Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz at 8:00pm Eastern on January 20th 2022 on Clubhouse as we discuss the Torah portion that includes the Ten Commandments but is named after a non-Jewish priest. A priest who blesses God, successfully offers sacrifices and with God’s sanction, establishes institutions of jurisprudence for the Jewish People. For a religion that is known for exclusivism, we use this realization to explore Inclusivism, Universalism and Pluralism in Jewish tradition.
Listen to last week’s episode: God’s Gracious Ruse
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on January 13th 2022. God leads the Jews on the scenic (long) route to the Promised Land and the classical commentators wonder why. All of them find a pedagogic approach but their conclusions are diverse and in some cases, perplexing! We join the Israelites as they embark on this fateful trip into the desert and we learn a little something about long roads that are short and God’s Gracious Ruse.
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and that Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and this week with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we join the Israelites as they embark on a trip into the desert. We are perplexed to see that God sets the GPS to wander mode and puts them on a circuitous route rather than the coastal expressway. So get into the backseat and be prepared to badger the driver and learn a little something about long loads that are short as we explore God’s Gracious Ruse.
Well, welcome for our weekly trip. And this week, we are really on a trip because the Israelites are off to the great adventure of 40 years in the desert. We are in Exodus 13. And it starts when it says, "Now then Pharaoh let the people go. God did not lead them by 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 out of the land of Egypt." And then it continues in Exodus 14. "The Lord said to Moses, tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, before Baal-zephon; and you shall encamp facing it by the sea, feral will say of the Israelites, they are astray in the land, "Nevu heym b'Aretz" The wilderness is closed in on them, then I will stiffen Pharaoh's heart, and He will pursue them that I might gain glory through Pharaoh and all his host. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, and they did so." So we have a combination of two different travelogues if you will, that God prepares for the Jewish people one, even before he takes Pharaoh into consideration. He says, You know what, I'm not going to take you on the short path, I'm going to take you in a circuitous route. And he gives a reason because he's afraid they might have a change of heart. And then he looks at it from the perspective of Pharaoh and says, and there's going to be a real advantage here. Because he's going to think that the Jews are "nevuchim". They are confused. And he'll see this as an opportunity for him to have a change of heart. So Rabbi, what do you make of well, this changing of hearts and circuitous routes?
Adam Mintz 03:05
The Jews were clearly not quite ready to leave Egypt. They left because nobody wants to be a slave. You can take the Jews out of slavery, but their mind still thinks like a slave. And the way a slave thinks is that the first hint of any problem, I just want to go back. At least when I'm a slave, I'm taken care of, I may be persecuted, but at least I'm taken care of I get three meals, I have a place to sleep. And now we're going to get attacked on the way to Israel, and they're going to get afraid. Now, what's interesting is that God seems to be very much aware of this. God is like, like their psychologist. And he says, I can take them that way, I have to take them indirectly. Because only if I take them indirectly, will they kind of learn how to be free. That's also by the way, since we're talking about all this, that's why they don't get to Torah for seven weeks, they need a little bit of time, they can't get the Torah.
Geoffrey Stern 04:13
So I totally agree that there's almost a pedagogic aspect to all this. We are embarking on this great journey. And all of a sudden, by talking in terms of planning a trip and picking a route. We're almost given an opportunity to explore how does one move from one place to another, both physically but also spiritually and psychologically. And I think that's going to be a large part of the conversation. But before we even get there, this also seems to be a little bit of a prophecy or a prequel or a forecasting.... I think most of us who know the Torah believe that the Jews at a certain point were punished to die in the desert, the generation that left Egypt was punished whether it was at the golden calf, whether it was when the spies came back and they cried. And here we have, like we have many times. This this sense of it was predestined, or there are multiple reasons for the same event. Let me just read a little bit from the Mechilta d'Rabbi Yishmael... ""And Pharaoh will say about the children of Israel: They are nevuchim in the land": "nevuchim" is "confounded," as in (Joel 1:18) "How the beasts groan! The herds of cattle navochu!" Variantly: "nevuchim" — "bewildered," as in (Esther 3:15) "And the king and Haman sat down to feast, and the city of Shushan navochah." Variantly: "And Pharaoh said": He said and he did not know what he was saying. (i.e., unbeknownst to him he was prophesying. On the surface) he was saying that Moses was leading them without knowing where — but "nevuchim" (prophetically) intimates Moses, viz. (Devarim 32:49) "Ascend the Mount Avarim, Mount Nevo, (short for 'nevuchim')." Variantly: "And Pharaoh said," without knowing what he was saying, viz.: Israel are destined to cry ("livkoth" as in "nevochim") in the desert, viz. (Numbers 14:1) There's a play on words in the desert. "And the entire congregation lifted their voices and the people cried (vayivku)" Israel are destined to fall in the desert," So they're almost finding excuses to tie this premonition here, that God wanted the Jews to go in circles "listovev", not so much as a punishment, but as a prophecy. But it just seemed to be a rather profound message of this was necessary.
Adam Mintz 06:54
Yeah, I mean, you know, this was necessary. The question, Geoffrey really is, what's it necessary for?
Geoffrey Stern 07:05
So that that's the million-dollar question.
Adam Mintz 07:08
That's really what we need to talk about tonight, you're right, the Torah itself, even before you get to the Mechilta, the Torah itself says it was necessary. Had they done it the other way, it would have been bad. So, it was necessary. But nobody tells you exactly what it was necessary for. So, I gave this theory that they had to get the slave mentality out of their system. But really, I made that up. Why doesn't the Torah tell us why it's necessary?
Geoffrey Stern 07:39
So I think if you look at the actual verses that we just read, it says the people may have a change of heart when they see war. "Pen Yinachem hAm b're'otem milchama", maybe it's war, maybe it's trouble, maybe it's a tribulation, maybe it's hard work, and return to Egypt. And of course, returning to Egypt is something that we see throughout the book of Exodus, wherever things get tough. Their first response is nostalgically to say, let's go back to Egypt. So, I think even in the verses themselves, in terms of the mindset of the Jews, there is this sense that God changed the travelogue in order to ensure that the Jews would be protected from making that knee jerk reaction and heading home at the first sight of whether it was war, or some sort of turmoil, stress or challenge.
Adam Mintz 08:42
But it's really unbelievable, because can you imagine being a slave and going back to slavery? Now, I'm not an expert on the Civil War. But, you know, when the slaves were freed in the south, after the Civil War, you know, they had trouble. We know that trouble... took 100 years for there to be equal rights. For, you know, for black people. Did they go back today asked to be slaves again? Were there a group that said it's better to be slaves then to be free? Maybe there were, but that would be interesting.
Geoffrey Stern 09:22
I think what it does, is this points a little bit at how unique the Exodus story was an is in terms of disruption. How many times do you have a people that has this opportunity to make a total paradigm shift? And I think that maybe makes this whole question of this pedagogic question that much more interesting. So, let's start looking at how some of the classical commentaries look at this from a pedagogic point of view. The Mechilta d'Rabbi Yishmael in another place says "for it was near". They pick up on the verse that says he didn't want them to go through the Philistine route because it was too near "The holy one bless it be he did not bring them directly to Eretz Israel. But by way of the desert, saying if I bring them they are now immediately. "m'yad" is the Hebrew word. Each man will seize his field and each man his vineyard and they will neglect Torah study. Rather, I will keep them in the desert 40 years eating mana and drinking from the well and the Torah will be absorbed in their bodies. From here Rabbi Shimon would say the Torah was given to be expounded only by the eaters of Mana, and like them, the eaters of Terumah." So this is kind of fascinating. It's, it's really, I mean, there are two aspects of it. The first aspect I absolutely love, where he picks up on this thing about Karov about being near, about being near and he moves it from something that is temporal, in terms of space, to something that is from a perspective of time, that there is an evolution that had to occur, you can get miracles in Egypt, you can get miracles at the Red Sea, you can't change a person's heart or a person's mind in the same miraculous fashion. Then, of course, he transitions into a yeshiva student to a teacher, and talks about the best way to study Torah is in the desert, away from distractions. But again, it's wonderful that from this perspective, and many that we'll see, they all saw these few verses, as the paradigm of how does one create change inside of a person and inside of a people.
Adam Mintz 12:00
Right? That's correct. That's really the story of 40 years in the desert. The reason for 40 years in the desert, was in order to create that that paradigm shift where the Jews go from being slaves in Egypt, to being free people, you know, there is work done. I'm not sure about what happened after the Civil War. But there is a lot of work done about countries that have revolutions. And it's interesting that very often, the one who leads the revolution is not the one who's a successful leader of the country going forward. It needs a transition phase. And that's really what you have in the Torah, you have a transition phase. And if you want to be honest, Moshe, who is the one who leads them out. He's the Liberator can't be the one who takes them into the land of Israel.
Geoffrey Stern 13:03
You know, I think that's a good point. But I'd also kind of argue that we're not yet there... these verses include a premonition, and they already have a premonition about wandering in the desert. I don't think the premonition is yet here, that after the wandering, you won't get into the land. I think that's another step.
Adam Mintz 13:25
But I'm just saying that it's interesting. This is the beginning of that process that will lead us there.
Geoffrey Stern 13:33
Adam Mintz 13:35
By the way, you didn't talk about the fact that there's you know, there's a lot of complaining starts this week,
Geoffrey Stern 13:43
the complaining starts from day one, right?
Adam Mintz 13:46
That's right. Yeah. They cross the sea. They see the biggest miracle in the history. What do they do? They complain.
Geoffrey Stern 13:55
So let's get back to some of the lessons that the classical commentaries take. The next I'm going to quote is Rabeinu Bachya and and he says, that what we are just seeing "is characteristic of the way God dealt with the Israelites in the desert. They were to be raised gradually to a level of trust and the word in Hebrew is b'madregot ha'bitachon" "degrees". I think if there's one takeaway from tonight's discussion, is that faith doesn't come in a moment. Whether it's from the previous perspective of studying Torah, whether it's perspective of Rabeinu Bachya, where you're trying to get faith, there is no fast-food solution. There is no silver bullet. This question of a "milchama" could be a war, but it's also turmoil. You know, there's an expression we know it from the New Testament it says "seek and thou shall find" In the Talmud, it's "Yagat u'metzat, T'amin" If somebody works hard at something, and they find it, believe them, but if they say "Lo Yagata umatzata al ta'amin", if they say now I just discovered this, I didn't work hard at all. Don't believe them if he said he found the answer. So I think it's clearly this sense of degrees. And you find this so much in religious thinking that one has to plod from one level to the next, that faith and understanding is cumulative. And Rabeinu Bachya brings a number of examples, which I think are kind of interesting, he says, "This is why God parted the waters of the Sea of Reeds only a little bit at a time. That is why even at Marah where God showed Moses how to make sweet water which had become bitter sweet again, God went to the trouble of first miraculously making that water bitter and then performing a second miracle. And Rabeinu Bachya goes on and on he writes for another three paragraphs, giving his I guess, exegesis on multiple miracles where he shows that the idea is not to stun, the idea is not to shock, the idea is to gradually, step after step, bring a person from where they are, to where they want to be. And he uses words like "davar Yom b'yomo" day after day "likvoa b'nafshotam midat habitachon" to create in them this trait of faith. I think that's fascinating.
Adam Mintz 16:49
I would agree that that is fascinating. What do you think he has in mind? What do you think? What's the bigger issue that he's really addressing there?
Geoffrey Stern 17:01
Well, I think what he's saying is from these verses, we learn that going out on this journey is not simply about going to a destination, but it's how one gets there. And there's so much that needs to be learned from that journey. There's a Hebrew expression that comes from the Talmud that talks about short paths that are long and long paths that are short. And I think that is part of what he's saying that there are steps that need to be taken to to achieve the desired result. So the Gomorrah in Eruvin, said that there was an incident of a young boy, one time the great Yehuda HaNasi, was walking along the path. And he saw a young boy sitting at the crossroads. And I said to him, on which path Shall we walk in order to get to the city, he said, to me, this path is short and long. And that path is long and short. I walked on the path that was short and long. When I approached the city, I found that gardens and orchards surrounded it. And I did not know the trails leading through them to the city. I went back and met the young boy again and said to him, my son, didn't you tell me that this was short. He said to me, and didn't I tell you that it was also long, I kissed him on his head and said to him, happy are you Oh, Israel, for you are all exceedingly wise from your old to your young." So I think it's a beautiful expression, Ketzara varucha arucha v'kitzara" could the short path that is long, the quick fix that doesn't quite work, and the struggle that fixes everything? And I think ultimately, that's also a kind of a character lying in this discussion.
Adam Mintz 19:01
I think that's a great idea. That idea that the quick fix doesn't work is definitely a lesson that we have from this week's Parsha. From the very, very beginning, right? The Quick Fix was to go up the coast and to be in Israel in 11 days, "Achad asar yom meHorev derech har seir ad kadesh barnea" 11 days, but that would have been the quick fix. And that would have been disastrous. The amazing thing is that from the beginning, God's watching out for the people. It's not in God's best interest, either if we're allowed to say, to have the quick fix, and that the people get scared and want to run back.
Geoffrey Stern 19:42
Absolutely. Well, you know, God's part of the team.
Adam Mintz 19:45
Yeah, God says that the purpose of the of the plagues is to prove to the Egyptians and the Jews that God is God. Interesting. When Pharaoh ultimately throws the Jews out after the plague of the first born in last week's Parsha, he says to Moses and Aaron, get out of here. And then he adds three words, he says, And when you go and pray to your God, pray on my behalf to, I think those are the best three words in the whole Torah. Because right there, Pharaoh says, I finally believe in your God, pray for me too.
Geoffrey Stern 20:29
You reminded me about the 10 plagues. And as long as we're picking up on this sense of what Rabeinu Bachya was saying about Madregod about degrees, in a sense, there's a real powerful theme here, even for the Egyptians, who ultimately God was trying to teach a lesson to, he didn't just go to the 10th plague, there's this sense of an evolution, of a transition, small steps. And I think that has to be one of the powerful lessons of the Parsha. So now we're going to transition to the most absolutely radical explanation for going in circuitous routes, and, and going slowly, and it comes from a great rabbi and a great philosopher, who also happened to be a great doctor. And he starts the discussion by talking about biology. And he's almost prescient, in terms of if you listen to what I'm going to read. now, this almost sense of, of evolution, but his name is Rav Moshe Ben, Maimon, Maimonides himself. And he writes in Guide for the Perplexed..... and before I start, remember, the Jews are "Nevuchim", they are confused in the desert. That's the name of the book, we're going to be reading from the guide for the Nevuchim, he doesn't make the connection. This is only one of the radical ideas in his book, but maybe it's a seminal idea. So here we go. And he's talking about biology. He says, In considering the divine acts or the processes of nature, we get an insight into God's willy graciousness, the Hebrew. .... And of course, the Moreh Nevuchim was written in Arabic. So when you say the Hebrew, you have to say, who you're you're quoting, we're quoting [Samuel ben Judah ibn] Tibon, who was the first translator of it, he goes, "Aramat Ha'elokut" L'arom is to lie... so the Diety's willy graciousness as displayed in the creation of animals with the gradual development of the movements of their limbs and the relative position of the later. And we perceive also his willy graciousness. Now he uses a second word, "Tachluvot" , which is kind of subterfuge in the successive and gradual developments of the whole condition of each individual. And he goes through different animals. And he talks about how certain limbs are used at one time, and then stop being used, but they have their value. And the most powerful final example that he gives is mammals who wean their children. He says, Therefore, breasts were provided which yield milk. And the young can be fed with moist food, which corresponds to the condition of the limbs of the animal, until the later have gradually become dry, and hard. So the breasts are full of milk for a while, and then the child matures, and they dry up. It's an example of planned obsolescence, if you will. And he uses this discussion of biology, to segue into how God educated the children of Israel. And he starts by saying, "it is impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other. It is according to the nature of man impossible for him suddenly to discontinue everything which he has been accustomed. And he goes on to talk about how the ultimate goal of leaving Egypt, after all he was an Aristotelian was to contemplate the divine. And how do you get from living as a slave in a society where there are idols and there were sacrifices, how do you get from there to this sublime state, and he writes that it was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God, as disclosed in biology in the whole of creation, that he did not command us to give up and discontinue all these manners of service for to obey such a commandment would be contrary to the nature of men. So he says, Therefore God allowed these kinds of services to continue. He created a temple, he created sacrifices. And he goes, I'm not going to wean you from sacrifices, I'm not going to wean you from bowing down and from touching a holy stone, and looking in a particular direction to find God, I'm just going to change that. So you go to my temple, and you sacrifice to me, by this divine plan, it was affected that the traces of idolatry were blotted out. And the truly great principle of our faith, the existence of unity of God was firmly established. Does Maimonides know how radical an idea he's saying is that he's basically writing off all of the temple sacrificial cult, as a stepping stone as a necessary ruse a trick to get people from one place to another, he continues, "I know that you will at first reject this idea and find it strange. How can you suppose that all of these commandments were just employed, not for themselves, but to go to something else?" He goes, what would happen if somebody showed up today, and told us you don't have to wear tefillin, you don't have to pray three times a day, just contemplate God. He says we would also be upset. But he says it's written in the Torah. God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines flow that was near for God said ..... so he quotes our verse and he says, Here God led the people about away from the direct road, which he originally intended, because he feared they might meet on that way with hardships too great for their ordinary strength. He took them by another road in order to obtain thereby his original object. It was the result of God's wisdom that the Israelites were led out into the wilderness till they acquired courage. And he uses this same word of it was a divine ruse. It was trickery, if you will. And it was a very radical statement, I encourage you to go to the show notes and Safaria, and read the whole text that's built logically and forward. And that was his takeaway. And it's a radical takeaway, if you take it to its full meaning, which that he was basically saying even the tefillin, at fill in everything that we do is a trick or a ruse, or I would say it in a more nice term, a tool to get us to somewhere else.
Adam Mintz 28:06
I like the word tool. It's a tool to get us where we need to go. It's not in itself a goal.
Geoffrey Stern 28:13
But it is a pretty radical idea?
Adam Mintz 28:16
Crazy, but fascinating. It's so good, that everything we do is just to get us to the goal. But each one of these actions is not in itself valuable. Now, I think that Rambam would probably say that once you're going through them, though, you have to do them properly. means let's take tefillin. So tefillin’s not important for itself. It's important where it takes us but to put on tefillin wrong to do the wrong act in the ritual, to perform the Seder incorrectly to observe Yom Kippur incorrectly, I don't think Rambabu like that, either.
Geoffrey Stern 29:01
Not like that! I mean, he is a man who dedicated his wife life to codifying Jewish law [laughs].
Adam Mintz 29:08
That's what I'm saying, the codification of the detail is important, because it leads us somewhere else. Don't think the ultimate is just putting on the tefillin. The tefillin are a tool to get us where we need to go.
Geoffrey Stern 29:26
So we're running out of time, but let me give you a little bit of the history of this idea. The Ramban, Nachmonidies in Leviticus absolutely goes ballistic against Maimonides for saying this. And he says How could you possibly say this? Your your belittling the sacrifices which actually Noah gave and he goes on and on. We have to remember that Ramban lived in a Christian world He actually had to go into debate with Christians. And this concept that the laws don't really matter, that it's the spirit that counts smacks a lot of Christianity. And my sense is that those are rabbis who defended Maimonides, like the Abarbanel and others, maybe they will less exposed to the Christian ideas. But but here's the amazing thing. In Christianity, they built a whole philosophy on this idea, and it's called Divine Condescendence. And it goes back to the church fathers. And we talked about classical commentators. Some of them use this to explain that education is like with children, that you have to start somewhere and you slowly grow... "St. A rainiest, I deserve special mention, as a rare instance of a church father who relates Divine Condescendence to an evolutionary concept of the Hebrew people in which they pass gradually as a collective, from an infantile to an adult state." They have more variations on this concept than we have. And my guess is for those scholars that like Shai Held, that are finding ideas that we had that were taken by Christians and taken in a father direction, this idea of Divine Condescendence is certainly one of them. But Maimonides either because of his biological background, or because he lived in a Muslim world, and wasn't part of replacement theology. He wasn't afraid of saying that Judaism could evolve, was able to say this. And again, it kind of reflects what we were talking about last week, and what I think what you were just saying, Rabbi, that you can believe that the understanding of the law can evolve, and still keep it. You can keep it the way it was originally observed. But as you grow, as you grow as a person, and as you grow as a nation, your understanding can evolve as far as you want. And I think that's really the theme here. And the theme of what God is telling the Jewish people as they embark on this amazing journey.
Adam Mintz 32:44
I think that's beautiful. Thank you so much for the topic. Shabbat Shalom to everybody enjoy crossing the sea. And next week we look forward to receiving the Torah, The Ten commandments with all of you well, Shabbat Shalom,
Geoffrey Stern 32:58
so soon amazing Shabbat Shalom to you all. Let's all cross the Red Sea, the Sea of Reeds and begin the journey. Thank you so much.
A live recording of Disruptive Torah recorded on the Madlik Clubhouse with Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz, Rabbi Abraham Bronstein and “The Haftorahman”, Reuben Ebrahimoff on January 6th 2022.
Can Biblical commandments evolve and have alternative meanings at different times and to different people? Mitzvot; for some an obligation, for others a political, cultural or fashion statement and for still others a magical charm. In Exodus 13 we are introduced to the first formal commandments given in the Torah; a book of Law. These laws relate exclusively to the celebration of the first and subsequent Passovers. Out of nowhere we discover the first reference to what was to become the commandment of Tefillin. We explore the classical commentators and modern scholarship to discover the multiple layers and nuances behind tefillin and possibly all mitzvot.
Geoffrey Stern 00:04 Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey stern and at Madlik we light a spark was shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. And this week with Rabbi Adam Mintz we learn of the first commandments the Jews were given as they left Egypt. They were instructed to mark their doorposts with blood and put a sign on their hands and between their eyes. We explore how a commandment like this can mean different things to different people and at different times. So get ready for our weekly journey and walk like an Egyptian. Well, welcome. It’s great to have you here. Very excited about this discussion. You know, we’ve been studying the Torah week in and week out those of you who remember when we studied Bereshit, we studied a very famous Rashi. Which said Why does the Torah begin from when God made the first commandment? It’s a book of law. It should be “HaHodesh Ha’zeh L’chem” (Exodus 12: 10), and here we are in Parshat Bo, and we’re getting some commandments. Things are changing, we’re moving from stories, from narratives to actual commandments, the rubber is hitting the road.
So today, we're going to focus on the beginning of one commandment, we're going to start with Exodus 13, where it kind of starts by talking about the stuff we'd expect it to talk about. It says: "Throughout the seven days, unleavened bread shall be eaten. No leavened bread shall be found with you, and no leaven shall be found in your territory. And you shall explain to your children on that day, it is because of what the Lord did for me, when I went free from Egypt. And this shall serve you as a sign on your hand. And as a reminder on your forehead, in order that the teaching of the Lord may be in your mouth, that with a mighty hand, the Lord freed you from Egypt, you shall keep this institution at its set time from year to year." So I like to read the posture of fresh every year. And when I read it this year, I was absolutely struck by this introduction of what many of us will recognize to be a law of Tefillin; these frontlets these phylacteries, these leather objects that traditional Jews put on their arms and put on their heads, and it's smack in the middle of what we absolutely expected to hear, which is the story of unleavened bread, how they had their first Seder, how they had their first Passover, and how that influenced further celebrations of the Passover. But right in the middle, is this law that resonates clearly the the law of Tefillin, but it doesn't really say anything about writing, it says "this shall serve to you as a sign". So the first question is, what is this? When we read it later into Devarim; in Deuteronomy, we kind of say, oh, okay, so it's this, this paragraph that we need to put inside of the Tefillin. But here there's a question of what is the this in the this, and then an Exodus 13" 16. Just a little bit later, it says, "and so it shall be a sign upon your hand and a symbol on your forehead, that with a mighty hand, the Lord freed you from Egypt." And here we have this strange word in the Hebrew that not only should it be a sign an "Ot", a word that we have come across before, but it should be "ul'totafot bein enecha" , this "Totefot" between your eyes? So am I the only guy who read the parsha this week, and said, What is Tefillin doing here? It's not something that we normally associate with either leaving Egypt, or with the first commandments that are given. And it's not quite talking about writing anything. And it just seems so strange to appear. And this was, frankly, the first year that I realized that here when we're listing the first mitzvot the first commandments, boom, we're hit by this non sequitur, I would say, of the law of what ultimately became Tefilin. Anybody share my surprise?
Adam Mintz 04:50
There's no question that that point is right. Let's just review for a minute that in the tefillin that you described, there are actually four selections from the Torah. Two of those selections are from this week. Actually, chapter 13 is divided in half, because there were two references, as you said to tefillin. So, there's the first portion, that's "Kadesh Li" and then the second portion "Vehaya Keviacha". And then there are two more portions, the first two paragraphs of the Shema, which are found in the Book of Devarim of Deuteronomy, also which have mentioned Tefillin. And they're also included. So there are four selections in the Torah, that talk about Tefillin, all those four are in the Tefillin that we wear. And the question I think, is, as you said, Why is it here? What does that have to do with the Exodus? So let me Geoffrey, make the question bigger. This is actually the first parsha that we have, in which we have a combination of law and narrative. Up to now the Torah has been completely narrative, and there've been a couple of little laws here and there. But basically, the Torah has been completely narrative. All of a sudden, in this week's portion, chapter 12, we switch. And we have a combination of law and narrative. That's the first important lesson. And that is that the Torah is a combination of law and narrative, Each one plays on the other to understand the laws, the rituals of Passover, you have to understand the narrative of the Exodus. So that's interesting. Now, why fill in here, the reason tefillin in this here is very simple. And that is because the remembering the exodus is primary in everything that we do. That seems to be the most basic, if not one of the most basic laws that we have, and therefore the villain in chapter 13, those paragraphs remind us of the Exodus, and we put them on our hands and on our head, because we need to remember the Exodus, we need to remember the slavery and then we need to remember how God took this out of out of Egypt.
Reuben Ebrahimoff 07:17
I just wanted to first say, every morning, we have this zoom Parshat HaShavua class. So I'm following along. You know, Yetziat Myzrayim, Pharaoh and all this and then I it just struck me this year, I didn't understand what was this text doing, like smack in the middle of your storyline? So just to say I resonated with your question. I did.
Geoffrey Stern 07:46
Reuben, there must have been something in the water this year. I don't know.
Reuben Ebrahimoff 07:49
Oh, so then the other thing Rabbi Mintz you taught me about the website, Al Hatorah (https://alhatorah.org/) And in the morning as they're reading, I try to find the Hapax legomenons (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hapax_legomenon ) in the parsha or words with very low frequency. And here 'l'totafott" is once in this parsha. And then when it comes around back in Devarim it mentions it two more times. So it's a very, very rare word in the Torah.
Geoffrey Stern 08:26
But, but let me just you know, add to the question a little bit, if you look at Rashi when Rashi says "VeHaya l'cha l'Ot", it should be to you a sign, he says "The Exodus from Egypt shall be to thee a sign" "Yetziat Miztrayim ti'hie l'cha l'Ot" There's already a sensitivity to what is this in the this? What is the sign? Now, we sometimes talk about this personalities that we're talking about. I think the Rashi family had a little bit of a monopoly on tefillin. First of all, it's pretty well known that the daughters of Rashi wore tefillin and the Rabbenu Tam was a grandson of Rashi and the very very observant Jews put on two pairs of tefillin every day, they put on Rashi tefillin and Rabbenu Tam tefillin. because the the grandson argued with the grandpa about the order of the parshiot (scrolls). But there was another grandson; Rabbenu Tam had an older brother, and his name was Rashbam, and Rashbam says something amazing on this verse. He says, "According to the true meaning and exhortation that this memory should be with you permanently, "as if", "K'ilu". The matter is literally inscribed upon you hand. And he says we have similar metaphorical expressions about putting things on your body. He says in Song of Songs, it says place it on your heart, as if it had been engraved there." And take it. On my, my word. There are commentaries like the Ibn Ezra and others who understand exactly what the Rashbam is saying. He's saying, don't talk about the other instances of the mention of this law that ultimately became tefillin, these black boxes of leather that we put on our body parts. Here. It is a metaphor. Here it is in the tradition of a Jeremiah who says, "and you should write these words on your heart", he goes and quotes multiple verses, where this concept of wearing God on one's body is a metaphor. So there's clearly a fascinating aspect of how........ it's easy for us to say we're talking about tefillin. But it's not totally clear that we're talking about tefillin as we know it, we're talking about an aspect of tefilin. And that blew me away,
Avraham Bronstein 11:19
I want to say something to what you just said. And then something back to what Rabbi Mintz just said, I think that when the Rashbam is talking about the metaphor of you know, "on your heart", "between your eyes", in those ways, he's talking more about where you wear the tefillin, right, because he's telling you that you wear the tefillin on your arm corresponding to your heart. You don't wear literally on your chest. And likewise, you wear that go on your head, between your eyes on top of your head, not literally on your nose between your eyes. And I think he's trying to use the term metaphors that way. So that the practice of wearing tefillin corresponds with the verse But even so, even if you take them metaphorically, he's describing a very, very embodied experience. You're literally taking these reminders of the Exodus, and you're strapping them to your physical body and you're walking around with them, you're wearing them and feel them and you're touching them. And they're part of how you get around your day. And so much of what we do to remember the Exodus on a day-to-day basis are the mitzvot that are connected to it, are very embodied mitzvot, right. We eat things, we drink things, we say things, we hear things. And what I meant and was talking a little bit about before about the combination between law and narrative and how those two formats kind of play into each other and inform each other. I think what this is showing you also is that there's even a deeper level to it or a deeper connection, because even the remembering even the mitzvah itself is so physical, it's so embodied and still it really sums it up more than almost anything else
Adam Mintz 12:59
Rabbi Avraham. I think that's really such a good point. That actually the relationship between law and narrative is reflected in the in the selections that we use for the villain, and that actually when we put them on our arms, and on our head, we're thinking about that relationship, not just the law of putting on tefillin, but the narrative, the Exodus from Egypt. I just will add one thing, Geoffrey. And that you made reference to the fact that there are two traditions, Hasidim put on two pairs of tefillin, they put on Rashi tefillin at the beginning of davening (prayer) and at the end of davening, they take off their Rashi tefillin they put on the Rabbenu Tam and they look the same, but inside there's a difference. And the difference is what the order of the portions is. Rashi's tefillin which is the tefillin that are generally used by most people have the order of the portions in the order they appear in the Torah. So therefore, you have the two portions from Exodus chapter 13. Then you have the portion of Shema. And then you have the pope the portion of V'haya im Shemoha". And that's the order in which they appear in the Torah. Rabenu Tam has it different. Rabenu Tam says you start with the two selections from this week's parsha "Kadesh" "VayaHi kiviyach" but he switches the order of the two chapters in Devarim and he says first is "V'haya im Shemoa" and finally is Shema. He switches the order of "Shema" and "V'haya im Shemoa". The question is what difference does it make? It would make sense.... Rashi makes sense. You should have the port the selections in the order in which they appear in the Torah. And Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik gave an amazing explanation. He said actually the four selections are actually two different themes.... This is what Rabbi Avraham was referring to.... the selections from our portion are talking about the Exodus. The selections from the book of Deuteronomy, talk about tefillin as an expression of our acceptance of God's kingship over us. So actually, according to Rabbenu Tam, they are in order, but one you read from left to right, and one you read from right to left. So the two portions from our from our chapter, you read from left to right, "Kadesh" "VayaHi kiviyach" , but the portions from Devorim, you read from right to left "Shema" and "V'haya im Shemoa". And the reason we do it that way is because we want to separate the two, to show those are two different things. One is about remembering the Exodus, and one is about remembering that God is King over the world. And those are two very distinct themes in our Jewish lives. So I think that that's just interesting, at least for a moment to, you know, to pay respects to rabbenu Tam and his different villain than Rashi tefillin.
Geoffrey Stern 16:14
So I love this discussion, because we are discussing the first mitzvot that are commanded to the Jewish people, in a sense, and some of the commentaries make this distinction there pre-Sinai revelation as well. And here we are, and we're looking at all of the different perspectives that you can have on this one; I would say it's a seed of a mitzvah, because I am not willing to concede yet that the mitzvah of tefillin is fully played out yet. I want to get back to the rush bomb. One of the commentaries that I have in the source sheet says
רשב"ם אינו רואה בפסוקנו אזכור של מצוות תפילין, אלא מפרשו כמטפורה.
This commentary is saying is at this point in time, does the Rashbam believe that there's a commandment of tefillin? He does, he's not a Karite. He's not a Samaritan. There were fundamentalists who read not only these verses, but the later verses. And they said, you know, it says you should write these words on your door post, the Samaritans wrote them literally on their door post. They talked about writing these words on your arm and on your head, they took it as a metaphor, the Rashbam is "Lahavdeel", not in that camp. But what he is saying is at this point, it's a metaphor. And what I love when we discuss Rabbenu Tam and Rashi and their different views of what should be inside of the to fill in, is here we have the first commandment. Yes, the first commandment that piqued Reuben and my curiosity... because it was literally made as a commandment, it didn't fit into the narrative that much. And all of a sudden, we can parse it in so many ways. And I'd like to think that this is an example of all the mitzvot to that are to come. And yes, there is an aspect of this commandment that is totally physical. But the Rashbam is saying something very profound; that you can take a commandment as a metaphor. And that doesn't detract from taking it also, as a physical, tactile directive as to what to do in the first four hours of the morning. And that I think, is an amazing thought. And I'd like to use that as a segue to then get into the various interpretations and explanations that Reuben talked about which is; what does this "totafot" mean at this point in time? Where are we? What does this mean? It's clearly using a foreign term and making reference to something that the audience that it was written to understood but that we do not. What what do you all feel is going on here in terms of what is "totafot"?
Geoffrey Stern 16:57
Haftorahman what do you think?
Reuben Ebrahimoff 19:40
I'm gonna digress for a second, on purpose. These prayers are in two places. One on the Mezzuzot and two on the tefillin. And not that this adds credibility But the story was told to me by Mr. Shlomo Musayev. And Shlomo said, originally, they didn't have doorposts. They lived in tents. And that this, this scroll was a Kamia, and they would hang it like a lintel. And that when somebody would go into their tent, they would have to move their hand in front of them across to the side, and they would touch the mezzuza, thereby merging the heaven and earth by touching the Mezuzah, which was this go-between area. So, to me, that sounds beautiful on a thought level. Then the other thing I think about is the name of God. You only have two places .... Rabbi Mintz, correct me if I'm wrong, where you have the shin on the Mezuza bayit and the Shin on the tefillin boxes for the shin dalet Yud name of God. So I always found that interesting, too.
Adam Mintz 21:13
Okay, what is uh, how does that relate to the word "totafot"?
Reuben Ebrahimoff 21:17
Okay, so I'm just gonna read what they had Al Hatorah.... it says, bands, so they must have just tied these things. And I think also, Geoffrey, that the Samaritans, like put it like in between their eyes there to fill in, like right down on the forehead. If I'm not mistaken
Geoffrey Stern 21:41
Well, let's get to the band's the the most straightforward explanation is in the Gomorrah in Shabbat 57B. And it says, "The Mishna said that a woman may not go out with the ornament called a totefet. The Gemara asks: What is a totefet? Rav Yosef said: A packet of spices to ward off the evil eye. Abaye said to him: And let the legal status of this packet be like that of an effective amulet, whose effectiveness is proven, and it should be permitted, as an effective amulet may be moved on Shabbat. Rather, Rav Yehuda said in the name of Abaye: A totefet is an appuzainu, an ornament worn on the forehead. This opinion was also taught in a baraita: A woman may go out with a gilded hairnet worn to hold the hair in place, and with the totefet, and with the sarvitin that are fastened to the hairnet, since a woman would not remove her head covering to show her friend those ornaments. And they said: Which is a totefet and which is sarvitin? Rabbi Abbahu said: Totefet is that which goes around her forehead from ear to ear...." and I think that's the opinion that you quoted. But the point is even modern scholarship and if you look at the notes on Safera to this episode, it gets into great detail and basically says, you know, I think the rabbis of the Talmud had it right. Totafot, as you said, Reuben; a headband. And we come across for the first time, it's to ward off [evil]. It's an amulet. Again, the tefillin strikes us Western, Moderns, as very strange. But my guess would be that, whether you called it a Kamia or Oh, whatever. In the ancient world, people wore charms people wore amulets, and it was an accepted practice to wear an amulet as a headband and on one's arm. I'd like to point out that one of our faithful listeners, Bob, who's in the audience today, pointed out a few weeks ago, that they just discovered a pharaoh. They were able to do a scan of him without actually touching him. And they found that he was circumcised which is interesting. Yeah, but they also found a bunch of amulets, a bunch of jewelry on his arm and stuff. So I gave the subject matter of tonight's talk "Walk like an Egyptian". It seems to me that, number one, we can all assume that unlike us, when the Torah said "totafot", everybody understood what it was referring to. It wasn't speaking in riddles. And so it seems pretty clear that this was some sort of an amulet both on one's head and on one's arm. You know this question... and I'll just give two other references to trigger further discussion. It has this strange expression of "between the eyes" , "l'zicharon Beyn Eynecha". Those of us whose children ask us, are you allowed to have a tattoo? We always said, no, no, no, no, you can't have a tattoo. It says in in the Bible itself. In Deuteronomy 14, "You are children of the Lord your God, You shall not gash yourselves or shave the front of your heads because of the dead." Now I just read a translation. But the Hebrew says, "Lo Karocha beyn einechem l'Meit" You can't make a mark on yourself. You can't cut yourself "beyn einechem" between your eyes. And it's fascinating that when the rabbi's discuss that Karocha means to make oneself bald. So they actually learn from here that tefillin is not to be actually between one's eyes, but it's to be above the hairline. So they actually learned from the law against gashing and pulling out one's hair, maybe making tattoos and signs that it is above the hairline. There's a real connection here. And these are not stuff that was made out of nowhere. Yesh, me'ayin these were amulets, these were signs that were made. The other word that's used is an "Ot". And of course, we find that with Cain, the sign of Cain. And in the Midrash, it says, What is the sign of Cain the "ot" of Cain? Well, God took one of the "otiyot", one of the letters of the 22 letters of the alphabet and wrote it on Cain. So we almost have tattooing here, which is kind of fascinating. So that kind of really opens up the discussion, in terms of what.... from a metaphor to a tattoo, to an amulet, what this could be referring to and what its antecedents are.
Adam Mintz 27:21
So I would add the following. And that is that maybe we don't know what the word totafot leads. And maybe that's the idea. Maybe tefillin is the perfect model of the integration of the Written Torah, and the oral tradition, that without the oral tradition, we can't know what tefillin in really are. The Gemara says and another Gemara, it says that Tat means two and pat means two. And totafot just means for that we have four selections from the Torah. And maybe that's what we need, maybe we have to be willing to admit that if all we have is the Written Torah that's not enough. We need an oral tradition; we need a living tradition. A bunch of years ago, there was an exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls have the things they found in Qumran. And one of the things they had in the exhibition was a pair of tefillin. And I was always struck.. Qumran is about 2,100 years ago. And the tefillin from 2,100 years ago, looks basically the same as the tefillin we put on today. That's an amazing statement about Jewish tradition. Jews have been thrown out of places Jews have been prosperous in places, a lot has happened to the Jews over 2,100 years. But the tefillin are still the same tefillin that we had. And probably 1,000 years before that they were the same tefillin. And that's part of our living tradition. It's similar, by the way, Geoffrey to the Etrog. You know, the Torah says you should take a fruit of from a tree. We don't even know what the fruit is "Pree Etz Hadar" and the way we know what an Etrog is, that's part of the living tradition. We need the living tradition without the living tradition, we have nothing. And I think that totafot the tefillin actually is a great model of that.
Geoffrey Stern 29:28
I totally agree with you. The only thing that I would add .... and we've talked about so many facets of one of the first commandments that we've come across, is .... you know, one of the questions and I'll save this for my Shabbat Hagadol drasha is the obvious question of why Mezuzah isn't mentioned here after they put the blood on the doorposts and maybe Rabbi you'll talk about that on Shabbat
Adam Mintz 29:59
That's good also
Geoffrey Stern 30:00
But it seems to me that there's another element here. And in the New Testament, when Jesus talks about the Jews wearing tefillin, he says in Matthew 23:5-7, "everything they do is done for people to see they make their phylacteries wide and tassels on their garments long." And what he captures is this sense of pride, their sense of who we are. And it seems to me and you were talking about this living tradition, I'm not a scholar, I thought of the Egyptians have every time you see an Egyptian pharaoh, you see that little snake [uraeus snake] that comes out, right on the forehead, as a sign, it was not one by a foreigner, it was not one by a layman. It was only worn by a king. And I'd like to think that another aspect of tefillin is that these Jews, they might have put on the blood on the doorposts, so that the God would pass by and spare them. But then when they were told to put these ornaments on, they were like kings, a "Mamlechet Cohanim v'goy kadosh". And I would like to think that, that is also part of the aspect of what we're talking about, that this tefillin and this commandment here is this sense of being like a pharaoh walking like an Egyptian so to speak. And the ultimate lesson and the ultimate takeaway is in half an hour, I think we've probably touched upon 13, or 14 different ways of looking at one of these first commandments of mitzvah. And I think what we can learn from this, and I'd like to extrapolate going forward, is that not only are there "shivim Panim L'Torah" 70 faces to every verse and every idea of Torah, but a mitzvah, whether it's Shabbat, whether it's tefillin, whether Pesach can be taken at a metaphorical level, it can be taken as an amulet and a little bit of superstition. It can be taken as a political statement; it can be taken as a fashion statement. It's all there. It's all acceptable. And all that we are asked to do is to study the texts and become a part of that tradition. And I'd like to think that's the element of living that you were describing in terms of what the Oral law is.
Adam Mintz 32:35
That's beautiful Geoffrey. What a way to end enjoy the parish everybody. Shabbat Shalom and look forward to taking the Jews out of Egypt and crossing the sea next week. Shabbat shalom,
Geoffrey Stern 32:49
Amen. Shabbat shalom. We will see you all next week and discover another hidden aspect of the Torah and hopefully find something that resonates with us. So, with that I bid you all Shabbat Shalom, and let's all leave Egypt together this week. Shabbat shalom.
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on December 30th 2021 as we use an innocuous reference in Rabbinic Literature to Pharaoh’s personal hygiene to explore the unique disposition of Judaism to the physical body and bodily functions and contrast it to other religions and cultures.
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark with shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. And this week with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we learn that old King Pharaoh not only had a hard heart, but he also had bowel issues. We use this discovery to explore the unique disposition of Judaism to bodily functions and contrast it with other religions and cultures. So join us as we follow Moses down to the Nile and record our episode entitled, holy crap.
Geoffrey Stern 00:47
Well, welcome everybody, hope I didn't scare you away with a little bathroom humor and talk about something that we don't normally talk about, we do joke about a lot. We are going to focus on a very, esoteric comment that the rabbi's make about one verse in this week's parsha. But I do think that it will open up discussions not only regarding the subject matter, which is what is Judaism's approach to body and bodily functions, but also maybe focus on what Egypt represented. So I think it is, while small and trivial. It does relate to the bigger picture of Exodus and Egypt. So we begin on Exodus, chapter 7, verse 15. And it says, "Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is coming out to the water, and station yourself before him at the edge of the Nile, taking with you the rod that turned into a snake." So this is the beginning of the first of the plagues. And Moses is instructed to go down by the Nile because surely he will meet the Pharaoh bathing in the Nile. So Rashi, quoting the Midrash says as follows. "He went unto the water to ease himself, for he claimed to be a god and asserted that because of his divine power, he did not need to ease himself. And therefore he used to rise early and go to the Nile. And there eased himself in secret." So as we shall see there is not much in the Toba that relates to the bodily function, relieving oneself, even though it seems and if you google this, you'll find a lot of material. Jews love to joke about bodily functions and moving their bowels. So even that could be a good question to to begin our discussion today. But Rabbi, what is your impression of this? And before I let you speak, I do think that there's very little in Exodus that talks about the Egyptian religion. You know, we talk about them as taskmasters, as oppressors, in previous weeks, we've talked about their eating habits and their diet. But in terms of what Egypt is famous for the pyramids.... building these major edifices for a life to come and the Jews were they are building it, there's very little mention of what the belief was of the ancient Egyptians. And is this an opportunity to jump in?
Adam Mintz 03:46
It might be I mean, my question, Geoffrey, is what leads Rashi to say what he says, the Torah doesn't say it. Why does Rashi feel the need to kind of add that Midrashic twist to this?
Geoffrey Stern 04:01
Well, I think and as I was reading it, I was thinking this, he says, go to Pharaoh in the morning. And [laughs] I don't want to lower the level of the discussion to Jewish jokes, but the first thing you do in the morning is you move your bowels. But besides that, I think it's a very good question. And it's almost as though the commentary and it's not Rashi. As I said before, this same story is, is even mentioned in a little bit more detail in both the Midrash Tanchuma and Shemot Rabba. The Jewish sources saw it there. So I think the question can be reflexive as well, which is what did they see? Or what were they attempting to say? But I think it's a good question.
Adam Mintz 04:55
Yeah, no, it's a very, very good question. You know, but I'm just kind of I'm distinguishing between that which is explicit in the Torah, and that which, which is Midrashric. And there's a basic rule. And that is that the Midrash if it elaborates on something, that's not explicit in the Torah, there's a reason for it. It's trying to teach us something. And I wonder here, what it's trying to teach us. That's what I'm raising what they're trying to teach us. What is the Midrash, adding, that is important for us to know.
Geoffrey Stern 05:32
So let's parse it a little. First of all, it says that Pharaoh claimed to be a god in Russia, his version, it doesn't give any commentary in the Midrash, it says, Pharaoh Harasha, the evil one. So it's almost saying, putting him down, but he claimed to be a god. And that's one thing that the rabbis could want to point out. Another thing that they could want to point out is that gods don't defecate and that was an assumption that was made. And they don't seem to be arguing with that. So that raises the question of, well, what about we humans, who are spiritual beings created in the image of God... What does that say about us? So I don't think I'm answering your question. I do think that anyone who has studied the Talmud and the Jewish texts know that the rabbi's love to use any excuse to talk about what's on their mind, and this seems to be what was on their mind that morning.
Adam Mintz 06:43
So if you parse Geoffrey, there really are two things. One is the issue of Pharaoh thinking that he's a god. Now, that obviously is very important in the story. Because Moses and Aaron going before Pharaoh, it's a different story, if they go before, the king, who's just the king, or the King, who actually thinks that what he's doing is what is god doing? I mean, it gives a lot more, it adds, I think, something to the story, it also gives a lot more Chutzpa to Moses and Aaron, they're actually confronting a God, Hey, that's pretty impressive that they're willing to confront a god isn't it?
Geoffrey Stern 07:22
So I think that's a great point. And I think what that resonates with me is that we always think that if someone says they're a God, they're literally a god. But because the Egyptians are in a world of polytheism, and there are many levels of the Divine retinue, if you will, you know, there are points of that we've read in previous parshiot that says that Aaron will be the spokesman and Moses will be like a god. (Exodus 7:1) So even to the Egyptians speaking in their language, so to speak, it does imply that if one has certain divine powers, if one has certain levels of spirituality, one could be considered a god. And if that's the case, then that really raises the level of my question, which is where do the rabbis stand on this? So that can you be god-like, and maybe that's what I'm trying to say? That saying that Pharaoh was a god could also be intended to mean he was god-like, as Moses was god-like, and there are verses that say that. And so therefore, what is the rabbi's opinion? And how do they react to this contradiction between a God who has an anus so to speak,
Adam Mintz 08:54
Right.... So that already is very interesting. And that is that Pharaoh is godlike. But it's almost as if the Midrash is making fun of him. How can it be a god because he defecates and therefore he's not really a god? We would say he's a god in his own mind, right? But that doesn't really mean very much. And haha, Moses caught him when he went out to see him in the morning, because he saw him being not a god.
Geoffrey Stern 09:28
So so there's a book that I read. It was published in the 60s or 70s, by a guy named Ernest Becker, who was a psychologist, and it's called The Denial of Death. And we'll get back to it a little more. He spends a lot of time on focusing on. This, this this chasm, this really dialectic between being a spiritual being and being a physical creaturely being And he says "excreting is the curse that threatens madness, because it shows man his abject finitude, his physicalness, the likely unreality of his hopes and dreams." And I'm just wondering whether the rabbi's were at all touching upon this issue of can we be godlike? And at the same time, can we be as physical as we are creating... Every day, every morning, every time we go to the bathroom a physical sign of our decay and death, if you will, Elise, what can you say?
Elise Meyer 10:45
So, okay, what I wanted to say is, um, like, the presumption that Pharaoh thought he was god, he was God to the people and to him, I mean, the, the pharaohs were believed to be gods on Earth, as other civilizations have that human deity kind of connections. So,
Geoffrey Stern 11:10
So there are gradations is what you're saying that for us, when you say God, we automatically think about one absolute being, but for the other polytheistic and in other religions that including the Egyptians, there were gradations.
Elise Meyer 11:31
Right... intercessive rulers.
Geoffrey Stern 11:34
Absolutely. And I think from that perspective, you could easily come away from this saying that the rabbi's were in, in basic agreement, that if you are truly a god, you can't crap. But I would love to explore how this plays out in In Jewish tradition a little bit, because I actually think that Judaism has a very unique approach to this. And one of the ways that we can find that approach is by studying other religions and other cultures, so I want to jump a little bit forward. You've probably all heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls. And you've probably heard that the people who are some of the people that might have written the Dead Sea Scrolls are called Essenes. And they lived in the Dead Sea. They were ascetics, they moved out of the urban areas they lived outside. Maybe John the Baptist was one they used to go into the mikvah into the purifying baths a lot. But Josephus has tells us something very strange about them. And Josephus us in the Jewish Wars says that they "not only do they abstain from seventh, day work more rigidly than any other Jews, for not only do they prepare their meals the previous day so as to avoid lighting a fire on the Sabbath. But they do not venture to remove any utensil or go and ease themselves." So he raises this thing that has really tantalized archaeologists for years looking for where the bathroom so to speak, where the Essenes are. Archaeologists have discovered that possibly the Essenes didn't eat on Friday so that they wouldn't have to ease themselves on Shabbat. When he refers to cooking on Shabbat. Our understanding today is they took the concept of a fire to the extreme, they sat in the darkness, they didn't believe you could even have light. So there's no question that they took what ultimately became Rabbinic Judaism and biblical structure. They took it way to the extreme. But the fascinating thing about what Josephus has says is that you had to go through a year-long orientation. And once you were accepted into the Essenes, they are gave you a loincloth, white garments, and a shovel to bury your feces. So this was something that was absolutely important to them. But important to the point where they had to defecate outside of the camp. There are scrolls in the Dead Sea scrolls that said that they believed you could not defecate within Jerusalem. They had a real problem with bodily function. And I think that as we transverse and move to what the Jewish position was on these things, you can't look at it from a vacuum. There were many ways that we could have gone. But this always seemed to be just so fascinating to me.
Adam Mintz 15:07
That is fascinating. What you make of that is the fact that defecating was something that was considered to be unholy. That actually is in line with the Midrash. That a god doesn't defecate, that works out well with the tradition we have in this week's parsha. It doesn't deal with Pharaoh. But it actually deals with defecation, which shows that we're human. And that's the piece that has to be done outside the camp. That's the unholy, part.
Geoffrey Stern 15:39
So I think you're absolutely right. And I think Rabbi, we have to be honest, the only reason why you and I are going down this road is we know of an amazing prayer. It's a prayer that the rabbi's created. That one says after one takes care of one's needs and leaves the bathroom. And I spent the last week while I was preparing for this, googling prayers, for bodily functions. And I couldn't find any from any cultures and I invite anybody...... There is an Islamic prayer that I found. It says "Praise be Allah Who relieved me of the filth and gave me relief." But other than that, I could not find any culture or religion that identifies moving one's bowels as a moment that required some sort of benediction, and by way of a benediction, some form of illumination. So I'm just going to read the prayer that we say it's called "Asher Yatzar" Who has created us, it's said, as I said, after one leaves out the bathroom, it is also said every morning, we get back to that morning trigger, that this is what one does when one wakes up in the morning. And it says "Blessed are you Adonai our God, King of the universe, who formed man with wisdom and created within him openings and hollows. It is obvious and known in the presence of your glorious throne, that if one of them were ruptured, or if one of them were blocked, it would be impossible to exist and stand in your presence, even for a short while. Blessed are you Adonai who heals all flesh and performs wonders." Now, before we discuss it, it's much more poetic in the Hebrew when it talks about openings and hollows. In the Hebrew it's Nikavim Nikavim, Halulim Halulim, those of you who know the Torah knows, when it is emphatic about something, if it wants you to follow justice, it says Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof, it says the word twice. If it wants you to heal somebody it says heal twice. And I have to think of Carl Sagan also. "Billions and billions and billions". These words are poetic, lyrical, but they are absolutely celebrating the myriad of valves and canals and vessels and veins in the human body. What is your thought of this prayer Rabbi Do you also think it's very unique?
Adam Mintz 18:45
It is absolutely unique and it shows the kind of the inside of the rabbis appreciating that we need to thank God for everything. And there's nothing that's out of the realm of what we need to thank God for. And anyone who's ever had trouble with, you know, the Nikavim Nikavim, Halulim Halulim... all of that understands and appreciates why we have to thank God for all of that.
Geoffrey Stern 19:12
And fascinatingly, it doesn't, it doesn't hide from the fact that we're doing all this so that we can stand in Your presence even for a short while. "L'amod Lifanecha afilu sha'a echat", in a sense, it's it's not ignoring our humanity, and the fact that we are born and we die, and all of that, and, and the other part of it is getting back to what Becker was saying about this dichotomy, this schism, this dialectic between the physical nature in our in our very human mortal animal created nature. The next prayer that we say in the morning is "Elokai Nishama s'natata bi" thanking God for the soul that God has given us that is pure. "You created it, you formed it, you breathed it into me and you preserve it within me, you will eventually take it from me and restore it to me in the time to come." So I don't think that the rabbis are even ignoring the dichotomy. They're actually addressing it straight on, which is fascinating.
Adam Mintz 20:29
Absolutely fascinating. There's no apology, generally speaking, the rabbi's don't apologize.
Geoffrey Stern 20:35
So the question is, how did the World see this blessing? Did it see it as we're talking about it today is something unique and fascinating or not? So I came across when I was studying philosophy, and I came across an early essay by Karl Marx, and it's the subject matter was The Jewish Problem. He is very much of a self-hating Jew in many senses. And he writes the following. "The monotheism of the Jew, therefore, is in reality, the polytheism of the many needs, a polytheism, which makes even the laboratory and object of Divine Law. Practical need. egoism is the principle of civil society." And he goes on and on, and basically, he's making the argument of the grubby Jew. And it's interesting from a number of aspects. Number one, how learned was Marx that he knew about this prayer. Number two, did he make this up himself? Was this a widespread canard of those who looked upon this strange process of making this blessing? Have you Rabbi or anyone in the audience ever come across any anti-semitic tropes or other ways that this prayer, if you're aware of the prayer has been used both for or against the Jews?
Adam Mintz 22:17
I have not. But that would be amazing if we could find something. Did you look around a little bit?
Geoffrey Stern 22:24
I googled it. I did. Because it's hard to believe that Marx would come up with something like this in our zone. Right? You know, he's basically repeating tropes that have maligned the Jews before. So it is fascinating. But of course, when you see something like this, it's kind of a reality check that makes you say, Look, maybe it's not just me, who says that this prayer is so unique and illuminating. It compares, in very iconic way against what the Essenes took to be the divine, the concept of the Divine. It's, it's taken by a MOCs, and he sees it at this. It just seems to me that Judaism as a whole has a very different and I would suggest even healthy perspective on and we can talk about bodily functions, but what we're all ultimately talking about is the body. What makes us an animal what makes us a living, breathing creature with needs?
Adam Mintz 23:45
Yeah, I think that that's absolutely fantastic. I mean, I don't think that it's an anti-Jewish trope. I mean, I actually think that this shows, you know, this shows kind of the sensitivity of the rabbis. I always compare this to the idea of Shiva. You know, if you read .... you were talking about Becker's book, The Denial of Death, when you talk when you read books about death, and how sensitive the rabbinic tradition is, by having the idea of Shiva, you see that Judaism, that the rabbis were willing to address the hard parts of life, that just not just the easy parts of life, and going to the bathroom and sitting Shiva are all parts of the hard parts of life. And they're willing to deal with that, which I think is amazing.
Geoffrey Stern 24:32
And it's amazing when they deal with it in a way that one doesn't expect because what I gather from this prayer and the juxtaposition of it in the morning to another prayer that celebrates the soul is that it is a real celebration of the human body as a physical, decaying, finite body. And you know, those of you who have been listening to Madlik for a while know that I'm very cynical about an early Israelite, ancient Hebrew concept of a world to come, which is never mentioned, of either a world after death or eschatological world in some time in the future, it just seems to be very much "Shamayim al ha'aretz" that this is as good as it gets, it's "heaven on earth". This is this is the way it is. But here, you do see this concept of dividing between a soul and a body. The soul is almost on loan, so to speak. But there's no question that who I am, who is the I in I, it is as much my physical body as it is my soul and somehow the rabbi's and Judaism have been able to navigate this maybe with a strong touch of humor, as well. And maybe that's where I did Google "bathroom humor and Jews". And it's a very popular discussion, I can tell you, there's, there's something about Jewish humor that relates to this subject, and maybe, you know, with humor, there's the addressing things that make ill at ease.
Adam Mintz 26:19
Did they did they give kind of a history of Jewish bathroom humor? Like, why do Jews have bathroom humor?
Geoffrey Stern 26:28
You know, again, I found I found some antisemitic stuff coming from where we come from, not a big surprise, but on the positive aspect. If anything, it was a little bit of what I'm discussing today, which is a very healthy perspective on the physicality of who we are.
Adam Mintz 26:50
So they're very positive about it.
Geoffrey Stern 26:52
I think that there are a lot of very positive comments about it. And and, you know, there's this, this thing of aging, too, you know, there used to be a website called "Old Jewish Men Tell Jokes". You know, the fact that we call an older person in pretty much every language, whether it's an "old fart", or an "AlterKaker". All of those words have to do with this being able to control one's body that we ultimately lose as we get older. And so maybe it also has to do with a healthy perspective on aging. And as I said before, you can't look at humor without looking at a very powerful tool for addressing things that are beyond our power to address.
Adam Mintz 27:46
I think that's good. I mean, I think It's amazing that what is basically a Midrash on this week's parsha turns into this gigantic topic, about how Jewish tradition and how the rabbis deal with things that most traditions, even most religious traditions, are generally afraid to deal with, and have euphemisms for it. Now, Judaism also has euphemisms. But it doesn't seem like in this regard, they really have euphemisms. They say it as it is, don't they?.
Geoffrey Stern 28:23
They do they do. And as someone who studies, the Talmud, you know, there's so much involved with bodily functions a lot has to do with the laws of purity. This case, not so much. But it's a very down to earth approach. That can sometimes be a little bit. I don't know the right word "numbing"? But on the other hand, if you if you look at it, if you look at the fact that Rabbinic Judaism, for sure, gets involved in the details of every minutia and small part of life. It does say something loud and clear that no manifesto and no mission statement could, which is the minutiae of our lives matter to us. The fact that all lives are not static, but that there's a beginning, a middle and an end, is not something that we ignore. You're talking this Shabbat about how Moses and Aaron took on this job very late in their life. There is no question that Judaism focuses at the different stages of life. And that each one is different. And it just is kind of fascinating, because it also mixes that up with with the spiritual.
Adam Mintz 29:51
Yeah, I think that's great. This is a this is a great topic. It really gives us something to think about. And what's really great about it is it's not the usual topic for Vayera... the usual topic of Vayera talks about the plagues and talks about Moses and Aaron and Pharaoh. And here we found something that really talks about something in a much bigger light. And it's a nice way to end the year and to begin a new year to understand how pervasive Judaism... Rabbinic Judaism is in so many different aspects. So thank you, Geoffrey, for this amazing topic. Thank you, everybody, for joining us. We have a really nice crew that joined us tonight. Happy New Year to everybody. Shabbat shalom. And we look forward to seeing you next week, as we lead the Jews out of Egypt with Parshat Bo, Shabbat Shalom,
Geoffrey Stern 30:39
Shabbat shalom, Rabbi, and I would just like to say that I started by saying that we spend all this time in Exodus looking at Egypt, but we don't really talk about the pyramids and the whole religion based on an afterlife. And so it off-subject but it's very much on subject. And as we approach a new year, we all want to leave behind all our pyramids, our Sphinx is our monuments... a sign that we were on this earth, and I think that we share with all humanity. And the question is where we find it. And I bless all of us, that we find it in all the right places and I invite any of you who want to stay on and talk casually in the after-party to do so. But otherwise, Shabbat Shalom and happy new year and the mic is open land. Michael?
Michael Stern 31:36
Well, you really made me love the Jewish people today. Because, you know, poop is the baby's first creation. And I've read psychologists who say that, that's the first creation, and then the baby watches it being washed down and annihilated and disappear. And their first creation, they lose. And then America is constipated, go to any CVS or Walgreens, there's a whole aisle for constipation. So something has gone wrong with our appreciation of the addressing it like us have taught us that the Jews address this whole process. And I also liked when the rabbi talked about Shiva and death because "dust to dust", there's nothing really dirty about our poop. It is in fact fertilizer. And today in sustainable living, one doesn't flush it down, one takes their bucket and makes a pile like manure. And this is a gift back to the earth. So I just think our Jewish people were really right on and thanks for bringing up this subject. Really healing subjects for our world today.
Geoffrey Stern 33:09
Well, thank you so much. So Michael Posnik. Welcome back to the Bima. How are you today?
Michael Posnik 33:17
It's good to be here. Thank you very much for this discussion. A number of things have come to mind during the discussion, including the odd phrase, "Let my people go". [laugh] And it seems that one could say from a psychological or point of view that Pharaoh is anal retentive character. He wants to hold on to whatever he's holding on to. And he's being invited to let go a little bit. So the other thing that came to mind was that this was an opportunity for Moshe to see Pharaoh as a human being acting like a human being defecating like a human being. And it seems to me if you'll forgive the expression, it gives him a "leg up" in the future conversations. He also grew up in the palace of Pharaoh. So basically, he knows that Pharaoh is not; quote a god. He's a man playing that role. So when he's invited to see that the future conversations that he's going to have with Pharaoh would take a very different turn if he thought he was talking to a god. So, just a thought.
Geoffrey Stern 34:38
I love that. Let my people go. I won't. I won't say it the same way again for the rest of my life. Thank you for that.
Michael Posnik 34:47
Thank you Geoffrey. Shabbat Shalom.
Geoffrey Stern 34:49
Shabbat Shalom. Yeah, and as I intimated, we talk a lot about God hardening the heart of Pharaoh, but this was a different aspect of him that we might not necessarily think about. But I think you're absolutely correct that he was anal. In this regard, he is the definition of anal. And so it really, in that one moment of him as a person and has is him as a nation, not permitting the Jewish people, this people of slaves to go. He is the personification of what is all bad about being anal and trying to control things, right.
Michael Posnik 35:37
And Moshe has just come from meeting with God. And so that beautiful phrase at the end of the prayer, that I'm not able to stand in front of you in your presence, Moses was in the presence of a God.
Geoffrey Stern 35:56
I would just like to conclude with one more paragraph from Ernest Becker that I really liked. It says anality explains why men yearn for freedom from contradictions and ambiguities, why they like their symbols pure, their truth with a capital T. The upsetting thing about anality is that it reveals that all culture all man's creative life ways are in some basic part of them, a fabricated protest against natural reality, a denial of the truth of the human condition and an attempt to forget the pathetic creature that man is", and ultimately, every faith system and every romance and every ideal is basically saying, Yes, I know I am that creature, and I know that the world is full of contradictions and ambiguities, but I embrace them. I'm not afraid of them. And I can live with that contradiction. So let's all have a wonderful new year. That is full of contradictions, but we are up to it. We are up to the ambiguities, and we can make beauty from it. So Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year to you all
(22) Then Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, “Every boy that is born you shall throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
(1) A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. (2) The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw how beautiful he was, she hid him for three months. (3) When she could hide him no longer, she got a wicker basket for him and caulked it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. (4) And his sister stationed herself at a distance, to learn what would befall him.
Rashi on Exodus 2:1:1ויקח את בת לוי AND HE HAD TAKEN TO WIFE A DAUGHTER OF LEVI — He had lived apart from her in consequence of Pharaoh’s decree that the children should, on their birth, be drowned. Now he took her back and entered into a second marriage with her, and she also physically became young again. For really she was then 130 years old — for she was born “between the walls” when they were about to enter Egypt (cf. Rashi on Genesis 46:15) and they (the Israelites) remained there 210 years, and when they left Egypt Moses was 80 years old; consequently when she became pregnant with him she was 130 years old — and yet Scripture calls her בת לוי a young daughter of Levi (Sota 12a; Bava Batra 119b).
Shemot Rabbah 1:22 And his sister stationed herself at a distance -why did Miriam stand from afar, Rabbi Amram said in the name of Rav, for she would make a prophesy and said in the future my mother would give birth to a son who would save (Yehoshiya) Israel, since Moses was born, the whole house was filled with light, her father stood and kissed her head, told her “my daughter, your prophesy has been fulfilled” as it is written: (Exodus 15: 20): Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels.” Aharon’s sister and not Moses’ sister, since she made this prophecy when she was Aharon’s sister and still no Moses was born, and since he was cast into the river, her mother stood and patted her on the head, told her my daughter and where is your prophecy?, and therefore it is written: “And his sister stationed herself at a distance” To know what will be at the end of her oracle. The Rabbis said all this verse was written in the name of the holy spirit as it is written: (Samuel I 3:10.): The LORD came, and stood there, and He called as before: “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel answered, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.” and (Proverbs 7, 4): “Say to Wisdom, “You are my sister,”and after (Jeremiah 31: 3): The LORD revealed Himself to me from afar”. “To know what would happen” from Samuel I 2:3 For the LORD is an all-knowing God; By Him actions are measured.
I have a custom of watching Midnight Mass and am happy to share with you two Sermons that were particularly meaningful for me, and I hope for you, on the concept of a new-born savior.
In 1995 I caught the midnight mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I was so blown away by Cardinal O’Connor’s sermon that I wrote the Archdiocese of New York for a copy. I kept it all these years, and have not found it reproduced on the web or in Google books.
The Cardinal quotes Arthur Miller:
“Jew is only the name we give to the stranger, that agony we cannot feel, that death we look at like a cold abstraction. Each man has his Jew, it is the other. And the Jews have their Jews.”
He (the Cardinal) writes of Jesus: “That Baby was a Jew. He might have been black or Japanese or Eskimo. To hate a Jew because he is a Jew is not an offense merely against political correctness. To hate a Jew, or a Black, or a Hispanic, or a Muslim or a homosexual, simply because he or she is such, is to hate God.”
Last night I heard the midnight mass given by Pope Francis:
Brothers and sisters, standing before the crib, we contemplate what is central, beyond all the lights and decorations, which are beautiful. We contemplate the child. In his littleness, God is completely present. Let us acknowledge this: “Baby Jesus, you are God, the God who becomes a child”. Let us be amazed by this scandalous truth. The One who embraces the universe needs to be held in another’s arms. The One who created the sun needs to be warmed. Tenderness incarnate needs to be coddled. Infinite love has a miniscule heart that beats softly. The eternal Word is an “infant”, a speechless child. The Bread of life needs to be nourished. The Creator of the world has no home. Today, all is turned upside down: God comes into the world in littleness. His grandeur appears in littleness.
Cardinal O’Conner’s sermon, in particular, struck a cord with my neshama… needless to say, I was not surprised to learn that in fact, the Cardinal also had a Jewish neshama…. According to the New York Times, John Cardinal O’Connor, the Cardinal of New York for 16 years, was Jewish…. and his grandfather was a Rabbi.
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on December 23rd 2021on Clubhouse as we discuss Judeo-Christian Magical Thinking….. Moses encounters a miraculous burning bush, receives a magical rod and learns an incantation of the name of God. But the Rabbis of the Talmud call Jesus a magician…. We explore the Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic Judaism’s uniquely ambivalent attitude to the miraculous.
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 also host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. And this week with Rabbi Adam Mintz we discuss Judeo Christian, magical thinking, Moses encounters a miraculous burning bush, he receives a magical staff and learns an incantation of God’s name, but the rabbi’s of the Talmud accuse Jesus of being the magician. Judaism’s ambivalent attitude to the miraculous is what our subject matter is tonight. So take out your magic wand and put on a top hat and let’s meet Moses, the Reluctant Magician. So welcome. You know, they say every parsha ultimately turns out to be very relevant to the times we’re in. And I think that the calendar this year is such that we probably don’t have the first chapter or the first parsah of Exodus called Exodus Shemot coincide with Christmas, very often, but here we are and because so much about this time of year is about miracles, I think that it suits us to read the story of Moses from the lens of the Miraculous; Magic, and see how the text of the Torah, how later rabbinic tradition and how even Christianity saw the use of magic and miracles, in their narrative, their story and their belief system. So let’s start with Exodus 3. You all know that Moses was tending the flock, and he went into the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire out of a bush, he gazed, and there was a bush all aflame, yet the bush was not consumed. Moses said, I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight. Why doesn’t the bush burn up? When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to look, called him and said, Moses, Moses, he answered who I am, Hineni. And he said, Do not come close to remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. And we all know that God then told him that he has remembered the children of Israel, and he’s seen their plight. And he continues in verse 10, “come, therefore, I will send you to Pharaoh, and you shall free my people, the Israelites from Egypt. But Moses said to God, who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt, and he said, I will be with you, that shall be your sign that it was I who sent you “ze l’cha ha’ot”, this will be the sign. And when you have freed the people from Egypt, You shall worship God at this mountain. Moses said to God, when I come to the Israelites, and say to them, the God of your fathers has sent me and they ask me, What is his name? What shall I say to them? And God said to Moses, “Ehiye Asher Ehiye” he continued, thus shall you say to the Israelites, Ehiye sent you to me. So so far, we have a miracle of a burning bush. And we have what many could consider an incantation, a secret name of God, that he was to tell to the children of Israel, to establish himself. Then it goes on. Go and assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, the Lord, the God of your forefathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has appeared to me and said, I have taken note of you, and what is being done to you in Egypt. And he says, yet I know that the king of Egypt will let you go only because of great might. So I will stretch out my hand and smite Egypt with various wonders. “niflaot”, another word for miracle, which I will work upon them. After that, he shall let you go. And then Moses starts complaining and saying, what what about me? He says, What if they do not believe Me and do not listen to me? But say the Lord did not appear to you and the Lord had said to him, What is that in your hand, and he replied, Rod, and he said, cast it on the ground, he cast it on the ground, and it became a snake, a nachash. And Moses recoiled from it. Then the Lord said to Moses, Put out your hand and grasp it by the tail, he put out his hand and seized it. And it became a rod in his hand, that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, did appear to you. And then he goes on says, if they don’t believe that miracle, stick your hand into your vest and pull it out. And all of a sudden, it was encrusted with scales. And he says, now put it back into your vest, he put it back in, and Miraculously, he was healed. And he says, Well, what happens if they still don’t believe me, and he says, You will be able to take that magic rod that I gave you, and you’ll be able to touch the water and the water of the Nile, pour it onto the ground, and it will turn into blood. And then, of course, we know as the story progresses, that actually all of these miracles do happen. So let’s stop here. I think I can coin a phrase of gratuitous miracle. I think this is the first time in the Torah and we’ve read it all the way through Genesis, we’ve seen miraculous things. But this in terms of the burning bush, at least, is the first time that we’ve seen a miracle for its own sake to grab attention. I mean, we’ve seen miracles of Lot’s wife leaving Sedom turning around and being turned into a pillow of soil. That was a punishment. We’ve seen miraculous births. We’ve seen all sorts of miracles. But Rabbi, am i right, if we just focus on the first of the many miracles in these passages, that this is a gratuitous miracle.
Adam Mintz 06:57
There’s no question that that’s right. I mean, this is a gratuitous miracle. And it’s a miracle that kind of comes from nowhere, like you’re not quite sure you know why there’s a need for the miracle. Moses says, Who am I to go to Pharaoh? And God says, I’m going to be with you. And as the proof that I’ll be with you, I’m going to perform a miracle. Why does God need to perform the miracle doesn’t make sense. If you can’t trust God, who can you trust? So I mean, I think that the other miracles even that we’ve mentioned till now, where he teaches them how to use this magic rod, or he teaches him the trick of healing the leprosy. At least, that’s forward thinking, and that’s looking towards, you’re going to have to get out there, you’re going to have to convince people, you’re going to have to speak their language, if you will. But with that first miracle of the burning bush, and you know, the Jewish Theological Seminary, the conservative movement, they took that as their theme. It’s an iconic moment. It’s hard to understand how that fits into the tradition. And I think what I’m trying to get at is, we don’t have gratuitous miracles in our tradition that really lies at the basis of my question is, is it valid?
Adam Mintz 08:24
So I want to go back to what you call the incantation. Ehiye asher Ehiye Iwill be that I will be what is God telling Moses? What kind of name of God is that? Ehiye Asher Ehiye Maimonides actually says that that is one of the names of God. God has many names. One of God’s names is that Ehiye Asher Ehiye, I will be that I will be. I’ve always understood, Moshe says to God, who am I to go to Pharaoh? And God answers says, Don’t worry so much. I’ll be there with you. Ehiye Asher Ehiye, I will be there. To me what that means is that God is promising Moshe that he’s going to be there in the moment. You know, you think about presidents or kings? The last they’re never in the moments, right? They have to deal with the with the big picture. They can deal with every, every single person’s moment. And what God says to Moses is, even though I’m God, Ehiye Asher Ehiye I will be there in the moment with you. You don’t have to worry about going to Pharaoh, I will be there in that moment. And I think that that’s a very, very powerful incantation. Because what that really says about God generally is Ehiye Asher Ehiye God promises to be there for everybody in their moment. God doesn’t doesn’t rule The way kings or presidents rule to be just kind of over the, to kind of, you know, can administer the big picture and to leave the details to others. God actually is interested in the details. And that’s an amazing comment. Now that doesn’t answer why we need a gratuitous miracle. I think that’s the second question. But the first question about the incantation, probably that’s the most important identification of God that we have had yet kind of identifying God telling Moshe what and who God really is that God is in the moment.
Geoffrey Stern 10:38
So I think that what you and I Rabbi have in common is, we just can’t take a miracle by itself. We can’t take an incantation by itself. We as Jews need to see symbolism. It has to mean something. We’re not just looking for someone to say, boom, I did something miraculous, I pulled a rabbit out of the hat. Therefore, you have to believe me. And one of my arguments tonight is that is very deeply Jewish. So supplement or even emphasize your interpretation of Ehiye Asher Ehiye, Let’s go back to the bush for a second Rashi comes and says as follows. He says, Why is it an “Ot” and now we’re starting to get into the multiplexity of what a miracle is in Judaism. It calls it an “ot” but all of us know that the Tephilin the phylacteries that we put on our arm and on our head is called an “Ot” it’s a sign. It’s a something designed to symbolically transmit a message we call Shabbat an “ot”, a sign. So it could be that the rabbinic tradition doesn’t even take the burning bush, as a miracle. It takes it as a sign. And Rashi says that just as thou has seen the bush carrying out its mission I laid upon it, and it was not consumed. So you too shall go on your mission, and you shall not be consumed. And the Ramban gives a different explanation. But all of them are kind of like Jungians looking at this from a symbolic message-oriented approach, they’ve almost ignored the fact that it was a miracle. I would almost argue that they don’t consider it a miracle. They consider it a sign. It’s like looking at a painting, what does it mean to you? And so they are taking from the burning bush, a sign that God will be with you, Moses, and Ramban takes it to mean God will be with the Jewish people. And that is one of the interpretations that especially Buber and Rosensweig give to Ehiye Asher Ehiye, it’s similar what you said, you said that I will be with you in the present. The way they look at it is again, I will be down there with you, I will be there with you.
Adam Mintz 13:23
I think that’s what they mean. But I’m really shouting channeling their view, I will be down there with you, I’ll be there in the moment with you. You don’t need to worry.
Geoffrey Stern 13:35
So So again, all of a sudden, we have taken the first miracle and kind of neutralized it because we’ve said it’s more of something symbolic that is designed to catch the attention. And the emphasis is not on changing the rules of nature. And now we’re taking what I called an incantation. And we’re saying no, no, it’s not a mumbo jumbo magical words. It actually is again a message. And Everett Fox who wrote a commentary on the Bible. He says the following. He says it’s also possible that Ehiye asher Ehiye is a deliberately vague phrase, whose purpose is anti magical, and an attempt to evade the question. And he goes and gives the fascinating history of this term that was used by the kabbalists , who, as you say, gave many names to God, who used it as a kind of a magical charm word in the Middle Ages. And then he talks about how then it turned full cycle and again, became something that was just a meaningful message. So it really is so fascinating how we Jews….. It’s like you know, somebody can’t take Yes for an answer, We at this point in time of the commentaries and the discussion that we’ve had, we find it hard to accept a miracle, don’t we?
Adam Mintz 15:10
We definitely do. I mean, I think that’s right now, you talk about whether it’s a miracle or aside, I think the fact that the bush was not consumed, that, to me is a miracle.Right? Isn’t a miracle by definition, something that breaks the laws of nature, the fact that the bush was not consumed. Sounds to me like a miracle.
I agree with you. But I also would like to emphasize that the takeaway for the commentaries was, Well, you see that bush wasn’t consumed and it was doing God’s will, we won’t be consumed either. So So again, it was a lack of interest, even in the miraculous aspect of it. So we’ve looked at the word “Ot” is a word that can be used as a sign as a symbol, and also a miracle. The, the, the other one that I’d love to talk about is the “Nes” a word that we’ve we probably know. But again, as we’ve probably commented before, has multiple meanings. So of course, before the sacrifice or the binding of Isaac, it says, And God, “Nisa, et Avraham”. And, the word there, there seems to be no miracle, unless, again, you want to go to the end of the story, and an ox miraculously shows up. But all of the commentaries there say that a Nes, and I think the Ramban is the most famous, he talks about how a Nes, a trial of a person brings from potential into actual, it tests you. So it shows what you’re capable of both to yourself, and to God. But again, it’s this sense that the word for miracle “nes” is is also a miracle of inspiration, aspiration, and something that tests us.
Adam Mintz 17:25
So that’s fascinating, the use of the word NES, to test and also to be a miracle is a very, very interesting thing. So God tests Avraham, I don’t buy the fact that that means that there’s going to be a miracle. I mean, God tested Abraham, that’s what it means. And that’s the explanation is that he wanted to bring out the potential in Abraham. And that’s what a miracle does. A miracle brings out the potential. Now the potential of what the miracle is, or what the miracle represents, as you want to say. So actually, it’s the same word. It’s bringing out the potential in something. But it’s so interesting that the same word is used to work to test and for a miracle, even though there’s so much they’re so different from one another….. that’s what’s so interesting, how can they be so different from one another?
Geoffrey Stern 18:32
I agree. And I and I want to emphasize that this is not a supposition or a kind of a comparison that we’ve come up …. with the rabbi’s play with it themselves. I think I’ve quoted in the past Perkei Avot chapter 5: 6, which says that the 10 Obvious miracles that happened, things such as the Earth swallowing up Korach, or the mouth of the donkey of Billam. Speaking, these 10 things, according to the Mishenh of Pirkei Avot were created in The Twilight Hours of creation. In other words, I always use this to show that the rabbi’s was so adverse to breaking the laws of nature, to a miracle that what they did was they said no, no, no, it’s not an exception to the program. When God was writing the code for the future. He wrote these little hacks into it. So it’s not a miracle little interestingly, the burning bush is not in that list…… But what I had never realized is if you go up a few paragraphs, a few Mishnaot in Pirke Avot, you get the following 10 trials was Abraham or father may he rest in peace tried assara nisaynot nitnase Avraham and it says and 10 Miracles were wought for ancestors is in Egypt, Asara Nisim naaseh l’avotentu it is freely going between the use of the word of Nes as a trial and Nes as a miracle. And then of course, it says that there were 10 Miracles were wought for our ancestors in Egypt and 10 at the sea, those of you who have been to a Seder, one of the most annoying I think parts of the seder is when Rabbi Akiva is saying it wasn’t 10, but it was 10 times 10. And it was 10 times 10 times 10. So to say that we don’t have an element of infatuation with miracles, I think would be false. But it does certainly say we take them in a fascinating new new way. I would say there’s an ambiguity here.
Adam Mintz 20:52
Well, let’s, let’s just take one second, that part of the Haggadah that talks about 10 times 10. And that whole thing, you know, how many miracles were there? That’s a different kind of miracle, because that’s about destroying the enemy. And you know, so that’s not a miracle in the sense of breaking the laws of nature. That’s how God is able to be victorious in a way that breaks the usual rules. He was totally victorious over the enemy. So I think that that is a slightly different use of the term.
Geoffrey Stern 21:29
Okay, I definitely accept that. Let’s look a little bit further. When you look at Judaism in terms of magic, you have to go to the code of law as well. And in Deuteronomy 18: 9 it says, Let no one be found among you who consigned his son or daughter to the fire, or who is an auger a soothsayer, a diviner, a sorcerer, one who cast spells or one who consults ghosts, or familiar spirits, or one who inquires of the the dead. And the words that are used here is Kosem kisamim,, m’onen, minachesh um’kasef. Michasefa is a witch. But I want to focus for a second on Minachesh . Minachesh. Haste is a word that’s used for a making magic. We are in the west or in the east, I should say, have a tradition of a snake charmer. Nahash is a snake. And here seconds ago, when we read from our Parsha, they take the rod and they throw it down. And in this version, it becomes an Nachash. So I don’t want to say that we’re having wordplay here. But there is no question that these themes of playing with reality I think the Nahash has a sense of dishonesty of screwing, and defacing reality is part of this magic, but it’s prohibited in Judaism, which is kind of fascinating as well.
Adam Mintz 23:19
Well, we have to remember a very important thing. In Egypt, Pharaoh has his own magicians. So at the beginning of the story this week, and next week, it’s actually a game between Moses and Pharaoh’s magicians, Moses performs a miracle, and they match the miracle. So magic clearly had a different role in Egypt than it does in the Torah. And it might just be, and I’m not making this up a lot of the commentaries say this, that the reason the Torah in Deuteronomy prohibits magic, is because the Egyptians thought that magic was so important that they believe that magic somehow was God-like, and therefore to kind of uproot that, we say that magic is not allowed. So actually, what you read from the code might actually be a reaction to the stories we’re reading now, which makes it even more interesting. So that God really descends to the level of the Egyptians, in order to make a point, and Moses, in a lot of ways is an Egyptian. And therefore Moses understands the idea of magic. God was actually speaking to Moses and Moses in terms that Moses understood. And I think we need to go back to something that you read at the beginning. And that is God says Moses, you need to go to Pharaoh and Moses It says to God, who am I to go to Pharaoh? Now on one hand, that’s humility and humility is always good. But at the same time when God says do something, isn’t it automatic that God’s gonna make sure that you’re successful? Isn’t it a little bit of a Chuzpah for Moshe to say, I’m not going who am I to go?
Geoffrey Stern 25:20
Well, absolutely. And I think that raises the question of what was Moses’ objection? We normally say that Moses says, I am not a man of words, the Hebrew is Lo Ish Dvarim anochi I am not a man of words. I’m not a man of things. In the context of the conversation, all God is asking him to do is to tell the story that he saw the bush that was not burned, the “mareh” (miraculous vision) that he saw, he’s asking him to repeat over the incarnation of the power of this God-word. He’s asking him to throw down his rod and turn it into a snake. And then something happens. And this is early in the relationship of God to Moses. And he said, “Please, oh, Lord, make someone else your agent. The Lord became angry with Moses.” And he said, Get your brother. When was another time that God was angry with Moses? When was God so angry with Moses, that he changed his life
Adam Mintz 26:41
when he hit the rock,
Adam Mintz 26:42
When he hit the rock, and what was hitting the rock if not doing a miracle, and Moses didn’t do it, right. So he that he was not good at being a magician, or, remember, God said, Speak to thee. This is, this is a modern day Alexa story. You know, God says, talk to them. He didn’t listen. So he hit it. But but the point is, that we as we do with any biblical character, we try to understand what is behind that character, who that character is. And I don’t want to project on Moses and make it sound like he was anti miracle. But in a sense, we don’t know for sure that he was slow to speech. We know within the context of this discussion, that the things that he was being asked to do, and to repeat in front of Pharaoh was these types of things, symbolic acts, miraculous acts, and God got angry at him. And God got angry at him again, in the end of his life. So it certainly does give us a little bit of a perspective on Moses that I had not thought of before.
Adam Mintz 28:03
I think that’s really good god getting angry at Moses, is the word anger or the word frustrating. You see God’s frustrated, the relationship between God and Moses is a unique relationship in the Torah. Because actually, in a way, the conversation that takes place between God and Moses, in chapter three this week, is actually a conversation doesn’t happen anywhere else in the Torah, of someone talking to God that way, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not speak to God, the way Moses speaks to God. And I think that’s something that’s interesting. This is something we’re going to see again, after the sin of the worshipping of the golden calf. God says, I want to destroy the people. And Moses says, No, you will not. And God listens to Moses. So it seems to be that there’s a kind of understanding between the two of them, that Moses can speak to God in a way that nobody else can speak to God. And I think that that’s really, really important.
Geoffrey Stern 29:06
I totally agree. But I do think that we are privy to an aspect of Moses that seems to have issues with miracles one way or the other. And, and what I’d like to do as we finish I promised that because of the confluence of Shabbat, and Christmas, we would talk a little bit about Christianity and Jesus, there was a professor at Columbia named Morton Smith, and he wrote a very controversial book called Jesus The Magician. And his argument basically is and it comes from sources outside of Christianity. So some of those sources are ones like Celsus, who was a Greek thinker, and some of them were the Talmud. But the main opponents of Christianity, one of their main arguments was that Jesus was nothing more than a magician. And Morton Smith takes a look at the types of miracles that Jesus did. And by the way, he got a PhD in Talmudic at Hebrew University, he was a close friend of Grershom Scholom and Saul Lieberman. And he says that you know, the stories of turning the water into the wine, he just wanted to outdo Moses turning or the editors wanted to, to outdo Moses turning the water into the blood, walking on the water wanted to outdo crossing, the Red Sea, healing, which was a very big part of the magician’s work. Again, we came across those typos in this week’s parsha with a three miracles, the three types of miracles that God shows to his would-be magician, Moses is curing the hand of leprosy, turning the water into blood, and of course, the miracle of the staff. So he tries to make an argument about the historic Jesus, I would tend to say, we can’t do that. All we can say is that with the competition, sometimes healthy, sometimes not so much. between Christianity and Judaism, it made both religions rethink their relationship with miracles, the Church Fathers, even according to Morton Smith, hid these criticisms, they censor the Talmud, where it said that Jesus was a magician, and could heal the sick. But there were other thinkers who have come in and said, you know, really, that Judaism and Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity came at the same moment. And some things were influenced in one direction, and others in another. So as we approach Shabbat, which is also Christmas, I think we can safely say that in our texts in our parsah in the texts that are going to be lived and celebrated by our Christian brothers and sisters. There is an open question about what is magical, and what is meaningful. What is wonder, and, and what is simple magic… playing with nature and trying to impress, and I think that’s a fascinating discussion. And if you look at the source notes, books, like Jesus in the Talmud, written by another scholar, and Morton Smith are fascinating. I think we learn about ourselves by learning about other religions that grew at the same time as us.
Adam Mintz 32:58
I think that’s that’s a great way to end. And I think, you know, we raised a whole bunch of fascinating questions about the beginning of the story of Moses, and about the beginning of the relationship of God and Moses, and Morton Smith, who obviously was a legend. You know, and one of the great scholars who was knowledgeable and Talmud and wrote about Christianity, I think he’s the perfect scholar to quote, as we approach Christmas…. he would smile to know that he was quoted as we get ready to, to observe Shabbat, which is also Christmas. So I want to wish everybody Shabbat Shalom, enjoy the beginning of the book of Exodus. It’s a great book, and we look forward next week to continue next week, Geoffrey will start talking about the plagues. And there’s nothing more fascinating than the plagues.
Geoffrey Stern 33:45
So thank you so much, Rabbi, Shabbat Shalom. But I do think that, at least on Madlik, we do have a moment of goodwill to man and peace on earth, we are discussing each other’s texts with respect and learning. And I think we live in a golden age of dialogue, especially between Judaism and Christianity. And any of you who have an opportunity to read some of the books, whether by Levinson, or by Daniel Boyarin , or Morton Smith, or whatever. You’ll be surprised at the level of learning of our Christian brothers and sisters, and their willingness and thirst to learn our texts as well. Michael, welcome to the Bima
Michael Stern 34:34
Thank you, Geoffrey, today’s talk about miracles and what’s a miracle and the burning bush that didn’t burn and using miracles to compete. I’m always relating it to life today is I find it’s a miracle to grow up in an alcoholic home and somehow forgive or to grow up as a gay boy in a religious Jewish home and feel part of the family or to marry a non-Jewish person and be a Jew and be loved and accepted, be ADD …. You made some life situations that we all live with. You turn them into miracles for me a miracle of who each of us are to come out of this evolving time. And I just want to thank you and ask… I know I take it to this different place if, if this resonates and Christmas and bringing it all together and talking about it. As Jews, you just really did a lot of beautiful making magic in real life.
Michael Stern 35:55
Well, thank you so much. I think miracles are kind of like beauty they are in the eye of the beholder. And those of us who want to see miracles can see them everywhere. And maybe that’s ultimately the real message of the burning bush that he saw it and that’s what God saw in him that he was someone who could recognize a miracle when it was there. So Shabbat Shalom, thank you so much all for joining us, and we’ll see you next week.
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on Thursday December 16th 2021 as we recognize that Jacob introduced the handle #TwelveTribes. The book of Genesis ends, as does Deuteronomy with blessings over these iconic Twelve Tribes of Israel but the count is unclear. Joseph is at times counted as one tribe and at times subdivided. Shimon and Levi are likewise alternately diminished or removed. What are we to make of these inconsistencies and of Jacob’s desire to share the future? Join us as we discuss who’s in and who’s out and what it all means for us.
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 also host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. And this week along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we explore the ins and outs of the 12 tribes. So gather your tribe together and join us as we discuss Members of the Tribe who’s in and who’s out, and what it all means for us.
Geoffrey Stern 00:38
So, welcome to Madlik, we keep this as a podcast, and we’ll post it before Shabbat. So if you enjoy what you hear, share it with friends, give us a few stars, and write a nice review. In any case, this week, the parsha is vayechi and as you mentioned last week, Rabbi it is the end of the book of Genesis. So it’s a momentous occasion. And it’s really about Jacob, the last of the patriarchs, on his deathbed, so to speak, blessing, at least his grandchildren, Manasseh and Ephraim. And then although many people think that he is blessing the rest of his boys, we will be the judge. Because the blessings can be pretty harsh, to even put it mildly. But I have to say that, you know, there are many aspects of the parsha that are fascinating. But I am looking forward to seeing a West Side Story. And that is about tribes, and that is about different clans and gangs. And so I decided let’s talk about the tribes because they feature so highly here. And in fact, as we shall see, it’s the first time in the Bible that not only are the tribes of Israel mentioned, but also the fact that there are 12 tribes mentioned. So in Genesis 49, it starts out pretty innocuously. And it says And Jacob called his sons and said, Come together that I may tell you what will befall you in the days to come “B’achrit Hayamim”. And I don’t know about you, Rabbi. But when when I was studying in the seminary, in the yeshiva, everybody seemed to follow the traditional explanation of what happens ‘B’achrit Hayamim”, in the end of days, so to speak, and this is the first reference to eschatology to the end of days. And this is the interpretation that Nachmanidies for one gives. And he goes “and everybody agrees that this is what this is talking about”. And of course, what is a little surprising is the fact that it doesn’t mention anywhere these “end of days”, takes a little bit away from his argument, and he has to actually explain if he’s going to make a prediction about the end of days, why doesn’t he say it? And the traditional explanation is that he was hushed up by the angels, because we can’t know what will happen in the end of days. So let’s start right there. What Rabbi do you think is meant here by “b’achrit hayamim” in the days to come. Is Jacob about to make a big disclosure and is hushed up?
Adam Mintz 03:53
So the rabbi’s like to say it like that. Like this was almost the moment when we would know what was going to happen for all of us. And it didn’t happen. But I don’t think that’s the simple reading of the Torah. I think the simple reading of the Torah tells us that what what’s really going on here is that Jacob is making predictions for each of his sons about what’s gonna happen. I think that’s the key word. Sometimes we say the blessings that Jacob gave to his sons, but it’s not true. They’re not all blessings, some of them are actually not blessings. Some of them are curses. And so therefore, I think “b’acharit Hayamim” is what Jacob is saying to them is, this is what’s going to happen to you in the time to come. This is what you should expect from your tribe going forward. So Judah gets the blessing of kingship. And Joseph gets the blessing of a double portion. And Simeon and levy get cursed because they, you know, killed the people of Shchem. It’s a prediction of what will happen ‘B’acharit Hayamim”.
Geoffrey Stern 05:19
So, you know, I think throughout Genesis, we found many times where it’ll give the name of a place, and it’ll say, this is what it’s called “ad Hayom Hazeh” up until these times, and of course, biblical critics will use that as proof that it was written at a later date, and those who are loyal to the fact that it is a holy writ. And it was given at Sinai will say simply that the Torah knew that it was going to be read in in many ages to come and made a prediction. So I think we can kind of quickly get around that problem and let Jewish commentators whether they believe that the tone was written at a later date, or not speak with each other. And I’m almost tempted to start calling the Madlik podcast into the Shadal podcast. Because once again, I am visiting my my new friend, Shmuel David Luzzatto. And he actually references these critics. And he says that clearly there is no reference here to the days of the Messiah. And clearly it relates to the conquest of the Land of Israel and its division. So the the direction that he takes it in is, as we shall see, it’s the first time that we will get a reference to the tribes of Israel even to the 12 tribes of Israel. And rather than blessings, we shall see that Jacob is actually describing and evaluating the children. And we’re going to focus on Shimon and Levi in particular, because Shimon and Levi are picked out. And he says something when he talks to them about what the ramifications will be of his negative critique. So let’s go right to the portion. It starts by saying listen to Israel, your father, Rueben is my firstborn. And he talks about how he was the the child who gave him his fruit and vigor and rank, but in a little bit of an Oedipal moment, we didn’t discuss this on Madlik, but Reuben did try to lay on his father’s bed, and so he’s not happy with Reuben. But then he gets to Shimon and Levi and he says Shimon and Levi are a pair their weapons are tools of lawlessness, let not my person be included in their council. Let not my being be counted in their assembly. For when angry they slay men and when pleased, they maim oxen, curse it be their anger is so fierce and their wrath, so relentless, I will divide them in Jacob scatter them in Israel. So here and we’re going to get to the background, the context of why he is cursing them in a sense and thinking unhighly of them. But for now, I would like to focus on ‘Achalet B’Yaakov V’afitzam b’Yisrael” that I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel. …. If any of you now or after a Google map of the tribes of Israel, you will see two interesting facts. Number one, the tribe of levi did not get a portion they were given towns throughout the land of Israel. I think if you want it to reference a Buddhist monk who lives off of charity who lives off of tithes, you would have a better picture of the way the Levi’s were living in the land of Israel. They were given land to live in houses to have, cities if you will, but not to have agriculture and they were dependent on the tithes the Ma’aser, given by the rest of Israel. And then if you look in that map and you look at Shimon, you will see that Shimon is inside of the tribe of Judah. So the truth is that this “I will divide them and scatter them in Israel” actually does relate to the distribution of land to the tribes of Israel, that’s the Shadal’s reading, I find it very convincing. What about you, Rabbi?
Adam Mintz 10:07
I didn’t know that reading. That’s, that’s a good reading. And that’s what it means to really to separate them. It’s interesting, then in the predictions, he says, Shimon and Levi “achim” (brothers). He puts shit Shimon and Levi together, they’re the only two tribes that are put together, everybody else gets their own lesson or their own prediction, but Shimon and Levi, get a joint prediction. What do you make of that?
Geoffrey Stern 10:39
Well, you know, I think the commentaries will say that they had the same mindset, that they were of the same philosophy. I will make a point later, that because we are talking about tribes here, it’s not necessary that it gets wrapped up with a bow. So simply that these are necessarily the 12 children of Jacob. You could make the argument that what we are experiencing here in the book of Genesis, is how different peoples different tribes different clans, came together, and united in the land of Israel. And from that perspective, when it says about two of them that they were Achim, maybe that means they were literally Achim / brothers, but some of the others maybe not so much, but I’m going out on a limb there, I definitely think they were like minded.
Adam Mintz 11:39
That’s good that that’s interesting to kind of give a positive twist to it. They were brothers, they were like minded. Turns out, they didn’t necessarily do the right thing, but they were likeminded.
Geoffrey Stern 11:54
So as I said, in this last bequest, Jacob does for the first time say in verse 16, Dan shall govern his people as one of the Tribes of Israel “Shivtei Yisrael”. And since it’s the first time that we think of Shivtei (tribes), it does give us pause, because until now, we were talking about a closely knit family, we weren’t talking about tribes, per se. And then towards the very end, it says, “All these were the tribes of Israel 12 in number”. And the interesting thing about this 12 In number is that there are other places in the Torah, where the number of members of the tribes are delineated. And they’re not always the same in terms of membership, they are always the same in equaling 12. In this particular rendering, there is no Manasseh and Ephraim who if you look at that map that I hope you Google, you will see that there were two tribal spots for Manasseh and Ephraim, and there is no spot for Joseph. So in a sense, Joseph did get the [status of] firstborn who gets a double portion. But there were other times at the end of Deuteronomy, which we read a few months ago, that again, Moses blesses all of the tribes of Israel. And there believe it or not, there is no mention of Shimon. So I think we can kind of conclude from that, that there is a dedication to this number 12, whether it’s 12 months of the year, whether it’s the signs of the zodiac, whether it’s just something that is universally accepted as complete and unified. The idea is that there was a unified people, but the membership is not all to gather clear. Do you think that’s a safe supposition?
Adam Mintz 14:02
I think that that is a safe supposition. Yes, I would agree with that.
Geoffrey Stern 14:07
Good. So now, let’s get to the meat of the story. I said that I really was driven here by the upcoming release of West Side Story. And of course, West Side Story is based on Romeo and Juliet. And I think if you keep that in mind, and now we’re going to read why Shimon and Levi got the bad end of Jacob’s wrath here. We’re going to read a story that really can be read and smack of a Romeo and Juliet type of story. So it goes back into Genesis 34. And it says, Dina, the daughter of Leah, born to Jacob went out to visit the daughters of the land, Shchem, son of Hamor the Hivitte chief of the country, “nasi Ha’aretz” saw her and took her and lay with her. And my English translation says, By force. So, so far, we have a rape, “being strongly drawn to Dina daughter of Jacob and in love with the maiden and he spoke to the maiden and tenderly” gets a little complicated now, because now it sounds like a love story.
Adam Mintz 15:27
Geoffrey Stern 15:28
“Shchem said to his father, Hamor, get me this girl, as a wife, Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dina. But since his sons were in the field with his cattle, Jacob kept silent until they came home.” So we clearly see that Jacob is ambivalent, maybe he needs to talk with the other sons in terms of what his strategy should be how he should relate. But anyway, his response is not to get a clear either. “Then Shchem’s father Hamor came out to Jacob to speak to him. Meanwhile, Jacob’s sons, having heard the news came in from the field”, this is very dramatically written. “The men were distressed and very angry, because he had committed an outrage in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, a thing not to be done “v’Ken Lo Yaaseh”, and Hamor spoke to them saying, My son, Shchem longs for your daughter, please give her to him, in marriage. Iintermarrie with us. Give your daughters to us and take our daughters for yourselves, you will dwell among us, and the land will be opened before you settle, move about and acquire things. Then Shchem said to his father and brothers, do me this favor, and I will pay whatever you tell me, ask of me a bride price ever so high, as well as gifts, and I will pay” and the story goes on. And the brothers come back and they’re very angry. And they come back and it says at this point, it says “you have one condition that we will agree with you. And that is that every male be circumcised, then we will give our daughters to you and take your daughters to ourselves.” So depending how you look at it, you could say that they are using ritual and circumcision as leverage. Alternatively, you could be saying that they are agreeing to become a kindred. And since the Israelites have believed in circumcision, they were asking them to join their group to join their tribe. “Then Hamor and his son Shchem went to the public place of their town and spoke to their fellow townsmen.” So he had to just as Jacob had kind of waited until his people, his children came home to discuss it with them. Now, Hamor does the same thing, and he discusses it with his fellow townspeople. To make a long story short, he convinces all of the townspeople to get circumcised. On the third day, which according tradition, is the hardest day to recuperate from surgery. Shimon and Levi come, and they slaughter all the people of Shchem and then the rest of the boys come in, and they rob all of the belongings, they plunder the town that defiled their sister. Jacob thinks he has the last word and he says, “What have you done? We are a minority, we are weak, my men are few in number so that if they the Shchemits unite against me and attack me, I in my house will be destroyed. He says, You have brought calamity upon us.” And Shimon and Levi said, No, “should our sister be treated like a hore?”, we did the right thing. So this could be a story of rape. But I would argue as much as you have in here, the ingredients of a rape, you also have the ingredients of a love story. You also have the ingredients of a turf war between two vying tribes and the potential for bringing those tribes together. How do you read this story rabbi or anybody in the audience?
Adam Mintz 19:58
I think that you’re read is the right read, let’s go back to the beginning, you point out the fact that when you read the story, it’s not entirely clear whether it’s a rape story, or a love story. And actually, Geoffrey read the whole story is different, depending on whether it’s a love story or a rape story. Because if it’s a rape story, then the brothers are taking revenge against the people for raping their sister. If it’s a love story, then it’s a story about assimilation. And the fact that the brothers are opposed to assimilation, they don’t want to assimilate with the people of the land, and therefore they feel they have to kill the people of the land. And you wonder about Jacob’s reaction being so upset with them. Which reads better? You know what Jacob be upset with them that they took revenge against people who raped his daughter, maybe it makes more sense that Jacob is upset with them, because it’s really a love story. And what they don’t like is they don’t like the assimilation. And Jacob thinks that’s not the way you deal with it. If you don’t want assimilation we don’t have to have assimulation, but you can’t go killing the people. So I think Jeffrey, that’s something to consider, the fact that the story reads differently. If you have it as a love story, or is a rape.
Geoffrey Stern 21:27
I think the higher biblical critics say that clearly this is two stories, not necessarily elegantly edited together.
Adam Mintz 21:36
So obviously, the critics are important. But usually when we study this stuff, in a sense that’s too easy. They put together two stories. But the problem is that the beginning of the story is two stories. But there are two endings. Geoffrey, you wonder why there aren’t two endings. If there are two beginning, maybe Jacobs reaction is different. If it’s a love story, or if it’s a rape story.
Geoffrey Stern 22:08
Yeah, so I think one of the things that helps guide me is now after many years, we got his initial reaction, his initial reaction smacks of the ghetto Jew Who’s afraid of the minority who’s afraid. What he says on his deathbed, is a little bit more strident. He says their weapons are tools of lawlessness. He accuses them of acting out of anger, and slaying people. And by way of looking down that way of trying to evaluate it, I would look at what happens when we get to Deuteronomy. So in Deuteronomy, when Moses is blessing all of the children of Israel, he praises the tribe of Levi. You will remember at the sin of the golden calf, it was the tribe of Levi, who stood up, and they were the ones who took God’s challenge, and went ahead and killed all of the people, their fellow Jews, who had worshipped the golden calf. And in Deuteronomy, Moses says almost to their credit, that they did not consider even whether that person was related to them or not. So it’s clear to my mind, that there is an aspect of Levi at least, which has to do with the purity of the ideology, the purity of the family, the purity of the tribe and the purity of the nation. And I think that that is the aspect that I take away if you read this from the perspective of the beginning of the creation of the 12 tribes, that if we see this story, and it’s you know, you can’t but overlook not only the romance here, but the woman’s is so strong, that clearly Hamor and Shchem who are the majority who are ruling the land, who are in a similar position, as was when Abraham bought the Kever the burial cave (for Sarah) he was begging here, they who have all the chips, all the cards are truly saying we want to accept you, you we want you to to be able to walk amongst the land. And my take from this is that if you look at the two blessings, there’s the critique of Jacob and the critique, or I wouldn’t say critique the, the admeration that Moses has relate to (racial purity). And of course, we can’t forget the zariz (zealot) Pinchas, who was also a Lavi, who are speared, the Moabites with the Israelite. These are people who took God’s ideology very strongly and took the law into their own hand and retain the racial purity, if you will, of the people of Israel.
Adam Mintz 25:48
I would just add one thing, you know, Moses skips shimbo when he gives the blessings at the end of Deuteronomy. So I think what you just said is right. I don’t think Moses forgets what Jacob said, you know, cursing their anger. And you know, and all of that. I think Levi, actually, in a certain sense turned, they become good, because of the way they acted at the Sin of the Golden Calf, in a sense, they did teshuva (repentance). And Moses, therefore reflects on their more recent actions at the time of the golden calf. But Moses does not forget what Jacob says. And therefore Shimon, which never actually repents, they’re just totally left out, which I always found was fascinating.
Geoffrey Stern 26:44
Absolutely, I would maybe add a maybe a little bit more commentary in terms of, I’m not sure that Levi ever changed totally. But they were able to channel or at least Moses was able to channel and history was able to channel that anger, there is a place maybe for that anger, and for that puritanism. I do think it’s important to note that not only were the tribe of Levi, not landowners, but they didn’t get drafted into the army. So they were not allowed to militarize, so to speak. And they were distributed to the land, so that they had too, too beg. You know, there’s an interesting parallel story that happens much later on, and is in the book of Joshua. And that is a story of when the Israelites came into the land. They said that they were going to, to, to get rid of all of the existing infrastructure and tribes that were living there, for whatever reason, we can get into it on another day and discussion. But they felt very strongly about that. And there was a one of those native tribes who made a decision. They said, rather than they get killed, let’s get dressed up and pretend that we are not one of the seven tribes. But we are from outside the land, and we’ll make a treaty with Joshua. And they do just that. And then of course, just like the the ruse of Shchem and Hamor is revealed their rules is revealed two, but the end, the difference is that Joshua says We made a deal, we’re going to keep the deal. So I think my takeaway from this discussion, and from ending the book of Genesis, is that one thing is clear that the stories of the patriarchs are not sugar coated, they lend themselves to interpretation in multiple ways. There are no heroes or complete demons. There are multiple sides to each of the different personalities that we have met, and that the history of our family, of our tribe and our nation has sorded elements, to it, to say the least. But nonetheless, at the end of the day, there was a moment of unity that was achieved. It was a moment because you all know about the lost tribes. They truly did get lost. We split up pretty quickly. And Judea was the tribe of Judah, the other tribes disappeared. So I think the warning is clear. But I think that the message is that we are not as homogenous as one would believe. One can walk down the streets of Israel, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, see all these different colors, all these different types of people. That is who we are. And, you know, welcome welcome to the family. But this is the setting stone for now, what is the next book, which is the book of Exodus, where we get molded into one people from, from the outside, if you will.
Adam Mintz 30:50
I think that’s a really a nice idea. And that’s really a nice way to look at this moment. I think, you know, I just like the moment where Moses blesses the people at the end of Deuteronomy. This is the end of the book of Genesis. And it’s very striking that this is the way both the book of Genesis, and the book of Deuteronomy, and with these kinds of blessings or predictions for the future. There’s always a look towards “acharit Hayamim” towards the future. The book ends, but it’s not an end. It’s a look forwards “acharit Hayamim”. So we got to go back at the end to where you started with an understanding of what “Acharit Hayamim” really means. So I want to thank you Geoffrey. I think this was a great discussion about Vayechei. To everybody. Hazak Hazak v’Nitchazek. This is what we say always when we finish a book of the Torah, we should be strongly to be strong, we should strengthen one another. And we look forward to seeing you next week again, eight o’clock. Where we’ll talk about the parsha of Shemot as we begin the Book of Shemot. Thank you, Geoffrey. Shabbat shalom.
Geoffrey Stern 31:57
Shabbat shalom. See you next week.
Listen to last weeks episode w/ bonus Avidan Freedman interview – Joseph – Tool of a Repressive Regime?
Listen to Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on December 9th 2021 as they ask: What if our Prince of Egypt, was not an ancient-day Paul Samuelson using science and economic theory to serve society? What if Joseph and his Pharaoh were the villains and the new Pharaoh “who knew not Joseph” was an Egyptian patriot and liberator who saved the Egyptians from foreign exploitation? How would that change the message of the Exodus?
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and that Madlik we lite to spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday. This week along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we asked, What if Joseph and his Pharoah were the villains of the story, and the new pharaoh who knew not Joseph was an Egyptian patriot and Liberator who saved the Egyptians from foreign exploitation. Talk about a plot twist. So fasten your seat belts and get ready for a few sharp curves and detours as we ask Joseph tool of an Oppressive Regime? Okay, well welcome everybody to Madlik. We published Madlik as a podcast. So if you enjoy the conversation today, you can feel free to share it with friends and give us a good review and a few stars. Welcome. We’re gonna start today the Parsha Vayigash and it is a continuation of the end of Genesis, the beginning of Exodus. It’s really a transitional story that sets up the whole exile in Egypt. And we’re gonna pick up kind of where we left off. Last week, we talked about how the Jews as shepherds were distinct and different, had to eat differently from Egyptians. Egyptians would not hang out with them. And that’s going to factor a little bit into today’s discussion. So we begin with Genesis 47. And it says, “Then Joseph came and reported to Pharaoh saying, my father and my brothers with their flocks and herds, and all that is theirs have come from the land of Canaan, and are now in the region of Goshen, and selecting a few of his brothers, he represented them to Pharaoh. Pharaoh said to the brothers, what is your occupation? They answered Pharaoh, we Your servants are shepherds, as were also our fathers. We have come they told Pharaoh to sojourn in this land, for there was no pasture for servants flocks, the famine, being severe in the land of Canaan. Pray then let your servant stay in the region of Goshen. Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, as regards your father, and your brothers who have come to you, the land of Egypt is open before you settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them stay in the region of Goshen. And if you know any capable men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.” Well talk about a twist, it seems as though Pharaoh was not similar to other Egyptians, he might have had his own flocks, he might have been a shepherd as well. Never dawned on us to ask that question. Rashi, in his commentary says, over that, which is mine over my sheep, so Rashi seems to believe that Pharaoh in fact, was a shepherd, in a sense, the Ibn Ezra, another classical commentary is bothered by this. And he says, rule over my cattle, such as horses and mules, because obviously an Egyptian would not be a shepherd having sheep. And as Ibn Ezra goes on to say, a shepherd was an abomination to the, to the Egyptians. So how could Pharaoh, the head of the Egyptians have such a flock. And interestingly enough, the Ibn Ezra says, and even till today, in India, the Indians have something very similar, where they look up to cows, and they do not drink the milk because milk is from a living creature, which they won’t have. So kind of interesting that you need to know about the cultures of the world to study the Torah, but I’m going to finish with the Shadal who we came across last week. And he quotes the same commentaries. And he concludes, this king was not a Egyptian, but rather from the shepherd kings who came from Asia and conquered Egypt. It is possible that it was a king of sheep and cattle. So let’s just stop here. Are we taking this too far Rabbi, or is there something here here that maybe this Pharaoh the first Pharaoh was a pharaoh who was not quite a Egyptian?
Adam Mintz 04:52
So there were a couple of things here. So as we have come to see, Geoffrey, the Shadal is very creative in his commentary. I think that’s the first thing we need to see. The Shadal lives in the 1800s, in Padua, which is just outside of Venice, he actually is secularly. educated, he kind of has a fresh new view of the Chumash. And his view of the Chumash is actually amazing here in this story, he suggests that Pharaoh was really an outsider. Now, what does it mean to be an outsider? Whenever I learned that Shadal Geoffrey, I think about John F. Kennedy. John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic president in the United States. Now for us today, that is totally meaningless, right? I mean, what difference does it make whether you’re Catholic or Protestant, but in 1960, there actually he ran against Richard Nixon. And some of the opposition to eventually President Kennedy was the fact that he was a Catholic, he was an outsider, America was a Protestant country, it came from England, and it was a Protestant country, America should not have a Catholic president. And when you take that, and you think about it, having an outsider be the king of the Pharaoh, the President is something that’s very problematic, because the idea is that the King, the pharaoh needs to represent the people, for him to be a from a conquering country. And therefore, he’s going to govern over a group of people who don’t really affiliate with him. That really is a recipe for disaster. But the Shadal suggests that, because how could it be that he be a shepherd, given the fact that the Egyptians worshiped sheep, or at least treated sheep in a certain way that made them special and kind of off limits? So let’s play it out a little bit. How about Geoffrey, if we take the Shadal, and we say, the Joseph is sold to Egypt to Potiphar? Now Potiphar is potentially really an Egyptian. So what happens? Joseph gets in trouble with Potiphar’s wife. Now the question in that story is, why isn’t Joseph killed in the ancient world, if you’re suspected of trying to take advantage of the minister’s wife, he should have been put to death. But maybe the relationship between Poty fire, and Pharaoh was one that was not so simple. Maybe they were actually on opposite teams, maybe Potiphar was a native Egyptian, and maybe Pharaoh was from the other side, and therefore Potiphar didn’t have the ability to kill Joseph. And maybe that’s why Joseph was kind of forgotten about in prison, because he was the prisoner of Poitiphar who was not part of the ruling class. And it was only after Pharaoh has absolutely no alternative that he reaches out to Joseph, and that he embraces Joseph and he makes some visroy over Egypt. And just one last point before we begin the discussion. How about the fact that Pharaoh embraces in this week’s parsha Jacob comes with his family now? Why do they accept these foreigners? They put them in Goshen? Put him in Goshen? You know, Geoffrey is almost like forcing them to live in Connecticut, right? means, you know, they’re not allowed to live in the city, they have to live, you know, far away from the city. So they don’t pollute the city. But the truth of the matter is that Pharaoh is willing to accept, he’s willing to embrace foreigners, maybe it’s because Pharaoh himself is a foreigner.
Geoffrey Stern 08:59
Okay, so I love the fact that you’re willing to run with the Shadal a little bit. But I really do think that this Shadal has a compelling case. I started by reading a passage that had almost Joseph coaching the brothers what to say to Pharaoh, and this was one of at least five verses, where the emphasis is always we are shepherds, children of shepherds. It’s almost as though they were establishing their credentials as shepherd foreigners to this to this ruler. And of course, you know, the context of all of this is what comes next in in Exodus when it says a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph, did he not know Joseph, did he not recognize Joseph? He certainly did not like Joseph and the Shadal on that verse really flushes out the the crux of the issue here. And what he says is that, in fact, we do know and as you say Shadal was educated in the best of comparative religion and anthropology archaeology of his day. And he references the Hyksos dynasty. And he said that there was no question that when this foreign ruler and whether it coincided with the time exactly of Joseph or not, we don’t really know. But when the forign ruler was replaced by Ramses, who was definitely a local, tribal, alocal King, that there was real hatred towards the the foreign interlocutors, if you will, and that would explain a lot and in terms of what Shadal says, he ends by saying, and from here, we can understand, SheParoh gazar alYisrael mah shegazar, that Pharaoh decreed upon the Jews what he decreed. So this is a pretty critical message, and it really does make you read the text very differently. You said a second ago, that when the Jews was settled in Goshen, they were being sent out to the suburbs. Here’s what Genesis 47: 11 says. So Joseph settled his father and his brothers giving them holdings in the choices part of the land of Egypt, in the region of Ramses, as Pharaoh had commanded. So this Goshen, was in a larger area code called the region of Ramses so in fact, like we read in England about the tutors and and the other royal dynasties. There’s no question that any Egyptian reading this and knowing that the Ramses dynasty was about to begin, that the current pharaoh of Joseph was literally replacing the Ramses threat by settling or resettling the Jews there. And then it begins. And I want you all to listen to this, from the perspective what the Shadal just said, this Shadal said that whith his reading of this text, this might very well be an explanation of why all of the trials, all of the tribulations of the exile in Egypt, and the necessity for the Exodus came about. And remember, we’re not reading a Midrash. We’re reading the text of the Torah itself. And it says, Because you have to understand the famine was to last seven years. And the brothers and family of Joseph came in the first two or three. So Joseph gathered in all the money that was to be found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, as payment for the rations that were being procured. And Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s palace. And when the money gave out in the land of Egypt, and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, Give us bread lest we die before your very eyes for the money is gone. And Joseph said, bring your livestock and I will sell to you against your livestock if the money is gone. So they bought their livestock to Joseph and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for the horses for the stocks of sheep and cattle, and the asses. Thus he provided them with bread that year in exchange for their livestock. And when the year was ended, they came to him the next year and said to him, we cannot hide from my Lord that with all the money and animal stocks consigned to my Lord, nothing is left at my Lords disposal. We are persons in our farmland. Let us not perish before you eyes, both we and our land. Take us and our land in exchange for bread. And we with our land will be serfs to Pharaoh, “avadim l’Parpoah”. Provide the seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become a waste. So Joseph gained possession of all the farmland of Egypt for Pharaoh, every Egyptian having sold his field because the famine was too much for them. Thus the land passed over to Pharaoh, and he removed the population, town by town from one end of Egypt’s border to the other. This is quite amazing. He not only took all their money took all their livestock, he took their land, and then he went above and beyond almost what he needed to do by dispossessing them of their locale and moving them to another. And of course, the commentaries all pick up on this. But before we get to the commentaries, I have two questions that I really invite anybody in the audience, but especially you Rabbi, to address. Is this just telling the facts? Is there an ethical or moral underpinning here? Do you sense? What is the Bible sharing this with us for? What is the message, if any here? How does this strike you when I read it?
Adam Mintz 15:36
I when I want to hear Geoffrey, what you have to say first? ,
Geoffrey Stern 15:41
Well again, from the context of a foreign Pharaoh who does not have the interests of the Egyptian people at heart. This seems to be a radical displacement and almost a taking into slavery, of all the population in Egypt. And if you think of it from that perspective, it gives a whole new color to ultimately what happened to the Hebrews, after this Pharaoh and this regime died.
Adam Mintz 16:18
So that’s an interesting point. I think you’re really Geoffrey asked him two things. One, is there a moral element? And second of all, what you’re asking is whether this sets up what’s about to happen later. Right? Isn’t that a more interesting question? What’s the relationship? You said at the very beginning of today’s class? You said this parsha is a transition to the beginning of Shemot (Exodus). I think that’s very interesting, because actually, the beginning of Shemot begins by “VeYakam melech hadash asher lo ladaat et Yoseph” a new king arrives over Egypt who doesn’t know Joseph. So the impression that you’re given at the beginning of Shemot is that there is that there’s no connection between the end of Bereshit (Genesis) and the beginning of Shemot. But you’re suggesting that there very much is a connection? Isn’t that interesting?
Geoffrey Stern 17:22
Well, I think that when it talks about a new king, who knew not Joseph, it’s literally talking about a regime change. You know, I think we all believed that there was a father and son, an older Pharaoh who had a warm feeling for Joseph and when he died, his son did not but it’s clear from the text, that Ramses was a whole different dynasty. But but I’d like to point out that we are not uncovering documents that were buried around in the Egyptian library or in in hiding, we are looking at our own text, and that makes it amazing that these clues are staring us out in the open. If you look at the Rashi to 47: 21 In Genesis, he asks, Why does it go out of its way to say that Joseph causes them to pass from one city to another, that they may be reminded that they had no claim to the land, he settled the people of one city in another city, and Rashi goes on to say, there was no need for scripture state this except for the purpose of telling you something to Joseph’s credit, that he intended thereby to remove of repproach from his brothers, because since the Egyptians were themselves strangers in the various cities that they dwelt, they could not call them Joseph breathren, strangers. So while she does two things here, number one, and this I agree with wholeheartedly, he says the Torah doesn’t say anything for no reason. Whether you believe it’s a divine document, or whether you believe it’s one of the most incredibly written and edited documents that assures that people like us can come once a week and study it and find new insight, but nothing is there for no reason; that I agree with. He says that the reason why it goes into detail of Joseph dispossessing the Egyptians from their home, was to make them feel like strangers in their own land, so that they would not be biased and bigoted against the Hebrews, who were strangers… that I’m not so sure about. But I do believe that Rashi is correct. And this is the real question that I ask why did the Torah leave us so many of these facts? Why did it repeat that the Jews the brothers were coached to tell Pharaoh that they were shepherds? Why does it talk about this concept of the sheep and tie the sheep to a pharaoh who clearly was a shepherd as well. And most importantly, why does it go through these truly, at least from a western point of view a modern point of view that we are bothered by what was happened to the Egyptians, but certainly taking their money, taking their animals and their chattel, and then taking and dispossessing them and making them slaves, even to the Biblical mind. Remember, this is a Bible that preaches that no one should be sold into slavery for perpetuity. It understood that when you are very poor, sometimes you have to become an indentured servant. It is a Bible that believes that land should never be taken away in perpetuity. And here we have Yes, it is before revelation. But we have a Joseph who is working with his boss, man, Pharaoh, and they are literally dispossessing the Egyptians from the land forever. And as far as we can tell, making them slaves forever. I’ll finish by saying that our good buddy Shadal, says, Actually, he moved them from city to city, he quotes the Rashbam. And it says similar to what the Assyrian king Sanhereb did to the peoples that he conquered. Now, those of you who know history, you do not want to be compared to Sanhereb. So Shadal is definitely saying and the Rashbam in this particular case, which is another classical commentary, is truly saying that what Joseph did was on par with what one of the greatest conquerors and dictators did when he conquered other people. It’s certainly not flattering.
Adam Mintz 21:55
Good. I think that’s interesting. And let me rephrase just one piece of your question. Geoffrey, let me ask you a question. Does Joseph’s actions reflect strength on Joseph’s part, or weakness on Joseph part? When you start acting like a tyrant? Does that mean that you’re powerful? Or does that mean ultimately that you’re weak, and you’re trying to compensate for being weak, because you know, in next week’s Parsha, Jacob dies, and Joseph has to ask special permission to be allowed to leave to go bury his father in the land of Israel, you kind of begin in next week’s parsha to get the impression that Joseph might not quite be as powerful as we had thought him to be. And I wonder whether that weakness is beginning to be reflected. You know, Joseph had done his job, you know, there were seven years of plenty, then seven years of famine. Actually, Joseph job was really was to divide the land and to collect all of the produce, during the seven years of plenty. during the seven years of famine, Joseph’s not so important, because all they need to do is just distribute the food, they don’t need Joseph to distribute the food, anybody could distribute the food. So I wonder whether Joseph loses a little bit, ffor lack of a better term, his cache. Now, at the end of this whole story, that’s how, kind of what I would add to your question, because you’re right, Shadal is painting a very unflattering picture of Joseph. And I’m wondering whether Joseph is actually working out of a sense of desperation at this point.
Geoffrey Stern 23:51
So I love your question and your insight, and I’d like to even increase it a little more. My impression of the pharaoh of the Exodus is that he never really became the target of animosity in the same way as whether Titus or Haman or whatever, you know, his heart was hardened. I think that if you look at the Joseph character, and you look at the Pharaoh, and I’m talking now about the pharaoh of the Exodus, that new Ramses Pharaoh. Both of them are conflicted and troubled individuals who come out of a past and I think that’s what you were referring to with Joseph, there is no question that he’s coming out of a position of weakness. He shows up, he’s put in jail, he’s got nothing, and he does what he needs to do to save himself and then ultimately, save His people. So I don’t think that even if you were to Shadal down on our podcast or on our clubhouse, he would not have mixed feelings about Joseph. I think ultimately where Joseph ended up was that he was forced by becoming who he became into this corner, where he became the tool of a very repressive regime. And on the other hand, this Patriot named Ramsess who took over Egypt, and therefore unslaved, all the Egyptians potentially could be forgiven for enslaving the Hebrews, the family of Joseph, who had been part of this regime. So I think that that kind of enters into it. And from a historical perspective …. I’d like to bring this into more of historical perspective, the the Jews, were forced to be tax collectors throughout history. And if you look at Joseph, he ultimately is a tax collector. And a lot of people will argue that one of the sources of anti semitism was, in fact, the fact that Jews because of their weakness, because of their lack of status, because they couldn’t be landowners were very easy targets to become tools of the local prince or the king, and made into tax collectors. And of course, tax collectors are collecting the tax like Joseph did for the ruling class, and are hated by those who they hate. So it’s, it’s, you know, even the most radical, higher biblical critic will never say that the Bible was written in the middle ages. It is an ancient document at the end of the day. And what’s so fascinating to me, that this kind of a weakness, this character flaw, caused by circumstance comes up so early in the Bible, and haunts the Jewish people. And I do think there’s a lesson there.
Adam Mintz 27:13
And the lesson is?
Geoffrey Stern 27:15
I think the lesson is, and this I am, I think I’m going out on a little limb here, because the Bible doesn’t give us the answer. But it does say that, therefore the Jews were enslaved. And so you know, where all of the Midrashim are asking, what did the Jews do? What did the Hebrews do to be enslaved? Nowhere in the Bible itself, do you find anything? Unless possibly you look at something like this, and you say, maybe we don’t have to look for some deep theological answer. Maybe it was a practical outcome of what they did. But if you take it that way, and therefore the lesson of the Exodus becomes that no matter how difficult your existence is, and what you’re forced to do, at a certain point, you have to understand that I am a human being and I share that humanity with others, and I need to be redeemed. And that to me, would be a fascinating takeaway of the Exodus, where we’re not simply a people who was victimized, but we were people that was victimized, became the victimizer learnt our lesson. And that lesson became so profound and maybe complex, that it resonated throughout the world, which I do think that the story of the Exodus has done.
Adam Mintz 28:37
I think that’s I love that. I think that that’s really, really good. And I think that maybe that’s why Vayigash, is the transitional Parsha that it is, right. I mean, maybe that’s the issue here is how this sets up. Everything we’re gonna read about at the beginning of the book have Shemot.
Geoffrey Stern 29:02
Absolutely. And I do want to bring it into the moment. When I started realizing what my takeaway was from this Pasha. I contacted a rabbi in Israel, his name is Avidan Freedman. He lives in Efrat. And he has started a charity, an organization called Yanshuf. And the purpose of the charity is to say that I understand how the State of Israel in its early ages in order to defend itself and not be dependent on the world had to develop an arms industry. But what he is saying is that today, Israel has to look at where it sells its arms. And those of you who have been following the story of the cyber warfare that Israel now is capable of doing, it’s getting into the wrong hands. And he’s done some polling in Israel. And the polling is very positive of people saying No, we are a startup nation. We are no longer a third world economy, we can make that transition. And I asked him to come on, and he really had wanted to. But unfortunately, he had something in his calendar that he couldn’t. But he is a rabbi. And he’s a teacher of Torah. And when I pointed out the verses that I was going to discuss, he agreed that they were totally relevant. And it’s a nuanced question. And it’s a nuanced challenge to us in this modern era. And I said, maybe what I would do is follow up with a conversation with him after he gets to listen to our discussion. Adam, do you know him?
Adam Mintz 30:39
I sure do know him. He’s a very impressive Rabbi. My impression is that he’s just, he’s just getting going. But that his, you know, but but he’s doing really, really important work in Israel.
Geoffrey Stern 30:53
And what is special about his message is that it is nuanced. He’s not saying that Israel had never any way to get into the arms industry. He’s not a bleeding heart. “beat your swords into plowshares” type of guy. He understands it as much as we understand why Joseph got to where he got. But he is also saying that within the prism of history, there becomes a time where you have to take responsibility. And that’s what’s so fascinating about this story of Joseph, there are no real villains here. And there are no real heroes. That’s the amazing part about our Torah, it doesn’t pull any punches. It includes verses such as this that can trigger this kind of conversation. I just love it.
Adam Mintz 31:46
I love it. I love it. And I think the idea that Joseph, you know, that Joseph does certain things that will lead the Shadal kind of bringing it back to the beginning to compare him to Sanhereb is worth everything. Because I think we we often because the story kind of has a happy ending, we often don’t focus on the challenges that Joseph faced, but I think the shutdown, you know, deals with it head on, and says that you know what, you have to realize that maybe not everything Joseph did was right, but maybe he didn’t have all that much of a choice. And that’s hard. It’s hard to be the viceroy over Egypt when you’re when you’re when you’re a nice Jewish boy from from the neighborhood. And I think that he’s really being very, very sensitive to that. So I thank you that you spoke to Rav Avidan, I think that’s great. And I think this was a super interesting topic. Again, interesting for this week’s parsah, but taking us to next week and then to the beginning of Shemot. I want to wish everybody a Shabbat shalom. And I hope that you’ll join us next week when we finish up the book of Genesis. That’s exciting. Geoffrey, we’re going to finish up the book of Genesis, all of these stories kind of come together with the blessings that Jacob gives to his sons and the death of both Jacob and Joseph. And we’ll read about that next week. So Shabbat Shalom to everybody. Shabbat shalom, Geoffrey, and thank you as always for joining us on our clubhouse.
Geoffrey Stern 33:09
Thank you so much Rabbi safe travels back to the states and next week we will be Thursday evening. At eight or nine o’clock Eastern. We’ll determine what time that is. So that’s it. Shabbat Shalom to everybody, and we’ll see you next week.
Geoffrey Stern 33:25
And now as I made reference in the podcast, I was able to catch up with Rabbi Avidan Freedman from Yansoof, after he listened to the podcast to get his insights and suggestions, sit back and enjoy. So Avidan, thanks for listening to the podcast. One of the things that came to my mind is, how do you teach your message through Torah texts? And you could consider that a klutz Kasha; a foolish question. Because it’s pretty obvious. We’re all created in the image of God, how can we do something that hurts other people in such a profound way as the weapons trade can. I guess it’s “Lifnei Ever Al Titeyn Michshol” don’t put a stumbling block in front of somebody you give somebody a gun and you know they’re going to use it. I get all that. But one thing that occurred to me is there is a growing disconnect between the galut community, specifically the US Jewish community and Israel, where Israel is so focused on making sure that the land of Israel is a refuge for the Jews that it provides security for the remnant of the Jewish people. That many times the messages of the liberal type of progressive la dee da messages of Beating swords into plowshares gets pushed aside is naive and vice versa with so many of our youth, and I’m specifically referring to youth that are trained in Hebrew day schools, and that take their Judaism very seriously cannot wrap their arms around being in an arms industry at all. Is part of what you’re doing bridging that gap? Do you have any resistance in Israel to your message based on that type of an argument?
Avidan Freedman 35:28
It’s a really well, well formulated question. And there are a lot of different aspects to it, there are a lot of angles, that that needs to be addressed. I think it there’s a funny irony, a kind of an inversion, because what you’re saying is that the opposition that I face, regarding this issue comes from that place of realpolitik comes from a place of okay, we need to do what we need to do in order to survive, Israel needs to be reckoned with, we have to prevent another holocaust, etc, etc, all those kinds of statements. So do I do I encounter that in Israel? Yes, I certainly I certainly encounter that in Israel. But when when thinking about the religious message of it and and the religious perspective, for me, it goes much, much deeper, then then just the question of “lifnei Ever” (stumbling block) which it’s true, it actually halachikly when this is spoken about this issue, it’s spoken about, somewhat in terms of those terms. But, but for me, it’s a much deeper question of how much is the Jewish state going to be defined by power politics by realpolitik? And see what you called “ladi da” see moral issues as a luxury? That we’ll get to sometime later, and one of the most dominant central messages in, in Torah, today was aseret b’Tevet (a fast day for the destruction of the Temple) So it was really sat exactly there. One of the most central messages in the Torah, actually, about what it means to be to be sovereign in Israel, is the idea that ultimately, what defines and what determines our ability to stay here in this land? And what determines our our safety? Isn’t our pacts with this country or that country, And it isn’t our physical and political strength, It is, to what extent are we living up to our moral vision and aspirations? And that’s as far as the Torah perspective, that’s really the raison d’etre of the Jewish state, as I understand it, and and it’s the necessary condition. So today I viewed a movie with my students about Jeremiah and the destruction of the First Temple. And the movie did a very nice job of really demonstrating how the political echelons were very concerned, are we going to be allied with Egypt? Are we going to be allied with Babylonia? And where are we going to do that? And Jeremiah says, You’ve got it all wrong. And in the end, on the one hand, it’s true, and many point out that the prophets educationally didn’t manage to convince people. That is true. But but on the other hand, the Kings didn’t win. The Kings didn’t win the day. And ultimately, as far as realpolitik, they always failed. The attempts to be allied with this power and this power and the other power, they never actually work. And the religious message is that the reason they didn’t work wasn’t because it was just bad politics. The reason they didn’t work is because they were much deeper societal issues of corruption and abuse of power. That were at play that spiritually and ultimately realistically tore Israel apart and led to its destruction. So So for me, it’s ironic because, to me, the galuty mindset (ghetto mentality), the exilic mindset is the mindset of, we have to worry about our survival. And we are so weak, and we always have to be concerned that the game are trying to kill us. And everything we have to do is in order to ensure our survival and the opportunity of Jewish sovereignty. The challenge of Jewish sovereignty is a challenge of responsibility. And it’s a challenge of coming to say that morality is not a luxury, but it’s it’s part of what we need to be, and that we’re powerful when we are moral. And we’re successful when we’re moral. And that, to me, is the worst importing of an exilic mindset in Israel. And the arms sale is is one example of of how it leads to moral failure, I really feel like it’s the most egregious example of how it leads to a moral failure. And there are many, many, many other examples of when we feel like we are besieged, and we need to do everything we need to do in order to survive a country can can come to try to justify all manner of terrible things in the name of survival. So, to me, it comes back to the vision of Abraham, like you said, it’s the vision of the of the Jewish people is to be a blessing to the nations. It’s what we want to do on an individual level, it’s “VeAhavta L’reacha Kemocha” what’s hated to you don’t do unto others. But on an on a national level we’re supposed to be a Venivrachu bcha kol mishpachot ha’adama”i (that all the nations of the world will be blessed from you) from the beginning, that was the vision. And so so for me, as far as the torah, it goes all the way through from lech l’cha and before with Zelem Elohim but nationally from Lech L’cha all the way through to the last chapter of Kings.
Geoffrey Stern 41:42
So one of the things that I mentioned in the podcast that I found particularly appealing about your message was that you didn’t have the naivete, or you couldn’t be accused of the naivete of saying that there was never a time that we couldn’t justify being in the arms industry, because we needed to be independent, and you can’t design a tank or a gun, unless there’s a market for it, because domestic demand isn’t enough. And it’s kind of like, there all these concepts of Chayecha Kodem that your life comes first. There’s certainly a value to protecting one’s own. But the nuance came from the ark of time. And that something that might be not right, but at least acceptable or permissible, or de facto, okay, at one time in a person’s life or in a nation’s life might not stay okay. And I think that nuance is totally lacking from conversations on the right and the left these days. And how do you find that? I think I found it a little bit in Yossef, where certainly, with Yosef, we really are privy to the development of a biblical character in ways that I don’t think we necessarily are with others, we really see him from being a braggart of a youth, guilty of everything that you one should be guilty of it as an adolescent, and then he grows. And I think if we were critical, or some of the commentators were critical of him in last week’s Parsha, it was that he didn’t continue to grow and that what was okay, at one stage of his life maybe stayed the same. But how do you convey that message when you’re talking about the subject that is the focus of your interest?
So first of all, Geoffrey, I want to say you overstated my position a little bit in terms of over time. I would formulate it a little bit differently. I would say, I sitting from my place in 2021. I don’t want to go back and judge Israel for what it did in the 60s and 70s. I’m not willing to say that I can morally justify I’m not willing to say that I really think it was necessarily the right thing to let’s say to, to arm the South African apartheid regime and and the various Juntas in South America. I do appreciate and agree that the stakes were different. Israel was in a much, much more vulnerable position. And therefore I can understand it much more. I still don’t know if it’s really morally defensible. Because the idea of “Chayecha Kodem (You’r elife comes first) can never come at the expense of an innocent bystanders late. And that’s that’s a different paradigm, that’s the paradigm of Yehoreg V’al Ya’avor” the paradigm of you actually have to be killed rather than kill, somebody comes and puts a gun to your head, and says, kill this person, or I’ll kill you. The simple logic of that, the the Talmud says, Who says Your blood is any redder? So you can’t say, Well, you know, my life comes first. And this person essentially by their existence is now threatening, you have to you have to give your life, so I don’t know, I don’t know, morally, but But I do think that there we’re in a much much more privileged position nowadays. And to continue saying and continue thinking and conceptualizing our position. Now in 2021, as if we’re still in, in the 60s and 70s is very dangerous thing. In other words, we put ourselves into the eternal victim or the eternal potential victim mindset. As I was saying before, I think that’s it’s dangerous. And it’s also not true. Nowadays, it’s just not true. We think God, where we’re powerful. As far as exports, we have wonderful things to export to the world that bring tremendous amount of blessings to the world. And the idea that we need to base ourselves on these kinds of experts that know that attack cyber and guns and drones, and those types of things. And that’s the start-up nation, as opposed to the startup nation being drip irrigation and solar energy and all of these things is, again, is we’re missing the point. So I think I think that the time should demonstrate to us that, that we’re much more able to and if we don’t feel like we’re able to if we’re still telling ourselves, we’re so vulnerable. Now we have a we have a problem with their self concept.
Geoffrey Stern 47:05
I love it, light unto the nation is an export strategy that that needs to always be our best export. So I am totally grateful that we could have this follow-up conversation. And Avidan as the parshiot move forward in the year ahead if there is a parsha that you stumble across, or think of in terms of any of the issues that you’re passionate about, send me a message and we’ll focus a session of Madlik on that I would love nothing more. But thanks for participating. And let’s, let’s keep keep your message out there. I think that we need to export more light. And I won’t even say and less arms, maybe no arms that should be the objective, but certainly arms to people that are responsible and have the same moral integrity that we would like to have of ourselves. So thank you for that.
Ancient Egyptians wouldn’t break bread with Hebrews and were known to have rigorous dietary restrictions….. How does this play out in the Exodus narrative and what does it mean for us? Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz for a live recording on Clubhouse December 2nd, 2021 for the first Madlik lunch & learn as we discuss the social power of food.
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey stern and at Madlik we like to light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host a weekly disruptive clubhouse, Torah discussion on clubhouse, typically on a Thursday evening, but today is a special first, of all time Lunch and Learn 12:30 Eastern, which happens to be about 9:30 in Dubai, which is where my sidekick Rabbi Adam Mintz is so welcome, Adam. In any case today, we are going to look at a very small little mention of eating habits in Egypt and of Jews. So I suggest you all get on your aprons put down those latkes, maybe take of a vodka. And join us as we discuss food fights and gastro diplomacy. Well, Rabbi Adam, welcome from Dubai a few weeks ago, I was in Israel and you were in New York. Now I’m in Connecticut, and you are in Dubai, how exciting.
Adam Mintz 01:13
This really exciting, really, really exciting, but the best part of it is that we’re able to continue this tradition even though we’re so far away. And I’m looking forward to discussing the this week’s parsha which is parhast Mikeitz together with everybody. Happy Hanukkah, everybody. And Geoffrey, why don’t you introduce the topic? And we’ll take it from there.
Geoffrey Stern 01:31
Absolutely. Well, it’s a lunch and learn and guess what we’re going to be talking about food. So in this week’s parsha of Miketz we’ve been following Joseph Story. And we’ve gotten to the point in this story where finally all of the brothers come back to Egypt. With Benjamin, the younger brother they’ve met met all the requirements of the visor, the prince of Egypt named Joseph. And in the beginning of Genesis 43 Joseph says to his servants, he said, When he saw Benjamin, “take the men into the house, slaughter and prepare an animal for the men will dine with me at noon”. And again, nothing really out of the ordinary here. He says, they’ll dine with me, which is fine. But then, as the story progresses, first of all we get an emotional response because Joseph now is going to have lunch with his brothers. So he says, after he saw Benjamin, “Joseph hurried out for he was overcome with feeling toward his brother, and was on the verge of tears, he went into a room and wept there. Then he washed, his face reappeared, and now in control of himself gave the order: ‘serve the meal’. They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, for the Egyptians could not dine with the Hebrews, since that would be abhorrent to the Egyptians. KiTohavat hi l’mitzrayim’. So now already, we understand that when he said “they will dine with me”, there were a dietary restrictions, and we as Jews who are so used to having our own dietary restrictions cannot but be interested, intrigued by the fact that we’ve seen no dietary restrictions by the Hebrew people, but here they are in Egypt. And it seems like the Egyptians will not eat with the Jews either because of who they are, or what their diet is. And then if we continue on a little bit into a future parshiot, we see that when the 70 family members of these 12 brothers come to Egypt, and this favored nation is going to be given a place in the suburbs. It says, Pharaoh tells them to go live in Goshen, “you may stay in the region of Goshen”, it says in Genesis 46 “for all shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians uses the same word, “ki tohevat l’mitzrayim kol roeh Tzon” And so now we’re starting to see a little bit of a trend here. And finally, and then I’ll get some comments from the rabbi is that much later on, when Moses is saying to Pharaoh, let my people go, we want to go into the desert to worship and sacrifice to our Lord. Pharoah says Nah, why don’t you just do it in Egypt? And here Moses replied, “That would not be right to do” he says in Exodus 8, for what we sacrifice to the Lord our God is untouchable to the Egyptians the same word Toheva. “If we sacrifice that which is untouchable to the Egyptians before their very eyes, they will stone us.” So this is a major, I would say sociological, anthropological statement that goes through the the Jews, the Israelites that he was 400 years sojourn in Egypt, there was a dietary wall between them and the Egyptians. Rabbi Adam, have you ever thought about this? How does it affect you? And what are your impressions?
Adam Mintz 05:40
Well, first of all, let me say, Geoffrey, it’s a fantastic topic. Because, you know, when you think about Joseph in Egypt, as the viceroy, and the brothers coming down to Egypt, there’s so much intrigue, you know, interpersonal intrigue, but to take a step back and to see how they fit in with the Egyptians, I think is a great topic. So let me just back up, you brought a couple of examples. One was the fact that in this week’s parsha be Egyptians wouldn’t eat with the Jews. The last example you brought was the Moses said that we can sacrifice sheep in Egypt, because that would be a pourraient to the Egyptians. Let’s take the second thing first. The question is, why is sacrificing sheep abhorrent to the Egyptians? So I think the classic explanation is that the Egyptians used to worship the sheep. And therefore, for us to sacrifice sheep, which is their God, we would be considered to be totally inappropriate. Now, if that’s true, we can relate that back to here. And that is we can say that the Egyptians wouldn’t eat with the Jews, because there are different dietary rules. Now, that’s interesting, because, you know, in today’s world, you say, okay, you know, I’ll eat the fish, or I’ll eat the salad. It’s okay, I can eat with anybody. But clearly, the Egyptians didn’t feel that way. Clearly, the Egyptians felt that if we eat differently than the Jews, then we can eat with the Jews. So that’s Possibility number one. Possibility number two is, of course, that is a social thing. And that is the Jews are beggars. They’re coming from the land of Canaan. We know that Canaan is a foreign country, we know that they look down on the people of Canaan, and maybe they just wouldn’t sit down with people they consider to be lower class. Now that Geoffrey is a whole different ballgame. That’s a whole different discussion, because that has ramifications in how they saw Joseph, meaning Pharaoh appoints Joseph to the viceroy. Why? Because Joseph interprets the dream, and he predicts the famine, and he turns out to be right, so he makes him viceroy. But what did they really think about Joseph? Did they really respect Joseph? Or did they think that Joseph was really second rate, or we would use the term second class, and maybe that’s reflected in the brothers. And maybe Joseph the whole time, is really worried that his position as viceroy is very fragile, that you know, because they don’t really respect me. And therefore, if I don’t act, just so I’m gonna get thrown out of my position. And maybe that can help us understand some of the ways that Joseph reacts to his brothers, and to Pharaoh and kind of being nervous about Pharaoh. So I think we want to today explore two options. One is the option of food. And that is the question of whether the Egyptians and the Jews share the same food. And the second is the social issue. And that is, did they sit together, even though they consider themselves to be more upper class?
Geoffrey Stern 08:52
Wow, you’re raising a lot of issues and it is complicated, like everything else in the Torah. So I want to pick up on on the two points that you you made. One is that you’re absolutely correct. The, the traditional explanation given by the Rabbi’s, is that kind of like in India, where the cows are holy and cannot be touched. It seems to be the impression that for the Egyptians, sheep were, it’s like taboo, is it because they were holy or they were untouchable. It’s hard to say, but But certainly, they could not be eaten. But I think the fact that we elevate our eating habits to a question of theology, and God really emphasizes the fact and I’ve called this week’s episode. The food wars is that eating food is is something that is so social and imbedded with emotion, that it ultimately does become a very primary battleground for distinguishing and identifying ourselves and ourselves, visa vis others. So so that, you know, I started by saying that Joseph wiped away tears went into another word, eating with his brothers was an emotionally laden experience. The other thing that you raise is it so much diet? Or is it a way of defining the Egyptians as opposed to putting down the Jews? So there is one of commentaries is an a guy born in the 1800s of the 19th century thinker called Shadal Shmuel David Luzzatto. And he references in the Hebrew that even Hordut, which is Herodotus, testifies to the fact that the Egyptians were very picky eaters. And so I went ahead and googled and found a study of what Herodotus says about Egyptian eating habits. And lo and behold, this is the case of that when Herodotus deals with them. He says that the Egyptians had many food avoidances, they have this pickiness, which was all foreign to the Greeks, they maintained food taboos, and it is the Egyptian ones who were expressing disgust at the practices of the Greeks. So here we go, and even a Greek who would find himself in Egypt. And of course, this might be many late years later after the Exodus, but the Egyptians had a very strong tendency of using food and eating and that social interaction as a way of defining themselves as superior it would seem to not only the Jews, but also to the Greeks so we don’t have to take it that that personally. But clearly, if we were leaving Egypt, and ultimately the whole story of Genesis and Exodus is to help us define who we were. So many times we focus on slavery and freedom. So many times we focus on, whether it’s the Egyptian preoccupation with death. But this does add a kind of fascinating new element to what the exodus from Egypt is and what it could be. In terms of the the ruling Egyptians, the Overlord Egyptians used food and looked at food as something that was very divisive. And that was kind of fascinating to me.
Adam Mintz 12:49
Yeah, that point, Geoffrey is a super interesting point, the fact that that food is divisive, it’s kind of startling, because we think of food is the great unifier. When you want to make up with somebody, what you do is you take him out to dinner. I don’t know how long that’s been going on going on for but it definitely has been the tradition for as long as we remember. Right? You take him out to dinner, because somehow food’s the great equalizer, even if we disagree about everything, but we can agree about the food that we eat, we can enjoy food together. So food is a is a tremendous unifier. And it’s been used that way let’s imagine centuries. So isn’t it interesting that in Egypt, food is the divider? That’s like a Wow, isn’t it?
Geoffrey Stern 13:41
It is and it’s not because as I said previously, but I’ll kind of amplify now, food is something that unites us, but many times it unites us in counter distinction to others. And anyone who keeps kosher knows that on the one hand, you’re absolutely correct sitting down and having our latkes… there’s nothing more cementing in terms of relationships than that. On the other hand, by being kosher in many cases, one says I can’t eat with somebody else. And I think that the rabbis picked up on this I found a fascinating Midrash, in the MidrashTanchuma and it goes back to earlier in the Joseph story, and it says And Joseph poured an evil report of them to his father…. remember the Father gave him this multicolored ggarment, and sent him out to check up on the brothers. So he told his father, according to this Midrash my brothers eat the limbs of living animals. My brothers are doing what is called Ever min haChai, they’re breaking one of the seven Noahide laws, the only kosher law that presupposes the giving of the Torah at Sinai. The Holy One bless it be he declared, continues the Midrash, be assured you will be such suspected of committing the very act you accused them of committing. And he says because he spoke slander against them his brothers became embittered, set into motion the chain of events that resulted in the descent of ancestors that their bondage in Egypt for 400 years. So talk about food being a part of this discussion, and the use of food to both unite but in this case to divide, according to this Midrash. That’s what started this whole exile…. 400 years of exile in Egypt was caused by Joseph telling his father, my brothers are not eating kosher, they went to a McDonald’s.
Adam Mintz 15:44
I mean, that is absolutely fantastic. Now, of course, you always have to take those kinds of things with a grain of salt, because what I was gonna say is, what’s also interesting is that the laws of Kosher don’t come up for another two books. It’s not till the book of Vayikra (Leviticus), that we’re actually taught about the laws of Kosher. So you wonder about that tradition that that’s what caused the 400 years of exile. Was it really kosher? Or was it really just this idea that certain groups of people eat certain types of foods, see we’re not even talking about that, but you think about, you know, different classes of people eat differently. We don’t have that so much in our day, because everybody has access. But when you watch television programs or movies, about British royalty, you always watch, I would say the help you know, the the butler’s and the servers and all those people, they’re always eating in the basement. And if you notice, they’re not eating the same food that is being served upstairs in the royal dining room, there was an idea that there was certain types of food that were special for royalty, and that not everybody else was allowed to eat that food. So when you talk about Joseph, and you talk about what they ate, there might have been a certain feeling that Jacob’s family was royalty. We know that actually, it’s interesting. I’m switching a little bit because visa vis Egypt, they might have been second class. But in Canaan, we know that they were royalty, right? Abraham is royalty. Isaac is royalty, Jacob is royalty, everybody’s afraid of them. Maybe they eat a special kind of food that other people didn’t eat, because just like the king eats special kinds of food. So I always wondered about that. Is it that they ate McDonald’s? …. Maybe McDonald’s is the kind of food that royalty doesn’t eat. Did they eat non kosher? Or did they just eat a food that wasn’t becoming of them. But that’s really a serious thing. And maybe just to take it one step further, maybe just maybe the laws of kosher and I know it’s always tricky to give explanations for the laws of the Torah, but maybe the laws and the Torah of Kosher also related to the fact that we’re God’s people, right. However, the Torah understands that, that God’s people need to eat certain kinds of food. I’ll just tell you that this is off topic, but it’s related because we’re talking about food, the Ramban? Nachmanidies one of the great Spanish commentators who lived in the 1200s. So he gives a great explanation. The Ramban says why is it that the animals need to have split hooves and chew their cud? He said, Because animals that have split hooves means that they have toes, the opposite his claws, he said, animals with claws, they devour their prey, right, they clawed their prey. We don’t want to eat animals like that you are what you eat. And the same thing with fish, we only eat fish with fins and scales. He says that fish with fins and scales tend to swim closer to the surface. And because they swim closer to the surface, therefore, they’re more human than the fish that swim all the way in the deep, the deep water fish. And so it might be related to the fact that that even the laws of Kosher are somehow connected to the idea that God says you’re gonna be my people. I want you to certain kind of food.
Geoffrey Stern 19:20
So I think that’s fascinating. I’m wanta pick up on what you said about we are way ahead of the laws of kashrut at this point, and I agree to a degree but I want to bring up what I think is the punch line. Now that we’re looking at this as a gastronomical. Journey, the punch line of the last night in Egypt, so we’ve gone through the 10 plagues, and now we’re ready….. We’re having the first mandated Torah mandated meal that ultimately developed into the Passover Seder. They are taking that lamb which is taboo either because it’s holy or for some other reason to the Egyptians, so they are taking the deity of Egypt, and they are going to slaughter it and eat it. But the Torah adds an additional restriction. And what it says is you have to form a family or a household. And then it says in Exodus 12, “o foreigner shall eat of it”. So the idea was, if you start with our story today, where we see Joseph is not allowed to dine with the Egyptians, the Egyptians are in charge. Here at the end of the 400 year Exodus story, it gets flipped on its head, and the Israelites are having a meal, and no, Egyptians are allowed to dine with them. So it truly becomes then a story of a food fight, so to speak. But I will add an additional element to this. And it’s a question that I must say, is bothering me. You know, it seems that if you were a slave in a land of Egypt, where they use food, and I use the word “use” in the sense of exploiting, they exploit food and eating as a way of distancing themselves from other people of degrading other people, you would have thought that the Israelites, the Jews would have rebelled against that. And in a sense, you can almost say, and this is the disruptive thought that I have of the week, is that we’ve absorbed it that it’s like the victim becomes the victimizer, so to speak, that we Jews have taken from our masters, the Egyptians, this sense of using food to divide us from other peoples in a sense, as much as we recognize that food is something that unites us. That was a question that came to my mind.
Adam Mintz 22:04
Good. So I like that. I mean, obviously, that’s disruptive Torah. I mean, what you’re suggesting is that we are still using food to separate us. There’s a very interesting law, there’s a law that wine needs to be kosher. Now, that’s a strange thing, because we all know that wine is the same wine, whether it’s kosher or not kosher, but kosher wine means that the wine is prepared by Jews. Where did that come from? So the rabbi’s. This is not from the Torah, the rabbi’s decided that basically, matches between men and women, boys and girls are made over wine. And therefore, and they didn’t want assimilation, they didn’t want intermarriage, they felt the best way to prevent intermarriage was to not allow us to drink wine and with non Jews. Now, first of all, that’s also interesting, because you know, alcohol is not included in that it’s only wine. That was because 2000 years ago, they didn’t drink alcohol. They only drank wine, but the but that idea, but here you go, Geoffrey, this is your disruptive point. And that is that we over time, have used food as the great divide as the great separator.And that law, that rabbinic law is so fascinating, because it recognizes the potential of food to be the unifier. And what we’re saying is no, we don’t want it to be a unifier. We want it to be a separator. Interesting thing, I’ll just tell you, the Conservative movement actually wrote that that’s ridiculous. You know, if a Jewish man wants to marry a non Jewish woman, you know whether or not they drink wine together is not going to make the difference. And therefore they did away with that prohibition. But just see that that’s really at issue here.
Geoffrey Stern 23:57
Yeah, I mean, it is fascinating in terms of historical development, and it started with Rav Moseh Iserles , the Ramah who found a whole community of Jews and their rabbis who were drinking regular wine, and he went out of his way and he said, You can’t use this in general terms. But you know, the the laws of, of making a wine libation and idol worship, they don’t exist anymore today. So we come down to a social question. And I think that’s where the Conservatives kind of said, if if we could stop into marriage by prohibiting wwine we would do it in a heartbeat. But guess what, that that’s not the answer. But again, this is gives us both an appreciation for the power of food. And here we are in Hanukkah, and we love the food associated with a holiday and know what it means to us and how it almost transcends so many other other things of the holiday, it’s part of our identity. So it shows the power of it. So I’d like to move a little bit forward and share wiyh you two amazing stories that I have kind of garnered and cherished through my life that kind of relate a little bit to this question of, of food and and what we call gastro diplomacy. So the first I heard from Rabbi Riskin, and it’s in the source sheet, and it’s of the great Mussatnik rabbi Yisrael Salanter. And he’s invited to the home of a very prestigious, wealthy person in the in the community. And he walks in coming back from synagogue on Friday night with this gentleman, and the gentleman is aghast, he sees that the challah has not been covered. And he screams to his wife, Yada, why is the hollow not covered and she embarrassed comes and covers the challah and Rabbi Yisrael Slanter turns to this person. And he says, Do you know why we cover the challah? And the guy says, Well, of course any child in cheder knows why we cover the challah. Because all through the week, we start our meals with a blessing on the bread. And on Shabbat, we start with wine. So in order not to embarrass the bread, we cover it. Rabbi Yisrael takes a breath. And he responds, he said, and you just embarrassed your wife. So you totally don’t understand the message that came out of your mouth. He says I’m sorry, the food in this house is not kosher, and he left. And of course that touches upon, you know something that Rebbe Jesus if you will said that it’s not important what goes into a person’s mouth, but that which coming out of his mouth that is what defiles a man, but certainly we Jews have taken in the concept of eating this ethical element. And you were talking a little bit about that when you talked about maybe what makes an animal Kosher or fish kosher. But certainly what we did was we took from the Egyptians, this understanding that food is a powerful vehicle of a philosophy an ideology and ethics and morals. And I think that is a positive takeaway that we took from our oppressor and we reirected it and maybe that’s a direction that we can take this in.
Adam Mintz 27:40
I think that’s good. I mean, first of all that story about Yisrael Salanter is a beautiful Rabbi Riskin story. And you know it says everything about what food is and what really matters when it comes to food. So I love that story. What’s your second story?
Geoffrey Stern 27:53
My second story is related to what is called the Maimonedian Controversy. So Maimonedes was a radical thinker with a capital “R”. And the Europeans, the Ashkenazim had many problems with Maimonedes. And at a certain point in time, they put a delegation together. And this again in the source sheet, and it’s well documented, they sent a rabbi Meir to go visit Maimonedes. And the first thing, Maimonedes, invited him to a meal. And the first thing is he put food on the plate that looked like human hands, then Miamonedes goes ahead, and he asks his servant Peter, to fetch the wine, please and pour some wine for everyone at the table. And finally, he takes a calf, and he slaughters it in a very humane way. But he doesn’t use a schita knife, he doesn’t slaughter it in the manner prescribed by Jewish law. And so then he sits down and of course, Rabbi Meir as all of us would says, Thanks, I’ll have the fruit cup. He doesn’t want to embarrass the rabbi. But basically, he assumed that Maimonedes was guilty of preparing the most treif of treif dishes. I’d like to think that we talk about kosher style food, which is food that looks kosher, but actually doesn’t necessarily fit all the prescriptions. What Maimonides did and this might be the first time in history this was done was made a treif style meal, and Maimonides explained to him exactly why everything was kosher. But I think in a sense, Maimonides understood this turf war that we all use in terms of determining what somebody’s standing is what somebody his relationship with God is with the law is and he rebelled against it. He probably rebelled against somebody judging him in general. But he explained why everything was kosher. But clearly he went out of his way to circumvent what many times is used by our kosher laws, which is to use them as a way of defining other people.
Adam Mintz 30:15
So I think that’s a great last story for this. I mean, I think today’s class, just to kind of summarize, since we have two minutes to go, I think today’s class is really is a kind of subversive kind of class, because it really highlights the fact that food which we take as the great unifier, is actually something that’s a lot more complicated. And back to the time of Joseph, and literally today, we have this idea that food is a divider. And the question is really how you use food. And I think Geoffrey probably what we want to say is that it’s kind of the combination of prohibited food, and the social aspects of food. So when I brought up at the beginning that there are two ways to understand this one is it the Egyptians wouldn’t eat sheep, and the other is the Egyptians wouldn’t sit with the lower class people. I think the answer is it’s both correct. And every story that we’ve told, and even the Israel Salanter story shows that there’s more of a social thing. That’s a cultural thing. So I think that’s really mean that really gives people a lot to think about. And I think it was a great topic for this week. Because Hanukkah, one of the things that brings people together on Hanukkah is of course the food, right? Every Hanukkah party has special foods for Hanukkah, and we know that Hanukkah actually is the holiday when you’re supposed to eat fried foods, because that’s the oil. You’re also supposed to eat dairy foods, because somehow they interpret the miracle that the that the general of the enemy was defeated, because there was a righteous woman by the name of Judith, who gave him milk and therefore got him thirsty. And then she got him drunk, and then she killed him and the Jews were saved. So we have we have fried food and we have dairy foods. So here you go. We have food again, as an equalizer, but I think Geoffrey will be able to go into Shabbat Kanaka appreciating the fact there’s more to food than just what goes into our mouths. So thank you, everybody. Shabbat shalom. Hanukah Sameyach from Dubai. We look forward next week again to doing our lunch and learn this was a great setup, at least for one more week. And Geoffrey enjoy. And I look forward to continuing next week.
Geoffrey Stern 32:25
Thank you so much rabbi. And I was inspired for the subject matter by last Shabbat last weekend. Michael is in the audience. I was with him. And we were basically in the kitchen for three days and there was a chef there, there was a wonderful woman named Anna Polanski, who is making a film on what has been called the Hummas Wars. And yes, there’s something called the Hummas Wars. And it is as cutting edge in terms of cultural adaptation, appropriation, these are issues that are on the front burner of so many people as food becomes more and more important to us and the planet. And I just want to thank so many people who are using food in novel ways. And we are just I think, at the cusp of how some of these stories become our stories. And so I wish everybody a Happy Hanukkah, enjoy your your latkes, maybe with some vodkas and Shabbat shalom. And please feel free to listen to this as a podcast on Madlik. And now we’re going to have the after-party, and I am going to invite any one of you who would like to make a comment or introduce a subject. Michael, welcome to the Bima
Michael Stern 33:55
Thank you. Such a wonderful Hag Samayach! This whole conversation reminded me of a story called which wolf do we feed and this is an internal concept where there’s the wolf, which is our ego, the wolf with switches our immediate gratification, the wolf, which doesn’t understand that some action might have a bad effect in the future. And the other wolf is kind and caring and takes into concern others and which wolf do we feed and so for me, in this internal family system, there are the Egyptians which is that wealth of ego, which disdains and even comes up with justification and stories and rationalizations and judgments and dividing concepts. And then there’s the Israelite wolf that honors not to eat the calf in the mother’s milk, that honors family, that honors and knows there’s cause and effect. And so which wolf do we feed? And I love seeing Torah as this metaphor. And for today, I really see an internal family, an internal universe, an internal planet, which has my own divides inside of me. And I want to learn from this to be more careful, more caring to know, am I the Israelite wolf or the Egyptian wolf, and do I feed my higher power? As you said the fish from the higher waters, God wants us to be our higher selves. So I have to feed by which thoughts will I build upon and digest and which thoughts will I throw out into the sea of thoughts? And we suffer in today’s world also from eating disorders. And I think eating disorders are known to represent a psychological emotional imbalance. So I love also taking it to this level of perception. Thank you. It’s beautiful.
Geoffrey Stern 36:32
Thank you so much. And again, happy Hanukkah to everybody. Feel free to check out our podcast and share it with your friends and family. Shabbat Shalom and Hanukkah Samayach.
A live recording of Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and friends on Clubhouse recorded on November 25th as they explore how the story of Joseph and the patriarchal origins of the Exile to Egypt is interrupted by the story of Tamar and the matriarchal origins of redemption through the Davidic bloodline. They wonder whether we might re-read Genesis as Her Story? With special “guest” appearances from Jonathan Kirsch (author of The Harlot by The Side of the Road) and Harold Bloom (the author of The Book of J).
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we like to light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. This week I’m joined by Rabbi Adam Mintz on clubhouse recorded live on Thursday nights. And we are discussing Parshat Vayeshev, the story of Joseph and the patriarchal origins of the exile in Egypt, and we noticed that it’s interrupted by the story of Tamar and the matriarchal origins of redemption through the Davidic bloodline. So we are going to do what we always do at Madlik and read the Torah through a totally new lens. So put on a new fresh pair of glasses, sit back, and let us hear the story of Genesis as Her-story.
So welcome, everybody, as I said in the intro, we’re about coming to the end of Genesis. And one of the things we’ve always said about Genesis is a foreshadows events to come, the rabbi’s talked about Ma’asei Avot Siman l’banim. And the big event is obviously going down to Egypt and the Birth of a Nation and the Exodus. And we’re just about to get there. And we’re leaving the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and discovering the 12 sons, and beginning the story of Joseph. And in Genesis 38. There’s an interruption. We’ve already read about how Joseph is the favorite son, and how he engenerds jaolousy from all of the brothers and thrown into a pit. And one of the brothers Judah sells him as a servant. And then all of a sudden, in Genesis 38, there is a very strange story. And while most of us will know the story of Joseph, many of us do not know the story of Judah and Tamar. So how it begins is: Judah had a certain a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shua and he married her and lived with her and she conceived and bore a son, and he was named heir, she conceived again and bore son and named him Onan, once again, she bought a son and named him shella. He was at Kazib when she bore him, so Judah got married to a local Canaanite woman, which is in itself, unique to us, because so many of the patriarchs went to such great trouble to make sure that their children did not marry Canaanite. And now we move on, and Judah got a wife for Er, his first born, and her name was Tamar. And the story goes on to say how Tama was married to Er. And all of a sudden, Er was displeasing to the Lord and the Lord took his life so Er dies, and then Judah said to Onan join with your brother’s wife and do your duty by her as a brother in law and provide offspring for your brother. So you might have heard of the rule of the Levirate marriage, and it has nothing to do with the tribe of Levi. It has to do with keeping one’s seed alive through a surrogate by way of one’s brother. And so Onan goes ahead. And he is married to Tamar. But he does not have offspring, and he did what was displeasing to the Lord. And basically he let his seed drop to the ground and did not impregnate his wife. And then the story goes on and says that he was afraid that he might die like his brothers. So Tamar went back to her father’s house, and a long time afterward. Sue adore sue his daughter, the wife of Judah died. So now Judah is a widower, and tomorrow is is not married. When this period of mourning was over Judah went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers together with his friend Hirah the Adullamite and Tamar was told your father in law is coming up to Timnah for sheep shearing, so she took off her widow’s garb, covered her face with a veil, and wrapping herself up sat down at the entrance of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah, for she saw that Shelah was grown up, yet she had not been given to him as a wife. When Judah saw her, he took her for a harlot, a prostitute, for she had covered her face. So he turned aside to her by the road and said, Here, let me sleep with you, for he did not know that she was his daughter in law. What she asked, Will you pay for sleeping with me? He replied, I will send a kid from my flock. But she said, You must leave a pledge until you have sent it. And he said, What pledge Shall I give you? She replied, Your a seal, and chord and the staff which you’re carrying, and the story goes on. And I suggest that we all read the whole chapter in detail, it is engaging. Ultimately, then, a trial is created for this prostitute. And she is about to be burned at the stake for being a prostitute. And it’s a public hearing. And Judah says, Let her be burned. As she was being brought out, she sent this message to her father in law, I am with child by the man to whom these belong. And she added, examine these whose seal and cord and staff are these. Judah recognize them and said, she is more in the right than I am, in as much as I did not give her to my son Shela. And he was not intimate with her again. When the time came for her to give birth, there were twins in her womb. While she was in labor, one of them put out his hand and the midwife tied, a crimson thread on that hand to signify this one came out first. But just then he drew back his hand, and out came his brother, and she said, What a breach you have made for yourself. So he was named Peretz, which means a breach afterward his brother came out, um, whose hand was the crimson thread, he was named Zeira. What do we think of this fascinating story? Here, Judah, who ultimately is the precursor, the foreshadower of the tribe of Judah, from which King David comes, is definitely caught in a compromising situation. And, as we have seen so many times in Genesis, the punch line many times comes at the end, especially with a genealogy. And here we cannot but remember that Peretz, the child that was born, was directly related to Boaz, who was the father of King David? So what do we make of this story? Is it just something that the editor had laying around? Or that Hashem put into a story? Because he thought it needed a place? Why does it come here? And what is its meaning for us?
Adam Mintz 08:10
So thank you Geoffrey for bringing up all these amazing topics. What is the significance of the story of one son sticking out his hand? And that is the idea that in Genesis, generally, firstborn is never the one who is victorious. Ishmael loses out to Isaac, Esauv loses out to Jacob, and Reuven who’s the firstborn of Jacob, also loses out to Judah and to Joseph. And here Zerach who is born first, he’s second to Peretz. And that I think, is really very, very interesting. And it goes to show that if the book of Genesis is not a book about what’s coming to you, that you deserve it, you have to earn it. And that’s why Peretz pushes through. He’s not really the oldest, but he pushes through, and because he pushes through, that’s why he is the one who was the ancestor of the Messiah. And I think that’s a very important lesson, the lesson of the lesson of pushing through. It’s not what you deserve. Peretz should have been second, because Zerach; the red thread was around his head, but parents push through. That’s the right personality trait for the Messiah.
Geoffrey Stern 09:42
So I totally agree with you. But I think that one has to go back and cannot ignore the story behind it. Meaning to say that it’s not simply Peretz there’s context here
Adam Mintz 10:00
Charles did have something to add to that.
Charles S 10:04
Well, I was gonna talk more about the story as it relates to Judah. Because in some respects, you know, last week we were talking about Yaakov and how he gets the name Yisrael and what it means to, to struggle with with God and how, the people of Israel bear that name and what that namesake means for us, and obviously Yehudah is also the namesake for the Jewish people, in that we are Yehudim from Yehudah. And I guess I’ve always thought about this story and Yehudah’s story as just being a model for Teshuva (repentance). And Judah was instrumental in the in the Yoseph story. So this is kind of his teshuva story…. this is his story, which I’ve always thought as a model for teshuva. And again, I’m not sure of the linkage, but it also kind of reminds me a little bit about, you know, the Aaron story, where he’s kind of the leader, [and I’m jumping around a little bit, obviously], but he’s sort of the leader of the Sin of the golden calf. But then, of course all the Kohanim come from Aaron, which a sort of an elevated class within the Jewish people. So again, throughout Torah, we have these models of people who are fallible, but ultimately serve as models for teshuva for the Jewish people, because they’re not perfect, but nonetheless, they their legacy lives on. And, you know, that makes them I think, more relatable.
Adam Mintz 11:58
Charles, so you’re more interested in the Judah piece of it. And actually, for you, the most two important words in this story, are “zedkah Mimeni” you’re more righteous than I am. That’s an admission on Judah’s part. It’s actually the first time at the Torah, that we have an admission of wrongdoing. You know, Adam and Eve when they eat from the fruit, they don’t admit to doing wrong, but Judah admits to doing wrong. And that’s the first example of what you call teshuvah, of repentance. And that’s why this story is so important. So that’s good. And maybe Charles, just to connect your point and my point, maybe the idea is that because Judah’s, the first one to repent, therefore he is the one who’s worthy to have the Messiah come from his seed. And that’s why the Messiah comes from Peretz. How about that?
Geoffrey Stern 12:54
I think that’s great. So I think that they’re all Midrashim that focus on the fact… that Judah started to apologize and to do teshuva, as Charles said, and he even then started to talk about what he did to Joseph, in terms of selling him and then Reuven in the Midrash pipes into so this becomes almost a Teshuva-Fest on the side of the men. But I want to focus on another word, which is mimeni. And I want to focus a little bit on Tamara Rashi says, as follows Mimeni from me, is she with child, or rabbis of blessed memory explained this to mean that a Bat Kol came forth and said the word Mimeni from me, and by my agency have these things happened, because she proved herself a modest woman, while in her father’s house, I have ordained that kings shall be descended from her. And I have already ordained that I will raise up kings in Israel from the tribe of Judah. So I think that what we’re all kind of agreeing upon, is that, number one, you can’t ignore the fact that this is the genesis, if you will excuse the pun, of the Davidic line, of the redemption of the Jewish people. And by saying Peretz that makes it very clear, and that there were at least three parties that we have identified so far. We’ve talked in terms of Peretz himself, even as an infant, where he did the peritza he did what was necessary he took the act into his own hands. Then we have the father who is Judah, who even though he fails, he recognizes his failure, his sin, and He does teshuva and now I would like to start focusing a little bit on Tamar, the Mimeni that she is more righteous than I am. And I think as we come to the end of Genesis, and we segue into Exodus, which is the story of the birth of the Jewish people, I think we would be remiss if we didn’t use this as an opportunity to look backwards at all of the narratives and stories that we’ve read. And maybe now as you say, Rabbi, it’s the first time that a patriarch has asked for forgiveness, I would argue, it’s also the first time that a patriarch has recognized his better half his wife. Has recognized the actions, the ability of the female to mold the forward motion of history. And I think if we take this moment for a second, and grab it, and we start looking back through all of the stories that we’ve read, we will see them in an entirely new light. And in fact, there’s two books that that come to mind. One is a popular book called The harlot by the Side of the Road, by Jonathan Kirsch. And obviously, the title comes exactly from the story of Tamar. And he details throughout the the Bible, all the stories that we might not hear in Hebrew school. Were women play critical, critical roles, and the others. The book is the book of J by Harold Bloom, Now Harold Bloom is a literary critic, he doesn’t claim to be a biblical scholar. And of course, he looks at it to the world, the world of scholarship that believes that the total was written from different documents and put together I think we can ignore that for a second. But what he sees is throughout genesis a female voice, and he sees this as the pinnacle of a theme that we might have been missing till now. So for instance, if we go back, and we look at Genesis 27, when Rebecca said to her son, Jacob, “I overheard your father speaking to your brother Esau of saying, Bring me some game.” Remember that story, where Rebecca goes ahead and convinces Jacob to cover himself in fleece, and to fleece his father, so to speak, and to steal the birthright. What I had never recognized till now was how she ends it. “Jacob says, If my father touches me, I shall appear to him as a trickster, and bring upon myself a curse, not a blessing. But his mother said to him, your curse my son, be upon me, just do as I say, and go fetch them for me.” So he and now we have two stories we are Tamar, I don’t know if you pick this up. But at the end of the story, she has the twins, and Judah leaves her alone. She’s done her job in terms of changing Jewish history. And now she is not thanked, she is not praised the way Judah is set to the side, here to with Rebecca. And I think we’re going to find a theme that these women who go ahead and change the destiny of our people, and our narratives ultimately say, and if I suffer, I suffer. Do you think that there’s any any merit to this theme? Am I bringing up any thoughts that resonate with anybody here?
Adam Mintz 19:02
Mendy What do you think?
I think here is, there’s a Hasidic twist on, on every single story, Torah or everything in the Torah. And the story here with the Yehudah and Tamar, what everyone said, it’s like, I’m sure everyone knows what a chulent is here in the audience. So it’s like a mixture, because basically, if he did the wrong thing, or the right thing, obviously, he went to the side of the road to meet this lady here. But the deep explanation is that he knew that from him and through Tamar, that’s where Meshiach that’s where King David is going to come. And he, he it wasn’t like a mistake, something obligation that he had to do, just like Peretz, he had to jump in and do the wrong thing. Sometimes you have to be assertive, or sometimes you got to go ahead to to get to the goal. And sometimes you go to good, bad and ugly in order to get to reach our goal. So this is basically what happened. And also similarly speaking in our last scandal with Yosef and Potiphar. Also, it apparently it looked like something bad was going on. But that was the ultimate way how the Jewish people ended up in Egypt because that was the route they had to take in order to get to Israel eventually. I hope that makes sense.
Geoffrey Stern 20:36
It makes a lot of sense. I mean, picking up on the Hasidic or even the Kabbalistic element here. There is a strange verse in Leviticus, that it actually associates with what happened because Judah did a number of things wrong. Not only was she a harlot, but she was his daughter in law. And Leviticus says, If a man marries his sister, the daughter of either his father or his mother, so that they see her nakedness and she sees his nakedness. It is a disgrace. But the Hebrew doesn’t say it is a disgrace. It says “hesed, hu”, and the the interpretation is this amazing phrase that says “Olam al Hesed Yibaneh”, that the world is built on this hesed. And the example given is another story of women, saving the day, so to speak, and that is Lot’s two daughters, if you remember, and this is a review of all of Genesis, thanks for being part of the journey. If you remember after Sodom is destroyed, lote runs to the hills with his wife and two daughters, his wife turns around and turns into a pillow of salt, and the daughters and he go up into a cave and look like most provincials, they thought the whole world was Sodom, there is no world outside of Sodom. And so the daughters decide that the world will end unless they procreate with their father. So they get him drunk. And the child of that one of the sisters unions is called Moab of which means literally, from my father. And of course, those of you who know the other lineage of King David, it comes from Ruth, the Moabite. So here too, you have this story of women who take charge of the situation, who maybe take charge, even to the degree of breaking a few rules, but the rules need to be broken in order to achieve the ends. And of course, that can be a very dangerous concept. But looking back through the story of Genesis, I think we will see more and more of it now that our eyes are opened up and kind of be enamored by the critical role that women play. And I’m wondering what everyone makes of that. Let’s focus for a second upon the role of women in the narrative that begins in the Garden of Eden and ends up with Yehuda Tamar.
So I wouldn’t say about the woman’s psrt, I will say it’s the feminine part. That’s what it is. We need to have the masculine and feminine to tell the world was created from the beginning. So it doesn’t become personal anyways, but this is the real truth.
Adam Mintz 23:37
That’s good. And he I think, aGeoffrey, what’s interesting is when you think about the woman’s role, or as Mendy says the feminine role. So of course you think back to the Garden of Eden and he got it got in trouble. But when you think about the, the mothers and the fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel. What’s interesting is that Sarah, Geoffrey has a very major role. She has a major role with Hagar. She has a major role with her son protecting her son, she has a major role. Rebecca, obviously has a major role. She’s the one who helps Jacob steal the blessings. But when we get to Rachel and Leah, while they have initially unimportant role, they seem to kind of fall away. Now Rachel dies. Leah, though, is just not heard from after that. Jacob all of a sudden assumes the more dominant personality in the family. And actually beginning of this week as Paracha it’s his mistakes as a father that get the family in trouble and lead to the sale of Joseph. You want to ask Geoffrey, Where was Leah? Where was his wife? I know that Joseph’s mother wasn’t around anymore. But what about his other wife? Why doesn’t she stand up and say Jacob, you can favor one son over the other. That’s just not how we do things around here. That’s not going to inclusion. So it’s interesting you talk about the feminine piece or the woman’s piece. Tamar is really the last important woman in the story. I mean, it’s not totally true, because you go to the wife of Potifar. But she’s importan because of how Joseph relates to her, I don’t think that she’s important in terms of the idea of legacy, right? It’s not our legacy. So I wonder, Geoffrey, what you make of that, that not only is Tamar, an important woman, but she’s the last important woman in the book of Genesis.
Geoffrey Stern 26:00
Well, I think first of all, you’re absolutely right in identifying the difference between the women that I’ve just mentioned, and a character in the story like Potipar, the women that we’ve been talking about that start with Eve, and with Tamar, are women that have changed the course of biblical history, so to speak, have changed the narrative, they’ve made decisions, whether it was Sarah, who said to Abraham, send out your son Ishmael. And and in that case, Abraham never admits to Sarah, that she’s right. It takes God to say listen to your wife. But getting back to your point of Rachel and leah, and why they don’t play a more important role. I don’t really have an answer to that. I mean, I think that we’re really moving forward. And these two stories, the story of Joseph, which is the continuation of the three patriarchs in terms of not picking, the oldest son of having a favorite son, and going into exile is one narrative. And this Yehudah and Tamar, where it’s really, you can say almost a different kind of direction, and arc of history, where it is the sin and the admonition or the understanding that a sin was made. And the woman taking history into her hands, that moves us into into a future of redemption with David. So it is kind of fascinating, but I don’t I don’t pretend to say I have an answer why Leah and Rachel don’t play a more important part. I mean, I think Rachel got neutered a little bit, because, she lied to her father, stole the idols, and that’s why she’s buried, and she becomes another type of icon. For those who live forever in exile. But Leah, you right, she disappears from the story.
Adam Mintz 28:28
I mean, Rachel dies. So I think she gets neutered a little bit and then she dies. So she’s not a fit figure. I don’t know the answer to this, because I think this is thing that, you know, that is a question, what happens to Leah? Geoffrey, I think as we get come to 930 I think what we’ve seen in this story is something very interesting. And it really is food for thought. And that is that each one of the characters in this story is extremely important. Judas important, you get out that Tamar is very important. Clearly the sons are important, because that’s the legacy that from which Messiah will come. And then you have the question of all the people who are not in the story. That’s Rachel and Leah, and what their role is going forward. And then even better, Geoffrey, in the next chapter, we talk about the white but Potipar like we said, you can compare Tamar who changes the course of Jewish history with the wife of Potipar, who’s just someone in the story, but doesn’t change Jewish history. So I think when we think about this story, we think about the pasha the characters here are really really, literally pregnant with meaning and interpretation. And I want to thank everybody for joining us tonight on Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving. Shabbat Shalom. Happy Hanuka, Hanuka begins on Sunday night, and we look forward next Thursday night to continuing the story of Joseph. I will be participating from Dubai and Geoffrey from home. And we will be continuing in the story of Joseph and his brothers. So Happy Thanksgiving Shabbat Shalom, everybody.
Geoffrey Stern 30:21
Shabbat Shalom to you, Rabbi. I’ve been requested that we keep the line open in case anybody wants to have to jump in and discuss anything further. I will say that the big takeaway for me this week, and I read this book by Harold Bloom, who literally says, if you read the, the book of Genesis, and you think in terms of Sivim Panim l’Torah that there were 70 different faces to Torah. Well, certainly one of those faces would let us consider that the whole book of Genesis was written from the perspective of a woman. And I think, to me the punch line after going backwards from Tamar to Sarah, to Rebecca, to all that, and then I end up back at the Garden of Eden in Genesis. And if you notice, and this I noticed, for the first time, after the sin of the eating of the apple, and true to form, just like Tamar ended up being punished. And just like Rebecca said, If anyone gets punished, it’s me. Eve gets punished. But after that, it says, “The man named his wife Eve, because she was Mother of all the living.” And it just kind of brought home to me that from the perspective of looking at all of these stories, from a woman’s point of view, who maybe has been marginalized and has to work in the background, and maybe we can enlarge the picture. It doesn’t have to be a woman, it can be an other, it can be somewhat outside of what today is very fashionable to call the patriarchy. But it really changes all of the stories. So I am thankful for that. I’m thankful for all of you, studying Torah every week. And now if anyone wants to come up, raise your hand and discuss any of this further. We’ll leave the mic open. Michael, welcome to the to the Bema
Michael Stern 32:46
Thank you, Happy Thanksgiving. I think it’s important for me, I love that we have this extra time, just to say how I feel when I leave this discussion. And today, I feel so much better, because I feel that there was so much dysfunction, and so many agendas and men and women and mothers and fathers and children all doing things. I call them mistaken ways. And then to hear that, oh my gosh, the Messiah messianic lineage comes from a lineage of mistaken power plays, agendas manipulations, because I have had my share of living life in that kind of way. And I could feel guilt and shame but actually starting today, I feel compassion. And I know that there’s so many paths mistaken paths, and that’s the feeling I go away with, with an uplifted feeling that. Wow, there’s hope. So thank you.
Okay. So first of all, Potipar, when we touched on her, her daughter ended up being Joseph’s wife. And she was the mother of Ephraim and Menashe. That’s she’s not insignificant. She’s very significant in the story. And back to Adam and Eve, as we were talking just very recently now. The choice was, the world should stay spiritual. Or if you touch the tree, because if you really see the the text it’s very confusing. He’s the way God said, don’t eat from it, but if you eat from it, so he was like implying that you would eat from it or you’re not,…. it’s complicated, which I don’t want to get into the whole discussion, but the short of it is, Eve. “Hava”, she realized that the world, which is a very high level, because the woman has extra understanding the “Bina Yesera” there a certain way of thinking the woman has more powerful than the man. And she realized that in order for the world to get to the destiny that it needed to go, it had to go through all this troubles and corruption or whatever you want to call it, a different kind of scandals. And that’s the whole way of of the life, the feminine is like the up and down the wavy part, you know, man is a strong part. But it needed to go through this, all these mistakes and all these problems… because if you don’t toil for something, if you don’t work hard for something, then it’s not significant at all. So the world we need to go through all these craziness. And hopefully, this will end and we will come to our destiny very soon.
Geoffrey Stern 36:09
Thank you so much, Mandy, I just want to pick up on what you were saying, Michael, about this sense that there’s so many crooked paths that lead to redemption, and you can call it the Messiah, you can call it salvation. But that clearly is the story here. And the phrase that i mentioned before, Olam al hesed Yibaneh that the world is built on hesed, we Jews don’t normally translate the word hesed as Grace. Because somehow whether when we split word, we had a divorce with Christianity. They took the grace word, and we got the Old Testament God of justice. But my rabbi Shai Held is right now writing a book. And he’s reclaiming hesed. And I think this sense of grace that Christianity took where you can be forgiven, no matter what your sins are, is something that Jesus took from. The New Testament took from the Old Testament, and this chapter, this sensual, explicit and a one could say, adhorent chapter is evidence number one, that out of the depths of problem and sin can come salvation, and I think that’s what you were saying. And it’s an extremely, extremely important lesson, and one that we have to reclaim, I think, because it clearly is in our texts, and we have to be thankful for it and to use it as a way to pull ourselves up and to know that every one of us can achieve complete redemption and salvation. And again, it’s all in Humash in our Parsha in our Torah.
Michael Stern 38:15
Geoffrey, I’m I really appreciate that. And I have a question about redemption because it seems to me that redemption is that some outer force God redeems, forgives redeems us, lets us still have a you know, clean slate. But for me, the how do you tie that into self redemption? Do we come as individuals? And is that part of it? Can you tie self redemption where one forgive oneself for the mistaken ways?
Geoffrey Stern 38:54
Again, I think that in the divorce with Christianity, we got national redemption and they took personal redemption, but personal redemption is so much part of Judaism, you know, we talk about Yetziat Mitzrayim, leaving Mitrayim as a country, and becoming a nation. And then we call Mim hameytzar karaati Yah that I call God from the narrow place and that’s the personal redemption. So I think that Judaism has always believed very strongly about the personal redemption. And the most wonderful story that I’ve ever heard, is, I think Maimonides says, when we prepare for the holidays, and we’re all being judged not as a nation, but as a world and the scales are teetering on either side. Each one of us has to feel that our personal redemption our personal teshuva can move the scale in one direction or the other. So he brilliantly ties personal redemption to the larger redemption of the world. But I totally think that it all starts with me and with you and with each one of us.
Michael Stern 40:13
very very appreciated.
Geoffrey Stern 40:17
Okay, so Shabbat Shalom and Hodu Lashem Kitov to you all.
Listen to last week’s podcast: Arguing with God and Man