in truth. Make all the sitra achara (evil inclination), all the kelipot (barriers), and all wickedness be consumed in smoke, and remove the dominion of evil from the earth. Remove with a spirit of destruction and a spirit of judgment all that distress the Shechina, just as You destroyed Egypt and its idols in those days, at this time. Amen, Selah. (kabalistic kavanah recited before the bedikat HaChametz (searching for the Leaven).

Christian

Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened [bread] of sincerity and truth. [Corinthians 5:8]

“the leaven of the Pharisees,” which is “hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1; d. Mark 8:15).

8. You’re both right

Jewish history speaks to our generation in the voice of two biblical commands to remember. The first voice commands us to remember that we were strangers in the land of Egypt, and the message of that command is: “Don’t be brutal.” The second voice commands us to remember how the tribe of Amalek attacked us without provocation while we were wandering in the desert, and the message of that command is: “Don’t be naive.”

The first command is the voice of Passover, of liberation; the second is the voice of Purim, commemorating our victory over the genocidal threat of Haman, a descendant of Amalek.

“Passover Jews” are motivated by empathy with the oppressed; “Purim Jews” are motivated by alertness to threat.

Both are essential; one without the other creates an unbalanced Jewish personality, a distortion of Jewish history and values.

Yossi Klein Halevi, CJN, March 11, 2013

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[i] See also Megillah 6b: Where Rabbi Gamaliel argues that in a leap year, Purim is celebrated on the 2nd Adar: “R. Simon b. Gamaliel again reasoned: Just as in most years [we think of] Adar as adjoining Nisan, so here [we keep the precepts] in the Adar which adjoins Nisan. …. The reason of R. Simon b. Gamaliel is that more weight is to be attached to bringing one period of redemption close to another.” Purim and Passover are times of future redemption.

See also:  “It is customary not to close the door at all in the house in which we are sitting … and when we go to greet Elijah we do so without any (closed door) obstructing our way.

 בספר “מעשה רוקח” מובא: “מצאתי במגילת סתרים, ראיתי מרבנא אלוף אבא – לא היה סוגר דלתי הבית אשר אנו יושבין בו כלל. מעידנא ועד עתה כך מנהגנו, ודלתות הבית פתוחות, וכשיבוא אליהו נצא לקראתו במהרה בלא עיכוב. ואמרינן: בפסח עתידין ליגאל, שנאמר: ליל שימורים הוא לה’ – ליל המשומר ובא מששת ימי בראשית”

[ii] Paytan

Born after c. 950

Born in Mainz, Germany. An important scholar of his time. As a paytan he composed yozerot, kerovot, selihot, hymns, and rashuyyot le-hatanim. It is probable that he sang his piyutim himself. His piyutim bare traces of the language found in early piyutim, and they are marked by the pain of the persecutions of the Jews in Bar-Isaacs’ lifetime.   Birth:      after circa 970 Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany Death:          1020

[iii] Scholem not only distinguishes between an inner and outer, personal and nationistic view of messinaism, but also distinguishes between catastrophic and utopian trends in messianism:  “I spoke of the catastrophic nature of redemption as a decisive characteristic of every such apocalypticism, which is then complemented by the utopian view of the content of realized redemption. Apocalyptic thinking always contains the elements of dread and consolation intertwined. The dread and peril of the End form an element of shock and of the shocking which induces extravagance. The terrors of the real historical experiences of the Jewish people are joined with images drawn from the heritage of myth or mythical fantasy.

The apocalyptists have always cherished a pessimistic view of the world. Their optimism, their hope, is not directed to what history will bring forth, but to that which will arise in its ruin, free at last and undisguised.

This catastrophic character of the redemption, which is essential to the apocalyptic conception, is pictured in all of these texts and traditions in glaring images. It finds manifold expression: in world wars and revolutions, in epidemics, famine, and economic catastrophe; but to an equal degree in apostasy and the desecration of God’s name, in forgetting of the Torah and the upsetting of all moral order to the point of dissolving the laws of nature.

Little wonder that in one such context the Talmud cites the bald statement of three famous teachers of the third and fourth centuries: “May he come, but I do not want to see him.”

This utopianism seizes upon all the restorative hopes turned toward the past and describes an arc from the re-establishment of Israel and of the Davidic kingdom as a kingdom of God on earth to the re-establishment of the condition of Paradise as it is foreseen by many old Midrashim, but above all by the thought of Jewish mystics, for whom the analogy of First Days and Last Days possess living reality. But it does more than that. For already in the Messianic utopianism of Isaiah we find the Last Days conceived immeasurably more richly than any beginning. The condition of the world, wherein the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isa. 11:9), does not repeat anything that has ever been, but presents something new. The world of tikkun , the re-establishment of the harmonious condition of the world, which in the Lurianic Kabbalah is the Messianic world, still contains a strictly utopian impulse.

But it always retains that fascinating vitality to which no historical reality can do justice and which in times of darkness and persecution counterpoises the fulfilled image of wholeness to the piecemeal, wretched reality which was available to the Jew. Thus the images of the New Jerusalem that float before the eyes of the apocalyptists always contain more than was ever present in the old one, and the renewal of the world is simply more than its restoration.”

Gershom Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism

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Where is God?

Parshat Terumah

And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.  (Exodus 25, 8)

וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם

As the commentary in Etz Hayim notes: “The text does not tell of God dwelling “in it,” i.e. in the sanctuary, but “among them,” i.e., among the people of Israel.

The word Mishkan comes, afterall,  from the same root as Shochen “to rest or dwell” and is the source of the name of God which characterizes his presence Shechina.  You’d expect God to dwell in His dwelling place.. the Mishkan, but according to this verse, He dwells amongst the people.

This resonates with us moderns:  God does not inhabit an edifice of bricks and mortar; he dwells in the hearts and minds of his faithful.  For a humanist this translates into God lives inside of man.

If you’re a nutritionist like my 102 old grandmother was… this translates into:

“Your body is a temple… take care of it.”

But the challenge of God’s abode on earth has plagued theologians throughout the ages. For Jewish thinkers the question has always been. ..is God actually in the house? Is the shekina actually dwelling in our temple?

With regard to the tabernacle (mishkan) and the first temple there seemed to be a consensus that God was in the house… that the Shechina rested there.  The same cannot be said of the Second Temple.

According to modern scholars, the sects who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls lived in the desert of Qumran because they rejected the holiness of the Second Temple and they were not alone.. according to the Book of Ezra the old men who had seen the First Temple in its glory cried at the dedication of the second (Ezra 3:12) The priests were corrupt, and even after the Maccabee re-dedication there was no prophet to approve their work and no miracle to assure that the temple was the abode of God.  To add insult to injury, the Maccabees installed themselves as high priests even though they were not of the priestly line.  [1]

With regard to the propriety let alone political correctness of a Third Temple…. No need to go there…

But for classical theologians and mystics the question posed by a temple was not related to politics or signs from God… it was more basic… how can it be that God can be confined to one place?

As the Midrash says with regard to the place of Jacob’s dream of the ladder which occurred on the future location of the First and Second Temple:  “God is the place (makom) of the world, but the world is not His place” [2]

שהוא מקומו של עולם ואין עולמו מקומו

The problem is actually larger than justifying a temple or a holy place… for the mystics the problem is how to explain a finite physical world when God is infinite.  If God is the Eyn Sof … an existence that suffers no beginning and no end, how is a created world with beginnings, ends and finite dimensions, let alone “evil” permitted to exist.

The standard answer in the kabbalah .. the Jewish mystical tradition, is that of the 10 sefirot.  Everything is contained in God, but there are different emanations that shine and are reflected, in various degrees of physicality, which ultimately create a perception of a created world.

The same holds true for the temple.  There is an eternal and entirely spiritual temple which God inhabits and which inhabits God… our material tabernacle or temple is simply a reflection of that celestial temple.

When Moses is commanded to build the tabernacle in Exodus 25:9, God instructs Moses:

And see that thou make them after their pattern, which is being shown thee in the mount. (Exodus 25: 40)

וּרְאֵה, וַעֲשֵׂה:  בְּתַבְנִיתָם–אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה מָרְאֶה, בָּהָר

As the in Etz Hayim notes:  “Exactly as I show you The tabernacle and its furnishings are conceived of as earthly replicas of heavenly archetypes…  notions found earlier in the Ancient Near East and elsewhere in the bible.

According to this approach, the earthly temple is a reflection or emanation of a Celestial Temple. [3]

This concept of our Temple and prayer services mirroring the Celestrial Temple and prayer services of the Angels is institutionalized in our prayers especially the Kedusha where:

“We proclaim Your Holiness on earth as it is proclaimed in heaven above.”

נְקַדֵּשׁ אֶת שִׁמְךָ בָּעוֹלָם
כְּשֵׁם שֶׁמַּקְדִּישִׁים אוֹתוֹ בִּשְׁמֵי מָרוֹם

In the Pesikta D’Rav Kehana, [4] which was probably published first in the 8th century but contains material that dates back to (1) the times of the Midrash we find an interesting rendering of this theology.

The Holy One, blessed by He, said to Moses: If you pattern the tabernacle here below after the one in heaven above, I will leave My heavenly counselors, come down, and so shrink My presence as to fit into your midst below. (Pesikta de-Rav Kahana 1:3 see also note 43 to lecture VII Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism Gershom Scholem )

כך אמר הקב”ה למשה, משה אם אתה עשה מה של מעלה למטה אני מניח סנקליטין שלי של מעלן ויורד ומצמצם שכינתי ביניכם למטן

For anyone who has heard of Lurianic Kabbalah and the system of Tzimzum this is a truly revolutionary midrash which is the only Midrashic/Talmudic reference to Tzimzum in Rabbinic literature.

Let me explain…  According to Gershom Scholem, the preeminent authority on the development of the Kabbalah, the de facto solution to the infinite God creating a finite world and dwelling in a worldly temple was the theory of emanation, where God’s totally spiritual and infinite presence is reflected through a series of increasingly physical illuminations and reflections until the physical is possible.  This solution is not particularly philosophically satisfying since it literally kicks the can down the road… but it was the best that the mystics could do and it survived from the earliest days of the Kabbalah and Zohar until the expulsion from Spain in 1492.. close to 1,000 years after our Tzimzum midrash was written.

The expulsion from Spain disrupted Jewish thought and sensitized the mystics who went to Safed to the dialectic between Exile and Return and suffering and redemption.

Isaac Luria who lived only to the age of 38 turned the theory of emanation on its head.  According to Luria God didn’t so much as create the world and contract Himself into himself in order to permit the existence of a physical world, including matter, evil and a temple, but rather according to Scholem, Tzimtsum (contraction) as redefined by Lurianinc Kabalah “is one of the most amazing and far-reaching conceptions ever put forward in the whole history of Kabbalism.  Tsimtsum originally means “concentration” or “contraction” but if used in the Kabbalistic parlance it is best translated by “withdrawal” or “retreat”…

“Instead of emanation we have the opposite, contraction. The God who revealed himself in firm contours was superseded by one who descended deeper into the recesses of his own Being, who concentrated Himself into Himself, and had done so from the very beginning of creation.

צמצם עצמו מעצמו אל עצמו

To be sure, this view was often felt, even by those who gave it a theoretical formulation, to verge on the blasphemous.  Yet it cropped up again and again, modified only ostensibly by a feeble ‘as it were’ or ‘so to speak.’ (p 260-261)

Another way of phrasing contraction would be dimunition.  In a very real and radical way, tsimsum implies that God commits the ultimate blasphemy.. he diminished Himself.. the Godhead.

Tsimsum is a variation on the old conundrum… If all powerful God can make anything… can he make a weight that is too heavy for Him to lift?  In the case of tzimzum the answer is Yes.  God can diminish himself to a point that He alone cannot repair the damage…. As it were.

It is clear to me that tsimzum is a dialectical process.  Just as in our original midrash, God withdraws from the celestial temple to concentrate into the temporal temple. And when God withdraws he leaves traces of his holiness called Reshimu or residue.  Luria provides a metaphor of the residue of oil or wine in a bottle the contents of which have been poured out.  And this process is not smooth it is disruptive to the point that Luria coined a term “Breaking of the vessels” Shevirat haKelim.

When God contracts the vessel, so to speak, that holds him is ruptured into pieces.  Both the residue (Rashimu) and broken pieces contain remnants of the infinite, but God is removed, exiled and separated from these remnants and only man can unite God with these broken pieces and this….  is Tikun.

This is the mysitical concept of Tikkun Olam, fixing the world. What it has in common with the social action concept of Tikku Olam is that both are dependent on Man.

Getting back to our Temple… we now come full circle and have a radically humanistic conception of God’s presence in our world.

God’s dwelling in the Mishkan is exclusively dependent on man.  The Tabernacle and Temple are a poetic dance between God and man, exile and return, suffering and redemption… of both man and God.  The vision of Jews praying outside of the temple, willingly withdrawing from the temple looks less absurd.

The Kotzke Rebbe’s answer to the question of “Where is God?” makes more sense and is empowering at the same time.

“Where is God?  Wherever we let Him in.”

—————————–

[1] See Cohen, Cohen, Shaye J. D., From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Westminster John Knox Press, 1988. pp 98 and 131

“The second temple… although authorized by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, was built by a gentile king and was never authenticated by an overt sign of divine favor.  ….

But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, the old men that had seen the first house standing on its foundation, wept with a loud voice, when this house was before their eyes; and many shouted aloud for joy.

וְרַבִּים מֵהַכֹּהֲנִים וְהַלְוִיִּם וְרָאשֵׁי הָאָבוֹת הַזְּקֵנִים, אֲשֶׁר רָאוּ אֶת-הַבַּיִת הָרִאשׁוֹן בְּיָסְדוֹ–זֶה הַבַּיִת בְּעֵינֵיהֶם, בֹּכִים בְּקוֹל גָּדוֹל; וְרַבִּים בִּתְרוּעָה בְשִׂמְחָה, לְהָרִים קוֹל

[2]

 “ר’ הונא בשם ר’ אמי אמר: מפני מה מכנין שמו של הקב”ה וקורין אותו “מקום”? שהוא מקומו של עולם ואין עולמו מקומו” – בראשית רבה, ס”ח, י’

[3] See Chronicles 28:11 and for a comprehensive review of this literature see:

The Celestial Temple as viewed in the Aggadah by Victor Aptowitzer found in Studies in Jewish Thought ed Joseph Dan  – January 1, 1989 Greenwood Publishing Group – Publisher

[4] Undoubtedly the core content of the Pesikta is very old, and must be classed together with Genesis Rabbah and Lamentations Rabbah. But the proems in the Pesikta, developed from short introductions to the exposition of the Scripture text into more independent homiletic structures, as well as the mastery of form apparent in the final formulas of the proems, indicate that the Pesikta belongs to a higher stage of midrashic development. According to Strack & Stemberger (1991), the text of the current Pesikta was probably not finally fixed until its first printing, presumably in S. Buber’s edition. Zunz gives a date of composition of 700 CE, but other factors argue for a date of composition in 5th or early 6th century (Strack & Stemberger 1991).

This post was originally presented as a “Kavanah” class at TCS of Westport Connecticut in 2015.  For a variation on this theme and treatment of the materials, see The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion, Genesis and Exodus Paperback – September 1, 2017 by Rabbi Shai Held , see: Being Present While Making Space Or, Two Meanings of Tzimtzum

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The Choice Challenge

Every week I am reading Shai Held’s The Heart of Torah and in his second essay on parshat Va-’era’ Held once again demonstrates the depth of his scholarship and the breadth of his reading.  In discussing the age-old question of how the biblical God could harden Pharaoh’s heart yet maintain Judaism’s belief in our God-given right to freedom Held makes a suggestion.

Held suggests that freedom is not so much:

… a fact, but it is also—and perhaps primarily—an aspiration. Real freedom requires, R. Joseph Soloveitchik (1903–93) writes, “a continuous awareness of maximal responsibility by man without even a moment’s inattentiveness.” [Soleveitchik, On Repentance p. 143] Mindfulness and constant, exquisite attention are necessary for freedom to flourish. Freedom needs to be nurtured and attended to, not taken for granted.

R. Shlomo Wolbe (1914–2005) adds that “freedom is not at all part of humanity’s daily spiritual bread. It is, rather, one of the noble virtues which one must labor to attain. It is not lesser than love, and fear, and cleaving to God, acquiring which clearly demands great effort. We can acquire freedom, and therefore we must acquire it.” [Wolbe, Alei Shur p 155]

Freedom is, in other words, a spiritual project. In order to thrive, it must be brought into awareness (Soloveitchik) and actively cultivated (Wolbe). Then, and only then, can we soften our hearts. Shai Held. The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Genesis and Exodus

Joseph Soloveitchik is widely known, especially within the modern-orthodox world as the head of Yeshiva University and scion of a famous Lithuanian Rabbinic Dynasty, but R. Shlomo Wolbe is hardly known outside of the haredi (ultra-orthodox) world which he joined at the tender age of 19.  Wolbe transferred from the University of Berlin and ended up at the Meir Yeshiva in Poland. Wolbe, who passed away in 2005 was considered the last of the great mussarniks, he was also my rebbe during the two years I studied at Yeshivat Beer Yaakov where he was the mashgiach ruchni (spiritual guide).

Rabbi Wolbe lectured and wrote extensively primarily for the “yeshiva world” on subjects such as a progressive approach to education for children and adolescents and intense introspection for adults. But there was one singular point of departure that ran through all of Wolbe’s teachings. Never take the easy road.

If he saw a yeshiva bachur (student) who had previously concealed his tzitzit, wearing them exposed, or a previously clean-shaven student, sporting a pious beard, he would call the student over and ask: “What happened to you… did you become a tzadik (saint)?” For Wolbe there were no shortcuts to piety, certainly not by a superficial change in outward appearance. The higher level of spiritual consciousness of the mussarnik could only be reached by the hard work of the heart (hovot halevavot) and the sweat of the soul.

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe once asked a pupil: “Did you ever say the Shema Yisrael?” “Of course!”, said the student. “Did you say it with kavana (intention and attention)?” The pupil replied, “Yes, of course, Rabbi.” Said Rabbi Wolbe, “Tell me, while you were saying the Shema did you follow the teaching of the sages and accept the “yoke of the kingdom of heaven?” “Of course” answered the exasperated student. “And did you feel a hint of rebellion against God?” “Chas v’shalom,” replied the pupil, “God forbid, of course not… never.” “Then you have never said the Shema” replied the Rabbi. [This is how I remember the story… for a more toned-down version see a Nice Patch of Grass by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair]

Such an unvarnished challenge to religious caution and timidity lies at the heart of Rabbi Wolbe’s concept of choice insightfully cited by Rabbi Held.

But the few pages allocated to his weekly essay  does not permit Held to expand on the depth of Wolbe’s challenge and his explicit critique of his coreligionists.

I have posted the complete text below from Wolbe’s book Alei Shur, and you can follow the Hebrew text and listen to Rabbi Yoram Bogacz read and translate here (start at minute 10:38) with a great South African accent!

Permit me to provide a further excerpt.

Wolbe writes:

“It is possible that an individual can live out his days and never make a choice! Imagine a person with a pleasant disposition, who has not moved from the upbringing that he received at his parents home, he fulfills the commandments … as he was taught, his predispositions strengthen him in his [rote] behavior (he is considered a tzadik – righteous person) and no trials occur [to shake him up]. Amazingly, he could live out his days, with  good name and without him having actually chosen a path through independent intellectual review!”

Wolbe continues:

“Its an extreme example, but if we are honest with ourselves, it is on rare occasion that we make choices in our lives.  “Everything is foreseen, and freewill is given” [Ethics of the Fathers 3:15] but in truth we are governed by our natural disposition, our education, habits and biases both in terms of the fateful decisions in life and also the small day-to-day decisions… and where is the choice?” ואיה הבחירה

Between Rav Wolbe and Rav Held, we are fortunate to have teachers who challenge us to choose… and now the choice to choose is all ours!


ale shor 3

aleih shor 2

aleih shor 1

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Jerusalem is the capital of Israel

Jerusalem is and will always be the capital of Israel – my thoughts.

I despise the concept of Intersectionality, which at its core holds that if you believe in one thing you must believe in another. For example: If you object to the discrimination of people based on sexual preference and you support LGBT rights then you must also support the delegitimization of all Israelis as oppressors and colonialists… and support BDS.

As a student of the history of ideas, nothing could be more regressive and repressive than suggesting that if you hold one truth, you must hold another. Innovation occurs not only when new ideas are conceived but also when existing ideas are combined in novel ways. I love nothing more than when women’s rights groups include both pro choice and pro life feminists. I dream of the day when fundamentalists embrace environmentalism and global warming because, after-all, God created the world and left us humans as custodians.

Which brings me to Jerusalem, the de facto and historical capital of Israel.

Here is something that both those Jews and Israelis on the right and on the left can and should agree upon. We should savor such opportunities.

Those of us on the left (I am guilty as charged) should welcome the opportunity to join all informed Jews and Israelis in acknowledging the historical and unbroken ties of the Jewish people to Jerusalem as our capital. As in… Next Year in rebuilt Jerusalem… ירושלים הבנויה (not necessarily… greater Jerusalem).

The fact that Trump has spoken this truth is actually a blessing in disguise since it sugar-coats this truth to our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the most light-handed way possible. Trump is not known for speaking the truth, so when he does speak the truth (even a broken clock is right twice a day) it is arguably easier to swallow.

We in the West, on the left and the Palestinian leadership do our Palestinian brothers and sisters no favor by reinforcing an unattainable belief that a united Jerusalem will be the capital of the Palestinian State.

West Jerusalem was liberated by the Jewish State of Israel in the 1948 war initiated by the surrounding Arab States and supported by the indigenous Arab population (aka the Palestinians), and is not up for negotiation as long as the State of Israel exists.

There are other truths that we (Jews and Israelis on both the right and left) can and should embrace.

Notwithstanding the proclamations of another institution which has a problem with the truth (UNESCO), the Temple Mount was first and foremost…. the Ancient Hebrew’s Temple Mount. The fact that from time immemorial conquest of a foreign nation entailed the conquerer erecting their Temple on the ruins of the vanquished’ temple erases historical truth no more than does the piss of a dog marking territory previously inhabited by a prior canine.

The Jewish claim to the Temple Mount, and other historical facts are not negotiable. As far as I am concerned the Muslims are welcome to keep their mosque on the Temple Mount and maintain the status quo as long as they respect and protect the right of all religions to pray there (which, regrettably, they don’t.. another un-truth).

So does truth-telling destroy the non-existent peace process? Or should we ask whether treating our Palestinian brothers and sisters as children who cannot handle the truth destroys any chance for compromise and realism?

Does truth-telling undermine the honest-broker status of the West? Or should we ask whether propping up a Palestinian leadership which profits from and feeds it’s people ahistorical and unattainable untruths promotes conflict resolution?

I can say and ask all of the above and still believe in a Two-State Solution and mourn the injustice (as in אי צדק) of the Occupation. So much for Intersectionality…..

[Sorry for the picture, but it got your attention.]

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Two State Solution – Earliest Mention in the Bible

Parshat Lekh Lekha

Rav Shai Held has written a breathtaking commentary on the Five Books of Moses, two succinct commentaries for each weekly portion.

The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion Do yourself a favor, and run (don’t walk) and buy it.

I have been fortunate to have studied at Machon Hadar, where Held is President and Dean (aka Founder and Mashgiach Ruchni).  At the book launch, we were encouraged to study a single weekly entry, in detail, with a study partner and then as a group in a class (Shiur). In my opinion, each of the two weekly pieces justify such intensive learning, not only because of the message that Held wishes to convey, but because, hidden, and sometimes overtly exposed in the short 4-5 page treatments are insights worthy of a screeching halt and complete change in travel plans. The second article on Lech Lecha is a fine example.

The article is titled: Between Abram and Lot Wealth and Family Strife and is focused primarily on the potentially corrosive nature of wealth acquisition. But segued into the discussion is a clear and powerfully suggestive reference to the dialectic between sharing/splitting the Promised Land in two and fulfilling the divine promise of a complete and Greater Israel. Abram and Lot have returned from Egypt richer and estranged. Abram offers a solution. Held writes:

… in his offer to Lot, Abram is “magnanimous in the extreme”: “Is not the whole land before you? Kindly part from me: If you go north, I will go south; and if you go south, I will go north” (Genesis 13:9). Abram’s magnanimity is enormously important and instructive: “His trust [in God’s] promise makes him gracious and generous.” Abram believes what God has told him—the land will one day belong to him and his descendants—but he does not insist that the promise must be fulfilled in its entirety at the present moment. Some modern Jewish thinkers insist that the religious person “discerns in every divine pledge man’s obligation to bring about its fulfillment, in every promise a specific norm.” [ Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, 100.] But Genesis 13 has other ideas, emphasizing instead that sometimes the appropriate religious posture is patience and a willingness to wait. Abram understands that, ultimately, the land is a gift, not an earthly possession—and so he refuses to grasp it too tightly. The land has been promised to Abram by God, and yet he is willing to let go of part of it in the interest of peace. Abram treasures the land, but he trusts in God so deeply and values family concord so highly that he lets go of precisely what is so precious to him. Strikingly, Bible scholar Victor Hamilton notes, Abram “is prepared to sacrifice what has been promised to him, as he will later willingly offer Isaac who has been promised to him.” Jon Levenson insightfully adds: “Since Abraham is finally again promised the lands he ceded to Lot, the chapter has a certain parallel with the Akedah, in which Abraham gets back him whom he gave up and receives anew the promises that depend on the would-be offering.” [Jon D. Levenson, personal communication {with Held}, October 12, 2014. Levenson’s comments are in some ways reminiscent of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.] Immediately after Abram and Lot part ways, God reiterates the promise of land and even intensifies it. Abram is to receive “the whole land . . . through its length and its breadth.” And now it is Abram himself, and not just his descendants, who will inherit the land (Gen. 13:14–17). Bible scholar Gordon Wenham observes that “the reiteration of the promises puts the divine seal of approval on Abraham’s treatment of Lot.”

Held, Shai. The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Genesis and Exodus (Kindle Locations 999-1019). The Jewish Publication Society. Kindle Edition.

Held’s profound insight and implied critique of those who practice Greater Israel activism in order to comply and fulfill a divine promise needs no embellishment, certainly not by me. “the enlightened will understand” המשכיל יבין


I should note that this vote for restraint by Held, could be  mistakenly construed to echo the Babylonian Talmud at the end of Ketubot (111a) which was and is used by the ultra-Orthodox to argue for quitism and against the entire Zionist project of actively repatriating the Land of Israel.

… it is written: “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and by the hinds of the field, that you not awaken or stir up love, until it please” (Song of Songs 2:7). Rabbi Yehuda derived from here that no act of redemption should be performed until a time arrives when it pleases God to bring about the redemption. And Rabbi Zeira maintains that the oath mentioned in that verse means that the Jews should not ascend to Eretz Yisrael as a wall, i.e., en masse, whereas individuals may immigrate as they wish.

ורבי זירא ההוא שלא יעלו ישראל בחומה

While the reference to a wall is ironic, I think it safe to say that Held is not anti-activist in any sense of the word, certainly not when it comes to fulfilling the moral mission of the Hebrew Bible, nor the manifest destiny contained in God’s, and prophetic promises. It is only when nationalist activism conflicts with  “the interest of peace”, “family concord” or kavod habriut … respecting the human dignity of the other, that Held would argue for patience relating to God’s promises and activism towards God’s creations.

 

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Entitlement Reform – Chosen Children and People

The blessings and curses that come with choseness…

An exploration of the meaning and development of The Chosen People in Genesis and in Rabbinic and Christian texts and traditions.

If you like the madlik podcast please subscribe (and LIKE us) at iTunes.  And for your Andoids, the podcast is now available on Google PlayMusic and Stitcher.  For easy links go to madlik.com

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