Free at Last

parshat vayeilech – deuteronomy 31

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on September 29th 2022. As so often happens, the weekly parsha becomes particularly topical this year as we end the year of the Shmitah (Sabbatical Year). As the life of Moses comes to an end, he provides his last instructions which relate to the blowing of the Shofar on Yom Kippur and the public reading by the King of the Book or Deuteronomy on Sukkot.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/434397

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. In this week’s parsha Vayeilech the life of Moses is coming to an end, and so is our year. Moses provides his last instructions. So join us as we draw lessons for the new year ahead. Free at Last.

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Well, the year is growing to an end. And I have come to be a firm believer that somehow the parsha always relates to what we’re going through and this week is definitely no exception. But before we begin, as you all know, Madlik is a podcast and we are published on all of the popular platforms are Apple and Spotify and all of the other podcasting platforms. And I always say if you like what you hear, share it, give us a star and give us a nice comment. And last week we got an amazing comment from Hava.  Hava wrote: “Dear Rabbi Mintz Dear Mr.  Stern. I have never liked cooking and found Friday somehow stressful until I discovered Madlik. I do listen to the late Rabbi Sacks his comments and we still discuss them with great joy at the Shabbos table. I follow JTS Torah commentary and often cringe. But Fridays are now my Madlik days. Thank you so much for this inspiring podcast. Shana Tova and Shabbat Shalom”, and boy did that warm my heart. There’s a woman at my synagogue Judy, who says that she also listens to the podcast religiously, every week when she cooks for the Shabbat. And I came to the my synagogue, The Community Synagogue of Westport, TCS. And I had switched the times that I was supposed to arrive, and I was about to apologize. And the lady who was in charge of the tickets as you don’t have to apologize, I listen to the Madlik podcast. So we might Rabbi, we might not be famous, but when it counts, there are faithful people who listened to it. And that puts the pressure on us. We gotta keep it up, I guess.

Adam Mintz  02:51

Fantastic. That’s really nice. That note was so beautiful. And it’s so nice that people listen to us, and that we share a little bit of the parsha each and every week.

Geoffrey Stern  03:01

Agreed. And those of you are listening, don’t be shy, give us a little support, you know. So, as I said, we are in parshat Vayeilech. I think last week, you said it was the shortest posture. And as I said, it’s really about the end of anera. And we’ll see it’s not only the end of Moses on the passing of the baton, but it also talks about exactly the moment that we are in right now, the end of the year, and to be very precise, the end of the Shmita year, the seventh year. So that’s the tease. Let’s begin Deuteronomy 31: 7 says, Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, be strong and resolute, חֲזַ֣ק וֶאֱמָץ֒ for it is you who shall go with this people into the land that God swore to their fathers to give them and it is you who shall apportion it to them, and it is indeed God who will go before you, God will be with you and will not fail you or forsake you. Fear not, and be not dismayed. Moses wrote down this teaching and gave it to the priests, sons of Levy, who carry the ark of God’s covenant, and to all the elders of Israel. And Moses instructed them as follows every seventh year, the year set for remission (Shmita) at the feasts of booths, (Sukkot), when all Israel comes to appear before your God in the place that God will choose, you shall read this teaching aloud in the presence of all Israel. Gather the people, men, women, children and the strangers in your communities that they may hear and so learn to revere your God and to observe faithfully every word of his teaching. Their children who have not had the experience shall hear and learn to revere your God, as long as they live in the land that you are about to cross the Jordan to possess, and have a literary point that has that {פ} in asterisks, we know this is the end of a literary segment. So as I said, we start with God telling Moses, it’s going to be Joshua, and he says “you” just a few times, and Rashi, picks up on this. And he says, there can be but one leader for a generation, and not two leaders for a generation (Sanhedrin 8a) quoting Sanhedrin. And so really, you know, we talked a few weeks ago when the Queen died, that it was God bless the Queen, Long Live the King.  You have that moment kind of here and that recognition that there cannot be more than one leader.

Adam Mintz  06:09

Good. It’s so great, because so many things that we’ve talked about revolved around the Queen dying and King Charles and you know, that was so smooth. There was nobody who said someone else should be the king, because everybody knew, right? That was the deal, that Charles was going to become the king. But when it came to Moshe, that wasn’t so clear. Nobody knew who the next leader was going to be. If anything, you would probably have guessed that it would have been Moshe’s sons, because Aaron is sons inherited the position of being the Cohen. So, you probably would have thought that Moshe sons would have inherited. The moment that it’s not Moshe’s sons, it literally is up for grabs.

Geoffrey Stern  07:02

What I’m kind of struck by reading it anew, as I do every year, is this tight weaving between on the one hand, Moses, dying and passing the leadership on to Joshua. And as I said, in the same breath, it says at the end of every seven years, the Shmitah, you should go ahead and renew you should go ahead and read publicly the Torah. And the rabbi’s and Rabbinic Judaism in general, really focus on three words here מִקֵּ֣ץ ׀ שֶׁ֣בַע שָׁנִ֗ים, the end of the seven years. So we just went through a Rosh Hashanah. And you would think that the end of the year would be on the first of Tishrei, the first day of Rosh Hashanah. And yesterday, which was the beginning of the new year would be the beginning of the new year. But in fact, it’s not quite as squeaky clean. Rashi says this means in the first year of the new Shmita year, in other words, the eighth year. So here we shall see that Yom Kippur, which comes 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, which we’re going to celebrate next week. And even beyond that. The Sukkot holiday is part of this dance between the end of the year and the beginning of a new year. It’s not quite so easy to make that transition. Am I putting too much into here or is there a question? I mean, the Ibn Ezra says  תחלת השנה, he’s saying it’s not the end of the year…. You know, how they have at the end of these wedding videos, where it says it’s not the end, it’s the beginning, we have kind of that moment here.

Adam Mintz  09:11

So the point you made is an interesting point. And that is that we actually have a ritual at the end of Shmita. That’s kind of odd, because we don’t usually have rituals at the end of holidays. Usually the rituals at the beginning, take Pesach for a minute, the ritual the Seder is at the beginning, right? It’s not the ritual is not wait till the end. But when it comes to Shmita, the ritual is at the end, which is Ha’kel. Why is that exactly? Why don’t we make the ritual at the beginning of Shmita?

Geoffrey Stern  09:46

That’s a great question. The other part of it is that you know, we do have Havdalah we make Havdalah at the end of Shabbat. So I think that might be the exception to the rule. Next week when we do Yom Kippur, we’re going to make a big deal out of Kol Nidrei. But we’re also going to make a big deal of Ne’ela. But what strikes me is that the end really encroaches on to the beginning, it almost, you know, reminds me of the custom to not make Havdalah not end the Shabbat immediately at sunset. But to have that third meal, let that melave malka spill over into the new week and stretch it out, stretch out that taste, you have a little bit of that here. Because somehow there’s this connection between not only the definitive end of Shmita, which happens on the first of the year. But then there’s ….. we’ll see in a second, Yom Kippur, which has a blast of a shofar, which becomes important for indentured servants. And then we have Sukkot which becomes important because of this Ha’kel, this gathering of all the people to hear the Toa once again, and you know, then we even call the last day of Sukkot Atzeret, which means “stop”. It’s finally an end to the end of the beginning, so to speak, but there is no question that it’s unique here, in the sense that it’s a drawn-out ending, but not simply an ending that kind of peters out or fades out in a very slow and regulated fashion. You have these peaks, you have the shofar blowing on Yom Kippur, you have this Ha’kel, this gathering reading the Torah, I think it makes it kind of interesting. And getting back to how we started about the end of Moses in the beginning of Joshua, I can’t help but make the parallel to to the end of an era in the beginning of a new one.

Adam Mintz  12:06

That got really good. I mean, and of course, this is the third to last parsha in the Torah, which is also actually the third to last chapter in the Torah. These last portions are very short. I’ll just explain that for a second. It’s a tangent, but it’s an interesting tangent, you know, last week’s portion, this week’s portion, next week’s portion, and they’re all very, very short. The reason for that is because we kind of ran out of parshas, right … there aren’t quite enough parshas for the cycle of the year. And we need to take it right Simchat Torah. So we kind of shorten the portions in the last few weeks to make sure that we lead into Simchat Torah, this is just one week. But that idea that this is the end, and it’s also the beginning and how you define the end and the beginning. And it’s the end of the Shmita. But it’s the beginning of Ha’kel and it’s the end of Moshe, but it’s the beginning of Joshua. Is it the beginning or is it the end?

Geoffrey Stern  13:08

Yup. And you know, this word, the Rabeinu Bechaya, one of the commentaries that I brings, he talks about this word Miketz. And he gives instances where it literally does mean at the end. And there were other instances where it means after the end, but he quotes the first time that the verse is used in Genesis, and it says, God said to Noah, I have decided to put an end to all flesh, קֵ֤ץ כׇּל־בָּשָׂר֙ it’s really Key’tz is the ultimate end its mortality. And you really do even in the choice of language and the references that the commentaries are making, somehow and of course, we cannot help but feel it. You know, the beautiful thing about the Jewish holidays is they are so linked to the change in season. The secular New Year is in the middle of the winter. You’d never have a Jewish holiday in the middle of something. On a daily basis, you have Shabbat come at dusk, it ends when when the sun sets, you have Passover in the spring, you have the Rosh Hashanah, at the end of the year, meaning the fall where you get that sense of mortality, you get that sense of the end of the cycle of life. Many times there were people that say that the three pilgrimage holidays the Shalosh Reaglim..  it’s almost one cycle and then you have this Rosh Hashanah which begins very not characteristically of do Which holidays on the first day of the month, as opposed to the middle of the month when the moon is bright. I think that somehow the Torah is actually mixing the two together in a very nuanced and a beautiful way. And you kind of make the transition from the first of Tishrei to Sukkot, which is one of those pilgrimage festivals. I just feel it for the first time reading these verses.

Adam Mintz  15:31

That’s good. What do you make about the fact that Joshua pops up here again, even though we haven’t heard from him in a long time?

Geoffrey Stern  15:40

Well, I mean, I do think, again, the emphasis is not on Joshua. But I think he almost becomes a foil. Joshua is the next one. And if anything, the Bible is emphasizing more the “you” in Joshua, we all have commented before that Deuteronomy is written in a different voice. But as Rashi picks up on it says, twice, you shall apportion it to them, You shall go with them. It’s you, I think, to exclude Moses, it really is the fall, the winter of Moses’, his life. And it’s all about transition here, which I find so, so fascinating.

Adam Mintz  16:32

And how kale is true, is transition, because that’s how you transition back to the six normal years.

Geoffrey Stern  16:39

I think so. And you know, the last verse, In this literary piece that we read, is the ultimate transition. Not only do you gather the people, the men and the children, but their children too, who have not had the experience shall hear and learn to deliver your God, as long as they live in the land. This is talking into the future as well. It’s a kind of a gift of this transition. But it definitely seems to me to be a very profound sense of transitioning from generation to generation, from time, from life to death to life again, all at the same time in the midst of seven odd verses.

Adam Mintz  17:27

I think that’s right. I think that’s great. I mean, in this little chapter you have you have all about transition. And let’s just talk for a minute. What do you think it was like for Moshe, this transition? I mean, this is an unfulfilled dream promotion, for us to say transition. What about if you’re the one who doesn’t go into the the promised land?

Geoffrey Stern  17:50

Yeah. And of course, we’ve, we’ve discussed this before, you know, we quote Perkei Avot that says, It’s not yours to finish לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, and all of that good stuff, no question. It is something that is a bittersweet moment for him. And I say bittersweet, because a successful leader creates a new generation of leadership. And that has to be satisfying to him, it has to be satisfying to him, that the God that, worked with him was going to work with the generation ahead. So I do think if anything, comes through in these verses, its ambiguity. There’s, gotta be this sense of continuity, and there’s got to be this sense of disruption of happiness and sadness, sweetness, and in bitterness.

Adam Mintz  18:50

I mean, I think that’s right. And I think that that’s really a nice way to look at it from your perspective, to say that this is a transition and at least if I’m not going to do it, but the guy who’s doing it is a good guy, right? Is someone who like trust.

Geoffrey Stern  19:10

Yep. So what I’d like to do is to get a little more tactile and really get a sense of what we’re talking about what happened. So, the Mishnah in a Sotah describes that what happened was on the first day of Tabernacles, of the eighth year, after the seven-year sabbatical, immediately after the closing of the seventh, a wooden stand would be erected in his sanctuary, where upon the king would sit, and the officer of the congregation would take a holy scroll, we’re talking about a scroll. Now we’re not talking about tablets. You know, we talked when we started Deuteronomy, that it was this scroll of Deuteronomy that was taken and discovered in one of the times that the Temple was not destroyed, but in Ill repair and found, and it gives this amazing, amazing talk about bit of sweet story about a certain King Agrippa, who was, I believe King Herod’s grandson. And even King Herod wasn’t totally Jewish. So it says, King Agrippa was accustomed to accept it while standing, and he would also read it while standing. And the rabbi’s praised him for this act. And when he would reach the passage and Deuteronomy 17: 15, thou mayest not set over thee a stranger, who is not thy brother, tears would roll down from his eyes. The Rabbi’s then said Do not be afraid king Agrippa, thou art our brother, thou art our brother, then he would read from the beginning of Deuteronomy up until chapter six. So you even have this bittersweet moment of the king of that moment, who was a good king, you can look him up on Wikipedia, fascinating story, a good friend of Caligula, but he did good by the Jews. And you have this moment of looking in the mirror when you read the ancient texts, and you get to evaluate how you stand up to it. But this literally would be happening in the next few weeks. We are literally at the end of the seven-year cycle. There were fields that are in Israel that have not been plowed or tended to for this past year. And now in this eighth year, we would be having this amazing ceremony. So it really brings the moment of the Jewish calendar that we’re in right now to a whole new light, I think

Adam Mintz  21:56

it’s great. I mean, you know, it’s by chance that we read this portion now, because of course, the idea that we have some has to really finish the Torah on, you know, this time of year is only …. there were two traditions there was an annual cycle. We finished it every year, and there was a triennial cycle. We finished it once every three years. In Israel, they had a triennial cycle. So they were they didn’t get to this until once every three years. But the fact that now that we have that this week and this transition, because it doesn’t talk about Yom Kippur, but let’s just let’s just segue to Yom Kippur for a minute. If you want to know what the theme of Yom Kippur is, in a lot of ways it is transition, you know, just to share a little thought, and that is on Yom Kippur, we say Yizkor. That’s a funny thing to say on Yom Kippur, you know, Yom Kippur is all about us, right? We ask for forgiveness. And us and us and us and we say we’re sorry, and all that kind of stuff. Now, all of a sudden, we then we have Yizkur right in the middle. And the rabbis say that, you know, in the Torah, the day is not called, Yom Kippur, in the Torah, the day is called Yom Hakipurim in the plural, it says it’s a day of forgiveness for the living. And for those who have died already, in a way, Yom Kippur is a transition. We’re supposed to take everything we learned from our parents, and we’re supposed to transmit it to our generation, and to the next generation. And of course, like you said, transition is complicated, and transition is hard. And we don’t know what you know, we don’t know what we’re supposed to transmit and what we transmit, we don’t know if we’re doing such a good job. So, transmission is hard, but transmission is the real thing. So I think that also is very relevant to what we’re doing now.

Geoffrey Stern  23:36

Well, I love that you you bought in Yom Kippur, because that’s exactly my next source. There’s the seven year cycle. And then there’s the seven times seven-year cycle, which is the Jubilee the Yoval. And it says on the Jubilee years, on the 10th of Tishrei, it says, Thou shalt you cause the shofar to sound on the 10th day of the seventh month on Yom Kippur shall you sound the shofar, and the Gomorrah asks in accordance with whose opinion is this. It is the opinion of the Mishna teaches: The first of Tishrei is also the New Year for Jubilee Years. The Gemara answers: In accordance with whose opinion is this Mishna? It is the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Beroka, as it is taught in a Baraita: What is the meaning when the verse states: “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year”? Since it is stated that the shofar is blown “on Yom Kippur,” one might have thought that the year is sanctified only from Yom Kippur and onward. Therefore, the verse states: “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year,” which teaches that the year is sanctified from its beginning onward, from the first of Tishrei, when the year begins.  Again from the first of Tishrei we have this ambiguity ambivalence between the first or the last but here’s what’s fascinating. From here, Rabbi Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Beroka, said: From Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur of the Jubilee Year, Hebrew slaves were not released to their homes because the shofar had not yet been sounded. And they were also not enslaved to their masters, as the Jubilee Year had already begun.  Rather, they would eat, drink, and rejoice, and they would wear their crowns on their heads like free people. Once Yom Kippur arrived, the court would sound the shofar, slaves would be released to their houses, and fields that were sold would be returned to their original owners. So we have one verse that’s says that the indentured servants go free on the first of Tishrei. But on the other hand, it says that you shall blow the shofar and shout freedom, the words that we have on the Liberty Bell. So it says and they were also not enslaved to their masters. So, you have these indentured slaves who neither here nor there. They are no longer slaves, yet they are not yet free. Rather, they would eat, drink and rejoice, and they would wear their crowns on their heads like free people for the whole 10 days. We call it the Aseret y’may teshuvah (The Ten Days of Repentance) the indentured servants were feasting, and drinking and rejoicing. Once Yom Kippur arrived, the court would sound the shofar, slaves would be released to their houses and fields that they were sold would be returned to their original owner. So really, you know, you talk about what Yom Kippur what the 10 days of repentance mean to us, this image of slaves going through the transition, the process of becoming free. My take away is that as we get rid of our sins, what we’re really doing is possibly getting rid of our dependencies, getting rid of those things that do enslave us, and that shofar that blows we’re all in a sense, kind of indentured servants who are being freed. But it really fits into the narrative of those people that rejoice us at the end of Yom Kippur that this is the most happiest day of the year. It really resonates to me.

Adam Mintz  26:44

You know, it’s such a striking Gemora because it really gives you the sense that you’re in prison between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. מֵרֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה עַד יוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים לֹא הָיוּ עֲבָדִים נִפְטָרִין לְבָתֵּיהֶן וְלֹא מִשְׁתַּעְבְּדִין לַאֲדוֹנֵיהֶם אֶלָּא אוֹכְלִין וְשׁוֹתִין וּשְׂמֵחִין וְעַטְרוֹתֵיהֶן בְּרָאשֵׁיהֶן כֵּיוָן שֶׁהִגִּיעַ יוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים תָּקְעוּ בֵּית דִּין בְּשׁוֹפָר נִפְטְרוּ עֲבָדִים לְבָתֵּיהֶן וְשָׂדוֹת חוֹזְרוֹת לְבַעְלֵיהֶן means they prepared for Yom Kippur. But they weren’t free yet? Isn’t that a weird thing? They celebrated the fact that they knew that they were going to be free.

Geoffrey Stern  27:20

Yeah, yeah… You know, you talk about different models, different metaphors, different ways of looking at what we’re doing now. And I think to look at it from the perspective of these engendered slaves servants, both from their eyes from their masters eyes is this becomes fascinating, and I could not but help notice that the word for them becoming free is נִפְטְרוּ…. It’s the same word that we talk about when somebody passes away, that he’s niftar. And I talked about this in an earlier segment when we talked about this concept of צְרוּרָ֣ה ׀ בִּצְר֣וֹר הַחַיִּ֗ים and I have to say that tonight’s learning is dedicated to a cousin of mine, a pillar of the Jewish community Sandy Gottesman, who passed away last night. And I think and this is so his Neshama can have an aliyah, but it’s also very similar in you can help us with this rabbi, that the time period between when somebody dies, to when they are buried to the Shiva, it’s all these transitions. And this the word for niftar, which can be will released if you’re a if you’re an indentured servant, but also released from the shackles the boundaries of the physical is is fascinating to me.

Adam Mintz  28:54

It’s fascinating. First of all, let me just say that, you know that we’re sorry about Sandy. Sometimes you say someone lived an amazing life. And you know, he, he valued every second of that life, and he made a difference every second of that life. And that’s a nice thing to say about somebody something that you know, you don’t say that about everybody. So we remember him as someone who made an unbelievable difference right? In the Jewish world in the New York World in the Israel world. He just made a tremendous difference. And you know, niftar, he is released to the world to come. Everything’s about transition. We go from being Onanim, where we don’t daven, we don’t put on tefillin, to being mourners where we put on tefillin. But we sit on the floor, then at the end of Shiva, the best transition ever. We walk around the block, and why do we walk around the block because it’s hard to go out after Shiva. Shiva is very comforting and when people come to visit you, you don’t have to go anywhere. It’s hard to go out. So they force you to go outside because that’s part of the transition. And I think that’s right. It’s all about transition. This is a week of transition. And the Torah Portion really says in the Torah portion, I think the Torah Portion better than any of these things highlight the fact that transitions are complicated. And I think that’s really what you’re supposed to remember around Yom Kippur is the transitions are really complicated.

Geoffrey Stern  30:21

Yeah, absolutely. And you know, I can’t think of these released slaves without also thinking. And we’ve talked about this verse before, about the slave who decides he wants to stay with his master. And the custom is that he gets taken to the doorpost, and his ear is pierced with an awl. And the Talmud in Kedushin says, The Holy One, bless it be he said, this ear heard my voice on Mount Sinai when I said, For to me the children of Israel are slaves, which indicates that they should not be slaves to slaves, כי לי בני ישראל עבדים ולא עבדים לעבדים. And yet this man went and willingly acquired a master for himself, therefore let his ear be pierced. So as we watch these slaves, and maybe as we put ourselves into the shoes of these slaves, even though we’re not talking about Passover, but this radical sense of freedom when you through the process of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Hakel, Sukkot, the end of Shmita, realize that you are not a slave to any other slave when you get rid of all those dependencies. That is true, true freedom. It’s so amazing to me that I’m the Liberty Bell is exactly this word that you shall ring freedom throughout the land. You know, as Americans, we can really get this too. But of course, we have to remember that it wasn’t a bell. It was a shofar, and that’s what I’ll be thinking of on on Yom Kippur

Adam Mintz  32:05

And of course that’s why we blow shofar at the end of Yom Kippur not because of the shofar of Rosh HaShana, but because of the shofar of Yovel; of that transition from one thing to the next. So that really is the perfect conclusion to this whole discussion. And we wish everybody Shabbat Shalom, you should have a meaningful and an easy fast. And next week we look forward Thursday night, we will talk about Ha’Azinu, the last poem in the Torah. Shabbat Shalom, Gamar Hatima Tova,  an easy fast everybody. Be well.

Geoffrey Stern  32:36

Same to you Rabbi same to all you listeners. Gamar hatima Tovah…. a sweet, healthy, prosperous year. Let us all make all the transitions that we have to and we’ll see you all again next week. Shabbat shalom.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/434397

Listen to last year’s vayeilech podcast: The Aleph Bet Revolution

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Steal This Book

parshat nitzavim, Deuteronomy 30

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on September 22nd 2022. The Book of Deuteronomy, also known as Mishna Torah, or the second; Reviewed Torah is drawing to an end and provides us with an opportunity to review some of the Rabbinic Principles that have guided us in the reading of the Five Books of Moses. Starting with the iconic statement that “The Torah is not in Heaven” we realize how the Rabbis began a process of humanizing, maybe even secularizing the Torah in a very radical way…. Almost as though they took the Torah from Heaven. With no apologies to Abbie Hoffman, join us for – Steal this Book.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/433106

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. The Book of Deuteronomy, also known as Mishna Torah, or the Reviewed Torah is drawing to an end and provides us with an opportunity to review some of the Rabbinic Principles that have guided us over the past few years in our reading of the Five Books of Moses. Starting with the iconic statement that “The Torah is not in Heaven” we realize how the Rabbis began a process of humanizing, maybe even secularizing the Torah in a very radical way…. Almost as though they took the Torah from Heaven. With no apologies to Abbie Hoffman, join us for – Steal this Book.

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Well, welcome back to Madlik, and it’s great to have you as the year comes to an end, which means that our cycle of reading the parshiot comes to an end as well. And as I said, we are now in Deuteronomy 30. And I look because we’ve been doing this so long at what we talked about in previous years. And last year, we spent a lot of time on this amazing piece of Talmud, where the punch line was, you can’t listen to voices that come down from heaven. Because guess what it says in our Parsha, the Torah is not in the heavens. And so, it’s very rare that we talk about the same verse two years in a row, but we are going to go as I said, in the intro in a totally different direction, we’re going to take a que from Mishnah Torah, which is a review of the whole Torah. And we’re going to kind of review how we at Madlik actually study the Torah what principles guide us and maybe what the rabbis taught us about how we should learn torah. So, let’s dive right in Deuteronomy 30: 11 says, surely this instruction, which I enjoy knew this day is not too baffling for you, nor it is beyond your reach. It is not in the heavens, לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא that you should say, Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us That we may observe it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea, and get it for us and impart it to us that we may observe it? No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth, in your heart to observe it. So this sense that we read, and if we read it in context, Rabbi, I think you gotta believe that when it says it’s not in the heavens, it’s not in the heavens in the same way that it’s not far away in the sea. It’s almost a physical, it’s not too far away. It’s not physically beyond reach. You know, I once had a child who met with his guidance counselor at at high school. And every time he mentioned the school he wanted to go to, she said, Nah, that would be a reach. What we’re saying is that the Torah is within reach. Isn’t that the simple meaning of the text here?

Adam Mintz  03:35

That is the simple meeting. And that’s a good meaning. By the way, that’s a nice meaning that Torah is within reach. Now what that we have to figure out what that means? What does it mean that tau is within reach? Right? What’s the significance of it be within reach? Why would we think it’s not within reach? Is that mean that the laws are within reach? Does that mean that the moral lessons are within reach? What would we think and I think what we might think is that Torah is divine, the Torah is heavenly man can’t live up to the Torah…. the answer’s no, we can live up to the total. That’s a good message, I think, is a really good message for the end of the Torah.

Geoffrey Stern  04:15

I think it’s a great message. I think the verse itself, and this is before we’re gonna go to the commentaries, because trust me, the commentaries go in many other different metaphorical directions. But it ends by saying, בְּפִ֥יךָ וּבִֽלְבָבְךָ֖ לַעֲשֹׂתֽוֹ, it is in your mouth and in your heart to observe it. It’s almost saying that the spirituality, the religiosity, the moral the ethics of the Torah are not some sort of natural law. It’s almost ingrained within us. That would be if I read the verses in context, I would also say not only is it not physically far from us, but it’s not an artificial edifice, it’s not something imposed on us. It’s something that is ingrained in us whether because we’re Jews and we went through this history and therefore eating matzah is very natural for us, or as human beings, that what I’m asking you to do is to be true to yourselves.

Adam Mintz  05:21

Yeah, I mean, that is really interesting, that it’s not artificial. It’s, it’s accessible. It’s real. And therefore, we have to take it seriously. That maybe there’s an inclination to look at the Torah as kind of a fable. The whole thing is a fable. It tells stories, it talks about a people who observe the law, but it’s not real. And what the Torah is saying is no, it’s real, you’ll like that, that makes good sense. I like that.

Geoffrey Stern  05:53

I do like that. So we always go to Rashi first, Rashi says it is not in heaven, for where it in heaven, it would still be your duty to go up after it and to learn it. It’s not a metaphor for Rashi but it’s like, it’s it’s so easy. It’s like you’ve been fed it with silver spoon. There were other people that to get this message would have to convert, they would have to move from far away. But talking to the Jewish people, Moses saying, My God, you’ve been given this great gift. It’s right there sitting in your lap. I think that’s his kind of message.

Adam Mintz  06:39

Yeah, good. I think that’s right. I think that and that’s nice. I mean, and kind of that’s what the text means. It’s not it’s an it’s not a straw. It’s not what we would call it stretch. And that’s always a Rashi does.

Geoffrey Stern  06:50

Yep. So, in Eruvin it says Raba says “It is not in heaven” means that Torah is not to be found in someone who raises his mind over it, like the heavens, i.e., he thinks his mind is above the Torah and he does not need a teacher; nor is it to be found in someone who expands his mind over it, like the sea, i.e., he thinks he knows everything there is to know about the topic, so you know, he’s talking different types of intellectuals. There are some intellectuals that will look at it and look down upon it. There were others that are generalists, maybe interesting that he says it interesting that he feels he needs to say it Rabbi Yoḥanan said: “It is not in heaven” means that Torah is not to be found in the haughty, those who raise their self-image as though they were in heaven. “Nor is it beyond the sea” means that it is not to be found among merchants or traders, of course sea was the highway was the railroad was the channel of commerce in the old world. It’s interesting how everyone needs to find a kind of a metaphorical explanation for this,

Adam Mintz  07:52

Because it is itself a metaphor. לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא is not literal. Because the Torah is not in heaven. The Torah is written on the scroll that we read in shul every single Shabbat morning. So, it begs for a metaphoric kind of explanation, doesn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  08:13

Well, it does. But I think you raise an interesting point. Because I would argue that Shamayim, in the Bible that we’re going to start all over again, in about a month, is you know, and on whatever day it was God created the heavens and the earth. And Shamaya means the what NASA is involved with, you know, and Mayim is what the Navy is involved with. There is no theological implications, I believe when the Bible, if you take it at face value talks about the heavens, you know, maybe the Torah was given from the heavens, because there was lightning and thunder, and it was given from above. But I think almost I wouldn’t say it’s a modern concept of this heaven, in terms of the firmament in terms of the sky. But I would say that the simple reading of the text doesn’t even imply we’re Shamayim is this kind of Western concept or later concept of a heaven? A spiritual, other worldly abode? Do you think I have a leg to stand on here?

Adam Mintz  09:32

That’s interesting, what Shamayim means Loba Shamayim, you need to just take your comment a step back, and really לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא. Where else could it be? It’s not in heaven. It’s not in you know, it’s not it’s it’s not far away. Why did they say it’s not in heaven? Why don’t they just say it’s not far away? That’s really the question you’re trying to answer.

Geoffrey Stern  09:56

Well, they do say it. It says it’s not in heaven. It’s not beyond the other side of the sea,

Adam Mintz  10:04

Why is it so dramatic? Why does it just say it’s not far?

Geoffrey Stern  10:08

Got it? Okay, so So you’re saying that this whole metaphor, love fest is created by the fact that it could have been much more straightforward. It’s not far away from you, it’s right in your lap. So you have no excuses, do it, something like that, something like that. So, the Rabeynu Bachya says as follows It is not in heaven. It is possible that the reason Moses made this point is because prior to bringing the Torah to the people, it had indeed resided in the heaven. And we have quoted arguments offered by the angels opposing its descent to Earth. So those of you who are listeners of Madlik. And I actually went on another clubhouse this week, and we got into a whole discussion, we remembered the Midrash that said, when the angels saw Moses getting the Torah, they said, Why is he getting the Torah? We should have it. And Moses replied, Do you have to provide for your family that you might steal something? Do you have to engage in commerce that you have to make sure that your scales are probably calibrated? This concept, which is what Robeynu Bahaya is referring to, is this kind of sense of man somehow taking this other worldly Torah, and not something that was without controversy? I mean, you know, I said, I call this podcast, Steal this Book. And you there was a radical at Columbia, part of the Weathermen called Abbie Hoffman. And when he finally wrote a book about his stuff, and put it up for sale for $7.95, the title was steal this book. In other words, don’t pay for it, steal it, he was so against the authorities. But, you know, I’m thinking of the Greek myth of Prometheus, for instance, Prometheus is best known for defying the gods by stealing fire from them and giving it to humanity in the form of technology, knowledge. He’s generally seen as the author of the human arts and sciences, in other theologies, in mythologies, there is this concept that somehow mankind got access to a higher intelligence. And I think that Midrash that the Rabaynu Bachya is referring to is as close as we get maybe, you know, others we are, maybe we didn’t steal the book. But we certainly somehow convinced God to give us this Torah, that the angels wanted to keep for themselves. And there is this sense when it says לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא that you guys got it. Mankind has gotten the Torah.

Adam Mintz  12:58

 I mean, this, you know, this is famous that God went to all the other nations and offered the Torah, that somehow the angels wanted the Torah, this idea that there was a competition for the Torah, and the Jews won, it is a Midrashic concept. Now, I think it’s fair to ask what it means, what its significance is, I think that’s a fair question. But that is something that we’re familiar with. So, let’s take each one of them separately. One is that the Jews got it and the other nations didn’t get it. It’s a sense that they had their chance, and they gave it up. Don’t let they can complain later. To say that you know, that well, you know, why didn’t we get a chance to have the toe where you had a chance, but you know, you couldn’t you couldn’t handle do not commit murder, or you couldn’t handle do not commit adultery. So therefore, we got Torah but the angels is something else. The angels is about what the Torah is, it’s kind of related to לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא, the Torah is not for angels. the Torah is for human beings. the Torah appreciates human beings and understands what human beings are. And it’s written for human beings. It’s not written for angels.

Geoffrey Stern  14:12

So now, of course, we segue into what we discussed last year, which is this iconic piece of Talmud, which rabbis are having an argument and one rabbi named Robbie Yehoshua is saying I’m right..  let the walls of the study hall prove it. And the walls of the study hall move and the river prove it and the river goes backwards and finally says, Let the heavens prove it. And a bat kol a voice comes down from heaven and says, What do you want from Rabbi Yehoshua, he’s right!, and Rabbi Yirmia says  says the Torah was already given at Mount Sinai. We do not regard a divine voice. So, he first quotes our verse, he says שכבר נתנה תורה מהר סיני. And then he quotes a verse in Exodus, which says, After the majority we incline. So there are four rabbis against you. We don’t listen to voices from heaven, because the Torah has been given to men. And we go after the majority. So, what I said in the introduction is what I’d like to pursue a little bit now, this concept of the Torah was given to Man… whether we stole it with like Prometheus, or we convinced the angels and God that it was, ultimately this Torah, by the way the rabbis interpreted this verse was given to man, and it might very well be that they reinterpreted the verse that that was not the initial meaning. But that’s what Rabbinic Judaism gave to us. And then they quote, a second principle that guides us when we study Torah, and that is, after the majority we incline, which is אחרי רבים להטות. But what’s fascinating about that verse is, they might have reinterpreted the verse לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא, it’s not in the heavens, but in the case of after the majority, you shall go, they didn’t reinterpret it. They went against the actual meaning of the verse, In Exodus 32. It says, You shall neither side with the mighty to do one, you shall not give perverse testimony to prove for read it. you should not go after the majority for bad and here the rabbi’s take it as you shall go after the majority. And so they prove their own point, they prove the point that the Torah is no longer in heaven, and that we have been given the authority, you can say also the responsibility to interpret it. Is that radical or not?

Adam Mintz  17:12

No, I think that’s great. And I think the most important thing to remember here is and it’s always gets a little tricky. The Torah is the divine Torah. But the interpretation is the rabbinic interpretation. And the rabbis were very sophisticated. So what the rabbis do is they interpret the Torah so it will support their authority. That’s what the story about the walls of the Beit Midrash falling are about. It’s about rabbinic authority. לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא means I don’t care what the heavenly voice says, we have to follow the majority לֹ֥א בַשָּׁמַ֖יִם הִ֑וא, God doesn’t determine things. Now obviously, that’s an exaggeration of what the phrase means because we don’t usually have heavenly voices. But that is the perfect example of the rabbi’s interpreting the Torah to support the rabbis, you see how that works. That works forward and backwards.

Geoffrey Stern  18:11

It does, but you can’t get away from the democratization of the Torah. When the Rabbi say you follow the majority, you can say it’s a majority of rabbis, you can say it’s a majority of the people.

Adam Mintz  18:25

Thats the rabbinic interpretation. The Rabbinic interpretation is you follow the majority against God, you have to say that last piece; against God.

Geoffrey Stern  18:36

Well, you’re the rabbi, you said it!

Adam Mintz  18:38

Against God, what’s interesting, what I’m so excited about is that that’s not explicit in the Torah. … strange or interesting, whatever you want to call

Geoffrey Stern  18:52

Yeah. And radical, I’d say it’s radical. Right is a very radical piece of Talmud. But you know, it does find its place. It’s not only the majority of the rabbis, there is a concept of טירחא דציבורא that if the rabbi’s make a decree that is too tough on the people. You know, what the people wןn. So democratization is to me, the second rule if we’re kind of making a list of rules of interpretation, and the first one is that the Torah was given to man, and it’s our obligation and responsibility, privilege and liberty to reinterpret. The second is that we’re all in this together. It is a democratic aspect of it, and it could be our elected leaders. It could be our rabbis, and it could be all of us. The next law that I would like to say that has guided us as we’re reviewing these rules, is in Deuteronomy, 4: 6. It says observe them faithfully, for that will be proof of your wisdom and discernment to other peoples who on hearing all of these laws will say, surely that great nation is a wise and discerning people. כִּ֣י הִ֤וא חׇכְמַתְכֶם֙ וּבִ֣ינַתְכֶ֔ם לְעֵינֵ֖י הָעַמִּ֑ים I owe R. Ethan Tucker, thanks for teaching this verse. It was from a rabbi called Rav Shmuel Glasner, the Dor Reve’ee. And he basically argued that our ethics and our morality have to stand up to the rules and the laws of critical analysis, because if not, we will not be somebody who was admired by the nation’s I went to a yeshiva once on Mitzpe Ramon, Mitzpe Ramon is as close to the Grand Canyon in Israel as you will get. And the rabbi first met me in his office and he said, Now let’s go to our real office. And he took me to the edge of Mitzpeh Ramon, this Grand Canyon, and there were some yeshiva students, black hats, white shirts, sits is flowing. He said, ask them how this canyon was created. And I went to them and I said, How was it created and they start talking about millions of the years, there were plates in the earth and my mind like dulled and I’m walking away with the rabbi. And I said, What’s with the plates and the Million years this is a yeshiva , what happened to six days seven days of creation, and he basically told me כִּ֣י הִ֤וא חׇכְמַתְכֶם֙ וּבִ֣ינַתְכֶ֔ם לְעֵינֵ֖י הָעַמִּ֑ים, that God not only created a world, but he created our minds. And if we do not listen to our minds, we are breaking the law as much as any other law written in the Torah. And that just blew my mind. But It does talk to the fact that the rabbi’s absorbed and simulated rules of logic. If if you read an orthodox Siddur every morning, after you say the blessing on studying Torah, you discuss Rabbi Yishmoel’s 13 principles of hermeneutics. And he has these rules of interpreting the Torah. And Saul Lieberman says he probably got this concept of you need rules to decipher and parse a literary text from the Greeks or for the Romans. But here it was these rabbis who have never, absolutely never put their heads in the soil and disregarded scientific knowledge, I would consider that my my third rule.

Adam Mintz  22:39

I think that’s good. I like that a lot. I mean, first of all, let’s just take it back. That’s a good story. It’s a good story that a Yeshiva Bachur, you know, embraces science, and it’s sometimes they have to recognize that science is not against the Torah. Now, that’s an interesting discussion whenever we have it, and that is, you know, how can it be? How can it be that science doesn’t contradict the Torah? How could it be that these plates, you know, separated and created Mitzpei Ramon, and, you know, and that be right, and the story of creation also be right, that’s all interesting. But God created our ability to embrace both of those traditions as being true.

Geoffrey Stern  23:27

Agreed, agreed there shouldn’t be a conflict. So again, this is a review session of the rules that guide us as we study the Torah. The fourth rule, I would say, and we have quoted this many times, is אֵין מוּקְדָּם וּמְאוּחָר בַּתּוֹרָה, that there is no early or late in the Torah, which means that there is no chronology. This is not a book of history. We’ve talked and we talked about Zachor and Yosef Haim Yirushalmi saying that if Herodotus invented history, Jews invented meaning in history. And again, it’s understanding what the rabbis what the tau itself was looking to do. It wasn’t to record history as it was, it was recording history as a lesson. And that has to be a rule when we study the Torah that we got from our rabbis.

Adam Mintz  24:24

Good. So that that is another important rule. The fact that the Torah is not a history book, it doesn’t mean that the Torah doesn’t have history. By the way, every religion has a book of its history. It has to because if not, you don’t know where it comes from. You know, Christianity is an interesting religion. We’ll just talk about this for one second. Christianity is an interesting religion, because Christianity needs the Torah…. It needs the Old Testament, because if there’s no Old Testament, then you can’t explain where Jesus came from because Jesus was a Jew. Right? The Christians believe that the Jews killed Jesus. But the Christians don’t wipe out the Jews. You know why they don’t wipe out the Jews? Because if there are no Jews, then you can’t explain where Christianity came from. If there were no Jews, what’s the story of the Christians, the Christians need the Jews. So everybody needs a book that tells their story. So, it’s not a history book that’s bound by chronology. It’s not a history book, but it’s a book of memory, like Yoseph, Chaim Yirushalmi said, but it does tell our story. And that’s a very important story, just to relate it to Rosh Hashanah because we have to pull everything back for the holiday. You know, it’s interesting when it comes to Rosh Hashanah is not does not commemorate a historical event in the Torah. In tradition, we say the Rosh Hashanah is the day of creation. But the Torah doesn’t say that. Most holidays commemorate a historical event. Pesach commemorates the Exodus and Shavuot to commemorates the day of the Torah and Sukkot commemorate the 40 years in the desert. Every holiday commemorates a historical event. So, it’s not a book of history. But the history part of it is significant.

Geoffrey Stern  26:17

Absolutely any anyone who’s seen these New Testaments that every verse that kind of shows a prophecy from the Old Testament highlighted in red. I understand that. It’s a great segue to the next rule, which is a kind of a parallel to the rule I just mentioned, which is כל מה שאירע לאבות סימן לבנים, which is the stories of our forefathers most of the time it’s referred to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But I would suggest it really refers to all of the history in the Bible is a סימן. Coming from the word symbolism is a symbol for us, so the rabbis themselves. This is not a modern concept. We’re the first to say that the book of the Bible is there to learn lessons from to draw ethical and moral teachings to guide us in making decisions going forward. But it’s not necessarily a book of history. We’re running out of time, and I don’t want to miss all the rules as we’re reviewing in this Mishnah Torah type of modality. The next one is דִּבְּרָה תוֹרָה כִלְשׁוֹן בְּנֵי אָדָם that the Torah speaks in the language of men. And it’s interesting that Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote a book in Hebrew. Most of his books were written in English, his book in Hebrew was תורה מן השמים באספקלריה של הדורות, it was translated by Gordon Tucker called Heavenly Torah – As Refracted through the Generations. And if you have time to read a 600 page book, this is a great place to go. But Gordon Tucker points out that whereas other books on Judaism begin with God. Not only is his title basically, a play on our verse, it’s תורה מן השמים, the heavenly Torah, in the view of the generations, it’s really a commentary, a 600-page commentary on the verse that we started. But his second chapter begins not with talking about God, but talking about the language of the Torah is in human language, it’s written for us as humans, whether it was written by humans inspired by God, whether it was written by God, we are entitled to look at it, to decipher it, to study it, and to learn from it as כִלְשׁוֹן בְּנֵי אָדָם, and I think that last rule almost completes the circle of saying that the Torah is not in heaven. All of these rules relate to how the Torah is ours. And I think for my lesson that relates to the High Holidays, by claiming that God is King, that ה’ מֶלֶךְ ה’ מָלָךְ ה’ יִמְלֹךְ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד. What we are saying is a radical concept, that there are no earthly kings, there are no powers that control us. And we’re also saying that the obligation is that the world was created for us that our Torah was given for us. That’s where the obligation comes from, that God gave us this torah. And it’s for us in this world. It’s for us to make and remake and interpret and empower us. So, I think that’s kind of an amazing way to look at the way over the past two, three years we’ve kind of looked at the Torah and what it means for us.

Adam Mintz  29:46

It’s a great way to end before Rosh Hashanah, wishing everybody a Shabbat Shalom, a Shana Tova a Hag Samayach, and we look forward to seeing you all next week, where we will talk about VaYelech the shortest parsha In the Torah, Shabbat Shalom Shana Tova Geoffrey

Geoffrey Stern  30:03

Shana Tova rabbi, thanks as always for being a part of this discussion. And thank you all for joining.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/433106

Listen to last year’s Nitzavim podcast: Not in Heaven

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First Fruits – First Prayers

parshat ki tavo – Deuteronomy 26

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on September 15th 2022. As we approach the high prayer season we trace the evolution of the oldest prayer preserved in the Torah. The First Fruits Declaration, a once iconic prayer made by a farmer on Shavuot; the Harvest Festival. We see how this prayer was censored, repurposed and reinterpreted up until today and wonder what license it provides to us.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/431313

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. As we approach the high prayer season, we trace the evolution of one of the oldest prayers preserved in the Torah. The Bikurim or First-Fruits Declaration, made by a farmer on Shavuot; the Harvest Festival. We explore how this prayer was censored, re-purposed and re-interpreted and wonder what license it provides to us. So grab a bowl of fruit and a siddur and join us for First Fruits – First Prayers.

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Well, welcome back another week. And as we said, in the pre-show, the High Holidays are coming, they’re coming. They’re coming. They’re not waiting for us. And that’s what I meant when I referred to the “prayer season”, because isn’t that actually what it is, I mean, there’s no time of year that we pray more, that we are engaged with our liturgy. And before we get to the exact text from our parsha, that I want to discuss, and the Parsha is Ki Tavo in Deuteronomy, it just seems to me, Rabbi that Deuteronomy is the source of many prayers, much of our liturgy, I mean, the most famous Shema Yisrael is in Deuteronomy 6: 4. Last week, while not liturgy, we talked about the paragraph that says that you have to remember what Amalek did to you. And I referenced that there is a whole Shabbat called Shabbat Zachor, that we focused just on saying that little chapter in public, and some say, that’s one of the rare occasions that literally by Torah law, we have to make that declaration. So am I wrong here? There’s little avoid liturgy comes from the Chumash, The Five Books of Moses itself, but that that does, there’s a lot in Deuteronomy.

Adam Mintz  02:34

So you’re absolutely right. And the fact that Shema, not only the paragraph of Shema. But the second paragraph of the Shema Vehaya Im Shemoa  וְהָיָ֗ה אִם־שָׁמֹ֤עַ also comes from the book of Deuteronomy (11: 13), I think the reason is probably a simple reason. And that is Deuteronomy is the kind of the summary, the review of the Torah. So, it has paragraphs that have a lot of different ideas all together. Like in the paragraph of Shema, you have belief in God, you have study Torah, you have Tefillin and you have Mezuzah. Yeah, you have all these things, you have reward and punishment. It’s all there in one paragraph, you don’t have that in the rest of Torah. So actually, in terms of prayers, and in terms of kind of covering all the bases, Deuteronomy is a great place to get prayers from.

Geoffrey Stern  03:22

And you know, I would kind of add, and I’ve said this before, that, modern scholarship believes that Deuteronomy was probably written closer to when Ezra came back from the exile, we’re talking about a period where there was maybe no temple anymore, the synagogues were starting to be formed. But even if you don’t buy into higher criticism the whole angst of Deuteronomy is when you come into the land. And certainly, coming into the land, the central Mishkan was over. And there was this beginning of what we could see as decentralized Judaism. And certainly, it had a prophetic sense of there would be a time where Jews would need to pray and our religion would change. So, I think from all different perspectives, there is no question that Deuteronomy is a great source for later liturgy. I think we’re on the same page there.

Adam Mintz  04:28

Good. I think that’s 100%. Right. And I think you know, that just makes the point stronger, but you know, whatever the explanation is just making the point is interesting, right, just realizing that so much of our prayer service and the Shema itself comes from Deuteronomy is a super interesting point.

Geoffrey Stern  04:46

Great. So, we’re going to start with one of the most iconic little prayers; declarations if you will, certainly something that we’ll see ended up in our liturgy by way of the Haggadah. It is a farmer’s declaration of bringing the first fruits of the harvest to the temple. And it starts in Deuteronomy 26: 3 it says, You shall go to the priest in charge at that time and say to him, I acknowledge this day before your God that I have entered the land that God swore to our fathers to assign us. The priest shall take the basket from your hand, and set it down in the front of the altar of your God. You shall then recite as follows before your god, my father was a fugitive Aramean he went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there. But there he became a great and very populous nation. The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us they imposed heavy labor upon us. If this sounds familiar to any of us, it’s because it is quoted in the Haggadah. And what the Hagaddah does is literally take every one of the words that I just said, … when it says the Egyptians dealt harshly with us. When it says that we became לְג֥וֹי גָּד֖וֹל עָצ֥וּם וָרָֽב when it says they oppressed us וַיְעַנּ֑וּנוּ it has a standing commentary, which actually becomes the most fundamental core part of the whole Haggadah-Seder moment. And it says, We cried to God, the God of our ancestors, and God heard our plea. God heard our plea. You’ll see in the Passover Haggadah, it says, When God heard our plea, he understood what they were doing to us. Maybe he was separating men from women. It goes into this running commentary in the Haggadah, he saw our plight, our misery and our oppression. God freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, you remember in the Haggadah talks about what does it mean by בְּיָ֤ד חֲזָקָה֙ by an outstretched arm וּבִזְרֹ֣עַ נְטוּיָ֔ה and awesome powers and by signs and portents…. So, this is as far as the Haggadah goes, but the literary piece the parsha of Bikkurim continues, bringing us to this place, וַיְבִאֵ֖נוּ אֶל־הַמָּק֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה and giving us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Wherefore I now bring the first fruits of soil which you God have given me, you shall leave it before your God and bow low before your God, and you shall enjoy together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst, and all the bounty that your God has bestowed upon you and your household. And then if you were looking at this text in a Sefer Torah, there is an end of literary piece, the end of Parashat Bikkurim, we have finished. So this clearly is a very old piece. It is in a sense quoted, you are literally quoting what the farmer says in front of the Cohen. So Rabbi, how many prayers like this do we have that are verbatim? And what does it mean to you?

Adam Mintz  08:48

Well, you said a mouthful here. The first interesting thing is that this is probably the earliest prayer that we have, which means that this was said as a prayer. In the time of the Torah, when they brought the first fruits, they recited this as a prayer. We just a minute ago, talked about Shema. Now Shema in the Torah is not written as a prayer, meaning that Moshe tells the people to believe in God and to put on tefillin and to put up a mezuzah, but he doesn’t say recite this every day. It wasn’t a prayer. We took it to become a prayer. But this actually was a prayer. And that’s really interesting. It’s interesting because what you see is that we have prayers, from the very beginning of time we have prayers, there are very few prayers in the Torah. There’s one another example of a prayer when Miriam, Moshe’s sister is sick. So Moshe says to God וַיִּצְעַ֣ק מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶל־הֹ’ לֵאמֹ֑ר אֵ֕-ל נָ֛א רְפָ֥א נָ֖א לָֽהּ (Numbers 12: 13) , God, please cure her. It’s the shortest prayer in history. But that’s an example of a prayer and here we have another prayer. So, it’s interesting that the Torah recognizes the value of prayers, and even gives us some prayers that we actually recite.

Geoffrey Stern  10:10

You know, you saying that reminds me of the key prayers of the High Holidays? הֹ’ ׀ הֹ’ אֵ֥-ל רַח֖וּם וְחַנּ֑וּן אֶ֥רֶךְ אַפַּ֖יִם וְרַב־חֶ֥סֶד וֶאֱמֶֽת. This is something we’re going to start saying Selichot on Saturday night. These prayers are not only old, but because they’re old. They almost seem to have power, don’t they? If you really can count on your fingers, whether their prayers like this one, or whether like the Shema we’re quoting verses, I mean, some of the other ones that come to mind is with Ballam מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹהָלֶ֖יךָ יַעֲקֹ֑ב (Numbers 24: 5). We start our service every day with that we quote, How goodly are the tents of Jacob”, it’s maybe written over the ark. We have the prayer that maybe parents say on their children on Friday night, יְשִֽׂמְךָ֣ אֱ-לֹהִ֔ים כְּאֶפְרַ֖יִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁ֑ה (Genesis 48: 20) which is what Joseph said. But you’re absolutely right. This is, along with רְפָ֥א נָ֖א לָֽהּ which is with Miriam is one of the few places where, at least in the Chumash, The Five Books of Moses, you have actually texts of prayers.

Adam Mintz  11:27

Yeah, that is interesting in the history of prayer. That’s interesting that prayer is biblical. That’s not the prayers we say. The prayers we say are basically rabbinic. The Amidah that we recite is not found in the Torah, the Amidah that we recite the rabbi’s made up. So, we generally think of prayer as being rabbinic. But the truth is a prayer is biblical. There is a biblical source for prayer.

Geoffrey Stern  11:51

I mean, I think if you look at for instance, the Shemoneh Esrey, the Eighteen Benedictions, the Amidah, the Silent Prayer, a lot of stuff is taken from Psalms, Psalms is a rich source of if not prayers, but at least phrases or expressions; ways of talking about the, you know, healing people or making them stand up straight or reviving them in the morning. But here, actually, it’s very few times that in our liturgy, we have stuff directly from the Five Books of Moses. But there are a few cases. And this is a very, very old prayer, no question about it.

Adam Mintz  12:36

Right that so so that’s, that’s the beginning of what’s interesting here. Now, the text of the prayer is also interesting, because what the prayer is, is it’s kind of a review of Jewish history, to allow us to be grateful to God, recognizing not only that God gave us new fruits, but that God gave us everything beginning with taking us out of Egypt.

Geoffrey Stern  13:00

I mean, isn’t it amazing if you step back for a second, and the two prayers that we’ve identified as biblical and old, one had to do with healing, and the other one had to do with thanks and gratitude.  And what more can you talk about thanks Then the harvest? You know, I think of he who sows in tears reaps in joy הַזֹּרְעִ֥ים בְּדִמְעָ֗ה בְּרִנָּ֥ה יִקְצֹֽרוּ (Psalms 26: 5), There is nothing more primal than the thankfulness and it comes all the way to the Puritans and the Thanksgiving festival and Sukkot that we’re going to have. You can almost track the three major festivals, the pilgrimage festivals, all around agriculture, which ultimately becomes that we are dependent on the earth we’re dependent on rain, we’re dependent on God. And the flip side of that is we are so thankful when we have a basket of fruit that we can we can bring to God to thank Him or Her.

Adam Mintz  14:09

Right. I think all that all that is exactly right. I think that’s, that’s wonderful here, and then the use of this prayer in the Seder also needs to be discussed. Why do we choose this verse? To make the question better? Let me ask it like this. The Seder on Passover, remembers the Exodus from Egypt. If we’re going to choose verses that talk about the Exodus from Egypt, why don’t we take verses from the book of Exodus that talk about the Exodus from Egypt? It seems kind of ridiculous that we choose verses from the book of Deuteronomy that talk about the Exodus from Egypt. We might as well choose to have the original story I might as well you know if I’m if I’m reading the story, I don’t know what your story the story of of the you know, of the I have the respect that they’re paying to the Queen. I might as well read it as it’s happening now. I’m not interested 10 years from now and they write a book about it, they IV the story in the moment is actually more accurate and more reflective of the way people are thinking later on, you kind of just have a perspective. So why do we choose the verses from Devarim? from Deuteronomy? And not the verses from Exodus?

Geoffrey Stern  15:24

So that is an amazing question. And I think that also will give us an insight into some prayers of the High Holidays. So, one of the commentaries on the Haggadah, that that I love, he claims he says that the Mishna wanted that …. and by the way, the Mishna in Pesachim actually dictates that these verses are said in Pesachim 10: 4 it says that, when teaching his son about the Exodus, he begins with the Jewish people’s disgrace, and concludes with their glory, מַתְחִיל בִּגְנוּת וּמְסַיֵּם בְּשֶׁבַח, וְדוֹרֵשׁ מֵאֲרַמִּי אוֹבֵד אָבִי,  and he expounds from the passage an Aramean tried to destroy my father, which is our verse with a new translation we’ll find out in a second, the declaration one was cites when presenting his first foods at the temple. And here the Mishnah says until he concludes explaining the entire section. So the Mishna says you have to read it, עַד שֶׁיִּגְמֹר כֹּל הַפָּרָשָׁה כֻלָּהּ. The Mishna, in fact says to answer your question, not why, but that you have to say this whole section about bringing the first fruits on the night of the Seder from beginning to end. But the commentaries and modern scholarship, argue that the Mishna wanted to find a text and integrated commentary that was well known to the Jewish masses. And when we say well known to the Jewish masses, remember, there were many centuries, generations of Jews who did not even speak Hebrew, they spoke Aramaic, they spoke other languages. Because this prayer of giving the Bikkurim was so iconic, these scholars argue, we pick the one that people knew they not only knew the words in Hebrew, but they also kind of knew in a singsong way, the commentary on it. So, there was a great scholar named David Tzvi. Hoffman, who wrote a book called The First Mishna. And he actually uses the Haggadah and the way it goes from וּבִזְרֹעַ נְטוּיָה, and it gives an explanation, בְּיָד חֲזָקָה and gives an explanation. He says, this is a prime example of Midrash Halacha, and the earliest use of reading the written law and adding ongoing explanatory Midrash and interpretations. So, his answer to your question is, there are many other verses that talk about the exodus of Egypt, that might do it in a more poetic way, in a more discursive way, but the rabbi’s of the Mishna picked these because as we started by saying, it was an old prayer that everybody knew. And clearly, this is a prayer unlike the Shema that is not household to every Jew nowadays. But there was a time …. you knew The Bikkurim, and that we could we could talk about…

Adam Mintz  18:50

Well, everybody had first fruits, everybody had a harvest. We don’t we don’t live in agricultural life anymore. But if everybody lived in agricultural life, you would all have it.

Geoffrey Stern  19:00

so so again, I think that it’s fascinating that when we look at prayers, and some prayers are so well known, and we don’t even remember the reason that we know them. I mean, I think, and I’d love your take on this. We come to services on the night of Yom Kippur, the holiest night of the holiest day of the year. And this service is named after a prayer that we all sing in the same tune, and we probably all get choked up over; it’s called Kol Nidrei. And it is basically a prayer that has to do with a legal formula for canceling your oaths that you made. And we might not even know the meaning of the words we might not know the meanings of a lot of words of prayers, but this one has lived way beyond its expiration date, but it still has all the power and the meaning. And that’s a fascinating insight, I think into prayer.

Adam Mintz  20:00

Yeah, that is an interesting point, the power of the prayer and you raise the power of the tune of Kol Nidrei. You know exactly what its history is not clear. The key is that everybody has been doing it. Right. And everybody sings the same tune. And that’s what’s so powerful.

Geoffrey Stern  20:22

Do you know if the Sefardim, the Mizrachim also have the same tune?

Adam Mintz  20:26

I don’t know if they have Kol Nidre, I think Kol Nidrei is an Ashkenazim thing?

Geoffrey Stern  20:31

Well, it’s certainly for the for the Ashkenazi him. And again, it’s a little bit like the beginning of the Seder, where we sing the Seder itself. It’s like singing the table of contents of a book. You’re right, it is the music. But I think the rabbis and the scholars who say that the reason Bikkurim was bought into the Haggadah are touching upon this aspect of some of our prayers, that a prayer can be more than the words that are written in it becomes like a mantra, it becomes something that we share with each other. And it goes beyond the meaning of the words or the original context. And I think that if we stopped right here, that would be a fascinating lesson about the power of prayer, or how prayer is used, or what its power on us is, don’t you think?

Adam Mintz  21:28

I think that that that really is a very interesting point. Now, I’ll just compare for a minute Kol Nidrei. And this prayer for the first fruit, you know, this prayer for the first fruit is biblical Kol. Nidrei is actually in Aramaic, right? I mean, it’s not even in Hebrew. So, some of the power is and you know, Aramaic is like English. That was the language that people spoke. So, you know, sometimes prayer in the vernacular is what’s so powerful. And obviously, we have that, especially in the kind of in the more liberal movements that you know, prayer in the vernacular has a certain power to it.

Geoffrey Stern  22:12

Yeah. And so there’s definitely this issue of lack of language. And those, those scholars who say that Bikkurim was something that people who didn’t speak Hebrew and Aramaic was their language, still new because it was so popular. That’s one message and what you said a second ago, which is to walk into a synagogue, where most of the services for the rest of the day are going to be in Hebrew, and you see something you hear something that’s in Aramaic is welcoming the codices in Aramaic. So the language is an important part. So I said in the beginning, that this was going to be a history of the censorship, and the reinterpretation of a prayer. So when I read the verses in in Deuteronomy itself, and I said, אֲרַמִּי֙ אֹבֵ֣ד אָבִ֔י. The translation was my father was a fugitive, Aramean. Oved is typically translated as someone who is lost and we’ll get a little bit into it for a second. In the Haggadah, however, it introduces before we get into this first fruits declaration, it says as follows and those of you who have been at a Seder will remember וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ וְלָנוּ, and this is what stood for our ancestors for us, since it is not only one person that has stood against us to destroy us, but rather each generation they stand against us to destroy us. But the וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַצִּילֵנוּ מִיָּדָם, God rescues us. So that’s the introduction to this prayer of the farmer. And then lo and behold, it changes the meaning. And in the Haggadah, it says, An Aramean was destroying my father Avood. I guess, when Esther was about to go in front of Achashveros when she wasn’t beckoned. She says וְכַאֲשֶׁ֥ר אָבַ֖דְתִּי אָבָֽדְתִּי (Esther 4: 16), Avood definitely can also mean, not lost, but lost in the sense of my life is in danger. And the rabbis in a sense, re interpreted this, this whole Parshat Bikkurim, this whole declaration of the first fruits in a different way. Do you agree? Before I asked that question Rashi in his interpretation on the Chumash actually goes out of his way to bring the Haggadah’s as interpretation, but if you look at the source sheet, most of the classical commentary say it’s clear that what he was talking about is we were wandering, landless people. And here I am a farmer living in my land, bringing my crop. So how do you account for this change of interpretation?

Adam Mintz  25:20

I mean, that that’s easy, because the change the interpretation, because the new interpretation works out better within the Haggadah,

Geoffrey Stern  25:30

Especially after that introduction,  Right, meaning the simple explanation, which is that we were wandering and now we’re in the land of Israel, and now we have our own fruits etc.  and all that kind of stuff. That makes a lot of sense, given the context of the Chumash, but that’s not relevant to the Seder. The Seder wants the big picture, which is that Laban tried to destroy us אֲרַמִּי אֹבֵד אָבִי, the word Avad, means from the word … tried to make us disappear, and therefore tried to get rid of I think, and we’ll see this comes up in another aspect of what the rabbi’s did. That there was a an evolution in the Haggadah itself. There is the Haggadah that was written and used in the land of Israel. And then when the Jews were exiled, it almost became a Haggadah of the exile. And so, the commentary that I have in the source sheet, it’s a by Joseph Tabori, he says as follows. He says while the temple existed, they understood the whole passage as truly representing their radical change in status. Remember, you’re in the land of Israel, you’re talking about the Exodus from Egypt, you actually parallel that farmer in a very profound way. The people had started out as fugitives, wandering nomads, and now they stood in their permanent home. But he says, After the destruction of the temple, there was no longer any parallelism between the lowly beginnings as nomads and their present status as people saved from persecution. And therefore, they talk about oppression rather than landlessness. So what he is saying and you can either buy it or not, is that the prayer itself evolved based on the needs of the time, and that when the mission of might have said say these verses of the first fruits, it might have been talking to people that their patriarchs, their ancestors had been in Egypt. Now they were in the land. They were spot on, like that farmer and the Seder was a question of being thankful just like the farmer, but when they were exiled, that message almost missed its mark, and therefore the rabbi’s put this introduction about how in every generation, they come to kill us, and it changed the interpretation of the verse. What do you think of Tabor’s theory?

Adam Mintz  26:12

That I love the idea that the that the interpretation of the verse evolves, and being grateful for it to having our own first fruit may not make sense if we don’t have our own land. I liked that a lot. That’s a really good explanation. Thank you.

Geoffrey Stern  28:37

So that explanation explained something else that I mentioned when I read the verses from our parsah, which is that in the Haggadah, it quotes are from our verses, but it doesn’t follow the advice of the Mishnah. It doesn’t read it till the end. It stops at verse 8. Verse 8 says, God freed us from Egypt with a mighty hand you will remember, that’s where the Haggadah says, What’s a mighty hand by an outstretched arm by awesome Power by signs and portents? There’s at least two pages in the Haggadah that talks about each one of these words, but get to verse 9, it says bringing us to this place. וַיְבִאֵ֖נוּ אֶל־הַמָּק֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה no interpretation, giving us this land, no interpretation a land flowing with milk and honey, no interpretation, all the way till the end. And I’ve spoken about this before the last verse, it says, And you shall enjoy together with the Levite the stranger in your midst, all the bounty that God gave you. So, in the introduction, I talked about censorship, in a sense and Tabori goes on to say this for people that were once more in exile. You It would be almost too much to pretend that they weren’t, it would be almost too much to talk about coming into the land, a land of milk and honey, and therefore the Haggadah decided not to quote those verses, and not to provide this singsong commentary about it. And if we step back and we look at prayers, that means that the prayers do evolve based on our condition where we are. But it’s also an open question. And I would say an invitation, is it not?

Adam Mintz  30:36

I think that that’s 100%. right. I mean, I really liked to Tabori’s explanation, I think he got it right. It also is good for us. Because what it does is it links the Torah portion to the Haggadah. Usually, the Haggadah just borrows these verses, but they’re not really relevant. And what he does is he really connects one to the other. So, I like that also.

Geoffrey Stern  31:01

So at the end of my source sheet, I quote just one, one section from a whole Google Doc, which comes out of Israel from young scholars in Israel. But literally, there is a revival in the Haggadah today, where they continue and they say וַיְבִאֵ֖נוּ who brought us in, and they say then is now as it is said, How I bore you on eagles wings and brought you to me in the same kind of tradition, this singsong thing they quote another verse, and אֶל־הַמָּק֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה this place refers to the temple, and it comes from Rabbi David Mishlove, supplement for Seders in Israel. So here we have an example of a prayer that starts in the Five Books of Moses in Deuteronomy, that was changed, maybe censored out of sensitivity to people living in exile, and is today being rewritten, and re-positioned for a new generation of Jews who are in the land. And I just find that to be so. So fascinating.

Adam Mintz  32:14

I think that’s great. I think this was really the sources I give you credit, Geoffrey, because the sources tonight were really, really good.

Geoffrey Stern  32:20

Well, and I think it’s an invitation to all of us as we, as we begin this prayer season, as I call it. There are different ways to approach the prayers. You know, many of us just focus on what does this prayer mean. But I think tonight, we’ve really seen that there were so many other reflective and reflections that can have meaning to us beyond just the simple meaning of the words, and we’re gonna be in synagogue for so many hours. We need all the tools we can get.

Adam Mintz  32:50

Fantastic. And we still got one more next week. So well, Shabbat Shalom, everybody, and we’ll see you next Thursday. Looking forward. Be Well, everybody.

Geoffrey Stern  32:57

Shabbat shalom. Thank you, as always, Rabbi. And for any of you who have a comment. Oh, Miriam, I’m going to invite you on

Miriam Gonczarska  33:08

I posted something a little comment that we have another prayer in our siddurs from the Torah. Not from Deuteronomy but from Numbers and its יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ יְהֹוָ֖ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶֽךָ (Numbers 6: 24)

Geoffrey Stern  33:32

Of course, the Priestly Blessing, the Cohen’s benediction. That’s, that’s perfect. We did miss that.

Miriam Gonczarska  33:39

Yeah, and I wanted to add that because I think it’s fascinating, although it’s not from sefer Devarim. But the beautiful part is it’s about Cohanim. It’s about temple, temple rituals.  And we say it every day, every morning, but this is a beautiful, beautiful player.

Geoffrey Stern  34:07

Thank you for that. It is fascinating how few of our prayers come from the Torah itself, the rabbi kind of mentioned that. But those that do obviously have great power. And again, you look at Bikkurim It’s a prayer of a farmer being thankful with a historical memory. You look at the priestly blessing that you just mentioned, you know, it doesn’t talk about ritual, it talks about that God should bless you and keep you and shine his light upon you and give you peace. I mean, they’re just powerful.

34:42

Yes. And what is very interesting that apparently, archeologists in Israel found this prayer on a very early materials and there is this concept of biblical criticism, which we might like or not like, but they say that this is one of the oldest texts in   the five books of Moses. It’s beautiful words, and that the entire idea that Hashem should bless you and keep you and turn his face and shine upon you and be graceful into you. I mean, there’s different translations, and there’s so much in this play of words, because it’s the וִֽיחֻנֶּֽךָּ, you can translate it as chinuch (education), and Hanukkah, and there’s just so much written here plays so much, so much in this prayer. And again, it’s not from first book of Moses, it’s that from the fourth one. But the observation that you write I really liked that is that most of our prayers are from the sefer Devarim. That’s a fascinating observation and, and there is something very deep about it. Even if I found to be prayer here, taken from Bamidbar (Numbers)

Geoffrey Stern  36:05

So Miriam, if I remember you are a graduate, you got smicha Maharat, is that correct?

Miriam Gonczarska  36:10

Yes. And Rabbi Mintz is my teacher. I took all his classes.

Geoffrey Stern  36:15

And you serve the Polish community, if I remember correctly. So, what do you do during the High Holidays? Are you conducting services?

Miriam Gonczarska  36:26

No, it’s kind of public knowledge. So I can tell you I’m struggling right now with cancer. So I am in New York, but I am not able to be insured in a long you know, for long periods of time. So, I’m undergoing chemo right now. So, I’m laying low on the days themselves, but I teach online before I’m preparing my class, and I actually I want to teach this material to my students. So, I was so excited I need the source Sheet. I want to teach them in Polish. I’m going to translate parts of what you taught and teach it in Polish

Geoffrey Stern  37:07

Amazing!  I wish you a life and vibrance and Refuah Shelema and all those good things that were included in Miriam’s Refa Na La

Miriam Gonczarska  37:23

So actually, definitely means knows about my illness, and it was extremely moving when he actually said it knowing that I’m in the audience and my name is Miriam. And I love this moment and it’s like, it’s my teacher, but it’s like this this you know, I was warm and fuzzy.

Geoffrey Stern  37:41

As you should have been.

Miriam Gonczarska  37:43

Yeah. It might be just accidental, but I love that type of accidents.

Geoffrey Stern  37:47

Yeah, there are no accidents. Right? Anyway, Shana Tova, Shabbat shalom. Thank you all for joining us. Thanks  Miriam for coming on.

Miriam Gonczarska  37:56

And it was fantastic. Fantastic to talk to you and thank you for all the Torah that you’re sharing with Rabbi Mintz this is this a beautiful class and I’m so happy that there such a zchut for clubhouse to have such a high level Torah on this platform.

Geoffrey Stern  38:14

Thank you so much. Shabbat Shalom Thank you. Bye bye.

Miriam Gonczarska  38:17

Bye bye.

Sefaria Source Sheet: http://www.sefaria.org/sheets/431313http://www.sefaria.org/sheets/431313

Listen to last year’s Ki Tavo Podcast: Chosen:

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Remember to Forget

parshat ki teitzei – deuteronomy 23- 25

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on September 8th 2022. As we approach the Jewish New Year with its emphasis on Zichronot, we ask: what role does memory play in the Torah? Is it for historical accuracy or moral edification? In this week’s parsha we are told to despise some of our foes and others to offer our gratitude. For our arch enemy, Amalek we are told to remember to forget!

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/429450

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. As we approach the Jewish New Year with its emphasis on Zichronot, we ask: what role does memory play in the Torah? Is it for historical accuracy or moral edification? In this week’s parsha we are told to despise some of our foes and others to offer our gratitude. For our arch enemy, Amalek we are told to remember to blot out their memory.  So put away your crossword puzzles and other brain teasers and join us for this week’s episode: Remember to Forget

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Well, welcome to another exciting episode of Madlik Disruptive Torah. Rabbi, it’s great to be back… both of us on the same planet, the same east coast, the same side of the Atlantic. And, you know, as I as I referenced in the intro, the high holidays are approaching and I know that we are a group that talks about the weekly parsha, the portion that’s read in the synagogue, but seeping into everything that we think about now is a little bit of a tease, a little bit of a preparation during the month of Elul for what’s coming upon us. And in the probably the most iconic prayer that we have on Rosh Hashana, called Unetaneh Tokef. We talk about remembering, we talk about remembering in all the prayers but it says at one point, you remember all that is forgotten, you open the book of records and from it, it shall be read in it lies each person’s insignia סֵפֶר הַזִּכְרוֹנוֹת וּמֵאֵלָיו יִקָּרֵא וְחוֹתָם יַד כָּל אָדָם בּוֹ. So, we have this sense of a book of remembrance; a Sefer Zichronot, and we can’t but recognize that Zichronot; memory is such an important part of Judaism. And that is what we are going to be focused on tonight. And it comes up in our parsha in many various different guises. And we’re going to explore them all. So, let’s start with the beginning of the Parsha. We’re in Deuteronomy 23 starting at verse 3 and it starts talking about you know, something that we all come into contact with; status. It says no one misbegotten no mamzir, there shall be admitted into the congregation. And then it goes no Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted into the congregation of God, no descendants of such even to the 10th generation. And then it says because they did not meet you with food and water on your journey after you left Egypt. because they hired Balaam son of Beor, from Pethor of Aram-naharaim, to curse you.—  But your God refused to heed Balaam; instead, your God  turned the curse into a blessing for you, for your God  loves you.— You shall never concern yourself with their welfare or benefit as long as you live.. So, we’re starting to talk about grudges and memories. In verse eight it says, You shall not abhor an Edomite for such is your kin, you shall not abhor an Egyptian for you were a stranger in that land. And it says that ultimately those people; the Edomites and of course the Edomites is comes from a Edom and comes from Esau who ate the porridge that was red (edom). And they can ultimately come into your congregation. But our first touching upon memory is almost an axis of levels of grudge, but also levels of gratitude. And you know Rashi picks up on them. And he also gives these gradations it says Thou shalt not abhore an Edomite he goes “utterly” לְגַמְרֵי. In other words, you can’t hate them completely.

Adam Mintz  04:58

You’re allowed to hate them, but not completely,

Geoffrey Stern  05:01

Just a little, just a little. And then thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian, it says utterly all in מִכֹּל וָכֹל because after all they did cast your male children into the river. But what’s the reason you don’t abhor them utterly, because they were your hosts in time of need during Joseph’s rein after all, they welcomed us during the famines שֶׁהָיוּ לָכֶם אַכְסַנְיָא בִּשְׁעַת הַדְּחָק. So here this first of a few references to historic memory there’s some ambiguity here. But what do you feel about me characterizing it as levels of a baring a grudge? And maybe a little bit of gratitude mixed in?

Adam Mintz  05:51

I liked the idea of analyzing the grudge. You know that the Torah seems to understand that there’s a place for grudges. It’s actually amazing, because you wouldn’t think that our would consider grudges. But the Torah clearly considers grudges, doesn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  06:06

Well, you know, we talk about a Jealous God we talk about a God who has a memory. Right. I think the most basic sense of memory is you know what, I won’t forget this. I’m gonna remember this. And of course, everything that we talk about on a national level tonight, with the high holidays approaching, I think we can extrapolate to a personal level. And isn’t it natural to hold those book grudges? But I think and we’ll come back to it a little bit later. It’s fascinating about Egypt, that here you have this dialectic between both having a grudge against this country that after all threw your male children into the water Nile to drown, but nonetheless, was there for you when you needed a bed to sleep on and when you needed refuge?

Adam Mintz  06:59

Right. So let’s go back for a second. You know, hate ’em, hold a grudge but not a complete grudge, a little bit of a grudge? What’s the purpose of holding grudges? You see, I don’t think that the Torah holding grudges a good character trait, you know, visa vie you, just to hold a grudge because that’s never good. But there’s a point to it. That by holding a grudge you remember what they did wrong? And I think that’s significant.

Geoffrey Stern  07:25

You know, I love that because I think one of the takeaways from the discussion this evening, is when a Jew looks at historic facts. They go well, what does it mean? What does it tell us? What is the lesson? We’re not just interested in the facts. And I think the next verse that I’m going to bring literally is a perfect segue into this concept of what do we learn from history. In Deuteronomy 24: 8 our a parsha again, it says: in cases of skin affection, be most careful to do exactly as the Levitical priests instruct you, take care to do as I have commanded them. Remember what your God did to Miriam, on the journey after you left Egypt. So here we have the first explicit reference to the word Zachor. Remember what happened? And of course, what is the lesson then to be learned from Miriam. So, Rashi says, if you wish to guard yourself against being stricken with leprosy, do not speak slandered. Remember what was done unto Miriam. So, I think that is a perfect example of what you were talking about and what I was saying, which is we are permitted to extrapolate from these very broad directives and gestures into our personal life. And this gets very personal. This is lashon hara, talking bad about somebody else. So, I think your question was a very Jewish question. We’ll get into Jewish memory as we go along. And the parsha bears you out. I don’t think this can this context of listening to the Kohanim. And remembering what happened to Miriam. Strikes me is very Deuteronomy, it’s not something that came up prior to this.

Adam Mintz  09:26

That’s for sure. But we know that already.

Geoffrey Stern  09:30

Yeah. So so it continues. Deuteronomy 24: 17 says, You shall not subvert the rights of the stranger or the fatherless. You shall not take a widow’s garment in pawn. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and that your God redeemed you from there. Therefore, I enjoin you to observe these commandments וְזָכַרְתָּ֗ כִּ֣י עֶ֤בֶד הָיִ֙יתָ֙ and you know normally we’ll talk about the takeaway from this is how important the stranger is. and the “other” is in Judaism. But tonight, I want to focus on the zachor part of it. And taking this whole amazing, powerful story of the Exodus, which took up more than the book of Exodus, it took up a whole chunk of Genesis as well. And the remember you were slaves in Egypt, literally impacts how you ought to treat the stranger or the fatherless, or the widows. And I think that gives us a real insight into what Zachor means what memory means. What does it mean to you?

Adam Mintz  10:47

Yeah, well, so remember, and memory are two different things. You see, in today’s world, when you think about remember, you talk about history, right? You’re talking about what’s the history of the monarchy in England. But when you talk about Jewish memory, it’s not about exactly what happened. It’s about what the message is about what happened. Right? Remember Amalek, because they did this, remember the Edomites. because they did this, remember Edom because they did this, the “because they did this” is a very important part of the puzzle.

Geoffrey Stern  11:25

And you could very easily take from that, that it’s some sort of the logical argument. It’s, you were a slave. You were a stranger, you understood what it was to be without a parent or a guardian. Therefore, you should do this. But I think that Torah goes a step further, I’m going to leave Deuteronomy for a second, I’m just going to quote, a parallel, a corollary to the verse that we just said, from Exodus 23, it says, You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know, the feelings of the stranger, having yourself been strangers in the land of Egypt, וְאַתֶּ֗ם יְדַעְתֶּם֙ אֶת־נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַגֵּ֔ר, you know the soul of a ger (stranger). Here already, this memory is amplified by knowledge, by empathetic, sympathetic knowledge. You can’t just take memory as kind of a logical, data-driven fact. It’s really this knowing the soul of the stranger, I just think that that gives us new insight into what Zachor means.

Adam Mintz  12:45

That’s fantastic that remember, because you, it allows you to appreciate something that you wouldn’t appreciate without. That’s really what you’re saying,

Geoffrey Stern  12:55

On a very, on a very deep level. The Ramban on those verses says, he says, “that is to say, you know, that every stranger feels depressed, and is always sighing and crying, and his eyes are always directed towards God, therefore, He will have mercy upon him, as he has shown mercy to you.” And of course, he makes an argument where he said he had mercy on them not because of their merits, but in an account of the bondage. You know, he makes an argument that says, people that have nothing, but God are going to be driven to the purity of the supplication to God, and you better bet your last dollar that God is going to listen to them, so you better not mess with them. But in saying that he talks about the depression this sighing The crying of the stranger, this such empathy there and understanding that I really feel that to talk about Zachor as simply memory you’re missing a whole lot of; you can call it baggage but you can well call it nuance and depth as well.

Adam Mintz  14:12

Good. I mean, I liked that I mean, nuanced depth empathy. You’re saying remember so that you can be empathetic

Geoffrey Stern  14:21

You can be in their place.

Adam Mintz  14:25

Empathy means to be in their place. That’s exactly the point, right?

Geoffrey Stern  14:29

Yup. And it gets back a little bit to what we do on the seder night where we we don’t simply commemorate or remember; we act as though we are there we are experiencing it.

Adam Mintz  14:43

בכל דור ודור חיב אדם לראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים It’s not memory, it’s experience. We need to re-experience the Exodus from Egypt.

Geoffrey Stern  14:56

Absolutely.

Adam Mintz  14:58

That’s actually the best example of all wasn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  15:00

Yeah, I think it really is. So now we get to the key verse in all of Tanach, all of the Torah, that mentioned Zachor, and it’s in our parsha. And I’m going to start Deuteronomy 25: 15. And it probably starts in a way that none of us would remember it starting it says you must be completely honest, weights, completely honest measures, if you are to endure long on the soil that your God is giving you. For everyone who does these things. Everyone who deals dishonestly is abhorrent to God כִּ֧י תוֹעֲבַ֛ת ה’ אֱלֹקֶ֖יךָ. And then it goes on remember what Amalek did to you on your journey after you left Egypt? זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ עֲמָלֵ֑ק בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם We have a whole parsha, a whole weekend called Parshat Zachor Shabbats. There were those that believe that there were very few verses in the Torah that you literally are commanded to read. This is one of them. And it says to remember what Amalek did to you on your journey after you left Egypt how undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march when you were famished and weary and cut down all the stragglers is in your rear. Therefore, when your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you in the land that your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget תִּמְחֶה֙ אֶת־זֵ֣כֶר עֲמָלֵ֔ק מִתַּ֖חַת הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם לֹ֖א תִּשְׁכָּֽח. So number one, we have both sides of Zachor, there’s  remember and there’s לֹ֖א תִּשְׁכָּֽח (don’t forget).

Adam Mintz  16:57

That’s not a small thing, by the way, that they have to say it both ways is very interesting. Why don’t they just say remember, why do they have to say? Remember and don’t forget,

Geoffrey Stern  17:11

And more the subject matter of our talk tonight is remember to forget, which sounds like a riddle. But literally, that is what it is telling you. I can promise you, Rabbi, if you go to 42nd Street, and you ask the local person, who is Amalek? They will not know who Amalek is. You go into a shtibel, you ask any Jew who Amalek is…. we are the only people who are preserving the memory of this dastardly people, if we would talk less, they would truly be forgotten. But once a year, maybe twice because we read the Parsha also, we are the ones who are telling everybody to remember to forget them. It’s fascinating.

Adam Mintz  17:56

Yes, it is fascinating. And what do you make of that? I mean, and remember to forget them. But לֹ֖א תִּשְׁכָּֽח, Don’t forget them. It’s as if that we’re remembering them, but we want to forget them. So, we have to be reminded don’t forget them. It’s something like that, isn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  18:15

It is. I think Zachor, we are already feeling operates on many, many different levels. And so I think that maybe one of the explanations is that on the level of remembering is one thing, and on the other of taking the the message and understanding, but it is an enigma, it’s an enigma that need not be solved. But ultimately, here we are, we are the only people on the planet of the earth who talk about this dastardly people call Amalek. When anybody really is bad to us, we say that they are from the seed of Amalek. And but what do you make of it coming right after honest measures? Rashi says if you use false weights and measures when you must apprehend the provocation of the enemy, as it says in Proverbs, A false balance is an abomination to the Lord. מֹאזְנֵי מִרְמָה תּוֹעֲבַת ה. So, he takes that word Toh-eva, which is something that is totally detestable to God, and He makes the parallel that false weights are called a Toh-eva. And here there’s a reference to Amalek as someone who is detested by God. And he says, and it is written immediately after this, “If intentional sin comes, shame comes”, the bottom line is I don’t think that Rashi is all that convincing in his answer, but he is spot-on in his question, and the question is what is the connection between having honest weights and, and not cheating somebody, and this remembrance of a Amalek.

Adam Mintz  20:11

And what kind of answer would you get?

Geoffrey Stern  20:13

Again, the only answer I can give is we are in a modality in this week’s Parsha, maybe through Judaism, that you can talk about leprosy of Miriam, without saying that there’s a moral lesson. There’s a takeaway, …

Adam Mintz  20:32

So therefore, you don’t cheat people. Because it means you have to think about other people. And part of thinking about other people is remembering Amalek, that’s part of it, being good to other people and being with a mother like that. They’re all related to one another.

Geoffrey Stern  20:49

I agree. And I think that most of us when we go to synagogue in the Parsha, before Passover, that is called right after Purim, I believe. Shabbat Zachor.. we’re not thinking about weights and being more moral in our business practice. There’s a whole different slant to that. And this is call it refreshing. , If you look it in the context of the Torah itself. You can’t just have hatred. You have to have a takeaway. There has to be a edification here. There has to be a lesson here. I think that’s kind of fascinating.

Adam Mintz  21:36

It’s fascinating. The fact that memory and lesson go together. I guess it’s not surprising, but it is fascinating. I would go with that.

Geoffrey Stern  21:46

And for those of you who have ever heard the expression, if one talks about the Nazis one says “Yimach Shemo”, This comes right out of this admonition Yamach means to erase Shemo means the name,

Adam Mintz  22:05

That means don’t remember. You see, I always was interested in Yemach Shemo, because Yemach Shemo seems to say don’t remember him wipe him out. But the Torah says remember him Don’t forget.

Geoffrey Stern  22:20

But nonetheless, here we are. When we talk about the Nazis, or Hitler we’ll say Hitler Yemach Shemo we don’t we don’t want to mention. It’s so it’s important that we know what words mean. And that’s and where they come from. But it comes from this, this tradition. And I think, you know, ultimately, we talk about the importance of acquiring a good name. And I think blotting out someone’s name is more profound than just blotting out their memory. It’s blotting out any credence that they have? And I think, you know, maybe that’s part of the answer here that we can remember Amalek and blot out their name by Blotting out any residual value any weight that comes with who they are up, who knows, but it is a fascinating enigma.

Adam Mintz  23:19

So let’s go back though, to the idea that memory has within it a value statement, you remember, because you evaluate their values and who they are, you know, they’re talking now, obviously, today, the discussion is about the queen, the mother…. So, now King Charles, his grandmother, his father’s mother, was actually a Greek princess who was related to the King of England somehow, and they lived in Athens and she was deaf. And during the Holocaust, she saved a Jewish family. And in Yad Vashem, there is a plaque to the grandmother of the now King of England, King Charles. So, you know, you say that’s an amazing story. But that’s not an amazing story, because I just told you a historical fact. I mean, that’s a story. But it’s an amazing story because it shows you that this woman whose grandson is now the King of England, was someone who was, you know, who put her her life on the line to save a Jewish family. That’s an amazing thing. So its history, its memory, because of its value to us.

Geoffrey Stern  24:39

You know, I can just say personally, I’m the head of an organization that supports many organizations in Israel and my local Chabad Rabbi came to me and he says, I have a congregant whose parents were saved by a non-Jew during the Holocaust. And these non-Jews are getting very old and they have an application into Yad Vashem to become considered Righteous Among the Nations. And could you help us out? So, you know, I sent them a letter at Yad Vashem, and they politely replied, you know, obviously, we’ll look into it clearly, we don’t listen to outside sources. But I understand they are getting older. And a month later, they approved this person, and they sent the file. And I was blown away, the file was 120 pages long. It had testimony from police, from academics from community members that you know, talk about memory, and talk about recognizing those people that help us I mean, if we can recognize the Egyptians who tried to kill us, but nonetheless, they gave us a place to stay early on, think of the memory and what Yad VaHashem and it has that word in it, Sam, doesn’t it? Of course, of course, of course, that that the value of wood that we give to redeeming preserving, celebrating a name, and I was just blown away by the level of scrutiny. And most of it was in Polish. I couldn’t read it, but you could tell how deep the discussion was. So I think I love I’m glad that you brought up that story about the adverse sermon, the Queen, because it relates directly to kind of what we’re talking about. So as you know, somewhere in this summer, I picked up a book called Zachor “Remember” by Yosef Haim Yirushalmi, who is a professor of Jewish history at Columbia University. And it’s a very short book for all any of you who are interested in this story for any of you who get maybe a little bored during davening and Rosh Hashana and like to put a book inside of your Tallis bag. This is the book this year. It’s called Zachor. And what he is, is a historian struggling with what the Jewish connection is to memory, because Jewish historians only began very recently besides Josephus, we have not had a story until Heinrich Graetz, in the 1800s. And is your friend. Yeah. And he says, “Indeed, in trying to understand the survival of a people that has spent most of its life in global dispersion, I would submit that the history of its memory, largely neglected and yet to be written, may prove of some consequence.” He says “Only in Israel and nowhere else is the injunction to remember felt as a religious imperative to an entire people. It’s reverberations are everywhere but they reach a crescendo in the Deuteronomic history. And in the prophets, remember the days of old consider the years of ages past Deuteronomy 30: 2 to remember these things. Oh, Jacob, for you, oh, Israel, oh, my servant, I have fashioned you, you are my servant always. We’ll never forget me. Remember what Amalek did to you. Remember now that Balak king of more plotted against you? And he finishes and with a hammering insistence, remember that you were a slave in Egypt. He says if Herodotus was the father of history, the fathers of meaning in history, were the Jews. It’s a fascinating book. But I think it touches upon so many of the elements that we are dealing with tonight that are so fascinating. I just want to go back to that early verse, which has always intrigued me that says that you can’t hate that you have to recognize the Egyptians, because there is another fascinating law that the rabbi’s found in the Torah. And that is a prohibition against living in Egypt. You remember when the Egyptians were drowning, and all of the plagues had finished and God and Exodus 14 says, For the Egyptians whom you see today, you will never see again, the rabbi’s took that as a prohibition of going back to Egypt. In Deuteronomy, it says, in 17, Moreover he shall not keep many horses, it’s talking about our kings or send people back to Egypt to add to his horses, you must not go back that way again. So, most of us take that to mean don’t be like an Egyptian. The Rabbi’s took that as a commandment not to go back to Egypt. But we all know that there was always a Jewish presence in Egypt. If those of you who want to look at the notes on Sefaria, you will see that there was actually a temple modeled after our Mishcon in a place called Elephantine. And the most amazing thing is that there are some authorities that say that when Maimonides signed a letter written from Egypt, he would say, I am Moses, Maimonides, transgressing three commandments every single day.

Adam Mintz  30:40

That’s funny. it might be a legend, but it’s a good legend.

Geoffrey Stern  30:45

Some people say it’s a sign of humility. But even there it is a question about memory, and what we do with memory, because it seems to me that there is a possibility that some of these areas where we say, you can be nice to the Egyptians and the Edomites, and not nice to the Moabites might have had to do with politics of the day so to speak, our memory can change. But the lessons from that memory, I think, remain constant. So what are your last words on memory Rabbi as we approach the High Holidays?

Adam Mintz  31:23

So my last words on memory come from Yirushalmi’s book to say that exactly what happened in Judaism is not what’s important. You know, we say that the both temples were destroyed on the same day, you know, what the chances of that are very small, they were both destroyed in the same time of year, we put them together, because, because memory requires that the date the Temple was was destroyed as the worst day that you wish here. So be it put both of them together, it’s even worse. And I think that’s a very, very good lesson, that in Jewish history, it’s not exactly what happened, but it’s what we learn from it. And the fact that the word zachor is used so many times. That’s an important piece in this week’s parsha. So thank you very much for bringing that up this week. Shabbat Shalom to everybody. We look forward to seeing you next week. Parshat Ki Tavo. Be well everybody,

Geoffrey Stern  32:17

Shabbat Shalom to everybody. Remember that we have a podcast remember to give us a star and a good review is share it with your friends and family. And as we are in synagogue and Rosh Hashana. Let’s remember that there are lessons to be learned even from those people who have sinned against us or we have sinned against and let us progress from week to week. Shabbat shalom. See you all next week. Anyone who wants to raise their hand and come on up and say a little something, ask a question, continue the discussion I’m here,

Michael Posnik  32:57

just want to say this was a wonderful exposition. And there’s so many pieces of it that really make a lot of sense. What I was thinking about is that all the years that I grew up, you know, remembering Amalek and what he did to me what he did to me, Amalek and I remember at Yeshiva, the Mashgiach, got the Aliah for that parsha for that moment, remember, Amalek, it was like a holy moment. And I always thought it was you remember him because of what a mamzer he was, and how mean he was to us. So what I’m thinking now, and it has to do with your discussion about grudge, you know, Amalek is in us. And we have to remember that we have the potential to become Amalek. But the fact that it all happened to us should remind us should help us remember not to do that, essentially. And I think that’s connected to what you were saying about taking the lesson from it. Don’t be Amalek. Remember what he did. So, it’s like, you can’t blot out the memory but you can change what your grudges to something useful. Use the energy in a different way, you know, don’t behave like that. So that’s what came to my mind.

Geoffrey Stern  34:31

Well, I’m telling you, I think you’ve solved my riddle because you know, the verse starts by saying you must have completely honest weights and honest measures and that kind of cheating is an ounce here. A pint they’re not a big deal. Remember what it said about Amalek that we hate so much about them? They took advantage. They surprised you on the March when you were famished and wearing cut down all the stragglers in the rear. I think it’s the petty crimes. It’s the fact not that they attacked you, but how they attack you. And, and what you just said, was brilliant, because it’s the takeaway is yes, there’s an Amalek inside of us. And where does it come out? It doesn’t come out in realpolitik it doesn’t come out and global relationships, it comes out in cheating a little old lady, by putting your finger on the scale when you’re weighing her apples.

Michael Posnik  35:32

I love it. And it’s a message to read verses in context to. So yeah, Amalek… you could have little baby Amaleks and you can ever grown giant Amaleks. You know, the part of us that wants to deal dirty in the world is always there. And to remember that it’s always there and don’t do it. To choose life to use another way to deal with it. So Shamor, tizkor and zachor, right? What is it? Al Tishkach, don’t forget that it’s in you remember that you have the capability? Of behaving like that. And don’t do it. Yet. That’s it. So. But it’s a wonderful change for me, because you’re always supposed to hate Amalek for what he did …. well look at look at the Amalek in in all of us. And just remember that it’s there and don’t feed it. That’s I think that’s a good message for the holidays. Yeah, yeah. So, thank you.

Geoffrey Stern  36:50

Thank you, Michael. Great, great having you Oh, and Loren is raising a hand,

Loren Davis  36:56

I think this, this whole issue of weights and measures, gets down to the very foundation and the very fiber, it doesn’t really matter if you put your finger on the on the on the on the weights on the on the on the balance machine. The point is that you can do it. And that is something that we have to keep remembering, this whole issue of memories can change, which the rabbi discussed. I’m not sure how that quite fits in. But maybe it’s the examples aren’t as important as what the original foundation of the teachings is all about. Because it’s hard to argue against putting your finger on the balance I was looking at, at a company a number of years ago, and the fellow was trying to sell me it was a commodity company. And the fellow was trying to sell me the inventories…  his balance sheet on what the profitability was. And he was a religious Jew, an Orthodox Jew. And the reason his balance sheet was so wonderful was because he was, he was under shipping his suppliers because of the quantities involved it would never be discovered. And so, I think this, this whole issue, this whole concept of concentrate on the reality of your life, as opposed to maybe some of the facts that you’re gonna forget or not particularly remember, consistently makes a lot of sense to me.

Geoffrey Stern  38:32

My revelation this week in reading these verses in the context of the scales is that so many people talk about this Zecher Amalek, this overwhelming amount like in global terms in the you know, the amount of nationalists and politicists that talk about it. And we all do that we all watch our version of the news, and we want to know what banner to fly. But what this is telling us, as you said, is that it really comes down to the weeds of our own ethics and our own relationships, one to the other, and you build up from there. And that’s my real takeaway this week. And what you and Michael are saying, I think totally complements that. And it gives you a new way of thinking not only about that, but how we relate to the big picture. I mean, just imagine if all mankind would worry more about the scales, and less about nationalities and borders and attacks and things like that we’d have a different world.

Loren Davis  39:43

Sometimes there’s more to be lost in the examples as opposed to getting straight to the fact and I think that’s where sometimes this these writings get a little confusing because you try to insert things that maybe aren’t as important as the book basic message and I think your sheet was just incredibly wonderful so thank you for doing that

Geoffrey Stern  40:05

well thank you thank you everybody for coming have a great Shabbat and we’ll see you all next week thanks so much

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/429450

Listen to last year’s episode for kei Teitzei: Listening to the lyrics of Jewish Law

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Restore our Judges

parshat shoftim, deuteronomy 16 – 17

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on September 1st 2022. In the same parsha that the Torah concedes to the people’s desire to have a king “like the other nations” it also suggests another leadership model. The Shofet, normally translated as the Judge. We discuss the meaning of Shofet and explore a past and promised age of Shoftim.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/427752

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Last year in an episode called: “You are not my Boss” we focused on the Torah’s distaste for the people’s desire to have a king.  Today we will explore an alternative leadership model which is actually the name of the Torah portion.   The parsha is called Shoftim and Shofet, normally translated as the Judge can also be a decision-maker or person of action. So join us as we discuss the meaning of Shofet and explore a past and promised age of Shoftim in our episode called Restore our Judges.

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So welcome, welcome back from Paris rabbi, and welcome everybody. As I said, we do record this, it will be a podcast. And if you do listen to the podcast, make sure that you give us a star and give us a like and share it with your friends and family. But as I said, this parsha begins in Deuteronomy in 16: 18, and it says you shall appoint magistrates and officials, for your tribes in all the settlements that your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly; you shall not show partiality. You shall not take bribes for bribes, blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just, justice, justice, shall you pursue that you may thrive and occupy the land that your God is giving you? So, in the parsha, it has the famous צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף and it starts by saying שֹׁפְטִ֣ים וְשֹֽׁטְרִ֗ים תִּֽתֶּן־לְךָ֙ so judges and law is so seminal to Judaism. We are a people of lawyers. It’s one of the chosen professions. We talked a little bit in the pre-show about the impact of my Maimonides who is a doctor, but certainly law was such an important part of the Jewish psyche. I am the head of 100-year organization (PEF Israel Endowment Funds) that was started by Louis Brandeis, who along with Justice Cardoza, were two absolutely famous Jewish Supreme Court justices, and they did more than just sit on the bench. Louis Brandeis was so involved as a Zionist that there is a kibbutz named after him in Israel called Ein HaShofet. So, Rabbi, what is your first impression when you are given the word Shofet, and Zedek Zedek Tirdof,

Adam Mintz  03:20

So I think that your connection to last year’s class about Kings is very much related. You see, there are different models of leadership. King is an absolute ruler, Shofet.  Tzedek Tzedek Tirdoff is a different kind of ruler. Tzedek Tzedek Tirdoff is really saying that we have judges who carry out God’s desire, God remains the ultimate authority, and the judges are under God. But when you have a king, the king seems to take the place of God. That’s the difference between a Melech; a king, and a Shofet… a  judge.

Geoffrey Stern  04:08

I love that. I love that. And I love the fact that we both seem to be on the same page that we are talking about alternative leadership roles. There’s the kingdom, and there’s the judge and they are different and they relate to the people differently and they relate to God differently. If we scroll down a little bit in the Parsha, and we go to Deuteronomy 17, 8-9, it says if a case is too baffling for you to decide, be it a controversy over homicide, civil or assault matters of dispute in your court. You shall promptly repair to the place that your God has chosen and appear before the Levitical priests or the magistrate in charge at the time and present your problem when they have announced to you the verdict in the case. So here we get even a third role of leadership, it says that you should come to וּבָאתָ֗ אֶל־הַכֹּהֲנִים֙ הַלְוִיִּ֔ם וְאֶ֨ל־הַשֹּׁפֵ֔ט. So, it seems to me that even at this preliminary stage, a shofet is more than just a judge. He’s a leader. And from that perspective, you can bundle so fat with words like priest and Levi, you’re basically coming to people that make decisions, you’re coming to people that have leadership roles. And I think that’s really the path that I want to explore this evening, is looking at the shofet in a much broader lens, as a leader, and then kind of exploring, how is that leadership different than kingship, for instance, or other types of things? But how does it strike you that you would bring up a shofet, a Levi and a Cohen in the same breath?

Adam Mintz  06:04

You’re bringing up again, an amazing point, you know, the impression you get from the Chumash is that the Cohen and the Levi used to be the shoftim, they themselves used to be the judges. If that’s true, I can’t prove it necessarily. But if that’s true, what you see is that there was a connection between religious leadership and judicial leadership. The judges were the religious leaders. That’s not the way we have it today. Obviously, you know, you’ve talked about Judge Brandeis and Judge Cardozo, they happen to be Jewish. What you didn’t tell everybody was that when, Woodrow Wilson, I think, who selected, who nominated Brandeis to be the supreme court justice, there was big opposition, ironically, led by the New York Times that said that Brandeis could not be a Supreme Court justice, because there was a conflict of interest. They were afraid that his Judaism would influence his decisions. Can you believe that? His Judaism influences decisions? Now, the New York Times lost, and he was one of the great justices we ever had. But that’s what they say. And you see in the Chumash, that it’s exactly the opposite, that the Kohanim actually were the judges.

Geoffrey Stern  07:41

I think that’s fascinating. You know, it is so interesting. I think there’s a very high percentage of Roman Catholics, who are justices, and I think, and of course, President Kennedy came up against the same challenge, because the Catholic religion is so legalistic in many senses as well. But just to finish up, because I think I want to explore some verses that touch upon some of the things we’ve been talking about in in Deuteronomy, 19, which I believe is next week’s parsha. It says the two parties to a dispute shall appear before God before the priests or shoftim, the magistrates in authority at the time, and the magistrate shall make a thorough investigation, if the one who testified is a false witness, having testified falsely against a fellow Israelite. I think the aspect of religion that definitely blatantly, clearly impacts the Law is that they take an oath in the name of the Lord. And of course, we have that even till today. So, so I do think it’s fascinating how religion and justice kind of partner that is, and have a synergy between them. But I think there’s one aspect that I want to touch upon, that we touched upon a few weeks ago, if you recall Rabbi, we had an episode on Challah. And the we talked about that you had to take the challah, you had to take a portion off of the Challah and give it to the Cohen. And you told me and you said but Geoffrey it doesn’t say anywhere in the verse Cohen, it says you should give it to God. So, I was struck by that and in a sense, we have an instance where the priests are referred to as God. So, it was understood by those who read the text that when it says you shall give the piece of the challah to God, it meant to God’s representatives in a sense to the Kohanim. But what is equally fascinating is that many times, judges, are also referred to as God. So in Exodus 21, it says, but if the slave declares, I love my master and my wife and children, I do not wish to go free, his master shall take him before God, and he shall have his ear pierced, and Rashi on Exodus 21 5-6 says, el haElohim, to God means to the court. In Exodus 22, it says, If the thief is not caught, the owner of the house shall depose before God and deny laying hands on the other’s property. He says,  וְנִקְרַ֥ב בַּֽעַל־הַבַּ֖יִת אֶל־הָֽאֱלֹקִ֑ים and Rashi again, says, the judges. So it is fascinating that the two groups that we have focused on counter disposition to a king, who, as you said, replaces God, the Kohanim. And the judges are actually referred to God, what do you make of that?

Adam Mintz  11:17

Yeah, that is great. I mean, the word Elohim is the same word for judges and God. Now probably that reflects God to say that one of the roles that God has is He’s a judge. But it also means that the judge has the status of God. You see, you started, the class tonight by quoting the posuk said, Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof, we should pursue justice. Now, it sounds to me, like that’s a kind of secular comment, right? Pursue justice. But the truth of the matter is that that’s a religious statement. pursue justice is religious, you need to pursue justice, in a religious way, justice is defined in a religious way. And that’s brought out by the fact that the judges are also connected to God and connected to the Cohen and to the Levi.

Geoffrey Stern  12:20

You know, I think that you could easily make a case, that in a sense, that you go to a Cohen, you go to a judge with a difficult case, and you’re almost kind of consulting with an Oracle. And that would be the association with calling them God, you could make the case that they are representatives the human representatives of God, and that’s why you call them God. And finally, and I intimated this before, you could say that you actually do have to swear an oath in the name of God. And that’s why it says that you are approaching God, but I have a kind of a humanistic way of looking at it. And that would be that the way you started, you were saying that our challenge with kings is that they want to replace God. And I think that these leaders are as close to B’tzelem Elohim, the image of God, they do represent God and that in a sense, our leaders; those people that are active in the community, and are trying to decipher what the right and moral way is, are in fact, those people that are imbued with God. Those are, you know, in the words of Erich Fromm, those are the people who are following the dictate of You shall be as gods. So I do think that we are talking not only about leadership, alternatives, but leadership that is totally condoned by the Torah, and it’s condoned, because these people are trying as best they can as humans to represent to channel the Lord in this world.

Adam Mintz  14:20

I think that’s right. And again, I think it goes both ways, which is so great, right? It’s … They’re like God, and God is like the judges, we look at God as a judge, you know, there are two elements of God. There’s one element of God; God as being a compassionate God. And there’s another element of God as God being a righteous God or God being the God of justice. Now, God being the God of justice is a kind of scary God. There’s a wonderful Midrash it’s reflected in the Rosh Hashana davening. When it talks about the Akedah. The Akeda is when God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac on the altar, and God at the last-minute changes his mind. And what the Midrash says is that Abraham said to God, you know, you’re acting like the God of justice, I want you to become the God of compassion. And that’s what we do all do on Rosh Hashana; we try to turn the God of justice to into the God of compassion. That’s a really interesting idea.

Geoffrey Stern  15:27

You know, it’s not the focus of tonight’s discussion. But there are so many commentaries on why it says Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof , justice, justice, shall you pursue. And certainly, one of them, the most beautiful in my mind, is that you need to pursue justice, with justice. And I think that’s kind of what you were referring to….  that the strict law of justice, well, maybe that’s easy to do. But to do it in a fair way to do it in a compassionate way, to see the bigger picture. Maybe that’s why it says Tsedek Tsedek twice. But I want to get back to Shoftim. And those of us who pray three times a day and say the 18 benedictions, that Shemona Esrei, the Amidah, we talk about the Shoftim three times a day, there is a one of the 18 benediction says הָשִֽׁיבָה שׁוֹפְ֒טֵֽינוּ כְּבָרִאשׁוֹנָה וְיוֹעֲצֵֽינוּ כְּבַתְּ֒חִלָּה, Restore our judges as before, and our counselors as at first. Remove sorrow and sighing from us and reign over us, God along with kindness and compassion, and make us righteous with justice. And then it says, Blessed are you, oh, God, who is full of compassion and justice. So in this one, prayer is a lot to unpack, because it helps us make the transition from looking at a Shofet as simply a judge to something that is a whole lot bigger, because it’s clear in the big scope of history, that when it says, Bring back our judges and our counselors, it’s actually referring to a period in our history, the beginning of the book of Ruth says, and it was in the days of the Shoftim, it was in the days of the judges, there is a book of the Bible could call Judges that come before the book of Samuel and the book of Melachim, which is the Book of Kings one and two. So there is a whole period, call it a period that we can romanticize that we want to return to call it what you will, but it was a period that was ruled by Shoftim. And I think you would agree with me that the shoftim that it’s referring to are not simply magistrates sitting on a bench adjudicating these were all leaders. And so this is a fascinating blessing, least of which it proceeds a number of blessings that talk about bringing back the Davidic line and bringing back Jerusalem. It also is part of the whole eschatology of ending our suffering and bringing back a new age and it starts with shoftim, what does this blessing mean to you?

Adam Mintz  18:48

Oh, boy. So now you bring up a really interesting thing. That blessing הָשִֽׁיבָה שׁוֹפְ֒טֵֽינוּ כְּבָרִאשׁוֹנָה וְיוֹעֲצֵֽינוּ כְּבַתְּ֒חִלָּה is actually a blessing In  Shemona Esrei, in the order of the blessings of the Shemona Esrei, that blessing comes right beforeוְלִירוּשָׁלַֽיִם עִירְ֒ךָ בְּרַחֲמִים תָּשׁוּב that we go back to Jerusalem. It seems to be in the idea of the editor or the author of the Amidah that part of a return to Jerusalem is a return to justice, the way that it used to be. We can’t return to Jerusalem without a return to justice. Wow, that’s great. Right? Who would have thought that? But that seems to be what it’s saying. And it’s הָשִֽׁיבָה שׁוֹפְ֒טֵֽינוּ כְּבָרִאשׁוֹנָה וְיוֹעֲצֵֽינוּ כְּבַתְּ֒חִלָּה, it’s almost like a messianic prayer. We want judges like we used to have judges, then we’re going to have a messianic reality. So the this really elevates the idea of justice. This isn’t just that, you know that the judges are the ones who are going to be fair and all these things. It’s that that’s part of the Messianic vision, not so we don’t have now Which is kind of this, you know, symbiotic relationship between judges and God and religion and Tzedek all of these things together, I’ll just say the word said Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof, the word tzedek is a great word. Because we always love talking about words, because the word Tzedek is related to another word that we know that word is the word Tzedakah. usually you think of Tzedakah as charity as something that you volunteer to do. Tzedek on the other hand, righteousness is something that you’re obligated to do. And what you see is that you’re obligated to be good. That’s why we choose the word Tzedaka. Being good is not something that you voluntary, in tradition, it’s part of the obligation, you need to be good. That’s what Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdoff means.

Geoffrey Stern  20:59

You know, the, the prayers that we say every day, they don’t come out of a vacuum. And this prayer has beautiful language that you referenced about returning us to the days of old, and it really comes from the most beautiful haftorah that we say, I would say oh a year, and it’s on Shabbat Hazon, Hazon means vision. And it comes from Isaiah, 1:1, the prophecies of Isaiah, who prophesies concerning Judah and Jerusalem. And these are the prophecies where Isaiah says, I don’t want your sacrifices. I take no joy in the bulls or delight in the goats. He goes, bringing ablations is futile. Bringing oblations is futile,-c Incense is offensive to Me. New moon and sabbath, Proclaiming of solemnities, Assemblies with iniquity,-d I cannot abide. . He says, putting down all ritual and he says Wash yourselves clean; Put your evil doings Away from My sight. Cease to do evil; (17) Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; Aid the wronged.-e Uphold the rights of the orphan; Defend the cause of the widow. And then he goes on to say Your rulers are rogues And cronies of thieves, Every one avid for presents And greedy for gifts; They do not judge the case of the orphan, And the widow’s cause never reaches them. (24) Assuredly, this is the declaration Of the Sovereign, the LORD of Hosts, The Mighty One of Israel: “Ah, I will get satisfaction from My foes; I will wreak vengeance on My enemies! (25) I will turn My hand against you, And smelt out your dross as with lye,-h And remove all your slag:  And then it says, I will restore your magistrates as of old, And your counselors as of yore. After that you shall be called City of Righteousness, Faithful City.” (27) Zion shall be saved in the judgment; Her repentant ones, in the retribution. So exactly as you said, this is the context of this prayer. They lifted, they paraphrase, they took the exact words of Isaiah, but it really puts doing the right thing above all else, all of the ritual, all of the mouth services, all of the temple worship, it’s one of the most profound messages. And it all is triggered from corrupt leaders, corrupt judges, and judges of Old, it is absolutely powerful. Is it not?

Adam Mintz  23:39

It is I wonder why it is that the judges were so corrupt. Why is it that the book of Shoftim is the wrong model of leadership? You never would have guessed it from this week’s parsha this week’s parsha שֹׁפְטִ֣ים וְשֹֽׁטְרִ֗ים תִּֽתֶּן־לְךָ֙ בְּכׇל־שְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ sounds as if we should make judges that’s a good model of leadership. Where do you come up with this idea that they were bad? Isn’t that interesting?

Geoffrey Stern  24:09

I’m gonna part roads with you. I think that Isaiah was talking literally about the judges. As we know them in the day of, in the period before the destruction of the temple. I think when he says restore the shoftim of old. Yes, he’s referring back to the time of the Shoftim. And like I did last week, I went back and I opened up Shoftim and I read it anew and I do believe that there was a little bit of a golden age zero. It was very strange. Joshua dies. And there are literally 12 judges, one of who is Deborah, the judge, and I say the word judges I’m going to speak about them now as Shoftim because they were not judges in the way we’ve been you using the word, they were decisionmakers. They were people of action. And I think that’s how they can best be described. They were not necessarily the person who would sit in the front pew of a synagogue, one of them had was missing an arm. And he went ahead and killed the enemy by coming into request a private meeting. Deborah was was a warrior. And this is the challenge for us. Not that Isaiah was putting them down, or the prayer that I just referenced from this Shemoneh Esrei puts them down. But in a sense, it does talk about these very human people who are and you know, we grow tired of saying this, that the Torah always talks about, even our greatest heroes have flaws and limitations. But I think what you do when you read the book of Shoftim, and it’s all in the Seforia notes, is there’s a cycle that people have a Shofet, and he rules for 12 years, and then he dies, or he gets killed, and the people start eating off the land. And all they care about is wealth, all they care about is agriculture. They don’t even care enough to defend themselves. These Sophtim more than anything else are people that defended the people, I think that Josephus believe it or not, characterizes the shift in best. He says, After this, the Israelites grew effeminate as to fighting any more against their enemies, but applied themselves to the cultivation of the land, which producing them great plenty and riches, they neglected the regular disposition of their settlement, and indulged themselves in luxury and pleasures; nor were they any longer careful to hear the laws that belonged to their political government:  they stopped building armies, they stopped protecting themselves. And they also Yes, went into idolatry. And then a Shofet would come, and he would be a Shofet for 40 years. And then they would fall into the same thing. It was almost, I talked about it so fat as people of action, because I think that what the sin of the people really was, was that they were inactive, that they were just satisfied with the status quo. And that to me, is the read I’ve gotten from looking at the book of Shoftim this week, which is a fascinating read. It’s a fascinating period in our history that we don’t really know we don’t talk about.

Adam Mintz  27:57

So that’s interesting and the reason we don’t talk about that period in our history, is because it was an unsuccessful period in our history. And it was undone with the introduction of kingship, first King Saul, who was a great king. I mean, he failed, but he was a great king. And then of course, there was King David. So what you’re saying, is that really the Shoftim, their problem was that the form of leadership of a Shofet is to take the reality as it is, and to work with it. And sometimes that just isn’t good enough. Sometimes you need a king who can actually change the reality. That’s really good.

Geoffrey Stern  28:40

On the one hand, it was a failed period. And on the other hand, three times a day, we talk about returning us to the period of the Shoftim.

Adam Mintz  28:56

That’s correct. You can say there, you know, it depends; judges are as good as judges can be. But I think there’s a very important piece the religious piece that you brought up about the fact that Elohim means both the judge and means God there’s something messianic about judges.

Geoffrey Stern  29:16

I think there’s something messianic and it is one of the few blessings that we change during the 10 days of repentance during the high holidays

Adam Mintz  29:25

We emphasize HaMelech. הַמֶּֽלֶךְ הַמִּשְׁפָּט Because the 10 days of Rosh Hashanah – Yom Kippur it’s about God being king. We don’t say God is the judge, though that’s there obviously. But it’s God being the king. That’s also something to think about why on Rosh Hashana is God King and not God judge? God obviously could be both why do we choose one and not the other? I don’t know the answer. It’s good question.

Geoffrey Stern  29:57

I mean, my sense is that God has to be I’m king because he has to reclaim the title from humankind. There are humans who wish to steal it. God being a judge, I think he can live with judges who represent him. You know, I think there’s, there’s a lot more synergy I think between God as a judge and human judges, then there is God as the king and the human king, where there’s really only one seat at the throne. But I think it’s a fascinating takeaway.  I continue to be intrigued, and I will take it with me for the Shabbat that we want to return to a failed period where at least we were struggling with these issues, and as importantly, that we celebrate people, men, women, Deborah Sampson people of action, and that the worst thing is to grow. Where we don’t care, we go callous, not only to the orphan and the widow, but even to our own needs of moving forward, protecting our families and so forth and so on. And all we want to do is harvest our crop.

Adam Mintz  31:07

I think that’s, I think that’s great. This was a great choice. And it’s really something to think about suddenly thinking about the Shabbos and something to think about as we approach Rosh Hashanah. So thank you so much. Thank you for leading this class from the car and after enjoying a great day at the US Open and we want to wish everybody a Shabbat shalom. Enjoy the parsha Enjoy the holiday weekend and we look forward to seeing everybody next week to talk about parshat Ki Tezei. Be well everybody Shabbat shalom.

Geoffrey Stern  31:37

Shabbat shalom. Thank you, everybody.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/427752

Listen to last week’s episode: A time that never was

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A time that never was

parshat re’eh – deuteronomy 12-13

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse August 25th 2022. The Torah prohibits us from adding or detracting to its directives and also against rewriting history. It even predicts that there might be a time where our leaders will try to reinvent our past. We discuss.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/426413

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. In this week’s Torah reading is Re’eh. The Torah prohibits us from adding or detracting to its directives and also against rewriting history. It even warns that there might be a time where our leaders will try to reinvent our past. So hop into your time-machine and join us as we discuss…. A Time That Never Was…

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Well, welcome. We are broadcasting from the Franco-American timeline. The rabbi is in Gay Paree, and I am in Connecticut. Thank you all for joining us. And we are getting towards the end of the Torah here. And as I said in the intro, the parsha Re’eh and it really covers a lot of good stuff. It starts with a little tease about a blessing and a curse and the whole Mount Grezim him and Har Ebel thing that we’re going to have soon, but doesn’t really go there. Then it starts talking, as it’s thinking about coming into the land, of destroying the altars that are there. And it’s focused on centralizing Judaism so that the idea is that you should only worship God in the designated, appointed place and destroy all of the altars of the non-Jews. And then it talks about how do you eat meat outside of that designated place, talks about false prophets gets into kosher rules, gets into tithes, the sabbaticals and holidays. So, it’s really got a lot of stuff. But we as is our custom are going to focus on something that could literally fall through the cracks. And that is in Deuteronomy 12: 29 It says, as follows. “When your have God has cut down before you the nation’s that you are about to enter and dispossess and you have dispossessed them and settled in their land, וְיָרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֹתָ֔ם וְיָשַׁבְתָּ֖ בְּאַרְצָֽם beware of being lured into their ways after they have been wiped out before you do not inquire about their gods saying How did those nations worship their god? I too will follow these practices” you will say, “You shall not act thus towards your God, for they perform for their gods every abhorrent act that God detests. They even offer up their sons and daughters to fire to their gods.” So, this is very strange, it really struck my attention. Because we’ve heard so many times about being influenced by the Canaanites by the idol worshipers that are in the land. But here it’s talking about a situation where you’ve already dispossessed them, and you’ve settled in the land. And it really is talking about don’t start looking kind of like an archaeologist It would seem or, or maybe a theologian curious about ancient practices, beware of being lured into the ways do not inquire about their gods, it says to וּפֶן־תִּדְרֹ֨שׁ לֵאלֹֽהֵיהֶ֜ם. And the commentaries are either very silent, or there’s one commentary that I found Rabbeinu Bahya who really does point this out. He says, you know, what’s the logic here, you’ve already destroyed them. When you beat somebody and they lose a war, you hardly want to imitate them. So what’s going on here and he says, This prohibits “Even the inquiry into details of the former inhabitants’ religious worship is forbidden” So it’s almost forbidden to do what we do so many times here at Madlik wishes, we look into context in history and practices of other people.

Adam Mintz  04:37

So, your point is a very important point. And that is that, chronologically, the way the Torah is set up. This is Moses speaking to the people before they enter the land. But because Moses is not going to enter of the land. He talks to them as if they’re already in the land. And they have all the challenges of being in the lands. Now, the idea of Kosher is a very interesting thing, just to take one thing that you mentioned, the idea of Kosher is not mentioned here for the first time, it’s mentioned in the book of Leviticus. But in the book of Leviticus, it means something very different. Because in the desert, the only time the Jews were allowed to eat meat was if they sacrificed a sacrifice, they sacrificed the sacrifice, and then they ate meat as part of the sacrifice. It was only when they entered the land when the borders became too great too wide and they weren’t able to get to Jerusalem every night where they wanted to have hamburgers, that they were allowed to eat from the meat even without, even without sacrifices. So even something like that, Jeffrey, I think that’s an interesting point that you make even something like that, you know, the laws of Kosher which we know from before, but they have a completely different meaning now, because they’re talking about a different situation, a situation that’s not limiting, but actually is expanding.

Geoffrey Stern  06:13

So, I totally I totally agree, everything is now focused on going into the land. But what I took away from this is this was one step further, this imagined prophesizes, if you will, a time where you’re successful, where there aren’t no pagans in the land, either they’ve converted or they’ve left or what else could have happened to them, but they’re not there. And the commentaries kind of focus on this is what what exactly is being prohibited here. And I think either looking at the few commentators like I did, like Rabbeinu Bahya or just looking at it as we do, you gotta think it’s strange. The question is, why would you number one, one to inquire about the gods of these unsuccessful inhabitants? And what is the concern about inquiring…..  that I do think we have an inkling, it says, If you inquire, then you might start acting like them. And keep in mind, they go so far as to offer their children to their gods. But it is, to me anyway, it struck me as strange. And I think that for once the rabbinic authorities either didn’t have much to say about it, or when they did, the best they could really come up with is, maybe don’t be curious. Don’t be looking back. But I want to continue on this thread in our parsha. Because if you go to verse 13, the next chapter right after this, it says, Be careful to observe only that which I enjoin upon you neither add to it nor take away from it לֹא־תֹסֵ֣ף עָלָ֔יו וְלֹ֥א תִגְרַ֖ע מִמֶּֽנּוּ. And this, of course, is a little bit of a parallel, because you would think from the earlier statement, that you might be tempted to say, well, exactly how did they pray? And how did they deal with their tabernacle architecture, maybe we should take some of the beauty that we can see in the fallen structures around …. this idea of adding to the Torah, and clearly of taking away where we have requirements. As you mentioned, kashrut, Shabbat, all of the things that are mentioned. Don’t take those away. In historical perspective, I think this has been used as a double edged sword, correct me if I’m wrong, not adding, would really protect us from zealots who want to increase …..  I think Rashi is example that he gives is, for instance, “to place five chapters in the Tephillin, to employ five species of fruit and plants in the fulfilment of the command of Lulab”. So, Rashi is focused on a quantitative addition. But the idea is, don’t be a “Machmir”, don’t be a fanatic and crazy and start adding certain things and detracting would be the typical argument against the reformers, the enlightenment, where they would take away from the commandments and say, this is not necessary. It’s the Spirit of the Law. But do you see this? There’s kind of a correlation, a train of thought here between the two statements that we’re working on so far.

Adam Mintz  09:54

I think that’s all really good. Let me just deal with two points you just made. The first point is why people would be tempted towards idolatry. It’s interesting. The Talmud says that there are two big Yetzer Hora’s, two things that people desire. One thing is sexual, you know, sexual promiscuity, and the other is idolatry. And the Gemara says that the Yetzer Hora for idolatry has already disappeared, but the age of horror for sexual promiscuity that’s still there. But the question is, why is that so? Why is it that? Nowadays we’re not interested in idolatry, but then they were interested by Idolatry. And I think you have to understand something about what idolatry offers, that that monotheism that one God doesn’t offer. You know, when somebody’s sick, we pray to God, when we go on a trip, but we want to be safe, we pray to God, when we want to be successful in business, we pray to God. It’s the same God we pray to, in idolatry, everything has its own god, you know, like the Greek god Poseidon. When they went on a trip across the ocean, they weren’t going on planes then, when they had a trip across the ocean, they went to Poseidon. When they got married, they went to the God of love, when they got sick, they went to the god of healing. And there was something extremely, you know, desirable about this idea that everybody had a personal God, it’s kind of like the way you feel when you’re sick. You know, God forbid, if someone has a specific, problem, they don’t want to go to the general practitioner, right, Geoffrey, that was in our parents or grandparents of generation that everybody went to the to the GP, and he or she solved all the problems. Now you want the specialist, you want the specialist, who’s the specialist of the specialist of the specialists, who only deals with exactly what your problem is, the truth of the matter is that that’s the same thing with gods, we want a god who was a specialist, and naturally why there was a Yetzer Hora. And that’s why the Torah says don’t go after their gods, that, you know, they looked at these people, and they said, hey, you know, maybe something’s right, because they seem to be living in good life, and they have very specific gods. That’s number one. Number two, is the idea of not to add and not to subtract, obviously, that is at the core of everything Jewish, because that’s the whole tradition of the evolution of the law. You know, obviously, the law has been added to and has been subtracted from just take the littlest things, right, the fact that we sell our Hametz (leaven), before Pesach, is in addition to the law, the fact that we avoid the laws of the Shmita, the seven sabbatical years by selling the land to a non-Jew is an addition to the law. It’s subtraction from the law. So, what is it exactly this acceptable and what’s not acceptable? And why when the reform movement came around? And they said, you know, we’re going to cut out some the prayers and these kinds of things. How did everybody know that was unacceptable? Maybe that was part of the acceptance. And this law of don’t add it don’t subtract is really about rabbinic authority. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about who makes the rules. And the amazing thing is that according to tradition, the Torah was written 3,300 years ago, and we are still in 2022. arguing about that point, who makes the rules? I’ll just tell you a funny Paris story, Sharon, and I were walking down the street this afternoon. And we overheard some young woman who was on her cell phone….. And of course, we Americans always talk too loud…..  So, she was on her phone. And we heard her say, Maharat for Shabbos. I like, we stopped and say what, what are you talking about Maharat in Paris, and it seems to be that there is a Maharat in Paris, and she’s on of my students. And we’re going there for Shabbos lunch. And this young woman is invited, and she was telling her mother that she’s going to Maharat for Shabbos lunch. Now, that’s just kind of funny, this small world that we live in. But you know, that’s an example, who says that women can’t be rabbis? Why is that an addition to the law that the Orthodox won’t accept, while you know selling your Hametz is something that they will accept. So this idea of adding and subtracting to the law is something that we’re still fighting about this every day.

Geoffrey Stern  14:10

I love the fact that you’re all the way in Paris and you heard about Maharat the school that you teach that that trains women rabbis in the Orthodox tradition. Small world is the only term that comes to mind. So I think you’re right. And I love the fact that you bring in things that are across the border, because in Deuteronomy 13: 7, it repeats kind of with a new nuance, the prohibition about taking customs and worship rights from the pagans. It says “If your brother, your own mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your closest friend entices you in secret, saying, “Come let us worship other gods”—whom neither you nor your ancestors have experienced — from among the gods of the peoples around you, either near to you or distant, anywhere from one end of the earth to the other: do not assent or give heed to any of them.” So again, I believe this is totally new territory. Because up until now, we’ve been concerned with the pagan practices that they are being exposed to, don’t let your kids marry someone from the Canaanites, all of that stuff. And here, the field of vision is so much larger, there’s this issue of secret, which we’re going to have to deal with. But even before we get there, it’s a movement of people. But it has stuff that not even your ancestors, this isn’t even the paganism that Abraham rejected, or that you might have seen maybe in Egypt. The field of vision is so much larger. And I’m going to ask you to comment, and then I’m going to give you what I believe, is, is the historical context for these paragraphs. But do you agree with me that there’s something strange and different in this prohibition than other ones that we’ve seen here to four?

Adam Mintz  14:12

Yes, I think it’s right. And I’m gonna I’m going to pause for a second to listen to your historical analysis. Because I think that’s what it’s really all about here. What’s the background for this paragraph? So why don’t you shoot with the history and then we’ll talk about,

Geoffrey Stern  16:40

so thank you. So as you know, when we started reading Devarim (Deuteronomy), we really said it is a totally different voice, a totally different book. The Torah itself talks about it being discovered. And in the books of Tanach. There are those that say that it was written/discovered during the reign of King Josiah. But in any case, it has a different vision. And I am reading what is the first popular history of the Jewish people by a guy named Heinrich Graetz. We Jews love history, but we don’t necessarily study history. And he has two things that struck me that I read recently that really kind of put this into context. The first is a king called Jeroboam. And he ruled 977 to 955. And what he did is that he started to take control, and he’s used religion as a way of gaining control of all the people. I’m gonna read a little bit from greats. “He was the only man of ability and daring and an Ephraimite. From the tribe of Ephraim. They readily fell into his scheme and he introduced other tribes to join them. To obviate the need of pilgrimages to the temple.” Remember, we just came through the Torah, saying you have to make the pilgrimage to the set centralized temple, to which the people had been accustomed and in which their lurked a political danger, Jeroboam hit upon a mischievous scheme, which was to lead Israel back into idolatry. During his sojourn in Egypt, Jeroboam became acquainted with the animal worship of the Egyptians and learn the stupefying effects that had upon people. The introduction of Apis worship in Egypt, in effect on the Israelites would render them more tractable, and in addition would raise Jeroboam in the favor of the Egyptians.” So, there was domestic politics involved, and there was a foreign politics involved. “Moreover, Jeroboam determined to pose as a restorer of the ancient religion of Israel, and not as the creator of a new one. In Egypt and later in his own countries. They worshipped sacred bulls, and it goes into detail how this king drove them. You consolidated political party by leading a false movement of returning to a past that never existed, and he was successful. There was another king Manasha of Judah who was 200 years later, who did very similar things. He promoted idolatry again, I’m reading from Greitz throughout the kingdom, built pagan temples and Egan sacrificed on his sons and the fires of my life. He There’s a tradition that he killed Isaiah. So I think as you read these, and I would love you to go to the Sefaria notes and read in detail what Greitz wrote, and others wrote, I think that puts a totally new face on what we just read. This wasn’t pure speculation if you’re a traditional Jew, and you believe that Devarim was spoken by Moses, it was prophesizing, this period where these dastardly kings would go ahead and manipulate the past, and try first in secret amongst friends and family and then move it out where they would consolidate power, and use a religion that they imported from afar to do this. It seems to me that if you get a sense of history, and you know the history of for instance, these two kings, who by the way, preceded the King, who found (the book of Devarim) under his role, he did a true return Tshuvah, a true return to our religion. And he is responsible for bringing the book of Devarim to the fore.  I feel like I’ve been robbed, I had never realized this part of Jewish history. And once you read it, and then you read the verses that we just read in Devarim, it puts them in a totally different context. It’s talking about real situations that will happen prophetically, that did happen?

Adam Mintz  21:27

So that’s first of all, thank you to Greitz, I’m happy that you’re reading Greitz. Because, you know, the history of the prophetic period or the Kingdom is really the history of monotheism, the belief in the one God, the Jewish God, in the case of the prophets, and idolatry. And what you see is, and unless you read it Geoffrey, you can’t really believe it. You see the pull that idolatry had on people. It had on people it had on Kings, and then how complete societies were actually idol worshipers. I’m gonna tell you something else. That’s interesting. I don’t know if Greitz mentioned this. But you know, we have the tradition, the Torah, that the golden calf was the worst sin of the Jewish people. We know from archaeology now that during the time of the first temple, the Jews, the committed Jews, the Jews committed to God committed to the temple committed to the Prophet committed to the king, they actually had little idols, little golden calves at home, and they use them to worship God, the Jewish God. So, what you see is that idolatry was so strong, that even the good guys used idolatry, sometimes to help them with their religion. So, you see exactly what you said, what the pull of idolatry was all about. And you kind of understand, you know, during the end of the First Temple, the 10 tribes, they went north, and they basically broke away, and then they were captured by Sennacherib, and then they were dispersed, and we don’t know anything about them. And what we have is really the tribes of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin. So, we only have, two out of the 12 tribes have remained for everybody, maybe three because Levi also was there because idolatry gobbled up the other tribes. Yep, that’s an amazing thing. Think about that. Idolatry literally gobbled up 9 of the 12 tribes.

Geoffrey Stern  23:27

It is it is totally amazing. And the other parallel aspect of it is how closely linked politics and religion were. It’s not a modern phenomenon. Certainly, anyone who studied the papacy knows that. But the point is that if Graetz is even 80%, correct, in the in his treatment of these two kings, and he, by the way, does not make the connection to the book of Devarim. It was just that kind of small world moment where I’m reading the parsha and I’m reading Graetz, and it just leapt out of the page, that in fact, you couldn’t get a better explanation of the strange verses that we just started with, then to understand that there were going to be leaders who were going to reach near and far who were going to pretend that this was an earlier religion, that they were reformers, so to speak, and we’re going to use it and yes, the outcome is tribes were lost the whole tapestry of the Israelite tribes was broken over this. And as we as we end, what I would like to do is to bring this up to date, because I think it’s very clear that on not only from the beginning has politics and political power, diplomacy and religion been very united, we see it even today there are two books that I quote in the in the in the notes on Sefaria. One is it’s called Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites Its History Hardcover – May 1, 2015 by Marc B. Shapiro (Author). And of course, you Rabbi talked about the Halachic aspect of this. And the book is written by a real deep scholar. And the other book is The Uses of Tradition: Jewish Continuity in the Modern Era (Jewish Theological Seminary) Paperback – February 1, 1999, by Jack Wertheimer (Editor). And it brings an amazing story there. And it’s the story that in Israel, there was a great scholar named The Hazon Ish and this story is called The lost kiddush cup. And he decided that there was a particular shiur, there was a particular measurement that the kiddish cup had to be to be yotze, to fulfill the obligations of making kiddush and one of the students took his words very seriously. And he went home. And he brought back the kiddish cup that his great grandfather who was a major scholar in Poland used and guess what, it didn’t have the right shiur, it wasn’t large enough to hold the wine that the has a nice wanted. And he uses this as an example. And it goes on to say there was a whole to-do because they found the kiddush cup of the Chafetz Chaim and it also wasn’t large enough. And the scholar who wrote the book uses this to explain how we constantly are rewriting history. And we have to be careful of it. And first of all, you have to identify it. And then you have to be careful of it because as the verse said, you can’t add or detract from these things. But I think the most important thing is we have to be aware of it. And it’s so important to understand not only what’s added and what’s not, but sometimes what the motivations are. And I think that becomes very powerful and in the State of Israel, where religion at the end of the day is playing a very large role, we can definitely see how secular leaders are a able to use tag words of religion and to sway people and it’s something that I think needs to be to be studied and at times called out that to me is how up to date these warnings are and not simply about adding a few laws here and there but changing the whole fabric.

Adam Mintz  27:47

That is fantastic. So I think what you see here and it’s really more true in Devarim, these portions in Divorim than anywhere else is that the issues that affected the Jewish people 3,000 years ago were still the issues that affect us today. And we can learn both from the mistakes that were made in the past and the you know the things that people did right and you talk about the Hazon Ish and the Hazon Ish’s kiddish cup and you talk about women rabbis, and all of these kinds of things. It’s really amazing to see how we still argue about it. But we should gain strength just to end on a nice note we should gain strength and the fact that the Jewish tradition is alive. And then on clubhouse we can still argue about argue and discuss the same issues and that makes us stronger and that makes us better. So whether you’re in Paris, none on the East Coast or anywhere in between have a Shabbat Shalom, enjoy the Parsha Chodesh Tov. It’s the beginning of the month of Elul.  Rosh Hashanah is right around the corner. Enjoy everybody and we look forward to seeing you next week at our regularly scheduled time. Eight o’clock on the East Coast Eastern Daylight Time. Shabbat Shalom Shabbat Shalom Geoffrey

Geoffrey Stern  28:55

Shabbat shalom. Au revoir rabbi and enjoy and take notes from Paris and for the rest of us. Yes, let’s realize how up to date, the Torah is always and keep our focus on strange little pictures and visions that occur and try to get to the bottom of them. Be sure to look for the Madlik podcast, give us some stars say something nice. And with that I will say Au revoir from Connecticut. Shabbat shalom.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/426413

Listen to last week’s episode: Attitude is Everything

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Attitude is Everything

parshat eikev, deuteronomy 8-10

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on August 18th 2022. Much in this parsha relates to the correct and incorrect attitude. The Israelites are described as “stiff necked” and “rebels” (mamrim). They are warned not to attribute their success to their own power and commanded to bless God even when satiated. Finally, they are told that all God wants from them is their fear. We explore the power of disposition and attitude in Jewish thought.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/425215

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. In this week’s Torah reading the Israelites are described as “stiff necked” and “rebels”. They are warned not to attribute their success to their own power and commanded to bless God even when satiated. Finally, they are told that all God wants from them is Yira… translated as fear, awe or wonder. We explore the power of disposition and attitude in Jewish thought. So welcome to Attitude is Everything.

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Well, welcome back rabbi from the holy city of Beer Sheva, it’s great to have you back.

Adam Mintz  01:08

It’s nice to be back in New York. And I’m looking forward to our discussion tonight about Eikev.

Geoffrey Stern  01:13

Absolutely. And next week, we’re going to do it at 12:00 Because you’re going to be in Paris

Adam Mintz  01:19

So we’ll see whether we can put a little bit of French Jewish history into it next week.

Geoffrey Stern  01:25

You should be called the Traveling Rabbi. But anyway, we are all traveling one portion one parsha at a time. And this week, we are in the portion of Eikev. And as I referred to it has a lot in it. But towards the end it says And now Oh, Israel in Deuteronomy 10: 12. What does your god demand of you? Only this, to revere your God, to walk only in divine paths to love and to serve your God with all your heart and soul? And the fear your God isכִּ֣י אִם־לְ֠יִרְאָ֠ה אֶת־ה’ אֱלֹקֶ֜יךָ. And so, you know, this kind of reminds you of these great closing lines. I’m thinking of Micha, but where the prophets really end up saying, and this is it all in a nutshell. And the rabbi’s took something profound from this verse. In the Talmud, Berachot 33b, it says Rabbi Hannina said everything is in the hands of heaven, except for fear of Heaven. הַכֹּל בִּידֵי שָׁמַיִם, חוּץ מִיִּרְאַת שָׁמַיִם man has freewill to serve God or not, as it is stated, and he quotes our verse. And now Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you other than to fear the Lord? So why don’t we stop right here we’re going to have a great discussion about orientation and disposition and we’re going to touch upon all of those other verses that talk about maybe the characteristics of the Jewish people. But let’s stop here for a second and just talk about Yirat Shemayim. you know, it’s a very basic term you introduce religious parents to a friend in New York. He’s a real Yirat Shemayim… it’s kind of the tagline for a religious observant. Personality. What does Yirat Shemayim actually mean? Is it fear and trepidation?

Adam Mintz  03:35

It’s a good question. I like to translate it as awe what is all mean, if you meet, I don’t know, if you’re a basketball fan, and you meet LeBron James, you’re not afraid of LeBron James, but you’re in awe of Lebron James. That’s the way we’re supposed to think of God, we need to be in awe of God. Now there is some fear, because God has the ability to punish. But if you’re in awe of God, then you behave in a certain way. Like if you’re in the presence of the Queen of England, you’re going to behave in a certain way, because you’re in awe of the Queen of England. So, I prefer the word awe to fear.

Geoffrey Stern  04:16

So you mentioned about fear of punishment. And I think if you start to look at the traditional texts, you start to sense this tension between fear of outcomes and fear of God. So, in Pirkei Avot, it says Antigonus a man of Socho received [the oral tradition] from Shimon the Righteous. He used to say: do not be like servants who serve the master in the expectation of receiving a reward, but be like servants who serve the master without the expectation of receiving a reward, and let the fear of Heaven be upon you. וִיהִי מוֹרָא שָׁמַיִם עֲלֵיכֶם So here it’s almost in a positive sense rather than fear of punishment, it’s looking for reward. But they seem to be all tied together. And you can’t but ignore this concept that I always heard in the Yeshiva, which is do something for its own sake do it L’shma. What is the tension here?

Adam Mintz  05:23

Well, you bring up the idea of doing it for its own sake. See, you also said this what you learned in the Yeshiva, you know, I see them and what you call the yeshiva people had a big dispute. Hasidim thought that you should do things. because they get you closer to God. You know, there’s a dispute about what time to daven, to pray in the morning. Yeshiva, people like to pray early, because that’s when the time the Rabbis say, That’s the proper time to pray. Hasidim, if you ever went to a Chabad shul, you know, they start at 10 o’clock in the morning, because they believe that it more it’s more important to pray in a way that will get you closer to God. And the way that will get you closer to God is if you get to sleep late, then you’ll be able to pray and get closer to God. So the idea of why you do something, are you afraid of punishment? Do you want to get closer to God? Or is it just l’shma? Just because is actually a fascinating discussion.

Geoffrey Stern  06:33

So I went to, I would consider Torah Vadaath a Hasidic Yeshiva. And so the explanation I heard for why the Hasidim can start services, even after the prescribed time of saying the Shema. They say if you go to a restaurant, and the food is mediocre, it better be served fast and on time. But if you go to a five star restaurant, you’ll excuse them if it’s a little late. That’s what they tell me. So it was the quality of the prayers, too. But I totally agree there is a tension, I wouldn’t say quality and quantity. But certainly when you talk about fear of God, it brings up this dialectic between what exactly are you afraid of? And what is your motivation? So Maimonides on his commentary on the Pirkei Avot  that I just quoted, he kind of gets into this tension too. And he says, And nonetheless, he did not exempt us from fear of God. So he talks about how important it is to be serving God not for reward. And he said, even as you serve from love, do not discard fear completely. And may the fear of Heaven be upon you serve from love, serve from fear, he quotes the Talmud in Berachot. And then he adds, he says, you know, Love is a great pathway for the positive commandments. And fear is a great pathway for the negative commandments. And all the more so for the irrational commandments. So again, I think there’s this sense that even though our text in our pasuk that we just quoted seems to imply or at least the rabbi’s took it this way, because if you read the whole verse, it says, you know, revere God and then it says, work in his pathways love to serve your God with all your heart and soul. The thread that we’re following tonight, focused almost in isolation on this concept of fear. And the commentary seems to try to, I don’t know, square it with all the other intentions that are so important, and it almost comes out to be a backstop. And that’s why tangentially This Antigonus Ish Socho said, do it for the right reason, do it for the right reasons, but never give up on fear. So it almost seems like a default. A plan B if everything else fear fails, there’s always fear.

Adam Mintz  09:20

Well, let’s go back to the pasuk that you quoted. It says what is God asked from you? He only asks fear. So actually, that’s what I think they’re playing on. Why is it that he only asks fear? What about everything else? God doesn’t ask you to fast on Yom Kippur. God doesn’t ask you to keep the Shabbat. God doesn’t ask you to keep kosher. What do you mean all God asks you is for fear of God. So the Rabbis say everything’s in Heaven’s hand except for fear but that’s kind of a weak answer.  I think that’s what we have to talk about. Why is fear qualitatively different than everything else.

Geoffrey Stern  10:02

So I love I love your focus. And I think really for the rest of our discussion, we are going to discuss the “only”. The total laser focus on this disposition. But before we do, I would like to bring this Yirah up into the more present. And I do want to say, because we’re going to be discussing this concept of a disposition, of an attitude as being so singular. I do want to bring Heschel into it, and Heschel writes in God in Search of man. He says, according to the Bible the principle religious virtue is yirah. What is the nature of yirah? The word has two meanings, fear and awe. There is the man who fears the Lord lest he be punished in his body, family, or in his possessions. Another man fears the Lord because he is afraid of punishment in the life to come. Both types are considered inferior in Jewish tradition. Fear is the anticipation and expectation of evil or pain, as contrasted with hope which is the anticipation of good. Awe, on the other hand, is the sense of wonder and humility inspired by the sublime or felt in the presence of mystery. … So, we’re going to talk a lot about this isolated disposition. But clearly, I don’t think we need to be cornered into talking about fear, certainly not fear of punishment. You said you think of it as awe. I love even going a step further with Heschel to wonder. And of course, he wrote a whole book on All I ask for is Wonder, which is actually a re-statement of what “only” God asks from us. So I love this wonder. And I think if I bring anything and maybe the two of us, if we bring anything every week, it’s reading the verses again, and thinking about it with an element of wonder.

Adam Mintz  12:03

I mean, it’s so great, that really what we’re talking about here is just the definition of one word, which is yirah. And it’s on it’s wonder, and it’s fear. And it’s all of the above. But isn’t it so interesting? How we’re looking for the right English word?

Geoffrey Stern  12:18

Absolutely, absolutely. So let’s get back to this concept of intentionality and attitude and disposition. Once I focused on this verse, and I reread the portion, and I couldn’t help and I said this in the intro. Notice that for instance, in Deuteronomy 8, where God is kind of bringing back the whole history of the travels in the desert. And he said, and when you get to the land, and when things start to look good, do not say to yourselves, my own power, and the might of my own hand, have won this wealth for me. The Hebrew is כֹּחִי֙ וְעֹ֣צֶם יָדִ֔י עָ֥שָׂה לִ֖י אֶת־הַחַ֥יִל הַזֶּֽה. And for those of you who know Hebrew, certainly rabbinic Hebrew. That’s a catchphrase. That’s a phrase for again, a disposition of someone who feels that the good that he has, is because of his doing, his merit. And that, again, it’s the opposite of hakarat haTov of recognizing that we are just a small little part and anything good that happens to us, we should be thankful to God to others to happenstance to circumstance for but certainly not proud. So it is a disposition. And it’s a powerful one, is it not?

Adam Mintz  13:46

Very powerful. I mean, that this idea is something that appeared in last week’s parsha. And something that appears again this week. And that’s the idea of humility, right? Don’t think that we’re so great. And I saw somebody today gave the explanation that the reason Moses goes through a whole kind of narrative at the beginning of this week’s parsha saying, you know, it was hard for you in the desert, and God took you out and God took care of you. Because what Moshe’s is most concerned about, …. you know, when you think about it, the Jews had it pretty easy over 40 years, it took 40 years, but miraculously, they survived. They were victorious. And every battle they fought, they won, you know, it’s very easy to get haughty to get arrogant based on that. And what Moshe says to them is, don’t do that. Don’t say כֹּחִי֙ וְעֹ֣צֶם יָדִ֔י realize that we need to be grateful to God and to one another for the fact that we were so successful.

Geoffrey Stern  14:45

The next very famous attitudinal characteristic is in Deuteronomy 9, where God says, I see that this is a stiff necked people עַם־קְשֵׁה־עֹ֖רֶף הֽוּא It’s not talking about something that an orthopedic surgeon can solve or a good massage can cure. This is again, it’s a disposition. God is really through Moses or Moses on his own is really focused on the dispositions of the people and in these particular two first instances, they’re not all that positive. But to say that someone’s עַם־קְשֵׁה־עֹ֖רֶף הֽוּא is again, it appears throughout the Bible does it not

Adam Mintz  15:33

It all the time, that is a description of the Jews a stiff necked people, a stubborn people. Now stubborn and ungrateful are not exactly the same thing. I think that’s important. They’re not the same thing. Right? They’re two different criticisms.

Geoffrey Stern  15:51

And I think that’s why it’s so important. This is not a broken record today. I mean, the narrative, the soliloquy by Moses is focused on different negative dispositions, orientations, attitudes of the people that come up so often that you’ve got to recognize them, and they’re different. And then the third one is in Deuteronomy 9: 24. And it says, As long as I have known you, you have been defiant toward God, מַמְרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם עִם־ה’. So you know, again, this is slightly different than just stiff necked, stiff necked is stubborn. It’s different than כֹּחִי֙ וְעֹ֣צֶם יָדִ֔י which is have ingratitude and to very quickly think that the world operates at your request. These are three, I love that you pointed out that they’re different because they I think, intentionally different.

Adam Mintz  16:51

I think that’s right. I mean, Moses has tried to say a lot of different things. And they’re variations on the same theme, because probably people who are stubborn, are ungrateful. That’s probably true. So they’re related to one another, but they’re not exactly the same thing. Moses is making a few different points, and מַמְרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם now the word my Mamrim, that they rebelled right Mei Meriva. The, the place where Moses hit the rock is called Mei Meriva.  is where you rebelled. The idea again, if you’re stubborn, you rebel. If you rebel, then you’re ungrateful. They’re all related ideas.

Geoffrey Stern  17:36

So I think that what this raises for us, especially if we end up at the only thing I asked for you is to have this disposition, variously known as fear, or wonder, is that unlike so many other places in the Torah, this particular parsha is absolutely laser focused on you’ve got to have the right disposition. Because if you have the wrong disposition, it doesn’t matter how many of the commandments you keep, and how many of the prohibitions you keep away from your you’re not getting the message. And again, that gets back to what you focused on, which is the word “only”. This is כִּ֣י אִם. This is the holy grail. So I ended up at a yeshiva in Israel called Be’er Yaakov. And the head of it (Rav Shlomo Wolbe) was one of the last of the great mussarniks. The Mussar movement I might have mentioned it before, was started by Israel Salanter. And the whole focus was on understanding what Yirat hashem is understanding what the disposition is. And if you had to pick the textbook for the Mussar Movement, it would have been the one written by a name that we’ve heard before Luzzato.  But not Shmuel David Luzzatto. Shadal. But Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, the Ramchal and it was called Melilat Yeshurim which is The Path of the Just and they were related. The Ramchal lived in the 1700s and Shadal lived in the 1800s. They were cousins once removed. And what he did in this book and I have the introduction or parts of the introduction in the notes on Sefaria., he says, you know, there are so many of us that study creation in nature, we study astronomy, mathematics, there are those of us who study the holy Torah among those occupy themselves with halakhic and analysis, others with Midrash he says, but there are few who devote thought to this study of fear, clinging in a The branches of piety. And then he goes on to say, and most of us who are educated think of those who have a focus on fear as almost superstitious. They’re saying psalms over and over again, they’re holding their prayer beads or twiddling their, their prayer shawls. And he really created a revolution, in the sense that he wanted to focus in a laser-like fashion in trying to understand: , we truly examine the matter, we will discover the truth and benefit ourselves. He quotes King Solomon, and it says, if you will seek it as silver and search for it as buried treasure, then you will understand the fear of God. And he ends by saying, and I’ll end quoting from him here…  Why shouldn’t demand set aside for himself at least fixed times for this study, if he is forced for the rest of his time to turn to other studies or affairs? So what happened in the Mussar Yeshiva? We were talking in the pregame about us study partner at high school. The most unique thing about studying Mussar for half an hour a day in a mussar Yeshiva is you don’t do it with a study partner. You do it totally alone. And you read these books and you try to understand what is this disposition? And it really focuses on everything that we’ve been talking about till now. Which is yes, there is fear of punishment. And yes, there is fear that protects you from doing wrong and the bad things, but at the crux of it, is what is this only thing that we have? And I just find that so, so fascinating?

Adam Mintz  21:47

That is absolutely fascinating. And it’s interesting, you bring in the Mussar Yeshiva. You said you went to the last Mussar Yeshiva. What’s happened now is that everything is kind of been put together like a stew, like a cholent. The Hasidim are with the non-Hasidim, the Mussar with the non-Mussar there’s a little bit of everything. So that idea of Mussar, that idea what is fear of God, it’s still there, people still learn Mesilat Yisharim, which is an interesting thing. And you know what he says in Mesilat Yesharim in the introduction that you quote, is that this world is like an entryway to the world to come. That the whole purpose of this world is to get us ready for the world to come. So the purpose of this world is to fear God so that we can be ready for the world to come. It’s all God-centered. That idea that we’re focused on the World to Come means that everything is God-centered. It’s a very interesting notion, which really is found in the Mussar movement, but you don’t find it in traditional Jewish literature.

Geoffrey Stern  23:01

So, the only thing that I would, you know, kind of try to at least parse slightly differently, is because you can translate fear as awe, as Wonder, the what strikes me is and doesn’t have to apply to the world to come a world of punishment or reward. It just strikes me that what the Ramchal, Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto was trying to do, was trying to, in a sense, create an interpretation or an outcome from our verse. If all that God asks of us to is to fear him, or hold him in awe, or to have this disposition of wonder, then shouldn’t we kind of focus on it a little more? And, to me, what is fascinating is less the content or the answers to that question, as it is the focus on the question itself, this laser like focus on the disposition, and I think the thinker that I’m going to bring in now, I’m not sure he has ever been brought up in the same breath, as Yisroel Salanter, but I’m talking now about a psychologist named Viktor Frankl who survived the Holocaust. And he wrote a book called Man’s Search for Meaning. And what he said in that is, yes, the primary motivational force for an individual is finding meaning in life, he found that if you had meaning, your chances of surviving were better. It didn’t matter if you were communist or a Bundist or a Chasid. As long as you had something to hold on to, you could find a reason to survive. But you know, he went further and he says life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones. And that, I guess, is baked into that. But then he goes one step further, we have freedom to find meaning in what we do and what we experience, or at least in the stance we take, when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering, what he said is basically, that the most evil empire in the world could take anything away from you, but it can’t take away from you, your will to life or your will for meaning. And so what he took away from his interpretation, I believe, of the only thing you have is Yirat Hashem awe of God mystery of God is the only thing you have is attitude. And that’s why I named this week’s session, attitude is everything. You can take anything away from anybody, but not your attitude. And I think if you look then backwards, I really do believe you can start connecting the dots in the sense of not whether this person was religious or a philosopher or whatever. But ultimately, at the end of the day, what God could be at or Moses could be saying here is, you know what, at the end of the day, what you got is your attitude. Do I make too big of a leap here?

Adam Mintz  26:25

I love it. So, the I love it. So, let’s just take it, let’s parse it, as you said, you know, Viktor Frankl says, No one can take away your meaning, your self-definition of what’s important to you. And obviously, to a religious person, that meaning is awe of God, it doesn’t have to mean that. I don’t know if it meant that to Frankl. But the point is that it could mean that to people who are religious, they define their religion awe of God. So therefore, they would apply what Frankl said. And they would say, That’s right. You can’t take away my awe of God. It’s related since Frankl lived through the Holocaust, and he was talking about the Holocaust. It’s related to the people who went to the gas chambers with you know, saying Shema Yisrael, or saying Ani Ma’amin. They wanted to show that you can take away everything from me, even my life, but you can take away the meaning you can’t take away the Ani Ma’amin, you can’t take away the Shema. Which is exactly what Frankl, meant.

Geoffrey Stern  27:28

Absolutely, absolutely. And as a psychologist, the other paradigm shift that you see is he was less focused on what was out there. And more focused with what is in here, meaning in your mind. And I think that too, is an unbroken connect your dot type of trail back through the Mussarniks back through the Talmud that says, all you have is a year right Hashem, that the ultimate thing is that it’s in your it’s in your mind. And because it’s in your mind, you are the creator of it. And you can almost look at that verse and the Rabbis is saying הַכֹּל בִּידֵי שָׁמַיִם, חוּץ מִיִּרְאַת שָׁמַיִם, we haven’t really focused on that so much, which is to say, almost like God can do anything. God can predict anything. God can control anything. But God has a singular limitation, he cannot control what’s in your mind. And that aspect of it, I think, to me, is the mirror image of a Frankel’s saying that it is truly in your mind. And because it’s in your mind, it cannot be in any way diminished by outside circumstances. And I think that’s a it’s a total trail.

Adam Mintz  28:58

So I love it, I would just change the smallest little thing you know what I would say? What I would say is, I don’t know that God can’t do it. Maybe God doesn’t want to do it. Maybe the meaning your meaning needs to be defined by yourself. And that’s exactly what the Torah says that everything’s in the hands of God except for fear of God. That’s God’s choice. We believe that God can do anything, but God chooses not to do that. Isn’t that interesting?

Geoffrey Stern  29:34

I think so. And I think you would probably agree with me at the end of the day that we might be splitting hairs.

Adam Mintz  29:41

I’m sure we are but since you brought up Frankl I want to kind of fit Frankl in. Now he wasn’t intending to be fit. You know, he wasn’t thinking that he was going to be brought up in the Parsha class on the Parsha Eikev, but it’s interesting to think about him because Jewish thought is Jewish thought and if he gives us some insight into what the rabbi’s mean? They’re not that valuable.

Geoffrey Stern  30:03

So I’ll finish with one insight I had sitting in my first introductory to philosophy class and the founder of modern philosophy as many times thought of René Descartes, who started Cartesian philosophy, which is, I think, therefore, I am “cogito, ergo sum”. And what he said sitting in his room is, how does he know anything is actually out there. And I can’t do justice to that in two minutes, but you can understand how it was all in the mind. And so philosophy almost becomes the study of the mind. But what he based it on was a theologian. 100 years, 200 years earlier, named St. Anselm, and St. Anselm says, you know, you can’t imagine two plus two equal five. So not everything that you can imagine can be true, but you can imagine God we have this concept of God. And God is a being of which there is nothing greater. So, what is greater an imaginary God or a real God. And you can look at the notes, you could spend years studying this, whether it was a good proof or not a good proof. But my point is that the ontological proof for God made by St. Anselm said ultimately, it’s all in your mind. And it’s all your attitude. And I think that is where you and I are maybe splitting hairs, because at the end of the day, it’s the God that we imagine and the imagination that God gives us. And we do have these dispositions. Some of them are good, and some of them are great, and some of them are not so good. But I think what this week’s parsha makes us focus on is those things that only we have, and that are not in the hand of God. And those are our thoughts and our dispositions, and it’s a powerful poem, to the power of our own self realization.

Adam Mintz  32:08

I love it. I think this is great. This idea and Frankl and the idea of fear of God, and putting together a lot of things very much in the spirit of what Moshe tried to do in the parish of Eikev. So, thank you so much. Shabbat shalom, everybody. Looking forward to seeing you all next week from Paris be well, and Shabbat Shalom,

Geoffrey Stern  32:26

Shabbat Shalom, I’ll see you all next week. And make sure you listen to us on the podcast and if you like it, give us a review or a star and share it with your friends. So with that, I wish you a great parshat Eikev.  Parshat Mevorachim, and I’ll see you all next week.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/425215

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Enough

parshat vaetchanan, deuteronomy 3

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

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

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s parsha is Vaetchanan Moses pleads with God to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. God is cross with Moses. When should we ask for more? When do we ask for too much? That is the question. So puff up your chest and join us for Enough,   די , מספיק כבר

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

Adam Mintz  01:15

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

Geoffrey Stern  01:20

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

Adam Mintz  03:59

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

Geoffrey Stern  04:32

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

Adam Mintz  04:52

Exactly the same idea.

Geoffrey Stern  04:54

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

Adam Mintz  06:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  06:45

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

Adam Mintz  07:23

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

Geoffrey Stern  08:16

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

Adam Mintz  11:18

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:15

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

Adam Mintz  12:53

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

Geoffrey Stern  13:05

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

Adam Mintz  14:25

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

Geoffrey Stern  15:10

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

Adam Mintz  16:44

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:19

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

Adam Mintz  18:53

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

Geoffrey Stern  19:05

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

Adam Mintz  20:29

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

Geoffrey Stern  21:21

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

Adam Mintz  22:21

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

Geoffrey Stern  22:32

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

Adam Mintz  23:57

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:24

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

Adam Mintz  27:44

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

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

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A Second Torah

parshat devarim, devarim 1

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

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

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  The fifth book of the Five Books of Moses is called Deuteronomy in Greek and referred to as Mishneh Torah in Hebrew…  both of which mean the Second Torah or the Replayed Torah. Join us as we explore how the Torah has been renewed and rediscovered over time. So put on your headphones and set up your turntable as we spin… A Second Torah.

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

Geoffrey Stern  03:29

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

Adam Mintz  06:35

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

Geoffrey Stern  11:56

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

Adam Mintz  13:56

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

Geoffrey Stern  15:08

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

Adam Mintz  16:03

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:31

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

Adam Mintz  23:59

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:08

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

Adam Mintz  27:24

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

Geoffrey Stern  29:05

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

Adam Mintz  29:12

How could he possibly, right?

Geoffrey Stern  29:13

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

Adam Mintz  31:07

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

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

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The United States of Israel

parshat matot-masei, numbers 33-36

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

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

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we look at the configuration of the Israelite tribes through new eyes… the eyes of modern scholarship that suggests that the tribes were distinct peoples including freed slaves from Egypt but also regional disrupters who formed a confederation of tribes. Independent states united in their rejection of the existing class structure and the sovereign-vassal subjugation of Egypt and later empires. So, take out your musket and join your local militia as we explore the United States of Israel.

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

Adam Mintz  05:06

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

Geoffrey Stern  06:27

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

Adam Mintz  06:30

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:06

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

Adam Mintz  14:30

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

14:34

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

Geoffrey Stern  14:34

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

Adam Mintz  19:33

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:25

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

Adam Mintz  20:39

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:55

yeah, absolutely.

Adam Mintz  20:58

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:53

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

Adam Mintz  29:12

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:06

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

Adam Mintz  34:46

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

Geoffrey Stern  35:07

Shabbat Shalom

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

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