Enough

parshat vaetchanan, deuteronomy 3

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on August 11th 2022. Moses pleads with God to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. God is cross with Moses. When should we ask for more? When do we ask for too much? That is the question.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/424108

Transcript:

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. This week’s parsha is Vaetchanan Moses pleads with God to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. God is cross with Moses. When should we ask for more? When do we ask for too much? That is the question. So puff up your chest and join us for Enough,   די , מספיק כבר

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Well welcome How about you are in bear Sheva about to officiate at a wedding. And it is the 15th of Ab, which as you mentioned in the pre-show is the Valentine’s Day mentioned in in the Talmud. So what a special day it is for you. Thank you so much for being able to join with us.

Adam Mintz  01:15

Wouldn’t miss it and this is a great parsha…. you chose a really good topic, so let’s get going.

Geoffrey Stern  01:20

Great. So, as I said in the introduction, this is Vaetchanan and we start in Deuteronomy 3: 23. And again, it’s written in the first person because it is the book of Devarim, and it’s straight from Moses’ mouth. And it says וָאֶתְחַנַּ֖ן אֶל־ה I pleaded with God at that time saying, oh, Lord God, You who let your servants see the first work of your greatness of Your mighty hand, you whose powerful deeds know God in heaven or on earth can equal let me I pray, crossover and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan. In the Hebrew it says, אֶעְבְּרָה־נָּ֗א cross over. And on the other side of the Jordan is בְּעֵ֣בֶר הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן, but God was wrathful וַיִּתְעַבֵּ֨ר ה’ בִּי֙ on account, and would not listen to me. God said to me anough never speak to me of this matter again. And he tells him to go up onto the mountain top, look at it well, for you shall not cross yonder de Jordan, give Joshua his instructions imbue with him strength and courage, for he shall go across the head of his people. And he shall a lot to them the land that you may only see. So you mentioned this last week as a prime example of Moses talking in the first person pleading with God. And here we are. And as you could tell from the Hebrew that I threw in, I was totally struck by one word that was used over and over again, the easiest form it was used was בְּעֵ֣בֶר הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן which means on the other side of the Jordan, but also, if you notice, when Moses asked to cross over he says, אֶעְבְּרָה־נָּ֗א let me cross over. And then what I never noticed before when God was cross, and it’s interesting that in English, the word for cross can be mean to transverse. And it can also mean to be upset. And in Hebrew, lo and behold, the same thing occurs when God is mad at Moses. It says וַיִּתְעַבֵּ֨ר ה’ בִּי֙. So were you struck by this as well? Have you given this any thought?

Adam Mintz  03:59

I have not, that is absolutely fantastic. I never thought about that. That the word וַיִּתְעַבֵּ֨ר , and עֵ֣בֶר הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן are exactly the same word. And to be cross and to cross is the same. Now obviously, it makes sense. To be cross with somebody to be angry at someone is to go over to the other side, we assume that you’re supposed to be friendly. So, if you’re not friendly, you cross over to not being friendly. So I understand the etymology. But that’s great to find that at the beginning of this week’s parsha, I love that

Geoffrey Stern  04:32

And of course, while I had never really associated it with being angry, we have associated it with sinning עֲבֵרָה is when you transgress the law when you cross the boundary so to speak.

Adam Mintz  04:52

Exactly the same idea.

Geoffrey Stern  04:54

Let’s focus a little bit more on this עֲבֵרָה. On this over on passing over.  And of course, I mentioned that it associated with sin, but it is also associated with being a Jew, an Ivri, I should say a Hebrew it is the Hebrew word is “ivri”  “hivri”, Hebrew” and as far back as Genesis when in Lech L’cha it says וַיַּעֲבֹ֤ר אַבְרָם֙ בָּאָ֔רֶץ עַ֚ד מְק֣וֹם שְׁכֶ֔ם, it uses this term. And in Genesis 14, when Abraham is talking to the kings, it says וַיָּבֹא֙ הַפָּלִ֔יט וַיַּגֵּ֖ד לְאַבְרָ֣ם הָעִבְרִ֑י and it came to Abraham, the Ivri, the one who had passed over the one who had provoked to anger, maybe the one who had transgressed the norms of the past. So this is really, it’s not just a moment where Moses can’t pass into the land. It’s a moment that Moses can’t be his version of Abraham, in a sense, it’s very profound.

Adam Mintz  06:10

And just we’ll add one last example of that, you know, the fact that Ivri, the one from the other side is the way that you know, the Jews define themselves at critical moments when Jonah is trying to run away from God, and he gets on the ship, and they don’t know who he is. And he says, עִבְרִ֣י אָנֹ֑כִי, I am from the other side means that at critical moments, that’s the way we define ourselves that we’re different that it’s so interesting that that’s true to this very day, is that you know, our differentness is something that helps identify him.

Geoffrey Stern  06:45

Yeah. And I think this this sense of anger that I discovered in this week’s parsha …. how does that relate to Ivri to a Hebrew? I, to me, it resonates as a provocateur, to me, it resonates as someone who can provoke anger, because again, he seems to be passing over the boundaries, he seems to be going to a place that was maybe taboo. How do you package all of them together?

Adam Mintz  07:23

I think that’s good. I would just say, I think in literature, they say that sometimes a word is used, even if it not common use of the word to remind us of something else. And I think that’s what you picked up on. The word for God getting angry and Moses is וַיִּתְעַבֵּ֨ר, because the Torah wants us to do exactly what we’re doing today on clubhouse and that is think about all the ways in which Ivri defines the Jews עִבְרִ֣י אָנֹ֑כִי    וַיִּתְעַבֵּ֨ר       בְּעֵ֣בֶר הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן so it’s it’s successful means by וַיִּתְעַבֵּ֨ר is not the natural word for getting angry. The Torah knows the word כַּעַס the Torah knows the simple word for getting angry, but chooses not to use it because the Torah wants to sensitize us to the idea of all the things that we’re talking about which is great.

Geoffrey Stern  08:16

And you find this a lot it’s almost poetic using the same sh0resh (Hebrew root) over and over again in a literary element and making you think along the lines that we are so I totally I totally agree. So now that we’ve kind of focused on the Ivri part of it, maybe we can focus a little bit on something that last week I said maybe I’m gonna do a podcast on this next year. But lo and behold, here we are, I mean we know this concept of רַב־לָכֶם֒ has haunted Moses for quite some while So רַב־לָכֶם֒ here means God says enough never speak to me of this matter again.  וַיֹּ֨אמֶר ה’ אֵלַי֙ רַב־לָ֔ךְ אַל־תּ֗וֹסֶף דַּבֵּ֥ר אֵלַ֛י ע֖וֹד בַּדָּבָ֥ר הַזֶּֽה. And we know that when Korach led his rebellion in numbers 16 is the first time that we came across this expression. And it’s when when the members of the tribe of Levi had said to Moses and Aaron presumably because they had taken leadership positions. They said  וַיִּֽקָּהֲל֞וּ עַל־מֹשֶׁ֣ה וְעַֽל־אַהֲרֹ֗ן וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ אֲלֵהֶם֮ רַב־לָכֶם֒ כִּ֤י כׇל־הָֽעֵדָה֙ כֻּלָּ֣ם קְדֹשִׁ֔יםYou have gone too far you’ve done a power grab. And then a few verses later, Moses returns to them and says You, Korah and all your band, take fire pans, (7) and tomorrow put fire in them and lay incense on them before ה’. Then the candidate whom ה’ chooses, he shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, sons of Levi!”, Rob look em Binay Levy.  רַב־לָכֶ֖ם בְּנֵ֥י לֵוִֽי  So they are trading this barb at each other of רַב־לָכֶ֖ם I almost feel like we are outside of a private joke at this point. And I’ll go on to mention what prompted me last week in Deuteronomy 1: 6. Moses is beginning his first person, sermon to the people. And he says, you know, and when you were at Mount Sinai when you were at Horeb and God spoke to you saying, you have stayed long enough at this mountain, רַב־לָכֶ֥ם שֶׁ֖בֶת בָּהָ֥ר הַזֶּֽה. And then he goes on because he’s talking to them about all of the different trips, they took all of the different transfers and stops they made in the 40 years in the desert. And in Deuteronomy 2:3, he says, You have been skirting this hill country long enough. Now turn north, רַב־לָכֶ֕ם סֹ֖ב אֶת־הָהָ֣ר הַזֶּ֑ה פְּנ֥וּ לָכֶ֖ם צָפֹֽנָה. So, are we outside of a private joke here? Or am I just plucking this out of the air?

Adam Mintz  11:18

No. But I think you started at the beginning in your introduction by saying that we still say in Hebrew די, or מספיק כבר ….. the idea is enough. That’s the way we respond when people overstep their bounds. Now in the Torah, the Torah is really all about bounds, because the Torah is about God’s relationship with people. And God has certain boundaries. And when you pass over those boundaries, then you’ve broken the rule. And when God says to you is too much, so Korach was too much. You pass God’s boundary, Moshe this week is too much you pass God’s boundary. Now sometimes you don’t know what too much is. You can’t fault Moses.  He wanted to enter the land. And you know, God gets angry at him says, Enough? Enough is enough. I don’t want to hear about it anymore. But you can quote Moses for trying?

Geoffrey Stern  12:15

Well not at all.. And I think part of the subtext of today’s discussion is when do you need to try? When do you overstep the bounds? When are you supposed to be patient? And when are you supposed to be impatient? And you picked up on the colloquial expressions in modern day Hebrew? You know, I think they always say about the Eskimos, they have at least 10 words for ice. I think, in Israel, they probably have 10 expressions for impatience.

Adam Mintz  12:53

You know, that’s most important thing is they actually can say it without words, you know, when they put their first finger in their thumb together, that’s also saying like enough, right?

Geoffrey Stern  13:05

It’s absolutely true. And as I looked it up, it’s מספיק כבר and די. And it’s די כבר    כבר מספיק. It’s so much part of the, the Middle Eastern or certainly the Israeli mentality, they are impatient. It speaks to this sense of they want to get on with it. And it’s not so much the power grabbing thing, and that’s why I was happy to quote those other verses from last week’s portion where Moses twice uses רַב־לָכֶ֕ם in a sense of move on already. If you’ve been at Mount Sinai, enough, move on. You’ve wandered in the desert long enough, move on. So it is power grabbing, but it’s also maybe the status quo, grabbing that and not moving on. And it totally relates to Ivri, to someone who passes over the boundaries, someone who passes over the river and moves from one country from one reality to another. You can’t disconnect the two they’re almost the flip side of each other.

Adam Mintz  14:25

I think that that’s right. And I think it’s really interesting. It’s funny, because what you said was that the Eskimos have 11 words for ice and we have 11 words for enough, but the Torah, same word again and again, Rav right, the Torah could have said it in different ways. But the Torah wants us to connect all these different places in which God says enough is enough. And it’s interesting that it’s also used within the idea of move on means enough means you know, you need to move forward, enough standing still,  enough paralysis? I think we say that also, right our phrase is “get on with your life” is really the same thing, right? Enough get on with your life.

Geoffrey Stern  15:10

So I totally agree I started to quote the Sifrei Bamidbar that Rashi quotes. And I think the first explanation that he gives for Rav Lechem, was the difference between a private prayer and a public prayer. I think that related a little bit to this original use of the term against that Korach used, you’ve taken too much power into yourself, you’re too into yourself, you’re asking for something for you to move into the new land. God listens to prayers, but he listens to prayers of the group of humanity of the whole people. And this thing is enough for you. You’ve asked for too much. But it goes on and it gives at least two or three other explanations for Rav Lechem. One of them was “much for you”. He said to him much reward is in keeping for you. Much is stored away from you. Quoting Psalms 31: 12. So here it’s not so much putting Moses down as saying, you have enough already. You can cash in your chips. You can bank, the commandments, the Mitzvot that you have done, maybe leave it for somebody else. But certainly you’ve finished your mission. Do you think there’s an element of that here?

Adam Mintz  16:44

I think the entire book of Devarim of Deuteronomy has a lot of that God’s saying it’s time to leave it for the next generation. Enough. Enough. Moshe, your Your time is over. I think that that’s all over the place. And I think this is really the first place that you see it. It’s interesting. We talked last week about the fact that Moshe speaks in the first person in the book of Devarim. Actually, the Parsha last week was more or less just Moshe’s narrative Moshe’s story, the first time that we have a conversation between God and Moshe in the first person of Moshe is here at the beginning of Vaetchanan. So this is actually an important moment. Because now Moshe tells you what his relationship is with God from his perspective, not from God’s perspective. And he must have been frustrated, because all he wants to do is enter the land. And what God says to him is enough, right? That must have been so frustrating for Moshe, I actually saw Geoffrey an interesting thing today. You know, why is it that Moshe wanted to enter the land? It’s a funny question, because you say the Land of Israel, everybody wants to go to the land of Israel. But what was it that Moshe wanted in Israel? Did he want the Holy Land? Did he want to be the leader? Did he not want to give up the leadership? You know, there are a lot of different pieces of Moses, and it’s hard to know exactly what Moshe thought was most important in his desire to continue.

Geoffrey Stern  18:19

Amina, I think we can all conjecture and maybe we’ll get into it a little bit later. But certainly he wanted more. Continuing on with the Sifrei. Another “much for you” Rav Lechem. He said him much. Have you labored much have you toiled take Lee Moses, and rest? We have the oldest president in the history of the United States. And there are those that are saying, Rav Lechem, Joe, it’s time.  You know, it’s time for another generation.

Adam Mintz  18:53

It’s so funny, you say that. And you see that Joe Biden doesn’t want to except that it’s very hard to be told as you get older enough is enough that you need to leave room for the next generation.

Geoffrey Stern  19:05

Absolutely. Another interesting thing is I don’t think it’s happened lately. In Israel, it happens more often, where you can be a prime minister, and then in the next government, you can just be a minister, you can go down. I think it’s maybe in the early days of our Confederacy, our country. You had someone like Thomas Jefferson, who would be a president, and then he might become a senator. But the other thing that the Sifrei brings is that Moses says, Look, I’ll even go into the Promised Land, and I’ll work for Joshua. I’ll work for Joshua. So the Lord says, Rav Lecha, the station of Rav is yours. It does not befit a Rav to become the disciple of his disciple.  הרב נעשה תלמיד לתלמידו? So this is kind of interesting because here you are Rabbi, You are a Rav And the rabbi’s of the Talmud saw in the word Rav truly a Rav, a master, and the master can’t serve the disciple. But that is also kind of interesting. It reminds me of another expression. In the Talmud, מעלין בקודש ואין מורידין, you can take something up in holiness, but you can’t bring it down. What’s your read on this?

Adam Mintz  20:29

I mean, I love that Sifrei because it’s kind of a joke, because in the Torah, the word Rav doesn’t mean rabbi. That’s a rabbinic word. We all know that rabbis were invented by the rabbis, rabbis were invented by the Talmud, Moses is never called a rabbi until the rabbi’s later refer to him by Moshe Rabbeinu. So when the Medrish, when the Sifra plays on the word, and says it means, Rabbi says that I would even work for Joshua. So it’s actually just a kind of a funny play. It’s not what the Torah actually means. But it’s kind of the rabbinic interpretation. And you know, the rabbi’s love to play with the words of the Torah, they know that it’s not what the Torah means, but they still like to play with the words.

Geoffrey Stern  21:21

And I’m sure that it would be easy enough to make a case for the clergy grab, here. On of the things I think that distinguishes Judaism from so many other religions, is that as much as we admire our rabbis, they can’t be counted for more than one person of a minyan (quorum). They can’t do anything more than any simple Jew, they are admired for their leadership skills. They’re admired for their knowledge. But it’s not as though they can do communion and no one else can do communion. And that is Rav Lachem. The rabbi, cannot take any more power that’s kind of unique. I don’t think that’s embedded in this comment. But it’s certainly an interesting insight.

Adam Mintz  22:21

That is definitely an interesting insight. That’s great. So the Sifra has gone in a whole different direction, which is really what the Midrash does so often is it allows you to kind of develop a completely different idea.

Geoffrey Stern  22:32

So I think after we go through all of the Midrashic interpretations, we still come back to the fact that we are all allotted a certain amount of time on this blessed Earth. And beyond that expiration date is Rav Lachem. Enough, you’re  only given so much whether it’s you know, you should take a rest now, or you can cash your chips now. But this concept that I don’t think anyone has really said any better in modern times than Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s I’ve been to the mountaintop, the metaphor of this is as far as you get, and I know, you just want to cross the Jordan and get into the promised land, but that might not be allotted to you. And that certainly is not a ruler of your success in life. I think that ultimately, has to be the most basic message here. I think of it in Perkei Avot 2: 16  Rabbi Tarfon used to say, it is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it. לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה. Would you say that the basic message here?

Adam Mintz  23:57

That is the basic message and the rabbis in that line? And obviously, that’s the most famous line of all, you know, I think they really summarized all of the things we’re talking about here. And that’s what God is saying to Moshe, I mean, it happens to be that the book of Devarim, all took place in the last 30 days of Moses his life, so he doesn’t have much to do. So the וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה, there isn’t much left for Moshe to do, other than to make sure that the transition of leadership is gonna go smoothly. And as we move on and Devarim, we’re going to see that that actually is an issue that they’re worried about that how are the people going to accept Joshua? What’s that going to look like? What’s that transition going to look like? You know, it’s interesting, we always say when we have presidents, so the transition is planned, because, you know, one president wins and one president loses and you move on, but when you have leaders like kings and queens, that you know, they win the leadership, it’s moves on When somebody dies, it’s very difficult because it’s hard to prepare for it. And I’m sure we all know that, you know, they’ve literally have spent 30 years preparing for the Queen’s death means they know exactly what’s going to happen when Queen Elizabeth dies, even if it’s 20 years from now they know exactly, because it’s very hard to have transition of leadership, when you can’t prepare for that transition, when you don’t know when it’s gonna happen.

Geoffrey Stern  25:24

Absolutely. You know, we’re almost coming to the end given you’ve got to go to the wedding. And I promised that we’d spend some time talking about Beer Sheba. And the segue that I want to give is actually another word that is related to Ma’avar, to cross over. And that is Ma’abarot, מַעְבָּרוֹת transit camps. And when the Jews especially from the countries in the Arab world, in the Middle East, and for those of you who are listening, there’s so much that said about Israel being “colonized” by people coming out of Eastern Europe. We forget until we go to a place like Beer Sheva, how many Jews have from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Morocco, settled in the land of Israel, returned to Israel because they were being persecuted. But it was started by the elite Ashkenazi Eastern European Jews. And what happened typically, and this is a story you can either confirm or deny rabbi, but this is what I heard when I visited Beer Sheva. And that is when the Jews from Morocco got to Israel, and they got to the buses, taking them to the different locations. They all want it to go to Jerusalem. And so there were buses marked Jerusalem they got on, they woke up in the morning. And guess what? They weren’t in their Promised Land. They were in Beer Sheva. And they also went into transit camps מַעְבָּרוֹת. And from that, we know that you don’t pass over the Jordan immediately that it’s a process. And sometimes it takes one generation and sometimes it takes multi generations. And what I was thinking, and we’d love to hear from you about this is how Beer Sheva, which was started by immigrants, who many cases were not that sophisticated. And were put in the back lands of Israel, so to speak, have through multi generations, not that first one, created something beautiful down there. So let us give us an update.

Adam Mintz  27:44

That’s a great segue. So I’ll just say quickly, that we all know that Jews lived in Middle Eastern countries, Morocco is just one of them. But Libya and Iraq and Iran. And what happened was that starting after 1948, with the creation in the State of Israel, the Jews didn’t feel comfortable in these Arab countries, and therefore many of them came, they came to Beer Sheva. They were not sophisticated. You know, we look at everything through our eyes. They weren’t sophisticated in the kind of the intellectual Western sense of being, you know, I’ve gone to college and being professionals. They were traders, they opened shops, and that’s what Beer Sheva looked like. For a long time. There were people who lived in bear Sheva. Actually, when Sadat came to Israel in 1979, he came to visit Beer Sheva means there was a significant city even then, what turned Beer Sheva around was in 1969, they opened the university in Beer Sheva, and all of a sudden, the intellectuals started coming to Beer Sheva. It’s interesting that were many American professors who came who made Aliya and started teaching in Ben Gurion University. You know, it was hard for an American professor to get a job in Israel in the 1970s because the university jobs were taken by Israelis. These were foreigners. They couldn’t compete with the Israelis. But Ben Gurion University was a new university, they were looking for impressive professors. So, you had all these fancy professors from the United States who moved to Beer Sheva, and you actually have and this is what you have. Now, you have this amazing melding together of a of a university community, and it’s now one of the top universities one of the top medical schools, they have a great hospital here. And there are, you know, there, there’s high tech here and there’s development and there, there are buildings and I went to, I went to a swimming pool today; it’s hot, you have to go swimming during the day. And it was fantastic to see the people there. And everybody was together. You had the Ashkenazi and Eastern Europeans with the, you know, with the Middle Eastern people, and they’ve really developed an amazing community here and you eat and what you see is you see The way people live when they came in the 50s and 60s, you see small little houses. And then you see the big the big tall apartment buildings you were talking about. It kind of looks like some of the buildings in Geoffrey look like suburban Tel Aviv don’t they?. It’s just great down here. And it also interesting …. we kind of forget this, but the way people are sensitized here because it’s so hot. There still is that tradition in bear Sheva that if you walk in the shop, and every city has a wonderful shock, if you walk in the shock in Beer Sheva in between like one and four in the afternoon. Many of the stores are still closed, meaning it’s hot during the day. They go home, they eat lunch and they take a nap. They take a siesta and they come back at four o’clock when it’s a little cooler. So they really developed an amazing culture here. And it’s really this is now the gateway to the south in Israel. What’s happened in Israel and I know Geoffrey, that your work. Takes you even further South and then Beer Sheva. What’s happened is that there are there are cities and towns that have developed beyond the Beer Sheva. So now you say it’s really a gateway to the south. And they actually call Ben Gurion The University of the Negev. It’s not just them Beer Sheva University is University of the Negev. So it’s a very exciting city. I kind of would tell people when they come to Israel, and I fault myself too I haven’t been in Beer Sheva for a long, long time. That is a mistake. Sharon and I are going to come to Beer Sheva to visit this is a really it’s really important to understand Israel to see Beer Sheva, like you said there are different types of places you know you go to old kibbutzim, you go to small new development towns. And I’ll just end by saying that the Torah of course, introduces Beer Sheva, Beer Sheva was a place where Avraham; Abraham and Avimelech who was the king of Groh, who was the king, one of the neighboring countries, they made a pact here to get along, and probably the word Beer Sheva. It’s a trick Sheva means seven, but probably the word Beer Sheva means that they made a Shavuah, they took an oath around the well. And it’s amazing that this is the city, so many 1,000s of years later, that actually is a city where different kinds of people can come together and can live together. So we maintain that tradition of of Avraham and Avimelech. And it’s, you know, there’s a religious community here, and there’s a secular community here, and it seems like I don’t know why, but it seemed like all the Moroccan restaurants in the shuk today, we’re all kosher, you know, in Jerusalem in Tel Aviv, you have to ask whether they’re kosher in their chef, every single thing seems to be kosher, which I thought was kind of fun. So that’s nice. I want to wish everybody a Shabbat Shalom, Geoffrey, this was great today. I’m happy that I was able to make time because this was a really really good one today. This shabbat is called Shabbat Nachamu, it’s a Shabbat of consolation, after Tisha B’Ab. The last weekend was a weekend where there actually were rockets, rockets and sirens here in Beer Sheva, and please God it should be a time of Nachamu, of consolation and comfort and good things. And everybody should enjoy the summer Geoffrey and I look forward to being back on a New York Time eight o’clock Thursday night looking forward to seeing everybody Shabbat Shalom,

Geoffrey Stern  33:28 Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Adam, we feel like we’re part of your simcha and I just want to say that this episode is dedicated to the beautiful town of Beer Sheva, and I wish you all a Shabbat shalom

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/424108

Listen to last week’s episode: A Second Torah

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A Second Torah

parshat devarim, devarim 1

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on August 4th 2022. The fifth book of the Five Books of Moses is called Mishneh Torah which means the Second Torah or the Repetition of the Torah. We use this as an opportunity to explore how the Torah has been renewed and rediscovered over time.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/422607

Transcript:

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 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  The fifth book of the Five Books of Moses is called Deuteronomy in Greek and referred to as Mishneh Torah in Hebrew…  both of which mean the Second Torah or the Replayed Torah. Join us as we explore how the Torah has been renewed and rediscovered over time. So put on your headphones and set up your turntable as we spin… A Second Torah.

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Well, welcome! I wasn’t prepared to celebrate Simchat Torah in the middle of the summer. But the truth is, at the end of last week’s podcast Rabbi, you reminded us that it was a Hazak Hazak moment, we had finished the book of Numbers. And really, if you take a few verses from Deuteronomy; Devarim that we’re gonna start reading today, and you put on the end of Moses’ career, you really have finished the whole Torah, it is a complete literary unit. And that is why so many people hear a different voice in the book of Deuteronomy. And why as I said in the intro, even the name that we refer to it literally means the second or repeated law in Greek. And we’ll see in a second to that it’s also called Mishneh Torah. Similar to Lechem Mishneh, which is the two pieces of bread or mana that they got before Shabbat, Mishneh is like shenayim, it’s repeat its turn it’s dual. So let’s just jump in to verse 1: 1 in Deuteronomy, which is where the other name of Deuteronomy comes from. And it says אֵ֣לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֗ים These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan. So the Hebrew books, our names for them, are very similar to the names we give the parshiot. Pretty much, you just take the first word that comes up. And that’s why we have Bereshit and Vayikra. And so that’s really, without any significance or meaning, why the other name for the book that we’re starting today is Devarim. But it does already kind of tickle my fancy by saying, These are the words that Moses addressed on the other side of the Jordan, already, it’s changing the voice of the whole book that we’re going to hear, which is ultimately a bunch of sermons in the voice of Moses. I think that’s kind of fascinating. And I think it’s so important that we have that in mind as we read it because it really does…… And we’re going to take a few examples today in our own parsha about how the voice is different.   But it is kind of radical. It’s a new start today.  mazal Tov, Simchas Torah. Here we are.  Fantastic, can’t wait to begin.

Geoffrey Stern  03:29

So, the word that מִשְׁנֵ֨ה הַתּוֹרָ֤ה comes from is actually a few chapters ahead in 17: 18. And it talks about this ceremony where the king not only had to write the Torah, but he had to also read it. And it says in 17: 18, when he is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this teaching written for him on a scroll by the priests. And it refers to מִשְׁנֵ֨ה הַתּוֹרָ֤ה the second the re-learning. I mean, we know the word Mishnah. From our how we refer to the Oral Law of Yehuda HaNasi, which we’ll see in a second is also a repetition, is a repeat of the Torah. So, everything here has to do with how this is unique on the one hand, but how it’s also a reflection and a redux, so to speak, on what we heard at Sinai, and so even if you look at our portion, it says in Deuteronomy, 1: 6, our God spoke to us at Horeb saying, you have stayed long enough at this mountain. So, if you look at the Hebrew it says ה’ אֱלֹקֵ֛ינוּ דִּבֶּ֥ר אֵלֵ֖ינוּ בְּחֹרֵ֣ב all of a sudden it’s a different tense. You pointed out a number of podcasts earlier Rabbi how in every blessing, we change our tense. And here you have ה’ אֱלֹקֵ֛ינוּ. and it’s not a quote of a blessing or a quote of a verse. It’s actually Moses saying: and this is what God said to us. He’s talking to the people of Israel directly. And I must say, I was struck by the fact that he says a few times in this week’s parsha רַב־לָכֶ֥ם, you stayed at Sinai too much. And of course, we know רַב־לָכֶ֥ם that’s gonna be next year’s podcast, because I don’t know if he was rubbing in it or not. But let’s keep on track here. It says in Deuteronomy, and our portion 1: 22, in his recounting the history, the recent history, and it says, then all of you came to me and said, Let us send agents ahead to recontour the land for us, and bring back word on the route we shall follow, and the cities we shall come to, and I approved of the plan. And so I selected from among you, 12 participants. I mean, it’s almost as though God didn’t play a part in Numbers. 13: 1. it says God spoke to Moses saying, Send the agents to scout the land of Canaan. It’s almost as though we’re reading the notes on a video or the outtakes or the editors or the producers edition. Are you struck by that the way I am?

Adam Mintz  06:35

Yeah, I mean, So first of all, the Mishnah Torah, the book of Devarim is written in Moses, his voice, that’s really the point you made of ה’ אֱלֹקֵ֛ינוּ Moses is the one who’s speaking. That’s different than the rest of the Torah. The rest of the Torah is in the voice of the narrator, Vayomer Hashem el Moshe Laymor, right most of the Torah is a third party and God spoke to Moshe but in Devarim in Mishneh Torah it’s in Moses, his voice ה’ אֱלֹקֵ֛ינוּ,  he’s telling the people our God spoke to us. It really makes it very personal. And actually, it’s not this week’s parisha next week’s Parsha, where we see V’etchana Hashem, that Moses begged God to let him enter the land. It’s really the last time that Moses begs God to enter the land. It’s clear from this first person, you know, dialogue of Moshe, that it’s really a tragedy that he’s not given the opportunity to enter the land. Yeah, the voice thing is absolutely fascinating. I think the other thing is if we look at the word Mishneh Torah in the in the rabbinic literature, this is not an interpretation. This is literally what it was called. So if you look at the Sifrei Devarim, when it deals with the requirement that I mentioned before of the King having to write a Sefer Torah it says this tells me only of the Mishnah Torah meaning the book of Devarim where do we derive that the mitzvah also applies to the rest of the Torah? So it was so common language common nature, that when it says Mishnah Torah it meant that book of Devarim, that now the rabbis are asking, how do we know the king has to write a complete Sefer Torah and so it learns it from a another source. But then it says So why was it written Mishneh Torah if in fact, you have to write the whole Torah. And then it says, because in the days of Ezra, they are destined to change the script. So now we’re starting to get a little bit of a sense, and you know, me, Rabbi, I always try to combine what contemporary critical scientific thinkers say about our Torah and rabbis. And we’ll see very soon that there are many modern-day scholars who believe that the whole book of Devarim was written in the time of Ezra, and it’s made for the people returning to the land. But here we have in the Talmud itself, this sense that the book of Devarim, all of a sudden, was written in בכתב אשורית in this different script. And so you definitely get a sense that even the rabbi’s understood that not only was there something different here, but the language, the language was different. And let me just quote a little bit more from the Talmud in Sanhedrin that says that he had to write the second Mishneh Torah it says because the script is apt to be changed. וכתב את משנה התורה הזאת כתב הראוי להשתנות למה נקרא אשורית and of course להשתנות is very similar to Ma Nishtana, how will it be changed? So why is this script called Ashurite? Because it ascended with the Jewish people from Assur when they returned from their exile in Babylonia. So the rabbis are in no shape or form agreeing the biblical critics who said that this thing was written at a later date in the exile coming back from the exile. But what they are saying is, at least it was written or rewritten in a script that came from the exile. And maybe because it was talking specifically to the people coming back from the exile, you know, some of the ideas in Devarim that are different is it really focuses on getting rid of the idles on monotheism, it focuses on returning to the ways. So I just see a confluence here that we really don’t have to disagree, we can all look at it, specifically from a traditional or a scientific perspective, but come up with the same conclusion. That’s great. I love that, you know, because it’s so difficult to know what that means that it’s written in a different hand and a different formation of the letters. What does that mean? But of course, what it means is that it was written for a different group, it was written for the people who were returning to the land and exactly what you said, you know, the idea of anti-idolatry. While it does appear, it appears in the 10 commandments. It’s not a theme of the first four books of the Torah. And all of a sudden, in the book of Devarim, they are literally obsessed with idolatry. And clearly what they’re worried about is they’re worried about this, these people who are idle worshipers, right? That’s what it’s about.

Geoffrey Stern  11:56

Yep, absolutely. And now I’m going to quote from Ramban, Nachmanides in his introduction to the book of Devarim. And again, he is recognizing the difference. He says, this book is known to constitute a review of the Torah, in which Moses our teacher explains to the generation entering the land, most of the commandments of the Torah, that pertain to Israelites as opposed to priests, he does not mention anything relative to the law of the priests, neither about the performance of the offerings, nor the ritual purity of the priests and their functions, having already explained those matters to them. He goes on to say, Thus, there are in this book many admonitions regarding idolatry, that follow one after another, as well as chastisements, and a sound of terror, casting upon them the fear of all the punishments for the transgressions. Additionally, he proclaims commandments, which have not been previously mentioned at all. So here, it’s kind of fascinating. He’s making a major move now, on the one hand, he’s saying that, in agreement with what we were talking about, that this is for people returning to the land are coming to the land for the first time. And it really is focused not on all of this cultic stuff, but on getting rid of idolatry. But now he makes a fascinating move. And he says, There are new commandments here. And he says, Now all these laws had in fact been declared to Moses, either on Sinai, or in the tent of meeting. He is talking about the book of Devarim is the first inkling, the first insight we have to an Oral law, because we are now hearing about things in the book of Devarim that we didn’t hear before. But Ramban is claiming they were said before, this was a total revelation to me as I prepared this week.

Adam Mintz  13:56

That’s a great thing. I mean, you know, that’s kind you know, the tension about how exactly the Torah was given, you know, up to now, the Torah has basically been a chronological history of the Jewish people, every once in a while, you have some Rashi, saying, you know, this story is out of order. But more or less, it’s a chronological history of the Jews. And all of a sudden, now you have this reflection of Moshe, it’s not exactly clear when this reflection happens, and how it kind of plays itself out. For instance, in this week’s Parsha, you have a retelling of the story of the spies. It’s the same story, but you know, when Moses tells it, it’s a slightly different story than when the Torah originally told him. When the Torah originally told it. It seems like Moses sent the spies but when, but when we’ve retold it this week, it sounds more like the people sent the spies you know, Moses changes it a little bit to kind of take some of the blame away from himself. It really plays Moses as a very human character, which is fantastic.

Geoffrey Stern  15:08

You know, I’m gonna, kind of continuing what you’re saying and combine it with what I just heard the Ramban say. The Rambam said that there are new laws here that not were not invented here they were given before in the tent of meeting, and they oral until they were written down into the rim. But what you were saying was something fascinating because what you’re saying is that Midrash was also put into divine because isn’t it? Midrash? When you describe the same event slightly differently? I mean, isn’t that what our Aggadata is all about? Isn’t that what all the lore and legend of Judaism is all about? It’s about taking the original story of the spies. And then we packaging it. We citing it. And I think if that’s what you were saying, I’m with you, 100%. It’s really amazing.

Adam Mintz  16:03

That’s exactly what I’m saying. It is it’s a restaging of some of the stories in next week’s parsha, you have the 10 commandments, even the 10 commandments, can you believe it? The 10 commandments are not exactly the same. For instance, the commandment about Shabbat when it first appeared in the book of Exodus, it said Zachor et Yom haShabbat, you should, you should remember the day of Shabbat, and in next week, parachuters Shamor, you should guard and they say zachor means the positive ways of observing Shabbat and making kiddush and eating food and all those things. And next week, we have the negative commandments of Shabbat, which is so interesting. I just want to make a point, which is not related to this, but I said, I marked down and I was gonna say it, you know, this week, I think it’s important to mention something. And that is that this week, Shabbat goes into Tisha B’Ab the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, the day in which we commemorate the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. And what’s interesting is and it relates to our Torah reading as well. What’s interesting is that actually, the ninth of Ab on the calendar is is Saturday. It’s Saturday, it’s not Sunday, but we don’t observe Tisha B’Ab on Shabbat, we push it off to Sunday, Shabbat, the observance of Shabbat, the idea that you eat and you enjoy that beats out the mourning of Tisha B’Ab. And that’s a great our religion believes that celebration beats out morning. And I think that’s a very powerful kind of idea. The only fast day that actually can be observed on Shabbat is Yom Kippur. You can fast on Yom Kippur on Shabbat. That’s different because Yom Kippur is not considered to be a sad day. It’s a serious day. But it’s not a sad day. But Tisha B’Ab is a sad day. We don’t have sad days on Shabbat. That’s why I know Orna just finished Shiva. But if the Shiva were to were to conflict with a holiday, then actually the Shiva is canceled on behalf of the holiday, because celebration always beats morning in Judaism. So I think that’s a nice lesson, especially for this Shabbat this week.

Geoffrey Stern  18:31

I think it’s an amazing lesson. And it’s a wonderful segue into what I want to talk about now in terms of picking up on where Ramban left off. I’ve already alluded to the fact that Mishnah Torah has in it the word Mishnah, which is the Oral law, written down by Rob Yehuda HaNasi, after the destruction of the temple, after Yohanan, ben Zakkai, decided that it was more important to give the Jews a future with a Yavneh and it’s wise men. And so in a sense, there’s a total connection between what we’re talking about today, whether it’s in the book of Devarim of Deuteronomy, or later in the mission of made by Yehuda HaNasi. To the fact that life takes precedence and where that life is, is in the living dynamic traditions that we have that are constantly being renewed, replayed, and reflected. So I think that the the person who took the word Mishnah Torah and made it the most famous was a medieval scholar named Maimonides and Maimonides did something very radical. He took all the laws of the Talmud, and instead of requiring that every Jew be learned and enough to go through all of the spins and tails and curves of the Talmud, he codified it. And he made it into an indexed …. a phonebook of Jewish law, if you will. And that was considered very radical. And he called it Mishnah Torah. And he wrote an introduction to the Mishnah Torah, that basically gives the history of Torah being renewed. And so in the introduction, he says, All the word that I commanded you ye shall observe to do is written in Deuteronomy 13: 1 and he says, this is the source of the oral law that we know in the Torah, because it relates to this word, that there was an oral tradition. And he said that Joshua likewise continued throughout his lifetime to study it orally. So we have this book of Devarim, which according to the Ramban is already the beginning of writing down in oral tradition, but certainly preserving it. And then he goes to Rabbi Yohanan, son of Zakkai, had these five disciples, and He passed it on to them, and then Rabbi Gamaliel, the elder, and then it finally gets to our holy master, Yehuda, HaNasi, Judah, the prince, who compiled the Mishnah. And it says, Our Holy Master compiled the Mishna. From the days of Moses our Master till our Holy Master (Judah the Prince) no text book of the Oral Torah for public instruction had been issued, the practice theretofore being for the president of a tribunal or a prophet who flourished in a given generation to keep privately written memoranda of his Masters’ oral teachings, out of which he, in turn, instructed the public. So Maimonides goes into detail how actually, there was not only this tradition, but a very strong tradition to the extent of almost being a prohibition against writing all of these things down. And then he explains that Yehuda HaNasi realized that the people were being dispersed, the temple had been destroyed. so that the Oral Torah be not forgotten from the midst of Israel.  But why did our Holy Master thus, and did not leave the matter as it was heretofore? Because he observed that the number of students continued to decrease, whereas the volume of oppression continued to increase with renewed strength; that the Roman Empire continued to spread out its boundaries in the world and conquer, whereas Israel continued to drift aimlessly and follow extremes, he, therefore, compiled one book, a handy volume for all, so that they may study it even in haste and not forget it. And his whole lifetime, he sat together with the members of his tribunal and gave public instruction in the Mishna.  So really, if you want to talk about the connection between this week’s Parsha and, Tisha B’Ab, it’s all here. It’s the dialectic between preserving, rewriting and renewing our tradition, and the oppression that was so representative by the Romans. So he goes into very great detail about what Rav Yehuda HaaNasi did. But of course, the punch line, because this is the introduction to his revolutionary book. He says, Therefore, I Moses son of Maimon of Spain, girded up my loins and supporting myself upon the rock, bless it be he made a comprehensive study of all of these books. And he goes on to explain what he’s going to be doing in his book, because he knew it was controversial. And I think it’s a wonderful history of how the oral tradition and the renewal of the written tradition have been renewed in order to let us survive.

Adam Mintz  23:59

So that’s beautiful. The Rambam says in his Mishnah Torah, that basically you a Jewish library, only needs two books. It needs a Torah, and it needs a Mishneh Torah. So, he actually saw his mission, a Torah, his Encyclopedia of Judaism, as a Mishneh Torah, the way the book of Devarim is a Mishneh Torah, which is kind of a summary of the Torah, so it’s not just that he’s borrowing the phrase, he’s actually using it in exactly the same way, which is an amazing thing. And he was criticized, because he was they thought that he was too arrogant actually. They said, Who are you to say that you don’t need any other books except for the Torah and your Mishneh Torah? What about the whole tradition of books? What about the whole tradition of scholarship? Why don’t you need that and Maimonides basically thought that the average person that he would distill all the law for the average person. And the average person did not need any other books. It’s an amazing idea.

Geoffrey Stern  25:08

I mean, I love the fact that you, you reference how controversial it was, but also the hubris involved or as we Jews say in Latin, the chutzpah of it all. I mean, if you look at his language, he writes the whole scope of pure language and concise style. the Oral Torah be entirely methodical in the mouth of everybody, without query and without repartee, without the contentious thus of one and such of another, but clear text, cohesive, correct, in harmony with the law which is defined out of all these existing compilations and commentaries from the days of our Holy Master till now; … so that all laws be open to young and old, whether they be laws concerning each and every commandment. He is basically saying, he sounds almost like someone standing up and saying, I have a new gadget, it’s going to replace everything in the house. It can do anything you want. And he writes it in this manner after this long introduction. But he introduces this concept of, you need to have a little bit of chutzpah to do this. And we all know, in his mind anyway, that Yehudah HaNasi needed Chutzpa to do it. He needed to stand up against people who were saying he was giving up on Jerusalem, he was giving up on the temple. It’s fascinating especially when we look at people in our history, who stand up and go against the current and how they are criticized. Here are individuals and books that were written because of them that were radical in their day, and ultimately played a role because I don’t think that Maimonides at the end of the day was correct. The last thing we would want would be to throw away the Talmud and all of that’s involved in it and just look at his homogenized processed product. But nonetheless, he founded Jewish law in a way that the people own the law and that the Shulchan Orach could be written and that people could find out what was the right path to take for decentralized Judaism.

Adam Mintz  27:24

Yeah, so what you just said is very interesting. The Rambam was wrong. That’s absolutely right. The Rambam was wrong. We couldn’t have managed with just the Torah, and the Mishneh Torah, and Maimonides’ encyclopedia. It’s interesting what he thought, right? I mean, what do you mean, the Rambam is wrong. He was pretty smart. He’s probably was as smart as we are. So why was he wrong? I think he was wrong, because he underestimated the Jewish mind. And the commitment of the people. He kind of shortchanged everybody, he said, you know what, they’re not going to really study the Talmud. They’re not going to really study the other commentaries. Let me write a book that’s easily understandable, that’s accessible. We have the phrase today we use user-friendly, right? Well, let me give them a book that’s user-friendly. And basically, we don’t need user-friendly all the time, we can work hard, right, the way you put together your Sefaria Sheets, you know, people have been putting together Sefaria sheets for generations. Now, they didn’t have Sefaria. It wasn’t as easy in the old days. But the same idea of going to the different sources and seeing the variety of opinion, is really the richness of the tradition. But in a way, that’s a sophistication, right? to be able to understand the richness of tradition based on different traditions is actually kind of sophisticated. And Rambam says, you know, I’m not sure that everybody is so sophisticated. It’s an interesting discussion. It’s an interesting debate. So you say the Rambam was wrong, but he wasn’t just that he was wrong. He had a very specific view, which turned out not to be correct, because, we’re better than the Rambam thought.

Geoffrey Stern  29:05

Well, and, you know, maybe it’s as trivial as he didn’t have a vision of the printing press. You know?

Adam Mintz  29:12

How could he possibly, right?

Geoffrey Stern  29:13

So when I say he’s wrong, I don’t think he’s wrong in writing the Mishneh Torah, the Mishneh Torah is a brilliant work. We both agree upon that. But I think you’re right, we can disagree about whether his prognosis for the Jewish people who ultimately has its own genius inside of it was shortchanged. You know, I’d like to end because as you say, we are right in front of Tisha B’Ab and the destruction that that involves is, you know, to say that really in Kings, there is a story about a scroll that is found by in the times of King Josiah and many people, including the rabbinic authorities believe that they found the scroll of the Mishnah Torah amongst the rubble. And I have that vision here. I also have the vision of Yohanan, ben Zakkai, who had to be smuggled out of Jerusalem because there was zealots surrounding it. And they didn’t want anybody to compromise their vision of martyrdom. And he put himself in a coffin so that he could be smuggled out and create Yavneh V’Chachamecha; Yavneh and it’s wise men, and I look at these two visions of finding a scroll the destructed part of the temple, the desecrated part of the temple, and of this coffin going out, and both of them have to do with rewriting the book in a new way in a new day. And I think that ultimately is the positive vision that we need to take away from Tisha B’Ab that brings us into the Nachamu and the 15th of Ab that we spoke of last week.

Adam Mintz  31:07

Right and we definitely will. So, we look forward next week, I will be in Be’er Sheva, I’m officiating at a wedding so we will do a lunch and learn at noon next Thursday. So, look forward to seeing everybody new next Thursday. Want to wish everybody a Shabbat Shalom, enjoy the beginning of the Devarim. I think we showed some of the richness of the text and of the discussion of the whole topic of Mishneh Torah. Have an easy fast, everybody and we look forward on the other side to a time of Nachamu and of good things. Shabbat shalom, everybody be well. Shabbat Shalom Rabbi have a nesia tova, a good trip to the holy city of Be’er Sheva and to everyone else. Let’s all enjoy this new book, seen through a new lens. Shabbat Shalom.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/422607

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The United States of Israel

parshat matot-masei, numbers 33-36

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on July 28th 2022 as we look at the configuration of the Israelite tribes through new eyes… the eyes of modern scholarship that suggests that the conquest of the Land of Israel by the freed slaves from Egypt also included the uprising of local tribes. Together they formed a confederation of tribes, united in their rejection of the existing class structure and the sovereign-vassal subjugation of Egypt and later empires.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/421369

Transcript:

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 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we look at the configuration of the Israelite tribes through new eyes… the eyes of modern scholarship that suggests that the tribes were distinct peoples including freed slaves from Egypt but also regional disrupters who formed a confederation of tribes. Independent states united in their rejection of the existing class structure and the sovereign-vassal subjugation of Egypt and later empires. So, take out your musket and join your local militia as we explore the United States of Israel.

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So welcome to Madlik, as we were saying, in the pre-show, it is a very long portion, it is two portions combined. And we are finally going to be catching up with Israel. So that we’ll be on the same page, so to speak. But the portion as you were saying, Rabbi starts with kind of following up on what happened last week with the Midianites that we are going to surround it really talks in very brutal terms about killing, destroying their towns, even killing the women who were of age. And it’s very hard to swallow. And we’re not going to focus on that, but we might have some insight into it. And then it goes into the cities of refuge that need to be set up now as we’re about to cross the Jordan. And then finally, it revisits something that we could have all thought was a minor, little question of law. If all of you remember back in the day, we had the daughters of Zelophehad, whose father had passed away, and they had no brother, he had no sons. And they asked Moses, what’s going to happen with our inheritance in terms of the continuity of our dad’s name, and Moses consulted with God, and God came back and said, the daughters of Zelophehad can have the portion. And we thought that was behind us. But it reappears today. And that’s where we’re going to start, we’re going to kind of look at the portion backwards to forwards it, there’s an expression of אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה there’s no chronology. And we’re going to take that, we’re going to start with the daughters Zelophehad And we’re gonna work our way back. So, we are in Numbers 36. And we’re going to pick up in verse 3, where are the members of the same tribe, the tribe of Joseph, it’s called, that the daughters of Zelophehad’s father was a member of say, Now, if they become the wives of persons from another Israelite tribe, their share will be cut off from our ancestral portion and be added to the portion of the tribe into which they become wives, thus, our allotted portion will be diminished. So we’re really starting to get a very strong sense of this tribalism, but also how particular we Jews like to think of ourselves as homogeneous, there are Ashkenazim, there were Sephardic, Iraqi Jews, US Jews, but we’re starting to see that they took the tribal division of the land very seriously. And Moses comes back and says, and he sounds a little bit like Henry Ford here. He says they may become the wives of anyone they wish, provided they become wives within a clan of their father’s tribe. So, I’ll make the car in any color as long as it’s black. So the solution is that there is no intermarriage between the tribes. So here again, we have this emphasis on really the division between the tribes and I had really never focused that much on that. But Rabbi, am I correct in saying that from the viewpoint of Jewish history, I mean, we all know about the lost tribes and all that but ultimately, maybe being a Jew is so much determined by what others think. We’ve kind of coalesced into a Jew as a Jew is a Jew. But here we have to kind of change our lenders a little bit and really think more tribally, am I correct?

Adam Mintz  05:06

Absolutely. Right. Well, I mean, you know, that in the Middle East generally, you know, in the Arabian Peninsula even as late as the time of Mohammed, that the Arabs lived as tribes means tribalism was something that was very familiar. And the Jews had tribes, you know, today, it’s not really fair, because we read that before the destruction of the First Temple around the year 700 BCE, the 10 tribes the 10 northern tribes were actually dispersed, and they disappeared. So, we actually are all part of the tribe of Judah, Judah and Benjamin, which are called Judah. So that whole tribalism disappeared. But when they entered the land, everything was the tribe, you had to be part of your tribes. That’s the story of the daughters of Zelophehad, but they said, We want to inherit our Father, we have no brothers, we want to inherit our father, they were from Menasha. If they didn’t inherit their father, then their land would be lost. So what Moses tells them … your good will, you can inherit your father, but you need to marry within Menasha. If you marry outside the tribe, then you’re going to lose the land. It’s all within the tribe. I mean, it makes the shiduch market difficult, you know, who you can marry, you can only marry within the tribe, which is fascinating.

Geoffrey Stern  06:27

Well, it gives the word intermarriage, a whole new meaning.

Adam Mintz  06:30

Isn’t that right? Intermarriage had a huge, you know, a detriment, because, you know, your power was dependent on the amount of property that you had as a tribe, there was a lot of influence that was very much dependent on the tribes on the different tribes. So, you are this Shabbat Rabbi, I always ask you in the pregame, what you’re going to talk about, and you’re going to talk about Tisha B’Av, the ninth day above, and I believe that tonight is Rosh Chodesh Av… So, we are really talking this evening, at the beginning of a new month, and everybody does focus on the ninth of Av but I want to focus on a Mishnah that talks about the 15th. Day of Av, and in the tractate of Ta’anit, which deals with fasts. It says Rabbi Shimon, ben Gamliel, said, there were no days as joyous for the Jewish people as the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur as on them, the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in white clothes.  And later in the Talmud, it asks, you know, I get Yom Kippur, your pure, your purified, you go out in white, you feel it’s a new beginning, I can understand why the daughters of Israel will rejoice. But what about the 15th of Av…. What makes it special? And Rabbi Yehudah said that Shmuel said this was the day on which the members of different tribes were permitted to enter each other’s tribe by intermarriage. And it goes on to ask and how do we know that and it quotes the verse I just read from our weekly portion. And it says, this is the matter that the Lord had commanded concerning the daughters of Zelophehad. It says, this matter shall be practiced only, for this generation, the generation when Eretz Israel, the land of Israel was divided among the tribes, but afterwards, members of different tribes were permitted to marry. So somewhere and it doesn’t quite say when, you know, we have an instance. And I think we’re going to come across this, we’ve already come across this many times, where there’s a law on the books, but the law on the books doesn’t appear or doesn’t end up being what it appears to be. So even according to this piece of Talmud, the prohibition on one marrying someone from another tribe was either I can’t say it was while of the daughters of Zelophehad were alive. It was maybe while they were dividing up the land, and that could have been a generation or two, we’ll see. But certainly, there was a point and of course, because there’s a celebration on the 15th of Av, you’ve got to believe there was a precise point where that was no longer the case. And it was a time for great celebration. So Rabbi, what is your read on this? It’s not something every Jew probably has heard of the ninth of Av not so much the 15th of Av. Maybe because when you live in a period where the ramifications of the destruction of the temple might still be here. You can mourn it, but when you feel that Jew can marry a Jew, you’ve forgotten this time and place when we were divided into 12. So, I think that that amazing piece of Talmud has a couple of things. The first interesting thing is that the time that they were married, allowed to marry one another was a time of great celebration. That’s fantastic. Because that actually has to do with what I joked before about the shiduch market. You know, once you once you open up who you can marry, so it’s it, you know, it makes a huge difference. All of a sudden, your pool of potential husbands and wives is not only within your own tribe, but it’s open to everybody. That’s why they celebrate. And that’s interesting. The way we celebrate the 15th of Av is the women go out in white clothing to find husbands. It’s all about finding husbands. And this is what it was, because the tribes were able to marry one another. So, you know, so that’s interesting that that specifically was a celebration. Now, the idea that, once the land is divided, so the borders between the tribes was set, once the borders between the tribes was set, so then they could intermarry and go back and forth, because the borders within the tribes were set. It was only in the first generation when they were establishing those borders, that they had to be strict in terms of marrying one another. Now, what’s interesting about that piece of Talmud is that it doesn’t exactly tell you the story, right? It doesn’t exactly tell you how it worked. So what happened, if it turns out that the grandchildren of Zelophehad, you know, married outside the tribe? So what happened to the land? What happened to the property that belongs to Zelophehad? Did it move? Or did it stay where it was, but the daughters moved, but their land stayed where it was. And I think that’s probably what happened, there was movement of people, but there was no longer movement of land. And that’s what they wanted to establish.

Geoffrey Stern  12:06

 I mean, you definitely could make that case, I think you could also make the alternative case that over time, because the boundary of marriage was no longer there, the strict division between the tribes started to wear away, and you would have somebody from the tribe of Benjamin living in Yehudah, so to speak, or whatever. I think you could go either way on this. But definitely, what you were saying is that once the borders were there, so in other words, it’s kind of like you had a stake in the ground, you didn’t need to protect the concept as much. I like to think about it as, and I call this episode, the United States of Israel. You know, once you establish the state of New York, you can let people from Connecticut in, you already have your, your identity. And maybe that was part of it. But I want to continue with the Talmud in Ta’anit, because the next reason for why it was a joyous day is even more striking, who have Joseph said that Rob Nachman, said the 15th of Ab was the day in which the tribe of Benjamin was permitted to enter the congregation. And, and it is stated the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah saying, none of us shall give his daughter to Benjamin as a wife, none of us, but our children could. So I’m going to let you all in on a little secret, you know, that I am an ex Bachur Yeshiva. I’m someone who studied in a traditional Jewish Academy. And I think this it’s safe to say that Rabbi Adam did as well. And unfortunately, many times in the Yeshiva, the only way you read stories of Tanach of in the book of Samuel, in the book of Chronicles in the book of Judges, is because you have a reference, as we just saw here, and then you go ahead and you read it. So you understand the text of the Talmud. And it’s a real shame. And I think Rabbi Adam, the organization that you’re involved with that reads a chapter from Tanach, is it every day or every week,

Adam Mintz  14:30

Every day, and it tries to solve this problem that you’re describing?

14:34

I’m actually studying Tanach with somebody. We’re already on the 10th Chapter of Joshua. Every week we study one chapter of tanach. It’s funny, amazing, important. It’s very important.

Geoffrey Stern  14:34

Maybe, you know, we always have to decide what we’re going to do next year. Come Simchat Torah and maybe we should start looking at different…. So here’s a story that if you’ve never I heard it will absolutely blow you away. There is a gentleman from the tribe of Levi, and his wife runs away, and she runs back to her father’s house. And after a while he goes to fetch her. And he goes to the Father’s house and the Father continually day after day, wines and dines him and tries to convince him to stay another day, stay another day, you don’t know what the situation is, clearly his daughter ran away, and he preferred that she’s under his roof. Maybe there’s an issue with this guy from the tribe of Levi. But finally, he takes this. And it’s a concubine. Not sure even if it’s his full wife, but they go in the direction of Jerusalem. But they don’t go to Jerusalem, they go into an adjoining town. And there’s no one who wants to give them a place a manger to stay in, so to speak, and then in the courtyard. And finally, and this gets a little bit to the comment I made earlier about people from different tribes living within those other tribes. Someone outside of the tribe, and I believe they’re in the tribe of Benjamin, that’s the area they’re in. But someone outside says, come into my house. And then the story starts to sound identical to the story of Sodom and Lot. A crowd forms outside, and they want to sodomized this Levite, this stranger, and the person who owns the house says, take my daughter, and the Levi says take my concubine. And finally, he throws his concubine out. And she gets raped multiple times. And in the morning, he sees her. We don’t know if she’s dead yet, but soon to be dead body. And he takes her and then he cuts her up into 12 pieces. And he sends a piece to each one of the 12 tribes and says, Look what has been done. And as a result, all of the other tribes mount an army they have I said in the intro, you know, go join your militia. Well, every one of the states have their own militia, and that is in the parsha as well. And they attack the tribe of Benjamin multiple times. Until finally, they are able to persevere and the language that they use, I ask you all if you’re interested at all, look at the notes in Sefaria that we published along with our podcast. And you will see that the language that they use about killing every male killing every female, who is childbearing age, is exactly the same as what we have in the beginning of our parsha to this week. And to the point where now they have an issue about who are these people going to marry. And I won’t get into all of the long story there. It’s very gruesome, it’s very brutal, but they decide two things which is to go ahead and attack other members of tribes who didn’t actually participate in the military action. And they force them to marry so that the tribe of Benjamin does not go extinct. But they keep to their guns, and they say there is no marriage between any of the tribes, none of us will marry the tribe of Benjamin. And it is referring to this story. When it says on the 15th, of Ab there was rejoicing because again, we don’t have a sense of why the 15th of Ab was picked, that it was a particular deadline. But in any case, there too this was behind us and what both these stories have is clearly about the tribalism and Israel working through the tribalism, what do you make of this story, Rabbi,

Adam Mintz  19:33

I mean, Israel working making, you know, working through the tribalism and somehow the realization that if we don’t allow intermarriage between the tribes, that Israel will disintegrate. To me that’s the more interesting part of it, meaning the story of Pilegesh of Givah the story of what went wrong there is its own story. But what the 15th of Ab celebrates is the realization that to make it as a nation, we have to allow marriage between the tribes. That’s interesting. Both stories are exactly the same. it’s realization that tribalism doesn’t work for us. That’s really what it is.

Geoffrey Stern  20:25

And I totally agree with you. But I also think that there’s a flip side of this, which is both recognize that the origins of our people were, in fact very tribal.

Adam Mintz  20:39

Well the story with Benjamin is extremely tribal. They blame Benjamin. That’s not the way we would do it. Today, we would blame individuals, Why do you blame the whole tribe? Where does that come from?

Geoffrey Stern  20:55

yeah, absolutely.

Adam Mintz  20:58

 And again, it’s other Jews, so to speak. I mean, we consider them Jews, I will argue that our concept of we’re all Jews, maybe doesn’t so much apply at this period of our history, where the association in an identification with the particular tribes was so strong, that you were Benjamites, or you were from the tribe of Manasseh, or Dan, it was total identification with your tribe. But one of the things I said that we were going to look at it through the eyes of modern scholarship as well. And one of the things that the modern scholars have said, is that they believe, looking at it, even from the perspective of the same identical language is used here as in our portion, where our portion we’re talking about exterminating, so to speak, the Midianites. Here, we’re talking about doing the same thing to the tribe of Benjamin, the argument is that Israel was formed from many tribes. And yes, we have a wonderful story about the 12, sons of Jacob. And of course, Jacob had concubines too, and it wasn’t all homogeneous. But the scholars really go back. And they say, that it could very well be that this amazing story of Egypt became the primary story of our people, but that ultimately, there were other peoples in the land of Canaan. Some of them were not friendly, the Midianites and we decimated them, some of them the Benjamites, we had to go through a process. You know, it reminds you this story, a little bit old, so of the rape of Dinah, and the story that we studied in Genesis of Shechem, where they’re she’s raped first, then they are required to circumcise, and then they get killed, if you just change the chronology slightly. And you have a situation where they become part of the tribal area, this Shchemites decide to convert and be part of our mission, and they circumcise, and then they rape, similar to what happened here with the Benjamites, then you have a very similar story. But you definitely have paradigms of different people joining up in modern archaeology shows that there were there was a real disruption in Canaan at this point, and that you can go look at cities, not only Jericho, but you can look at other cities that in this 100 200-year period, there was a revolution going on. And it could very well be that the Jews coming out of Egypt, joined a revolution, but also brought this amazing concept of one God and all that. And slowly but surely, this confederation of different peoples different tribes joined together. And there were definitely some speed bumps as we see in this tribe of Benjamin.  But it’s a different kind of model, I think that becomes kind of fascinating. And again, I get back to the rejoicing, that we ultimately rejoice our ability to accept all of these tribes and to break down the boundaries between all of these tribes, and whether you buy into there were other peoples or you really limit it to tribes. I think the message is similar. And I think we can all agree upon that. But that certainly is a little bit of what’s happening here.  There’s no question it’s a it’s a celebration of the nation of Israel. And you know, you suggest something which you’re right, you can’t prove, but you wonder about, where the 12 tribes like the 50 states. It’s interesting you call it the United States of Israel was elected 50 states which basically meant that they were one country and 12 tribes and 12 states, or were they really 12 countries more like Germany was, you know, in the, in the 1800s, where they actually were separate countries, in this kind of confit and this federal Federation, and what you’re suggesting, and I don’t think there’s any way to prove that you’re wrong, what you’re suggesting is that they actually were 12 nations. And you know, that’s why the story of Pilegesh at Givah, the story that you told about Binyamin is such an important story, because actually, there were there was, there were battles between the tribes, these were battles between nations. And then when they were allowed to marry one another, that was important, because that really says that we decided that that model is wrong, we need to be the United States of Israel. So I think the title of tonight’s class really tells us a lot about what was at stake in all of these things.

Geoffrey Stern  25:53

And I think that maybe you know, there were many times that we moderns have a problem understanding an ancient text. But in this particular case, as many of us are Americans and understand this dialectic between a federal government and states, clearly, we have an insight into this in our short history. Clearly, they had their own militias. And that’s pretty powerful in those days, they collected their own taxes. So, it is kind of fascinating. So, I promised that I was going to work my way backwards in the Parsha. So now I think is a wonderful segue to talk about the Cities of Refuge. So here too, clearly, you’re coming to a land. And of course, it’s fascinating that they already are talking about cities, the urban, you know, he you’re coming out of the desert. And you’re not talking about farmlands and all that you’re talking about people living in a very concentrated way in cities, but it’s there’s town planning going on. And there are two things that need to be done that are different from the current infrastructure in Canaan, you know, they can move into the city of Jericho, but they’ve got to modify it in a way. And the ways that they have to modify it a one, they have to have the Cities of Refuge, there were six of them, and three of them are in the mainland of Israel, and three of them are going to be on the other side of the Jordan. And we’ll get into that too. But then they will also 48 towns for the Levites. And we’ve talked about this multiple multiple times. So again, what it looks like is an archaeology proves this is that at this time, there was a confluence of all of a sudden turmoil and change, and cities were falling down and their infrastructure was being changed. And maybe we have situations of treaties, where the vassal, and the Pharaoh were being broken, there were rebellions going on. And here we formed the Cities of Refuge. But to the point that we were just discussing, the real function of the cities of refuge is to stop blood feuds, and blood feuds we know about it even till today, if someone in your family gets killed, the only way to redeem their blood is to kill somebody in the family or the tribe that did it. And it goes on and on. And so talking about this kind of arc of history that we’re seeing with tribalism is strong. And then come the 15th, of Ab it celebrated, that it’s not so strong. I think you can make a case I wonder, Where do you think, Rabbi, that the Cities of Refuge are again, a another chip away at this tribalism? And this this, this blood feuding and blood is thicker than water, so to speak.

Adam Mintz  29:12

So tribalism ….. here’s another term that we use, and that’s clans. You know, tribes are sometimes tribes and tribes are sometimes just large families. You know, you read about the the Saudi Arabia, you know, Saudi Arabia today is made up of these ruling families. He talks about the UAE, you know, they’re basically just ruling families. They’re not tribes, they’re just families. But the families are so large and so important that they become their own tribe. And I wonder whether that’s really what the Torah talks about when it talks about blood feuds. You know, you have these powerful families, which are themselves tribes, and that leads to this idea that they’re going to take revenge and that’s why you need your protection. So, there’s no question that that’s true. It’s just that the Torah sets it up as they’re being tribes, as opposed to families. But I think obviously that you know, that’s not so simple that really there were probably very, very big, powerful families. And we know that kind of, and this also relates to what’s in this week’s parsha. We know that from the story of Zelophehad, Zelophehad was a family. The father was clearly very prestigious, and he dies and he has no sons and the daughters are nervous because our father is prestigious our father is important, and he’s going to lose his land and they’re not worried about the tribe. They’re worried about the family. And that’s why it says it says it in this week’s parsha they have to marry within the tribe, which really means they have to marry within the families, לִבְנֵ֥י דֹדֵיהֶ֖ן לְנָשִֽׁים the Torah says they should marry their cousins, they should marry their first cousins very literally. So it’ not the tribes so much. It’s really the family. That’s interesting. I didn’t think about that. But what the Torah says לִבְנֵ֥י דֹדֵיהֶ֖ן לְנָשִֽׁים 

Geoffrey Stern  32:06

Absolutely. I think I mentioned that there were three cities of refuge on in the mainland of Israel, and three on the what we would call today the West Bank. And Rashi asks, why is that? And he says, because in Gilad and the East Side murderers were more numerous דִּבְגִלְעָד נְפִישֵׁי רוֹצְחִים. So here too, it wasn’t homogeneous. They had certain issues with some of the tribes, whether they were children of Jacob, or they were other people that had come in. Again, it gives you a sense of the real challenge of uniting this. And I think the flip side of that is that the United monarchy, and all of that didn’t last very long. But it this was something that was unique in history also, that for a shining moment, these disparate peoples were kind of United, I want to go back to the beginning of the parsha, which is the one that gave me the hardest time where we read about a conquering the conquest of the land, and much of it is very hard to read. And I think one of the comments of the those who read all of Tanach understand that it’s not altogether clear whether this actually happened. Whether, in fact, the Canaanites were ever totally exterminated from Israel, it might be kind of wishful thinking. And I think we have an example of that even today, when the ultra-orthodox Haredi are trying to recreate a Europe where everybody studies Torah, guess what, there was never a Europe where everybody studied Torah, they’re trying to recreate an ideal that never was. And I think that there’s no question that part of what’s going on in this rendering, because if you look at Joshua, and if you look at the later books of the Tanakh, in no way in form, does it say that everyone was exterminated. This is one kind of wishful opinion. I quote, a source in the notes, which is just absolutely, I think, rich and fascinating. And it’s from a guy named Moshe Weinfeld. And he actually goes all the way through the rabbinic period, how they dealt with this, quote, unquote, the harem and extermination. And there was no consensus on this. One of the most fascinating things that I’ve read, and I think I’ve mentioned this before, is it talks about killing the וְה֨וֹרַשְׁתֶּ֜ם אֶת־כׇּל־יֹשְׁבֵ֤י הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ (Numbers 33: 52) and we normally talk about יֹשְׁבֵ֤י הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ as the residents, the citizens of the land. But as everyone knows, when we bring the Torah back to the ark on Shabbat, we go ה’ לַמַּבּ֣וּל יָשָׁ֑ב וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב ה’ מֶ֣לֶךְ לְעוֹלָֽם The LORD sat enthroned at the Flood; the LORD sits enthroned, king forever.  And so יֹשְׁבֵ֤י הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ can also mean the rulers or the ruling class or those in charge. And that fits very well into this [theory of a] rebellion that went on. So, I don’t know, I think we all do have to struggle with it. But I think if you look in the context of this very long portion, you can see other threads very strong threads that we’re dealing with, which have to do with how do you make disparate people one, and I think that, to me, is the most positive, exciting and joyful aspect of this parsha and of the 15th of Ab which comes in a month full of tragedy.

Adam Mintz  34:46

I think that’s a great way especially on Rosh Hodesh Ab the first of the bad month, yet you talk about the positive that’s really beautiful. Enjoy the Parsha , this is a Hazak week. so to everybody we say Hazak Hazak Vnitchazek. We should be strong. We should be strong we should strengthen one another and we look forward to seeing you all next Thursday night. Shabbat Shalom everybody

Geoffrey Stern  35:07

Shabbat Shalom

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/421369

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The Circle of Life

parshat Pinchas – numbers 25-27

Join Geoffey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on July 21st 2022 for another episode of Madlik disruptive Torah. The Torah uses a term associated with harassment, pain, siege, and tsuris and we are intrigued, because it is also associated with being bound up in the bundle of life. In a week when we mourn our losses we explore the connections.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/420122

Transcript:

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.  The Torah uses a term associated with harassment, pain, siege, and tsuris and we are intrigued, because this same term is also associated with being bound up in the bundle of life. During this period in our calendar when we mourn our losses, we explore the connections. So take off your shoes and sit on a simple stool as we explore The Circle of Life

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Well, welcome to another week of Madlik and another where we are transcontinental, I am in Israel and the rabbi is in New York, I came to Israel, because there was a death in my family. And this learning tonight is dedicated to my mother-in-law whose name was Haya bat Hanna and Avigdor. And it also happens to be a time when all of the Jewish people are at a level of mourning. Many things that we do, when we mourn an individual I made reference to taking off your shoes and sitting on a stool, are done in a gradual fashion as we get closer and closer to the lowest point, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, which is Tisha B’av . And so, I think that one rule when you read the parsha, and you look for something that attracts you in any particular year is you can’t evade what happens in your own personal life. And I have always been intrigued by an expression that is used when we bury somebody and it’s used during the Yizkur and other times when we remember those who are passed. And that is the the concept as I mentioned in the introduction of being bound up in the bind of life, to be צְרוּרָ֣ה ׀ בִּצְר֣וֹר הַחַיִּ֗ים and as I was reading this week’s parsha with that on my mind, I discovered that the word appears in the parsha and that is the link that will bind us and guide us as we today explore this word and how it is used in a different manner. So, we are in a parshat Pinchas. And Pinchas, a you probably know it started at the end of last week’s parsha was Zariz (קַנַאִי), a zeolot, he was a someone who took the rules of the law into his own hand. And after the Moabites failed to curse the Jewish people. They tried to entice them through sending harlots and prostitutes and there was one coupling of a prince of Israel and a prostitute and he was extrajudicial, he took a spear and he killed them. And that’s where most of the focus is when people read through a parsha. Very quickly it talks about how we deal with this in the future. And in numbers 25: 17 -18 it strangely enough, we’re not going to go into it takes aim not at the Moabites but at the Midianites and it says Asail the Midianites and defeat them for they assailed you by trickery they practiced against you because of this affair with Cozbi, daughter of the Midianite chieftain. So the word that it used for assail is צָר֖וֹר. And for those of you who have a ear, for the Hebrew language, and the Shoresh, the source system know that a word like צָר֖וֹר has the word צָר֖ in it. And צָר֖ can mean narrow. We always talk about Mitzrayim  מִצְרַיִם as a narrow place. It also as well, in the three weeks and we know that the siege of Jerusalem began at a certain time, a מָצוֹר is a siege, and we’re going to explore how else this word is used primarily in a negative way. But first what I’d like to do is to bring in in Rashi and Rashi is struck by not only the word, but the grammatical form that it’s used. And he says that what you Need to do with צָר֖וֹר It’s like זָכוֹר, and שָׁמוֹר. And again, those with an ear for the Hebrew language know that in the 10 commandments in one place, it refers to the Shabbat you shall remember the Sabbath day. And the other place it says you shall keep the Sabbath day. So he really feels that this צָר֖וֹר this you have to assail, you have to vex you have to have enmity for the Midianites is a very powerful charge to action. And he says it’s an idea of continuous action, just as you remember the Shabbat all the time. And all of the commentators kind of pick up on what Rashi is saying. And they go back and forth. And I’ve shared this in the notes about how emphatic it is whether it’s a combination of the present tense and the future tense. But I think the overall concept that Rashi’s trying to get a course is it has an exclamation point after it. And it is an absolute call to continuous action. And Rabbi, you know, normally I pose a question to you …. has this issue ever been raised? It’s not really an issue. But I guess it is the connection between צָר֖וֹר that we find here and צְרוּרָ֣ה ׀ בִּצְר֣וֹר הַחַיִּ֗ים, this binding up? Are you at all that intrigued as we begin and set out on this journey?

Adam Mintz  06:36

I think that’s great. I mean, the fact that you’ve found that connection in this week parsha, which is a word that clearly is the same word, but a completely different context. And that’s really the beauty of Hebrew, that the same word is used in completely different ways. And you know, it’s kind of a challenge for us to see, is there a connection in the word between its two usages? And sometimes there is, sometimes there isn’t. And that’s part of the fun. So, yes, I am very intrigued.

Geoffrey Stern  07:06

So and I think you hit the nail on the head, sometimes there is a connection. And sometimes you think that you’re almost involved in some sort of artificial gematria, or some sort of artificial hermeneutics, and we will all be the judge. But it is fascinating to look at just as we look at the history of an idea, it’s fun to look at the history and the development of a word. So, I said before that usually the word at the at the root of צָר֖. צָר֖וֹר is very negative. And some of the verses that we can kind of touch upon to represent that would be as follows. It says, (Exodus 23: 22) And if you obey Him in all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes. So, it says, וְצַרְתִּ֖י אֶת־צֹרְרֶֽיךָ. So, the idea is that צָר֖ is narrow. And that צָר֖ is as we said, about a מָצוֹר about a siege. It’s something that squeezes but it also became something associated with an enemy. So and it’s not only a political enemy in Leviticus 18: 18, it says, Do not take a woman as a rival to her sister, and uncover her nakedness. So, you should not take and I believe that’s probably the לֹ֣א תִקָּ֑ח לִצְרֹ֗ר that case. Is a sister. in law.  And the way it refers to that sister-in-law is לִצְרֹ֗ר. It’s a rival. It’s somebody who is not so much an enemy as as a rival. And then in numbers 10: 9 it says, when you are at war in your land against an aggressor who attacks you, you shall sound the short blasts on the trumpets that you may be remembered before your God and be delivered from your enemies. And here too it says וְכִֽי־תָבֹ֨אוּ מִלְחָמָ֜ה בְּאַרְצְכֶ֗ם עַל־הַצַּר֙ הַצֹּרֵ֣ר אֶתְכֶ֔ם. And so here again, it’s the enemy that attacks you. So, most of the references that refer to l’zror are of a military nature and so that is a Another thing that kindled my intrigue and my curiosity in terms of a verb, and a relationship that is so powerful and so visceral, that is usually used for enemies and is usually used for military actions. How does that end up being used also to talk about the bind of life? So one old additional interpretation is, it means again to be wrapped as in a, as in a siege, but something that’s wrapped around the body. So if you look in Exodus 12: 34, it says, so the people took their dough, they’re leaving Egypt, before it was leaven, their kneading bowls wrapped in their cloaks upon their shoulders. So here it says, צְרֻרֹ֥ת בְּשִׂמְלֹתָ֖ם עַל־שִׁכְמָֽם. So here again, I think we always think of tsar as narrow. But I think the image that comes to my mind when I combine this last verse in Exodus with the concept of a siege is it’s almost more like a chokehold, or it’s something that encompasses you. So it’s narrow not in the sense so much of a corridor. It’s now almost in the sense of something contracting, encompassing and slowly pushing together. What is your sense? Am I missing anything?

Adam Mintz  11:42

Good I liked that I liked the connection to the idea of the צְרֻרֹ֥ת בְּשִׂמְלֹתָ֖ם wrapped in their clothing, because that’s really what צָר֖וֹר אֶת־הַמִּדְיָנִ֑ים means in this week’s Parasha wrap them, but it’s wrapped them in the sense of surrounding, it’s a military wrap. I think that’s the way we would say it right, It’s a military wrapping, wrap them, surround them. And then בִּצְר֣וֹר הַחַיִּ֗ים is a positive use of the same phrase, but it’s the same idea means wrap them in the bonds of life, but it’s also totally in, you know, it’s surrounding them, enveloping them somehow. Here is actually just to make that point sharper, is you see the same word used in a negative context and used in a positive context. Because the idea of being wrapped of being enveloped, can be positive and can be negative.

Geoffrey Stern  12:56

Absolutely. And so if you actually say Okay, so, we understand that, when you say Yizkor, you say, let his soul be bound up with the binding of life צְרוּרָ֣ה ׀ בִּצְר֣וֹר הַחַיִּ֗ים, when you look at a graveyard, and you see ראשי תיבות, which is an acronym, and it says תַּנְצְבָ״ה , it is an acronym for תְּהִי נִשְׁמָתוֹ צֽרוּרָה בִּצְרוֹר הַחַיִּים , we see it at the prayer El Moei Rachamim that we say at graveside all of these are referring to a single expression and a single verse. So let’s visit that verse. And it is in the book of Samuel; Samuel I. It’s 25: 29. And the background for the verse is as follows. There is a beautiful lady named Avigail. And Avigail is married to a person who has not such a beautiful name, his name is now Naval. Now Naval means disgusting, pretty much. And to make a long story short, David sends his soldiers to petition this Naval to provide a support: food for them and he declines. So now he sends a force to to kill Naval and Avigail comes out to meet him, and she provides his army. So again, we’re talking about a military situation with food and refreshments. And then she goes ahead and she blesses King David. And she says: if anyone sets out to pursue you and seek your life, the life of my Lord will be bound up in the bundle of life in the care of the Lord. But he will fling away the lives of your enemies as from the hollow of a sling. So what becomes fascinating here is, number one, the terminology is military. The second part of the verse talks about an image of a slingshot that I guess it’s randomly throwing out stones that aren’t seeming to hit their mark. And the blessing part of it seems to be that you shall have all the stones that you want, when it says that you’re that the soul of my Lord will be נֶ֨פֶשׁ אֲדֹנִ֜י צְרוּרָ֣ה ׀ בִּצְר֣וֹר הַחַיִּ֗ים it almost seems like you’ll have live ammunition that you’ll have what you need to protect yourself. Have you ever thought about it that way? Am I reading something into this?

Adam Mintz  15:57

Right. I think that that’s a great read, because we see that the word is used both militaristically, but also in a way in a positive kind of way צְרוּרָ֣ה ׀ בִּצְר֣וֹר הַחַיִּ֗ים in the way we use it today. And I think that that pasuk (verse) is really the source of that kind of tension in the two ways of using that word.

Geoffrey Stern  16:17

So that takes us to now the question becomes, we have this beautiful imagery, but it doesn’t somehow relate at all, to the way that the history of the word has developed, were somehow those that we love those who pass away, it’s a blessing that their soul should be bound up in the bind of life. So I started looking at the Midrashim. the first thing I did is I continued reading are Parsha. And as you’re going to speak about this week about the death of Moses, and why his kids could not succeed him. It says in Numbers 26, after it takes a census. It says that among those who are not enrolled were Moses and Aaron the priest, when they recorded the Israelites in the wilderness, for God had said to them, they shall die in the wilderness. And for those of you who are longtime fans of Madlik, and two weeks ago, we discussed Freud’s theory of Moses being murdered in the desert. I should have quoted this verse because the words that he used when it says they shall die in the wilderness is מ֥וֹת יָמֻ֖תוּ, which is as close to a death sentence, as you will see, but I digress, …. and it talks about him, Moses Ascend these heights of Abarim and view the land that I have given to the Israelite people. When you have seen it, you too shall be gathered to your kin, just as your brother Aaron was.  For, in the wilderness of Zin, when the community was contentious, you disobeyed My command to uphold My sanctity in their sight by means of the water.” Those are the Waters of Meribath-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin. when the community was contentious, you disobeyed my command to uphold my sanctity, those are the waters of mu BA and in the wilderness of Zin, now in a Midrash, called Avot D’Rabbi Natan. It goes into a long story about how God summoned Moses, or sent an angel to summon Moses, to meet his end, so to speak. And if you’re interested in the whole story, you can look at the notes in Safaria, but after failing a few times to get the messenger or the Satan to bring him Finally, the Holy Blessed One said to Moses: Moses! You’ve had enough of this world. The World to Come has been prepared for you since the six days of creation. As it says (Exodus 33:22), “God said, here is a place near Me; stand on that rock.” And then it goes on to say, And not only Moses’ soul is stored under the Throne of Glory, but also the souls of all the righteous are stored there! And he says, What about the people who are not righteous? Could it be that souls of the wicked are there too? And the verse continues? Well, I should have said that he quotes our verse in Samuel. And not only Moses’ soul is stored under the Throne of Glory, but also the souls of all the righteous are stored there! As it says (I Samuel 25:29), “[If anyone sets out to pursue you and seek your life], the soul of my master will be bound up in the bond of life.” Could it be that the souls of the wicked are there, too? The verse continues: “but He will fling away the lives of your enemies like a slingshot.” [(To what can this be compared?) It can be compared to someone who takes a stone and places it in a sling;] even though he flings it from place to place, he does not know where it will land. So it is for the souls of the wicked, which cast about and go wandering the world, and have no place to rest. So here we all of a sudden start to have references to stones, which is very true to the verse in David. But certainly, we start to use the verses that we saw in one Samuel as a metaphor. And to take the second metaphor, first, the sling is where the stones are lost, the stones are indiscriminately spread out into the field. And that’s what happens to the souls of the wicked. And by reverse metaphor, this idea of that the soul is bound up צרורה בצרור החיים means that all those stones, which ultimately become souls, are stored in the sack, they’re stored in the ammunition, thing. So here, we do start to see a transition of this military metaphor, which is life and death, after all, but into something that has to do with this contrast between the souls of the wicked who are lost, spread out, rejected, if you will, and the souls of Moses and the righteous who are collected, protected and stored under God’s Shechina.

Adam Mintz  21:38

Right, well, I like the idea….. you see, protecting the souls in the military way, you know, when you’re fighting and like you said, It’s life and death, you protect things in a much more serious way, when it’s not life and death. So you protect it, but, what difference does it make, but when it’s life and death, when you’re protecting the swords and the bows and arrows, you have to really protect it carefully. So I think it’s really a nice image to say that you protect the souls in that same way.

Geoffrey Stern  22:12

And, you know, it occurred to me as I was reading that, that there are few verses that the rock band The Byrds made very famous, but that is many times read at a funeral, the Byrd’s song was Turn, Turn, Turn. It’s from Kohelet; Ecclesiastes, and it says, A time for slaying and a time for healing, A time for tearing down and a time for building up; A time for weeping and a time for laughing, A time for wailing and a time for dancing; A time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones, A time for embracing and a time for shunning embraces; A time for seeking and a time for losing, A time for keeping and a time for discarding; And I always found that expression, kind of strange. Do you think there’s a connection here with this custom or this, this metaphor of the casting out of the stones and the gathering in of the stones?

Adam Mintz  23:10

I mean, that’s interesting. It’s a time to gather stones, you know, gathering stones really has the impression of building, it’s not really a military image, it’s a bit it’s an image of creating a building, right? It’s so time you collect the stones, and you build at a time when you get rid of the stones. So it is interesting, though, that there are all these ideas are related. And I think you know, you’re onto something in that the balance between the, between the military and kind of the embrace of this of this whole idea, right?

Geoffrey Stern  23:47

Yep. You know, I think for a Jew, where exile is such a powerful metaphor for us. You can’t but think of when they’re about Avot D’Rav Natan says that either the souls are gathered or they’re indiscriminately spread out, that either we have return, or we have exile, and Rashi on this verse in Ecclesiastes says, A time to cast away stones. The youths of Yisroel scattered during the destruction of the Beis [Hamikdosh], as it is stated, “sacred gems are scattered.” (Lamentations 4: 1) And a time to gather them from the exile, as it is stated, “And Adonoy their God will save His people like sheep on that day, for the stones of the crown will be exalted over His land.” (Zacharia 9: 17) So Rashia quoting the rabbinic texts definitely saw this as this metaphor on a national level. And we can then extrapolate that to a personal level of the difference between exile and being spread out indiscriminately amongst the world, even if you’re a gem, and then the gathering of stones together. And of course, that brings it very close to home for the three weeks, that we’re in.

Adam Mintz  25:12

Very right. It’s right on the mark.

Geoffrey Stern  25:15

I mean, another metaphor, I should say that they talked about was the difference between the first tablets of the 10 commandments, which were broken. And the second, but this one really resonated with me, because this really dealt on the dynamic between exile and return. And in a sense, as we move from the military, and as we move from the political to something that is very personal, it gives a different read on what it is to be gathered into the bundle of life, it’s a return from exile, if exile is alienation. The return is repatriation, if you will, it’s it’s finding coming back to your home, I think the other thing that comes to mind, of course, is the stones, you know, we all know the custom of leaving a stone on a grave site. And here we have the gathering of the stones and the throwing out of stones. If you were paying attention to Avot d’Rav Natan, it was standing on a stone. And of course, in the whole metaphor of the sling, we are talking about stones. And we even had a mentioned a second ago of a shepherd bringing back the flock. So one of the beautiful explanations that I’ve heard for both the stones, and for this concept of tsrurah b’tsror ha- chayyim, of gathering the stones in is one where in the old days, a shepherd used to go out into the field. And if he had 20 sheep in his flock, he would take 20 pebbles and keep it in his pouch. And then as the flock was out there, and he would he would put the pebbles out. And as they came back, he would return a pebble kind of like a census to let him know that every one of those sheep had returned. And of course, if there was an extra pebble, that meant that one of the sheep did not return. I heard it in the name of a great scholar in manuscripts called Betzalel Narkis, I think he told it to my dad. But again, I do think that there is this element of the shepherd of coming back to to the flock, to the to the home, so to speak. And again, this concept of return.

Adam Mintz  27:48

Yeah, no, that’s a really nice idea. So stones, first of all, there’s the tradition that Jacob slept on a stone. Right? That, when Jacob slept on that that dream when he saw the angel going up and going down, that actually there was a stone and he slept on the stone. The tradition there says that the stones fought to see which one Jacob would actually put his head on. And they all kind of bound into one. So stones on one hand, are kind of rough and difficult, but at the same time they give comfort and they give support. I think there’s both ideas of stones, the same there’s the way there’s both ideas when it comes to the idea of tsror.

Geoffrey Stern  28:48

Absolutely. You know, getting back to the idea of tsror I was thinking when I first started thinking about this, that really since tsror is so much this binding, and then not so much in a pleasant sense. But this this kind of almost a suffocating. Something that would there not be an opinion that looked at the kind of Stoic sense of death is a release from life that you are released from the bonds of life. You know, the most famous author of that is Marcus Aurelius. “Death is a release from the impressions of the senses, and from desires that make us their puppets, and from the vagaries of the mind, and from the hard service of the flesh.” And I was wondering if there was any opinion within Judaism that saw this, this metaphor of the bond of life as not something that was either not totally positive or had within it this sense of the conflict between being bound to a body and then being released. And Maimonides in Mishneh Torah (Repentance 8: 3)  He talks about what the soul is. And he says he talks about the form of the soul, which is the intelligence and being a philosopher, he absolutely follows the idea that the real soul is your intellectual power, by which over your lifetime, you attain knowledge of the non-concrete. And he does talk about The life herein spoken of, because there is no death connected with it, seeing that death is only incidental to the happenings which befall a body, and as there exists no body, is called a collection of life, even as it is said: “Yet the soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life” So Maimonides both here and in the Guide for the Perplexed get as close as I can find of a Jewish thinker, who sees here in depth as a release of the real intellect, the real soul. And I love the fact that he talks about, it’s a collection, it’s a collection of all the intellectual spiritual, moral activity and progress that we make during a lifetime. And that’s the bundle of life and what’s left behind, thrown away with the slingshot, so to speak, is the material things. So he does come close to that. There’s an amazing article by David Daube, that I have a quoted in the notes, which really deals with this question of is there in Judaism, this concept of Death as a Release in the Bible, and I encourage you all to look at that. But I’d like to leave you with the thought that this collection of life is the collection of our life is the collection of all those experiences. And I also love the idea to getting back to the original Rashi, that it has an exclamation point after it, and that the memories of that the person takes with them also remains behind, but it’s daily now. And it’s into the future. That was my takeaway. Anyway,

Adam Mintz  32:29

I think this is great. I want to thank you, Geoffrey, you picked one word in the parsha and you really made something that was really very meaningful. And obviously this week, we wish to your mother-in-law, she should be bound up in the bounds of the living and that you would ordain on the family should celebrate many, many happy occasions together, and together with all of us for many years to come. So we wish you all a Shabbat Shalom from New York, from Tel Aviv and from everywhere in between, and we look forward to seeing you next week. Be well everybody.

Geoffrey Stern  32:58

Thank you and Rabbi, I have to say personally, I thank you for sharing my life and your life with me and with our listeners as we move through this wonderful cycle of life so Shabbat Shalom to you. Thank you, as always.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/420122

Listen to last week’s episode: God – What’s in a Name

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God – What’s in a name

parshat balak – numbers 22-23

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on Thursday July 14th 2022. We read the story of Balaam and note the selective use of the generic “God-Elohim” and the particular name of the God of Israel – “YHVH”. We wonder if it is simply stylic variation or does it have significance. In the process we compare traditional Rabbinic solutions to the so-called Documentary Hypothesis and consider whether the Torah is comprised of different literary voices edited together.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/418965

Transcript:

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 parshat Balak which has a great story about a talking donkey and contains a curse turned into an iconic blessing of the People of Israel.  But our focus will be on how God is referred to, both here and elsewhere in the Torah and what that teaches us about who wrote and how the Bible was written.  So Baruch Hashem you are here and let’s begin God – What’s in a Name

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Adam Mintz  00:58

Bararuch Hashem Nice to see you, nice to be part of this with you and we’re ready to roll. Let’s hear about God.

Geoffrey Stern  01:04

So as I said in the intro, the parsha is called Balak, who was a motorbike king who sees the people of Israel starting to make their way into the promised land. And guess what he’s in the way. So he hires a prophet for hire, named Bilaam. And the idea is that Bilaam will curse the Jewish people, the people of Israel. And during that, we’ll see there’s a there’s a story about a donkey. So we have a Disney moment, if you will, a talking donkey. But I want to focus on the words that are used specifically how God is referred to in the text itself, and see if there are any lessons to be learned. So we’re in Numbers 28. And I’m starting because I gave you the context, right from verse 8, which is after the messengers from King Balak come to higher Bilaam and ask him to Chris, the Jewish people. In verse 8, he said to them, spend the night here, and I shall reply to you, as Hashem may instruct me. So whenever God is referred to by Yud Hey Vav Hey which the witnesses referred to as Jehovah, and we are Jews referred to as simply the name I will say Hashem. So, he says, Stay the night, and I will reply to you, as Hashem may instruct me. So the Moabite dignitaries stayed with Balaam. God, the Lord, now it does not use the word Hashem. It uses Elohim, which is a generic name for the Godhead, God came to Balaam and said, what do these men want of you? Balaam said to God, Balak son of Tzipur king of Moab sent me this message. Here is a people that came out from Egypt and hides the Earth from view, come now and curse them for me. Perhaps I can engage them in battle and drive them off. But God said to Balaam do not go with them. You must not curse that people for they are blessed. Balaam arose in the morning and said to Balak’s dignitaries, go back to your country for Hashem will not let me go with you. The Moabite dignitaries left and they came back to Balak and said Balaam refused to come with us. Then the king sent more dignitaries to convince him to come. And again, Balaam replies in verse 18. Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything big or little contrary to the command of Hashem. So stay here overnight, and let me find out what else Hashem may say to me. That night, God came to Barlaam and said to him, if these agents have come with you, you may go with them. And then we segue into the whole story of Balaam being on the donkey, on the ass going to see the King, and this donkey appears in front of him. But let us stop right here. Rabbi, do you think it’s strange that whenever Bilaam is talking to the people, he wants to influence, the people he wants to impress, That he refers to God as Hashem, the Jewish God. And when he talks to God, the text and you assume him refers to God by the generic name. Is there a lesson there?

Adam Mintz  05:05

Well, you know, let’s take a step back and let’s try to evaluate what it means to be a prophet in the Torah, who’s not part of the Jewish people. It’s a unique situation. The prophets we know were all Jews, the prophets we know in the Torah, the prophets, we know in the later books of the Bible, they’re all Jews. What build on doing being a prophet? How can he be a prophet? Why does God choose to speak to Bilaam? And it seems to be and it’s hard to know, but it seems to be that the point of the tow HR is that God chooses people from the many nations of the world to spread God’s message to different people. And if that’s true, it’s not surprising that when Bilaam, speaks about God, he refers to God as the Jewish God, because his role is to spread the Jewish God’s word to other people. That’s a very, very interesting idea, just kind of theologically, that there is such a person to spread God’s message to the world.

Geoffrey Stern  06:22

In my mind, you give you give Balaam too much credit. In other words, he might have ended up as a prophet, and I refer to the beautiful blessing, the curse that became a blessing that he preached the famous מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹהָלֶ֖יךָ יַעֲקֹ֑ב, how goodly are the tents of Jacob, that you find in pretty much every sanctuary. So he ended up being a Jewish prophet, or a prophet that spoke well of the Jews and delivered. And I guess if that’s the point, if he’s a prophet, he delivered God’s message. But I don’t think he did that intentionally. And so I think I take your question to be really, whether he was a prophet of the non-Jews. And of course, I think sometimes we confuse prophecy with someone who predicts the future, from the true prophet, which is the Jeremiah, that we’ll be hearing in a few weeks, in Lamentations, the conscience of God, the nagging guilt deliverer who puts you on the straight path, and can bless you. But I think that the first question you asked, and I took it to be, can a non-Jew be a prophet for his own people? For others, I do think that we do have examples of, for instance, a Job. We have an instance of a Jethro, where, in Jefro’s case, he’s presented as a very good guy who gives good advice to Moses. So my answer to the first part of your question is, yes, clearly there are non-Jews who are given accelerated access to the Divine and can provide insight. I mean, would you agree to me on at that level?

Adam Mintz  08:24

Absolutely. would agree with you about that. Yes.

Geoffrey Stern  08:27

So then I think the next question is: was he a prophet of God? Or another way of saying that is, how does the Bible use these non-Jewish prophets? And I think, if we exclude Job for a second, I think if you look at Jethro and you look at Bilaam, it’s kind of like we Jews today, when a Jew does well wins a Nobel Prize, or when there’s a character in a book, a tale, who’s Jewish, because we’re a minority, somehow it validates us. And I think a large function of the non-Jews, certainly in the typos of Jethro and Bilaam is ultimately to validate the Jewish people. There’s a there’s a commentator, actually a translator of the Bible called Everett Fox. And he says that one of the functions of this story of a curse turning into a blessing right here is because in Numbers in the in the stories that we’ve been reading of Korach, and of the water, the Jews have just been punished; of the spies. They’ve just been one punishment after another, one curse after another. If you take: you will not go into the Promised Land as a curse. And this is to give us a little respite. This is according to Fox to show that curses can change into blessings. But whether that’s the case or not, I think certainly that the non-Jewish figurehead or prophet who does good things for the Jewish people, validates us. And that’s why it’s worthwhile putting them into a sacred text.

Adam Mintz  10:19

I would agree that 100% Actually, I want to talk about both those things, you know, the idea that that those who you bless will be blessed, and those who you curse will be cursed, is actually a phrase that used twice in the Torah. It’s used concerning Bilaam. In this week, parish shot, and it’s used continuing Abraham at the beginning of the Torah, right, God says to Abraham, those who you bless will be blessed, and those who you curse will be cursed. That’s so interesting that the Jewish puppet and the non-Jewish prophet have the same power, that is that those who you bless will be blessed, and those who curse will be cursed. That’s a unique thing to this prophet. We don’t find that anyplace else. You talk about Job. You talk about Jethro, but we don’t have that idea, the idea that it flips, what they say, flips is an amazing idea, isn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  11:19

Yeah, absolutely. And the idea of it flipping giving it power, giving it more power than had it not flipped. Because it was supposed to be a curse, and it became a blessing that makes it that much more effective. No question, no question about it. And it’s like, when you preach to the choir, that’s not necessarily such a great sermon. But when you preach to people who aren’t in the choir, and they listen, that’s a little bit, I think of what we have here. So, I want to get back a little bit to the choice of names of God. And when I first read it, my first impulse was, you know, it’s like, if you want to get access to the president, let’s use our present president as an example. And you say, Do you know the President, you go, Joe, Joe, and I go way back. When you go into the room, it’s Mr. President. And so I think there’s a little bit of that, it’s clear to me that Elokim is and we can, we’re going to talk a little bit about what we Jews do to these words, we say Elokim, we don’t say Elohim. But Elohim is God. It’s a generic word. We can refer to other gods as Elohim Aherim, other gods and it ultimately comes from the word power, El and some people make a case that the word Allah in Arabic, is similar. It comes from the same shoresh, if you will, and it means the Godhead, but Yud Hey vav Hey, those four letters put together that our tradition says no one, but the Cohen Gadol pronounces on the highest holy day of the year in the Holy of Holies. That’s clearly a reference to the particular god of the Jewish people. And I think at the most basic level, that’s what’s happening here. And it’s kind of fun from a literary perspective, because it’s giving you insight through the word choice of what Bilaam is trying to do. He’s trying to make himself like, yeah, I talked to a Hashem all the time, you know, and let me go in there, and you sleep on it tonight, and I’m going to talk to my buddy, Hashem. Do you think there’s part of that here?

Adam Mintz  13:45

There’s no question. As part of that. Let me just go back to the beginning of what you said. So first of all, the word Elohim, you’re right. It’s not a special word. You know, Elohim Acherim more than that. The Torah in Parshat Misppatim uses the word Elohim to refer to judges. Also people of power, judges are called Elohim. You know, what’s interesting about the yud hay vav hey name is that it’s not pronounced the way it’s spelled. It’s a mysterious name. You know, it’s that you’re not allowed to refer to them by their names. You know, that’s exactly what you said about Mr. President. I always think of that in terms of the queen. The queen doesn’t have a name. If I asked you what’s the family name of the royal family? Nobody knows the family name of the royal family because they don’t have a name. They’re just no known as royalty, Queen and Prince, all those kinds of things. Right. So the idea of having mystery in a name gives the name a certain amazing power to it, doesn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  14:59

It does So on one level, it’s an amazing power. And on the other hand, it really has a sense of intimate friendship. And you know, I once heard and I didn’t have a chance to, to find this out if anyone in the audience knows for sure. The answer to this, I’d love to hear it. But I once heard that in Islam. The preference is when you speak a language other than Arabic, that you refer to who they refer to as Allah, you refer to as God, because they don’t want you to think that the word Allah is like a name they too believe that God has no name. But what that does in a sense, is it illuminates a strange fact that because we use the word Hashem, which, you know, and I know means the name, and is literally continuing on this tradition of he has no name. When we say Hashem, or when a kitd in cheder says Hashem is going to help me with my homework tonight. It’s our best friend. And in a sense, that is kind of defeated. The, the meaning and the purpose of God not having a name, …. now he has a nickname. Now he’s your closest buddy. But it’s an insight into what bilaam did. Bilaam used the ability to say the Hebrew word for the God as a way of trying to show his intimacy when the curtain closed. We know God knew, Bilaam them knew there was no intimacy there, we went back to God. Elohim

Adam Mintz  16:47

You’re really playing on a very interesting idea. And that is the tension between intimacy with God. And the fact that God is mysterious and scary, and far away. Isn’t that an interesting kind of tension. And maybe that’s the tension that we have with God. You know, when we when we make a bracha (blessing), we say Baruch atah hashem…. We don’t usually think about this, but actually the tense changes, Baruch, bless be Atah is you….  were talking directly to God, we refer to God as you, that’s personal. And then we go back to a HaShem, which is in the third person. So we talk to God both personally. And in the third person, we ourselves every single time we make a Bracha, we have that tension.

Geoffrey Stern  17:49

Absolutely. And I think the word I was looking for is the word you chose personal. It’s a personal name. So let’s move on a little bit. For anyone who has ever studied the Bible at academic levels. They all know that there was this theory called the Documentary Hypothesis, and that was in broad strokes that the Bible was edited at the time of Ezra probably, and combined multiple manuscripts. And the names for those manuscripts. One is E for Elohim, and the other is the P , the priestly code. And the they make a distinction between texts that use the word Elohim. And J is the other another text that is Jehovah is Hashem. And we’re gonna get to them in a second. But for those of you who have listened to the podcast before, you know that I believe heartily, that modern scholarship has never discovered anything that the rabbi’s didn’t already recognize. So if I would normally say to you, Rabbi, when the Torah speaks, in and uses the term Elohim. And when it uses the word Hashem, is it referring to something different? Or are they synonyms? What would your typical response be?

Adam Mintz  19:21

My typical response is that they’re synonyms.

Geoffrey Stern  19:23

(laughs) So you didn’t fall for my trap.

Adam Mintz  19:31

We can discuss it on, you know, on a deeper level. But you asked me what my first instinct is, my first instinct is that God has different names, Shadai is the name of God, HaShem is the name of God. Elohim is the name of God. Sometime it’s Hashem Elohim. There are different ways to refer to God. It’s all the same name. Okay, so I actually I think I ended up in your place, but I want to go through the rabbinic traditions and One of the rabbinic traditions and it’s all over, but I’m going to quote Sifrei Devarim כל מקום שנאמר ה’ זו מדת רחמים, and כל מקום שנא’ אלקים זו מדת הדין whenever the word God is used as Hashem the personal name of the Jewish God, it is the attribute of mercy. And whenever it is used as Elohim, just God, it is the attribute of strict justice. And that segues a little bit into what we were saying before that even Bilaam was aware of when he wanted to show that he had an inside track to the Godhead, He would use Hashem, which is the Midat HaRachamum, because you come from the rechem, because you come from the womb, because you have a relationship. And when he was in the room, and the facade came off, he knew he had to speak with God, and God was going to tell him the straight truth, Din, and you know, if you look at the first chapters of Bereshit and this is why the biblical critics that are documentarists will say that there are different accounts of creation, that were coming from different texts from different collections, the beginning of creation is Elohim. Midat HaDin or the E document, and then it moves into Yud Hey Vav Hey. And so in Bereshit Rabbah, it says as follows. So to the Holy One of blessing said, If I create the world with the attribute of compassion alone, no one be concerned with the consequences with the attribute of justice alone, how would the world stand rather Behold, I created with both the attribute of judgment and compassion. So if you remember in our segment on Challah, first Gods creates it with the Midat ha’din, strict justice, and then Man is created, and we mix the two together. So it seems to me that the rabbi’s 100% was sensitive to ways in which the representation of God and I’ll agree to you, Rabbi that they might be synonyms. But I think you’ll agree with me that Say what you will, the Yud Hey Vav hey is personal to the Jews, it would never be used to describe other gods, it would never be used to describe gods of other nations. So that you’ll give me. Yes, I’ll give you that.

Geoffrey Stern  22:30

And so there we do have contiguity here, and to answer the biblical critics will say, yes, it’s conscious. You can learn lessons from it, you don’t have to ignore it. Whether that means that there are different documents or the texts are written in slightly different voices, from a different perspective, which the same author could obviously do, that you can discuss amongst yourselves.

Adam Mintz  23:23

I will accept that. I think that that is probably right. You know, it’s interesting that we’re having this conversation regarding Bilaam. You know, you talk about how he refers to God, it’s Bilaam. You know, how does Moshe refer to God, when he talks to God? You know, the Torah tells us that Moshe had a unique relationship with God, Pe el Pe b’mareh v’lo bechidot says that Moshe talked to God. Like we talk to one another. We look at each other in the eye, we look at each other, mouth to mouth Moshe spoke to God. Now Bilaam didn’t have that relationship with God, I don’t think and therefore, it was a whole different kind of experience, wasn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  24:16

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And again, I think that that comes through when he has to change the way he talks when he’s in the inner sanctum so to speak. He might make it sound like he can speak to God like a Moses or an Aaron. But when we get privy to the private conversation, it’s a one way conversation. And when he addresses it’s Elokim. It’s God. So I think it’s there and I think it helps us understand the text. I looked up some of the great scholars who addressed things like the documentary theory, and they say, there are those who then come to a portion like ours, and they Try to figure it out, they actually try to make the case that all verses that I talked about the inside and the outside ones are different texts combined. And I think if anything, our story here shows the fallacy of that, it does confirm that you can make a distinction based on how God is referred to about the situation. I mean, I must say in the source sheet, you will find Shadal, Shmuel David lezzato and he takes this historically to Rome. And he says many nations when they conquer another nation, they not only take their God, but they bring it back to Rome, and they set up a temple for that god. So he puts it into the context of, of a Bilaam, trying to colonize to hijack to, engage in cultural imperialism….  without permission, the Hashem, the Jehovah so to speak, and I think that’s a fascinating insight as well, but at least Shadal was focused on the question that I had. Not a lot of other traditional commentaries comment on this back and forth ping pong between the use of the two names of God, which I, I must say surprised me.  I think, you know, in terms of what you said that your sense is that they were used interchangeably. If you look at Psalms 47, 6 it says, עָלָ֣ה אֱ֭לֹקִים בִּתְרוּעָ֑ה ה’ בְּק֣וֹל שׁוֹפָֽר God ascends amidst acclamation the Lord to the blasts of the Horn. That is your position. They are you they are synonymous, they are used interchangeably. And even in our own portion, when Bilaam, finally gets around to a blessing the Jewish people he, he does the following. He says in 23, No harm is in sight for Jacob, No woe in view for Israel. Their God ה’ is with them,. So he interchanges Yaakov with Yisrael, we would totally get that. And then he says Hashem Elokav, he puts them together. So I think you’re absolutely right. That’s why I say at the end of the day, I agree with you that ultimately they are synonyms. But there are nuances involved with being synonymous one with the other. And I think that is kind of fascinating. The really fascinating thing that I’d like to discuss is that the Talmud believes that all Parsha, especially the part that deals with a Bilaam is a book in of itself. In the Talmud in Baba Batra, it says The baraita now considers the authors of the biblical books: And who wrote the books of the Bible? Moses wrote his own book, i.e., the Torah, and the portion of Balaam in the Torah, and the book of Job.  It says מֹשֶׁה כָּתַב סִפְרוֹ וּפָרָשַׁת בִּלְעָם And the book of Job. So we’ve discussed this before, we always think of a parsha, as what you read in the Torah that week. But the Parsha here is not parshat Balak  It’s parshat Bilaam. It’s a literary segment. And the rabbi’s for whatever reason, and that’s one of the reasons I chose this story, to talk about documentary theory and the belief that the Torah is a combination of different documents, is for whatever reason, maybe because, as you started by saying, What’s a non-Jewish prophet doing in a book like this, they made this into a separate book. What do you make of that? What did they accomplish? What did they achieve? And does it relate at all to our wider discussion?

Adam Mintz  24:16

It might, because I think that the rabbi’s who said that the book of Bilaam is a separate book are bothered by how you can have a non-Jewish prophet. You see, you talked about Job, and you talked about Jethro, Job and Jethro, are not portrayed as prophets. They may have spoken to God. Here Bilaam is a prophet. He is called on by the king to curse the Jewish people. He is plugged into God, we would say the following we would say that he somehow has God’s cell phone number, right? That he knows how to access God and Balaam knew that and because Balak knew that he wanted to take advantage of Bilaam. Isn’t that right? Yeah. Isn’t that what it’s all about? It’s about having someone’s cell phone number. If you have God’s cell phone number, then you’re really in good shape.

Geoffrey Stern  30:03

I think so. And the manifestation that we see it in the text is this use of God. And I want to get back as we finish up to to that kind of concept when we Jews use the word Hashem, which really just means we don’t know his name, he’s not my best friend, I don’t have his cell phone number, I call him the name. But what it means in reality is he is my best friend, he’s my, I call HaShem. And we do G-D, as something that is specifically what Jews do. Again, the G-D should be removing us from saying that this word means more than it is. And in a sense, we make it into something that is very personal. And I think that is a kind of a fascinating takeaway into the use of God’s name in real life. And in reality, where do you stand with the G-D?

Adam Mintz  31:06

I don’t think that’s necessary. I mean, plenty of people do it. But you know, the idea is that it’s only Yud Hey Vav Hey  that’s not allowed to be written. That’s the special name of God, the translation of God’s name doesn’t really have sanctity in the same way. Yeah, means I got it. I understand why they do it. But I think that that’s an unnecessary stringency.

Geoffrey Stern  31:27

And I think possibly to a degree when the other monotheistic religions were born, and they were basically talking about the same God, we had to find out or make a way of keeping that distinctiveness nonetheless, and maybe that had something to do with it. I couldn’t find it. But I’ve got to believe in the last year, I actually saw an article written by evangelical Christian and it used G-D. I don’t know whether that’s a thing or not. But it is kind of fascinating how we try to parlay the way we use God’s name to translate into a representation of our relationship to God. And I think that’s kind of a fascinating takeaway of our story. I think the other fascinating takeaway from the story is all their different voices in the Torah, I think the answer is yes. You can say whatever you want about why the rabbi said that, our Pasha, or parts of our Pasha, were a book by themselves. It’s fascinating that Moses wrote them anyway. Moses, it says, wrote his book, Moses wrote, The Balaam and he wrote the book of Job, and then Joshua wrote his book. But I do think that we can all agree there are different voices. And it doesn’t matter if it’s from the same author or multiple authors, whether it was written at one time or over time, whether part of that is reflection on our voice and our hearing. But as I always say, the most academic reading of the of the Bible and the rabbinic reading of the Bible in traditional reading the Bible don’t need to be at odds.

Adam Mintz  33:26

I think that’s right. This is a great topic. And I think it really you know, adds a lot of different levels to our understanding of the parsha. So enjoy the parish everybody we look forward to next week, joining you again as we start the three weeks and we start with Parshat Pinchas be well everybody Shabbat Shalom, enjoy

Geoffrey Stern  33:45

Shabbat shalom. B’ezrat Hashem, we’ll see you all next week. Looking forward

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Murder in the Desert

parshat Chukat, numbers 20

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on July 7th 2022 on Clubhouse. In a parsha dedicated to death and with much attention on the enigmatic law of the Red Heifer we also witness the death of Moses and his siblings; the primary protagonists of the Exodus. Miriam dies in two verses and Moses and Aaron are sentenced to death with Aaron quickly dispatched. Which leads to the age-old question: Who Done it and why?

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/417920

Transcript:

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.  This week’s parsha is dedicated to death and with much attention on the enigmatic law of the Red Heifer. But we also witness the death of Moses and his siblings; the primary protagonists of the Exodus. Miriam dies in two verses and Moses and Aaron are sentenced to death with Aaron quickly dispatched. Which leads to the age-old question: Who Done it and why? So welcome to Murder in the Desert.

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So, this year, as I’m going through the parshiot the second time, I tend to go to the second half and realize that there’s a sequence and there’s a connection, as tenuous as it sometimes is. And as I said in the intro, last year, we talked about this enigmatic law of the Red Heifer for which is used when any Israelite comes into contact with death in any aspect. And we discussed it last year. It’s fascinating. But then the very next chapter Numbers 20 Verse number 1 says, and the Israelites arrived in a body at the wilderness of zin on the first moon, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there. And then it begins with the next crisis, which is there was no water. But Rashi on that verse says, Why is this section narrating the death of Miriam placed immediately after the section treating of the red halfa? And he answers to suggest to you the following comparison, what is the purpose of the sacrifices, they affect atonement, so too does the death of the righteous effect atonement, מִיתַת צַדִּיקִים מְכַפֶּרֶת. So we’ve been spending a lot of time on sacrifices. And of course, that is the segue; the red heifer is part of the sacrificial cult, and Rashi is disturbed by why is the death of Miriam and we’ll see in a second the death of Aaron, put right next to this story of the Red Heifer. I think the question is as good as any answer you could give. The question is telling us that there is a connection, that you don’t just have a death without there being meaning to that death, you don’t have a death in terms of its placement without there being lessons to be learned. And his particular lesson is that just as when we sacrifice an animal, we are trying to somehow parlay that into acceptance of repentance. When we lose somebody very dear or in this case a Tzadik or Tzadekus, a female righteous person, that kind of bodes well for us. But what intrigues you more the question or the answer, Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  03:27

Well, the answer is very interesting that the death of the righteous somehow atone. I mean, that sounds very Christian to me. Right. So, I think we I think I think we need to, to own it, to kind of call it as it is, and say the idea the answer is really problematic, unless we say that the Jews had it first, that that’s our idea that the death of the righteous somehow atones. And the Christians took it from us. Now first of all, that would be interesting, historically. But I think religiously, we have to figure out what does that actually mean? What does it mean, the death of righteous atone? I mean, that’s a pretty harsh statement, …. there’s a big question, obviously, about why bad things happen to good people. And you know, there’s no good answer to that question. One of the bad answers to that question is that the death of the righteous atones, and because the death of the righteous atones, so therefore, you know, somehow there’s a reason for the righteous to die. So, you know, that’s, where that’s coming from. The question is whether we’re satisfied with that approach.

Geoffrey Stern  04:37

So I’m willing to discuss that I love the connection that you made with Christianity, and I would go even further and make a connection with Islam as well. In terms of the founding fathers, the seminal leadership is taken away and look at it from that perspective as well. Yes, we can talk about somehow, we’ve always accepted as a Christian notion that the death of the Savior somehow redeems all of mankind. And we talked a little bit about that, even when we discussed the Akedat Yitzchok (The Sacrifice of Isaac). Then there are those Midrashim that says he was actually sacrificed and brought back to life. We’ve had this sense of where the tribe of Israel put their hands on the Leviim וְסָמְכ֧וּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל אֶת־יְדֵיהֶ֖ם עַל־הַלְוִיִּֽם and gave them certain powers, we have that with the Sir L’Azazel, the goat that on Yom Kippur gets thrown over the rugged mountain with the sins of the Jewish people, you get this kind of sense of transference, where somehow you can transfer your liability on to something or somebody else. And that’s a very strong tradition. And I think you’re absolutely correct. That probably, or for sure, Christianity took that from us. And I would also say on the rebound, almost for sure. We sublimated it, we made that kind of concept. “Oh, that’s Christian. That’s not us.” But what I want to talk about because it kind of follows the story a little bit, is that when we get to Aaron, we’re gonna find out that Aaron and Moses did something wrong. And that’s why Aaron is told his life is at an end. In the case of Miriam, you really have to dig, you have to go back way back to the earlier Numbers. 12, where if you recall, Miriam and Aaron, are speaking against Moses and his Kushite wife. And they basically said, Has God spoken only through Moses? הֲרַ֤ק אַךְ־בְּמֹשֶׁה֙ דִּבֶּ֣ר ה. And that resonates with us a little bit from Korach’s argument last week, there seems to be two things that bother the Jewish people in the desert. One is food, or drink. And we have that in this week’s parsha. But the other thing is רַב־לָכֶם֒, you’ve taken too much upon yourself. It’s kind of like we benefit from our leaders, and then we destroy them. Do you think there’s that thread as well here?

Adam Mintz  07:38

You know, that’s interesting that we benefit from our leaders and then we destroy them. That you know, that’s a lack of gratitude. That’s a very interesting idea that we don’t appreciate what we have. Now, the Jews of the desert. This is a little a little far afield, but it’s important for the general discussion. The Jews of the desert, don’t appreciate God, and they don’t appreciate their leaders, right? They complain about God, you know, God splits the sea. And the first thing they do is they complain that we don’t have water. When we don’t have water. Obviously, if God splits the sea, he can give them water, but it doesn’t matter. They don’t appreciate what they have. And they don’t appreciate Moshe that’s the story last week of Korach, that they don’t appreciate Moshe. So, they have these leaders, they benefit from the leaders, but then they complain about the leadership. That’s an important thing. Now that’s not exactly the same thing as the fact that their death atones. Let’s take a step back. Who does the death atone for? Geoffrey, you mentioned the rabbinic statement then מִיתַת צַדִּיקִים מְכַפֶּרֶת Who exactly does it atone for? Does it atone for the person who dies? Does it atone for the people? What exactly is it? You should know that there’s some Midrash, I don’t know where it is that says that in every generation, there are 10 children, innocent children who died and that that atones for the entire generations. I mean, that’s a very hard statement to make. Because how could you say that that there should be some kind of justifications for the fact that children would die.

Geoffrey Stern  09:16

What makes the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer such an enigma is typically said in the following phrase שתטהר הטמאים ותטמא הטהורים, it makes the impure pure, and it defiles the pure; the priest who’s in charge of doing it, he himself becomes impure. And one of the takeaways that I took from that is that somehow this sense of kapara (purification) is a zero-sum game meaning to say that it’s like the transfer of energy, of pouring water from one glass to another. You know, we love to say The reason why Torah is compared to a light; is a light you can light and you can spread it without diminishing from the flame. But the way it treats purity, in a sense almost feels like it’s zero sum that if I have it you don’t. And if I give it to you, there’s a vacuum with me and I become impure. And my read on those 10 tzadikim, the ten pure children my read on the the sacrifices that they do in the temple and my read certainly on the tzadikim who are Michaperet, is that there is this transference. And we’re going to talk a little bit about Freud later, but it is a psychoanalytic concept where you transfer what you have, you expiate somehow on to something else, and then somehow you feel pure. And I do think that’s the basis of it.

Adam Mintz  10:58

Well, of course, that’s the idea of the of the goat that sent to Azazel, that’s sent to the desert and thrown off the cliff. And then the Jewish people are relieved of their sins on Yom Kippur war? Obviously, that’s the source of this whole idea. But that’s a goat. That’s not a person.

Geoffrey Stern  11:18

Well, absolutely. So let’s tack back a little bit to this concept of killing our leaders after they give us something and you said it lacks of Hakarat Tov of recognition of the good that we’re getting. So Rashi on Numbers 20: 2 says as follows There was no water for the congregation. Since this statement follows immediately after the mention of Miriam’s death. We may learn from it that during the entire 40 years, they had the well through Miriam’s merit. הַבְּאֵר בִּזְכוּת מִרְיָם. And of course, we nowadays have many songs with Miriam, the prophetess, and the relationship that she has to song and the timbrel, but also to the water. And unlike Aaron and Moses, that have someone to take up the charge, Moses famously has Joshua. And Aaron we’ll see in a few verses, has his son; Eleazar, Miriam, as I said, in the intro she dies in two verses. That in itself is tragic. But what’s amazing is that she when she dies, there’s something missing. When Aaron dies, they mourn. When Moses dies, they mourn, but when Miriam dies, they lose water, they lose water. And I think that is kind of fascinating because the next whole narrative in our parsha deals with the ramifications of them complaining about not having water, losing the water and then we’ll see in a few verses what Moses and Aaron did that got them into such trouble.

Adam Mintz  13:08

I think all this is good. I think that that’s good. I love the transference I love I love the Freudian transference idea. I think that if we can really prove that the toe rough where the rabbis have that idea of transference I think we can we can move Freud back about 3,000 years we’ll really have accomplished something today.

Geoffrey Stern  13:26

[Laughs] Very good. I liked that. I liked that a lot. So, in Numbers 20:  7 – 13. It has another famous story. And it says And God spoke to Moses saying you and your brother Aaron take the rod and assemble the community and before their very eyes order the rock to yield its water. Thus you shall produce water for them from the rock and provide drink for the congregation and their beasts. Moses took the rod from before God as He had been commanded. Moses and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of them and said to them, Listen, you rebels. Shall we get water for you out of this rock and Moses raised his hand and struck the rock …. twice with his rod. Out came copious water in the community and they are beasts drank. But God said to Moses and Aaron because you did not trust me enough to affirm my sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead the congregation into the land that I have given them. Those are the waters of Meribah meaning that the Israelites quarreled with God, whose sanctity was affirmed through them. And this is why I put the title of this podcast as Murder on the Desert, because it’s starting to sound a lot like Agatha Christie. First Miriam dies. Now we have Aaron and Moses within seconds and associated with the same issue of water, and they are told they too will die in an untimely fashion, if you consider not going into the promised land, which was their whole mission, an untimely fashion. So that’s why it seemed to me and I was struck by the key protagonists of the Exodus from Egypt, are given a death sentence in this parsha, and within a few verses of each other, it’s like the whole leadership of the whole people in one fell swoop in one chapter is knocked out. Well, don’t forget that last week, their leadership was questioned. So, you know, when your leadership is questioned, and that’s interesting, just in terms of, you know, today, Boris Johnson resigned, you know, when your leadership is questioned, that’s often the beginning of the end, right? You read the stories about Boris Johnson, you know, it started with a controversy, and then all of a sudden, he’s not the Prime Minister anymore, you know, and Korach questions, Moshe’s leadership, and all of a sudden, the next parsha they sin and they lose their leadership. It’s not by accident, it just didn’t just happen. Now, maybe Moshe and Aaron are frustrated, because their leadership was questioned, and therefore they lose their cool in a way that they would not have lost their cool had their leadership not been questioned. That in itself is a possibility and interesting, but I think the connection between these two parshas is very, is very, you know, significant. And again, we always look at the Kodak story, thank you for bringing it up. As what was wrong with Korach, what did he say that had no merit. But here we go. We have the same argument with Miriam and Aaron, questioning Moses, leadership in the in the beginning of the book of Numbers, we have it through the mouth of Korach. And here, we have basically God questioning their leadership to the extent that for whatever reason, and we can get into the minutiae of was it that he hit it was it that he hit it twice. But ultimately, the bottom line is that Moses and Aaron, were told, you’re not going to finish this job. You know, you can, you can take so many lessons from this, you can say, You know what it says in Perkei Avot,  לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה, the job is not on each one of us to finish. And I think Martin Luther King Jr. made this case the most, he says, I’ve been to the mountaintop, and I might not finish it. And that’s always been one takeaway. And you could say what I said earlier, which is somehow we kill our leaders, maybe to expiate, in the sacrificial tradition. And maybe just because we have this, I don’t know, a difficult relationship with our leaders, we respect them, but in a sense, we feel they detract from our own identity. It’s kind of all here, and I’d love to hear your comments on that. But I’m gonna go right from here into what Freud actually did say about the death of Moses in the desert. But do you agree with me that it sounds so many different levels here?

Adam Mintz  18:19

I agree with you. I think this is the time to transition into Freud. Let’s see what Freud says, let’s try to pull the whole thing together. Good.

Geoffrey Stern  18:25

Good. So, in a book that he wrote in 1956, it was the last book that he wrote, it was called Moses and Monotheism. And he made two radical statements, I would say, three radical statements in it. The first thing that he did, and we’ve touched upon this before, is in the tradition of all of Greek and Roman mythology, where Romulus and Remus are, the children of the king, or exiled, have to fight their way back like Odysseus does. And then re-claim they’re titled, he said, something doesn’t work with the Moses story because Moses is not brought up by royalty and exiled to live with the slaves. He’s raised as a slave and then exiled to live with royalty. So, I think that makes our Bible unique Freud says that you don’t break any rules of mythology. He says, number one, Moses was an Egyptian. Number two, he was an in very enlightened Egyptian, and he was the one who came up with the idea of monotheism. And he took this rabble of Israelites into the desert. And like any good leader, he taught them these rules of against idolatry and all that and all they wanted to do is to go back to Egypt and eat their watermelons. And at the end of the day, what he preached was too much and they murdered him. And I want to focus on the murdering him part. Because usually as radical as a statement as you’ll make about, our texts, you’ll normally find a tradition like that in the text itself. And you really have to scratch your head to find something along those lines. We’re jumping a little bit ahead. But in our Parsha, after Moses and Aaron are condemned to death, it actually says that they took Aaron up out Aaron gathered his kins. And he told him I can’t go into the land of Israel. I’ve disobeyed Him. And they went with his son Elazar to the top of Mount Har. And it goes on and it says, And all the congregation saw that Aaron had died. And Rashi says, when they saw Moses and Elezar decending and that Aaron was not descending with them, they said, Where then is Aaron? He replied to them, he is dead. They thereupon said, Is it possible that a man who stood up against the angel and stayed the plague should die? And that’s why it says “in front of all the congregation”, Moses at once offered prayer, and ministering angels showed him (Aaron) lying upon the bier, and they believed, so I don’t want to drive the stake too low in this. But certainly, what it shows is that there was controversy over Aaron dying, all of a sudden, there were questions that were being asked here, Moses and Aaron go up, and only Moses comes down. So, it’s not, I think, outlandish to say that questions could have been asked by those of less faith, as to why Aaron, died. And of course, we all know putting on our Agatha Christie hats again, that Moses died in an unmarked grave, there was no habeas corpus they never produced the body for Moses. So, I think what the theory is, is something that potentially you could argue on a literary level as well, if you’re writing a book, or you have a series, and all of a sudden you do away with one of the characters. Okay, so you’re not murdering them. But you’re terminating them. And I do think that we have a right, with the suggestion of Freud to look at our texts. And think in terms of why was Miriam, Aaron, and Moses terminated? And that’s how I would like to rephrase Freud’s question, if you will, or statement, if you will, saying that they were terminated.

Adam Mintz  22:45

Right. Okay, so that’s really good. I mean, what you’re really doing is you’re saying, usually, when we think about Freud, Moses and Monotheism, you kind of get caught up in the fact that he says Moses was murdered. And it Torah doesn’t say Moses was murdered. So therefore, he’s making up the story. So, who cares about Freud’s story, but what you are saying is, leave that aside, don’t get caught up in that. Let’s talk about the fact that Moses is terminated, an airman is terminated and Miriam is terminated. Why are the leaders terminated? Why is it important that they’re they don’t reach their goal, and that they’re terminated? Now, this question is more complicated, because in the book of Devarim, Moses asked God, at least twice to be led into the land, you know, Moses, who put his life on the line so many times for the Jewish people, he asked God a little favor? And the answer is, he can’t even get that favor. And if you want to even go further than that, Moses wasn’t even buried in the Land. Right? At least you would say, you know, today when somebody dies, and they want to be buried in the Land, we put them on El Al, and they’re buried in the Land. But Moses didn’t even get that there was no El Al, but they didn’t take Moses into the land. Joseph, who dies in Egypt, they take him into the land, they carry him through the desert, they take him into the land and Kever Yoseph you know, the grave of Joseph is somewhere there on the West Bank, there is a grave of Joseph so that He was buried in the Land, Why did Moses get that benefit to be buried in the Land. So, he really is terminated, if you want to use the word in a cruel kind of way.

Geoffrey Stern  24:14

So picking up on this termination from a literary sense that he was dropped from the sequel, so to speak, in our portion and now portion contains a lot but this is kind of fascinating. In the next episode, the Jews are moving on and they reach out to the king of a Edom. And they say that we’d like to pass through you. We are going to stay on the Kings Road. We’re not going to take any food or water. And in his introduction, what Moses says by way of introduction, and he says as follows in Numbers 20: 15-16, He says our ancestors went down to Egypt that we dwelt in Egypt for a long time. And then he says, and we cry to Hashem who heard our plea, sending a messenger who freed us from Egypt. And it says, וַיִּשְׁלַ֣ח מַלְאָ֔ךְ וַיֹּצִאֵ֖נוּ מִמִּצְרָ֑יִם. So, Rashi says, a messenger, this was Moses. From this, we may learn that the prophets are termed angels. Iban Ezra was said, this is to be taken literally, it’s actually a real angel. And for those of you who know the Haggadah, the Haggadah in the first fruits decoration, we say and the Lord took us out of Egypt, not through an angel, not through a Seraph and not through a messenger, but directly by the Holy One, blessed behave, it goes on, I will pass through the land of Egypt, I am not an angel. And that of course always elicits the discussion. Why is Moses not mentioned in the Haggadah? So, I am making a case rabbi, that even in the beginning of this conversation, where we start repeating to other nations and people and then to ourselves, all of a sudden, we start to lose Moses, all of a sudden, now a discussion is being made, when you say, a messenger took us out, was that angel? Was it Moses, and the Haggadah maybe the result of a response to Christianity and Islam that had charismatic leaders, and they wanted to downplay the role of Moses, but in a sense, he was terminated in history too. And I think that is absolutely fascinating.

Adam Mintz  26:43

That is absolutely fascinating. And your connection to Christianity and Islam is also fascinating that the Jewish people moved away from charisma. Charisma became a bad word. It’s interesting in today’s world, you know, charismatic leadership, people are kind of suspicious of charismatic leadership, they’re worried that you know, what’s behind charismatic leadership, but what you’re going back is to is the ancient religions, and what you’re saying is that the charismatic leadership was problematic, or at least the Christians in the and the Muslims, they picked up on charismatic leadership. So, what Judaism did was they kind of tempered it, and Moses ism becomes less important. And the fact that Moses is not in the Haggadah is fascinating. And that is an attempt by the Rabbi’s, or the editors of the Haggadah, whomever they happen to be to temporal. Moses, his leadership, because it can’t be about Moses, because if it’s about charismatic leaders, then we’re all in big trouble.

Geoffrey Stern  27:39

So, in researching Moses and Monotheism and I love that book, from the first time that I read it, I found it so stimulating, I discovered that no less than Moshe Chaim Yerushalmi he wrote a book critiquing Freud’s whole approach on every level. But there is a guy named Mark Edmondson and I found an old article from the New York Times that I stuffed in my version of the Moses and Monotheism that I have in my library. And he talks about the third point that Freud makes. And the third point is that because the message that Moses gave was just too profound, too extreme for the Jewish people that he was, he was, yes, he was terminated. But then many years later, this enabled him the strength of that message, and the contrast to all of the cultures enabled to Jews to rediscover it. And at certain points in his book towards the end, he talks about this was the beginning of the power of ideas, that not only did we not have idols, we didn’t even have these charismatic, these icons of people that were bigger than life. And in a sense, that was his takeaway. And of course, Freud himself at the end of his days was starting to feel a little bit like Moses, because he had followers who will already started to eject his theory. So, I guess this was very personal for him. autobiographical, Moses is our father-figure at the end of the day, there is this deep-seated need, whether it’s Oedipal, and we want to kill our father or we want to distance ourselves from our parents and stand on our feet. This is as basic and as primal as it gets. And it’s all here in this this parsha that is dedicated to finding out how do we purify ourselves from the pull, the threat of death.

Adam Mintz  29:58

I think that’s great; I think Murder in the Desert. I think the idea of terminating I think connecting it to Freud. There’s a lot of, there’s a lot of food for thought here. And thank you, Geoffrey for these for these topics for these ideas. I wish everybody a Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem. I look forward to being back next week in New York back to our regular scheduled time at 8pm. New York Time Eastern Daylight Time, New York time and Shabbat Shalom to everybody and thank you, Geoffrey.

Geoffrey Stern  30:25

Shabbat Shalom, Nesia Tova, enjoy!

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/417920

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Milk and Money

parshat korach, numbers 16-18

Join Geoffey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on June 30th 2022 on Clubhouse as we take a fresh look at Korach’s rebellion. Dathan and Abiram refer to Egypt as a Land Flowing with Milk and Honey and defy Moses even were he to offer fields and vineyards in a land flowing with milk & honey. What does the Biblical “Flowing with Milk & Honey” mean?

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/416706

Transcript:

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 8pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we we take a fresh look at Korach’s rebellion. Dathan and Abiram, Korach’s sons refer to Egypt as a Land Flowing with Milk and Honey and defy Moses even were he to offer fields and vineyards in a land flowing with milk & honey. What does the Biblical “Flowing with Milk & Honey” mean? Join us today’s episode: Milk and Money

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Well, welcome. You know, every week I try to figure out what am I going to talk about that we didn’t talk about last year. And last year, we talked about, the Midrash that said that cholera and all of the 250 Levites, showed up in a Talit She’kulo Techelet, in a garment that was all blue. And this year, I read the text afresh without any Midrashim, and I discovered, as you could tell in the intro, that there was something I had never noticed before. And it was a reference to what everybody knows is a namesake of the Land of Israel, “a land of milk and honey”. So we are in Numbers 16 and Korach obviously comes in front of Moses, and he started to rebellion. And the punchline of his rebellion is You have gone too far. רַב־לָכֶם֒. And he says, when did you raise yourselves above God’s congregation, מַדּ֥וּעַ תִּֽתְנַשְּׂא֖וּ עַל־קְהַ֥ל ה’ and Moses fell on his face. And Moses made a test that everybody should gather the next day with pans of incense. And whoever’s offering would be accepted, that would prove that God was on their side. And then we get to verse 12. And it says Moses sent for Moses sent for Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab. But they said, We will not come. So Moses asked for these guys to come and they wouldn’t come and the said as follows. Is it not enough that you brought us from a land flowing with milk and honey, to have us die in the wilderness, that you would also lord it over to us? Even even if you had brought us to a land flowing with milk and honey, and even if you had given us possession of fields and vineyards should you gouge out the eyes of those involved? We will not come.  So had you ever noticed this? I’m sure you had. But what do you make of the textual argument? Number one, I had never realized that the land of Egypt that you know we always refer to as the fleshpots of Egypt, where you could have watermelon and all of this stuff that it was referred to as a land flowing with milk and honey. And I never heard this argument where, it almost sounds like the lady does protest too much. When somebody says even if you offer me this, I will come you kind of get a sense of what bothers them. And they said even if you were to give us fields and vineyards and gouge out our eyes, we wouldn’t come. What do you make of all this?

Adam Mintz  04:11

Yeah, so that’s kind of funny. You know, when you rebel against somebody, sometimes the arguments aren’t logical. It’s interesting that you mentioned last year, how the rabbi’s try to make Korach’s argument very logical, you know, he says, You know, does, does a garment that’s all blue need tzitzit that are blue. That’s a house that’s fulfilled with Jewish books need a mezuzah? That’s very logical. But actually, if you look at the text, the text is the opposite. The argument that they make is not really very logical, because the argument that they make is really that, even if you would have given us good things, we still wouldn’t have come and you know what, that’s a lie. That’s just a lie. It’s not true. They want good things. What they don’t want is they don’t want Moses telling them what to do. So I think it’s interesting just to play the text against the rabbinic interpretation.

Geoffrey Stern  05:17

So I totally agree with you. But I literally am stepping back and I am just listening to what they say. And you know, I kind of joked and said, maybe the lady protest too much Me thinks from Shakespeare. But if you remember back when Abraham wanted to buy a burial place for his wife, Sarah, and he’s talking to a Hittite Prince called Ephron. And Ephron says, you know, take it for free, we want to give it to you. And Abraham’s constantly says, No, I want to buy it, I want to buy it. So Ephron finally says, My Lord listen to me a piece of land worth 400 shekels of silver, what’s that between me and you? And of course, that was a hefty sub, not a bargain. And Abraham settled for that amount. And I really think that the text in a literary fashion and historic fashion, is doing the same thing with Dathan and Aviram. And when they say, let’s forget about the reference to milk and honey, but when they say, even if you had given us possessions of fields and vineyards, we would not come. I learned from that, that that’s what’s bothering them. And of course, we’ve touched upon this many times on the podcast, that what makes the tribe of Levi and the Kohanim subset unique is that they did not have fields and vineyards, their portion was God’s. And I think that once you look at the argument from that perspective, and then you go back and even read רַב־לָכֶם֒ maybe that’s their arguments, they are protesting that Moses and Aaron made this ridiculous decision, in their mind, to forego the possession of fields and vineyards. And they’ve taken on too much. And they are holier than thou. And these guys want to have fields like everybody else. I’ve not seen anybody give this explanation. But what do you think of it? Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  07:36

I liked that explanation. Let’s go one step at a time. Who were they rebelling against? Are they rebelling against Moses or rebelling against Aaron, or rebelling against the whole system? I think there are three options.

Geoffrey Stern  07:51

Well, I mean, I think even if you say that we’re building against the whole system, since Aaron and Moses and God are part of the system, they’re rebelling against the whole shebang.

Adam Mintz  08:05

Right. I’m in agreement with you. I think that they’re rebelling against the whole shebang.

Geoffrey Stern  08:12

And I think for us moderns and even not so moderns even those under the influence of Greek democracy it’s very easy to say רַב־לָכֶם֒, you’ve taken too much, which is you have special rights and privileges and we should have that too. And of course for a Levi to make that argument it’s not as strong as an argument as with a Yisrael making it for a Levi saying to a Cohen you’re taking too much …. correct me if I’m wrong… yes, for Cohen has certain obligations and also privileges that outrank a LEVI So even if a Levi is eating food that is holy in sacrifice to him, he might take off Terumah …  a 10th and give it to the Cohen, but ultimately, he’s part of the same system so it’s kind of tenuous for a Levi to argue to a Cohen you know, why are you is so exclusive. I want to have all the privileges you have but God forbid I will be a Pushut Yisrael, a simple Israelite

Adam Mintz  09:21

Well, that’s that’s what’s interesting. They really want they want Aaron’s position, or Korach wants Aaron’s position. It’s almost as if he says Moshe, it’s okay. Moshe got when Moshe got but why did they why did they get two in the family? That’s not fair. See, what I’m really arguing is the nepotism comes in Aaron, not in Moshe. That’s my argument. Moshe is chosen by God. That goes back to the burning bush Aaron It sounds like maybe he’s chosen by Moses. And that’s not fair because Aaron’s his brother, I’m just raising that as an option.

Geoffrey Stern  10:09

Okay, so now I continue leading the posture, and for the rest of chapter 16 that we started with. And so the whole of chapter 17, it goes into what happens. So just to review quickly, the earth opens up, and the earth swallows, Korach, and his 250 co-rebels. And then God is still angry and says enough already with these people, and a plague begins. And now we’re getting hundreds and 1000s of other Israelites who are guilt by association… and then we get, and this blew me away to Numbers 18. And starting with Numbers 18: 8, it says God spoke further to Aaron. And he starts delineating exactly what privileges the tribe of Aaron gets. In verse 9, he says, this shall be used from the Most Holy sacrifices, the offerings by fire, every such offering that they render to me as most totally sacrifices, namely, every meal offering sin offering guilt offering of their shall belong, he says זֶֽה־יִהְיֶ֥ה לְךָ֛ מִקֹּ֥דֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁ֖ים. Same, basically, he’s saying, all of those things that I promised you, you still get. And then he goes on in 11. And he goes, This too shall be us the gift to offerings, the elevation offerings I gave to you and your wives, your sons into the daughters that are with you, as a due for all time, every one of your household. And then it continues in verse 13, the first fruits the Bikurim of everything in their land that they bring to God shall be yours, every one of your household who is pure may eat. And he goes on and he says, their meat shall be yours, it shall be yours, like the breast of elevation, so forth and so on. And it shall be an everlasting covenant of salt before God for you and for your offspring. And then he goes on to say in verse 20, and God said to Aaron, you shall, however, have no territorial share among them, while own any portion in their midst. I am your portion, and your share among the Israelites, and to the Levites. I hereby give all the types in Israel as their share in return for the services they perform the services of the tent of meeting. And finally, in verse 23, he says, but they shall have no territorial share among the Israelites לֹ֥א יִנְחֲל֖וּ נַחֲלָֽה. So I’m reading this from the context of this throwaway comment that that Datan and Aviram said, we’re even if you were to give us land, even if you were to give us vineyards, we wouldn’t come. And I interpret that to be the crux of their their complaint. And here at the end, the parsha ends with a formal delineation not only of what they have, but that they have no territory. To me. It’s a complete literary unit and it absolutely bakes the whole argument from beginning to end.

Adam Mintz  13:42

Yeah, that’s interesting. So what do you make of it? I like that. What do you make of that? So what is that? What happens to the argument?

Geoffrey Stern  13:51

So it seems to me that the argument is basically one of crass materialism that the Levites and Korach are saying you gave away too much, you were too holy. We also want territory, we also want vineyards, what have you done to us? And God Moses, Aaron rejects their claim. And we learned about the whole thing, as we will find out later on. There is a tradition that Datan and Aviram survived. We’ll get to that later. But for now, after all of that is done. This is the formal legislation about this amazing concept that we talked about for many times. Where in Egypt. The priests were the gods. The priests were the ultimate power. They had material power. They were the ones that Joseph didn’t take taxes from them. They had the honey; they had the milk. And they owned the afterlife, which is ultimately the final arbiter of power, especially if you look at the Catholic Church where it’s all about getting into the pearly gates. And here, the revolution of our people in the desert at Sinai was it took them from them, Moses and Aaron gave it freely. And Korach is giving one final rebellion against that. And here we have it resolved. So what do you take of my argument, Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  15:38

I think you say I think you argument is interesting. First of all, the rebellion, let’s kind of take a step back. I like your argument a lot.  The rebellion, so I raised the question whether the rebellion was against Moshe, or the rebellions against Aaron. My next question is, rebellions always reflect a weakness in the leadership? You only have a rebellion when the leader is weak? How does your argument relate to that? Are Moses and Aaron weak? And is that what Korach and Dotan and Aviram  are pushing they do they see a weakness? Do they see a problem? What do you think?

Geoffrey Stern  16:23

Look, I’m going to cut it short, because I want to hear from Nachum. But I think whenever you have a revolutionary movement, ultimately, you get to a point where there’s a falling out. And the inner group breaks apart, whether it’s a Trotsky and a Lenin. And I think this is a revolutionary idea. I think the weakness of the idea is how radical it is. And I think that Korach is showing us ….. that’s the importance of cola. He is the straw dummy, who shows us just how radical a move it was, by God, by the Toba, by by Moses and Aaron. Nachum, welcome to the Bimah!

Neil (Nachum) Twersky  17:09

So as I’m saying, I don’t totally agree with your interpretation, Geoffrey. I feel that really Korach was trying to usurp first the power of Moshe and that he had the right as, if you will interpreter of Humash  its legacy and Jewish decisior. And therefore, the reason I raised the question of two miracles, is the second rebellion was really against the priesthood. And that, that was relegated to Aaron, in the level of that he convened, which was spirituality. Hence, the first miracle is what happened. You know, the earth swallows up a bunch of people then he was spared because Moses intervened the second miracle, which you didn’t relate to, when you’re going through your verses comes afterwards. It’s when God commands that they set up their staffs and see what happens. And the only staff that blossoms is Aaron. That’s a symbol that his staff blossom, convincing people that the rebellion against Him was one of spirituality. In fact, Rav Aaron Soloveitchik, interpreted that the reason that his staff was made of shaked, I’m not sure what shaked is….

Geoffrey Stern  18:43

is it not an almond. Is it an almond?

Neil (Nachum) Twersky  18:48

Right, but etymologically, supposably, at least according to Rav Aahron Soleveichik an almond anyplace it’s planted, it can be blossom. So in any event, there are two miracles. There are two rebellions, … not that they weren’t against both of them, but one against Moshe, because of his interpretation of Torah was a threat to his leadership. And the second one against the spiritual leadership of Aaron, hence his staff blossomed, maybe, indicating spirituality can grow any place.

Adam Mintz  19:36

So let’s go back Geoffrey to your interpretation. So at the crux of my interpretation, and I said it’s all about the money. I want, I went into the rabbinic texts. And you know, we don’t know a lot about Korach. One of the rabbinic texts in the Talmud, Pesachim 119a says that he was one of the richest men of all times. So the rabbi’s took it upon themselves to say, you know, he actually worked for Joseph. And he found out where the riches….. , it’s kind of reads like Raiders of the Lost Ark, you know that there were these riches that were brought down from Canaan into Egypt. And they came back to Israel in Solomon’s time we know from my talk with the Reverend how they went to Kush. And they went to so Korach is targeted as a very rich person. And you know, the other rich person that disappears by the rabbinic tradition at this time, is our old friend Nachshon. Who the legend has it also was the only one disappears.  He should have been part of the spies last week and he wasn’t

Geoffrey Stern  20:56

Correct. And the Rabbi’s, you know, they only have good things to say about him. But one thing that they say that’s not so good, is that when Nachshon brought his offering, it says he bought his offering on the first day and the rabbi’s interpret this to mean that whereas the other nesi’im, the princes got the offering from their tribe Nachshon was rich, and he got his own, he had his own money. So I think one of the takeaways even that made it to the rabbinic tradition is that again, feeding into what I was saying that Korach was actually interested in having…. he didn’t want the whole Cohen thing. He didn’t want the whole Levi thing. He wanted a possession. He wanted a nachla in the land. And it’s all about crass capitalism. And I just wonder, do you feel that there was a thread in rabbinic tradition that had an issue with wealth? I mean, we certainly see plenty of instances where there were certain great scholars who were very wealthy and all that,

Adam Mintz  22:09

In the Torah is very important. Nobody is wealthy in the Torah. Avraham as a lot of flocks, and actually it gets him in trouble. Because with Lot he has a problem, because they’re both wealthy and they fight with one another. Wealth is not a value in the Torah.

Geoffrey Stern  22:29

So certainly, in the beginning, I stayed away from the rabbinic interpretations. And I said, Let’s just read the text. And I gave an interpretation. And now looking at the rabbinic there is a little bit of a reference to that, that he was a wealthy man looking out for his vested interests. So I think that’s one thing. And I think, in a sense, his interpretation of a land flowing with milk and honey, he compared the land of Egypt and the land of Israel. Talking about what you were saying Nachum about the spiritual aspect, he didn’t see the spiritual aspect. He saw Egypt as a rich country, as crass as it was, how it had slaves and how it took advantage of people… No he looked back with great nostalgia and when he said, If you promise me the land of Canaan is a land flowing with milk and honey, he saw it as a parallel, and he wanted a piece of it. So so that’s how I see it. And that’s, I think, the first interpretation that we get of a land flowing with milk and honey, and for the remaining time,  I thought we would talk about what actually a land flowing with milk and honey has been taken to mean. And I think, you know, the most obvious is, it’s a sign of fertility. If you look at Exodus 3: 8, where God says, I have come down to rescue them from the Egyptians and to bring them out of that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey, the region of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. This concept of fertility, this concept of flowing which almost has a sensual aspect to it, I mean, if you think of the word Zav, normally when we come across the words of it has to do with almost with, with issues and bodily functions and sensuality and sex. So I think that the way that we take it is one that’s very central if you look at the Song of Songs 4: 11 It says Sweetness drops From your lips, O bride; Honey and milk Are under your tongue; And the scent of your robes Is like the scent of Lebanon. So I think that in our tradition, not in Korach’s tradition, we saw a land oozing, flowing with milk and honey as something that was set aside and was a differentiator from a land of Egypt. And I think that’s the most basic interpretation. What does land flowing with milk and honey mean to you?

Adam Mintz  25:31

So, though it’s different than Egypt, even though Egypt was clearly a very prosperous land, milk and honey, Egypt is never described as milk and honey, but Egypt, actually, the Nile River is what makes Egypt successful, isn’t that right? Everything’s around the Nile. Pharaohs around the Nile. He’s always at the Nile. It’s not milk and honey, it’s water, it’s River. It’s something like that. But milk and honey represents a flowing, You say flowing like Zab is sensual or sexual. I think flowing is continuous.

Geoffrey Stern  26:21

And what I should have emphasized when I said sexual, I was getting back to fertility, it’s very fertile.

Adam Mintz  26:28

I think that’s part of it. When you flow, it continues to go when the river flows, it continues to go.

Geoffrey Stern  26:37

And the flipside of fertility is infertility. So whereas the Nile was dependable, and didn’t give rise to a nation that prayed for rain, and was dependent on the heavens and the spiritual, I think that again, is part of what makes milk and honey so important and the flow. If you take milk to mean cow’s milk or goat’s milk, and if you take honey, and we’re going to get into whether it’s bees honey, or honey, from dates, fruit juice, you could also maybe say that, it’s a lamb that combines agriculture, with herding

Adam Mintz  27:23

Oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t think of that. You could explain it that way that it covers both.

Geoffrey Stern  27:30

So let’s talk about a little bit about honey devash, which I think most people on the street if you would ask them, they would say, oh, It’s bee’s honey, right. So as fascinating as it may seem, we need to go to the Talmud to confirm that bee’s honey is kosher. Because there is a principle that what emerges from a non kosher animal is non kosher. And that is in Bekorot 5b.  And the Gemora in Bekorot 5b and the Gomorrah in 7b raises the question, and it says, what do the sages say about honey of bees?  Is it permitted? And they give two reasons that it’s, it’s permitted. One is because they bring the nectar from the flowers into their body, but they do not excrete it from their body. So the first is that all the work of the bees are worker bees, so they process the nectar. And so it you’re not eating something that comes from a bee. And then Rav Sheshet stated his answer in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Ya’akov, who says that with regard to honey, the Merciful One permits it as an exception to the principle that a substance that emerges from a non-kosher animal is non-kosher. who said that actually, we have a special verse. The verse says In Leviticus, yes, these may you eat of all winged creatures. Why does it say these, and the rabbi’s say you may not eat a non kosher winged creature, but you may eat that which is non kosher when creature discharges. And what is that? That is the honey of bees. So it’s fascinating. If you think about it, especially if you think of Rosh Hashan or you think of when a child starts to study Torah that they lick each word covered with honey, that bee honey is kosher, by way of either some biological knowledge on the part of the rabbi’s or by a special verse that permits us to eat it. And I think that is kind of fascinating.

Adam Mintz  29:32

That is absolutely fascinating. That’s so interesting. Well, first of all, it’s interesting, just the discussion about bee honey, and the fact that something that comes from a non-kosher animal is not kosher. Why bee honey is an exception. That itself is fascinating, right? Just the Talmudic discussion is fascinating.  And I think it’s not the subject matter of today’s talk… But if you want to talk about a woman’s right to her body what most of Talmudic law states is what is in the womb of a female animal or person is part and parcel of that female mother. And if she’s tameh she’s tameh… if a cow is shechted, slaughtered with an embryo inside, the embryo doesn’t need to be slaughtered. We have a very strong tradition of identifying what’s inside of a mother, with the mother, just as an aside. But in any case, that’s honey. And I think that it’s fascinating to think that something as we associate so strongly with our religion, is nonetheless something that needs to be debated. And it’s true if you if you do a Google search about vegans, vegans are debate whether they can eat honey, That’s correct. There are some vegans who do eat honey and some vegans don’t eat honey and that’s basically the two opinions in the Gomora.

Geoffrey Stern  31:03

So the other opinion is that Devash is a from a date. And in Deuteronomy, for instance, when it lists the famous Shiva minim, the seven species, the last one is “and honey”, and it certainly doesn’t mean bee’s honey.

Adam Mintz  31:20

Correct… that’s definitely date honey.

Geoffrey Stern  31:22

 So if that’s the case, then certainly we have something about agriculture and the milk that I think is very nice.

Adam Mintz  31:32

,And I think we just we can finish off with Nachum’s point, the fact that the staff blossomed, also has to do with agriculture.

Geoffrey Stern  31:43

Absolutely.

Adam Mintz  31:44

I think your point is, right, and the fact that the symbol, you know, that that, you know, that that Moses and Aaron were right, was the fact that the that the staff blossomed, that’s part of this whole thing.  So the way that I want to finish, and I told you in the pre story I was going to mention this is there is a tradition that the two sons of Korah actually survived. And there’s also a tradition that there’s a special Psalm that we say, every day, and on the psalm of Monday, which in the creation, narrative, God does not say “it is good”. We all know on Tuesday, he says, Pa’amiyim ki tov, on Monday, he doesn’t say ki Tov once, because that’s when God made a division. And he made a division between heaven and earth. And Korach is associated with trying to make a division. And on Monday, we say Psalm 48, which is one of eight I believe, Psalms that are in the name of l’Bnai Korach the children of Korach, who the tradition feels somehow are in a unique position from down in that pit that was swallowed by the earth, to sing the praise of God and try to bring the parts back together. And I think the takeaway from that, and the fact that we have honey from a bee who might not be all together kosher is that as Shlomo Carlebach said, “you never know”. You never know where purity can come from. And that at the end of the day, is this sweetness that comes out of a very bitter story of Korach.  Fantastic. I love the end. Shabbat shalom, everybody. Next week, I’ll be coming to you from Jerusalem. We’re going to do it at 4pm New York Time 11pm Israel time, can’t wait to speak to you from Jerusalem. Shabbat shalom. Enjoy the Parsha be well.

Geoffrey Stern  33:35

 Shabbat Shalom to everybody have a great one.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/416706

Listen to last week’s episode: Make Challah

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Make Challah

parshat shelach, Numbers 15

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on June 23rd 2022 on Clubhouse as we ignore the headline story of the nearsighted spies and leave the Sabbath Gatherer of sticks to his fate. We even pass up a chance to enjoy the blue indigo of the tzitzit. Instead we focus on the lowly loaf of challah and explore how it defined and saved the Jews.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/415522

Transcript:

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 8pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we discuss parshat Shelach and we ignore the headline story of the spies who lacked vision. We overcome the urge to defend the מְקֹשֵׁ֣שׁ עֵצִ֑ים the gatherer of sticks on Shabbat.  We even pass up a chance to enjoy the blue indigo of the tzitzit. Instead, we focus on the lowly loaf of challah and explore how it saved the Jews. So join us as we Make Challah!

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Well, welcome. As I said at the introduction, I was looking through the parsha. And it brought back a lot of memories. But we’ve already discussed the spies last year, and we can wait to discuss the guy who gathered sticks on Shabbat and was stoned. I said to myself, let’s discuss Challah and sure enough, hidden in the parsha is the story, the origin of the concept and the ritual of Challah. But again, nothing is in a vacuum. And it does follow the story of the spies. And it follows I would say the worst punishment that the Jewish people ever got. It was a sin greater than the Egel, The Golden Calf and a whole generation was to die in exile, to die in the desert. And then after that story, it says in Numbers 15: 2 peak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you to settle in, כִּ֣י תָבֹ֗אוּ אֶל־אֶ֙רֶץ֙ and Rashi says the reason why we’re going to study two laws that relate to going into the land is God brought them good tidings that they would enter the land. He wanted to sweeten up the worst day of their life. And he says there will be a time where you will go into the land. And the first law that he gave them had to do with a sacrifice that you bring when you make a vow. But the second law starts as follows. And it’s numbers 15: 17 And it says God spoke to Moses saying speak to the Israelite people and say to them, when you enter the land to which I am taking you. Now it doesn’t say כִּ֣י תָבֹ֗אוּ אֶל־אֶ֙רֶץ֙ it says בְּבֹֽאֲכֶם֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ When you come into the land, and you eat the bread of the land מִלֶּ֣חֶם הָאָ֑רֶץ, you shall set aside as a gift to God. As the first yield of your baking you shall set aside a loaf as a gift חַלָּ֖ה תָּרִ֣ימוּ, you shall set it aside as a gift like the gift from the threshing floor. You shall make a gift to God from the first yield of your baking throughout the ages. And similar to the first Rashi that we quoted here to Rashi is focused on the fact that this law is associated with coming into the land. But he says it uses a different word than anywhere in the Bible. It doesn’t say when you come כִּ֣י תָבֹ֗אוּ אֶל־אֶ֙רֶץ֙ it says בְּבֹֽאֲכֶם֙ אֶל־הָאָ֔רֶץ This statement about their “entering” into the land is expressed differently from all other statements about their “entering” made in the Torah, and he explains that everywhere else. It has the implication that you have to complete the entree, you have to complete the taking over the full possession the ירושה of the land, but this law has to do when you just come in. He says in this case however it is stated בבאכם and your coming, implying that as soon as they entered it they ate of its bread, they became subject to the law of Challah so already I feel a little bit fresh. I feel like “epis” there’s a taste of Challah in my mouth. What about you Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  04:42

i love it. I mean, you made a great point and that is you know it’s so it’s so psychological of the Torah that just at the lowest point where the Jews of the desert are told to dig in a wanderer for 40 years. The next thing God says to them, but don’t worry, I’m gonna give you two laws relating to the land of Israel, you’re gonna make it right, just when you’re frustrated, and you think you’re never gonna make it God promises, you’re gonna make it. Isn’t that nice?

Geoffrey Stern  05:10

I think it is. And I think if one of the questions that we discussed in the pregame was this mystery, how did Challah become so iconic? How did it become so associated with the Jewish people and with a meal and with Shabbat? I think we’re starting to feel the taste already. Here. It was, it was something to savor, after the most bitter, bitter day of their life, and you already have that. But I think it is a good question. I mean, if you think of the icons and the iconology, of the Jewish people, you know, there’s the Menorah. That’s, that’s very late. Start with David, you know, very late. And Challah is maybe that along with two candles, and you know, both of those associated with women, so we can talk about that a little bit later. But certainly in terms of what represents, what unites us, what brings us together. I think Challah is right up there. And here it is buried in this innocuous law. So what is the law of Challah?

Adam Mintz  06:18

So the law of Challah and it’s still practiced today, that when you bake bread, you take off a little piece of that bread. What’s the significance? I think the significance is it even a thing as basic as bread, that you need to remember that all of our blessings come from God? I think that’s really a very good point. And a very important point.

Geoffrey Stern  06:52

It is, there’s no question about it. If you had to think of all the sacrifices of all of the observances that we have in the temple, the Mishkan, the tabernacle, and finally, the temple. This is probably the only one and I’ll go even further, even laws that have to do with beautiful law has to do with the Land of Israel, where you have to leave the corner of the field, Peah, Leket, if you drop a few straws, you can’t pick them up, you have to leave them for the poor. But of all those laws, whether we’re in Israel or outside of Israel, it seems that this one ritual of taking out that little piece has survived. And I think that is … it’s amazing to me, and maybe it comes down to this בבאכם this entry into the land. It’s not a status. It’s not a state of being. But it’s this little moment that we went in, and we might have gone out and we might have not been fully there and we might not have been there forever. But it does seem from all the stuff in the temple. This is it. This is the one thing that’s universally celebrated. Am I wrong?

Adam Mintz  08:10

No, I think you’re right. The other interesting thing here is that it says תָּרִ֥ימוּ תְרוּמָ֖ה לַה. It doesn’t seem to say that it goes to the Cohen.  It seems to be that it’s an offering to God, you know, most of the offerings are given to the Cohen or to the Levi. But here we have an offering that’s given directly to God. That also seems to be interesting to me.

Geoffrey Stern  08:35

So I’m looking at the verses now. We know the outcome was that it was given to the Kohanim….

Adam Mintz  08:48

I know but look at the verses וְהָיָ֕ה בַּאֲכׇלְכֶ֖ם מִלֶּ֣חֶם הָאָ֑רֶץ תָּרִ֥ימוּ תְרוּמָ֖ה לַה’׃ (כ) רֵאשִׁית֙ עֲרִסֹ֣תֵכֶ֔ם חַלָּ֖ה תָּרִ֣ימוּ תְרוּמָ֑ה כִּתְרוּמַ֣ת גֹּ֔רֶן כֵּ֖ן תָּרִ֥ימוּ אֹתָֽהּ׃  מֵרֵאשִׁית֙ עֲרִסֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם תִּתְּנ֥וּ לַה’ תְּרוּמָ֑ה לְדֹרֹ֖תֵיכֶֽם׃  Isn’t that interesting?

Geoffrey Stern  09:13

It’s it’s absolutely. It’s interesting…  by itself it’s interesting and the fact that it was totally identified that you gave it to the Kohanim. And you know, I think the best parallel or analog to how this system work was. If you look at Buddhist monks who live off, people giving them food offerings. The Kohanim we’ve said this before I had no land inheritance, they were separated from agriculture. And they literally lived off of these types offerings, givings and sharings. And one of the sources that I bought is a source called Panini halacha. And it says that a donation of Challah to the Cohen, and the Cohen and his family can prepare from it breads and cakes and eat in purity, in order to fulfill their spiritual mission to teach Torah to Israel.  כדי שיוכלו למלא את שליחותם הרוחנית ללמד תורה לישראל So it was also this aspect of elevating our lives that we had a priestly class and maybe later on we’ll talk about a class of scholars that literally would come to the table and be given these handouts these, the dough in order to make themselves bread and cakes.

Adam Mintz  10:54

So the Torah says you give it to God, practically speaking, you give it to the Cohen. This is one of those gifts that you give to the Cohen, because the Cohen as we know didn’t have any land. So they needed these gifts. And you remember, see, we sometimes forget this. Today, we live in America, you know, you’re not supposed to eat too much bread, bread, …  breads bad for you bread, you know, makes you gain weight. So we don’t eat much bread. But if you go to Europe, every meal is around bread. And of course, in the old days when they didn’t have very much to eat, everything was around bread. Right? They didn’t have silverware, because there was like, you know, like the hummus, they used to have bread that used to, you know, slurp it up with the pita. So bread is the main staple. So it’s not surprising that this is the gift that’s given to the Cohen.

Geoffrey Stern  11:57

So I have to say, and I think we’re going to jump between what Challah means to us today and what it means to the Jewish people, and what it meant back then. And when I read this about giving the holler to the kohanim, who were the educators, I thought of when I was a student at the Yeshiva and I studied at two Yeshivot that this happened to me at where I was a Shabbos Bachor. And that meant that on every Shabbat I would go to a family who lived in the neighborhood and they would feed me and I’d bring a little Devar Torah with myself not to sing for my supper, but to maybe give Torah for my supper. And this is I don’t know if you know a guy named Ivan Berkowitz.  I was in Torah Vodaas in Flatbush and I went to his and his wife’s house in Ocean Parkway, where I was their Shabbos Bachor. And then when I was in the Yeshiva in Long Beach, I actually had a relative who lived there (Ed and Judy Steinberg). And I did a Google search for Shabbos Bachor and I couldn’t believe that I couldn’t find anything. And I really spent a little bit of time. So the one thing I did find, and it’s in the Sefaria notes, is I looked up the word Bachor. And there’s a language dictionary. And it gives an example “we hosted a 15 year old Bachor for Shabbos”.

Adam Mintz  13:31

So they had it .. not exact words…

Geoffrey Stern  13:35

And then the other thing that I did is I remember to in the end told the movie, how Yentl was eating at the house of the girl that her Avigdor had had given up. And sure enough, I have the text there. It was during the week, it wasn’t even Shabbat. But the custom of having a scholar, come to your table and break bread goes back, I think all the way to this. And imagine how enriching it is for the family, and how enriching in another way it is for the scholar. It’s just a beautiful custom that I think still exists in the Hasidic and Orthodox world, but probably doesn’t exist as much as it should in our worlds.

Adam Mintz  14:33

In Eastern Europe before the Second World War. So you know, the Yeshiva … you talked about Torah Vodaas, you talked about Long Beach. The origins of the yeshiva go back just around 200 years, around the year 1810 or so. They had the first yeshiva in a place called Vologen in Lithuania. And what made that yeshiva special is that it was the first time they had a Yeshiva, where boys came from out of town. It used to be this used to learn in the local place, and you went home every night. But Rabbi Haim Velozener introduced the idea of boys coming from out of town. And they had exactly what you said a Shabbos Bachor, and that you used to go to people’s homes for Shabbos. And people used to take care of you. Sometimes not only Shabbos, but during the week, they didn’t have dormitories, they didn’t have public kitchens, you went to their house.

Geoffrey Stern  15:29

My guess is more people know about the shabbos goy than people know about the Shabbos Bachor. And I think they’re both two fascinating institutions. Where you ever a Shabbos Bachor?

Adam Mintz  15:43

I come from Washington DC. And I both went to high school in New York, Rabbi Riskin’s High School. And then Yeshiva University. And I used to go to people’s houses for Shabbos. Because the most depressing thing was not having a Shabbos invitation and having to stay in the dormitory. So you always got an invitation. And I was the Shabbos Bachor.

Geoffrey Stern  16:05

So So I do think it’s amazing. And of course, I would, I would be remiss if I left out the third element, which is the poor people, you would leave the synagogue on a Friday night. And you might argue over who gets to bring the poor person home. But there certainly was this aspect of sharing the meal. And I think the real definition of Challah is not the plucked up beautiful bread that we have. But the act of separating the part that is given as a gift from the part that we eat. And I think that tradition is is a fascinating one.

Adam Mintz  16:48

Yeah, that is most definitely a fascinating one. So what you really have if you want to draw a line, Geoffrey, is you’re drawing the line from the Cohen all the way to the common practice of providing for the poor for by providing for the Yeshiva Bachor, but it’s really a direct line isn’t.

Geoffrey Stern  17:07

It is a it is a direct line. And I would go even further, there’s two other lines I want to draw. You know, the custom when you hold up the two, Challas, before you make Hamotzi, it reminds us a little bit of Bikkurim of the first fruits. And I think again, as I said before, in this color is the remnant of pretty much the only remnant we have of that whole temple tradition of celebrating the first fruits and celebrating the bread. It is kind of fascinating that it talks about its dough, and it’s not the threshing floor. So you know, the threshing floor is united and connected to the land of Israel. It’s connected to an agrarian society. But the dough and this is probably part of how it survived and served us so well. That’s done in the kitchen that’s cooked. And you don’t give out the bread as much as give out the “taig” the dough to let somebody else make an ugga, make a cake or make a bread. I think that’s kind of fascinating, too.

Adam Mintz  18:17

That is actually very fascinating. I like that. Now you know that having Challah baking has become a tradition as a time of prayer. If somebody’s sick, they have a Challah baking to pray for that person who’s sick. And I always wondered about that. Where does that jump come from?

Geoffrey Stern  18:44

So before we even get there, and I think it is an interesting question. I have a little bit of an insight of the answer. But the other part of Challah is become associated with women. And you could easily say well, because it’s dough because it’s cooking a woman’s place is in the kitchen. But even in some of the some of the texts that I bring, it just nonchalantly says and you might think you do Challah even for a small piece of dough. No, she must remove …. it talks in the “she”. And I think that there are two pieces of Talmud, at least, that associate Challah with the three Mitzvot, the three commandments that are most associated with woman, but I might argue are most associated with the home. And again, that’s that line between the temple, the tabernacle and the home …. the traveling home that belongs in each house and I think that there’s no question that it’s the Rechem…  the womb that gives birth and possibly, maybe the womb is also connected to healing, maybe that has something to do with it. Or birth, I’m gonna quote something in a second that just blew me away. But what do you think of that connection?

Adam Mintz  20:14

That’s an interesting connection. You know, also when someone is sick, we use their mother’s name. Somehow our prayer for sick people is connected to women, to mothers.

Geoffrey Stern  20:28

So when I look for sources, and this week, I couldn’t find a whole lot on Challah in the old texts in the Midrash in the Talmud, besides the ones I’ve quoted, I look everywhere. And I happen to look at [Marcus] Jastrow, this amazing scholar who was I believe, at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who wrote a dictionary of Aramaic and of the Talmud that when you study in a traditional yeshiva, you keep hidden under your Shtender, because he wasn’t in the Orthodox world, and you consult it. And in his listing for her lab, he always brings examples of how it’s used. And he brings the following example from Bereshit Rabba it says, I. THEN THE LORD GOD FORMED MAN, etc (II, 7). The king by justice establisheth the land, but a man of gifts (terumoth) overthroweth it (Prov. XXIX, 4). He’s quoting proverbs. The king refers to the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He; By justice establisheth the land’ means that He created the world on the basis of justice, as it is written: In the beginning Elohim (E.V. ‘God of Justice’) created (Gen. I, I); But the man of gifts overthroweth it refers to Adam,  who was the hallah, the completion of the world, while hallah is designated terumah, as it is written, Of the first of your dough ye shall set apart hallah (E.V. a cake’) for a gift terumah (Num. xv, 2o). quoting our verse   R. Jose b. Kezarta said: Like a woman who mixes her dough with water and separates hallah from the very centre, even so, at first, There went up a mist from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground, and then THE LORD GOD FORMED MAN OF THE DUST OF THE GROUND. Now it doesn’t say just the lord of justice, but the Lord God of mercy formed man of the dust of the earth. So here is a metaphor of God creating man out of the Butz …. the mud out of the dough of the primal material. And it compares God to the woman who is making the Challah. And so you might take away that it’s took out the best and that was man, what I take away is that woman, Rechem, Rachmanut, Mercy is compared to God. And that in a sense, it is a reenacting of the God of creation, the God of mercy, who created us that woman does when she makes the Challah, maybe that relates to why the Challah is so important in terms of sickness and health.

Adam Mintz  23:38

That’s nice. I mean, I think that’s a nice Midrashic kind of explanation, you know, some of these cultural things, you know, there’s no real explanation. It might just be that someone in a community once had this idea that when people are sick, let the women get together and let them bake Challah. So it’s hard to know, either, I should just explain that to this very day. We still take Challah, when Sharon bakes Challah, she takes a little piece of the dough. She wraps it up in aluminum foil, as she puts it in the toaster oven. And, you know, it burns there, you know, kind of symbolically that’s the Challah that she takes. And that’s been practice basically for 3000 years.

Geoffrey Stern  24:27

And when I was reading the sources, it made a distinction between how much dough you were baking. Does she make that distinction?

Adam Mintz  24:35

Yes, there is absolutely true. It’s only if you bake a certain amount. She makes a lot of Challahs at once. So she doesn’t have to do it every week. She would know in a second. It has to do with how much flour you have? Only a certain amount of flour Do you start taking Challah.

Geoffrey Stern  24:55

But again, it just seems to me it’s kind of you know, it’s all rabbinic, that’s what the texts start to say right from the get go. When it says when you come into the land, they say, Well, you know, if we’re not in the land, it’s only rabbinic and, and all of these things, to me it’s rabbinic is another way of saying it was a mitzvah made to travel. It was a mitzvah on the go a mitzvah that developed over time, but it just seems to me that it is so associated with community. And maybe that’s has a little bit to do with the fact that it has to have a little oomph to it, it’s not just making a roll, but you’re making for a community or for a larger audience. But it just kind of symbolizes to me, the table, and, and the home. And one of the things that I started thinking about is that, in Jewish law, there are actually law upon law upon law about how you have to act as a guest in someone’s house.  I bought the paragraphs in the Shulchan Aruch, and it starts by saying, and there were 22 paragraphs here, and it’s in the Orach Chayim. And, you know, it talks about two individuals who are eating out of the same plate, if one pauses to take a drink his friend should also pause until he is finished. It says you should not be stingy, when it comes to food. It says don’t look at someone eating and not at his portion in order not to embarrass them. I mean, it almost reads like Emily Post’s Etiquette. And not for knights of Shining Armor,  it’s for everybody. It just seems to me that this tradition of so much focus on the table, so much focus, I mean, even the fact when we get back to the Challah is your koveah Seudah. You only have a real meal, if you have bread. It just seems to me that that’s what the Challah kind of personified, and maybe that’s why it became so universal.

Adam Mintz  27:27

I think that’s nice. I mean, I think sometimes these customs are bigger than the texts, you know, they just kind of took on a life of their own. And Challah is one of those things that took on a life of its own. It might also be Geoffrey, that the fact that Challah is so central to the Jewish week to the Jewish home, to Shabbat, it kind of elevates its importance.

Geoffrey Stern  27:51

Yeah, I mean, I think the association with Shabbat came and I do have an article in the source sheet that says that came fairly late. You know, in this article, it says it came in the 15th century Rabbi Joseph bar Moshe, and basically the association is to the manna to the mon. And on Friday, obviously, because you could not gather manna or sticks. As we learned in this week’s portion. You had two portions, you had what they call Lechem Mishneh. And as a result, the two Challos became part and parcel of the meal. But I mean, so much of what we’ve talked about tonight has nothing to do with Shabbat. But at a certain point in time, that focus definitely came to that moment at the Shabbat table. When you raise up those two Challot in thanks. And you and you make the blessing.

Adam Mintz  28:53

I think that’s right. It’s also interesting that actually in you know, in the Torah portion, it’s only five verses. It’s a very, very short little subsection, which you know, has come to mean so many things.

Geoffrey Stern  29:09

Well, it’s not only short, but it’s in a blockbuster Pasha and

Adam Mintz  29:13

right That’s correct. Yeah.

Geoffrey Stern  29:15

You have the story of the spies that overwhelms everything. But I love lashes connection, that after all those terrible things happen. You’re going to come into the land and you’re going to eat Challah.

Adam Mintz  29:31

Okay, don’t worry, it’s gonna be okay.

Geoffrey Stern  29:34

Now, one thing I’m curious if you have an insight into is in most of the literature, the focus was on Ashkenazi Jewry when it came to Harlem and you know, the idea of course was that if you go to a typical Mizrahi, Iraqi, Syrian home, it looks more like Pita there is no challah but I’m sure that they take the challah. And I think maybe it’s just a nuance or am I missing something?

Adam Mintz  29:35

No, I think you’re 100%. Right? I think that’s absolutely right. Every tradition has the tradition of Challah. It may look different, but everybody has the tradition of Challah.

Geoffrey Stern  30:25

Well, all I can say it was very refreshing me to me to pick …. maybe a topic that was not disruptive.

Adam Mintz  30:35

No…  you know, what was disruptive about it is you didn’t choose the usual topic …. that was disruptive.

Geoffrey Stern  30:44

And it was disruptive to pick five verses that normally fall through the cracks like crumbs…

Adam Mintz  30:51

I think it was great.

Geoffrey Stern  30:53

So anyway, I’d love to wish everybody a Shabbat shalom.

Adam Mintz  30:57

Shabbat Shalom, everybody should feel good. Enjoy the Parsha. We look forward to seeing you next week.

Geoffrey Stern  31:01

Enjoy the Challah and see you all next week.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/415522

Listen to last week’s episode: Joining the Tribe

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Joining the Tribe

parshat beha’alotcha, numbers 9

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on June 16th 2022. The Torah breaches the subject of a Ger (Convert alt. resident alien) celebrating the Exodus from Egypt. Jews-by-birth praise God who took “us” out of Egypt and we wonder along with Nachmanides and Maimonides whether a convert can or should consider him/herself a part of past Jewish historical experience as well as part of the Jewish People. In the process, we discover an ambivalence Judaism has to converts and we explore this ambivalence through history and up to the present.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/414358

Transcript:

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 8pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite podcast platform.  The Torah breaches the subject of a convert celebrating the Exodus from Egypt.  Jews by-birth praise God who took “us” out of Egypt but what about those whose ancestors did not share this historic experience?   Tonight, we explore an ambivalence that Judaism has to converts and we explore this ambivalence throughout history and up to the present. Join us as we explore: Joining the Tribe.

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Well, welcome. Welcome to Madlik. And if you are listening to this as a podcast, please, if you like it, give us a few stars, say something nice about it, and share it with your friends. So, the rabbi; Rabbi Adam Mintz who is with us tonight spoke at the JCC of Manhattan on Shavuot about conversion. And every other week in pre party, he he’ll say, I went to Italy like he went last week or he went here or there to officiate at a wedding. And I think he once dropped the fact that he’s converted 200 people maybe in the last year. So I dedicated myself to finding a parsha, where we could use this as an opportunity to get a little bit more of an insight into Rabbi Adam Mintz’s approach to conversion. So here we are, it’s in numbers, Beha’alotcha is the name of the Parsha. And it starts by talking about how the Israelites all had to come forward and lay their hands on the Levites we get the word smicha from this, and they basically transfer the concept of being a first-born from themselves unto the Levites. I have taken them for myself, in place of all the first issue of the womb for all the male first born of Israelites. And then it goes into keeping the Passover something that it does a lot similar to what it does about the Shabbat It’s a favorite subject. But in numbers 9: 14 It says out of the blue, as it’s discussing how you now have to keep the Passover. And when a stranger who resides with you would offer a Passover sacrifice to God, it must be offered in accordance with the rules and rights of the Passover sacrifice. There shall be one law for you, whether stranger or a citizen of the country חֻקָּ֤ה אַחַת֙. So, all the rabbis are wondering, scratching their heads. Why would one think that a convert would carry or observe the Passover in a way different from the rest of the Jews? He joins the tribe. He keeps all of the laws whether Shabbat kashrut, in the same manner as the Jews. So, Rashi says well, you might think that Passover is so important that if you convert on a Wednesday in June, you should do a Seder immediately. And therefore, this comes to tell us that no, the Convert waits to observe their first Passover when it happens in Nissan. But Ramban Nachmanides, a commentator that we’ve come across many times before, says something even more insightful, I believe, and serves as a great segue to today’s conversation. He says when we celebrate the Passover, we might think that strangers who joined us in going out from Egypt, this mixed multitude should keep the Passover, because they were also included in the miracle of the Exodus. But those who converted afterwards in the desert or in the land of Israel, we might have thought do not have to bring the Passover offering since neither they nor their ancestors were included among those who it is said he brought us out of the land of Egypt, and therefore according to Nachmanides, we need this verse to tell us that even if in your Cultural Historical Heritage, your ancestors did not literally come out of Egypt. Even if you are a convert, you should keep the Passover sacrifice, the Seder the observance in an identical fashion as the Jews, but what Nachmanides is raising and Rabbi, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this, is that there is this tension there is this dynamic there is this way of looking at a convert and saying maybe you don’t get it. Maybe you are not full in How can you say words like that God has commanded us at Sinai, when you and your predecessors were not at Sinai. How can you say all these wonders were done for us? So I do really think that Ramban raises this question of how does Judaism deal with and consider the convert? Am I right?

Adam Mintz  05:52

You are right. And it’s interesting that you talk about the ערב רב the mixed multitude. I want to tell you in the Chumash it’s not clear who the mixed multitude is. It just says that the mix multitude came out with the Jews from Egypt. And it seems to be that they were involved in the sin of the golden calf. Now, Rambam, Maimonides, in his laws of conversion, says the following. He goes through how someone converts, a woman goes to the mikvah, a man needs circumcision, and then goes to the mikvah. And he goes through all of that. And then his last law in that chapter, says the following. קשין גרים לישראל כספחת. Now ספחת that’s a great word. It’s a word that we’ve had before. One of the types of tzarat, of leprosy. They have different names for the different types of skin issues. One of those issues is what called a ספחת. And so basically converts are as bad for the Jews as leprosy, which we know is the worst, right? I mean, that’s kind of the thing you want to stay the furthest away from is lepers. And the Rambam explains, because the converts are going to cause you to sin, as we see from the ערב רב the mixed multitude, who caused the Jews to sin at the golden calf. So Rambam is clear that they’re bad. Now, there were other explanations, I’ll just tell you quickly, about what it means it’s a quote from the Talmud, קשין גרים לישראל כספחת that converts are as bad as leprosy. Another explanation is that converts are as bad as leprosy, because converts, will keep the law more strictly than Jews from birth, since they’ll keep the law more strictly than Jews from birth. It’s embarrassing, they embarrassed the Jews. And that’s why you shouldn’t have converts. Now, two explanations are exactly the opposite. Right? One is that they’re bad because they cause you to sin. The other explanation is, they’re bad because they make you look bad, completely different. Isn’t that fascinating?

Geoffrey Stern  08:28

It is fascinating. And it literally hits the nail on the head, in terms of this ambiguity. In terms of, clearly, if someone joins the fold, if you have a movement, and someone joins in, from a certain perspective, they are not natural, they have to work at it. They’re bringing in foreign elements, and so forth and so on. But on the other hand, you are there because you had no choice you are there, because you were born into it. And this person is a Jew by choice, which is a wonderful word for converts. But what it means to amplify is that they chose God. They chose Judaism, they chose this way. So, I think that just as we find in the commentators on this verse, this sense of; is it because they were in there? It identifies exactly the issue that I believe you spoke about Shavuot night, which we have this kind of dialectic and ambiguity between looking at the Convert as something that is, it shows that God’s word is growing, that the movement is growing, that one day the whole world will recognize God on the one hand, and on the other hand something that is a dilution, and how does that work out through history.

Adam Mintz  10:06

So, basically, throughout history, meaning from the time of the destruction of the Second Temple until the year 1800 people were not allowed to convert to Judaism. Christians weren’t allowed to convert to Judaism and Muslims weren’t allowed to convert to Judaism by their law. So, it never happened. And that’s what I wanted to say. That’s an important thing. And that is when Maimonides; when Rambam talks about this, you have to remember that Maimonides, is not talking practically about converts to Judaism. He never met a convert to Judaism. I know that, because in Cairo it was punishable by death to convert to Judaism.

Geoffrey Stern  11:04

But on the other hand, you know, when I read that Nachmanides that I quoted the second ago. It had no problem with a non-Jew, who was part of the Exodus, who went out with the Jews, because clearly that non-Jew experienced everything that the Jews experienced. But the question that Nachmanides raised was, well, what happens if you convert it in later generations? And as you know, one of the most famous letters that my monitors ever wrote was to Ovadia the Righteous Convert. So, what you’re saying is, he might never have met a convert, but he certainly was in discourse with

Adam Mintz  11:50

Yes, that’s correct. We don’t know exactly what overcharges background is. But that’s right. So that’s interesting. That’s a very good point means he was familiar with the idea now, how it could be that Ovadiah converted to Judaism. That’s something that I don’t think we have an answer to. If it was prohibited in Muslim countries to convert to Judaism, how could he have converted to Judaism?

Geoffrey Stern  12:15

That’s an interesting question. Interesting question. You know, as long as we’re talking about that letter, you know, you have to say that the letter is addressed to this Ovadiah, who Maimonides called HaMaskil HaMeivin, Ger Tzedek, that he was an enlightened convert in all of the accolades that you could possibly give. And Ovadia asks the same question, addresses the same question as knock manatees, and says, Can I both in public and in private? Talk about the God of my father’s? Can I talk about the God who commanded me assuming it was at Sinai? And ultimately, to our point, can I talk about the God who took us out of the land of Egypt? And Maimonides gives an answer to all of the above questions, saying, yes, you can say that was commanded to you. You’re a child of Abraham. And then he gets to the question of our pasuk, of our verse. And there, he says, that when it comes to leaving Egypt, he says, as to the words, who brought us forth from the land of Egypt, or who performed miracles for our ancestors, these you may change, if you wish, and say, You who bought Israel from the land of Egypt, you who perform miracles for Israel, If however, you do not change them, no harm has been done. So literally, Maimonides goes on the fence in this one. And there’s overwhelming sensitivity for Ovadia, who he clearly respects but again, he straddles the question of what is the place of a convert in Judaism, and of course, you bring up Islam, and you bring up Christianity. In those religions, at least in Christianity, I’m pretty confident you don’t get born into it. The only way of access is by being baptized, and in a sense, opting in. So, conversion is what every member of the movement is ultimately going through. Judaism has this unique concept of both. It’s a race, but clearly from the texts that we’re looking at. It’s a shared historical destiny. And the question is, if you haven’t, or your ancestors have not been involved in that historic destiny, can you, should you, will you?

Adam Mintz  15:01

So that also is a fascinating question. So Rambam seems to say that your ancestors were not part of that tradition, but you’re allowed to accept that tradition. There was another great medieval scholar in Muslim Spain. His name was Robert Yehuda Halevi. He wrote the Kuzari that Kuzari says that actually every convert to Judaism, their soul was at Mount Sinai. Meaning that it’s not that you’re allowed to do it even though your parents weren’t part of the tradition, you could accept the tradition. No, you are part of the tradition, it just took a while for you to recognize that.

Geoffrey Stern  15:47

It’s kind of like finding this hidden connection.

Adam Mintz  15:50

It’s very interesting. Now, people have been critical, because it’s a little racist, seeming to say that, you know, Jews are somehow better than everybody else. But anyway, leave that aside. It’s an interesting dispute between Rambam and the Kuzari. Well, I take it in a different way, when you said it, it reminded me of the similar tradition, that when you meet your Basher’t; your spouse, that ultimately you had been already connected before you were born, and you are meeting so to speak, combining those two halves. And I believe there’s even a dating site called saw you at Sinai. https://www.sawyouatsinai.com/   So when you said that, I didn’t think of it as racist, I just thought of it as finding your shared destiny, that if somehow Judaism resonates with you, the history of this people resonates with you, and you, for whatever reason, come and join the tribe, you’re re-joining the tribe. And I think that’s, that’s something beautiful, that we provide that sort of aspect. And I think what I was saying before, when you join Christianity, you’re born again, everybody becomes born again, what Judaism seems to be at least on the side of those who are saying that you can say, the God of my father, and my mother, and you can say that we were in Egypt, what it is permitting you to do, is to join a history to join a heritage to join a tradition that maybe was not yours in terms of a DNA, but is yours by choice. And I think that’s kind of a beautiful concept.  That is really a beautiful concept. I don’t think the Kuzari disagrees with that, the Kuzari just wants to understand mechanically how it works, or religiously how it works.

Geoffrey Stern  17:52

I mean, if you think of us as Americans, you know, we all look back to the revolution, we all look back to Washington chopping down the cherry tree. That’s our shared Midrash. That’s our shared heritage. And so I think it’s almost natural to say that yes, and, you know, this is a long term theme, I think, of Madlik, which is that we can choose our history that we that that Judaism and the Exodus what it proved was that entitlement was wrong, where you are who you are, because of your blue blood, and choseness was in and were choseness is you can pick your heritage, and you can pick your future. And I think ultimately, that’s part of the concept of conversion within Judaism, which given our background as a tribe becomes kind of unique.

Adam Mintz  18:55

I think that’s really beautiful. I think that’s interesting. It’s important to say that all of these views we’ve talked about now, in the first half of the class, are all medieval views, where basically there weren’t converts. That’s interesting about Ovadia the Convert, but basically, there weren’t many converts. Radically, around the year 1800 that all changed. Around the year 1800. Jews were granted citizenship in Germany, and then in the rest of Western Europe. That meant that for the first time in history, Jews could go to university, Jews could be lawyers, Jews could be doctors, Jews could live in non-Jewish neighborhood. And you know, the first time something is opened up to you, you literally embrace it, you gobble it up. And the Jews gobbled it up, including the fact that for the first time they could integrate with the Germans. They could be in the same community. And the intermarriage rate in Berlin in 1840 was something like 50% from zero to 50. Now we talk about the intermarriage rate. But then it was literally from zero to 50. Because before 1800, Christians were not allowed to marry Jews. And all of a sudden, the Jews are marrying Christians. And there was a whole complicated situation where what you had was a Jewish man, marrying a non-Jewish woman. And they actually didn’t convert, and they had children. And the father, it’s interesting, he didn’t care about marrying a non-Jewish woman. And some of these men wanted their boys circumcised, and to have their boys have a bar mitzvah means like, I’ll be married to you, the kids are not technically Jewish. But can they be circumcised? Can they have a bar mitzvah? And this was a huge debate. So, I’ll tell you that there a rabbi who lived in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was the rabbi, an orthodox rabbi, who lived in New Orleans. And this rabbi, he had the following question. There was a mohel in New Orleans, who was willing to circumcise sons of Jewish men and non-Jewish women, even though they weren’t Jewish. He said, Let’s circumcise them when they’re babies. And hopefully, when they grow up, they’ll convert to Judaism. But if we don’t circumcise them, as adults, there’s no way that they will circumcise themselves. So this is like the first step towards the process of conversion, even though we have no reason to assume that they’re gonna convert. The rabbi in New Orleans, was very upset about this. He was upset. He thought this was totally wrong. The kids aren’t Jewish, in a sense, you’re legitimizing the fact that this Jewish man married a non-Jewish woman, Jewish men will marry non Jewish women all the time. If they’re promised that they can have their son circumcised. So he wrote to the rabbis in Europe, because in those days, New Orleans, America was not much in 1840. He wrote to the rabbis in Europe and Germany, asked them what they thought about this. Most of the rabbis in Europe agreed with him, saying, you’re right, you should not circumcise the son. But there was one rabbi, his name was Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer. Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer was kind of interesting, because he was the first religious Zionist. Long before there’s a state of Israel. He was an outspoken, religious, Zionist, and in Germany, they thought that was dual loyalty, they were very much committed Germany. So people weren’t really Zionist. But he was a religious Zionist. And he wrote that No, I believe that we should circumcise these babies. Because again, he agreed with the mohel, that that was the first step towards conversion. And I think that Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer is a very interesting statement, about an attitude towards intermarriage and towards conversion. He believed that we need to be more inclusive, because for the sake of Judaism, you need to be more inclusive, meaning he didn’t say it, that you should circumcise the baby, because that’s the right thing to do. No, he was very practical, he said, This is gonna be good for Judaism, if we circumcised the baby, he added, took a very practical view to circumcision, and for the possibility of conversion. Now, that sounds very different than Rambam, who talks about the fact that that converts are like leprosy keep converts away. This Rabbi Kalischer is saying, No, don’t keep converts away. Let’s help him convert by allowing him to be to be circumcised.

Geoffrey Stern  24:26

So I find that so fascinating, but you know, I contacted you discovered you were in Italy, and said we’re going to talk about this and what should I add to this source sheet? And you said go ahead and look at Mishneh Torah, Forbidden intercourse 13 and 14 and I did and what I was blown away by, besides that throwaway comment that converts are like leprosy, it is so amazing to look at the original sources in this case, Maimonides, and see what he says about what is necessary for conversion? One of the things that really struck me, how do we deal with someone who says they’re Jewish? How do we how do we deal with someone who says they converted? And if you read the text of my Maimonides, it’s pretty amazing that we assume he’s telling the truth. And then when it comes to getting married, okay, so then we want some proof. But if he has children, and later on, he goes, you know, really, I didn’t have witnesses. So, you might say, he’s no longer Jewish, but his kids remain Jewish. The amount of flexibility there is, the amount of forward thinking there is, the amount of what you were just describing as within the law, the ability to look at conversion, the way every other religion does, which is, it’s wonderful when somebody chooses to be part of your club. It’s wonderful when somebody chooses to obey your commandments. And I think that’s kind of what comes across in those chapters, which are in the source notes, from my Maimonides that you are assigned me, so to speak, Rabbi and the other thing that comes, of course, is that these things are socially subjective. So, there was some rules that apply in Israel, and some rules that apply outside of Israel. In Israel, if a convert says I’m Jewish, you believe him, because most people are Jewish. I don’t want to get into the reeds of the particular sociology that is being addressed. But what I do want to say is, it is socially contingent, that it depends on the age, as you were saying, it depends on the circumstance. And we don’t have a long show. It’s only half an hour. I want to use that as a segue for you, Rabbi to talk about, how do you take this ruling of the rabbi in New Orleans? How do you take that into your own Rabbinate? And how are you dealing with these couples that are coming to you?

Adam Mintz  27:17

So that’s a good question. You know, we live in a different time. In those days, a Jewish man married a non-Jewish woman, it wasn’t just that the non-Jewish woman didn’t want to convert to Judaism. The Jewish husband didn’t care whether the non-Jewish woman converted to Judaism or not, he didn’t care, because they were being accepted in the non-Jewish world. And he was happy to marry a non-Jewish woman. Today, there are many secular couples like that. But what we’re finding is that there are many people who are exploring conversion. And that’s an interesting thing, that people are willing to convert. So if somebody came to me at a case like that, and they said, you know, can I circumcise my son, my wife is not willing to convert, and we do sometimes have cases like that. So, I’m very much aware of Rabbi Kalischer. And obviously, that’s what I would say, but I would broach the topic that maybe the mother would be willing to convert also. And I would discuss what that would mean to convert. You know, there’s an important thing about conversion. For a man conversion involves circumcision. But for a woman, it’s just going to the mikveh. The question is, what kind of commitment to Judaism do you need before you can go to the mikvah? That’s also an interesting question. Maimonides says, You have to accept the idea of mitzvot. Not that you have observe every Mitzvah, but you need to accept the idea of mitzvah. And the question is, and this is also an important question for today. How strict are we about that? I don’t think we’re so strict about that. I don’t think we should give away conversion, you know, we always say, don’t give away anything for free. If it doesn’t hurt a little bit, then you’re not going to value it. So, I don’t think we should give away conversion. I don’t think we should have a day in the mikveh whoever wants to come and dunk in the mikvah can dunk? I think there has to be a steady process. I think there has to be an understanding and a commitment to Judaism, as a whole, but I think, you know, the, the old-fashioned idea that if you know, if you don’t accept all the mitzvot and you don’t practice, you’re not observant, that you can’t convert. I think that that’s not what’s best for Judaism, and what just generally best for the community right now. Well, you know, I applaud that. I’ve been approached by family members who have a friend and they’ll say they’re getting converted and they go into conversion classes. Maybe it was Reform, maybe it was Conservative. And the rabbi said to them, so what is tough for you? And they go, well, you know, I love all of the mitzvot, and I’m going to have a kosher home and all that, but I kind of like a Christmas tree because it’s a national holiday. And the rabbi says, I think you need to find another class. And I thought to myself, you know, it, I think it takes a certain level of self-confidence for a rabbi to be able to look at Maimonides which I did this week. And you’re absolutely correct. He doesn’t say you have to accept it all. He goes, you know, some of the rules are tough, and if they don’t go away, then you go, okay. It’s so accepting. And I started the parsha today, by bringing this into context of the people of Israel, laying their hands upon the Levites. And saying, You guys are now the firstborn. And we know the Levites are not the firstborn, those of us who believe in birth order, there’s a whole dynamic to being a firstborn. But somehow by putting one’s hands on the Levites, they made the Levites take on a roll that was not theirs. And I think reading it afresh this week, that that was almost an intro to this ger (convert) who, in fact, we are making it possible to lay the hands upon tradition, to lay the hands upon our destiny, and to join, and I think it’s a beautiful thing. And I think it’s an amazing thing that you’re doing because I think at the end of the day, in the day and age that we live in people joining our group, people, loving our Judaism and our history as much as we do, is only, is only a positive thing.  I would agree with you and I think it’s a great topic. Thank you for raising this topic. It was a great conversation, and I love the fact that you found it in this week’s parsha I want to wish everybody Shabbat Shalom, enjoy the parsha, and we look forward to seeing you next Thursday. Enjoy the parsha, Shabbat Shalom.

Geoffrey Stern  32:08

Shabbat Shalom and Rabbi Keep up the good work.

Adam Mintz  32:11

Thank you so much be well.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/414358

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Rashi, Women & Wine

parshat Nasso, Numbers 5-6

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on June 9th 2022 as we read the text of the weekly portion through the eyes of the iconic Torah Commentator; Rashi. Keep in mind that Rashi was the proud father of four daughters (no sons) and had a day job as a vintner. Did this affect his treatment of the Sotah (Unfaithful Wife) and the sober Nazirite? Grab a glass of wine and let’s discuss. L’chaim!

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/412925

Transcript:

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 8pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Join us today as we read about the Unfaithful wife and the sober Nazirite through the eyes of the iconic Torah Commentator; Rashi. Keep in mind that Rashi was the proud father of four daughters (he had no sons) and had a day job as a winemaker. Does this affect his commentary? Grab a glass of wine and let’s discuss. Rashi, Women and Wine. L’Chaim

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Well, welcome to Madlik. I feel like Shavuot is over. We’ve all received the Torah so we should all be excited to tackle the Torah this week. And before I even begin reading the text of this week’s parsha. You know, there’s a lot being said today about DAF Yomi. Everybody is talking about DAF Yomi. But I think and Rabbi You can correct me on this, probably the earliest tradition of doing something where everybody did it. And I’m not saying just reading the Parsha is something called Chumash and Rashi where by every Friday, you had to go through the whole Parsha and read it not only the text, but through the eyes and with the commentary of Rashi. Is that true?

Adam Mintz  01:46

So, I’m gonna tell you an amazing thing, which actually Sharon knows much better than I do. You know, printing started around the year 1450. We know that the Gutenberg Bible was printed. Before that everything was hand written. And the first Jewish book that was printed in history about 1470 was actually Chumash and Rashi which I guess is not surprising that supports your claim.

Geoffrey Stern  02:11

Yeah, I mean, I know. And I’d love you to confirm this too, that because of that, so much of how we read the text is colored by the lens of what Rashi brings. And he doesn’t always and we’ll see this week, it’s not as though he makes things up. He just is very selective in the texts that he brings to the table so to speak. And therefore, you see the text of the Toa through the selection that Rashi makes.

Adam Mintz  02:48

Right, there’s no question. I mean, you know, when you go to yeshiva, sometimes you’re not even sure what’s Rashi.  and what’s the Chumash itself, which is a funny thing, like you say something you say, doesn’t the Torah say that say no, that’s Rashi who says that?

Geoffrey Stern  03:07

That’s true. And I have to say personally, I went to a yeshiva called Be’er Yaakov, which was in a little town called Be’er Yaakov and the head of the Yeshiva was Rav Moses Shapiro, but the real star was the Mashciach someone named Rav Shlomo Wolbe and he made the Yeshiva study Chumash and Rashi for 15 minutes every morning. And he also took one student every year to study Chumash and Rashi with him. And I was fortunate in my second year there to be his Havrusa, his study partner.

Adam Mintz  03:42

Wow, that’s amazing.

Geoffrey Stern  03:43

It is and you know, I don’t even know how many things I’ve seen now through the eyes of Rabbi Wolbe seeing through the eyes of Rashi. But it’s powerful. So anyway, this week is Numbers 5, and the name of the Parsha is Nasso and it talks about the unfaithful wife and I should say it unfaithful in quotation marks Maybe yes, maybe no. It says in verse 12, speak to the Israelite people and say to them, any person whose wife has gone astray and broken faith with him, in that another man had slept with her unbeknownst to her husband, and she keeps secret the fact that she has defiled herself without being forced, and there is no witness against her. But a fit of jealousy comes over him and he is wrought up about the wife who has defiled herself. That’s one instance. Here’s another instance. Or if a fit of jealousy comes over him, and he is wrought up about his wife, although she has not defiled herself, so that is the law of the Sotah. And it’s not even clear whether she in fact, what As unfaithful, That party shall bring his wife to the priest and he shall bring as an offering for her 1/10 of an ephach of barley flour, no oil shall be poured upon it and no frankincense shall be laid on it, for it is a meal offering of jealousy. I mean, when we were studying Leviticus, we talked about sacrifices are really just a way of religion and I tradition helping people in different moments. And we knew about sacrifices of sin offerings and Thanksgiving offerings. Here we have a jealousy offering. It’s a meal offering of remembrance which recalls wrong doing, it’s not clear who’s wondering, the priest shall bring her forward and have her stand before God. The priest shall take sacred water in an earthen vessel and taking some of the earth that is on the floor of the tabernacle, the priests shall put it into the water, after he made the woman stand before God, the priest shall bare the woman’s head and place upon her hands the meal offering remembrance, which is a meal offering of jealousy. And in the priests hand shall the water of bitterness that induces the spell. So there is so much to discuss here. Sometimes I wonder whether we’ll have something to discuss next year, in the case of the Sotah, I don’t have that issue. There’s, and I’ve kind of referenced some of the areas that it triggered my interest. But I want to speak today, about one area where Rashi seems to feel very strongly. And the tradition, the text and the translation of the text is almost uniformly against him. And that relates to a very small part of what goes on. It says the priest shall bare the woman’s head and place upon her hands the meal offering the words in Hebrew is וּפָרַע֙ אֶת־רֹ֣אשׁ הָֽאִשָּׁ֔ה. And parah is the key question. In Rashi. It says he shall put in disorder, the woman’s head, he pulls away her hair-plaits in order to make her look despicable. And then he goes on to say, we may learn from this as regards married Jewish women, uncovering their head is a disgrace to them. He says in the Hebrew מִכָּאן from here, לִבְנוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁגִּלּוּי הָרֹאשׁ גְּנַאי לָהֶן. So he’s almost saying two things. The one thing is he’s not translating it as uncovering the head. And so we should learn nothing about uncovering the head. And then he says, but this is what they learned. This is the source of the tradition that Jewish women have to cover their head. Rabbi, what’s your read on this?

Adam Mintz  08:04

Well, which piece I mean, the last piece, which is the piece that the women have to cover their hair, because the Sotah had her head uncovered, that’s really an amazing kind of derivation, because it’s not a derivation that has anything to do with Sotah. It’s a derivation that you see from the story of Sotah that women must have covered their hair, because it says about the Sotah that her head is uncovered.

Geoffrey Stern  08:41

If that’s the correct translation,

Adam Mintz  08:44

Right. That’s, that’s what’s interesting

Geoffrey Stern  08:47

The interesting thing for me is….  if let’s go with the translation, it says, uncover her hair. it’s kind of like, I do something wrong. And the rabbi takes off my kippah. Because what we’re saying is that it’s a sin for a woman. It’s a disgrace for a woman to have her hair uncovered. It’s against the law. And here where we’re making the woman break the law further. I mean, that’s one thing that’s kind of strange about it. It would be much more, I think, straightforward to say that this woman appears and she has maybe a cheap look about. And maybe she looks like to everybody, like she’s a little bit of a player. And the rabbi disheveled her hair, he makes her look less attractive. And that’s I think, where washi is coming from where he says, he musses up her hair. He disorders her hair; it seems to be much more natural. And I think what Rashi is bringing into the discussion you said it yourself is, there’s no relation. Really, it’s a forced relationship between this custom or law that we have of women having to cover their hair, and learning it from a Sotah. That’s also the kind of challenge and maybe I’m reading into Rashi, where he says the two things he gives the correct translation in his mind. And then he says מִכָּאן לִבְנוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל, here’s where they learn this. He doesn’t say, this is where we learn it, he doesn’t say this is where the source is, he does seem to follow what you were implying, which there’s a disconnect here, that they’re almost pinning it on this peg, and it doesn’t quite belong here. I think that that’s exactly right. I mean, I think that’s interesting and Rashi. That’s interesting, just in the rabbinic tradition. Let’s take go back to the story. The woman is suspected of committing adultery. We don’t know she committed adultery. Basically, when we were young, we would say that we saw the wife of somebody with a man in a Howard Johnsons, right. They were having an ice cream together, but it looks suspicious. And the husband warns her, I don’t want you having an ice cream with this guy anymore. And she doesn’t listen. And two witnesses see her having an ice cream again with the guy, then the husband has the right to take her to Jerusalem, and to find out whether or not she committed adultery. Now, the story the way the Torah presents, it suggests that the very act of being suspected is it itself an embarrassment? Even if she turns out to be innocent. Even if it turns out that she goes to Jerusalem. She drinks this water and nothing happens to her. It’s embarrassing that they even suspected her. And I think that’s interesting. That’s part of וּפָרַע֙ אֶת־רֹ֣אשׁ הָֽאִשָּׁ֔ה, he messes up her hair. He makes her look disheveled, because she is supposed to be embarrassed, because wives were not supposed to be suspected of adultery, even if they didn’t actually commit adultery. They weren’t supposed to be in a way that gave the suggestion that they committed adultery. So yeah, I totally agree with you. What I found fascinating is I am going to quote three more verses where Rashi gives the same translation of being disheveled or not looking your best. And the standard English translations. across the board, I looked at pretty much all of them. Keep to this baring your head. So in Leviticus 10: 6, right after two of Aaron’s sons are sacrificed/killed by bringing this strange fire. It says in verse 6, And Moses said to Aaron, and to his sons, Eliezer and Itamar and now I’m reading the JPS translation, do not bare your heads, and then it put an asterisk it says dishevel your hair, and do not render your clothes lest you die in anger strike the whole community. So here what he’s clearly telling the family is don’t go into mourning. Don’t look like you’re mourning. Maybe it’s because God was the one who punished them maybe because they’re Kohanim. Who knows. But Rashi says אַל־תִּפְרָ֣עוּ  means Let not your hair grow long. And he says, And from this, the tTorah learns that when you mourn, you don’t cut your hair. So and of course, the reason why you do that when you mourn is you don’t focus on your looks. You don’t focus on the superficial when you’re in mourning. So it again, as long as we’re dealing with Rashi he does use this kind of same language מִכָּאן. From here, we learn אָבֵל אָסוּר בְּתִסְפֹּרֶת that and Avol a mourner is not permitted. But what kills me is you almost feel like a tension between the standard translations. They keep on talking about uncovering your hair, which makes no sense in this context.

Adam Mintz  14:32

Well, I mean, the first question is that Rashi there the sons of Aaron translates the word, תפרעו in a different way, which is let your hair grow long. Unless you say that letting your hair grow long means make your hair disheveled. … it might be the same translation, right?

Geoffrey Stern  14:56

Yeah, I think he’s consistent. He’s like saying Forget about your haircut, forget about your hairdo or your “do” you know. And so obviously in the case of the Sotah, you, you can’t let your hair grow long in one hour. And that’s even the case of the two sons, but they’re going to be, you know, watched for the next 30 days or next year. So they should not go into this modality of letting their hair grow long, they should make sure to comb their hair is what it’s saying. But again, he’s consistent here. And even in our parsha, later on, we’re going to get to the story and the law of the nazarite. In Numbers 6 part of our parsha, it says throughout the term of their vow as a Nazarene, no razor shall touch their hair, it shall remain consecrated until the completion of the terms as Nazarene of God, the hair of their head being left to grow untrimmed. So here everybody translates פֶּ֖רַע שְׂעַ֥ר רֹאשֽׁוֹ as letting your hair grow, letting your hair out.

Adam Mintz  16:10

So there they’re definitely consistent.

Geoffrey Stern  16:12

Yes, but again, Rashi won’t let it go away. So the Rashi over here says the word פרע is punctuated. And he says the meaning of the word פרע is overgrowth of your hair similar to Leviticus 21: 10, he shall not let his hair grow wild. And he goes on …  so I don’t know whether he’s fixated on this or not. I think that would be ascribing to him a little much.  I don’t know he’s fixated on it. I mean, he’s kind of consistent every time it comes up. Yeah. And he and he points it out, and he connects. It again, it seems to me that the text, the traditional text that puts this concept of a woman needs to cover a hair on this is a little bit of a stretch, because it’s not only disconnected from the act that’s going on. It also is not in line with the true meaning of the word. So it’s a kind of a double stretch, in the Sifrei Bamidbar. It is a source for what Rashi is talking about, and it says Rabbi Yishmael says from here, from this verse that we have in the Sotah, from the fact that he The Cohen uncovers her hair, we derive an exhortation for the daughters of Israel to cover their hair. And though there is no proof for this, there is an intimation of it. ואף על פי שאין ראיה לדבר זכר לדבר So one thing we always point out on Madlik is how important sources are to all the commentaries at every level, no one, even if they try to massage the text a little bit and put a later day custom into the earlier text. They pointed out, it’s very important to give the provenance of a law, and even the ones that say we learn it from here, they’re only saying it’s a זכר לדבר. It’s kind of I don’t know, how would you how would you translate,זכר לדבר?

Adam Mintz  18:23

זכר לדבר means that there’s kind of a hint to it. But it’s not a real source

Geoffrey Stern  18:29

Of interest. It goes on and it follows this concept of what we’re trying to do is to make her look less pretty. So Rabbi Yehudah says if her top knot were beautiful, he did not expose it. and if her hair were beautiful, he did not dishevel it. If she were dressed in white, she is dressed in black. So the point is that we’re definitely trying to take away from her beauty.

Adam Mintz  19:00

You understand the psychology, of course, the theory is that if she committed adultery, it’s because she made herself beautiful to attract the man, and therefore the punishment is to dishevel her. So it’s not just out of nowhere. That’s the punishment for this sin.

Geoffrey Stern  19:21

Yeah, yeah. And then well, the Oakland says something R. Yochanan b. Beroka says: The daughters of Israel are not made more unattractive than the Torah prescribes אין מנוולים בנות ישראל יותר ממה שכתוב בתורה. So, again, the rabbi’s discussed everything under the sun, even fashion, and in this particular case, they were well aware of all of the fashion and signs of beauty and stuff. So let’s talk about a little bit about your sense of a woman covering her hair. You spoke at the JCC about the history of conversion. What in your mind is the history of this covering of the hair?

Adam Mintz  20:10

That’s a good question. Clearly there is a history means clearly the rabbi’s had an idea that women were supposed to cover their hair. What’s interesting is that Maimonides says that it’s not only for married women, any woman over three years old has to cover her hair, that tells me that’s not unbelievable. Any woman over three years old, meaning that Maimonides presents it like this, Maimonides presents it that just like a woman has to be dressed, that her elbows are not allowed to show and her knees are not allowed to show so to her hair is not allowed to show. That’s Maimonides’ view. I think that today, that’s not our view. I think today, the idea of wearing a hat is to identify a woman as being married. And if she’s married, in a sense, she’s off limits, it’s kind of what we say is you know, it’s like some men wear rings and some men don’t. They want to wear a ring to say I’m married, I’m off limits.

Geoffrey Stern  21:21

So I think what you said from Maimonides is fascinating. I am no scholar in Islam. I do know, as as a tourist, so to speak, when I walk around in Islam, the women who cover their hair, that are Muslim, do it before marriage as well. And I wonder whether Maimonides wasn’t affected by where he lived. And that possibly, you know, in the Middle East in general, this was just the way women were dressed. And in a sense, we absorbed it and codified it. But I do think that no one in the Muslim world who read what Maimonides wrote, would have been surprised by that because all unmarried women cover their hair. I mean, I think it would be almost radical for a Jewish woman to walk around with a head uncovered, even if she’s unmarried and be surrounded by Muslim women’s who hair is covered.

Adam Mintz  22:29

that’s 100%. Right. Rambam was definitely influenced by the culture around him, no question about it. And I think that we’re influenced by the culture around us. You know, you would say 50 years ago, women did not cover their hair, even very orthodox women, very few women covered their hair. But now that’s not true. Now, there are more orthodox women, even, not Hasidic women who cover their hair. That’s kind of tradition, and the culture changes over time. And that’s fascinating.

Geoffrey Stern  23:06

I’m sensing a real change. I was in Israel a month ago. And the number of Orthodox women that I met with even I saw one on television during an interview. I did some it’s they’re wearing turbans almost…. it’s almost taken upon women as something that is empowering, liberating this this concept of not objectifying my beauty type of thing or my femininity. But have you noticed also, I did a little research there’s something called a snood, there’s a  shpitzel, there’s a turban when I grew up, there was a sheitel I think sheitels are falling away a little bit, because they’re almost

Adam Mintz  23:52

In Israel, but not in America. Yeah. Tell you what you saw in Israel a month ago is very important. I know what religious community you come from, by what type of head covering you have, meaning one type of headcovering means that you’re part of the Hasidic community. One part says that your part of the ultra orthodox, non Hasidic community. The other says you’re part of what they call Hardal which is kind of חרדי לאומי, which means that you’re very orthodox, but you’re still a Zionist, everybody has their own head covering we went to visit somebody in a community and literally it was a Yishuv everybody in that Yishuv had the same head covering isn’t that crazy? It is even more crazy. Okay. And that is in this Yishuv. That was the rule. You weren’t allowed to live in this Yishuv unless the wife covered her hair. If the wife went with her head uncovered, then you would be asked to move out of the Yishuv.

Geoffrey Stern  24:54

Did Rav (Joseph Ber) Soloveitchik’s wife cover her hair?

Adam Mintz  24:58

She did not. Lithuanian women didn’t cover their hair. That was just the tradition. Every culture had a different tradition. And the wives of Lithuanian rabbis did not cover their hair. That was true about Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s wife. Now when they came here to America… You see, America was a funny place. Because you know, in Eastern Europe, Hasidim and non-Hasidim lived in different places. You know, a city was Hasidic, or a city was non-Hasidic, there was very little, you know, integration between the communities and a lot of places there was competition between the communities, but they came to America. And because America was smaller, at least at the beginning, everybody lived together. So the non-Hasidim took on some of the customs of the Hasidim and the Hasidim took on some of the customs and the non-Hasidic. One of the customs that the non-Hasidim took on of the Hasidim is that even though in Lithuania, the women did not cover their hair, but in America, those those you know, those rabbis’ wives cover

Geoffrey Stern  26:07

Neil, welcome to the Bima.

Neil (Nachum) Twersky  26:08

So I prefer to be called Nachum. Technically, my name is Neil. And I just wanted to say that Rabbi MICHAEL J. BROYDE, has a long, extensive, I would call it seminal article on the whole subject of covering one’s hair (Further on Women’s Hair Covering: An Exchange Tradition, Modesty and America: Married Women Covering Their Hair https://www.broydeblog.net/uploads/8/0/4/0/80408218/tradition_modesty_s.pdf)

Adam Mintz  26:31

And Nachum, what’s his punch line?

Neil (Nachum) Twersky  26:33

Well, first, the whole question is, Is it m’hatorah? Or m’rabanan Okay, if it’s m’hatorah, as he suggests, according to some it might, then you’re stuck. If it’s rabbinic, then you can introduce what you might call the contemporary time and it’s open to rabbinic interpretation. As such, he doesn’t come out right and say it. But he infers that on that basis, there might be some permission for women, you know, not to cover their hair. I think what he’s trying to do, in some way is objectify that which you refer to as what Rabbi Soleveichik  I will tell you that when my sister asked Rav Soleveichik whether she should cover her hair, the Rav told her Yes.

Adam Mintz  27:38

Let me just tell you. Actually, Geoffrey, this is all relevant to what we’re talking about. Because whether or not covering hair is biblical or rabbinic, is basically the question of that Rashi, we’re going back to that Rashi. And that Rashi says, that we live we derive from this week’s Torah reading that a woman needs to cover her hair. And the question is, what kind of derivation is that? Is that a Torah derivation? Is that really what the Torah men, or that’s the rabbi’s making it up based on what the Torah says? And that’s interesting, right? So that whole discussion in that, according to what Nachum, said, the traditions today are really based on how you understand that Rashi? So it all goes back to our good friend Rashi?

Geoffrey Stern  28:33

Absolutely. And in the source notes on Sefaria, I bring additional texts, which literally start to distinguish between when even those who believe it’s from the Torah. When is it from the Torah? Is it in a totally public domain? And then when is it custom? When is it something that was from the rabbi’s that would be from courtyard to courtyard so it’s all there in the source notes. And now we have a new source as well. Thank you for that Nachum. We need to finish up but I love the fact that we talk about what Rabbi Soloveitchik did and his wife, we talk about Nachum, your sister went to him. One of the amazing things about Rashi is that I said this in the intro, he had four daughters, and he had no sons. He had son in laws, who became the Tosephots, and they had names like Rabbeinu Tam and they used to argue with their father in law all the time. If he’s said YES, they said NO, but one of his daughters Rachel got divorced. And it wasn’t because I think they were childless. And there are many people who believe nothing is totally documented that his daughter is put on Tephilin one of his daughters. When he was sick, wrote his Teshuva for him, wrote his kuntaris for him… So these were clearly very learned and doesn’t it have to be that way. I mean, if you are a man of his knowledge, and you have only four daughters sitting around the table, it’s Yentl, isn’t it? And, and I think that without projecting onto him, but clearly, in this case of the Sotah, this woman accused of this, suspected, he is taking a real stand in terms of what this means. And I don’t think he’s taking a strong stand in terms of the covering of the head. But in any case, he definitely has something to say about it. And I think it’s a wonderful way to read the parsha with Rashi get to know his daughters get to know practice in the world that we live. And we always talk about the the nomenclature, the vernacular in Hebrew, I have to mention a book that every kid reads when they grow up in Israel and it’s called Yehoshua Parua. And Yehoshua Perua is about a kid with hair that is wild, and grows very long.

Adam Mintz  31:14

That’s a great way to finish up. So we really came we went full circle from Rashi to a kids book, I think that’s fantastic.

Geoffrey Stern  31:27

Okay, well Shabbat Shalom to everybody.

Adam Mintz  31:29

Shabbat Shalom everybody. Thank you so much. Enjoy the parsha and we’ll see you next week. Be well,

Geoffrey Stern  31:34

Shabbat shalom. Enjoy your Chumash and Rashi

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