Protest Haggadah cont.

parshat tzav, preparing for the seder

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhous on March 29th 2023. We continue our exploration of the many faces of the Torah as reflected in the Kibbutz Haggadot written at the rebirth of the Jewish People in the Promised Land of Israel.

Sefaria Source sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse  and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is tzav but since Passover will be soon upon us, we continue our exploration of Haggadot that break with the past.  Today we will focus on Kibbutz Haggadot which were written for the most part by secular Jews who had a deep understanding of Jewish texts and traditions. In these Haggadot these self-proclaimed New Jews reimagine the message of the Seder and inspire us to do the same.  So join us for Protest Haggadah continued.



Sefira Source Sheet:

Protest Haggadah cont. | Sefaria

(א) וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר ה’ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃ (ב) צַ֤ו אֶֽת־אַהֲרֹן֙ וְאֶת־בָּנָ֣יו לֵאמֹ֔ר זֹ֥את תּוֹרַ֖ת הָעֹלָ֑ה הִ֣וא הָעֹלָ֡ה עַל֩ מ וֹקְדָ֨הֿ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֤חַ כׇּל־הַלַּ֙יְלָה֙ עַד־הַבֹּ֔קֶר וְאֵ֥שׁ הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ תּ֥וּקַד בּֽוֹ׃ (1) ה’ spoke to Moses, saying: (2) Command Aaron and his sons thus: This is the ritual of the burnt offering: The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept going on it.

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Protest Haggadah

parshat Vayika and the Haggadah

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Avraham Bronstein recorded on Clubhouse on March 23rd 2023. Vayikra is a call to action. In every generation we are admonished to imagine ourselves overthrowing the Pharaoh of our day.  Today we’ll survey haggadot that take this challenge and re-imagine the Haggadah for their time. We challenge our Israeli brothers and sisters to join this tradition and write today’s Hagaddah.

Sefera Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. We host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Tonight, I am joined by my friend Rabbi Avraham Bronstein. This week’s Torah portion is Vayikra. Vayikra is a call to action. In every generation we are admonished to imagine ourselves overthrowing the Pharaoh of our day and liberating the People of Israel.  Today we’ll survey haggadot that take this challenge to heart and re-imagine the Haggadah in their time and for their time. As Israelis take to the streets, we challenge ourselves to join this tradition and write a new Hagaddah. Join us for Protest Haggadah.


Well, welcome, Rabbi Bornstein. It is such a pleasure to have you. You’re from the Hampton Synagogue, which I call a home. And so, I feel right at home having you as part of Madlik. Welcome, welcome. Welcome.

Avraham Bronstein  01:14

And likewise, it’s so nice to have the chance to talk Torah with you.

Geoffrey Stern  01:18

Fantastic. So, you know, as I mentioned, normally, we do a podcast on the parshat Hashavua. And I’m going to admit, with my arm hand raised, that we’re kind of like hanging this, this session on the word Vayikra which is truly a call to action. In Hebrew. When you issue a proposal, it’s called a Kol Koreh קול קורא . An exclamation point in Hebrew is a Siman Kriah  סימן קריאה  . So, we’re going to take that little liberty to launch our discussion. But I get Israeli TV at home. And today, I was watching the TV and my jaw just dropped. There were demonstrations. We’ve all heard of the demonstrations. But the police are were using water hoses. And that was, you know, in the early part of the day for us here in New York, and then the Prime Minister of Israel came on. And he made an attempt at conciliatory speech. So, this is a moment, this is a moment in the history of the Jewish people. And what I’d like to think is we are going to look at the Haggadah. And we’re going to look at those Haggadot that were written at those types of moments. And for some reason, there is a very strong tradition in the Haggadah, to use it as a vehicle, to use it as a platform to comment upon what is going on. And I think the premise for that actually comes from the Haggadah itself. We all read בכל דור ודור חיב אדם לראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים , in every generation, a person must regard himself as though he personally had gone out of Egypt, as it is said, And you shall tell your son on that day. So, we almost have a license, I would say a Vayikra an admonition a cry, to put ourselves into the Haggadah. And that clearly has come out. We are also going to see that there’s a lot of divisions. There’s a lot of polemics within the Haggadah ad. And there too, I believe it is rooted in the message, the mantra of the Haggadah, it says, שֶׁבְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר עוֹמְדִים עָלֵינוּ לְכַלוֹתֵנוּ in every generation, they stand against us to destroy us. I don’t know whether we’re going to come out loving the Haggadah or hating the Haggadah tonight, but it is certainly a platform for very vivid, animated, emotional discussion. Rabbi what is you’re feeling about the Haggadah?

Avraham Bronstein  04:18

I think it’s so interesting what you just said, because you said all of our texts say בכל דור ודור חיב אדם לראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים , in every generation we have to see ourselves as though we are leaving Egypt, right? So the exodus is not just something that happened, but it’s something which is constantly happening and the Exodus from Egypt is a paradigm. It’s an example. It’s a template for something which is going to keep happening. But the truth is that we don’t all have that text in our Haggadah. It’s not on your sheet, but I’m sure you know that my Maimonides, the Rambam had a text for the Haggadah. That’s the בכל דור ודור חיב אדם להראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים , that a person has to make themselves be seen; portray themselves as though they left Egypt. And that has to do not with putting yourself in that mindset of seeing the Exodus as a paradigm. But it has to do with the things that you do to act out the story like people get up and walk around the table, or in some Sephardic communities, they beat each other with scallions to simulate the lashes that the Egyptians did. Or they keep the matzah next to them on the floor so that it’s like the Israelites sitting around their tables. In Egypt. It’s less about using the Exodus as a paradigm. It’s more about really kind of rooting yourself and portraying an event in the past. So it could very well be that each of these historical moments, what’s actually happening here is like a much larger conversation about what this data is really all about. Is it something about thanking God commemorating what happened in the past? Or is the whole point of it to see the Exodus as a paradigm and as a template for what’s happening to us right now, or to make the world that we want to see in the future?

Geoffrey Stern  06:17

You know, I think we both agreed that it says, בכל דור ודור in every generation, there’s this aspect about it, that says this is not simply a historical commemoration of something that happened in the past. But I love the fact that the Rambam, Maimonides, has a different text. And by the way, I was reading not from the Haggadah, but from the Mishnah in Pesachim. But this idea of seeing oneself, you know, how much is our self-image, determine our inner image? That we have to see ourselves as we expect to be seen. And I think one of the things that’s going to come out so clear tonight, is somehow the Haggadah is just, I would say, even emphasizing categories. What Reuven Rivlin, the last President of Israel, he divided Israel into four tribes. But it’s so amazing that here we are, there were many kibbutzim, Haggadot that a start with the typical traditional Hinneni Muchan U’mezuman. And I am focusing my attention, and instead of talking about God, they say L’Kol Yisrael. I mean, there is no question that there is no holiday that emphasizes Klal Yisrael, that we left Egypt, the worst thing that you can say in the Seder, and we shall see it is that had you been there, you would have been left out. But as you read it today, when we are faced with such division within our people, that all of that division is kind of so baked into the Haggadah, and returning to l’rot and l’harot  , they’re all connected. You know, many of us are part of a quote unquote, tribe or camp. And we can’t get out of the branding, so to speak, because that’s how we see ourselves. That’s how we see other people seeing us. So, I love I love the dialectic between seeing oneself or seeing how others view ourselves.

Avraham Bronstein  06:32

I love that.

Geoffrey Stern  07:48

In any case, when I say a Haggadah of protest, I could also call it a Haggadah of polemics. I mean, the truth is that as we study Talmud, you have to know the context of a statement by a rabbi, because in many cases, there’s a polemic built into it. If you read the Aleinu, and you don’t understand what happened with the Christian community, you might not understand all the nuances. So, whether it’s protest or polemic, there’s no question that in all of our texts, the rabbi’s when they make a commentary, when they make a comment, they’re taking a position and they might be referring to someone else who has another unspoken position that they’re against. But in the Haggadah, I think it’s really on steroids. And the earliest place the most obvious place that you can see it is in the four sons. And the reason that is is luckily we have illustrated Haggadot and when I grew up at the Seder that I attended, you know, we always focused on the individual. Well, is that really an evil son? Is that really a good son? Is that a son who doesn’t know how to ask…  so we really focused on why is the Haggadah, first and foremost referring to boys and not girls, and then why is it stigmatizing different types of what children. But the examples that we’re going to discuss tonight are bigger than that. Because the examples that we discuss is where the rabbis or the illustrators of the Haggadah took the tipus, took the types of Jews that were represented, and they weren’t representing members of your family, they were representing members of our tribe. And I have linked this a few notes to the clubhouse. If you’re listening to this as a podcast, it’s linked in the show notes. And unfortunately, even though we are on clubhouse, which is audible, there are some visuals here. So, the first picture is of a family sitting around the table, and the mother and father or in white, and the wise son is sitting to the left, and he’s into and of himself, he’s in white. And then there’s the evil son, and he’s cocked back on his chair, he’s smoking a cigar at presumably the Seder, he doesn’t have a covered head. And he’s in black, surprisingly, also is the child who doesn’t know how to ask, and the child who is Tam, simple, pure or whatever. It’s clear, even in this picture, that it is a social commentary. And that’s kind of fascinating that here we are, we’re celebrating Am Yisrael, the people of Israel leaving Egypt, and we have all of these, these types of images and messages that are discussing the divisions amongst us, for sure.

Avraham Bronstein  12:06

i It’s interesting, looking at the picture as you’re describing it. And there’s two rows, … the two sided table with the wicked side, and the one who’s assimilated smoking the cigar, he’s sitting at the head of the table as it were, or so the parents are facing the simple son and the son who doesn’t ask questions. But the wise son is set off to the side. He’s wearing white, just like his parents are, he’s wearing white as opposed to black, there’s three people at the table wearing white, there are three people at the table who were wearing black. But the wise son almost seems as though he’s removed from the proceedings. He’s sitting a little bit apart from his mother who’s sitting right next to his father. And instead of looking at the other people that are around the table like everybody else is he’s looking down into his book. And I think he’s the only person at the table who actually has a book. So, you can imagine kind of the commentary, right? In like modern terms, he will be kind of the geek or the nerd character in the coming-of-age movie, right? He’s the one who’s like, walking through the hallway of the high school reading the book, while life is going on around them. There’s a little bit of commentary happening there also saying He’s on our team, he’s wearing white as opposed to black. But yet, he’s also kind of setting himself aside in a way which is a little bit disturbing. I think a double commentary happening beyond the wise son is on one side of the frame, the wicked son is on the other side of the frame. And what’s happening is almost as though the four people in the middle, the father, the mother, the simple son and son who doesn’t ask are being pulled to either extreme by the two poles, which are the wise son and the wicked son.

Geoffrey Stern  13:53

What’s fascinating and I should have started by saying this that, you know, you could easily go into a default reflex and say that the Haggadah is trying to emphasize the divisions, but the actual way that it starts is בָּרוּךְ הַמָּקוֹם, בָּרוּךְ הוּא, בָּרוּךְ שֶׁנָּתַן תּוֹרָה לְעַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל . You’d think that the implicit message is that God is this place, and that everybody has a place in that place, and the Torah was given to all of Israel. So there is this kind of tension between whether it’s creating division, or whether it’s trying to maybe make the tent larger, that were all included. Getting back to your comments. I think pictorially it really focuses on an aspect of the Haggadah itself, that is troubling, because as you know, the rasha, the evil son says what does this all mean to you? He says מָה הָעֲבוֹדָה הַזּאֹת לָכֶם . And by saying “to you”, he does the worst crime there is. And in the picture, he’s cocking himself on the chair and leaning away, leaning out as opposed to leaning in. He’s excluding himself from Klal Yisrael. He’s שֶׁהוֹצִיא אֶת עַצְמוֹ מִן הַכְּלָל כָּפַר בְּעִקָּר . But if you look at the wise son, it also says, what are the Mishpatim.. אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֶתְכֶם , you and I look at that picture. And I see both the wise son and the evil son are segregated, they’re away. And I think that is kind of fascinating. We’re going to move on, but it just shows you how much there is inside of a picture.

Avraham Bronstein  15:54

Before we move ahead. By the way, I want to make one more point which just occurred to me as you were talking about בָּרוּךְ הַמָּקוֹם God making place for everybody. Right? You were talking about already two different paradigms for making the divisions between people at the Seder. One is this paradigm of the four sons. And the other one is this paradigm of seeing yourself as though you’re leaving Egypt, meaning when it comes to sitting at the Seder, when it comes to understanding the story of the Exodus, see yourself as an Israelite, but not as Pharaoh not as an Egyptian. And there’s two different ways of breaking people up, you can break people up and say, We’re the Israelites, you’re the Egyptians, whoever they are. Or you can say, you know, we’re the wise son, you’re the wicked son, as it were. It’s interesting, the way that you’re framing it. You’re saying that under the paradigm of the sons, they’re all around the table in some context, if you’re saying that the paradigm, you’re using is Israelites versus Egyptians, then it’s one or the other. They’re both not in the same place.

Geoffrey Stern  17:00

I’m gonna skip around, but there is a woodcut picture. Where the wicked son is a soldier in the Prussian uniform with a spiked helmet. And clearly, he’s not simply rejecting Judaism. He’s almost what in modern Hebrew would be called a Boged, he he’s outside, he’s the other. He’s crossed the line. I mean, it’s so fascinating, especially for me when I grew up, and all I focused on was different children pedagogically, and aren’t they all good. But the Haggadot that we’re focused on and we’ve hand-picked them are really political in nature. They’re talking about life choices. There’s one that shows faces of different children with different emotional responses. And that’s more in line I think, with the way I grew up looking at the four children. But to me, the most fascinating one is the kibbutz Haggadah, because in the kibbutz Haggadah, the Hacham, is dressed in working clothes, and he is the one who is building the land, the Rasha is the bourgeoisie, and here is where the sense of how knowledgeable that non-religious kibbutzniks were of their tradition, because he says, What is this avoda to you? And avodat normally means ritual service. But I believe that the kibbutzniks was saying ma avodat What is this labor of the land and he’s gazing at a shovel that is standing next to a guard tower. It’s so clear that now we have flipped the paradigm we’re in so many of those four children or four sons, the one who would wear blue jeans and be outside in the fields would be considered a Sheigitz; he’s not learning and here all of a sudden he is the Hacham and the Rasha is the one who is rejecting avodah; the working of the land. And then of course the other fascinating one is the שֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל , the one who does not know how to ask and he is depicted as a Jew, it’s not altogether clear whether he’s an oriental Jew or an Ashkenazi Jew. He has pe’ot and it’s looking at the religious community already. Now we’ve really flipped and it’s the religious community who is clueless is the best word that I can say. Very fascinating stuff how the four sons were used in different Haggadot at different times to make a statement about what our values are.

Avraham Bronstein  20:23

For sure, right, any other Haggadah that you would think of that comes from a more religious context. The son with the pe’ot, with the underside curls, the rabbinic looking one would be the Chacham, right, the wise son who really gets what’s going on. And in this version, specifically, he’s the one who really has no idea what’s going on. He’s completely removed from all the larger conversations that are happening. The other thing that I was thinking about when I saw this one is the very motto of the religious Zionist Movement of B’nai Akiva is Torah V’avodah. Right. It’s that combination of working the land and building the land coming from a religious mentality. And when the Rasha right the businessman, the bourgeoisie, is looking up at him saying מָה הָעֲבוֹדָה הַזּאֹת לָכֶם  obviously the Rasha rejects the Torah. That goes without saying; he’s a secular Jew. He’s a secular Israeli, but he’s also rejecting the Avodah; the service to the country, the way that the religious Zionist would understand that.

Geoffrey Stern  21:28

So I had started collecting kibbutz Haggadot about 5, 10 years ago, because I really feel that the generation of the founders of the State of Israel was so unique in terms of, we had educated, knowledgeable, literate Jews, who could speak the language of the Haggadah, still, and therefore could translate it in a way that this picture does. And the nuances of מָה הָעֲבוֹדָה , What does this labor mean to you? And I think that one of the challenges that we have in modern day Israel, I intimated in the beginning, what would the Haggadah of those who are arguing about issues today in the State of Israel, what would that Haggadah look like? And I think it’s a, it’s a kind of a cry in the dark, because unfortunately, we don’t necessarily live in a society that still converses and discourses on this amazing platform of 2,000 years that Jews have used to express the emotions and the ideology of the moment. But one of the Haggadot that I collected was a Haggadot written in the 70s. It’s called the Israeli Black Panthers. Haggadah, it’s literally on mimeograph sheets. It was written over a week or two period. And that has to be inspiration. We have a week or two to Passover. So, if you live in Israel, and you’re listening to this podcast, there’s still time!    But many people are talking about the current conflict as really between those in Israel, who feel disenfranchised, who feel left out, and the elite, and this is what they wrote in their Haggadah. They didn’t have four children. And by the way, Golda [Meir] was the pharaoh in their Haggadah, and they said, Golda speaks of two classes, one rich and one poor, one Ashkenazi, and even one Safadi, the rich man, what does he say? What is it to them these poor people that rise against the government who are arguing and making statements give us work give us education, housing and equal rights. Let them come to me and I will give them work in construction for 30 lirot a day. That is what the savior of the Mizrahim, Rabbi Haim Hefer, said. And the poor man, what does he say? “I did not ask for a protektzia job nor did I rise up against the government. And if Yiddish is a language that I cannot speak, then I am swiftly told off with a kick.”  and the Ashkenazi what does he say? It goes on and on. They are translating the spirit of Avdut; of servitude that they are feeling in their day. And they are translating it using the language, the vocabulary of the Haggadah. So, Rabbi, I’d love you to comment on both the format of the message and the content of the message.

Avraham Bronstein  24:45

So first, I have to say that this Haggadah is also available in English, the New Israel Fund, last year, sponsored English translation of this that was edited by Libby Lenkinski. It’s available for purchase in the states also, it’s such an incredible, fascinating historical artifact. I didn’t know anything about the Israeli Black Panther Party of the late 60s and 70s. But it’s such an incredible just time-capsule figuring out like what was going on beneath the surface of Israeli society at that time. To me it was especially powerful because like I was saying before, whenever I think about the story of the Exodus, or I teach the story of the Exodus, I’m always taking the position or taking the point of view of those who are leaving Egypt, right the Israelites, it would be incredibly mind bending, for me to be at a Seder, and to have somebody telling me, you know, actually, in the story that we’re living nowadays, you’re not the Israelites, you’re actually the Pharaoh. And we’re the Israelites who are struggling against you. And it’s such an incredible thing to have to come to grips with.

Geoffrey Stern  25:59

So the moment that they wrote their Haggadah was 25 years in to the State of Israel. And I think what happened it was interrupted by the Yom Kippur War. But I think you need to read the Haggadah in many ways to understand a little bit of what’s going on in Israel today. Which means that these messages these Haggadot, that talked at pivotal moments in our history, they’re evergreen. We need to learn from those lessons. There’s another Haggadah that I quote, which was written at another pivotal moment. It’s the Survivors Haggadah, it was the first Haggadah used and written in the DP Camps after the Holocaust. And there is amazing stuff in there where they talk about being in the DP camps, and shelichim messengers from Israel coming to them and basically trying to induct them into the different tribes that were happening in Israel. “Now that the Saved Remnant is redeemed, the orphaned children of Israel are taken in. Each group of the Remnant makes a claim on the children and is envious of other groups on their account, because each group wants to increase its number. And while the children of Israel are being collected like abandoned eggs, the contention increases as each group tries to pull them its way. The children cannot withstand the many enticements, promises, and trials, such that some children go this way and some another. And it so happens that the non-Orthodox snatch the children of the Orthodox, and the Orthodox snatch the children of the non-Orthodox. And each and every group has its own school where children learn Torah. And after they study for a time, they grow clever; and a child behaves like a man of seventy who has opinions about how the world should be run, or how or when to settle the [Promised] Land and manage affairs of state. The children argue, and all are eager to advance their own positions and views, so that brothers are set apart, unable to agree on the question of the State [of Israel], unable to sit peacefully together.”  I mean, it goes on and on, “Which group do you belong to? But the survivors do not understand them and wonder at the question. And even members of the [Jewish] Brigade in Italy reply: What is the meaning of this? Are we not, all of us, Israel? The shelichim say: You must have been sleeping for seventy years, because the unity of Israel is a fable. It’s no longer possible; each person must join a group.  The remnants answer: But was not all of Israel slaughtered together? Is not all of Israel to rebuild the land together? The shelichim say: The unity of Israel is a fable. The land of Israel is being built by different factions.”  I really encourage you to go to the source sheet, or better yet, as the Rabbi said buy the Israeli Black Panther Haggadah and the Survivors Haggadah, , We’re talking after the Holocaust, there’s no honeymoon period. It’s a sobering moment. It’s a humbling moment, for those of us who like to believe in Klad Yisroel. And maybe it makes you look back and when we left [Egypt], they were talking about the Erev Rav  [The mixed Multitude]. There’s always been these segmentations. And maybe that is the genius of the Haggadah, that it doesn’t whitewash over these divisions. It actually emphasizes them. In a sense, it’s inviting us to try to address them.

Avraham Bronstein  29:35

Well, that’s the last paragraph of this selection that you put on the sheet, right? “The emissaries say: That is impossible, the reality of Israel requires it. One could argue: This rivalry is like a rivulet; just as the rivulet flows down, riving the ground and irrigating it to make it fertile, so does division divide Israel and bestow blessings on it. For it prepares the ground for all kinds of beliefs, so that people can go and die for the tip of every letter in their own torah. Thus rivalry breeds strength which increases the might of Israel.” ..  meaning, right, it’s good to have the wicked son at the table in the matter who you think the wicked son is, because the interplay between the people at the table shouting at each other at the tops of their lungs, that’s where the strength comes from.

Geoffrey Stern  30:25

You know, I have a bunch of different Haggadot that I’ve quoted, and one that just resonated with me based on what you were saying. And based kind of on my implicit question about all of this division, there was a Seder made by really, the Jewish Hipppies on the forefront of the 60s and of universalism, and, it was on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. And it’s in the notes, I want to read from it a little bit, because it’s kind of I think it addresses the fact that the Haggadah is anything but a universalistic document. It’s a particular document. So, it says “I believe in liberation for everyone. But why must I believe in it as a Jew? I want to believe in it as a human being. I don’t want a Jewish celebration of liberation. I just want people to be people and to be free. That’s a real question. Answer that one!”  and the answer is based and this comes out in many of the kibbutzim Haggadot, where they quote poems from Bialik, and this quote, Y. L. Peretz , a Yiddish writer, and this is what they quote to answer the question, Don’t assume you are fulfilling your obligation by working only for the greater entity, for so-called humanity-at-large. Humanity-at-large is an abstraction. On the world stage today are individual groups, distinct peoples, differing cultures…. We too hope for a common humanity, but we shall never achieve it by destroying unique languages, or by annihilating separate peoples, or by cutting down cultures…. We have not endured these thousands of years in order now to forget our way of life. We wish to continue it, so that we may later unite with the company of mankind as equal partners….  So it’s almost finding the universal in the particular rather than having this abstract love of humanity at-large, which means nothing. But I think maybe that is part of the answer of what the Haggadah is doing. It is not focused on the universal it might say Baruch HaMakom, but then it gets into the particulars that divide each of us. And maybe what it’s saying is it’s that mosaic that different; this Shivim Panim L’Torah (Seventy Faces of the Torah) that Elu V’elu (This and this is the word of the Living God) , you need that divergence. And maybe that’s part of the solution in Israel today. And maybe that’s part of the Haggadah that needs to be written. I don’t know.

Avraham Bronstein  33:20

That’s very, very beautifully put. It’s interesting, thinking about the lines that you’re putting down right now. Right? How people kind of sort themselves into tribes that way and the strength, the dynamism comes from the interplay between those, right? Yeah, you can imagine nowadays, thinking about the Black Panthers, in Israel in the 70s, or different aspects or different tribes within the larger protest movements in Israel today, or even different tribes within the government establishment in Israel today within the majority. It’s not by any means a homogenous group that’s running the government and pushing the various proposals down, either. How do they see themselves? Are they all the Hacham in their particular Haggadah? Or do some people really self-identify as the Rasha, but for productive ends?

Geoffrey Stern  34:16

You know, we typically keep the podcast to half an hour we’re reading over but as a studying the Haggadah that we should (continue all night), I’d like to focus on two other areas that there has been such a rich culture of reinterpretation. One of them is the MaNishTana;  the four questions and I couldn’t find it, Rabbi, maybe you can help me. I do know that our four questions are not exactly like the four questions of the Mishnah because we don’t ask a question about why tonight we eat it roasted meat because we aren’t eating roasted meat. But I thought somewhere it says Ke’ha “like these (questions) you should ask questions like these, and either there is a rabbinic text along that lines, or it was understood that these questions are only representative of the types of questions that could be asked. So if we go to the Black Panther Haggadah, it says, But what makes this night different from all other nights? That on every other night we barely eat bread and water, And on this night we don’t even have matzah and water. That on every other night we eat only vegetables. And on this night the government treats us like animals. That on every other night we all shiver from the cold²6 And on this night our sadness is clear for all to behold. That on every other night we sleep on the floor. And that’s a chutzpah that the Israeli government should abhor. . So, the translator did a very good job of translating the lyricism

Avraham Bronstein  35:57

They rhymed it. And what’s so subversive about that is what the Manish Tana is basically saying their MaNishtana is that tonight isn’t different from every other night tonight is just the night that you’re noticing what we’ve been noticing the entire time.

Geoffrey Stern  36:10

Absolutely. The contrast to that. And there have been a so many satirical treatments (of the Haggadah in general and the Manishtana in particular) . Israel has a program similar to Saturday Night Live. That is called Eretz N’hederet, and you could almost see them rewriting the Haggadah in a skit, but in the kibbutzim Haggadot. They almost have one universal line, which is so wonderful, and it’s positive. It says how is this night different from all other nights? Because on all other nights, it says, שבכל הלילו שולחן-הורים לחוד ושולחן-בנים לחוד, הלילה הזה כולנו מסובין  that and all other nights the grown-ups eat on one area, and the children who were brought up in their own socialistic kind of utopian child rearing dormitories that many people have complained about, in retrospect, they were celebrating the were writing the kibbutz into the Haggadah, and we might do another episode next week about how the kibbutzim; rich in understanding of Jewish tradition, were able to modify the Haggadah and use it as a positive. A place to explain what the “New Jew” or New Judaism was. One of the Haggadot that I have is, in the in the notes, it was written in 1940, in a kibbutz and if you look up 1940 We’re talking, after Kristallnacht, before the beginning of World War Two, and it’s just full of despair. And it talks about a “How is this night different from all other nights? Also this year we sit to celebrate and to remember the Exodus from Egypt, the Exodus from Slavery to Freedom, but has this pursued depressed nation actually gone from slavery to freedom, from darkness to light also in our generation. What can we tell? On this day – a day that has never been worse than the day we went into exile, a day of incessant fears and distrust in life for the rest of what is found, a day that is all like a long, similar sacrifice. On this day – a day that is an eye for an eye we see all the decay of the seed of Abraham” it’s a lament. And I do think that this concept of what is new, what is different, was definitely something that was picked up upon either to celebrate what was different in the case of the kibbutzim Haggadot or to decry the current situation where nothing has changed or things have gotten worse. I think the Haggadah is an amazing vehicle for having that cry of Vayikra. If Hinneni is the Jewish response, I think Vayikra is the challenge. And I think that the Haggadah in many respects, is this wonderful 2,000 year old platform for Jews to express the moment; their situation, their fears, their ideals, their aspirations. And from that perspective, it makes it a more unique to document than we already knew that it was.

Avraham Bronstein  39:35

I think that’s, that’s very, very, very well put. And I think what you just cited from the 1940 Haggadah is basically saying it’s this desire to keep seeing it in the present as opposed to seeing the Exodus as something which only happened in the past. The contrast between the present and the past is so strong there.

Geoffrey Stern  39:54

I’ll close with the sense that what makes the Haggadah so special is it doesn’t have the answers. It doesn’t even have all the questions. But it is a place for us to bare our souls and to bare the reality. And maybe that’s the best place to begin to, to rebuild. And I really wish that there were learned scholars. learned, rich Jewishly embodied Jews who in our generation could pick up the torch and write a Haggadah for our Seder this year that really talked about the divisions within us. Part of it will be highlighting those divisions. But I think by doing that part of it potentially can maybe heal those divisions, I don’t know. But I do know that we need, we need Pesach. Pesach was never easy. leaving Egypt is never easy. We will survive. But we are in a challenging moment in our history.

Avraham Bronstein  41:00

It’s keeping everyone around the table, even if you’re arguing with each other. But at least your all around the table. I’m reminded of that famous teaching or statement attributed to the Lubavitcher Rebbe who’s always talked about the fifth son who’s not even at the table. It’s worth having the four sons around the table from their different perspectives, yelling and screaming at each other, or threatening to exclude each other. But they’re all there. And I think if you’re thinking about Israel today, one of the things you can certainly say that maybe you couldn’t have said, you know, maybe eight or 10 years ago is that everybody is activated. Everybody’s energized. Everybody is certainly there making their opinions heard. And maybe the entire country is kind of this very loud, raucous Seder table at this point.

Geoffrey Stern  41:47

Well, thank you so much. Thank you. It was an absolute pleasure learning with you Avraham and I wish you a Pesach Sameach. Let’s do this again. I wish everybody who’s listening Shabbat Shalom, and a Pesach Sameach,

Avraham Bronstein  42:02

Geoffrey, thank you so much. Shabbat Shalom. Hag Kasher V’Sameach; this was really a pleasure.

Geoffrey Stern  42:07

Absolutely. Thank you so much for joining

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parshat vayakhel-pekudei – exodus 36

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on March 16th 2023 on Clubhouse. The craftsmen and craftswomen building the Tabernacle are commanded to weave curtains showcasing images of two Cherubs and fashion golden statues to match. We wonder how these winged-creatures differ from the Golden Calf and the forbidden images that the Bible ridicules with such scorn?

Sefaria Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Vayakhel-Pekudei. The craftsmen and craftswomen building the Tabernacle are commanded to weave curtains showcasing images of two Cherubs and fashion golden statues to match. We wonder how these winged-creatures differ from the Golden Calf and the forbidden images that the Bible ridicules with such scorn? So take out your chisels and your mallets and join us for “Man-Made”


Well, welcome, welcome, welcome, Rabbi, another week of Madlik disruptive Torah.

Adam Mintz  01:01

And we got a double parsha this week. So how could it be bad

Geoffrey Stern  01:04

A double parsha, it gives us more things to pick from. So yes, that is great. And we are building the tabernacle, we’ve talked about it. But the as I said, we’re talking about man-made. Many of the pesukim that we’re going to deal with are literal cut and pastes from previous parshiot where we were commanded to make these things, make the menorah, make the cherubs. But here, we’re actually putting the rubber to the metal. And I think this is the appropriate time to discuss making the idol and how can you do it. So I mean, to give you a sense of how much our parsha really, I would say, celebrates artistry and artifact and the ability of man to make things I’m just going to quote a few verses, but when you read it this Shabbat, you will see that there is a reason that the school in Israel that teaches art is called but Bezalel because this parsha just celebrates artifice in Exodus 35: 21. It says an everyone who excelled in ability and everyone whose spirit was moved, came bringing to God and offering for the work of the tent of meeting. And all the skilled woman spun with their own hands and put what they had spun in blue, purple, crimson yards and fine linen, endowing him with a divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge. ר֣וּחַ אֱלֹקִ֑ים בְּחׇכְמָ֛ה בִּתְבוּנָ֥ה וּבְדַ֖עַת וּבְכׇל־מְלָאכָֽה in Every kind of craft and inspiring him to make designs for work in gold, silver and copper, to cut stones for setting and to carve wood to work in every kind of designer’s craft. So that sets the stage. This parsha is a celebration of artifice. And I can say it right from the beginning. It’s not a secret Jews and making statues and making images. There is a tight dance going on. But I had to give that context. Because if there is a case to be made for human beings; for Jews, expressing their image and the Spirit of God inside of them by creating, this is the Parsha. So now let’s get to the meat of things and to this subject that we are going to discuss in Exodus 36: 8 it says, then all the skilled among those engaged in the work made the tabernacle of ten strips of cloth, which they made a fine twisted linen, blue, purple crimson yarns into these they worked as a design of cherubim שָׁנִ֔י כְּרֻבִ֛ים these are two cherubs. So already before we even get to the iconic gold cherubs that are on top of the ark, even when they are making the tapestries. They are making images in the tapestry of these cherubs Exodus 36: 35. They made the curtain of blue, purple and crimson yarns and fine twisted linen. Working into it a design of the cherubim these two cherubs and then in Exodus 37: 7 we get to those iconic golden statues. He made two cherubim of gold he made them of hammered work at the two ends of the cover, one cherub at one end and the other cherub at the other end. He made the cherubim of one piece with the cover. As its two ends, the cherubim had their wings spread out above shielding the cover with their wings. They faced each other. The faces of the cherubim were turned toward the cover, Rabbi, I mean, maybe you can forget about the tapestry. But have you ever seen this kind of language of building an image besides the golden calf? In the Bible?

Adam Mintz  05:32

And it’s so central to the tabernacle, right? It kind of seems like everything is built up to the ark, and the ark is built up for the Cherubim. So, it here we have an idol on top of the ark that held the tablets, we have an idol. Isn’t that crazy? And the funny thing is that the broken tablets were also in the ark. And the tablets were broken because they built on top of the ark!

Geoffrey Stern  06:00

So I love the fact that you bring up that the broken tablets are inside of the ark. And I was going to mention this later. The first tablets were made by God, but the second tablets were made by man in Exodus 34: 1 it says God said to Moses carve two tablets of stone like the first and I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you shattered. The word that it used for carve those two tablets is פְּסׇל־לְךָ֛  pesel is literally …. I knew Karl Katz, who used to be the head Bezalel then he came to the Israel Museum. And when he wanted to make a sculpture garden, the Rabbinate was all over him sculptures in Hebrew are “pesalim”.  They said how can you make a garden of Pesalim in Jerusalem? So, we already have this tension between good Pesels and bad pesels, so to speak. It is kind of fascinating. But you’re right. This is the crux this is ground zero.

Adam Mintz  07:18

Yeah, that’s so interesting. You mentioned Karl Katz. Karl Katz and my father grew up together, they went to school together. It’s a small world, everything comes back to Karl Katz. But that’s right. I mean, a sculpture garden is you know, that’s pesalim. I mean, we’re all over it everywhere you see idols, but then at the same time, idols are exactly what is prohibited. And the book of Devarim in the book of Deuteronomy, the entire book tells you about how evil pesalim are. So something crazy is going on? Absolutely. There’s a mystery here. I don’t know if we’re gonna crack it. But we have identified it for sure. So as I said, Before, we were in Exodus 37. And in Exodus 25, literally, it was almost as though paragraph by paragraph word by words. 2518 says make two of them have gold, make them have hammered work. It’s literally the same. I think it’s very appropriate that we’re talking about this tonight, even though this is not the first time it’s mentioned. Because we’re going to focus on the craft, we’re going to focus on the the prohibition but also maybe the requirements that man make them in a certain way they are man-made. And we know that this week, because we have these craftsmen but most of the commentaries that explain these verses, you’ve got to go back into Exodus 25 when it’s first mentioned, so Rashi on Cherubim says they had the form of a child’s face, you know, angelic right? Isn’t that the image that we have so much of cherubim … these little gold children with wings on their back and smiling blissfully at each other. Love it. Yeah, I mean, that is the image we have. I mean, the sources that we’re gonna study tonight are not so sure about that. But that’s the image that we grew up with. Basically, and by the way, the reason we grew up with it is because that was that’s what Rashi says, and you know, Rashi becomes like, you know, as if it’s written in the Torah itself. True, but there’s a higher authority to washi and that is the Bible itself, and the first time we’ve been exposed to two of him. I don’t think they had baby faces. If you remember Genesis 3: 24, after the original sin, it was driven out; and east of the garden of Eden were stationed the cherubim and the fiery ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the tree of life.  So our first experience with the Cherubim we didn’t picture these two little fluttering babies with wings on them. So it’s not altogether clear, is it? Well, it’s not clear from the beginning of Genesis what they were. All we know is that they were frightened, right? They were protection. So they scared people away somehow

Geoffrey Stern  10:31

and they had a sword ….

Adam Mintz  10:33

Right… I’m saying they scared people. They had a different purpose. I mean, it doesn’t explicitly say they weren’t children. It just doesn’t seem to fit into the mood. Exactly.

Geoffrey Stern  10:43

Yeah. One thing that I think we are seeing is, you know, a cherub is a single cherub and two cherubs are cherubim. I was almost thinking of calling the podcast Cherubim Cherubum!  But, but they do come in pairs, they do come in pairs. That is kind of interesting. But the Talmud, and the rabbinic literature has so many different concepts. And you know, your wife, Sharon should be here because in the illustrated Haggadot that we’re going to use in a few weeks, they’re full of birds, there are those that believe they were a certain type of bird, the Ezekiel and in some of the prophets, we have these Ma’aseh Merkavah… the chariots, and there you have winged creatures that are four footed, the gamut of what these cherubs could be really goes from babies to birds, to large animals. And in the notes, I do, quote, a wonderful survey in, What kind of creatures are the Cherubim, it’s by Dr. Raanan Eichler. And if you’re interested, definitely take a look at the source sheet. But he concludes that ultimately, he really feels that the cherub was a combination of two things. And that’s what unites them all. So no matter whether it was a bird with a human face, or it was an ox with wings, or whatever it was, the he feels that it was this kind of combination. That was what it’s about. But the bottom line is that’s not the subject of tonight’s discussion. Whatever they are, they are real images. This is a three-dimensional figure. And that’s what we’re going to be focused on. But it is kind of fascinating what they were, and how that impacted maybe what was permitted to be shown in illustrated manuscripts and mosaic floors. Who knows, we certainly like to think that we don’t permit any images. But there certainly are a lot of images in our story. So that kind of becomes fascinating. I’m sure you’ve seen some amazing illustrated manuscripts in your day Rabbi.

Adam Mintz  13:31

I have and this is a great, this is great. So let’s, let’s continue that discussion, cuz I think there’s a lot here.

Geoffrey Stern  13:37

So, in one of the sources, I quote, you can all of a sudden see that the rabbi’s themselves was sensitive to the question that we’re raising tonight. So, in the Chizkuni after he says that they were a certain type of bird. And then he goes on to say, an even the Torah, in the second of the 10 commandments has expressly forbidden us to make anything that is like creatures on earth or in the sky. The reason why the making of the cherubs is exempt from this was it was not made to be worshipped, but to remain hidden inside the most inaccessible part of the Temple. So, this touches upon a discussion we had a few weeks ago, which is so much of the Mishkan and the later Temple was putting an enigma into an Enigma was making surrounding barriers so that almost praying outside at the wall became almost a natural thing to do. But it is fascinating that one of the reasons that the rabbi’s felt this was different than your typical graven image was that it was kind of hidden. That’s kind of fascinating.

Adam Mintz  14:54

Yeah, it is kind of fascinating. Yes, it is. That’s really good. Okay, good. And I was just looking Get the article in the toe rough, you know, and the article that you quote here. And that’s also interesting the idea of them being a composite, which is really the point you made. They’re always kerubim. They’re always in the in the plural Cherubim. And the question is why that is exactly. I mean, you’re interested in the fact that the plural of cherub is cherubim rather than cherubs. It should really be cherubs. I never thought, you know, in all my life. I never thought of that before. But you are 100% Right? Where does the word cherubim come from?

Geoffrey Stern  15:33

And is that an English word? I mean, is that how I mean

Adam Mintz  15:36

it looks like I’m just looking in Sefaria. Yeah, it looks like that’s the way they translate it. So I guess that that’s they made it into an English word. So this might be the only English word based on a Hebrew word that is grammatically correct. I mean, it I love it. very fine, very good. This because this, this discussion is worth it just for that. So that his Chizkuni continues, and he’s troubled, he is troubled by the fact that this is going against, oh,  I would say a “befayrusha pasuk” (pasuk mefurash)  it Exodus 20. You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image or a likeness of what is in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. It doesn’t even talk about worshipping it. And we might make the argument in a few minutes that they never worshipped it. But you can’t make it and it doesn’t apply only it says, לֹֽ֣א־תַֽעֲשֶׂ֨ה־לְךָ֥֣ פֶ֣֙סֶל֙ , which is kind of fascinating. It’s the opposite of פְּסׇל־לְךָ֛. But in any case, you can’t make a pesel but you also can’t make the image. So the woven hangings, wall-hangings that we discussed a second ago, are in the same in the same category. So one of the other answers that he gives, He says that it’s usual in the Torah, that there are exceptions to every rule. He goes, you can’t do everything that was done in the temple on Shabbat, unless you work in the temple, the Cohanim sed to bring sacrifices and kill things [on Shabbat]. We all know that if a baby is born and eight days later, it’s the Brit falls on Shabbat you break the shabbat and do the Brit ritual fringes you can have of linen and wool. So that’s another fascinating thing that it’s not the first time that we’ve seen a commandment that is broken explicitly by the Torah itself. I don’t know whether that gives it you know, a kind of “walk on the wild side” type of extra “stolen waters are sweet” or makes it a higher level of holiness. But certainly, there is precedent there. And this would be one of those exceptions. It’s a great case. Chizkuni. It’s really a good Chizkuni because the Chizkuny basically says that what the Torah is about is rules. And their exceptions. That’s what that I mean, maybe you say that’s what legal systems are about. Every legal system has the rule and its exceptions, but the Torah is like that, too. Everything has its exceptions. So, Shabbos is shabbos but it has its exception and shatnez is shatnez, but it has its exception. And idolatry is idolatry. But it has its exceptions. That’s such a great idea.

Geoffrey Stern  18:20

So in the Talmud in Hagiga, it takes it one step further. And it says it starts by saying that the likeness of their faces, they had the face of a man and the forehead, the face of a lion. Now we’re talking about really the divine chariot in Ezekiel. And then it says Reish Lakish said Ezekiel requested mercy with regard to it the face of the ox. He thought that the cherubim had this this ox and you can see in some Syrian and Iraqi things, they have these gigantic animals that are guarding the temple and they have wings on them. And he said before Him, Reish Lakish said: Ezekiel requested mercy with regard to it, i.e., the face of the ox, and had it turned into a cherub. He said before Him as follows: Master of the Universe. Shall an accuser [kateigor] become a defender [saneigor]? As the face of an ox recalls Israel’s sin of the Golden Calf, it would be preferable for there to be a different face on the Divine Chariot. He says if we have that in the temple, that’s like reminding You of the golden calf every time we come into the Holy of Holies and request mercy. You don’t wear gold on Yom Kippur and the beautiful explanation which is Greek is קָטֵיגוֹר יֵעָשֶׂה סָנֵיגוֹר  the defendant doesn’t become the prosecutor don’t remind God of gold (as in the Golden Calf).  And here we are, we have these golden; according to this interpretation, body of an ox. It is it’s taking this concept of making that which is forbidden permitted in in a fascinating moment and a fascinating day if you if you follow it through to that that it’s not simply a graven image, but it’s a graven image of a graven Ox/Calf so to speak. Fascinating, just fascinating. The Rabbi’s were aware of the issue here, no question about it.

Adam Mintz  20:06

No question about it. The Rabbis were very much aware of the issue. Now, I don’t know if they have a good answer, but they’re aware of the issue.

Geoffrey Stern  20:14

So we already established that that which is forbidden is not simply to worship these graven images, but also to make it. But certainly, the question is, what was the function of these cherubim of these cherubs? And there is no sense I think you’ll agree with me that they were ever worshipped …. we can’t force the question to the point where we say, and they built an idol because they worship these Cherubim. In Exodus 25, it says, There I will meet with you and I will impart to you from above the cover from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Covenant, all that I will command you. In Numbers 7, it says, when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with God, he would hear the voice addressing him from above the cover that was on top of the ark of the covenant between the Cherubim. Thus God spoke to him. So, Rashi explains, this verse explains exactly what happened. Moses came into the tabernacle. And as soon as he had passed, the entrance, a voice fell from heaven to the place on the cover, which was between the Cherubim. And from there it issued and was heard by Moses in the tent of meeting outside the Holy of Holies. That’s kind of fascinating. What do you make of that?

Adam Mintz  21:47

You know, what’s great about these discussions? It’s one of those things that you can possibly imagine, right? Like, what was it? How did God communicate through the Holy of Holies, and through the Cherubim, and through the ark, so you love when the commentators kind of paint a picture for us, because it’s really just their imagination, also, and I think we can really relate to that imagination.

Geoffrey Stern  22:11

You know, when you walk into a room and you hear a voice, what’s the first thing you do? You look around, you want to see a source for the voice, you want to find the speaker, you want to find the person?

Adam Mintz  22:22

And the best thing is that there is when there is no source. That’s real, that’s mysterious. You see, it’s interesting that God wants to be mysterious. I don’t know what the right answer is. But you know, it’s just interesting that it’s important that God is mysterious, it’s important that no one is allowed in the Holy of Holies.

Geoffrey Stern  22:43

But what I like is he, on the one hand, he or she wants to be mysterious. But on the other hand, when you move your head from side to side, looking for the source, He’s made it so you can look at the Cherubim, he’s projecting his voice to come through the Cherubim, according to the Numbers that we just quoted, and this Rashi and it’s not so much Rashi. If you look at the verse in in Numbers 7: 89, it literally says, When Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with [God], he would hear the Voice addressing him from above the cover that was on top of the Ark of the Pact between the two cherubim; thus [God] spoke to him.  I mean, it’s right there. You know, there’s this wonderful expression in the Talmud, when you hear a voice, it’s called a Bat Kol but here is, here’s kind of the source, it’s a daughter, it’s a child of a voice. It emanates from here; you need a place to focus. That’s how I read it, that it’s really, it provides a place to focus clearly nothing to worship, but that you need something like that is kind of fascinating,

Adam Mintz  23:55

Really fascinating, right? I think that right? I think, and this is all that’s what it’s about. Because since they’re just kind of imagining it. But it’s so interesting the way they imagine it, and they need something, you need a way to focus on God, but it needs to be mysterious, and it kind of needs to be secret. It’s kind of our secret code. You know, we have that, by the way, God’s name. We don’t pronounce God’s name, the way it’s spelt. That’s not a mistake. That’s part of the mystery.

Geoffrey Stern  24:27

You know, the next focus that I had was maybe because we’re talking about artifice here. Maybe the something that we have to focus on is how it was made. So, I looked at Exodus 32: 4 with the Golden Calf. And it says this He took from them and cast in a mold and made it into a molten calf וַיָּ֤צַר אֹתוֹ֙ בַּחֶ֔רֶט וַֽיַּעֲשֵׂ֖הוּ עֵ֣גֶל מַסֵּכָ֑ה  There’s something that’ s beautiful the Rashi on the process is for all of them, he has to old French, French, I guess, because we’re really talking about technology (techniques), how these things are made. And one of the things I was focused on for a little bit was, you know, when you mold an idol, when it’s a molten, an image, maybe that is part because in our verses, I read them quickly. But if you focused, it really did focus on how they were to be made. It says that they should be hammered work מִקְשָׁה֙ עָשָׂ֣ה אֹתָ֔ם , and I thought maybe it’s the process. That is the problem here. When you mold something, you’re clearly making it totally in your image, you’ve got to create the mold, you pour (the metal) into the mold, it is totally man made. And maybe why was thinking when you hammer it, you’re almost exploring what’s inside of it. I didn’t get that too far. But I really felt that there was a focus on all of these explanations that the process mattered.

Adam Mintz  26:23

Yeah, there’s no question that the process matters. That I mean, you know, we can go back to the very beginning. Why does the Torah bother telling us about the building of the tabernacle twice? You pointed out the fact that a lot of these commentaries we’re looking at are from the first time it’s mentioned in Truma. My question is, why do you need it twice? And maybe it’s because it wants to emphasize the fact that the process matters.

Geoffrey Stern  26:49

Allen, what say you?

Alan Yodel  26:51

Well, it’s really fascinating stuff. I love listening to you guys kind of working on this. But where I’m going basically has to do with taking a look at the “kiruv’ of Cherub and relating it to Merkava, Rachav (ride) from Ezekiel. And they’re all related to taking a ride of some sort. You know? So, what is this ride that Hashem is taking, you know, it’s possibly, from the unknowable, to something more knowable in the Mishkan. It says he’s taking this ride, and possibly, that has to do with the Cherub itself. And also, there’s a sense that I get them “on either side”, and they’re facing each other also, and that there’s something significant to me that I feel that the fact that they’re facing Panim el Panim. And thinking of a typewriter. They’re like the margins of a typewriter, finding the space, you know, where the Nevi’im (prophets)  are going to have a prophetic experience in between those Cherubs. So all these kinds of images come to mind.

Adam Mintz  28:09

Let me just say it’s interesting. You connect the word Cherub to Merkava because they’re not actually the same word. But it’s an interesting idea. It’s actually a flip of the letters. The Reish becomes before the Chaf. It’s not actually the same word. But you say that it’s a journey. That’s interesting. Geoffrey, that’s interesting, we all go on a journey, right? It’s part of the journey, God’s journey to us and our journey back to God.

Geoffrey Stern  28:35

Well, I think what Alan made me really focus on which I hadn’t before, is we really haven’t focused on the wing part of it. You know, when God created the world, it says, וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם , he fluttered, he fluttered above the abyss. (see Rashi on Genesis 1:2 “even as a dove hovers over its nest. In old French acoveter.) And then when he took us out of Egypt, he took us on eagle’s wings. עַל־כַּנְפֵ֣י נְשָׁרִ֔ים (Exodus 19: 4) And when Alan, you said something about riding that really conjured up that image to me, that if we are going to use an image, this is an image this (wings) has been there from the beginning. I do think that’s fascinating.

Alan Yodel  29:19

But what what is the ride then. What is the ride, you know?

Adam Mintz  29:23

Yeah, I just love that image of the ride. So, it takes the we said that it was, according to modern day scholarship, maybe the most easy explanation is a combination of two things. But all of those two things seem to have the wings because they have a face and they have wings. And you mentioned both you said face to face, and you also said the ride, and I do find that fascinating and I agree it’s, it’s you know, it’s a permissible image because I think it is a vivid, critical image to the narrative from the first verse of Genesis. Let’s go on a little bit more, because I did want to focus on the crafting pot, because we are in a parsha that literally repeats word for word what’s been said before, but it does it from the perspective of crafting. So this whole concept of a beaten work shall thou make it. מִקְשָׁה֙ תַּעֲשֶׂ֣ה אֹתָ֔ם Rashi on Exodus 25: 18 says, lay down a large mass of gold (lit., much gold) when thou beginnest to make the lid and beat upon the middle part of it (the gold) with a hammer or with a mallet, so that its ends will project upward (stand out in relief), and then shape the cherubim out of the projecting edges.  So they literally took this piece of metal, and they hammered it; it had to have been from one piece. And he says in old French, “souder” And it says and in English that means to “solder”.  So there you go. Okay.

Geoffrey Stern  29:50

And I was fascinated by that process, did that process make it something that then became kosher, as opposed to the molten image of pouring it? Just I just think fascinating stuff. The Ibn Ezra, when he says beaten work, he says beaten, כמו שוה  it has to be equal? Well, one of the things that we really haven’t focused on is that you really don’t get just one Cherub, one angel, if you will, they’re always in pairs, and I’m reminded, and you know, we can’t get into all the material right now, we always try to finish on the half hour. But I am reminded, because some of the commentary say that the faces were the faces of a man and a woman looking at each other. And that brought up in my mind the, the commentary and why the first rendering of the creation of man was He created man, and in the second is he created a male and female. And one of the explanations was that when man was single, God was a worried that he would be “like one of us” that he would say, you’re single, I’m single, you’re unitary, you’re self-contained. I am too. And at that time, some of the commentary says he was androgynous. He had everything he could even replicate himself. And then the second part was, he was taken apart to be man, and woman. And that’s what that reminded me of that you’re taking this one piece of metal, and you’re making it in two, and those two are even men and women. I think it is a fascinating area of discussion. If you are fascinated as much as I am with it, you will look into the notes. Because one of the myths that has been broken, is and I’ve mentioned this before, there was a great Israeli scholar named Yehezkel Kaufmann. And he almost was he was impacted by the caricature that the Bible uses to describe idolatry. You know, it’s all based on stuff that you can find in Isaiah that says, How can a person make a god? How can a person a God, who is a piece of stone yesterday become a God today really, really makes fun of the artifice of making an idol? And one of the follow ups to that he has his own solution to the reason why in the Bible, it was a caricature. He argues that the children of Israel had progressed so much that they didn’t understand idolatry. But if you’ll see in the notes, we do now have renderings from Babylonia where they have discussions of the two or three or four days that it takes to make a god. And actually there was much more intentionality to it (and they echo the criticism of fashioning a god similar to the Hebrew prophets).. So, we’re not that far away. I do believe what it focuses on is the intentionality (and process) was critical here. And that’s what makes the whole subject so absolutely fascinating. I think we need to focus less on the image part, and more on the intention part and the lessons that have to be learned, and that will open up new worlds to us.

Adam Mintz  35:11

Great. That is a fascinating conversation today. Thank you, Alan. Thank you, Geoffrey. Next Thursday, I will be in Israel in route back home. So, Geoffrey is going to take Vayikra on his own. We look forward to a great week with everybody. Shabbat Shalom. And enjoy your week. Be Well, everybody.

Geoffrey Stern  35:33

Thank you so much. nesiah tova Rabbi, and we’ll miss you next week….  It’s just very fascinating to me that when we look at the quote unquote taboos, and we look at the quote unquote, things that one religion doesn’t do or ever does, you know, it’s like they always say what unites us is more than what divides us. And this is certainly a case, one of the scholarly articles that I quote, talks about, when Isaiah put down the Babylonians, he was just pissed that they at the temple was destroyed. And it was polemics in the old sense of the word. But we Jews also could breathe life into inanimate objects, make ourselves tablets of the law, and make ourselves Cherubim and spend an evening discussing what those two will be more.

Alan Yodel  36:34

Yeah, Geoffrey. Did he talk about the first instance of Cherubim at the Garden of Eden? because that’s really kind of interesting. I think.

Geoffrey Stern  36:51

Well absolutely. I did mention it in regard to who were the Cherubim. You know, for those who say they were little babies with innocent faces and wings on them. You have to go back to, to Genesis and to say, Well, what about the woods with the swords who were keeping us out of Eden? And I think, when I mentioned that, I used it as a segue to say that modern scholarship really feels that and I quote, an article that kind of surveys all of the literature and comes to this conclusion that it’s as much cherub is almost a generic word for a combination of two creatures. Because there are opinions in the rabbinic literature for sure that they were birds, that they were oxen with wings. I mean, the truth is, they all seem to have wings, because that’s what the verse says. They all seem to have faces, because that’s what the verse says. But what were those faces? Was it an ox? Was it a bird? Was it a guard? And, you know, we talked about the cherubim being kind of a way that God could transmit his voice through, but certainly there’s an aspect of them that guarded the Holy of Holies and guarded the, the Ark of the Covenant (as they guarded Eden).

Alan Yodel  38:22

Yeah, absolutely. So would you be up for taking a look at Genesis 3: 24 just the language of it is really interesting. I find

Geoffrey Stern  38:30

Well absolutely. So I have it here in the notes, and you know, it says וַיְגָ֖רֶשׁ אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֑ם  garash is a wonderful word. It’s the same word as divorce. He exiled the human וַיַּשְׁכֵּן֩ מִקֶּ֨דֶם לְגַן־עֵ֜דֶן , and he was planted in the Garden of Eden and he put V’yashkem is almost planted אֶת־הַכְּרֻבִ֗ים  these cherubim and he put a sword וְאֵ֨ת לַ֤הַט הַחֶ֙רֶב֙ הַמִּתְהַפֶּ֔כֶת I had never noticed that that’s very similar (grammatically) to the wings that I mentioned earlier in Genesis 1: 2, but it says וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת  it’s fascinating and I had never noticed that before that these turning sword was turning in the same way as wings turn to God the way to the tree of life.

Alan Yodel  39:41

But I’m getting the feeling from the word and I might I might have it wrong הַמִּתְהַפֶּ֔כֶת it’s related to Hephech. (upside down, opposite) I’m getting a sense of motion also. Moving like the ride what we’re talking about basically,

Geoffrey Stern  39:58

well that’s what הַמִּתְהַפֶּ֔כֶת means the was the Spirit of God was hovering. And the whole thing was like a like a, like a winged animal that was like a hummingbird. Yes, yes, that’s my image of that combines both the sword and the wings,

Alan Yodel  40:16

right. הַמִּתְהַפֶּ֔כֶת, I’m getting a sense of movement, remember, we were talking about Cherubim had to do with ride or some movement from one place to another. So, I, you know, I’m just getting that sense of taking a look at Cherubim and in the sense of some kind of movement from one place to another, and then that word הַמִּתְהַפֶּ֔כֶת having to do again with something in movement. And then it says לִשְׁמֹ֕ר אֶת־דֶּ֖רֶךְ עֵ֥ץ הַֽחַיִּֽים  not l’shmor et etz Chaim… so, you know it’s the path, you know, and in a way, the two Cherubim are in a way, watching over and, and protecting and the path, basically, the Derech, you know,

Geoffrey Stern  41:09

yep. And, you know, from that perspective, where they are over the Ark of the Covenant, and the fact that it was only visited once a year is a it’s a very rare path that’s taken very seriously. And there it is. I was struck by the sense that the Bible literally says that the voice of God is kind of projected through the two Cherubim, the it’s kind of given an audible pathway type of type of thing. I think it’s fascinating, but it’s fascinating that here we are Jews talking about an image. It’s just, it’s so counter, and I didn’t have a chance to really see how Islam deals with this. Because of course, you know, Islam when it comes to images, and I and both molten and fixed is Judaism on steroids. They have no flexibility in terms of that, and I give them credit for that. But I wonder how they deal with this, whether the Cherubim feature in the Quran, or in their tradition that I didn’t have time to explore

Alan Yodel  42:26

But in our sense of prophecy from my understanding and study of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s works, that the Cherbim were really a focal point, for the Nev’e’em, prophesy. So they really functioned I think on on that level of direction of prophecy, especially for Moshe Rabbeinu, I think,

Geoffrey Stern  42:50

yeah, and when you talk about focus, you can’t not talk about Kavanaah and direction. And, you know, this is where it comes from. But again, I have argued in prior podcasts and discussions, how I think that we Jews have lost a lot of body language that used to be a part of worship and stuff like that. And here we have physical objects that are a part of worship. And, you know, we’ve kind of so gotten into this cerebral sense of religion, and maybe because we’ve become kind of polemical, and whether it’s Christianity with the bowing, or the imaging that we pulled back from it, but it’s part of us, and there’s no question, you know, when I do yoga, if you want to keep your balance, you need to focus on a particular point space. Otherwise, you’d you fall down.

Alan Yodel  43:53

Absolutely. But also like in, you know, and, and many shuls, like, more kabbalistic type shuls you’re likely to see on the wall a Shiviti, you know, which is a meditation device, you know, it’s clearly a picture, but it’s clearly there to give you focus, you know,

Geoffrey Stern  44:12

yeah, but it’s less it’s less of a picture and it’s more words, but there’s no question about it. There’s merit there, it’s an area that needs further discussion, and further exploration by Jews who are not necessarily comfortable talking about images, not necessarily talking about, you know, body movements and breath and things like that. And I love it when you can’t ignore what the Torah says.

Alan Yodel  44:41


Geoffrey Stern  44:42

Anyway, it was great having you on board cup again. And thank you much so much for your insight, because I love the concept of riding on it. And I love bringing in the Merkava as well, so, Shabbat shalom. and we’ll see you all next week

Sefaria Source Sheet:

Listen to last year’s vayakhel podcast: Jews with Tools

and last year’s Pekudei podcast: Temples with no cloud-cover

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Jerome L. Stern Pre-Pesah Lecture and Singing Circle – 2023

Please register for this annual lecture at HADAR INSTITUTE 

Jerome L. Stern Pre-Pesah Lecture 2023 |

Join Hadar for an evening of Torah and song in preparation for Pesah, with the Jerome L. Stern Pre-Pesah Lecture given by R. Micha’el Rosenberg, followed by a singing circle led by R. Deborah Sacks Mintz.

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Wash your hands

parshat ki tisa – exodus 30

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on March 9th on Clubhouse. The Torah commands the Priests to wash their hands and feet before conducting the Temple service. The Rabbis command hand washing upon waking, before prayer, before eating and on multiple other opportunities. We review the Rabbinic and comparative Christian and Muslim sources and discuss hand washing; a rite historically identified with the Jews.

Sefaria Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Ki Tisa. The Torah commands the Priests to wash their hands and feet before conducting the Temple service. The Rabbis command hand washing upon waking, before prayer, before eating and on multiple other opportunities. When I studied in the Yeshiva, I had a bowl and cup of water under my bed so that I could wash my hands before my feet touched the floor.  If you’ve been to an Orthodox wedding or a rest room in Israel you’ve likely seen a washing cup with two handles.  What’s with all the washing you say.  I say, watch your mouth and….. Wash your hands!


This year, it’s a second or third year-round. You never know what we’re gonna discuss a good topic we’re gonna discuss washing, washing your hands of all things. In Exodus 30: 17, which is part of our parsha it says God spoke to Moses, saying: (18) Make a laver of copper and a stand of copper for it, for washing;  לְרׇחְצָ֑ה and place it between the Tent of Meeting and the altar. Put water in it, (19) and let Aaron and his sons wash their hands and feet [in water drawn] from it. (20) When they enter the Tent of Meeting they shall wash with water, that they may not die; or when they approach the altar to serve, to turn into smoke an offering by fire to ה’, (21) they shall wash their hands and feet, that they may not die. It shall be a law for all time for them—for him and his offspring—throughout the ages.  So, this is a real thing. This is a this is a law. And you know many times we go to the prayer book, the first blessing that you make in the prayer book, the first blessing you make over a commandment every day is blessed are you oh Lord our God אֲשֶׁר קִדְּ֒שָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ עַל נְטִילַת יָדָֽיִם . You wash your hands under the bed is something called Negel Vaser We’re gonna get into all of that.

Adam Mintz  02:39

Do you know what the word Nagel means.

Geoffrey Stern  02:42

Nagel means nail, I think we might, we might get into that as well.

Adam Mintz  02:47

That’s correct. I think that’s what Negel means

Geoffrey Stern  02:49

And it doesn’t mean nail like hitting the nail with a hammer. It means nail as the end of your fingertip. So, you know, there’s a lot of washing going on. I might have mentioned before that Jews are recognized as Sabbath observers. So, I think in India, the word even that they call Jews are people that keep the Shabbat. [shanivār telī (“Saturday oil-pressers”)] But I think and maybe it’s an urban legend or whatever. People understand there’s a lot of hand washing going on amongst us Jews. So we are going to try to dig down to the bottom of the well, so to speak, and get into all of the ins and outs of washing your hands. What do you think, Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  03:40

I love it. This is a great topic take it away.

Geoffrey Stern  03:44

So first of all, Torah Temimah, which is a kind of a compendium of the Talmud says from this verse, washing of the hands is associated with prayer. So, as I said, the first blessing that you make in the siddur is this blessing of, of washing your hands, and it comes from this verse. The Rabbi’s felt very strongly about washing your hands in the Talmud in Berakhot 15a Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Anyone who relieves himself, washes his hands, dons phylacteries, recites Shema, and prays, the verse ascribes credit to him as if he built an altar and offered a sacrifice upon it, as it is written: “I will wash in purity my hands, and I will encircle the altar of the Lord” (Psalms 26:6).   So clearly there is a connection that the rabbi’s take to our verse, and washing of the hands and if prayer duplicated if prayer was put in place of the temple service here you have the Talmud saying it and we see that right from the beginning. And it says, Robert said to him Rava said to him: Do you not maintain, Master, that one who does so, it is as if he immersed his entire body, as it is written: “I will wash in purity,” and it is not written: “I will wash my hands”?  So, we’re going to see already from the beginning. And I was tempted to use this episode to talk about mikvah, which is something that you Rabbi are intimately involved with, because you do so many conversions. But the truth is, there is a little bit of a tension between washing the hands and immersing in the mikvah. And that is mentioned right here. And it’s almost like a Mikdash katan that washing your hands is somehow different than immersing oneself in the mikvah. But nonetheless, as we just saw, it’s as if one has immersed themselves in the mikvah. It says as if one is re-born and rejuvenating Ravina said to Rava: My Master, look at this Torah scholar [tzurva merabbanan] who came from Eretz Yisrael and said something astonishing: One who has no water with which to wash his hands, it is sufficient that he wipes his hands with earth, a rock, or a sliver of wood. Rava replied to Ravina: He spoke well, as, is it written: I will wash with water? In purity, is written referring to anything that cleans.  So it’s almost as though this washing is clearly washing. But it’s also a metaphor for holiness. Do you do l that washing hands is number one I associated with Jews identified with Jews? Is it a critical part of Rabbinic Judaism?

Adam Mintz  06:47

Well, first of all, let me tell you how its associated with Jews in the 1300s, there was a terrible plague in Europe. And the Jews, and like a third of all European population was killed. And Jews were killed at a smaller rate than that. And there was a theory that it’s because Jews keep the laws of cleanliness, better than everybody else, that they’re washing their hands all the time. So, I want to tell you no. And that led to anti semitism, of course, because they didn’t like that. But it’s interesting that even in that context, Jews are associated with washing your hands, I’m going to tell you an interesting law. The law is that you’re not allowed to wash your hands ritually, unless your hands are clean. That’s a very interesting law. It means you can’t wash your hands for bread. If your hands are dirty. If your hands are dirty, you have to go to the sink, you have to wash your hands with soap, get them clean, then you can wash your hands for bread. So washing for bread or washing in the morning, what we call Negel, Vaser is a ritual, it’s not for cleanliness, which I think is very interesting.

Geoffrey Stern  08:01

So you almost said something, you know, your self-contradictory. On the one hand, you gave the hygienic argument for…

Adam Mintz  08:09

I showed you the way they look at it, the world looks at it at as hygienic. But I’m saying that in in Halacha, it’s exactly the opposite, which is interesting. That would be our answer to that, right.

Geoffrey Stern  08:22

So as all of you faithful Madlik, listeners know, we have Sephira notes that go with every episode. And if you look into the notes for this week’s episode, we quote an article from the Jewish Review of books published in 2021. And it says Jews, Genes and the Black Death, it’s towards the end of the notes, and it talks about, for lack of a better word, I’m going to say this bubba meiser, that every good Jewish mother would tell their kids wash your hands, because this saved us from the bubonic plague. And what’s fascinating about it, as you say, Rabbi is we’re not sure that it came from the Jews, or it came from the non-Jews, we do know that there was anti-semitic outbursts during the plague, because the Jews were blamed. That’s just a reflex, I assume. But it’s fascinating. The article goes into it and actually goes through the numbers. And it comes out if you’re interested in saying that if and that’s a big if the Jews did not die in the same numbers as the non-Jews, it may have something to do with DNA. And I just suggest that you read the article because we are not a DNA podcast here. But in any case, it is fascinating that nonetheless, what you’re saying emanates this concept that it washing hands was clearly identified with The Jews, it was a a mark, so to speak. In the Gomorrah and Hulan 106a, it says, When Rav Dimi came from Eretz Yisrael he said: Due to the failure to wash with the first waters, meaning the washing that you do before you eat, they ultimately fed a Jew pig meat. So, what happened? A Jew shows up to a butcher shop that carries both kosher meat and pig meat. And based on the fact that the guy didn’t wash his hands, the proprietor figured he must not be Jewish. So again, what the Talmud is, in effect, saying between the lines is that washing of hands was an identifier. And I think that is kind of fascinating.

Adam Mintz  10:50

That is fascinating. I mean, that not your point that you’re making. It’s that it’s an identifier. And that’s, that’s interesting socially, I’m interested in how we identify one another. Like, it seems to be that people are always washing their hands. Not everybody does this. And I’ll admit that I don’t do this either. But actually, the tradition is to wash your hands before you daven as well. Before every prayer service, you’re supposed to wash your hands. That’s why sometimes outside of a shul, you’ll see a basin or you know, a sink in order to be able to wash your hands.

Geoffrey Stern  11:32

Well, absolutely. And I said that a little bit in the intro. These strange cups that have two handles on them,

Adam Mintz  11:39

Right. That’s correct.

Geoffrey Stern  11:40

Yeah, you go to an orthodox wedding and you see them you go to a synagogue, you see them, if you’re in Israel, and you go to a restaurant, nine times out of 10 outside of the bathroom, and they might even have the sink outside of the bathroom. It’s made for ritual washing, whether it’s washing because you’ve relieved yourself or washing because you’re about to partake of a meal and eat bread. I mean, let me give you a sense of how many washing opportunities there are. We know when we go to a cemetery. We wash our hands upon leaving. After cuttings, one hair or nails and we’ll get a little bit into the nails association here because you already mentioned that the water that one keeps at the side of one’s bed called Nagel vaser that one washes one’s fingertips upon waking up, has in the Yiddish Nagel means nails so your washing your fingertips. Some people wash before prayer, and again, this reminded me of my yeshiva days when I we did wash before prayers. I had forgotten about that. But it is kind of fascinating now to see how important it was to the rabbi’s go to Sotah 4b The Gemara continues its discussion of washing hands. Rabbi Zerika says that Rabbi Elazar says: Anyone who treats the ritual of washing hands with contempt is uprooted from the world.  הַמְּזַלְזֵל בִּנְטִילַת יָדַיִם נֶעֱקָר מִן הָעוֹלָם  The rabbi’s took this very seriously. Rav Ḥiyya bar Ashi says that Rav says: With regard to the first water, so let’s stop here for a second before you start a meal before you eat. There’s מַיִם רִאשׁוֹנִים  That’s what we all know where you wash your hands before you say hamotzi but there’s also מַיִם אַחֲרוֹנִים  which you wash at the end of the meal. You may have seen these little wonderful Judaica pieces that look like a well with a little cup hanging down.

Adam Mintz  13:59

They’re fantastic, aren’t they?

Geoffrey Stern  14:01

Oh, they are. And that is מַיִם אַחֲרוֹנִים . And that is to to wipe off what it’s called the מלח סדומית the salt from Sodom. And again, the health explanation would be that in those days, they used a lot of salt to preserve things…

Adam Mintz  14:21

Well something else. They didn’t have cutlery. So, the salt got on your fingers today, you would say What do you mean wash your hands, but at the end of the meal you’re using a fork and a spoon and a knife, but they didn’t have cutlery so the salt from the food and they needed salt in the food because they didn’t have refrigeration. So, the only way they preserve the food was by salting the food.

Geoffrey Stern  14:44

And of course there are more theological answers because who can talk about Sodom without thinking about מידת סדום (the evil character of Sodom) so when you finished eating and you’re satiated, which is the time that you might not focus on people that are less fortunate wash off the salt of Sodom, is a beautiful explanation I once heard. Getting back to the Talmud, it says so when you do the first washing, you must raise your hand upward, שֶׁיַּגְבִּיהַּ יָדָיו לְמַעְלָה . And when you do the מַיִם אַחֲרוֹנִים, you put your hands downward, there is something and we’ve already touched upon it, this association between holiness and cleanliness, holiness, and cleaning one’s hands. And so, while you definitely have a point, when you say this is not just cleaning one’s hands, your hands actually have to be cleaned before this ritual washing. There is this sense of, of raising your hands to a higher level raising you to a higher level. You know, we have a Mishnayot that talks about people being excommunicated, because they questioned the laws of purifying the hands. This actually was a very big, big deal. And it was a controversial idea. I think I could say that it not only was I an identifier of Jews, but because we Jews are the heirs of the Pharisees the Perushim, the Rabbinic Judaism in its day when there were other sects, it was a identifier of someone who was loyal to the rabbis. And therefore, if one did not wash or ascribe to washing or when put down washing, one was Kofer B’ikar, one was somehow undermining the whole project.

Adam Mintz  15:19

Yeah, I think that that makes a lot of sense. I think that’s, that is good. And that’s, you know, it’s interesting, I wasn’t thinking about מַיִם אַחֲרוֹנִים. But that’s another good example of kinda the balance between the hygiene piece of it, and the ritual piece of it. You don’t wait to wash until after Birkat HaMazon, you wash before Grace after meals, because it’s part of the ritual.

Geoffrey Stern  17:24

So what I love about scholarship today, and many times I will quote comparative religion, from the New Testament from the Quran. But in this case, it actually helps us understand the Talmud, because clearly the Talmud is excommunicating people who don’t wash, it is judging people as to identity if they don’t wash, something was going on. And if it was just in a vacuum, we would say maybe it’s a paper tiger. But in Mark 7 we have this long story, which I’m going to read. 1The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.  I don’t know if that’s referring to being tovel kelim in a mikvah? Who knows. 5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” 6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips,     but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain;     their teachings are merely human rules.’[b] 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” And then it goes on, and it compares it to honoring your mother and father. And to cut a long story short, because I welcome you all to read it in the original and it appears twice in the New Testament. It’s also in Matthew 15. They basically make the argument that while the Bible itself says that you have to honor your mother and father, the rabbi’s say if you make an oath, if you make a neder, that you won’t do something that involves your parents, you have to keep the oath. The argument that Jesus and the New Testament on making here is that this law of washing that we just read about in the Torah that relates only to the priests in the temple is only by rabbinic decree made for everybody else. And what they are undermining is rabbinic authority. They are undermining the oral tradition. They are fundamentalists in a sense, but the fact that they picked this particular lawyer twice as their use case is kind of fascinating. And of course, at the end, it ends up with something that I had always associated with Jesus saying about kosher, but he in fact, says it about washing your hands. And he makes the famous comment, it’s not important what goes into your mouth. It’s what comes out of it. And what he meant to say, following up on the Isaiah quote, is that this purity needs to come from inside and not from outside. I call it a cheap shot, if you will. But it’s fascinating to me that this was documented not only in the Talmud, but also in the New Testament, that this was a point of discussion of a separation between the sects.

Adam Mintz  21:17

I mean, that’s so interesting, they argued about this ritual. And of course, they argued about this ritual, because this ritual is not biblical, but it was something that was added by the rabbi’s. So the Pharisees liked it, because they were part of the rabbinic tradition. The other sects rejected it, because they didn’t have such a good feeling about the rabbis. Right. This is so you’re really introducing even though you had this, the you know, the the story about the sects, you’re really introducing the fact that as important as ritual washing is, it’s actually a rabbinic obligation, not a biblical obligation.

Geoffrey Stern  21:58

So I think you’re right. And I think in the normal course of events, we would talk about this just as that we would say that if the story that we read about in the Parsah is called an Asmachata אסמכתא בעלמא  that it’s kind of like a place holder, or it’s an allusion. But I think a little bit because it was so controversial. If you go to Tanna Debei Eliyahu Rabbah 15:1  it says that יש מקרא ואין בו משנה  that there are instances in the Torah of stories without an explanation or without the learning. And they actually they talk about the Jews outside of Sinai where they had to clean themselves. For three days. They had to go into the mikvah, and it says גם למדנו רחיצת ידים מן התורה  the rabbi’s are trying very hard, this is so important to them, that they are trying very hard to associate it and of course, they bring our verse as well. And they say that because it says you shall be holy. When you wash your hands, it doesn’t relate totally, or exclusively to the Kohanim. But also to all of Klal Yisrael, so it is kind of fascinating. I think the real the real elephant in the room here is that the rabbi’s introduced a whole culture of food that was either Chulan, Demai or it was holy (terumah) , and there were all sorts of degradations, and you had to be in a state of purity to eat them. And I think what’s fascinating at the end of the day is what the rabbi’s have done is they’ve actually made an innovation here. If you look at Maimonides, Maimonides makes a general rule. And he says Whenever the Torah mentions washing one’s flesh or laundering one’s garments from impurity, the intent is solely the immersion of the entire body or article in a mikveh. The phrase, Leviticus 15:11: “And he did not wash his hands in water,” also refers to the immersion of the entire body.  And in a sense what the rabbi’s have done because it would not be practical to go to the mikvah every time one ate, they actually made an innovation that was a practicality. They said that dipping your hands or we’ll get into a second washing your hands was enough to make you holy. I think that’s a kind of fascinating, kind of a tweak on what is at stake here.

Adam Mintz  24:49

I think that’s great. I think that that’s absolutely right. And what you said about the rabbi’s working hard to find the biblical source It’s a familiar trope in in robotics that they look for a verse to, to, to support something that they made up themselves, because they want to make it stronger than just rabbinic. They want to give it the sense as if it’s biblical.

Geoffrey Stern  25:16

Yeah, absolutely. But this was a little, the stakes were a little bit higher here, because I think that, you know, there’s this whole issue of what constituted Am Aretz. And this whole question of eating Demai, it was really a major identifier of who you were in terms of the, the holiness, the separation of the Pharisees. So let’s get a little bit into since our verse is universally taken, as the hook upon which this is hung. Let’s go to a good buddy, the safer HaChinuch, who talks about every commandment, he had to include this because it literally says you are commanded from now and forever. So he says the roots of the commandment is the fixed foundation that we have said to aggrandize, the glory of the temple and all the activities that are done there. So there’s a little bit of a sense of another tradition, where this can’t be about purity, because the only way one can get pure is by immersing in the mikvah. So what is this, and the track that many of these commentaries take is, it’s giving honor, it’s what you would do, it appears from all this, that the intention of washing at the beginning is only for the aggrandizement of the glory of the temple. So there is a sense of this isn’t about necessarily purifying you, but it’s about uplifting the moment and uplifting you to the thing. And this is where we get into raising the hands. And the way that we wash our hands, he goes on to say, and that they do not put their hands into the water, but we pour it over their hands. And this is also the way of honor, he doesn’t say necessarily who pours the water, we’re going to talk a little bit if we have time, about the whole sense of the honor of pouring water on somebody else’s hands or somebody else’s feet. But clearly, the way that we have a cup with the two handles, you can’t put your fingers under the faucet, you have to pour the water onto it. And everybody talks about the blessing that we say עַל נְטִילַת יָדָֽיִם , which has a sense of raising up one’s hands. There is this sense of elevation here.

Adam Mintz  27:55

Yeah, that’s good. That’s very, very good. The word netila is the idea of raising your hands. Some people have the custom if you watch people on Friday night, wash their hands, some people wash their hands, and they pick their hands up a little bit. They actually recite a verse שאו ידיכם קדש , that you should raise your hands there is this idea that you’re elevated. The washing is a ritual that elevates you. There’s a lot to be said there,

Geoffrey Stern  28:25

elevate, raise your hands before performing something sacred. That is clearly a part of it. And so if we go on a little bit further, and we’re not going to have time for everything, this whole washing of the feet is something that was lost. The Rabbi’s didn’t do quite the job on the washing of the feet that they did with washing of the hands. The truth is that Christianity took that and maybe it was one of those instances where in a divorce, we divide things up and it was so associated with Christianity, and maybe even Islam, that we stopped doing it. In the story of Abraham. If you recall when the angels came to visit him, the first thing that he did was he went out and he washed their feet. He said in Genesis 18 Let a little water be poured bathe your feet and recline under the tree. In the Talmud. It says in Baba Metzia Rabbi Yannai, son of Rabbi Yishmael, said that the guests said to Abraham: Are you suspicious that we are Arabs who bow to the dust of their feet? Yishmael has already issued from him, i.e., your own son acts in this manner.  So first of all, it’s fascinating that the rabbi, is the son of Rabbi Ishmael about the children of Ishmael, but clearly the Talmud is too early to talk about Islam, but already associated with Washing of one’s feet is not something that elevated but either one’s feet were dirty or because maybe one worshipped the ground. In the Source sheet, I have a lot of a sources for where Christianity took this, I did find something fascinating in terms of the reform movement, have something called Brit Rechitza for those Jews that are have a problem with a Brit Mila, they have taken this where they do a little ceremony where they wash the feet. To me, it sounds very Christian. But again, that’s because we are so remote from this sense of washing. It’s just so fascinating. What I would like to leave everybody with is this sense, we’ve talked about bracha in the past, coming from the word Berech, which is knee (bowing – bending). But bracha also comes from the same word as berecha which is pool. And in the notes, I quote, The Malbim and others who really talk about this sense of a blessing being something that is poured from God to man and back and forth. He talks in some of the commentaries that I bring talk about when a patriarch like Jacob divides up the blessing, he’s scooping out the portion of the cup that belongs to each one. It’s a beautiful image when we say a baracha and when we give a bracha this sense of pouring the water, and I’d love to leave you with that image as we think about washing our hands.

Adam Mintz  31:54

That’s great. This was a great topic. Thank you, Geoffrey. Shabbat Shalom to everybody. Enjoy your weekend. Enjoy your week. We look forward to seeing you next week. Shabbat shalom.

Geoffrey Stern  32:05

Hey, Lauren, how’s it going?

Loren Davis  32:07

This was a really interesting topic, it came to mind this week, and I was doing some reading about the Parsha. And it talked about the Cohen Gadol that the requirement was to wash their hands and their feet. And it wasn’t necessarily that the hands were more important or less important than the feet. It was a it was a ritual that included both. And I was wondering whether or not now you’ve you’ve touched on it in your in your text here, but in going into the into the Holy of Holies. Why do you think they also included the feet in that?

Geoffrey Stern  32:47

So actually, in the very verse that we started with, which was not for the Cohen Gadol it was for the standard priest, it says in Exodus 30: 21, they shall wash their hands and feet that they may not die. And the classic commentaries all say that this had to be done. They even provide provisions for how it’s done. One places one’s hand over one’s foot, let’s say your left hand on your left foot, you watch that, and you do the same for the right. So washing the feet is something that’s kind of fascinating. And I kind of hinted at that, that that got lost between the cracks in rabbinic literature culture and kind of reimagining Judaism after the temple, it survived very much in Christianity. And obviously, it’s survived in Islam, but somehow, it preserved here. And most Jews would say that at the time of the temple, we’ll we’ll be washing hands and feet again, but it didn’t translate into any of the rituals that the rabbis created. And that we follow today. I will say, even the sense of taking off when shoes because you are on holy ground. Islam, I picked that up. Judaism for the most part not [ I should mention that for the priestly blessing, the modern day Cohanim do not wear their shoes) although there are some amazing synagogues in the Caribbean, who do not have wooden or stone floors. I think it’s called Curaçao.  It’s sand. It’s made of sand and I assume in those synagogues, maybe they did pray without shoes. In Judaism taking off one’s shoe is a sign of mourning or ultra hyper holiness. We do that on Yom Kippur. But again, I think you make a good point what happened to washing the feet?

Loren Davis  35:06

The distinction that you made this evening between purity and holiness was very, very interesting to me that there was the Holiness was in honor of, I guess, what you’re suggesting of God, purity was a way of being able to prepare yourself to participate in that is that the distinction?

Geoffrey Stern  35:30

So the Pharisees which were quoted in the New Testament, tonight, the Hebrew for a PhariseePerushim  means to be separate. They, they would say, קדושים תהיו ר”ל פירושים תהיו, you want to be holy, you have to separate yourself, and we always think of the Pharisees, as the people that said, An eye for an eye, lex talionis, its monetary. We saw them as very practical and taking Judaism along the path of evolving, but a very strong part of the Pharisees were these holiness laws, they distinguish between different types of food. You have a little bit of that in the Seder. One of the four questions is, every other night we wash once, tonight, we washed twice, they kind of captured a temple rite of washing one’s hands before we even ate fruit that might have had moisture on it and therefore could accept a certain level of unholiness. They were not like the Essenes; they didn’t go into the desert and segregate themselves. But clearly what they tried to do was to pack and ship some of the rules of the temple into ordinary life. And they were known for that and the term arm Haaretz which nowadays is a word we use for an ignoramus. In the Talmud, a times academics have shown that it actually had to do with the people who stayed in the land of Israel, when many of the Jews went into Babylonia, and it was in Babylonia and the Babylonian Talmud were many of these laws were made about purity in terms of eating and washing, they came back and resident Am Ha’aretz was not willing to accept these rules. It was a major point of division. And I think that’s part of why the washing part and the holiness part was monopolized and hijacked by the rabbi’s. And they’re, you see this other trend in it, this sense of not holiness in the sense of impurity, but holiness in the sense of elevating and giving grandeur to the temple giving grandeur to God being reborn, but I do think in and I’ll stop here, I do think what the rabbi’s did, by letting you wash your hands is they created a fast-food version of the holiness code. Whereas all of the commentaries say, if you look at the Bible, the only way you can purify yourself is taking a dip … going, going into the mikvah, the rabbi’s had to be more practical, and they permitted you to just wash your hands. So it was actually a practical innovation as much as anything else.

Loren Davis  38:33

That’s really That’s fascinating. I think the rabbi was right, this is a great topic and the issue of, of cleanliness versus holiness. I do so many things during the day where I wash my hands for one reason or another. And it’s interesting to trace back where that may have come from. So, thank you for your very interesting session.

Geoffrey Stern  38:52

Thank you and I’ll only end with one language. Text The Rabbi’s say when you wake up in the morning, and otherwise, before you pray, you have to wash your hands because your hands are busy. (The Rosh in the late 13th century says that we must wash our hands because “the hands are busy.”) You never know where they’ll be. And I love that expression. So anyway, let’s all stay busy. Let’s all stay clean and holy. And we’ll see you all next week.

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Temple Politics

parshat tetzaveh, exodus 28

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on March 2nd 2023. We survey the prophetic and Rabbinic re-imagining of a Temple culture without a Temple but we also continue our discussion from last week where we noted how messianism, including Jewish Messianism includes an eschatological, often violent break with accepted practice, intentionally breaking moral and Rabbinic norms to hasten the end. We explore how after the Six Day War, but specifically after the Oslo Accords previous Rabbinic guidance relating to the sanctity of the Temple Mount has been cast aside.

Sefaria Source sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Tetzaveh. We survey the prophetic and Rabbinic re-imagining of a Temple culture without a Temple but we also continue our discussion from last week where we noted how Jewish Messianism includes an often violent break with accepted practice, intentionally breaking moral and Rabbinic norms to hasten the end. We explore how after the Six Day War, but specifically after the Oslo Accords previous Rabbinic guidance relating to the sanctity of the Temple Mount has been cast aside. So join us for Temple Politics.


Well, welcome back another week in Madlik. And obviously, I think we’ve all been watching the news out of Israel and two, beautiful Jewish souls were killed in a terrorist attack. But afterwards, some of the video that we’ve all seen is as as I wouldn’t say, as disturbing nothing can be as disturbing as the loss of life. But some seemingly ultra orthodox Jews lit some Palestinian homes on fire. And as the sun set, decided to dive in, Maariv, and that juxtaposition of praying while people’s homes burned, was really a disconcerting to say the least. So as I said, in the introduction, we’re gonna continue the conversation of what the temple means and what it meant after it was no longer with us. But we are going to fast forward into the present in terms of how the temple has been politicized in terms of the change in halacha. And what more better subject for Madlik then to review how halacha is changing in front of our very eyes. And Rabbi Adam, how are you this week?

Adam Mintz  02:21

I’m really good. I mean, it’s not California, but we’re good here in New York, and I’m looking forward. This is a great conversation, and I’m looking forward to having

Geoffrey Stern  02:30

fantastic so in Pasha Exodus 28: 2 says make sacral vestments for your brother Aaron for dignity and adornment. Make בִגְדֵי־קֹ֖דֶשׁ  holy clothing for Aaron your brother, לְכָב֖וֹד וּלְתִפְאָֽרֶת  for Kavod and adornments, beauty, and maybe you are not aware, because we’ve really not discussed this tradition in Judaism many times before. But there is a tradition that there are a certain set numbers of commandments; 613 commandments, and at a certain time, Maimonides wrote a book called Sefer HaMitzvot. And this began a tradition of writing a book and counting the very different commandments. So the first thing that one does, when one looks at a innocuous pasuk like this, a verse like this, that simply says, do something, when wants to see did it rank to become one of those 613 commandments, and lo and behold, in safer ha mitzvah, the positive commandments, number 33. It says that is that he commanded the priests to wear special garments for glory and adornment, so they can serve in the temple. And that is his saying, and make holy garments for your brother Aaron from glory and adoration. So he quotes our verse, and he says that this is an actual commandment. And he goes on to say, and it already appears in the Sifra, which is a midrashic commentary that wearing these garments is a positive commandment. So we’ve been focused in the last week or two on building the tabernacle, the Mishkan and now we’re getting to the accessories if you will. And from this verse, we learned that wearing the clothing is an accessory. But Rabbi the first thing that struck me was the pasuk says make Sacred vestments   וְעָשִׂ֥יתָ בִגְדֵי־קֹ֖דֶשׁ  make them and all of the commentaries universally say that the commandment is to wear the special garments. Are you struck by that as well?

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Temple Politics | Sefaria

Parshat Tetzaveh – We survey the prophetic and Rabbinic re-imagining of a Temple culture without a Temple but we also continue our discussion from last week where we noted how Jewish Messianism includes an often violent break with accepted practice, intentionally breaking moral and Rabbinic norms to hasten the end.

Listen to last year’s episode: Why Blue and White?

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WHEN GOD gets small cont.

parshat terumah, exodus 25

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on February 23rd 2023. We continue a previous discussion concerning the emergence and almost universal impact, if not acceptance of the concept of tzimzum and tikkun on the Jewish concept of redemption. We explore the writings of Gershom Scholem and ask how this radical idea manifests in a new pernicious form of post-Zionism.

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This is a continuation of last year’s Terumah podcast: WHEN GOD get small


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 Torah portion is Toldot. .  Last year when we discussed the creation of the tabernacle, we explored a powerful theological concept called Tzimzum where God creates the world by contracting his presence.  This year we continue the discussion from a historical, ideological and political perspective.  We explore how after the expulsion from Spain this concept profoundly impacted every aspect of the Jewish Journey into modernity and up until the current political crisis in Israel.


So welcome, you know, every week, I have to make sure that I’m not talking about the same thing that I talked about in past years. So I wanted to talk about Tzimzum, I love Tzimzum, and I went back to last year’s podcast, and lo and behold, we talked about Tzimzum, and I listened to it. And I encourage any of you who haven’t listened to it recently to go ahead, because this is a continuation of that discussion, we are going to get into what tzimzum is, as I said before, in the introduction, it’s when God creates the world by contracting. And I think that at the end of last year’s podcast, to give you a sense of the direction we took last year, we asked the question of how is it possible that God on the one hand, can contract himself and withdraw from the world, but also be m’tzamzem make himself small and come into the temple. And I quoted if you remember, Rabbi, Shai Held, who said, it’s kind of like a relationship, sometimes you have to give the other person space by contracting yourself and moving away. And other times you have to get into their life and be a part of every aspect of it. And so that gives you a sense that last year, we were really talking on a very personal level, a theological level, but this year, we’re going in a whole other direction, we’re going to really look at history. And in a sense, it’s almost going to be a masterclass in Gershon Scholem, the the great historian, scholar of Kabbalah. And we’re going to use him as a guide. And I think we’re going to be kind of surprised by some of the ramifications that tzimzum had throughout history. So Rabbi, do you share even a little bit my my fascination with tzimzum?

Adam Mintz  03:11

It’s a really, really good topic. And I wasn’t sure you know, that “continued”, I wasn’t sure what angle you were gonna take in terms of in terms of tzimzum,

Geoffrey Stern  03:21

So what we’re starting with is the Parsha deals with the Israelites building God, a temple. And there’s one verse in Exodus 25, 8. And it says, And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. And the key word that we discussed really ad nauseam last year was וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם . And I will dwell (amongst them) and if you hear the word Shechina, in V’shechanti, you are on the money, “I will dwell within them”. And the whole question is what is “within them mean”? And we quoted one piece of Midrash in Shemot Rabbah, where the moment when the Holy One said to Moses, make me a tabernacle, Moses was dumbfounded, and said, The glory of the Holy One fills the upper worlds, and the lower and he said, to make him a tabernacle? And he said, “but will God indeed dwell on the earth?” So really, there is this question here of how the infinite can become part of our world of finitude, and at the end it says, The Holy One replied to Moshe, I do not see things the same as you do. I will come down and contract my presence within a space of one qubit by one qubit and it says in the Hebrew שֶׁאֵרֵד וַאֲצַמְצֵם שְׁכִינָתִי בְּתוֹךְ אַמָּה עַל אַמָּה  so this word that the Kabbalists went to town with is used very rarely. And this is one of the rare occasions that it is used in a Rabbinic, Midrashic text and earliest understanding of Tzimzum, which means really to contract is that God took his infinite presence and brought it inside of the tabernacle. And what we are going to discuss today is how the Kabbalists, in Tzfat in Safed in Israel, took this concept and made it into something that I am going to argue with the help of Gershom Scholom today, affected every aspect of Jewish life, affected the thoughts that everybody listening to this podcast probably has about Judaism, affected history, ideology, theology, and even nationalism. So the first thing that Scholem does, is he explains what this meant from a theological perspective, and then how it evolved. And he said that ultimately, this concept of God creating the world instead of emanating into the world, by slowly but surely materializing himself through these different Sefirot, which I described last year, as a sense of almost kicking the can down the road. Instead, he contracted himself, he says, “the doctrines developed in the schools of Safed, apparently embodied some fundamental and universal Jewish quality that’s transcended all local variations. And he says, what they did was they had recently been exiled from Spain. And you have to understand Spain in its day was, was like American Jewry. It was. It was like Berlin right before and the Holocaust, it was Jews were in every facet of life. And they thought they had arrived, and all of a sudden, a catastrophe occurred, and they lost everything. And the Kabbalists went to Safed. And for the first generation, they really felt that this cataclysmic event had occurred, and the Messiah would come. And when that wore off, they had to figure out what everything meant. And so what they did was they took this concept of God creating the world and contracting himself into God exileing himself. “They triumphed because they provided an answer to the great problem of the time, to a generation for which the facts of exile and the precariousness of existence in it had become most pressing and cruel. Kabbalism could give an answer unparalleled in breadth and depth and vision. The Kabbalistic answer illuminated the significance of exile in redemption, and accounted for the unique historical situation of Israel within the wider, in fact, cosmic context of creation itself. What Gershon Scholem is trying to prove is that they took something that previously had only related to the creation of the world, and they brought it home to the situation of the Jews in exile. And they took this concept of God in a sense coming out of his holy abode, or God contracting himself from the world because there was a little bit of both of them, and they projected that on to the Jewish people, so now all of a sudden, this idea of being exiled, became almost something that could be compared to the divine. I’ll finish this little introduction because Gershom Scholom is almost lyrical and when you read him, he’s almost poetic. He says, There is a ruthlessness towards himself (meaning God), for he exiled himself from boundless infinity to a more concentrated infinity. There is a profound inward galut exile, not the galut of one of the creatures but of God Himself, who limited himself and thereby made place for the universe. So this is where this idea of tzimzum becomes more than just how does God create a temple? Or how does God even create a world and that is what we we’re going to explore a little bit today. How does that resonate with you Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  10:05

Well, first of all, I mean, I’m so happy that you started with Gershom Scholem. Because he’s the master of understanding this and that’s why it’s so great that he call it a continuation, the idea that God, contracting himself becomes God going into exile was such an important pivot by the Jews. And we’re still living in that pivot. That’s what you said, you said, it applies to us. Even today, we’re still living in that pivot, we still see God as going into exile, and how that relates to us and how we relate to that. So I love that idea.

Geoffrey Stern  10:45

And if I’m correct, we have had a previous podcast, where you have referenced this concept of Shechinta B’Galuta, that the Divine Presence went with the Jews into exile. That was not something that was created by this concept of Tzimzum, that like many things in the history of ideas that was existing, but it was, I think, kind of embellished and given more power, the idea of the Divine Presence also went into exile, or that even when Israel sins, God goes down with them, those are in the source sheet. We have texts; traditional texts, nothing to do with the Kabbalah that, that talk about that. And of course, we find that to be kind of a powerful. And I think it’s in a sense, these are the humanistic aspects, the Hasidic stories about how the simple little Jew or the the Jew who might not be knowledgeable in the Torah, God is with that person. I mean, that in itself is a powerful, a powerful message. But again, we’re gonna take it out of the realm of theology, and the personal and into the realm of ideology, and ideological movements and nationalism and politics. And that I think becomes kind of fascinating how that happened.

Adam Mintz  12:26

That is fascinating. Let me just say that that idea that that God is in exile is based on a very old rabbinic tradition, which is quoting a verse which says, עמו אנכי בצרה that I am with you in your suffering, and that God actually is with us in our suffering. And that’s really amazing, right? So when we go into exile, God goes into exile with us,  עמו אנכי בצרה

Geoffrey Stern  12:57

Absolutely. And I think you can even make the case that there was in rabbinic tradition, a sense of that a God would go into the exile. When it says, to make me a Mikdash. In Shemot Rabbah, it says, Make me a Mikdash, so that I not be on the outside שֶׁלֹא אֶהְיֶה בַּחוּץ . This, this concept of exile an Alien Nation, being a foreigner, being an alien, whether to oneself or in every aspect, again, it was all there. But the Jews from suffered in the tiny little town on the top of a hill, came up with an interpretation that really resounded so so strongly, that I think will show it really affected so many different occurrence within within Judaism. And that becomes kind of fascinating.

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Shadows of Sinai cont.

parshat mishpatim, exodus 24

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on February 16th 2023. We continue our discussion of Sinai with a focus on the negative aspects foreshadowed even at the climactic moment of revelation. We survey the Rabbinic tradition as preserved in our texts and surprisingly in the Koran. Finally we wonder whether Israel and God have entered into a relationship at Sinai that neither one can resist?

Sefaria Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Mishpatim. .  We continue our discussion of Sinai with a focus on the negative aspects foreshadowed even at the climactic moment of revelation. We survey the Rabbinic tradition as preserved in our texts and surprisingly in the Koran. Finally we wonder whether Israel and God have entered into a relationship at Sinai that neither one can resist? So join us for Shadows of Sinai continued


Well, welcome back, I made you promise at the end of last week that we would return to this subject. Little did I know that we would return in the following week! I guess the giving of the Torah at Sinai is a big deal.

Adam Mintz  01:14

A very big deal. And they come back to it at the end of this week’s portion. And I mean, there’s a question exactly why this was placed at the end of this week’s portion rather than last week’s portion, but whatever it is, it’s like book-ended. So, the last story is about the giving of the Torah. So that’s exciting. We get to have it for two weeks in a row.

Geoffrey Stern  01:36

Absolutely. And before we begin, every so often, we get comments from people that listen to the podcast, and I thought maybe I would quote just a few comments that we got in the last week. And what I want to do is encourage all of you who listen to this as a podcast, to give us a few stars, and maybe to write a comment on whether it’s Apple or Spotify or whatever platform you use to listen to our podcast. So, Howard writes kudos another interesting Torah study. Although I wonder if left-handed individuals with agree with the rabbi, that to the right is always better. Rabbi, I think you pissed off the left-handed people.

Adam Mintz  02:19

Yeah, that’s funny. Okay.

Geoffrey Stern  02:21

I was happy to see the sketch of the shul at vote of it. My great-grandfather, Morris Knobloch, was born in Gwodziec in 1848. Imagine my dismay when I learned that there are two Gwodziecs:  the synagogue location is in now the Ukraine; in the Carpathian Mountains almost at the junction of Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine.  Thank you, Howard. Michael wrote, I woke up feeling the beauty of  “Encircling the Mountain” Like, Passing the Talking Stick in Circle, Holding Sacred Space, and May I add; climbing the Mountain to reach God’s outstretched hand as a metaphor for our lives….. and the “opposing force” Negdo Yes, there is that Always creating the Illusion of Separation, Split from the divine Thank you. Well, thank you, Michael. And thank you, Howard, and its loyal listeners like you that make this all worthwhile. So, we are continuing last week. And in this week’s Parsha, as you say, after the parsha is called mishpatim. It has many rules and laws that are relevant even till today. One of them has to do with hitting a woman who miscarries and lo and behold, that is the source of so much of the discussion about abortion and right to life and so forth and so on. But in Exodus 24: 4, it says Moses then wrote down all the commandments of God. Early in the morning, he set up an altar at the foot of the mountain וַיִּ֥בֶן מִזְבֵּ֖חַ תַּ֣חַת הָהָ֑ר with 12 pillars for the 12 tribes of Israel. Then he took the record of the covenant and read it aloud to the people and they said, all that God has spoken, we will faithfully do that is Everett Fox’s, translation of נַעֲשֶׂ֥ה וְנִשְׁמָֽע  the JPS says, literally we will do and obey. The Koren Jerusalem Bible says. They said all that the Lord has said we will do and obey. So Na’aseh V’Nishmah is something that I grew up with. You probably grew up with Rabbi. It was the crowning, I guess, bumper sticker of the Jewish people at Sinai, they said Na’aseh, we will do v’nishmah and we will listen or possibly we shall observe. And we talked last week about this sense of being underneath the mountain, we focused on the positive aspects of that. Today we’re going to focus on maybe some of the negative foreshadowing negative aspects of it. But if you go to the Midrash Tanchuma, it really does connect both the standing under the mountain and what the Jews said, underneath the mountain. It says the Israelites did not accept the Torah until the holy one bless it be he arched the mountain over them like a vessel, as it is said, and this is last week’s Parsha, and they stood beneath the mountain, The Israelites did not accept the Torah until the Holy One, blessed be He, arched the mountain over them like a vessel, as it is said: And they stood beneath the mountain (Exod. 19:17). R. Dimi the son of Hama stated that the Holy One, blessed be He, told Israel: If you accept the Torah, well and good; but if not, your grave will be there. If you should say that He arched the mountain over them because of the Written Law, isn’t it true that as soon as He said to them, “Will you accept the Torah?” they all responded, “We will do and hear,” because the Written Law was brief and required no striving and suffering, but rather He threatened them because of the Oral Law.  And the Midrash Tanchuma goes on to say, the first explanation that we have, of what exactly we will do, and we will hear is, we will do relates to the written law, and we will hear seems to point towards listening to the Oral Law going forward. But whatever it is, we talked about this kind of this ambiguity (conflict, ambivalence) about the giving of the Torah, whether it’s the ambiguity of being under the mountain, is it something that was more like a wedding canopy? Or was it something to be fearful of?  .. if you don’t accept it, I will destroy you this Na’aseh V’Nishma that we all think of in terms of, as we’ll see some of the positive commentaries as a very positive thing. It lends itself to so many explanations. So, what’s, what’s it all about? Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  07:04

Well, first, let me let me comment on the first explanation that you gave, Na’aseh V’Nishma, it’s going to be the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. That’s very interesting, just in the history of law, because law is a combination of the written and the oral tradition. It’s interesting that today, that’s not really true. If you want to know what is American law, if a lawyer goes to law school, they study the Constitution, then post-constitution, there are cases, case law about what the Constitution meant. And there are 250 years’ worth of case law, about the Constitution. Everything is written down just the question of whether it’s the Constitution, or whether it’s the explanation of the Constitution. But 4,000 years ago, 3,500 years ago, it didn’t work that way. You had a written tradition, then you had an oral tradition. The truth of the matter is that all three of the religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all have that idea. They have a written text, right? We mentioned the Koran before they have a written text, and then they have an oral tradition (Ḥadīth). The problem with the oral tradition is how can you convince people that the oral tradition is, you know, is is authentic, the way that the written tradition is authentic, and what the rabbi’s do is, and it’s a little trick because the rabbi’s are actually authenticating their own tradition. But what they say is not V’Nishmah. It’s the written tradition. And it’s the oral tradition. Our tradition was taught by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, it wasn’t written down for whatever reason, but it was taught to Moses on Mount Sinai, and therefore it’s just as authentic as the written tradition. That’s a very important kind of statement by the rabbi’s to authenticate the oral tradition, without that, the oral tradition, which is everything, right, there are 39 categories of work that are forbidden on Shabbat. That is not in the Torah. That is the oral tradition. How do we know that that’s true? There’s a certain amount of faith that goes along with it. The rabbis are reading it into the text.

Geoffrey Stern  09:23

So, I totally agree with you. I think the Rashbam says something beautiful that takes this concept of oral tradition out of the very technical sense of what we call the Mishnah and the Talmud, and he says that we will do what God has said already. And we are also prepared to listen/obey to what he will command from here on in נעשה מה שדיבר וגם נשמע מה שיצונו עוד מכאן ולהבא ונקיים . And I think what that is saying more than anything else, is it’s not so much that the oral tradition was given in parallel to the written tradition, but the oral tradition shows that whatever was given was the beginning of a conversation. And that if we take away anything from last week, and this week, it is that revelation did not happen in just a moment and just a place, but that it was a beginning of a conversation. And I love that concept of it. And I think that kind of really jives very well with what you were saying, because the old tradition was always living and always developing. And we’ll see that about the oral traditions about the giving of the Torah at Sinai.

Adam Mintz  10:39

Yeah, there’s no question that That’s right. I mean, and we understand why that’s so important. I mean, the whole Torah is important, and the whole Torah is interesting. But somehow when you talk about the Written Torah, and the Oral Torah, you’re talking about something that really is at the foundation of all of the traditions that we have.

Geoffrey Stern  10:58

So let’s get to the traditional interpretation of Na’aseh V’nishmah. Because definitely, it is that bumper sticker that I described before, which is used as an accolade for the Jewish people. And the truth is, the simplest explanation comes not as an accolade, but almost as an insult. In Ketubot 112a, it talks a story about Rabbi Zeira was going to come back to the Land of Israel, and he needed a ferry, to cross, so He took hold of a rope that was strung across as a makeshift bridge and crossed the Jordan. A certain Sadducee said to him: Hasty people who put your mouths before your ears, when you said at the time of the giving of the Torah: “We will do” before “we will hear” (Exodus 24:7), you remain hasty to this day.  So basically, he was cutting line he was in our hurry to get across the river. And the Sadducee said to him: Hasty people who put your mouths before your ears, when you said at the time of the givi says, You guys are hasty. You put your mouths before your ears. And what he meant to say was that when the Jews accepted the Torah they said Na’aseh. Let’s do, and we’ll listen afterwards. You know, it’s like, shoot, first ask questions later. I think that is the typical explanation of why the Jews are pride themselves with saying Na’aseh V’nishmah, they were had such faith in God, that they said, We’re gonna do it. And then you can tell us the fine print where in! we are committed!

Adam Mintz  12:29

Yeah, I mean, I’m with you. 100%. On that I think that’s 100% Correct. I mean, that’s really, it needs both pieces. Without both pieces, something is missing.

Geoffrey Stern  12:40

You could however, see it as criticism. I mean, Sadducee definitely saw it as critical, where he was saying, what sort of an acceptance is that when you accept a contract without reading it. So even here, it’s a backhanded compliment, if you will, but let’s just finish the traditional explanation of it being a compliment in Shabbat 88a, it says Rabbi Simai taught: When Israel accorded precedence to the declaration “We will do” over the declaration “We will hear,” 600,000 ministering angels came and tied two crowns to each and every member of the Jewish people, one corresponding to “We will do” and one corresponding to “We will hear.”  but then it goes on. And when the people sinned with the Golden Calf, 1,200,000 angels of destruction descended and removed them from the people, as it is stated in the wake of the sin of the Golden Calf: “And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments from Mount Horeb onward” (Exodus 33:6).  So, talk about backhanded compliments. On the one hand again, this is seen as an amazing showing of faith. But we will now go through multiple Midrashim multiple oral traditions that talk about the hypocrisy almost of Na’aseh V’nishmah here this people say we will do and then we’ll understand later, and then 15 minutes later, maybe it’s 30 days later, they sin with the golden calf and maybe that proves that the Sadducee was right, maybe their acceptance was very superficial,

Adam Mintz  14:22

Good that that is an interesting point. And that is why are they sinning so quickly after they are saying Na’aseh V’Nishmah we will do when we will listen something’s wrong with, we will do when we will listen. So you started by saying what’s the traditional explanation? Clearly the traditional explanation is that it shows total commitment to God to be able to say we will do and we will listen even though they didn’t have it yet. That’s what you just called the traditional explanation But what’s interesting is that the rabbi’s don’t seem to be satisfied with the traditional explanation. They understand that it’s kind of the double-edged sword. And they emphasize that which is interesting, because they understand that the Jews in the desert are not just a simple law abiding, God abiding people. They are a very complicated people. And they try to see that in the phrase, Na’aseh V’nishmah.

Geoffrey Stern  15:32

Complicated people and a complicated moment. It really punctures the myth of this importance of the giving of the Torah at Sinai, as this hyper important moment that began and ended at Sinai, even at the end of this Talmud, it says, In the future, the Holy One, blessed be he will return them (the Crowns) to us, as he is said. And it talks about quoting Isaiah that בְּרִנָּה וְשִׂמְחַת עוֹלָם עַל רֹאשָׁם that with joy and singing Zion, I will return this to your heads, it’s almost as if the rest of Jewish history is trying to make up and to fulfill the promise of the revelation at Sinai.

Adam Mintz  16:23

And if that’s so that would be a good thing. You know, it says that every day you’re supposed to feel as if you receive the Torah that day, you’re supposed to wake up, and you’re supposed to have the energy and the excitement as if you’re receiving the Torah that day. And what you’re doing is you’re adding to that and you’re saying it’s not only you received the Torah, but that your part of this evolution of the tradition that goes from generation to generation that continues. So, it’s not only that you receive the Torah, in the sense of the Ten Commandments, is it you received the written and the oral tradition together?

Geoffrey Stern  17:02

The oral tradition, and maybe even the written tradition wasn’t fully accepted. There’s a real there’s a real challenge here, I think that the giving of the Torah at Sinai becomes almost a challenge. And if we go to the most traditional account of this sense that the mountain was held over them, and it says, If you accept the Torah, excellent, and if not, this will be your burial. Rabbi Avdimi bar Ḥama bar Ḥasa in Shabbat 88a says, this is a major caveat, a major, a puncture a major dent in this sense of having the Torah given at Sinai. And then and this is the punch line. And I don’t know if it’s because of this year, we have the holidays are late or early. But we are what two weeks away three weeks away from Purim. This is the famous piece of Talmud and as far as I can tell, it only really occurs once

Adam Mintz  18:10


Geoffrey Stern  18:11

and it says that in the Megillat Esther, it says in Esther 9: 27 that Jews undertook and irrevocably obligated themselves and their descendants and all who might join them. קִיְּמ֣וּ (וקבל) [וְקִבְּל֣וּ] הַיְּהוּדִים֩ ׀ עֲלֵיהֶ֨ם ׀ וְעַל־זַרְעָ֜ם וְעַ֨ל כׇּל־הַנִּלְוִ֤ים עֲלֵיהֶם֙ וְלֹ֣א יַעֲב֔וֹר of course, then it goes on to say: “to observe the two days in the manner prescribed”, but the rabbi’s say and this is radical, that it was after Purim. And you can either say Purim is just a holiday like any other. Or you can say that Purim in the book of Esther is the last book of the Written Torah. They accepted the Torah, in full without a mountain held over their heads. So, this Rava says, Finally at the time of Ahasuerus, it says The Jews ordained what they had already taken upon themselves through coercion at Sinai. So I think at the most basic level, what it really proves is what we started out by saying is that accepting the Torah it doesn’t happen in one day. It’s a process it happens over time. And what they say is that the this the caveats and the dents in the acceptance of the Torah at Sinai, were finally somehow resolved at the last book of the Torah when the Jews קִיְּמוּ וְקִבְּלוּ הַיְּהוּדִים accepted upon themselves. And that’s kind of the end of this story of this mountain held over their head. What do you make of that?

Adam Mintz  19:57

So you know, you’re emphasizing the fact that the verse comes from the book of Esther, you could say that that’s just out of convenience. You know, the rabbi’s are looking for a verse to kind of hook this on. And they find a verse in the book of Esther. So that’s interesting. You know, I never made much of that verse in the book of Esther, because they kind of take that verse out of context, but you’re actually saying something that’s even better. And that is that because the book of Esther is the latest or a late book, in the canonization of the Bible, we were talking about, you know, the Bible from 900. And here you have the canonization, the decision that the Bible looks the way it does that there are 24 books in the Bible, and no more that this is the end. And only at the end, did they actually accept the Torah willingly. Like, you know, let’s be honest, that’s the way we are as people, right? Sometimes you have to be pushed to do something, and only later, are you happy about it. And maybe that’s what happened with the Jews. Maybe that’s the point. That’s the point that you’re making. Maybe that’s the point of this piece of of Talmud, and that is that at the beginning, they had to be pushed. But the key is that later on at the end, they came to appreciate, how about that?

Geoffrey Stern  21:25

I love them all. And I think as we always say, אלו ואלו דברי אלוקים חיים these and these are the words of the living God. If anything is the message here. Last week, we talked about the words of how the Jews were oriented. There’s another word that is used, and that is that they stood Yetziva, and it says From here we learn that in three places the Torah was given in the tent of meeting, at Sinai, in the plains of Moab. My point is that the rabbi’s clearly saw revelation as something that happened in every generation in every human being’s life at every moment at every time. It was an ongoing process. And I think that’s the most important thing. And, and this is a big “and”. And that the it’s not as though we are trying to somehow parallel to somehow duplicate a perfect process that happened at Sinai, because guess what, it wasn’t perfect. To the contrary, it was fatally flawed. I think that comes through almost every piece of Talmud that we will study and the Midrash that we will study tonight. There is no one who quotes Na’aseh V’Nishmah who doesn’t say But afterwards.

Adam Mintz  22:54

Yeah, that’s correct. And I mean, and what you’re saying is, I think correctly, so is that that’s part of the tradition to say Na’aseh V’nishmah then to say “but”.

Geoffrey Stern  23:05

I mean, even last week, I was trying to keep the conversation very positive about the mountain being held over. And I said, you know, it’s kind of like a huppah. And it even had l’crat in it like we have l’crat to greet the Sabbath bride. Rabbi Shimon, Ben Khalifa said, wretched is the bride who sins under the wedding canopy in this regard. There was no rabbi who could look at what they said, and not see a level of hypocrisy and not see a level of superficiality and be critical. And that’s an amazing part of our tradition. I think, if you have to think in terms of revelation at Sinai, that is our Jewish aha moment. That is the moment that we were exposed to the divine message that gave us the Torah that is going to go on sale at Sotheby’s for $50 million. I mean, that was the moment. It’s not sugar coated. I think that’s amazing. The other part of that moment that we can never forget, was it wasn’t a singular moment between God and a single individual. It was the whole expanse of the Jewish people with all their flaws. And I think this is helping us understand, I think, the magic of that moment.

Adam Mintz  24:31

 Yeah, that’s an important point. You know, the Rabbis say, that the entire world was quiet, when God gave the Ten Commandments to the Jews. And that’s an important point. God gave it to the Jews, but everybody else stood back and watched so that everybody knows that God has chosen the Jews. That’s a very powerful moment.

Geoffrey Stern  24:55

So I want to prepare us for something that that’s rather unique. And that is that while many of us have never heard of this Midrash, that God held the mountain of Sinai over the Jewish people as almost a threat, it figures a rather large within the Quran, and we are going to go to the Quran in a second and quote it. But before I do, I want to go over some of our Midrashim who really twist and turn and go into all of the different ways that one can understand what happened there. In Midrash Tanhuma   stood at Mount Sinai, Hos. 9:10): I HAVE FOUND {YOUR ANCESTORS} [ISRAEL] LIKE GRAPES IN THE DESERT; [I HAVE SEEN YOUR ANCESTORS LIKE EARLY FIGS ON A FIG TREE IN ITS FIRST SEASON]. < The text > speaks about Israel. When it stood at Mount Sinai, it resembled grapes. Just as grapes are beautiful on the outside and ugly on the inside, so was Israel when it stood at Mount Sinai and responded (according to Exod. 24:7): WE WILL DO AND OBEY. Note that < the response was > with their mouth, but their heart was not steadfast.  , there is other Midrashim that compare the Jewish people to a lover/wife, we’ve kind of seen that when we talk about the הָר כְּגִיגִית  this mountain held over their head, as a huppah. And there are a verses that said that God picked the Jewish people. And it says, In Eichah Rabbah, I am the man who has seen affliction by the rods of his fury. And that is from Lamentations. And it says, No Woman except you other than me. So it kind of talks about this dialectic between God and you’ve kind of hinted about this, God offering the Torah to all the peoples and none of them would say anything close to Na’aseh V’nishmah we will, we will do and we will hear but the Jewish people did. And then God realizes that this woman who he just (as if to say) Married has cheated on him, because she has built this, this golden calf. And God says, you have been impudent. And at the end of the day, like lovers/a married couple, who is destined to be together. The Midrash continues that almost in a sense, and I talk about this in the in the in the introduction about how they’re almost destined to be close together, they she lied in order to get him, he fell for the lie, but he fell in love. And here they are destined to dance this dance of, of faithfulness and infidelity. (a co-dependent relationship)  It’s, it’s really amazing. If you look at the source sheet, and look at all of the different ways that the Israelites by saying Na’Aseh V’nishma, but then sinning right afterwards are crafted. But I think what ultimately, remains is that nonetheless, there is this (co-dependent) relationship between the two, whether a god was fleeced or not, ultimately, the two of them stick together. And I think that also is a message of this story of the revelation at Sinai.

Adam Mintz  28:44

I think that that is true. Now you’re here, you’re raising an interesting question. And that is you’re kind of introducing God as you know, as the player here. What did God decide what did God want? You know, God, let’s go back to the first Gamora… we’ll end where we started, you know, the first Gamora about holding the mountain over them. Did God feel like that was a you know, that was a necessity, but it wasn’t ideal, or the God think, no, that’s okay. That’s what the people need the same way a parent might need to be a little firmer with a child to make sure they do the right thing, but they understand that’s just what the child needs. It’s not a bad thing. So how do you understand that about holding the mountain out over them? Was that what God wanted to do? Or that was a necessity that God felt he was forced to do?

Geoffrey Stern  29:37

You know, we don’t have an answer for that. I promised last week that i would talk about the Quran… I’m gonna do it this week.

Adam Mintz  29:46

Here you go, take it away.

Geoffrey Stern  29:47

I read an amazing article that was written, oh my goodness, it was written in 1941. It’s called Koran and Agada: The Events at Mount Sinai by Julian Obermann , and literally he brings the Koran says Sura 5: 7, remember Allah’s favor upon you and His covenant which he made with you when he said, We have heard and we obey, in Sura 24: 51 He says the only response of the true believers when they are called to Allah and His messenger. So he may judge between them is to say, we hear and obey. Then in Sura 2: 63, it says in remember, when we took a covenant from you, and raise the mountain above you saying, hold firmly to the Scripture, in Sura 4: 154 We raised the mountain over them as a warning for breaking their covenant. So clearly, and the point of the article is that Muhammad whenever he quotes from the Bible, always quotes typically from the Five Books of Moses, which is what traditional Jews do when they were in synagogue on a typical Saturday. And for the most part, he doesn’t quote, the literal verse, he quotes the Midrashik the Aggadic interpretation. And the thesis is that he hung out with Jews. And in a sense, we almost get a sense of what he heard. This was no, this is something that clearly made a great impression on him. And as he was starting a movement, he wanted to make sure that his revelation was accepted in the proper way. He says in Koran 446, some Jews take words out of context, and say, we listen and we disobey. Now, that is not something that I found in the Midrash. Although if you look in the source, sheet in Avodah Zara, there is something similar. The fact is that the Koran then becomes not only a source for us of the Midrashim that were quoted by typical Jews in (Medinah) Saudi Arabia or wherever he was, but it gives us a sense of our tradition. It gives us a sense of this ongoing  revelation, that clearly in a sense, it’s only natural that a movement like Islam, a movement like Christianity, would take upon itself to make a new sermon on the mount a new revelation, we Jews clearly took it to mean that in every generation, whether it’s in Shushan, or even up to today, this is the Jewish problem. And that’s why and I talk about two thinkers and you I draw you to look at the source sheet. One is Herzl, who was trying to solve the Jewish problem. And what he considered the Jewish problem was, yes, there was anti-semitism, but how does a Jew live with his Judaism when he loves it, and his first solution, believe it or not, was a mass conversion similar to standing at Mount Sinai, but in front of the cathedral. And then of course, the second solution was to start the State of Israel, and Harry Austyn Wilson, had wrote a whole essay called leaving Judaism, and he struggles here’s a Jew who studied at Slobodka, who ended up not being religious anymore. But clearly, he couldn’t get out under the shadow of Sinai. And he spent the rest of his life pursuing the philosophy of Judaism and how it went through the medieval period up to Spinoza. But he talks about this challenge. And I think that is ultimately the challenge of Sinai, that we are constantly being provoked by the fact that we had in our DNA in our peoplehood, this mass revelation of something that has affected us that we’ve rebelled against, but we’ve tried to master throughout the ages. And I think that ultimately is the magic of the shadow of Sinai.

Adam Mintz  34:14

I think that’s great. That’s a great end. That’s I mean, that’s, that’s an end with the Quran. That’s an end with Herzl that’s an end with Wolfson. I mean, that’s just amazing there’s so much and if you look at Wolfson, you’ll see that he has a great discussion about the role of the minority, right? And he says, all the all these religions that three religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, were all minorities, and how did they deal with being minorities and they needed that moment of revelation where God spoke just to them, even though they were a minority? God spoke just to them. Thank you so much, Geoffrey. These are great sources. You know, we got two weeks in a row of Mount Sinai sources and trying to understand the tradition it deserves a whole semester worth. But these were great sources. So thank you, GeoffreyShabbat Shalom to me. Everybody, we look forward to seeing you next week, it’ll already be Hodesh Adar and we’re gonna start to talk about the tabernacle Geoffrey, we’re gonna have our work cut out for us next week.

Geoffrey Stern  35:09

Shabbat shalom, have a Shabbat Shalom every any of you who want to make a comment or provide an impression, I would love for you to come up ….

Sefaria Source Sheet:

Shadows of Sinai cont. | Sefaria

Parshat Mishpatim – We continue our discussion of Sinai with a focus on the negative aspects foreshadowed even at the climactic moment of revelation. We survey the Rabbinic tradition as preserved in our texts and surprisingly in the Koran. Finally, we wonder whether Israel and God have entered a relationship at Sinai that neither one can resist?

Listen to last year’s Mishpatim podcast: What’s New with Moses’ Code?

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Shadows of Sinai

parshat yitro, exodus 19

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on February 9th 2023. The Torah uses two words that describe the orientation of the Israelites towards Mt. Sinai. We survey the interpretation of these words in the Rabbinic tradition, and surprisingly in the Koran, to shed some light on revelation and the long shadow cast by Sinai.

Sefaria Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Yitro.  The Torah uses two words that describe the orientation of the Israelites towards Mt. Sinai: נֶ֥גֶד and תַחְתִּ֥ית. We survey the interpretation of these words in the Rabbinic tradition to shed some light on revelation and even to critique synagogue architecture. So join us for The Shadows of Sinai.


Well, welcome back to Madlik. It’s the beginning of spring, we are looking at the shadows are changing. And tonight, we are going to be talking about the shadows of Sinai, and really focusing on just two verses and a few words in those verses that all relate to the disposition, the position, the orientation of the Israelites, when they accepted the Torah. So, in Exodus 19: 2 it says having journeyed from Rephidim them, they entered the wilderness of Sinai, and encamped in the wilderness, Israel encamped there in front of the mountain. And the Hebrew is וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר. In front of the mountain, opposite the mountain, neged is a word that we’re going to explore. So as usual, we’re going to go first to Rashi. And Rashi says that naked means to the east. For wherever you find the word neged, referring to a locality, it signifies with the face towards the east of the place mentioned. Now, I don’t know how you extrapolate facing east from the word neged. But I certainly see this as a clue that we’re going to be talking about tonight, more than just facing the mount of Sinai. Any Jew knows that when we Jews pray, we face east, any Jew knows that when we construct and set up a synagogue, we place the Torah as the focal point of the synagogue is facing east. So I don’t know if you have an insight into why neged means east. But I do feel and I’m curious whether you agree rabbi, that here he’s giving us a little bit of a hint of what layout lies at stake here and what we’re going to be talking about,

Adam Mintz  03:03

there’s no question about that East, you know, East of Eden, it you know, the idea of being east, that seems to be the main direction in the Torah. So neged haHar means that they faced east, that meant that that was the right direction to face, Mount Sinai was to their east, I guess was to their right. The reason that East is considered to be the premier direction, is because if you face north, that East is to your right. And you know, in the tradition to your right is always considered to be the more powerful or the better direction. So that’s where the idea of turning East comes from,

Geoffrey Stern  03:46

Well, indefinitely. The sunrise is in the east.

Adam Mintz  03:49


Geoffrey Stern  03:49

So it’s a place of New Birth, of positivity. And as you say, this kind of sense of the Garden of Eden and beginnings there. But as usual, Rashi is only one opinion. And the Ibn Ezra comes in, and he says na, I don’t really agree with you. He says there is a verse in numbers 2: 2 that says round about the tent, מנגד סביב לאוהל So again, like Rashi, he kind of understands what’s at stake here. We’re not simply talking about a moment in history, the revelation at Sinai, there is a clear connection between that revelation at Sinai that happened in a place in a time and the movable temple. And then ultimately, I guess you could extrapolate and talk about the Temple and the synagogue and this is a major moment. And what he’s saying is that since the same word MiNeged is used with the tabernacle and there another word is used in addition to it מנגד סביב they were pitched round about the tent. So we surely have established for at least with these two commentaries, we’re talking about more than Sinai.

Adam Mintz  05:16

Right… That’s for sure.

Geoffrey Stern  05:18

So now we go to our old buddy Shadal. Shmuel David Luzzatto. He focuses on another word in our verse. So if you recall, when I started, I said וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר , that the people encamped opposite the mountain, and he is now focusing on the word וַיִּֽחַן  and וַיִּֽחַן , Israel וַיִּֽחַן  is in the singular. So he says that Ibn Ezra and Ramban who we haven’t quoted, but we’ll take Shadal’s word for it, say they should have said ויחנו that they camped there. But the reason according to the Ramban and the Ibn Ezra that it says For econ is because the yehidim the elites, the heads of the tribes, the elders encamped around it. And the Shadal  says, and Boy oh boy, he says, and that is hevel, that is hot air. Pretty strong language. He says, because all those speaking about the people in a singular language, it is not intended to speak about a few of them. But on the contrary, the intention is to speak about the whole people in terms of there being all as one body. And then he goes on to say that they camped against the mountain, which means that the mountain was a center for them all. And they all turned to it. And here they were one association and one body.

Adam Mintz  07:10

Go on.. they All had their eyes and hearts on that mountain.

Geoffrey Stern  07:17


Adam Mintz  07:18

That’s a good end. You didn’t it is. But that’s a good end.

Geoffrey Stern  07:21

Yeah. And the Hebrew אגודה אחת וגוף אחד . Agudah means a circle if I’m correct.

Adam Mintz  07:30


Geoffrey Stern  07:31

They were one circle and one body. And he goes on if you want to talk about a verse where every word has significance. It says  וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר and he says the name of Israel as opposed to the people of Israel, or a Bnai Yaakov is used, because all the people were as one man against the mountain. So Shadal does a very good job of tying up these last five words of a verse

Adam Mintz  08:10

But he doesn’t really explain the word neged

Geoffrey Stern  08:13

I take it that he does, because he talks about that they were around it אגודה אחת . So, I am going out on a limb here. But I am taking,

Adam Mintz  08:27

You’re saying he assumes it.

Geoffrey Stern  08:29

Yeah, so if I had to bet what he is doing is he’s combining the sense of the Ibn Ezra that we came across in the Ibn Ezra that they were around the mountain with the fact that they were as one as you beautifully quoted their eyes and their hearts were focused on the mountain of God. So he does in my mind, kind of tie it up really, really nicely into something that is rather beautiful.

Adam Mintz  08:59

That is nice. That’s really nice. So neged is וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר , means they were around the mountain, not opposite, opposite creates a distance, but around means you’re really close to it. That’s really your point. It’s very much different than Rashi.

Geoffrey Stern  09:20

It’s different than Rashi, who says it’s easterly. But what I take from Rashi. And what I take from the Ibn Ezra, who comes up with the concept of around is we’re all talking about more than Sinai. That’s where I think they all agree that we’re talking about Sinai, we’re talking about Mishkan, we’re talking about temple. We’re talking about our places of worship, even up to today. So, whether you faced east in a synagogue, if that’s one orientation, or whether you surround something in the middle, and you’re all facing it together, whether it’s a conflict between the two of positions or It’s a kind of refraction of the two dispositions, I don’t know. But I do think that it’s amazing how in these five words, we’ve come across so much, just in the sense of where things are oriented, where intentions are. What was happening at that magical moment.

Adam Mintz  10:25

Fantastic. The Shada is fantastic.

Geoffrey Stern  10:27

So at the end of last week’s segment, where we talked about dissonance, really, we really talked about the beginning of division within Israel. My good buddy Yochana came on. And he told and I did put it in the I left it in the podcast, he talked about a great Hasidic rabbi who actually quoted this verse, how, at the moment of revelation, Israel was one and the rabbi in a very beautiful, cynical, but smiley fashion that only a Hasidic Rabbi could say, is, you know why it said they were together as one then because the Torah wasn’t given yet. Once the Torah was given, all hell broke loose, everybody was a rabbi, everybody had a different opinion. So, this was this verse that he was commenting on that I think it’s, it’s it rigged it obviously rings very, very, true.

Adam Mintz  11:25

I love it.

Geoffrey Stern  11:26

So as long as we’re talking about dissonance, and we’re talking about the word neged I bring in two different references that I would love to add, to give context to what was happening at that moment at Sinai. And I want to go back to Genesis 2: 18. When God creates woman, and he says, it’s not good, that man is alone, I will make him a help meet. And the word that is used is עֵ֖זֶר כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ . Ezer is like Ezra it is help and keNegdo the commentary or the translation that I have from Everett Fox is a counterpart for him. But as we all know, the famous Rashi says, זָכָה – עֵזֶר; לֹא זָכָה – כְּנֶגְדּוֹ לְהִלָּחֵם , If a man is merited, his wife will be a help to him. And if he doesn’t merit him, she will be opposed to him and fight him. And I love this sense of KeNeged, that neged is obviously in counter distinction, it can mean facing the mountain neged the mountain, but obviously neged also has a flavor of opposing and Rashi brings out that opposition. And I think if you take that Rashi and then you look at the giving of the Torah, and maybe what should or does happen in a synagogue, you have this potential for dissonance. You have this sense of agreement under some circumstances, but maybe either because you have shortcomings or possibly because you take the word so seriously. You have an opposition to it.

Adam Mintz  13:31

I like it. I want to make it even stronger, according to the Rashi  לֹא זָכָה – כְּנֶגְדּוֹ לְהִלָּחֵם   Neged actually means opposite in a sense of distance וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר , that because of the holiness of the mountain, they needed to create distance from the mountain…  it’s the opposite of shutdown.

Geoffrey Stern  13:59

I believe that and I think it’s great you know, it reminds me of the Alter of Slabodka I believe a great Musernik… and I think I’ve told this story before, but he came over to a student and the student was about to say the Kriat Shma… the Shema where you accept the Ol malchut Shamayim.. where you accept the Ol Malchut shamayim the yoke of heaven? And he says have you ever said Shema and the student looked at him in dismay, and said Rebbe, I’m just about to say Shema, I say it twice a day I say it before I go to bed and the Alter returned to him and says and you accept upon yourself, the Ol Malchut Shamayim; the yoke of heaven and he goes of course Rebbe and he says and have you ever felt like rebelling? And there was quiet and then the Rebbe says well then you’ve probably never said the Shema in your life. And I think the lesson here that I take away is keneged HaHar there has to be a level of dissonance if you accept everything, just completely and without any struggle or tribulation or a reflex, then what are you really accepting? And I think that comes out.

Adam Mintz  15:16

That’s a great story. Yeah, that really says it. I think that’s great that you need to have some dissonance you just have to do. And that’s what Keneged means.

Geoffrey Stern  15:25

So the other reference, I think of is and you know, we started talking before the podcast about Purim is coming and Passover, is coming. And one of their key points in the Seder is the four children. And it says כְּנֶגֶד אַרְבָּעָה בָנִים דִּבְּרָה תוֹרָה , that the Torah spoke….  in my translation, it says “corresponding” to four sons, but certainly if one thinks of the wicked son, and some people even think about the wise son, or certainly the son who does not know how to speak, it’s clear that the Torah is speaking in a way to create a reaction, especially if you look at the son who does not know how to speak it says “At” you talk to him, maybe it’s the mother, somehow or other, the Torah is trying to elicit a reaction. And in that regard keneged can have another nuance. Yes, it is one of dissonance. But it’s also one of positive kind of triggering a conversation bringing on a difference of opinion so that you move forward. It’s a conversation.

Adam Mintz  16:41

It’s great. I mean, that’s absolutely great. כְּנֶגֶד אַרְבָּעָה בָנִים  Neged I mean, neged there means that you look someone in the eye, I think the word you use is you engage them. Right?

Geoffrey Stern  16:55

Absolutely. And I think what’s fascinating is if we take it back to Sinai, and that’s what I’m trying to do, I’m trying to take back, there’s no question, Rabbi, I think you will agree with me that this verse in and of itself, doesn’t merit a whole lot of discussion. I mean, we all know וַיִּֽחַן־שָׁ֥ם יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל נֶ֥גֶד הָהָֽר , that they can encamped opposite the mountain ..  move on. But it’s, it’s the rabbi’s and our tradition, who saw this as an opportunity to bring all of these are the discussions that impact our life till today, and maybe and we’ll see if we’re successful, maybe one of the messages of tonight’s discussion is that Sinai has to impact you, at every moment at a at a personal level, at a historical level, for it to be a real revelation.

Adam Mintz  17:50

Good. I like it. I think that’s great. And I think that seeing it in the word neged is really good. KaNeged right? There’s some kind of conversation and some kind of dissonance. The tension here is how much dissidence there is how close is it like Shadal says, and how far is it like the Keneged idea, right in לֹא זָכָה – כְּנֶגְ ? That’s the challenge

Geoffrey Stern  18:19

Yep. So, as I said in the intro, there were two words that relate to the orientation of the Israelites to Sinai, and the second one occurs in our parsha at Exodus 19: 17. And it says Moses led the people out of the camp towards God, and they took their places at the foot of the mountain. So it says וַיּוֹצֵ֨א מֹשֶׁ֧ה אֶת־הָעָ֛ם לִקְרַ֥את הָֽאֱלֹקִ֖ים מִן־הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֑ה וַיִּֽתְיַצְּב֖וּ בְּתַחְתִּ֥ית הָהָֽר Well first of all, if you think about it, לִקְרַ֥את הָֽאֱלֹקִ֖ים , if we go to synagogue tomorrow night, and we listen to the words of the Lecha Dodi we will surely pick out לְכָה דודִי לִקְרַאת כַּלָּה  .        m לִקְרַ֥את means to greet to go out and greet Moses led the people out of the camp likrat Elohim to greet God. And one of the translations and I love some of the translations that you get in Sefaria. It’s THE RASHI CHUMASH BY RABBI SHRAGA SILVERSTEIN  says most people towards God in parentheses he writes, who was coming towards them as a groom to a bride from the encampment they stood at the foot of the mountain. So here already, and I assume there are commentaries that make this parallel that pick up the sense of likrad but in a sense, we quoted Rashi a second ago about using neged to describe familial relationships, relationships between a couple here we pick up on that. And because we said a second ago that they were at the foot of the mountain tachtit really means underneath Mitachat, the mountain, l’havdil, the word for touchus.. is tachat. This is underneath the mountain. So here we almost have an image of the mountain being a Chuppah and the Jewish people being married to their ezer kenegdo under the mountain.

Adam Mintz  20:46

It’s a great image. Obviously, they’ve made a lot of this image, but it is a great image, right, that we were under the mountain. So you say it’s a Chuppah. But obviously, the other tradition is that there’s some fear of being under the mountain. Because if you’re under the mountain, then bad things could happen.

Geoffrey Stern  21:04

You’re sounding a lot like ezer kenegdo….

Adam Mintz  21:09

It might fall on your head, so you better be careful.

Geoffrey Stern  21:14

So the Rashi that we have, I don’t know what Rashi THE RASHI CHUMASH BY RABBI SHRAGA SILVERSTEIN was referring to, but our Rashi picks up on the Midrash that you refer to Rabbi and it says a midrashic explanation is that the mountain was plucked up from its place. שֶׁנִּתְלַשׁ הָהָר מִמְּקוֹמוֹ וְנִכְפָּה עֲלֵיהֶם כְּגִיגִית  and was arched over them as a cask. So they were standing Metachat beneath under the mountain. And this comes from the Mechilta and from the Talmud in Shabbat. So, in Rashi’s short little take-away from that Midrash, he doesn’t get into what the story was between picking up the mountain above them, …. you Rabbi have gone a little bit further on in this story. But if you just look at Rashi, and you put it in combination with the previous explanation, you could make a sense that there’s nothing scary about this. There’s nothing threatening about it, that he hold, he held over them, like a Gog really,  וְנִכְפָּה עֲלֵיהֶם כְּגִיגִית  KeGigit is very similar to the word Gog (roof). And that’s another image that we have, very quickly after we move and segue from opposite now we have underneath.

Adam Mintz  22:55

That’s right. kegigit. It’s the idea of a gag, you know, yeah, held it over them as a threat. Now, that’s a whole different thing. You know, one thing is keneged. The other thing is the idea that actually, you know, God is threatening us that if you accept the Torah good, and if not, I’m going to drop the mountain on your heads.

Geoffrey Stern  23:21

So you are referring to the Talmud in Shabbat 88a.  I promise I am going to get to that.

Adam Mintz  23:29

Okay. I wanted to make sure.

Geoffrey Stern  23:31

Okay, you wanted to keep me honest tonight. So, so I wanted to stop here, because I think there’s a possibility that Rashi is picking just this part of the story and letting us let us savor it for a second. Now, if you look at the notes, there is a wonderful article that I quote, on the synagogue that was built by Frank Lloyd Wright, in 1954. And the article compares it to synagogues from Poland that were built hundreds of years before. And please go look at the source sheet to see this article. And to see the images

Adam Mintz  24:15

That is actually fascinating that that’s so.  that it’s so similar. That’s a great article.

Geoffrey Stern  24:20

Well it’s not only similar,

Adam Mintz  24:22

The Jewish Review of books. great!

Geoffrey Stern  24:22

Especially if you look at the at the synagogue from Poland, right? It is truly there’s no question about it. And it doesn’t it photographs like it’s massive as if it was the Frank Lloyd Wright. I understand it isn’t even that large. I really believe that some models have been built of it. And I believe even in the new museum in Poland, called Polin. They have a model of the synagogue but you are truly as you walk in, you are walking under Sinai. The synagogue itself is Built like Mount Sinai. And I think from an architectural translation of the verses that we just discussed, there’s not only that you are underneath this, it’s not a dome. It’s a mountain, no question about it. But the other aspect that comes out clear in the article was that the Bima was in the middle. Now Rabbi, you were once a rabbi at Lincoln Square synagogue, and that was called the Shul in the round. … it was all around that center Bima. But I would love you to confirm I wasn’t able to find a source for this. But when I grew up in the Yeshiva world, we think that the Orthodox movement in Europe, especially Eastern Europe, argued with a form about theology and they did, argued about women’s roles and they did, but one of the most major arguments that they had was where is the Bima? Where is the Torah read from? Because in the reformed congregations, they follow the model of the churches, and they put all of what the clergy was doing up on a stage up front. And the rabbi’s. Again, I’d love to hear what you have to say, Rabbi, were as vehement against that change as anything else.

Adam Mintz  24:55

You’ve just told the story. It’s amazing because tomorrow morning, I give a class at Maharat, and I’m learning the laws of Shuls; of synagogues. And we’re talking exactly about this exactly what you said in 1840. They built a synagogue in Hamburg called the Temple. And one of the changes in the Temple was that they moved all the action to the front, they moved the Bima to the front, because that’s the way the church had it, that everything happens in front. And the rabbis. The Orthodox rabbis were vehemently opposed to that. I mean, you think it’s not a very big deal, but they basically said that it was absolutely prohibited from going into that Shul. The other thing they changed was that the sermons were delivered in German. Now it’s not like the sermons used to be delivered in Hebrew. The sermons were never delivered in Hebrew. The sermons were delivered in Yiddish, but Yiddish was a holy language to them. And they thought that it was totally disrespectful to deliver the sermons in German.

Geoffrey Stern  27:27

But I want to talk about the language of the architecture and the form. And the rabbi who was working with Frank Lloyd Wright. The one thing…. and everybody knows that Frank Lloyd Wright did not listen to the people he was building his edifices is for. But he asked that the Bima the where the toe would be read, would be deep in the heart of the congregation. And that’s a quote, and Wright referred to the place where the congregation was as an auditorium. And Rabbi Cohen said, that where the bimah would be, would influence synagogue architecture for years to come. I do not know if that’s the case, if it was the Wright synagogue that influenced it. But I can tell you and my synagogue in Westport, Connecticut has just gone through a renovation. And yes, as in the Wright synagogue, you can move the Bima to the middle of the synagogue, but it’s not permanently there. And I can tell you that one lesson that we learned from today and from the portion, and we’re not going to have time rabbi to get to the mountain above their heads was a threat, we’re only going to talk about the mountain above, and the Bima in the middle as the standard that was set by Sinai. And I can tell you that there is nothing more important than having the Torah as the centerpiece, where those eyes that you described from Shadal are all focused on the same place in the center, where every congregant is at the same level, and they are no Yechidim, where there is this healthy dialogue, sometimes even dialectic and debate between us and the Torah up. But it’s all there in these two verses.

Adam Mintz  29:29

And in these two words and I think that’s great. Thank you very much, Geoffrey. The sources were amazing today. And I think it gives us a new perspective on the experience of revelation of receiving the law. Want to wish everybody a Shabbat Shalom, it’s an amazing parsha an amazing story, and we look forward to seeing everybody back next Thursday night. Shabbat shalom, everybody.

Geoffrey Stern  29:54

Sabbats Shalom and Rabbi you have to keep me to my word. We will come back to the mountain over the head of the Israelites

Adam Mintz  29:58

It’s a great Gamora… we won’t miss it…

Geoffrey Stern  29:58

Shabbat Shalom to everybody.

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High Five

parshat beshalach, exodus 13 – 17

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on Thursday February 2,2023. The Torah declares that the Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt “Hamushim” חֲמֻשִׁ֛ים , a word related to the number five. According to many commentaries this word implies that only some of the Israelites left Egypt and that they were armed and ready to fight. As divisions begin to surface within the ranks of the Israelites, we raise our hand to identify and call out the birth of Jewish sectarianism.

Sefaria Source Sheet:


Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Beshalach. The Torah declares that the Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt “Hamushim” חֲמֻשִׁ֛ים , a word related to Hamesh, the number five. According to many commentaries this word implies that only some of the Israelites left Egypt … armed and ready to fight. This is the first time that distinctions are made between one set of Jews and another. So, as divisions begin to surface within the ranks of the Israelites, we raise our hand to identify and call out the birth of Jewish sectarianism. So join us for High Five.


Well, welcome to the Madlik podcast. Rabbi Adam, welcome back. from Dubai. As I said in the introduction, we’re going to focus on really one word that many of the commentators have a challenge with. And it has to do with when the Jews came out of Egypt, it’s in the first two verses of our Parsha. So in Exodus 13: 17, it says, Now when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines. Although it was nearer, for God said, the people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt. So God led the people round about by way of the wilderness at the Sea of Reeds. Now the Israelites went up armed, went out of the land of Egypt. So this went up armed out of the land of Egypt, is the crux of our question tonight, because the Hebrew is וַחֲמֻשִׁ֛ים עָל֥וּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם  And if you look at your standard in translation, for instance, the JPS puts a little asterik and it says the meaning of the Hebrew ḥamushim  is uncertain. Everett Fox in his translation says, armed Heb. (hamush) unclear.  he says, there are some that even say the possibility of groups of five or 50. So it’s a word that I think all of us have heard before, if you’ve even seen a hamsa, which is that iconic hand, you know that Hamesh means five. And here, we have just popped into the verse, a word coming from that show us from that route, and everybody is scratching their head. And of course, the flip side of scratching your head, if you’re a rabbi is coming up with an interpretation. So we will be exploring some of those interpretations. And seeing where they do lead us. Rashi, who is always our go-to guy, he combines the two verses, and we’re gonna see a lot of that, obviously, when you study pesukim, it should be in context. So, he says, because God led them by a circuitous route through the wilderness, he brought it about that they went up from Egypt, well provided. So there’s a certain logic and at one level Hamushim, which comes from the word five as in five fingers, you can make the case it means armed, which is kind of nice. And the English, the word armed is related to the word hand, it’s provided for. And he also goes on to say, this verse is written only with the view of making the ear understand in parentheses (preparing you for later statement that you should not wonder with regard to the war of Amalek.) So, at the end of our Parsha, we have a walk with Amelek, how do you fight a war without arms? And finally, he says that the word Hamushim has been used before he quotes Joshua. And he says, if you recall, there were two and a half tribes who decided to stay on the other side of the Jordan. And it says when you pass over the Jordan, you should do so Hamushim – armed so rabbis, what is your sense of Hamushim? It’s not actually a word that you can kind of ignore. I mean, it’s right in the in the pasuk. How rare is it that we get a word that really baffles pretty much everybody?

Adam Mintz  04:54

Yeah, I mean, let’s start from the beginning. The fact that the word Hamushim is related to the word Hamesh is what’s most interesting about the word? Because the question is, what is the what is the idea of being prepared for battle have to do with the word Hamesh? Right? They couldn’t use any word. Why is the word Hamushim that always interested me?

Geoffrey Stern  05:19

I mean, I think the English is kind of helpful here, because the word armed, literally comes from something that you bear in your hand. I mean, I did a Google search.

Adam Mintz  05:32

So, you know, that’s interesting, if that’s true, meaning that’s an English phrase. The question is whether the Chumash has the same use of the word arm, that we say that in English, but we don’t say that in Hebrew, I don’t think. Right?

Geoffrey Stern  05:49

Yeah, yeah. And that’s why you get variations like, wow, she kind of, he talks about arm but he also talks about being provided for, you know, you look up in Google, for instance, handshaking. And in Wikipedia, it says people would shake hands to make sure the other person wasn’t armed. It is kind of natural, when you get arrested when you hold up your hands, to show that you’re unarmed. So I think it’s more than just linguistic. I really do think that in a world where people are fearful for their lives the way most animals are, their ears perk up, they want to know if someone is a friend or a foe…. You look at the hand. So, I mean, it’s it is kind of interesting. It doesn’t answer all the questions, but it is fascinating that the rabbi’s at least some of them jump to that kind of a conclusion.

Adam Mintz  06:45

Yeah, it is interesting. I agree with you. That is interesting. I don’t know what to make of it. But that’s interesting.

Geoffrey Stern  06:51

So, I started by talking about this is the beginning of divisions within the Jewish people. And so Rashi says, and there was another explanation. He gets away for a second from being armed. And he says commotion is only one out of five went forth from Egypt, four parts of the people died during the three days of darkness, because they were unworthy of being delivered. So here’s what I was referring to. And of course, the most interesting part here is if you look at this word, which defies a straightforward translation, and it does become a Rorschach test What pushed the rabbi’s to read into it, something that would say that not all Jews merited or deserved or chose to leave the land, all of a sudden, for the first time, the Birth of a Nation, five seconds into the birth of the nation, we already have divisions within that nation being imposed upon them.

Adam Mintz  08:01

Yeah, that mean? Well, first of all, you know, the idea that four out of five didn’t make it out. That’s a wonderful kind of Midrash. Because that’s clearly not what it means. But that the Torah is trying to hint to us something, I think, is really fantastic.

Geoffrey Stern  08:22

Well, you know, the, we’ve gotten a few different explanations so far, you know, why not throw a bunch out there. And then we can start maybe to think in terms of, on the one hand, what the verse means, which I think probably is above our pay-scale, seeing as no one has come up with a complete solution. But the other interesting part about it is, how do people react to it? How do rabbis react to it? So the first interesting thing that you pointed out, was, it’s one thing to say, as I did that, four fifths stayed in Egypt, why are we creating these divisions? The next thing is, we’re starting to see this trend that we get in the Haggadah, also, where you multiply numbers, because, you know, we all know that the Jews left Egypt, traditionally, there were 600,000 men, so you figure another 600,000 women, and then you figure it children. And so you know, you think it’s maybe a million two, a million four. But if this is the case, think of what those numbers could possibly be. And there are other commentaries like the Rabenu Bachaiya, who even goes further and he says it was one in 50. It was one in 500. It is this tendency, I think, to exaggerate, which is is kind of interesting, especially because is the miracle of a million two is a pretty big miracle by itself.

Adam Mintz  10:07

Yes, That is that is absolutely true. I mean, let’s go back to the idea that four out of five didn’t make it. I mean, so you say we’re exaggerating, but the exaggeration says something, it really tells you that the Jews were not worthy,

Geoffrey Stern  10:24

or that some Jews were not worthy.

Adam Mintz  10:26

But no, but a majority, that’s 80% weren’t worthy.

Geoffrey Stern  10:32

That is a big number.

Adam Mintz  10:34

That’s a big number. I just want to point out. That’s a huge number.

Geoffrey Stern  10:39

And so from that perspective, I guess you could take it in a different direction. And you can say that what it’s trying to show is, don’t ever take this Exodus for granted. Yeah, a bunch of slaves, few plagues got out of Egypt, started a nation. Don’t ever think that this wasn’t the most amazing story that has occurred in history. Don’t ever think how daunting this was for the participants; you’re focusing on the four fifths that didn’t leave. The commentaries are kind of interesting. When they focus even on the 1/5 that did leave. They make this connection between God taking them in a circuitous path and giving them arms and almost in a sense saying, but even though I gave them the arms. It still didn’t happen. It still didn’t work. The Seforno says they did not have the courage to face the Egyptians in combat, in spite of their being armed. There’s another Chiba Yeterah says נפל לבם Their heart felt. So, it’s almost saying that God did everything in his power to make this happen. But it was an amazingly large challenge. And I think from that perspective, that kind of makes me more in awe than any raw numbers.

Adam Mintz  12:12

Yeah, o what you’re saying is that the raw numbers, even 80% could ultimately be misleading.

Geoffrey Stern  12:23

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, because you focus on the ones that were left behind, and you forget the ones that left how daunting it was, and how, you know, as much preparation as there was to take a people from slaves and a slave mentality. And to give them the ability to stand on their own two feet and defend themselves is something that we should never, you know, kind of take for granted. So that’s kind of one of the stories that one of the lessons that I take from this. The other interesting thing is, and I mentioned that we were starting to see now different groups. Now we have a group that didn’t leave, and a group that left at the end of last week’s Parsha, we had the mixed multitude, they a lot of love. So now we have not only people that left, and they were armed, and they believed or at least they were closer to believing than anywhere else. But we also have this mixed multitude. And this comes up even later, there’s another word for them. They’re called the Riff Raff in numbers, the soft stuff Eek, there are, all of a sudden, we see this is not the plagues were kind of easy. You had darkness, it was dark. For the Egyptians, it was light for the Jews. But now as we get out there, we’re starting to see different types of Jews, quasi-Jews, maybe Jews. It’s very early in the story. And all of a sudden, this is starting to happen to us. And I think that’s kind of fascinating. We don’t even get a honeymoon.

Adam Mintz  14:09

Yeah, that that. Now, that is an interesting point. The fact that we don’t get a honeymoon means it just seems to go from one to the next. Right. The question is why we don’t get a honeymoon. Why didn’t God just let everybody out? What Why was there this, this decision to only let out say 20% of the people means was it a punishment? What was it about?

Geoffrey Stern  14:35

So fascinatingly, there are different opinions about what went on? One of them…., it’s up pseudo Philo says “the children of Israel were split in their opinions according to three strategies. For the tribes of Reuben, Issachar, Zebulun and Simeon said: “Come let us cast ourselves into the sea. For it is better for us to die in the water than to be killed by our enemies”. The tribes of Gad, Asher, Dan and Naftali said: “No, but let us go back with them, and if they are willing to spare our lives, we will serve them”. But the tribes of Levi, Judah, Joseph and Benjamin said: “Not so, but let us take up our weapons and fight with them, and God will be with us! So, this becomes kind of fascinating because we and I am right there…. we always assumed when forfeits left behind, that they were left behind by, by God’s choice by Moses, his choice they were rejected. But what this interestingly, in given the whole arc of Jewish history suggests that maybe they didn’t want to leave, you cannot help but think back to Europe, in the 30s, when some Jews were leaving for Israel, or Palestine, and others were did not want to go. So so now we have differences of opinion as to what the right course was. And we’re starting to see opinions that in fact, there is one in our source notes, which I should post and I’ll put them up in a second. There’s an amazing article about Who with a Mixed Multitudes. And it’s by a professor called Professor Bar. And he makes the case that even some of those who are saying that the Hamushim means groups of 50. He makes the argument that the Erev Rav and these groups of 50 were paid mercenaries, were whether they were paid mercenaries, or they weren’t fighters is irrelevant in my mind. But what you’re seeing is there were those who took charge those who took the impetus. They even use the words that were later used in Yehoshua’s time, which I think is a terrible translation. They translate Halutzim as shock troops. But they talk about these armed Hamushim also referred to as Halutzim, we’re the ones who decided to leave Egypt. And there were those who did not have enough self-confidence, or as we would see later, will dream about the fleshpots of Egypt and always want to go back Datan and Avirom  there were these different groups. And according to this opinion, the Hamushim were a certain type of Jew who led the charge. Not all of them necessarily were armed. It starts to become kind of fascinating.

Adam Mintz  17:57

That is fascinating. Yeah, that is fascinating So the question is, … based on what the different explanations of  Hamushim are. If Hamushim means armed, so the question is who exactly was armed? Right? And where did the Jews get these arms from? וַחֲמֻשִׁ֛ים עָל֥וּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם Where did you get the arms from?

Geoffrey Stern  18:26

According to all of those who say that Israelites were left in Egypt, they were killed during the plague of darkness. That is the tradition. And of course, we also have a tradition, that during the plague of darkness, it was pitch black for the Egyptians, but the Jews could see. And there are various traditions that say that the Jews, the Israelites, would go into the houses of the Egyptians and stake out weapons; stakeout property that they would later ask for as they left when they were provisioned. We’ve talked about that before.

Adam Mintz  19:10


Geoffrey Stern  19:10

But the interesting thing to me is that in Exodus 10, when it talks about the plague of darkness, it says לא ראו איש את אחיו . And that one could not see one’s fellow. But if you take that metaphorically, again, if if this is when the allegory the myth, the concept of some Jews were left behind comes up in the plague of darkness. It’s this division started to occur when one Israelite could not see the other. The Division started to occur even within the land of Egypt. So, it’s almost a recognition of the text that this all began. And I guess, you know, I can’t say this hasn’t occurred before. When Moses came the day after he killed the slave master, the two Jews, said to him, what are you going to do? You’re going to kill us too. But so there always were divisions, there were divisions in every people and God for sure they have divisions within the Jewish people. But this is on a much larger scale.

Adam Mintz  20:27

Yes, I think that’s right. I mean, I think you know, and that’s what you talked about the numbers. It makes a difference how many Jews left Egypt in this discussion? What did it look like? I don’t even know what 2 million people leaving Egypt look like. Right? What did that look like?

Geoffrey Stern  20:46

So so we get to, I believe I’m on safe ground to say that the reason why Hamesh was related, and maybe you don’t agree with me on this, but the reason why her Mace was related to arms was for the same reason that the English word for armaments comes from the word arm. This is where power is exerted. And I think that if you start then to look at the story of the Exodus, and look at how Yad is used as a metaphor, it starts also to make sense, I was talking to you before about how I was preparing with my grandson who’s going to be Bar Mitzvah in a few months. And we were discussing tephilin and of course, fill in his first referenced as an וְהָיָה֩ לְךָ֨ לְא֜וֹת עַל־יָדְךָ֗ וּלְזִכָּרוֹן֙ בֵּ֣ין עֵינֶ֔יךָ לְמַ֗עַן תִּהְיֶ֛ה תּוֹרַ֥ת ה בְּפִ֑יךָ כִּ֚י בְּיָ֣ד חֲזָקָ֔ה הוֹצִֽאֲךָ֥ ה מִמִּצְרָֽיִם , a sign on your arm, and it references that outstretched arm. [also וַיְחַזֵּ֣ק ה’ אֶת־לֵ֤ב פַּרְעֹה֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ מִצְרַ֔יִם וַיִּרְדֹּ֕ף אַחֲרֵ֖י בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וּבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל יֹצְאִ֖ים בְּיָ֥ד רָמָֽה׃ ה’ stiffened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he gave chase to the Israelites. As the Israelites were departing defiantly, where yad rmah is according to Ibn Ezra: They didn’t leave the impression of fleeing but rather had all the weapons of war [and so did not go out like fugitives.] ]And we have to note that the Hebrew word Yad, we always talk in terms of a hand, but I think if you look at the text of the Bible, Yad can just as easily mean arm, as it can mean hand. So now you look at all of the verses that we’re very well acquainted with, about God out stretching his arm, about the power of the hand of God. And it puts that the where it talks about whether it’s כִּֽי־יָד֙ עַל־כֵּ֣ס יָ֔הּ , whether it is the בִּזְר֣וֹעַ נְטוּיָ֔ה the out stretched arm, it is a metaphor for power, for changing, for progress. You know, when it talks about the plagues, in so many of the cases, it talks about raising up the hand. So I think that this is a major kind of part of this story. And it makes us think differently about you know, what is going on here, and what is the power of this Hamsa of this hand?

Adam Mintz  20:47

Good. You know what, I’m willing to go with you? I don’t know that we could prove it necessarily. But I’m willing to go with you that, that that what we’re talking about here is that we’re talking about here is some something based on the fact that armaments are related to the hands. I’m good with that. Let’s run with that.

Geoffrey Stern  23:30

Great. So if we look back in the story, and we look all the way back to Genesis 41, where Joseph is advising the king, it says, Joseph says to the king, and let Pharaoh take steps to appoint overseers over the land and organize the land of Egypt in the seven years of plenty. And there it says let him make וְחִמֵּשׁ֙ אֶת־אֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם . So here, Rashi says that they shall prepare, and he says similar to Exodus 13: 18 and be prepared for war. So now this is another nuance. We talked about provisioning, preparing the Jews that are going to be taken on a circuitous mission. Maybe it takes a little bit away from the military nature of this, but certainly it focuses as Hamesh as something that is preparing somebody for something. It’s interesting that the word comes up and it’s not a word that falls off your tongue easily. Even when you look at that verse. You need a Rossi to explain what’s going on.

Adam Mintz  24:51

Yeah, I think that’s right. The simple explanation of the verse doesn’t really mean anything. All right. I mean, it needs an explanation. I think that’s a very smart point. We’re running to different kinds of explanations. What is the simple explanation is and I don’t know what the simple explanation means.

Geoffrey Stern  25:16

No, and, and we probably will not know. But one thing that did come to my mind is that it’s strange that while the commentaries do talk about Hamesh as being prepared, and being armed, they don’t talk so much about being armed by God, which is kind of interesting. And if I had to say, one small, little Hidush, one small, little innovation in Genesis, where it talks about what we said a second ago, that you should organize the land of Egypt, it uses Hamesh in Genesis 47, it says, “And Joseph made it into a land law in Egypt, which is still valid, that a fifth should be Pharaoh’s; only the land of the priests did not become Pharaoh’s.  So here, Hamesh, it belongs to Pharaoh.” And maybe and this is my small innovation at Pharaoh was the king Pharaoh was the god of Egypt. And so it’s almost as though the fifth the Hamesh the Yad, the mover, the shaker, that’s what belongs to God. And so it seems to me it’s a little strange that the rabbi is don’t insert God into this Hamesh when the Yad of God is all over, but instead use it to look for the differences between some Jews and another that kind of struck me, especially if my if my explanation has any soil to it at all.

Adam Mintz  27:05

That’s good. So the יד חזקה  is is actually the opposite of Hamushim, even though it both means the same thing. That’s your question really?

Geoffrey Stern  27:19

Well, I think that the Hamushim means to be prepared and protected in a very profound way. And if I had to argue from Jewish superstition, Jewish ritual objects, from Jewish tradition, if you think of that Hamsa, which, you know, people are not sure whether it come it came from Islam, or predated Islam, and it came from Judaism, in our superstitious tradition in Yemen, it’s the Yad of Miriam. But the idea is, I’ve seen pictures of hands, almost I wouldn’t say they were put in blood, but they are put on the wall as a sign of protection. They just recently discovered a hand impregnated into the wall around Jerusalem. This idea of God protecting us with his hand, to me seems to be where the Jewish people might have taken this concept of God’s hand. And from that perspective, it gives a new insight into what God gave these people, they still didn’t stand up to the task. But they were appointed by God, they were armed by God, they were prepared by God. That certainly is one way to look at it.

Adam Mintz  28:47

I have a question to ask you.

Geoffrey Stern  28:48


Adam Mintz  28:49

When did they use these armaments that they were prepared with? There’s a war with a Amalek at the end of our parsha, there’s a war with Amalek, but it’s a miraculous war. Moshe raises his hands and they win Moshe lowers his hands, and they lose.

Geoffrey Stern  29:06

So the Rashi on Exodus 13: 18, which I cut short, says that the reason why they have arms is that you should not wonder with regard to the war with Amalek. And then he continues, and the war with Sihon and Og and Midian where they obtained weapons, since they smote them with the sword.

Adam Mintz  29:22

So good. So that’s what I’m saying. It’s interesting that the pasuk here says that they’re armed. But basically, they only use the arms 40 years later.

Geoffrey Stern  29:35

And I guess once you have your first battle, there’s always an explanation of how you got your arms…  you captured them from the enemy.

Adam Mintz  29:43

But I’m saying isn’t that interesting means that they’re actually preparing to enter the land of Israel. Now before the sin of the spies. They thought they were entering the Land of Israel immediately. So therefore, they needed the arms because they had to fight these battles. And the answer is they didn’t fight them for 40 years.

Geoffrey Stern  30:03

Yep. So, yep, yep. So so the question is, you know, is is, is the, the answer worse than the question? You know, they’re clearly looking at this word and trying to figure out, you know what it means. But in the Haggadah, we have so many elements that we’ve kind of touched on today, we have this element of exaggerating, of multiplying the numbers, but to me, the most challenging one is the wicked son, because it’s the wicked son that now takes on a whole new meaning. When they say, you said, “you” had you been there, you would not have been worthy to ever be redeemed. Now we have a tradition of four fifths of the people (did not get redeemed).. But let’s forget about numbers; about a portion of the people decided or were forced not to be redeemed. And I would argue what makes this fascinating, especially for recent history, in terms of the establishment of the State of Israel, where you almost flipped the coin, where it was the God-fearing who, for many reasons, said, We are going to wait to be saved, we will stay in where we are. And it was the Halutzim, and it’s amazing that it uses the same word as these forward troops, who were the humashim, who went out and had the confidence to create a new land, which just goes to show that, you know, everybody has a lesson to take away from the portion and everybody should be struggling and bothered by the questions that are raised as we read the weekly portion, and this week is no exception.

Adam Mintz  32:01

I think that’s great. We I mean, we looked at a word you know, sometimes we look at an idea today, we looked at the word, it’s no question. It’s the best word in the parsha. It’s my favorite word in the parsha. It’s one of my favorite words in the Chumash. Just because I love that Rashi. So, we really tried to get to the bottom of it. And whether we did or we didn’t, we at least had an interesting conversation, something to think about the Shabbat. So wishing everybody a Shabbat Shalom, enjoy, and we look forward to seeing you next week.

Geoffrey Stern  32:26

Shabbat shalom. Great to have you back high five to you from one street on the Upper West Side to another and look forward to next week. Well, thank you for listening. And for all of you who listen to this as a podcast tonight, we have an extended version, because as you know, this is recorded on clubhouse live. And we have two amazing Hasidic stories from my buddy Yochanan, who is the Rosh Kollel of clubhouse. And we also have some interesting comments from my buddy Lauren. So you are welcome to leave now. You still get all of Madlik points, and all of the benefits that come with those Madlik points. But if you want to get a sense of what happens on clubhouse, stay tuned. Yochanan how are you today?

Yochanan Lowen  33:21

Hey, hey, Rob, is it’s a pleasure to be here. And Rabbi Adam said that Hamushim is his most favorite word in the Humash. Did I hear correctly?

Adam Mintz  33:31

Yeah, I like that word.

Yochanan Lowen  33:32

But Hi, how is it possible to be differently? If Hamushim is actually the same word as Humash. So obviously, this would be your most favorite word in the Humash.

Adam Mintz  33:45

That’s fantastic. Of course, they’re related words.

Yochanan Lowen  33:48

Exactly. It’s actually the same term, it’s the same route. It’s the same, you know, it’s the same word, it’s the difference in the conjugation, whatever what you call it in English.

Geoffrey Stern  34:00

And I will say that in my research of the Hamsah, the this iconic hand that we see some of the Sephardic customs are is that it represents the Hamesh Humsheh Torah the five books of the Torah. And the same goes for וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה, which is the Heh, in the וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה, is there Heh, of the Five Books of Moses, which will save us. So it really I think Yochanan you’re just adding another aspect to how this tree these traditions that we’ve talked about have kind of been recycled and grown and ruminate one with the other. Humash is a perfect, perfect example.

Adam Mintz  34:50

Yeah, that’s great. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Shabbat shalom, everybody. Enjoy.

Sefaria Source Sheet:

High Five | Sefaria

Parshat Beshalach – The Torah declares that the Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt “Hamushim” חֲמֻשִׁ֛ים , a word related to the number five. According to many commentaries this word implies that only some of the Israelites left Egypt and that they were armed and ready to fight.

Listen to last years Beshalach podcast: God;s Gracious Ruse

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