Milk and Money

parshat korach, numbers 16-18

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

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

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we we take a fresh look at Korach’s rebellion. Dathan and Abiram, Korach’s sons refer to Egypt as a Land Flowing with Milk and Honey and defy Moses even were he to offer fields and vineyards in a land flowing with milk & honey. What does the Biblical “Flowing with Milk & Honey” mean? Join us today’s episode: Milk and Money

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

Adam Mintz  04:11

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

Geoffrey Stern  05:17

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

Adam Mintz  07:36

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

Geoffrey Stern  07:51

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

Adam Mintz  08:05

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

Geoffrey Stern  08:12

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

Adam Mintz  09:21

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

Geoffrey Stern  10:09

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

Adam Mintz  13:42

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

Geoffrey Stern  13:51

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

Adam Mintz  15:38

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

Geoffrey Stern  16:23

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

Neil (Nachum) Twersky  17:09

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:43

is it not an almond. Is it an almond?

Neil (Nachum) Twersky  18:48

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

Adam Mintz  19:36

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:56

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

Adam Mintz  22:09

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

Geoffrey Stern  22:29

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

Adam Mintz  25:31

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

Geoffrey Stern  26:21

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

Adam Mintz  26:28

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

Geoffrey Stern  26:37

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

Adam Mintz  27:23

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

Geoffrey Stern  27:30

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

Adam Mintz  29:32

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:03

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

Adam Mintz  31:20

Correct… that’s definitely date honey.

Geoffrey Stern  31:22

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

Adam Mintz  31:32

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:43

Absolutely.

Adam Mintz  31:44

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

Geoffrey Stern  33:35

 Shabbat Shalom to everybody have a great one.

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

Listen to last week’s episode: Make Challah

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Make Challah

parshat shelach, Numbers 15

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

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

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we discuss parshat Shelach and we ignore the headline story of the spies who lacked vision. We overcome the urge to defend the מְקֹשֵׁ֣שׁ עֵצִ֑ים the gatherer of sticks on Shabbat.  We even pass up a chance to enjoy the blue indigo of the tzitzit. Instead, we focus on the lowly loaf of challah and explore how it saved the Jews. So join us as we Make Challah!

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

Adam Mintz  04:42

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

Geoffrey Stern  05:10

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

Adam Mintz  06:18

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

Geoffrey Stern  06:52

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

Adam Mintz  08:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  08:35

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

Adam Mintz  08:48

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

Geoffrey Stern  09:13

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

Adam Mintz  10:54

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

Geoffrey Stern  11:57

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

Adam Mintz  13:31

So they had it .. not exact words…

Geoffrey Stern  13:35

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

Adam Mintz  14:33

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

Geoffrey Stern  15:29

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

Adam Mintz  15:43

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

Geoffrey Stern  16:05

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

Adam Mintz  16:48

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

Geoffrey Stern  17:07

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

Adam Mintz  18:17

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:44

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

Adam Mintz  20:14

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:28

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

Adam Mintz  23:38

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

Geoffrey Stern  24:27

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

Adam Mintz  24:35

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

Geoffrey Stern  24:55

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

Adam Mintz  27:27

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

Geoffrey Stern  27:51

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

Adam Mintz  28:53

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

Geoffrey Stern  29:09

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

Adam Mintz  29:13

right That’s correct. Yeah.

Geoffrey Stern  29:15

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

Adam Mintz  29:31

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

Geoffrey Stern  29:34

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

Adam Mintz  29:35

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

Geoffrey Stern  30:25

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

Adam Mintz  30:35

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

Geoffrey Stern  30:44

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

Adam Mintz  30:51

I think it was great.

Geoffrey Stern  30:53

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

Adam Mintz  30:57

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:01

Enjoy the Challah and see you all next week.

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

Listen to last week’s episode: Joining the Tribe

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Joining the Tribe

parshat beha’alotcha, numbers 9

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

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

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite podcast platform.  The Torah breaches the subject of a convert celebrating the Exodus from Egypt.  Jews by-birth praise God who took “us” out of Egypt but what about those whose ancestors did not share this historic experience?   Tonight, we explore an ambivalence that Judaism has to converts and we explore this ambivalence throughout history and up to the present. Join us as we explore: Joining the Tribe.

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

Adam Mintz  05:52

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

Geoffrey Stern  08:28

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

Adam Mintz  10:06

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

Geoffrey Stern  11:04

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

Adam Mintz  11:50

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:15

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

Adam Mintz  15:01

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

Geoffrey Stern  15:47

It’s kind of like finding this hidden connection.

Adam Mintz  15:50

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

Geoffrey Stern  17:52

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

Adam Mintz  18:55

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

Geoffrey Stern  24:26

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

Adam Mintz  27:17

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:08

Shabbat Shalom and Rabbi Keep up the good work.

Adam Mintz  32:11

Thank you so much be well.

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

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Rashi, Women & Wine

parshat Nasso, Numbers 5-6

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

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

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Join us today as we read about the Unfaithful wife and the sober Nazirite through the eyes of the iconic Torah Commentator; Rashi. Keep in mind that Rashi was the proud father of four daughters (he had no sons) and had a day job as a winemaker. Does this affect his commentary? Grab a glass of wine and let’s discuss. Rashi, Women and Wine. L’Chaim

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

Adam Mintz  01:46

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

Geoffrey Stern  02:11

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

Adam Mintz  02:48

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

Geoffrey Stern  03:07

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

Adam Mintz  03:42

Wow, that’s amazing.

Geoffrey Stern  03:43

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

Adam Mintz  08:04

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

Geoffrey Stern  08:41

If that’s the correct translation,

Adam Mintz  08:44

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

Geoffrey Stern  08:47

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

Adam Mintz  14:32

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

Geoffrey Stern  14:56

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

Adam Mintz  16:10

So there they’re definitely consistent.

Geoffrey Stern  16:12

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

Adam Mintz  18:23

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:29

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

Adam Mintz  19:00

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

Geoffrey Stern  19:21

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

Adam Mintz  20:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  21:21

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

Adam Mintz  22:29

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

Geoffrey Stern  23:06

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

Adam Mintz  23:52

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

Geoffrey Stern  24:54

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

Adam Mintz  24:58

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

Geoffrey Stern  26:07

Neil, welcome to the Bima.

Neil (Nachum) Twersky  26:08

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

Adam Mintz  26:31

And Nachum, what’s his punch line?

Neil (Nachum) Twersky  26:33

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

Adam Mintz  27:38

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

Geoffrey Stern  28:33

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

Adam Mintz  31:14

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:27

Okay, well Shabbat Shalom to everybody.

Adam Mintz  31:29

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:34

Shabbat shalom. Enjoy your Chumash and Rashi

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Nachshon

parshat bamidbar, numbers 1

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse recorded June 2nd 2022 as we meet a man named Nachshon ben Aminadav. A man with only an insignificant walk-on role in the text of the Torah but an iconic presence in Jewish religious and secular thought, culture and mythology.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/410450

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.  Join us today as we meet a man who is hardly mentioned in the text of the Torah but whose singular action, on one day in history has kindled the imagination of scholars, rebels, social activists and leaders alike.  So take of your shoes and prepare to dip you toe into a stream called Nachshon.

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So welcome to Madlik. And you might all be wondering; we are starting a new book. It’s called Bamidbar, and it’s called Numbers. And we are going to be talking about the Exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea. And you might be saying to yourself, why are we going to do that? And it’s because one of the most famous stories of the Exodus doesn’t actually appear in the text, as I said in the introduction, and we learn about it only by things that happen in the book of a Bamidbar. So without further ado, let’s discover the source of this amazing story. So in Numbers 1, it talks about very specifically on the first day of the second month in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt. God spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai in the tent of meeting saying, take a census of the whole Israelite company of fighters by the clans of its ancestral  homes, listing the names every male head to head, you and Aaron shall record them by their groups from the age of 20 on up, so basically what we’re doing is we’re working on the draft, and they go through this and in verse 5, it says, These are the names of the participants who shall assist you: These are the names of the participants of each tribe that will assist you.The head of each tribe was going to assist in taking this census. From Reuben, Elizur son of Shedeur. (6) From Simeon, Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai. From Judah, Nahshon son of Amminadab., Our boy, this is the first actual mention of him in the Torah. And then it continues and he’s not at the top of the list. Then on in numbers 2, it says they camped in the front or east side of the standard division of Judah to by troop chieftain of the tribe of Nahshon son of Amminadab., , his troop was 74,600. So again, it mentions with no great gravity no great sense of literary or legendary merit. He’s mentioned as the head of the tribe. And then in number 7, which will read in a few weeks is the fourth mention and there it says, And for His sacrifice of well being two oxen, five rams, five he goats and five yearling lambs. This was the offering of Nahshon son of Amminadab. In Numbers 7: 12, we get the only point where he is singled out. And it says in 7: 12, the one who presented his offering on the first day was Nahshon son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah. So clearly, Rabbi, there are two things that we already have to take note of. One is the tribe of Judah is a pretty important tribe, you’re going to be talking about the story of Ruth, and what conversion is all about on Shavuos night. That’s the tribe of Judah. That’s the tribe of King David, it starts with Judah, and it ends for those who believe in the Messiah with the Messiah. The other thing that we notice is that while in a few places he’s not mentioned at the top of the list, in 7: 12, of numbers, it says on the first day, Nahshon son of Amminadab gave the sacrifice, and this I believe, is one of the main triggers to explain how did this guy get to the front of the list? Am I right in saying we don’t know a lot about Nahshon?

Adam Mintz  04:44

You are 100% Right? The Rabbi’s really like Nahshon. Maybe that’s something we’re gonna talk about. Why do the rabbi’s like Nahshon so much? But he made them into a hero. There’s nothing in the text that makes him into a hero but They make him into a hero.

Geoffrey Stern  05:02

So for those of you who don’t know why he became a hero, this story about Nahshon, I think is right up there with the story of Abraham smashing the idols, where so many people have heard this story, they probably believe it is part of the text of the Torah, but it’s not. And in short, the story is, and we’re gonna read the text of it in a little bit, but I want to give it away so we can understand the importance here is that Moses and the children of Israel are at the Sea of Reeds, the Egyptian army is to their rear, and there is a sea in front of them. And the Egyptian army is coming fast. And Moses is praying, and nothing is happening. And all of a sudden, this guy Nahshon, so the story goes, puts his toe into the water, and it splits. And he’s responsible for getting us across. And that’s, I think, the common sense, the common way that we probably know this pretty Pinnacle story. And you’ve got to ask you’re question, unlike Abraham, that the story of the idols is one of many stories and we know him intimately. This guy, Nahshon we know nothing about, except that he was the head of this pack. And that’s a little bit of one side of the question we’re going to delve with tonight. And the other is so what did they make of this Tabula rasa? What did they make of this ink blot? What did we project onto this guy Nachshon that made him so important? Do you think, Rabbi that Nachshon, if you if you had to get the five great stories of Judaism? Is it right there?

Adam Mintz  06:59

No question become the most famous story that I’m sure you’re going to talk about? How in Israel, you know, they play on the story, right? I mean, it’s just such a well-known story.

Geoffrey Stern  07:13

So unlike the story about Abraham, where there’s no one who says no, that didn’t happen. If you go to Sota 36b, which is where this whole story comes from. Actually, no one even agrees about this story. It says what was the incident with Judah sanctified God’s name in public. Rabbi Mayer would say when the Jewish people stood at the Red Sea, the tribes were arguing with one another, this one saying, I’m going into the sea first, this one saying I’m going into the sea first, then in jumped the tribe of Benjamin, and descended into the sea first. And the princes of the tribe of Judah was stoning them for plunging in first and not in the proper order. Therefore, Benjamin, the righteous was privileged to serve as the host of the Divine Presence. It seems the temple is on the land of shevet Benjamin. And then Rabbi Yehuda said to Rabbi Meir, that’s not what happened. Rather, this tribe said, I’m going to go into the sea first and that one said, I’m gonna go into the sea first. Then in jumped, the prince of Judah, Tabula rasa. Notice with Benjamin it didn’t have a person’s name. They just the whole tribe jumped in. Well here with Judah, we got a guy Nahshon son of Amminadab, and he descended into the sea first accompanied by his entire tribe. And it says that Nachshon prayer at that moment was: Save me, God; for the waters are come in even unto the soul. I am sunk in deep mire, where there is no standing…let not the water flood overwhelm me, neither let the deep swallow me up” (Psalms 69:2–3, 16) And that’s a quote from Psalms. And then I think we get to one of the biggest punch lines. At that time, Moses was prolonging his prayer, he was מַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה and the Holy One, blessed be He said to him, My beloved ones are drowning in the sea, and you prolong your prayer to me, the conversation goes on. But from even the source text, we learn two things. One is that there’s no consensus that this is actually what happened. And 2 this Nachshon is someone who clearly has a presence and has been picked out as a personality as opposed to the other story, which is just about a tribe. And he is counter distinct from Moses. What he did was the opposite of what Moses did. Moses was מַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה. He was praying long and hard, and Naloxone made a short prayer And did the deed, do you think and I read this story afresh this week? And I was struck by those kinds of facts. When you look at the text,

Adam Mintz  10:09

The first interesting thing, is that Nachshon is the individual, while the tribe of Binyomin is the tribe, why did they move from tribe back to individual?

Geoffrey Stern  10:23

I think it’s part of the story became one of leadership for sure. And I said that in the intro,

Adam Mintz  10:30

Something like that you can’t have a tribe being a leader, you need to have an individual being a leader, that, to me is super interesting, that tribe wasn’t, wasn’t courageous enough to do it on its own. But you came to the individual and Nachshon shown as the first one.

Geoffrey Stern  10:48

So that’s one thing. And but of course, by having an individual, it focuses on both as an individual, but it permits this kind of ….

Adam Mintz  10:58

Of course, what you said was right, and that is that it’s his tribe, and his tribe is Yehudah. And Yehudah, is the famous tribe. And that’s what King David comes from. And that’s where the story of Ruth comes from. And that’s the important tribe. So that’s not by accident, that the hero is probably the most important tribe.

Geoffrey Stern  11:15

But you also get this dialectic now this conflict between individuals, because Moses is Moses and Moses is מַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה. I mean, typically מַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה,, someone who spends his time carefully at prayer. That would be something that would be to their credit, would it not, but here it is clearly, in a sense, derogatory, it’s not the right time.

Adam Mintz  11:40

Why is that? Why does it say that Moshe is מַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה? And why is it no good?  I have a different question, why is that an important part of the story? It’s that Moshe doesn’t take the leadership, Moshe thinks, just pray and everything will be okay. And Nachshon is the counter to that, that you need to actually take leadership and jump in. Right? Isn’t that the point of the story?

Geoffrey Stern  12:09

I think that’s why this story has kind of touched so many people, we’re gonna see how it touched secular Jews, and Zionists and historians. But the fact that here, unlike Korach, and unlike other people who have taken a different route than Moses, here, the guy is put at the front of the list. And here, Moses, in a sense, is told either what you are doing now, or the leadership qualities that you have are not the right, leadership qualities for this moment. And there’s a time to act. And there’s a time to pray. And this clearly was a time to act. And I think that’s part of what makes this story. So, so powerful.

Adam Mintz  13:00

I think that’s right. And praying is the opposite of acting. You see, that’s not always true, by the way, you don’t think about when you pray that you’re not acting, you said there’s a time for prayer, there’s a time for action. But in this story, they’re competing with one another. Either you pray or you act, praying is wrong, what you need to do is you need to act. So we That’s great. By the way, that’s great.

Geoffrey Stern  13:28

So we are going to touch upon different aspects of how this hardly mentioned character is so flushed out by the text, but one thing that we can’t disregard is his name. Nachshon itself is very similar to nachash, which is snake and for those of you who remember the story of the Garden of Eden of the so-called Fall, snakes are not typically associated with the good guy, even in the tribe of Judah, who naturally is a direct descendant of, we have the story of Yehuda and Tamar, the harlot at the side of the road that we’ve touched upon. So there’s an aspect of Nachshon, which not only does he disagree with Moses, but his name and his tribal heritage. He is kind of an outlier. He is kind of a contra. And again, he’s only featured in this story. So you have to focus a little bit on well, maybe there’s a time and a place for such a being, but what do you think of his name?

Adam Mintz  14:42

The nachash is kind of cunning and shrewd and dishonest, right? Nachshon actually doesn’t have that. You don’t. Right. He’s not dishonest in any way. He’s not true. He actually has a different kind of personality. He’s kind of courageous. He’s aggressive he does. You know, it’s I wonder about the connection to the name.

Geoffrey Stern  15:10

So you find very few connections to nachash that I’ve seen there is clearly the connection to the storied history. of Yehudah the patriarch, the person, and Tamar and all of that stuff. But what you do get is a lot of question about the name, it seems to strike the biblical commentators as a strange name. So if you look at Bamidbar Raba. And remember, we’re talking about a guy who features in the Exodus, but all of the material on him is in our parshiot here in Barmidbar it says Nachshon the son of Aminadav of the tribe of Judah. Why was he called by the name of Nachshon, because he was the first to plunge into the Nachshal of the sea, the billow of the sea, I guess a billow is what you pump to light a fire or a furnace, Rabbi Shimon Ben Yohai explained the holy one blessing me he said to Moses, he was sanctified My name by the sea shall be the first to present his offering. And that was Nachshon. So there is this play and this explanation that you allow to change one letter for another so Nachshon can become a Nachshal. But again, there’s this effort to link his name back to this story. And to turn it into a good, it’s fascinating. I was looking at a wonderful series of books, Louis Ginsberg, The legends of the Jews and in a footnote, he writes the following. The story of naloxone is derived from the similarity of the named Nachshon to the word Nachshal, billow. Hence, this legend does not reflect the self-sacrificing character of the patriarchal house during the second century, as suggestion by Oppenheim, in HaHoker. Now I’ll admit to you folks, I only have one week to prepare for this. So I didn’t have an opportunity to research Oppenheim and HaOker. But I can assure you that he was one of 1000s of historians and academics who have tried to understand this story, this Midrash from the politics of the day. And what Ginsburg is saying is he’s arguing with that. And he’s saying, actually, the story was derived from the name and not the name from the story. But the point is that we have a little bit of an insight into everywhere, Nachshon Ben Aminadav is mentioned. There is a projection of what we believe was responsible for this story, for his fame, and for his longevity, in our legend, I just find that fascinating.

Adam Mintz  18:24

Well, let’s, first of all, it’s fascinating. And the Ginsburg series is amazing. I, you know, I find that interesting, because it seems to be like there’s a very conscious attempt to say, and his name is not like nachash. He looks for another word that similar but it’s not nachash Because somehow the story from the Garden of Eden doesn’t seem to reconcile well with the story of Nachshon.

Geoffrey Stern  18:53

I think you’re right. When I think of NAC shown, I think of the y son and the evil son of the Haggadah, where, if you look at some hagadot, the, the wise son is dressed in a suit and tie and the evil son is dressed like a bum. And then if you go to the kibbutz, you see that the wise son is dressed like a farmer, and the wicked son is dressed like a capitalist in a suit and tie. There’s a little bit of a switch here as to whether he was good or we was tainted. And here’s something as unbelievably fascinating that I found the Vilna Gaon on Seder Olam Rabba says, Nachshon Ben Aminadav died in the second year, because he was not mentioned except on the first journey. במסע שניה לא הוזכר on the second journey he was not mentioned, but died in the graves of Lust because he was one of the officers in the camp. We all remember the series that we did on the meat of lust. But this is an unbelievable diyuk. I can call it anything else that the Vilna Gon is saying not only is this guy mentioned just very rarely, but even in terms of the procession of the princes, he only appears in the first one, he must have died. And maybe you can help me rabbi. He was one of the officers in the camp. I mean, did every officer in the camp die? And was he held responsible for what happened at the the graves of lust? Or is there an insinuation here that maybe he succumbed to the basar Te’eva,

Adam Mintz  20:48

such as simulate attenuation? I’ll just tell you something for one second, the tau LRA. At the beginning of the of the story of the tribes, tells you who the different heads of the tribes are, who were the who were the spies, and the heads of the of the tribes went L’matehYehudah Caleb Ben Yefuna? Now, that’s just 13 chapters later, all of a sudden there’s a new head of, of Judah. And I think what that tradition is saying is what happened to Nachshon ben Aminadav. He must die because all the heads of the tribes got the guy got the position, but he didn’t get the position. It must be because he died.

Geoffrey Stern  21:39

So our story… This is getting more complicated. But right now there’s one aspect of it that has tickled my imagination, and I sense the imagination of Jews over history. And that was he stood up to Moses, he acted when Moses prayed. But there’s another element here that we can’t disregard, and that is that he’s a one hit player that I said in the intro on a certain day in a certain place, he acted and went down in history. And this Vilna Gaon Diyuk supports that, that not only did the act at the splitting of the sea only occur once, but his part of our story was short lived as well. And maybe he wasn’t capable of more great deeds. But it definitely reminds you of these great pieces of Talmud that says, and I’ll quote, the most famous one in Avbodah Zora that says Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said There is one who acquires his share in the World-to-Come only after many years of toil, and there is one who acquires his share in the World-to-Come in one moment. , יש קונה עולמו בכמה שנים ויש קונה עולמו בשעה אחת. And I think that also is something that is so fascinating and empowering by the story of Nachshon.

Adam Mintz  23:26

I would agree with you, And you’re right. I mean, if we think about Jewish history, we think about biblical history. The Bible is literally filled with these people who have one moment. And if you think about the story of Ruth, that whole story is one moment. We don’t know about those people in Ruth any other time. They have one story about them. Most people have one story. The number of people who have careers of greatness are very few and far between. Because that’s really what you’re talking about. You’re talking about Moses who has a career of greatness, and Nachshon ben Aminadav who has a moment of greatness.

Geoffrey Stern  24:09

I didn’t realize you were gonna take it that way. But that’s really an interesting way to take it. And that is that Nachshon has a moment. Now, he obviously was an important person, because he was the head of the tribe of Judah. But the Gemora that says that he didn’t make it until the second year suggests that he was the head of the tribe of Judah, he was recognized, but he was recognized for such a brief moment that he didn’t he didn’t have what I’m calling a career of greatness. He just really had a moment of greatness. And you know, there are similar Midrashim that talk about Rob Eliezer Ben Yaakov in Perkei Avot says, He who performs one commandment acquires for himself and advocate and he who commits one transgression acquires for himself when accuser. It says he used to say more precious is one hour of repentance. I mean, you know, some of us who know the gamut of Jewish life, kind of snicker when we see the Chabad mitzvah tank putting Tephilin on people. But the basis of that is it’s one mitzvah, the Rebbe used to say let women light the candles, take that one mitzvah, and I think it comes from this concept as well. As yes, there’s this 613 mitzvot, but that can become overwhelming. And then there are those that can get it in one mitzvah. And I think that’s a beautiful lesson from Nachshon as well, So I want to go into the, into the into the present, I want to move forward in time. And as you know, one of the things I love to do on Madlik is look at Israeli vernacular, look at the language spoken in Hebrew. And the word Nachson means a daring pioneer Nashanut means pioneering Nachshoni means someone who is adventurous, you know, some people become a verb, Nachshon ben Aminadav became a verb. And so there was this adventurous spirit too. This is casting away concerns maybe, maybe living on the wild side, maybe taking a risk. And that too enters into it. And I respect the genius of our language. And you’ve got to respect that as a commentary as well.

Adam Mintz  26:41

That is fantastic. I mean, it would be interesting to trace it, you know, there’s the famous Hebrew dictionary. It’s a Hebrew only dictionary that I bought many, many years ago. It’s the Ben Yehuda dictionary, you know that Eliezer Ben Yehuda was famous we know he’s famous because it’s an important Street in Jerusalem. It’s called Ben Yehuda Street. And there’s an important Street in Tel Aviv that’s called Ben Yehuda Street. Ben Yehuda was the father of modern Hebrew. He was the one who really introduced the idea that Hebrew was not just a biblical language, but it needed to be a spoken language. And it would be interesting to see the history of the word Nachshon, when exactly did it become, as you say, a verb? When did it become part of the language? And I think there are military efforts that are called Nachshon, isn’t that right.

Geoffrey Stern  27:33

Well, that’s a great segue. And before I get into those military actions, I just wanted to say that I decided this week that if I ever went back to academia and got myself a  PhD, It would be the history of Nachshon.

Adam Mintz  27:53

Tat’s the most important part. You have a dissertation topic. Yeah, everything else is easy.

Geoffrey Stern  27:58

There you go. So here’s the military campaigns. The most well known operation Naloxone was a Hagana operation in the 1948 War of Independence, The Arabs had succeeded in blockading the road to Jerusalem, preventing essential humanitarian supplies as well as ammunition from entering the city. At the end of March, convoys were no longer able to get through, and the situation in Jerusalem became critical. On April 3rd David Ben Gurion insisted on the largest possible operation, forcing Haganah commanders to plan and execute the first brigade sized operation they had ever undertaken. The operation involved about 1,500 troops taken from the Givati and Alexandroni brigade and some others, including the Gadna youth cadets. and it was called Operation Nachshon. So I won’t say that Ben Gurion was not a scholar, he was just a prime minister and a general because he was a scholar. But here we have a general who understands the moment and understands that if this is what he’s going to do, if he’s going to risk it all, it needs to be called Nachshon. But there were two other operations. I mean, you know, we know Israelis are pretty creative when they call names of operations. They couldn’t get away from this word in in a six day war commanded by Moshe Dayan and initialized “the conquest of the Sinai front … the opening of the Abu ‘Agheila – Rafiah-al-‘Arish axes, and the destruction of the Egyptian army in this sector., and there was another one to operations in the Six Day War. This tickled, this piked the imagination of the design is soldiers. You know, HaShomer HaTzair” the most secular far left organization, the Socialist Zionist anti-religious youth movement in 1950 founded Kibbutz Nachshon in central Israel. There was also a Moshav started by Yemenite immigrants but now sparklingly beautiful homes called Aminadav overlooking Jerusalem, as well as an area called Nachshonim, and a town called Nachshon. My God, this infatuation with a name.

Adam Mintz  30:21

That is infatuation. That’s I didn’t know all that really there’s a town called Nachshonim.

Geoffrey Stern  30:26

Yes, absolutely. And if you if you Google Nachshon, you get the Nachshon project.com, which is training youth leaders. So really, this this resonated, I’m running out of time. But in many cases, what I do is I look for a fact that I know is there and then I find it. And in this particular case, I knew that the early Zionists had to be arguing about Nachshon. So one thing that I found and it’s in the source notes, unfortunately, it’s all in Hebrew, I didn’t have a chance to translate. But in the writings of Achad Ha’Am, he uses Nachshon, and he almost uses it in a Talmudic fashion. He says everybody wants to just jump on a boat and go to Israel, we have to plan for it. And then he goes into detail. And he says, and they are using Nachshon as an example. He already knew that Moses staff was able to open up the sea, but they were just afraid to go in. He didn’t do it on blind faith, it was a calculated risk. But it gives you an insight into how Nalchshon was used by the early Zionists to turn 2000 years of Jewish history and say there’s a time to pray. And there’s a time to act. And now is a time to act. And I’ll finish with the most amazing discovery that I had. And that is there was a writer who wrote a book his name was Elchanan Leib Lewinsky, and he wrote a book in 1892 about a journey to Eretz Yisrael and it was a journey in the future. And in it he has a chapter on going to a Moshav a farm and the farmers name is Mr. Nachshon Ben Aminadav and he portrays him as the perfect mix between a lover of the land a love of labor, and a person versed in the Torah and the tradition. And that to me is just so amazing.

Adam Mintz  32:41

I love it. This was a great one today a great way to go into Shabbat into Shavuot. Everybody should have a Shabbat Shalom a Hag Sameach. Geoffrey, enjoy your fantastic Hag. I can’t wait for report next Thursday.

Geoffrey Stern  32:54

Shabbat Shalom and Hag Shavuot Sameach let’s all meet at the foot of Sinai and get the Torah together. Enjoy

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As a driven leaf

parshat bechukotai, leviticus 26

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on May 26th. This week we see the flip side of not owning our land. We are exposed to exile and alienation, both physical and emotional. But mostly, we are struck by the almost too rich vocabulary and overly haunting imagery the Torah exhibits for a people without a land.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/408510

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.  Last week the Torah taught us that only God owns the land and we felt the liberation of not being tied to the land. This week we see the flip side of not owning our land. We are exposed to exile and alienation, both physical and emotional in very visceral terms. So pick up you walking stick and pack you bags as we become a driven leaf.

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So, welcome everybody to Madlik. And you know, every week I kind of feel. And I don’t know if it’s like that for everybody who reads the Parsha every week, as if it’s anew. But you know, every Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday, I look at the next parsha. And I’m always surprised by what I find. But it turns out that this parsha is an extension of last parsha, where we talked about the sabbatical year. And you’re going to see that in a few minutes. And it really is the flip side of what we discussed last week. So, if you’re tuning in to our podcast for the first time, and you didn’t listen to last week, after you listen to this one, I suggest you go back and listen to This is MY land. But in any case, we are in parshat Bechukotai . And it’s in Leviticus 26 and it starts out אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ if you follow my laws and faithfully observe my commandments, and it goes on verse after verse, how good things are gonna be if you listen to God’s commandments, but then we get to verse 13. And it says, I God am your God who brought you out from the land of the Egyptians to be their slaves no more, who broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.  But if you do not obey Me and do not observe all these commandments, if you reject My laws and spurn My rules, and of course, the words that it uses is, וְאִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֣י תִּמְאָ֔סוּ וְאִ֥ם אֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַ֖י תִּגְעַ֣ל נַפְשְׁכֶ֑ם if you don’t listen to Bechukotai and it says and if you break my confidence, then it starts talking about what will happen to you. And in very poetic and haunting ways. It says starting with verse 17, I will set my face against you, you shall be routed by your enemies, your foes shall dominate you, you shall flee, though none pursues. And if for all that you do not obey me, I will go to discipline you seven-fold for your sins, and I will break your proud glory, I will make your skies like iron, and your earth like copper, so that your strength is shall be spent to no purpose, your land shall not yield its produce, nor shall the trees of the land yield their fruit. If you remain hostile towards me and refuse to obey me, I will go on smiting you seven-fold for your sins. And Rabbi last week you accentuated, you sensitized as to this seven-fold-ness of the sabbatical cycle, and boy, oh boy, in this week’s parsha in verse 20, it says, I too will remain hostile to you, I in turn will smite you seven-fold for your sins. And then it goes on when I break your staff of bread. ten women shall bake your bread and single oven, they shall dole out your bread by weight, and though you eat you shall not be satisfied וַאֲכַלְתֶּ֖ם וְלֹ֥א תִשְׂבָּֽעוּ the opposite of what we do when we do birchat HaMazon where we eat and we are satisfied. And then in 28 It says seven-fold for your sins. And it says I will lay your cities in ruin make your sanctuarys desolate, and I will not savor your pleasing odors exactly what we talk about in the temple when the sacrifices are given and God savor us the pleasant odors here I will not savor your pleasant odors. And then in verse 33, and you I will scatter among the nations, and I will unsheath the sword against you, your land shall become a desolation and your cities a ruin, then shall the land make up for its Sabbath years throughout the time that it is desolate, and you are in the land of your enemies, then sell the land rest and make up for it’s seven years. So clearly, the Torah is not finished with the Sabbath cycle, the Shemita years when the land lies fallow throughout the time that it is desolute, it shall observe the rest, that it did not observe in your Sabbath years while you were dwelling upon it. As for those of you who survive, who will count faithfulness into their hearts, in the land of their enemies, the sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, fleeing as though from the sword, they shall fall through none pursues, this is an ongoing theme, that they will be afraid of something that is even not there, with no one pursuing they shall stumble over one another, as before the sword, you shall not be able to stand your ground before your enemies, but shall perish among the nations and the land of your enemies shall consume you. And luckily, towards the end, in verse 42, it says, Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, I will remember my covenant with Isaac, also my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. But oh, boy, is this the flip side of not owning the land? And is this a continuation of this concept of seven, but this concept of the sabbatical year, and I have to say, we read the tour every year, and it should be something new to us. But the continuation of the motif from last week was profound to me. What about you, Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  07:24

I think it’s great. I mean, well, there are a few things. Number one, of course, is that the number seven is important, right? That’s true, just generally, the number seven, so everything is seven-fold. But there’s no question. You know, last week’s Torah reading was about the fact that if you observe the sevens, everything will be fine. So that when things unravel, they unravel in the same way, or the opposite way of what of the way it worked out. So if it worked out in sevens, it’s going to unravel in, right. And that’s really what you read, you said, you know, and it’ll get the rest that it didn’t get, if you don’t observe the sevens, it’ll unravel, it’ll, it’ll take advantage of that. And it will get the rest of the will lay fallow, even when it’s not supposed to lay fallow. So it’s clearly a play on last week’s Torah reading.

Geoffrey Stern  08:23

Yeah, it’s a continuation there’s and you know, we always talk about the artificial division of one Pasha to another, but this clearly is a continuation, and God so to speak, hasn’t finished speaking. And, and the flip side of being just an ezrach, just a settler, a renter on the land, is that you definitely can, and we talked about it last week, that you can be discarded from the land. But what I am amazed by is the poetry The Haunting way that it describes what it’s like to be in exile, and of course, for the biblical critics who claim that parts of the total were written much later, that may have been written in exile, you can say, hey, you know, I get it. This is written where people have experienced this. And for people that believe that the Torah is prophetic. How prophetic can you get? And there’s this recurring theme of the neurosis, the psychology of being alienated from your land, where you feel you’re being pursued, and there is no pursuer there. That just blew me away.

Adam Mintz  09:49

I would agree with what you said. And I would say it just a little differently. And I would say is, wow, I was psychological, the Torah is.  Right, the worst fear is to feel like you’re being pursued. But to have no pursuer. It’s one thing to be pursued. Because if you’re pursued, you know what, you know where to run away to. But if you just feel pursued all the time, that’s really scary, because there’s no pursuer.  But what you said is also interesting. The poetry… this part of the Torah is called Vetochacha, which is the warnings, and the tradition and synagogue is to read these verses in a in an undertone, which is really interesting. And that it’s symbolically to say, God, I hope you don’t hear this. And you got you got to eat that up. Right? God, I hope you don’t hear this.

Geoffrey Stern  10:57

You know, I understand that the Klausenburger Rebbe, who was a survivor of the Holocaust and lost his whole family. And when they read these verses quietly, he clapped on the table. And he said, Say it loud. It’s happened already….

Adam Mintz  11:17

You know that story from Rabbi Riskin, the same place I know that story … The Klausenburger Rebbe he lost his entire family. And he says, Say it loud we lived it and now we get to live the good things.

Geoffrey Stern  11:29

Well, you know, if Madlik is anything, it’s about clapping on the table and saying listen to the verses. So here we are in Klausenburger fashion. So, I named this episode, a driven leaf. And any American who grew up when I did read the book, The Driven Leaf (by Milton Steinberg), and I believe Rabbi, You gave a podcast series on great American Jewish thinkers…

Adam Mintz  12:04

You’re connected to Park Avenue Synagogue; the rabbi was the rabbi at Park Avenue synagogue. He was the one of the great rabbinic minds of the 20th century, Milton Steinberg and he wrote an amazing book called as As a Driven Leaf.

Geoffrey Stern  12:18

So, in the beginning of The Drivel Leaf, it has a quote, and it brings the word Driven Leaf, the same word עָלֶ֣ה נִדָּ֔ף. But it doesn’t quote our verse in Leviticus, it quotes Job 13: 24-25. It says, (24) Why do You hide Your face, And treat me like an enemy? (25) Will You harass a driven leaf, Will You pursue dried-up straw? So the fascinating thing is that in our text, we are kind of cursed with being a driven leaf, this is what will happen to you, if you don’t observe the commandments. And in Job, we turn that around, and we say to God, will you pursue a driven leaf. And that’s the fascinating aspect of the verses that we’ve just read. On the one hand, they describe where the Jews will be if they don’t listen to Bechukotai, to my commandments. And on the other hand, it so represents a very large portion of Jewish life, where we were pursued by pursuers who weren’t there, where we were a driven leaf. And there is this kind of dialectic this conflict between looking at it as a curse, and understanding it as this sympathetic understanding of what it is to be a nation who has suffered all these things. And that’s why I focus on this amazing prose, this amazing insight that the text shows to the condition of the alienated person and the alienated people.

Adam Mintz  14:24

So I’ll tell you something amazing. You mentioned the fact that you know, the Bible scholars say that this was written later. You see, you don’t need to say that. Nachmanides, Rambam, one of the famous medieval Spanish commentators on the Torah, he says that he says the following thing, this poetry Vetochacha, the warning, is actually mentioned twice in the Torah here, and then at the end of the Torah before the Jews enter the land of Israel, and the Rambam says that the two times are for the two different exiles, the first exile was after the destruction of the First Temple. And the second exile is after the destruction of the Second Temple. So, when you say that the Jews lived this or people in exile live this, the Rambam says the Torah is actually prophesizing, about this reality, which is really just an amazing thing, right? That this is what’s going to happen. This, this, this very graphic description is really what happened to the people.

Geoffrey Stern  15:28

That means that we’re kind of on the same page. And that is an ongoing theme that I’ve always had, you know, a podcast, that whether you look at the Bible, as written by people and put together and higher biblical criticism, or whether you look at it as a believing Jew, the ultimate outcome is the same that either it predicts or it describes our people. And that is what we all, you know, ultimately have ownership of. And that’s what makes it you know, our book, and it belongs to our people in a profound way.

Adam Mintz  16:12

Yeah, and actually in this Vetochacha section, you get that feeling more than in most parts of the Torah. I wonder, and this is just an interesting thing to think about. Why it is that these warnings are done in such a poetic manner. Most of the Torah isn’t poetic like this. Why is this part of the Torah so poetic?

Geoffrey Stern  16:35

You know, I think you can say it’s poetic. And you can say it’s emotional. And you can say it’s empathetic. But I really feel that no matter what side, you stand on the author of these words, God, whoever. There’s real empathy here, and there’s real understanding here, and there’s real sympathy, simpatico here, and it comes across, even, even from the beginning, when it says that I, I took you out of Egypt, to be slaves, no more, who break the bars of your yoke, and made you walk erect. I mean, where have we seen those words written about the Jews coming out of Egypt, we made them free, we made them this, but it’s an intro to what comes to follow that I gave you freedom to walk erect, and then in exile, you walked bowed in exile, you were afraid of the shadows in exile, you were a driven leaf. I think it’s all it’s all it’s, it’s, it’s much more poetic than it describes the beauty of living in the land, it really has this connection to what it was like, out of the land. And that is so so powerful, both for a nation. But I think also for individuals, for individuals who are alienated, for individuals who feel they do not belong. This is the power of this document. And I think this is why we are studying till today.

Adam Mintz  18:26

I think I mean, that point, is a great point, which is that the Torah is as relevant today as it ever was. And the reason we study it every single year is because every year it means something else. And we were talking before that the tragic shooting in the school in Texas. And you know, the answer is, this is the week for Vetochacha. And I’m sure many rabbis are gonna say that, you know, the idea of the warnings of all the bad things. I mean, you know, and then you we live a tragedy like this. And you’ll wonder I mean, this isn’t what’s described in the Torah, but you wonder that the Torah is warning us already about tragedies about being careful about all of those things.

Geoffrey Stern  19:06

You know, I said before, when I picked up on this concept of the driven leaf, how Job even took it in a different perspective, where the Bible, where we’re reading it, looks at it as a punishment, drove, flips it and says, Would you, would you, would you go after a driven leaf, would you persecute a driven leaf? So some of the verses here it says in 26: 19, and I will break your proud glory, I will make your skies like iron and your earth like copper. And I’d like for a second to focus on how that poetic metaphor has played out in Jewish history, I mean, or even in common, is Israeli vernacular, which is one of my favorite, go to aspects of this podcast. You know, Ross, he talks about how you make your heaven as iron and your earth as copper, and he talks about the different characteristics of iron and copper. But, you know, we all know about Iron Dome, the כִּפַּת בַּרְזֶל, which is the modern defense system for the State of Israel. And you got to believe that it kind of comes from this metaphor. And again, it kind of flips it in a sense, saying that these words that were used for the uneasiness of the exile can also be turned around and protected. I mean, my wife and I are now watching on HBO plus an Israeli TV show that is called כיפת ברזל and on HBO plus, it’s called the Commandments. And it uses the word kippah as a yarmulke, a kippah. And it talks about a brigade of the Cheredim who are in the army. But this, this taking of these words, out of our parsha, and manipulating them in different ways, has both protective and otherwise, It’s just fascinating to me, this concept of כיפת ברזל.

Adam Mintz  21:52

you’ll love that phrase,

Geoffrey Stern  21:53

I do. And you know, the other thing that comes to mind is, we all know the beautiful song of Jerusalem of Gold. And, you know, it became the mantra, the theme song of the Six Day War. And there was a singer called Meir Ariel, who was a soldier. And he actually saw his comrades die. And he actually saw the cost of that victory. And he wrote a song sung to the same tune as Jerusalem of Gold, called Jerusalem of iron. And again, it was called ירושלים של ברזל and it talked about the cloud of war, it talked about what it took to gain these pieces of land. And after all, what have we been talking about for the last two weeks? It’s what land means? Are we owners of land? Are we owned by land? And in the the notes for the show, on Sefaria you can see, all the lyrics that he wrote, oh, my Jerusalem of I know, Doc lead, can you not see no wailing at your wall? Now, we set you free. It’s very cynical. It’s very so much against the whole concept of you have a war you publish an album. And, I think there is this aspect here, between the driven leaf that is in our parsha, and the driven leaf that is in a job that kind of addresses this dialectic between what is a curse? And who are we and what have we accomplished? I don’t know. It’s, it’s very fascinating to me how these many of these words were taken.

Adam Mintz  24:03

Well, I mean, let’s, let’s go back to יְרוּשָׁלַיִם שֶׁל זָהָב and ירושלים של ברזל, the fact that again, it’s the flipside, the very song, the very phrase that that we use, to describe the glory of Jerusalem is exactly the same phrase that he uses to describe the tragedy or the challenges. That’s a very Jewish idea. And that’s what we find in vetochacha as compared to last week’s Parsha. The idea that the good and the bad are literally flip sides of one another, I think is a very powerful idea. It’s kind of a healthy way to look at things, if you’re good, then x will happen. And if you’re bad, then negative x will happen, you know, but they’re all related to one another. And I think that to me, that’s a very powerful idea, in the Torah, and it’s seen in this week’s parsha more than anywhere else.

Geoffrey Stern  25:00

And I think ultimately, the fact that the Torah invests this type of literary, poetic symbolism in the exile. At the one hand, yes, it is a curse. But at the other hand, there is this profound empathy and understanding. And I think that’s ultimately what comes out of this. And you know, you look at this, this word, a driven leaf, which is just such a powerful metaphor, and you can’t but think of the Yom Kippur Unetaneh Tokef, where it talks about, We come from dust and return to dust, we labor by our lives for bread, we are like broken shards, like dry grass, like a withered flower, like a passing shadow, and a vanishing cloud, like a breeze that passes like a dust that scatters like a fleeting dream. But you are the king who lives eternal, and you can’t. The poetry of all of those metaphors could only be written by a people who was a passing shadow. And who was liked dust that scatters. And I think that that comes out so profound, that it almost transcends the curse.

Adam Mintz  26:35

That’s interesting. I mean, so now, in the last five minutes, so we’re changing the argument a little bit. And that is that the poetry actually kind of softens the blow.

Geoffrey Stern  26:49

It softens it, but there’s ownership there. There’s, there’s, there’s only one God, or only one author who could have written this, and that is a God, and an author who is with us, that is a God or an author who loves us, or who is a part of us. And that’s why the punch line is so powerful, that it talks about, and I am the God of Yitzchok and Yakov and Avraham. And the punch line is, and I will remember the land and it’s of your land. So, you know, this is a people that was exiled from the land, when Yehudah HaLevi wrote a book called The Kuzari, which was an argument for the superior nature of the Jewish people. The name that he gave the book was the Kuzari, in defense of the Despised Faith. You can say whatever you want about his arguments for how superior we are, but it comes from a place of being at the bottom of the poll, so to speak.

Adam Mintz  28:04

Yeah, there’s no question that That’s right. That’s interesting about Kuzari means that we’re just at the bottom. And it’s only you can only appreciate all these things. It’s people who lived and experienced and wrote about what it means to be on the bottom, and it really goes back to the rabbi Riskin and the Klausenburger. And that is, you know, we know what it is to be on the bottom. But you know, we don’t need to keep that a secret. We know what it is, we need to say that loud, because we’ve been on the bottom so much, we deserve not to be on the top. That’s such a great Jewish idea, isn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  28:35

It is an it’s an idea for nations. But it’s also an idea for individuals. And it’s almost an implicit argument for saying, unless you really understand what it means to be a driven leaf. Unless you understand what it means to be a cloud in passing. Maybe you can understand what it is to return to a land and to be a privileged to have a land.

Adam Mintz  29:09

Well, that’s the story of the State of Israel. And that is we appreciate what the state of Israel is, because we didn’t have it for 2000 years. Had we had it all along. It wouldn’t have been such a big deal. Right. But I mean, that was the celebration. And you know, Sunday is Jerusalem Day you talk about יְרוּשָׁלַיִם שֶׁל זָהָב, Yom Yerushalayim, the anniversary of the Six Day War, and you know, we still remember that and they still dance in the streets of Jerusalem on Jerusalem Day because it’s still a celebration.

Geoffrey Stern  29:38

Well, absolutely. And it seems to me that in this argument, you understand the importance of being in the land, but you also understand and value that being out of the land and the experience that the Jewish people have out of the land. And you know, I As I was thinking about this, Franz Rosensweig was a great Jewish thinker. And he ultimately decided he parted with his friend Gershom Scholem, who made aliyah to Israel, because he believed that the natural state of the Jew was to be outside of the land was to be a driven leaf was to be a passing cloud. You know, he wrote at one point, “it is only by keeping their ties to the diaspora, that Zionists will be forced to keep their eyes on the goal, which is to remain nomads, ever there.” So this sense that we’ve had over these last weeks, where we look at the sabbatical cycle, and we look at the fact that even when you’re in the land, you’re only a renter, not an owner, you’re an alien, you’re there by the grace of God, and that when you’re outside of the land, you are this driven leaf, which is a curse, but also an amazing insight into what life is. I think what Rosenzweig was saying that you need both and you need the tension between the both. And I think that’s ultimately what the two Bechukotai that we have in this week’s parsha really teaches us if you listen to the Bechukotai, and if you don’t listen to the Bechukotai, the lessons of being in the land, the lessons of being outside of the land, and that’s ultimately what makes us so special.

Adam Mintz  31:39

I think that’s a beautiful way to end I want to wish everybody a Shabbat Shalom, you should enjoy this wonderful Shabbat and this in a sense, frightening parsha and we look forward to seeing you next week as we begin the book Barmidbar; the book of Numbers.

Geoffrey Stern  31:52

Shabbat shalom. Thank you all for joining and listen to our podcast and share it with your friends. Thank you so much

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this land is MY land

parshat behar, leviticus 25

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on May 19th 2022 for Madlik Lag B’Omer … full of sparks, flames and disruptive Torah. The earth is the Lord’s resonates throughout the Torah nowhere stronger than in the laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years. We explore what a Promised Land means when land ownership is only temporary.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/406956

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 traditional. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Today is L’ag B’ Omer so I’m hoping that the sparks and flames of disruptive Torah will be particularly strong today. The earth is the Lord’s so it is written in the Good Book. Nowhere does this more loudly resonate than in the laws of the sabbatical and Jubilee years. On the other hand, we Jews have serious ownership issues with our land. So let’s explore what a Promised Land means when land ownership is only temporary. This land is MY land.

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So welcome. What a wonderful way to talk about a Pasha,  both on L'ag B' Omer where I said sparks do fly because it is a tradition to light a bonfire on L'ag B' Omer. And also I just came back from the land of Israel. And we are going to be talking about land tonight and what the unique relationship with land the Bible has and the Bible has for us. So this week's parsha is Bahar, which means the mountain and it's in Leviticus 25: 1 that it says God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, speak to the Israelite people and say to them, when you enter the land that I assigned to you, the land shall observe Shabbat six years, you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the field. But in the seventh year the land shall have a Shabbat of complete rest a Shabbat of God, You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard, you shall not reap the after growth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your untrimmed vines. It shall be of a year of complete rest for the land. And then it goes on to say there's a cycle of seven years and seven times seven is 49 and the 50th year is called the Jubilee Year. And it says Then you shall sound the horn loud on the seventh month of the 10th day of the month, the day of atonement, and you shall have the horn sounded throughout your land, and you shall hollow the 50th year you shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee year for you. Each of you shall return to your holding and each of you shall return to your family. And it goes on to say in this year of Jubilee each of you shall return to your holding you will get your original land back. You shall observe my laws and faithfully keep my rules that you may live upon the land in security. The land shall yield its fruit and you shall eat your fill and you shall live upon it in security but the land must not be sold beyond reclaim for the land is mine. You are but strangers resident with me. וְהָאָ֗רֶץ לֹ֤א תִמָּכֵר֙ לִצְמִתֻ֔ת כִּי־לִ֖י הָאָ֑רֶץ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֧ים וְתוֹשָׁבִ֛ים אַתֶּ֖ם עִמָּדִֽי. And throughout the land you hold you must provide for redemption of the land. And in this, it says the most famous saying, which is written on the Liberty Bell, that you shall proclaim freedom throughout the land. וּקְרָאתֶ֥ם דְּר֛וֹר בָּאָ֖רֶץ So Rabbi, we actually are in the year of the Shmita, the sabbatical year. And as I drove through Israel every so often on the highway, you would see signs that would say, we are observing the Sabbath year this Shmita year, which means that they literally were letting the land lie fallow. But I want to focus less on the agricultural aspect of this. And more on the aspect that comes out really clearly in the 50th year; the Jubilee year, but I think that impacts our understanding of the seven year cycle as well. This concept of the land belongs to God, and we are toshavim, we are settlers We are transients upon this land. This is a radical idea. And it starts by saying, When you come into what we all know, is the promised land. Is this radical idea?

 

Adam Mintz  05:17

Tremendously radical. I mean, the Torah, basically, in this week's parsha teaches us that if I buy a field from you, that field goes back to the original owner on Shmita. Now, that actually affects the entire economic system. Because if I buy a field from you in year one of Shmita, that means I'm going to pay a rental for 48 years. But if I buy a field from you in year 45 of shmitah, well, I'm only paying for five years, it's not going to cost as much money. So actually, the entire real estate system was around this idea of Yovel - Jubilee. And you can imagine that, everyone was reminded of Yovel all the time. Isn't that amazing?

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:12

It is, I mean, you know, there is Turkish law, for instance, even in Israel, my parents owned a house in Yemin Moshe, which is the the little community that Moses Montefiore, he's the Moshe of Yemin Moshe built. And when they bought it, and they paid a sum that was equated with the value of the land, they got a 99 year lease. And of course, they had to renew it for $1. But Turkish law, and there are other legal systems in the world, that you really do never really own that real estate, we who we think of real estate as the one thing that you can really own. Should you rent, or should you buy? Well, some legal systems say you can only rent. But those are legal systems, our system is more than just a legal system. It's a moral system. It's an ethical system.

 

Adam Mintz  07:22

This law, Geoffrey is a moral law, because it prevents people from getting too wealthy. Because if you were able to amass, you know, 1,000 fields, well, you're not going to be able to keep them because they have to go back during Yovel. So it's a moral system.

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:38

It's the ultimate reset. It's the ultimate redistribution of wealth. It's like playing Monopoly, and then you get to a certain point and it reverts back to the way it was. And I think that's the classical understanding. But what I want to focus on is even when it reverts back to the way it was, and goes back to the original tenant, it's not going back to the original owner, the language that it uses. It says וּבְכֹ֖ל אֶ֣רֶץ אֲחֻזַּתְכֶ֑ם, this, אֲחֻזַּ means really what you hold, you know, they talk about possession is 90% of the law. But the point is, you never get to the point where you literally own it, because God says that the land belongs to Him. And I think that the tagline for that is in Psalms 24, 1-3. And this was actually the name of a book written by Abraham Joshua Heschel. It says, The earth is the Lord's and all that it holds the world and its inhabitants for he founded it upon the ocean, set it on the nether streams, who may ascend the mountain of the Lord, who may stand in his holy place. And it says לַֽ֭ה' הָאָ֣רֶץ וּמְלוֹאָ֑הּ, and that was the name of Heschel's book. The idea is ultimately, that at the end of the day, it all belongs to God. And we can never own we can touch we can feel we can have a relationship with but I think that ultimately is the essence of what we're focusing on here.

 

Adam Mintz  09:28

Yeah, that's right, that we can't own, that's really very interesting. Only God owns land. And what about the fact that every Shmita all loans go back [and] are canceled? So if I borrow money from you, if I can pay you back? Well, then the Shmita comes and cancels the loan. Actually, and we know this, that that create It's such an economic crisis, that already in the time of the Talmud, almost 2,000 years ago, they introduced something called a Pruzbol. A Pruzbol is a legal fiction, which allows the lender to collect the loan even after Shmita. And the amazing thing is that as Shmita comes to a conclusion, this summer, there will be ads all over the place in Israel, to start to to fill out this form called the Pruzbol, in case you lend money to somebody to make sure that the loan isn't cancelled. So that's really alive today. But that's the idea that again, it's the great reset, if someone can't afford to pay back well come Shmita the loan is cancelled.

 

Geoffrey Stern  10:51

You know, we've kind of discussed this double entendre, this dual meaning to different commandments, mitzvot in the Torah, I think we first came across it, when it said in the in the Parsha in the section dealing with the Exodus, that you shall write these things on your arms and on your your head. And we said there it's not referring to tephilin it's refering to the ideal. I think with shmitah, there is a very strong argument that in fact, it was more ideal than it was real, meaning to say that there are passages in the Talmud that talk about well, who is a really great person, someone who observes the Shmita, which leads one to believe that they were the exception to the norm, that it was so countered to the necessities of daily life, that it almost was as much an ideal, as it was a reality. Is there any truth to what I just said?

 

Adam Mintz  11:57

I mean, you're making such a big point. And we of course, we've talked about it before. And that is that generally speaking, I mean, just take the laws of Shabbat, Shabbat is a reality. But it's also an ideal. You just talked about Abraham Joshua Heschel. He wrote a book about the Sabbath. And his book about the Sabbath really talks about exactly what you said, he talks about sanctity of time and sanctity of space. He takes Shabbat from the thing that we observe every seventh day. And he basically says, it's about the sanctity of all time, you know, of time generally. And that, he says, you have to see it in the bigger sense. And obviously, that's true about Shmita, too. And I think that's an important point, we talked about this before. But the idea of seven's is a very critical idea here, you know, every seventh day, we rest, every seventh year, the land rests, and every seven of seven years, then the 50th year, then, the slaves go free and the land goes back. It's all about seven's. You talk about how the Jewish calendar works, the Jewish calendar works around sevens. That's not, to be taken for granted. The Jews basically gave the week to the world. That's not to be taken for granted. When you think about the month, Geoffrey, the month is 30 days, it probably would have been better to divide the week into five or six days, then every month would have exactly the same number of weeks by dividing the week into seven days. Actually, the months are confusing, because every month starts at a different day. Now we're used to that already. But wouldn't it be easier if the first of June July August and September were all Tuesday's that would make it a lot easier. But Judaism gave the world the idea of seven. So yeah, that's what you're talking about the you know, the reality and the ideal. I think the idea of the week the idea of seven is something that's both the reality, but it's also an ideal.

 

Geoffrey Stern  14:21

So I'm less of a numerologist than maybe you are, but I do agree that the Sabbath, both the seven day day of rest, and what we're studying today, which is the seventh year cycle of land, letting the field rest and the seven times seven cycle of the Jubilee where as you said, not only do you rest the field, but the field goes back to its original placeholder. The loans get nullified and what we didn't mention is that slaves go free. And that's, of course, why it's on the Liberty Bell. But this idea of rest, meaning to say, of disruption, and then rest of coming to yourself, I think is the greatest gift of the Jews to the world. You know, there's a series of book The, the gift of the Irish and he wrote a book on the gift of the Jews. And in the gift of the Jews, it was this day of rest, Shabbat, the same word for Shabbat, which means to rest is the name Shvita , which is a strike, a labor strike in in Israel, ultimately, when you mandate that your servant has to rest, and that your animal has to rest. That is the most basic form of human rights and animal rights and waits to nature. It means that these things cannot always be controlled. And I think that is an unbelievable message. But I think ultimately, what lays at the heart of that, in terms of the biblical message, is there's a reason for all of that. And that is, as I was saying, before, that everything belongs to God. And you know, whether you believe in God or you're an atheist, the idea is that it doesn't belong to us. We don't own it. And what I'd like to take the discussion in another direction, which is I mentioned that the word that is used for when it returns to the first owner ..... owner is a mistranslation, because what it really returns to is the first ochez, the first holder. And we know in Genesis that Abraham is promised this promised land, and what I want to square the circle is this kind of dialectic and tension between a promised land, but also a land that ultimately is not yours because no land belongs to anybody. The first Rashi in all of the Torah, embrace it and we've quoted this numerous times, says Why does the Torah begin with the story of creation, to show exactly as that psalm that I read a second ago, that really the whole world belongs to God and God goes out of his or her way to make Abraham come from another place he's not entitled to this particular Promised Land. He's given that promised land on the basis of לַֽ֭ה' הָאָ֣רֶץ וּמְלוֹאָ֑הּ, the world belongs to God and  God can give it to who he wishes. But the interesting part of that tension is in Genesis 17:8, it says, I assigned the land you sojourn into you and your offspring to come all the land of Canaan as an everlasting holding, I will be their God, the word for everlasting holding is a אֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם, achuzah is that word that I've been focused on, which means really, you're not a title-holder, you grab it, you hold it, and olam would seem to mean, everlasting. So it seems to me a little bit like one of these words that there's a conflict or a tension within it. Like when Adam is introduced to Eve as his עֵ֖זֶר כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ, his help-meet and of course, Rashis says If he is worthy she shall be a help to him; if he is unworthy she shall be opposed to him, to fight him. Is there a tension in the word who's אֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם?

 

Adam Mintz  18:57

אֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם? Yeah, I mean, that's interesting, well, let's take a step back because you made so many good points. The first interesting point was that it's not the owner of the land. It's only the person who's holding on to the land. There's no idea of ownership. In addition, let me just finish this point, then we'll get to the next point. The Torah says in this week's parsha Avadai Hem The Torah says that the people are my servants. And the rabbis learned from there Avadai hem, v'lo avadim l'avadim, you're not allowed to work for anybody else. That's why the slaves go free. Because land is not owned by anybody. And nobody can work for anybody else. It all goes back to God. אֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם? It's not really אֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם.. generally, doesn't mean forever? Alarm means until the Yovel (Jubillee)  The Torah says that the Jewish slave if he likes his master can have his ear pierced. And the Torah says Ve'avado L'olam, he's a slave forever. But the word olam doesn't really mean olam. The word olam really means until the Yovel. So you're you're right for pointing that out. But the rabbi's already picked up on that and said, it doesn't really mean that.

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:26

I'm just blown away from that I had never heard that before. And again, it means that the rabbi's understood what the contradiction was, and that they tied it to the rule that we are discussing today. Just blows me away. But But there's another aspect of this achuza that we all are aware of. If you noticed when I read the verses, in verse 18, it said, You shall observe my lowest and faithfully keep my rules that you may live upon the land in security. וִֽישַׁבְתֶּ֥ם עַל־הָאָ֖רֶץ לָבֶֽטַח, the land shall yield its fruit, and you shall eat your field and you shall live upon it insecurity. For those of you who read the prayer book, who say the Shema, twice a day, once a month, once a year, you know that the second paragraph of the Shema says the following, and it's from Deuteronomy 11:16. Take care not to be lured away to serve other gods and to bow to them, for God's anger will flare up against you shutting up the skies, so that there will be no rain, and the ground will not produce its produce, and you will soon perish from the good land that God is assigning to you. So even this promised land, even in these very verses, it has the two sides to it. It's promised to you if you observe the rules, and you conduct yourself properly. But if you don't, you will be banished, it will not produce what it needs to sustain you. And for a people that his been outside of its land more than it's been on its land. This is a powerful, powerful message that again, is connected to the concept of the sabbatical year, the Jubilee Year. And as you just pointed out to the word Olam, which we normally mean is it's ours forever.

 

Adam Mintz  22:41

I mean, it's such a nice point you raised that for there's no forever in the Torah because the only one who's in charge of forever is God.

 

Geoffrey Stern  22:52

Yeah, yeah.

 

Adam Mintz  22:53

Isn't that a great idea?

 

Geoffrey Stern  22:55

I think it's an amazing idea. So let's let's deal with another word, we dealt with achuzat for a second, there is a another word that comes up in these words, and it seems to mean something like forever. And the word is, the land shall not be sold permanently for the land is mine. You are strangers and sojourners with me. And the word for permanently is tzemitut. And that word similar to olam has a bunch of connotations. In modern Hebrew, we talk behalutin which means again for ever, so if you if you talk about someone who is in modern Hebrew, if you say that someone is Meshuga l'chalutin and, and in the word that it goes, it means absolutely. But at the end of the day, these words kind of have the sense of a death grip. They're not positive words. Tzemitut has a sense of destruction and decay; when you're sold that to me took forever. So it's almost as if it's not only that you only have this temporarily, but there is a negative, decaying aspect of having something forever that we are a dynamic religion we are have a dynamic sense of living and life and that this concept of forever is not something that it's too bad. We miss the latter and we don't have have it forever. Having something forever is actually a kind of a dead end.

 

Adam Mintz  25:05

It's bad to happen forever. Well, it's against the toe right to have it forever.

 

Geoffrey Stern  25:11

I think yeah, it is. But it's also not. We like to think of something you know, they always say nothing lasts forever. But but but the concept behind that is, wouldn't it be cool if it did. And the if you look at the Hebrew words that are used for forever, they're, they're actually not that positive. They're static. And they're, in a sense, almost derogatory. There's a beautiful verse as in Kohelet and Ecclesiastes. And it says, just as a man enters this world by final decision, בַּחֲלִיטִין, so he leaves this world by final decision, it's almost associated with death. And what the Shmita, ultimately is about is about this tension, of living on the edge of this lack of finality, this lack of, of forever, is actually a lease on life, if you'll mind the pun.

 

Adam Mintz  26:22

And you know, you say also, it's, it's also introduces this the element of uncertainty. You know, it's scary that you can't work the land during Shmita, you talked about driving in Israel, and seeing the signs that you can't work the land during Shmita. That's scary. How you going to make a living? Right? It's scary that you're gonna have to give back your field at the Yovel How you gonna have to start again, you say it's the great reset, the great reset sounds good in a bit in the big picture. But personally, the great reset is kind of scary, isn't it?

 

Geoffrey Stern  27:00

It absolutely is. So I want to jump ...., because I just came from Israel. And so because so much of the tension and an end and a bloodshed in Israel is about ownership of land, is about territoriality. I want to do something radical on this lLag B'Omer, I want to study a Mishnah in the Talmud, that really at one level has nothing to do with what we're discussing. But I think after we learn it together, we might find it has everything to do with what we're discussing. And it focused is on a Who's that, and holding. So it's the first mission or the first page of Talmud that I ever studied. And it likely might be the first page of Talmud that you ever studied. I can sit here looking up at the sky and say it by heart. שנים אוחזין בטלית זה אומר אני מצאתיה וזה אומר אני מצאתיה, there are two people struggling over a tallit; a piece of cloth. And each one claims that they found it, which of course is very much in line with what achuzah means. They don't say they owned it forever. They don't say they inherited it. They both found it. And the missioner goes on to say what do we do. And it says this one takes an oath that that he does not have ownership of less than half. And this one takes an oath that he does not have ownership of less than half. And of course, when you take an oath, we take it very seriously, you're taking an oath in the name of God. And each party has to be credible, we can't let someone make an oath that could break their integrity. So instead of each party saying the obvious, which is it's all mine, they each says I don't have less than half; that even in the worst circumstance that both of us came at it at the same time. I don't have less than half. And I've always thought that this is a wonderful paradigm for how people argue also about land. That in a sense, it preserves for each party, the integrity that they need to have their narrative. It retains their truth, but nonetheless at the end of the day, it says יחלוקו that each one gets half even though they each believe that they deserve the whole and I would love one day to learn this Mishnah at a peace talk between different people arguing over the same land. Am I crazy? I mean that's great. I mean that's about you know, that's about the time interaction between our desire to own things, our desire for things to be forever our desire for things to be final and the reality of שנים אוחזין בטלית, isn't that what it's really about it is

 

Adam Mintz  30:16

Its tension, which is built in.

 

Geoffrey Stern  30:19

In the notes. I quote from The Autobiography a very short Autobiography of a young scholar, who died very young, but was considered by everybody to be an Eloy genius. His name was Rav Avraham Eliayu Kaplan. And he says the first time he learned this missioner, he really thought they were arguing in a synagogue over a tallied because that's what it says, not a piece of cloth, which is what the Aramaic means, .... he saw a religious content to it. And I think we can look at a simple legal text like this, we can look at illegal text of the sabbatical year, and we can learn so many profound lessons. The only last thing that I will say because I do believe that religion has a place in peace talks and in coming together is that when Sadat made peace with Israel, he used a law from the Sharia called a hudna, which means you can make a temporary peace, even when you are breaking some of your ideals. And of course, the temporary peace can last forever. I think in these rules is a way of getting beyond our ideologies and being able to accept others and being able ..... because God owns the world because לַֽ֭ה' הָאָ֣רֶץ וּמְלוֹאָ֑הּ. we can find a way of compromise.

 

Adam Mintz  31:54

Amazing, great topic. Welcome back. Enjoy Bahar, everybody. And we look forward to seeing you next week. Shabbat Shalom everybody.

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:03

Shabbat Shalom to you all.

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So welcome. What a wonderful way to talk about a Pasha,  both on L’ag B’ Omer where I said sparks do fly because it is a tradition to light a bonfire on L’ag B’ Omer. And also I just came back from the land of Israel. And we are going to be talking about land tonight and what the unique relationship with land the Bible has and the Bible has for us. So this week’s parsha is Bahar, which means the mountain and it’s in Leviticus 25: 1 that it says God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, speak to the Israelite people and say to them, when you enter the land that I assigned to you, the land shall observe Shabbat six years, you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the field. But in the seventh year the land shall have a Shabbat of complete rest a Shabbat of God, You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard, you shall not reap the after growth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your untrimmed vines. It shall be of a year of complete rest for the land. And then it goes on to say there’s a cycle of seven years and seven times seven is 49 and the 50th year is called the Jubilee Year. And it says Then you shall sound the horn loud on the seventh month of the 10th day of the month, the day of atonement, and you shall have the horn sounded throughout your land, and you shall hollow the 50th year you shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee year for you. Each of you shall return to your holding and each of you shall return to your family. And it goes on to say in this year of Jubilee each of you shall return to your holding you will get your original land back. You shall observe my laws and faithfully keep my rules that you may live upon the land in security. The land shall yield its fruit and you shall eat your fill and you shall live upon it in security but the land must not be sold beyond reclaim for the land is mine. You are but strangers resident with me. וְהָאָ֗רֶץ לֹ֤א תִמָּכֵר֙ לִצְמִתֻ֔ת כִּי־לִ֖י הָאָ֑רֶץ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֧ים וְתוֹשָׁבִ֛ים אַתֶּ֖ם עִמָּדִֽי. And throughout the land you hold you must provide for redemption of the land. And in this, it says the most famous saying, which is written on the Liberty Bell, that you shall proclaim freedom throughout the land. וּקְרָאתֶ֥ם דְּר֛וֹר בָּאָ֖רֶץ So Rabbi, we actually are in the year of the Shmita, the sabbatical year. And as I drove through Israel every so often on the highway, you would see signs that would say, we are observing the Sabbath year this Shmita year, which means that they literally were letting the land lie fallow. But I want to focus less on the agricultural aspect of this. And more on the aspect that comes out really clearly in the 50th year; the Jubilee year, but I think that impacts our understanding of the seven year cycle as well. This concept of the land belongs to God, and we are toshavim, we are settlers We are transients upon this land. This is a radical idea. And it starts by saying, When you come into what we all know, is the promised land. Is this radical idea?

Adam Mintz  05:17

Tremendously radical. I mean, the Torah, basically, in this week’s parsha teaches us that if I buy a field from you, that field goes back to the original owner on Shmita. Now, that actually affects the entire economic system. Because if I buy a field from you in year one of Shmita, that means I’m going to pay a rental for 48 years. But if I buy a field from you in year 45 of shmitah, well, I’m only paying for five years, it’s not going to cost as much money. So actually, the entire real estate system was around this idea of Yovel – Jubilee. And you can imagine that, everyone was reminded of Yovel all the time. Isn’t that amazing?

Geoffrey Stern  06:12

It is, I mean, you know, there is Turkish law, for instance, even in Israel, my parents owned a house in Yemin Moshe, which is the the little community that Moses Montefiore, he’s the Moshe of Yemin Moshe built. And when they bought it, and they paid a sum that was equated with the value of the land, they got a 99 year lease. And of course, they had to renew it for $1. But Turkish law, and there are other legal systems in the world, that you really do never really own that real estate, we who we think of real estate as the one thing that you can really own. Should you rent, or should you buy? Well, some legal systems say you can only rent. But those are legal systems, our system is more than just a legal system. It’s a moral system. It’s an ethical system.

Adam Mintz  07:22

This law, Geoffrey is a moral law, because it prevents people from getting too wealthy. Because if you were able to amass, you know, 1,000 fields, well, you’re not going to be able to keep them because they have to go back during Yovel. So it’s a moral system.

Geoffrey Stern  07:38

It’s the ultimate reset. It’s the ultimate redistribution of wealth. It’s like playing Monopoly, and then you get to a certain point and it reverts back to the way it was. And I think that’s the classical understanding. But what I want to focus on is even when it reverts back to the way it was, and goes back to the original tenant, it’s not going back to the original owner, the language that it uses. It says וּבְכֹ֖ל אֶ֣רֶץ אֲחֻזַּתְכֶ֑ם, this, אֲחֻזַּ means really what you hold, you know, they talk about possession is 90% of the law. But the point is, you never get to the point where you literally own it, because God says that the land belongs to Him. And I think that the tagline for that is in Psalms 24, 1-3. And this was actually the name of a book written by Abraham Joshua Heschel. It says, The earth is the Lord’s and all that it holds the world and its inhabitants for he founded it upon the ocean, set it on the nether streams, who may ascend the mountain of the Lord, who may stand in his holy place. And it says לַֽ֭ה’ הָאָ֣רֶץ וּמְלוֹאָ֑הּ, and that was the name of Heschel’s book. The idea is ultimately, that at the end of the day, it all belongs to God. And we can never own we can touch we can feel we can have a relationship with but I think that ultimately is the essence of what we’re focusing on here.

Adam Mintz  09:28

Yeah, that’s right, that we can’t own, that’s really very interesting. Only God owns land. And what about the fact that every Shmita all loans go back [and] are canceled? So if I borrow money from you, if I can pay you back? Well, then the Shmita comes and cancels the loan. Actually, and we know this, that that create It’s such an economic crisis, that already in the time of the Talmud, almost 2,000 years ago, they introduced something called a Pruzbol. A Pruzbol is a legal fiction, which allows the lender to collect the loan even after Shmita. And the amazing thing is that as Shmita comes to a conclusion, this summer, there will be ads all over the place in Israel, to start to to fill out this form called the Pruzbol, in case you lend money to somebody to make sure that the loan isn’t cancelled. So that’s really alive today. But that’s the idea that again, it’s the great reset, if someone can’t afford to pay back well come Shmita the loan is cancelled.

Geoffrey Stern  10:51

You know, we’ve kind of discussed this double entendre, this dual meaning to different commandments, mitzvot in the Torah, I think we first came across it, when it said in the in the Parsha in the section dealing with the Exodus, that you shall write these things on your arms and on your your head. And we said there it’s not referring to tephilin it’s refering to the ideal. I think with shmitah, there is a very strong argument that in fact, it was more ideal than it was real, meaning to say that there are passages in the Talmud that talk about well, who is a really great person, someone who observes the Shmita, which leads one to believe that they were the exception to the norm, that it was so countered to the necessities of daily life, that it almost was as much an ideal, as it was a reality. Is there any truth to what I just said?

Adam Mintz  11:57

I mean, you’re making such a big point. And we of course, we’ve talked about it before. And that is that generally speaking, I mean, just take the laws of Shabbat, Shabbat is a reality. But it’s also an ideal. You just talked about Abraham Joshua Heschel. He wrote a book about the Sabbath. And his book about the Sabbath really talks about exactly what you said, he talks about sanctity of time and sanctity of space. He takes Shabbat from the thing that we observe every seventh day. And he basically says, it’s about the sanctity of all time, you know, of time generally. And that, he says, you have to see it in the bigger sense. And obviously, that’s true about Shmita, too. And I think that’s an important point, we talked about this before. But the idea of seven’s is a very critical idea here, you know, every seventh day, we rest, every seventh year, the land rests, and every seven of seven years, then the 50th year, then, the slaves go free and the land goes back. It’s all about seven’s. You talk about how the Jewish calendar works, the Jewish calendar works around sevens. That’s not, to be taken for granted. The Jews basically gave the week to the world. That’s not to be taken for granted. When you think about the month, Geoffrey, the month is 30 days, it probably would have been better to divide the week into five or six days, then every month would have exactly the same number of weeks by dividing the week into seven days. Actually, the months are confusing, because every month starts at a different day. Now we’re used to that already. But wouldn’t it be easier if the first of June July August and September were all Tuesday’s that would make it a lot easier. But Judaism gave the world the idea of seven. So yeah, that’s what you’re talking about the you know, the reality and the ideal. I think the idea of the week the idea of seven is something that’s both the reality, but it’s also an ideal.

Geoffrey Stern  14:21

So I’m less of a numerologist than maybe you are, but I do agree that the Sabbath, both the seven day day of rest, and what we’re studying today, which is the seventh year cycle of land, letting the field rest and the seven times seven cycle of the Jubilee where as you said, not only do you rest the field, but the field goes back to its original placeholder. The loans get nullified and what we didn’t mention is that slaves go free. And that’s, of course, why it’s on the Liberty Bell. But this idea of rest, meaning to say, of disruption, and then rest of coming to yourself, I think is the greatest gift of the Jews to the world. You know, there’s a series of book The, the gift of the Irish and he wrote a book on the gift of the Jews. And in the gift of the Jews, it was this day of rest, Shabbat, the same word for Shabbat, which means to rest is the name Shvita , which is a strike, a labor strike in in Israel, ultimately, when you mandate that your servant has to rest, and that your animal has to rest. That is the most basic form of human rights and animal rights and waits to nature. It means that these things cannot always be controlled. And I think that is an unbelievable message. But I think ultimately, what lays at the heart of that, in terms of the biblical message, is there’s a reason for all of that. And that is, as I was saying, before, that everything belongs to God. And you know, whether you believe in God or you’re an atheist, the idea is that it doesn’t belong to us. We don’t own it. And what I’d like to take the discussion in another direction, which is I mentioned that the word that is used for when it returns to the first owner ….. owner is a mistranslation, because what it really returns to is the first ochez, the first holder. And we know in Genesis that Abraham is promised this promised land, and what I want to square the circle is this kind of dialectic and tension between a promised land, but also a land that ultimately is not yours because no land belongs to anybody. The first Rashi in all of the Torah, embrace it and we’ve quoted this numerous times, says Why does the Torah begin with the story of creation, to show exactly as that psalm that I read a second ago, that really the whole world belongs to God and God goes out of his or her way to make Abraham come from another place he’s not entitled to this particular Promised Land. He’s given that promised land on the basis of לַֽ֭ה’ הָאָ֣רֶץ וּמְלוֹאָ֑הּ, the world belongs to God and  God can give it to who he wishes. But the interesting part of that tension is in Genesis 17:8, it says, I assigned the land you sojourn into you and your offspring to come all the land of Canaan as an everlasting holding, I will be their God, the word for everlasting holding is a אֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם, achuzah is that word that I’ve been focused on, which means really, you’re not a title-holder, you grab it, you hold it, and olam would seem to mean, everlasting. So it seems to me a little bit like one of these words that there’s a conflict or a tension within it. Like when Adam is introduced to Eve as his עֵ֖זֶר כְּנֶגְדּֽוֹ, his help-meet and of course, Rashis says If he is worthy she shall be a help to him; if he is unworthy she shall be opposed to him, to fight him. Is there a tension in the word who’s אֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם?

Adam Mintz  18:57

אֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם? Yeah, I mean, that’s interesting, well, let’s take a step back because you made so many good points. The first interesting point was that it’s not the owner of the land. It’s only the person who’s holding on to the land. There’s no idea of ownership. In addition, let me just finish this point, then we’ll get to the next point. The Torah says in this week’s parsha Avadai Hem The Torah says that the people are my servants. And the rabbis learned from there Avadai hem, v’lo avadim l’avadim, you’re not allowed to work for anybody else. That’s why the slaves go free. Because land is not owned by anybody. And nobody can work for anybody else. It all goes back to God. אֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם? It’s not really אֲחֻזַּ֖ת עוֹלָ֑ם.. generally, doesn’t mean forever? Alarm means until the Yovel (Jubillee)  The Torah says that the Jewish slave if he likes his master can have his ear pierced. And the Torah says Ve’avado L’olam, he’s a slave forever. But the word olam doesn’t really mean olam. The word olam really means until the Yovel. So you’re you’re right for pointing that out. But the rabbi’s already picked up on that and said, it doesn’t really mean that.

Geoffrey Stern  20:26

I’m just blown away from that I had never heard that before. And again, it means that the rabbi’s understood what the contradiction was, and that they tied it to the rule that we are discussing today. Just blows me away. But But there’s another aspect of this achuza that we all are aware of. If you noticed when I read the verses, in verse 18, it said, You shall observe my lowest and faithfully keep my rules that you may live upon the land in security. וִֽישַׁבְתֶּ֥ם עַל־הָאָ֖רֶץ לָבֶֽטַח, the land shall yield its fruit, and you shall eat your field and you shall live upon it insecurity. For those of you who read the prayer book, who say the Shema, twice a day, once a month, once a year, you know that the second paragraph of the Shema says the following, and it’s from Deuteronomy 11:16. Take care not to be lured away to serve other gods and to bow to them, for God’s anger will flare up against you shutting up the skies, so that there will be no rain, and the ground will not produce its produce, and you will soon perish from the good land that God is assigning to you. So even this promised land, even in these very verses, it has the two sides to it. It’s promised to you if you observe the rules, and you conduct yourself properly. But if you don’t, you will be banished, it will not produce what it needs to sustain you. And for a people that his been outside of its land more than it’s been on its land. This is a powerful, powerful message that again, is connected to the concept of the sabbatical year, the Jubilee Year. And as you just pointed out to the word Olam, which we normally mean is it’s ours forever.

Adam Mintz  22:41

I mean, it’s such a nice point you raised that for there’s no forever in the Torah because the only one who’s in charge of forever is God.

Geoffrey Stern  22:52

Yeah, yeah.

Adam Mintz  22:53

Isn’t that a great idea?

Geoffrey Stern  22:55

I think it’s an amazing idea. So let’s let’s deal with another word, we dealt with achuzat for a second, there is a another word that comes up in these words, and it seems to mean something like forever. And the word is, the land shall not be sold permanently for the land is mine. You are strangers and sojourners with me. And the word for permanently is tzemitut. And that word similar to olam has a bunch of connotations. In modern Hebrew, we talk behalutin which means again for ever, so if you if you talk about someone who is in modern Hebrew, if you say that someone is Meshuga l’chalutin and, and in the word that it goes, it means absolutely. But at the end of the day, these words kind of have the sense of a death grip. They’re not positive words. Tzemitut has a sense of destruction and decay; when you’re sold that to me took forever. So it’s almost as if it’s not only that you only have this temporarily, but there is a negative, decaying aspect of having something forever that we are a dynamic religion we are have a dynamic sense of living and life and that this concept of forever is not something that it’s too bad. We miss the latter and we don’t have have it forever. Having something forever is actually a kind of a dead end.

Adam Mintz  25:05

It’s bad to happen forever. Well, it’s against the toe right to have it forever.

Geoffrey Stern  25:11

I think yeah, it is. But it’s also not. We like to think of something you know, they always say nothing lasts forever. But but but the concept behind that is, wouldn’t it be cool if it did. And the if you look at the Hebrew words that are used for forever, they’re, they’re actually not that positive. They’re static. And they’re, in a sense, almost derogatory. There’s a beautiful verse as in Kohelet and Ecclesiastes. And it says, just as a man enters this world by final decision, בַּחֲלִיטִין, so he leaves this world by final decision, it’s almost associated with death. And what the Shmita, ultimately is about is about this tension, of living on the edge of this lack of finality, this lack of, of forever, is actually a lease on life, if you’ll mind the pun.

Adam Mintz  26:22

And you know, you say also, it’s, it’s also introduces this the element of uncertainty. You know, it’s scary that you can’t work the land during Shmita, you talked about driving in Israel, and seeing the signs that you can’t work the land during Shmita. That’s scary. How you going to make a living? Right? It’s scary that you’re gonna have to give back your field at the Yovel How you gonna have to start again, you say it’s the great reset, the great reset sounds good in a bit in the big picture. But personally, the great reset is kind of scary, isn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  27:00

It absolutely is. So I want to jump …., because I just came from Israel. And so because so much of the tension and an end and a bloodshed in Israel is about ownership of land, is about territoriality. I want to do something radical on this lLag B’Omer, I want to study a Mishnah in the Talmud, that really at one level has nothing to do with what we’re discussing. But I think after we learn it together, we might find it has everything to do with what we’re discussing. And it focused is on a Who’s that, and holding. So it’s the first mission or the first page of Talmud that I ever studied. And it likely might be the first page of Talmud that you ever studied. I can sit here looking up at the sky and say it by heart. שנים אוחזין בטלית זה אומר אני מצאתיה וזה אומר אני מצאתיה, there are two people struggling over a tallit; a piece of cloth. And each one claims that they found it, which of course is very much in line with what achuzah means. They don’t say they owned it forever. They don’t say they inherited it. They both found it. And the missioner goes on to say what do we do. And it says this one takes an oath that that he does not have ownership of less than half. And this one takes an oath that he does not have ownership of less than half. And of course, when you take an oath, we take it very seriously, you’re taking an oath in the name of God. And each party has to be credible, we can’t let someone make an oath that could break their integrity. So instead of each party saying the obvious, which is it’s all mine, they each says I don’t have less than half; that even in the worst circumstance that both of us came at it at the same time. I don’t have less than half. And I’ve always thought that this is a wonderful paradigm for how people argue also about land. That in a sense, it preserves for each party, the integrity that they need to have their narrative. It retains their truth, but nonetheless at the end of the day, it says יחלוקו that each one gets half even though they each believe that they deserve the whole and I would love one day to learn this Mishnah at a peace talk between different people arguing over the same land. Am I crazy? I mean that’s great. I mean that’s about you know, that’s about the time interaction between our desire to own things, our desire for things to be forever our desire for things to be final and the reality of שנים אוחזין בטלית, isn’t that what it’s really about it is

Adam Mintz  30:16

Its tension, which is built in.

Geoffrey Stern  30:19

In the notes. I quote from The Autobiography a very short Autobiography of a young scholar, who died very young, but was considered by everybody to be an Eloy genius. His name was Rav Avraham Eliayu Kaplan. And he says the first time he learned this missioner, he really thought they were arguing in a synagogue over a tallied because that’s what it says, not a piece of cloth, which is what the Aramaic means, …. he saw a religious content to it. And I think we can look at a simple legal text like this, we can look at illegal text of the sabbatical year, and we can learn so many profound lessons. The only last thing that I will say because I do believe that religion has a place in peace talks and in coming together is that when Sadat made peace with Israel, he used a law from the Sharia called a hudna, which means you can make a temporary peace, even when you are breaking some of your ideals. And of course, the temporary peace can last forever. I think in these rules is a way of getting beyond our ideologies and being able to accept others and being able ….. because God owns the world because לַֽ֭ה’ הָאָ֣רֶץ וּמְלוֹאָ֑הּ. we can find a way of compromise.

Adam Mintz  31:54

Amazing, great topic. Welcome back. Enjoy Bahar, everybody. And we look forward to seeing you next week. Shabbat Shalom everybody.

Geoffrey Stern  32:03

Shabbat Shalom to you all.

Sefaria Source Sheet: http://www.sefaria.org/sheets/406956

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life after death

parshat emor, leviticus 21

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on May 12th 2022 for a discussion of the Biblical taboo against contact with death. We explore Biblical and Rabbinic texts and wonder what the Torah’s aversion to death teaches us about life.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/404890

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we discuss the Biblical taboo against contact with death. We wonder what the Torah’s aversion to death teaches us about life.  So put away your fancy books on theology and metaphysics.  Forget for the moment about mysticism and concepts of the afterlife and let’s talk about our lives.  Let’s talk about life after death.

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So welcome to Madlik. I am broadcasting live from Tel Aviv, Israel, and I'm joined by Rabbi Adam Mintz in New York City. So we are combining both in traditional Jewish fashion, Israel and the Galut. And I must say that I got to Israel maybe a week, a week and a half after Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day and, and all of the flags are still streaming from balconies, and from trees and from cars. And I'm reminded that in Israel, something very strange happens on Independence Day. First, there's Yom Hazicharon (Remembrance Day), which is probably the saddest day of the year, where those of you who have been in Israel, the most moving profound ceremony, ritual takes place where for one minute, the sirens are blasted. People literally stop their cars on the highway and stand at attention and respect (for the fallen soldiers) next to their cars. And then the next moment the day is over, and the happiest day of the year occurs. And I will call that for today's purposes, life after death. So we are not talking about the afterlife. As I said in the introduction, we are talking about life, and we're talking life in the shadow of death after death with death. And with that, we are going to jump right in to this week's parsha it's potshat Emor. And it's Leviticus 21. God said to Moses, speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron and say to them, none shall defile himself or any dead person among his kin. לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ לֹֽא־יִטַּמָּ֖א בְּעַמָּֽיו, except for the relatives that are closest to him, his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, and his brother. And then it goes on to say, They shall not shave, smooth any part of their heads or cut the side growth of their beards, or gash their flesh, they shall be holy to their God, and not profane the name of their God, for they offer God's offerings by fire, the food of their God, and so must be holy. And those rules apply to any profit to any priest or Cohen. But then in verse 10, it goes on to say, the priest who is exalted above his fellows, הַכֹּהֵן֩ הַגָּד֨וֹל, the high priest, on who's had the anointing oil has been poured, and who has been ordained to wear, the vestments shall not bear his head in warning or rent his vestments, he shall not go in where there is any dead body, he shall not defile himself, even for his father or mother. So correct me if I'm wrong, Rabbi. But really, this is the first time that the Bible in this cycle of the reading is addressing head on the laws of impurity. And the most basic cause of any impurity in Judaism is coming into contact with death. And it's so much of a taboo that a normal Cohen cannot go to a funeral of a cousin. He cannot mourn for a friend by going to a cemetery. The high priests can't even mourn and come into contact with his own parents. So first of all, am I right that the source of all impurity in the Bible is death, and two here we are what can we make of this?

Adam Mintz  04:40

So, first of all, this is an amazing beginning of the of the weekly parsha. Yes, the source of all impurity in Judaism in the Torah is death. You see, Judaism is a religion of life. The Torah says Ve'Chai Ba'hem, you should live by the laws, and therefore death is the opposite of that. And therefore death. Death is impurity. It's interesting that the idea of life versus death comes up, I'll just talk about in another context, and we'll bring it back to the Cohen. You know, we're told to choose life, That's why if someone puts a gun to your head and says, I'm going to kill you, unless you violate Shabbat, or unless you eat not kosher, you're supposed to eat not Kosher or violate Shabbat. Rather than die. Ve'Chai Ba;hem we live by the Torah, the Torah wants us to live not to die. There are only three exceptions to that. That's idolatry, adultery and murder. But those are just exceptions, basically, you're supposed to live. And here the Cohen. Who himself in this case, it's basically men, because they are the ones who worked in the temple, they are required to remain holy, to remain holy means that you are not allowed to come in contact with death. It's interesting actually, that a regular Coben is allowed to come in contact with death for a close relative, the high priest is not allowed to come in contact with death, even for a close relative. And I wonder Geoffrey, which is more surprising, is it more surprising that the Cohen is allowed to come in contact for a close relative or that the Cohen Gadol is not allowed to come in contact with a close relative, I would suggest maybe that what's surprising is that the regular Cohen can come in contact with, with death in any situation, because the Cohen needs to stay away from death, since the code needs to always be available to work in the temple.

Geoffrey Stern  06:53

You know what's amazing to me.... And I think to answer your question about the different gradations here, I think that these are paradigms. In other words, the exceptions are and exceptions probably come from just human social concerns. I mean, a normal priest is a normal priest. He's not quite at the level of the high priest. So he can make an exception to the rule, the Cohen Gadol the high priest can make no exception to the rule. But what the statement that it's saying, what strikes me is that it associates this with being holy. Last week, we had the Parsha called Kedoshim and we talked about what holiness was. And the last thing we mentioned, was, we didn't say that holiness is not coming into contact with death. So this is really a profound statement of not simply, as you say, that Judaism is very this worldly, and, you know, you can you can almost do any sin, it says ve'chai ba'hem And when we raise up our glass, we say, L'Chaim, I get all that. But this is a level deeper a letter for a level farther, because what this is saying is part of God's message, or maybe the core of God's message is you don't need death. And the interesting thing is, I think that the classic rabbinic sources kind of take up upon this. I mean, if you think about this, the purpose of religion, normally when we talk about what is religions, most primary function, it's to explain to us the unknown. It's to comfort us when we need comfort. It's when we face the abyss, it is literally to answer the question of death. And here we are saying that in God's book, holiness, is to not dwell, not focus on death. And here's how the rabbinic sauces in my mind kind of approach it. They take the verse that is right before our verse at the beginning of our portion Leviticus 20: 27, A man or a woman who has a ghost or a familiar spirit shall be put to death; they shall be pelted with stones—and they shall retain the bloodguilt.. And the Tanhuma says, Why are those verses put right before the verses that we just read? It's because God says to the Jewish people, do not inquire of ghosts. Remember, many people, even up till today, will look for inspiration amongst the spirits of those who are dead with those who are past a necromancer. And what God says is you don't have that choice. I am your God, you come to me, You shall not inquire of spirits and in a sense, I think that's explaining the connection between God being holy, that his temple is holy and an aversion to dwelling, inquiring focusing on death. Do I have a leg to stand on here?

Adam Mintz  10:11

I mean, I think you do that's interesting that you connect the two. Let's let's talk bigger picture, the connection between this week's portion and last week's portion. Kedoshin means to be holy means not to be impure, not to come in contact with death. So the entire parsha actually, last week was about life, how you live your life, what you need to do fear your parents keep the Sabbath do all of those things. And then this week, it's about stay away from death. It's the flip side isn't?

Geoffrey Stern  10:55

It? Is it is there's no question about it. And you know, I'd like to focus a little bit on your insight that you said, Why is there an exception for your parents, and in the case of the Cohen Gadol even that exception doesn't exist. It's fascinating that the rabbi's say that once Rabbinic Judaism began, they say that you can make an exception also for righteous people. And for scholars. It says אין טומאה לצדיקים ולא לחכמים, and that's in the Midrash Aggadah, Leviticus. But they say that at Yehuda HaNasi's funeral, even Kohanim came and felt that because he was so righteous, they could defile themselves. So I think you're right, in asking that question. There is an aspect of this, that while we don't linger, while we don't focus on death, because we have this amazing connection with God, there are certain people that have a valid right to that connection as well. And that's our parents, both, our physical parents, but also the righteous. So I think there is the exception is real. And that's kind of fascinating.

Adam Mintz  12:16

That is fascinating that Midrash is actually fascinating that the exception is extended to righteous people. I think there are two ways to say and if you want to be Talmudic about it, you could say that those people don't have ritual defilement. Or you could say that you're allowed to ritually defile to those people. And I think the second is correct, meaning a Cohen, in the time of the temple, who went to their father's funeral, would then have to go to the mikveh, to the ritual bath, and be sprinkled with the ashes of the red heifer, they would have to go through a purification process. It's not that becoming tameh, to your parents doesn't make you tameh, it makes you to tameh, it's just that your obligation to your parents overrides the prohibition against becoming today. I think that's a nuance, but I think it's an important nuance.

Geoffrey Stern  13:19

You know, so far, we've talked about these laws almost in a vacuum. We've said that, you know, any religion is there to explain death, any religion talks about how you react with those who have passed into the nether world. And, we really said that if you read this text as straightforwardly, it's making a stand. It's saying that we Jews have a direct connection to God. And therefore, we push back from the dead and the nether world and all that, but I want to explore something that has always fascinated me. And this week, I actually explored it because it seems so obvious to me in terms of a historical context, you know, the Jews came out of Egypt. And you don't have to be an Egypt scholar, to know what the Egyptian religion was all about. I mean, the pyramids are the wonders of the world, you have to believe that every citizen of the Near East knew about Egyptian metaphysics and the Egyptian belief in the next world. And then if you look at the Jewish people, and after all, what were we building? We were building pyramids, which were literally to take the pharaohs and the upper class to the next world. So I said to myself, isn't this a rejection also, of all that Egypt represented? We have that theme throughout the Bible. So I look back and you know, the first interesting thing About the Cohanim, the priests in Egypt, is that they had land, and our priests have no land. So if you look at a Genesis 47, and it talks about Joseph, taking away all the land of all the people as they had to come and get food for the seven year famine, it says in 47: 22, only the land of the priests רַ֛ק אַדְמַ֥ת הַכֹּהֲנִ֖ים, he did not take over for the priests had an allotment for Pharaoh, and they lived off the allotment. So here we definitely have this contrast already, between the priests in Egypt, and the priests, in Judaism in biblical Judaism, where they never had any land. And then you start to think about other parts of our verses. For instance, if you noticed by the high priest, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, it says, You shall not shave, you shall not cut the corners of your beard. And all of us who have ever seen pictures of the Egyptians, as opposed to Babylonians, who had a healthy beard, and Persian kings, they were saved. So it seems to me that part of this is a rejection of all that Egypt represented. And before I asked you for your opinion, you know, Rabbi, one other data point was when Joseph died, and it said that he was embalmed. But he was it was done so in a way that ensured, not that he would go into the nether world, but that he could be taken with them. So it just seems to me that there were these minor reference points to facts about the Egyptian religion, and that if one was reading it from this context, this is just one more rejection of everything that Egypt represented, does that resonate with you?

Adam Mintz  17:22

It's fantastic. Actually, I mean, the idea of connecting the Cohan of Egypt, with the Jewish Cohen, I think, is a really interesting thing. First of all, you have to know the Torah never makes that connection. I mean, the Torah talks about Cohanim. But the Torah never makes that connection. But what you're saying is that our priesthood is actually the opposite of the Egyptian priesthood. And that the purpose of our priesthood is to show that the Egyptians did not have it, right. Meaning we don't have a priesthood where the where the priests owns everything. It's a priesthood where the priest has nothing. So the purpose of the introduction of priests and the tau raise to show what's important in Judaism. That's a great idea isn't that we kind of we kind of undermine the pagan society.

Geoffrey Stern  18:21

Well, but it's not only pagan, if you think I mean, the easiest, I'm sure I could pick any religion. But if you look at the Catholic religion, for instance, what is the power that the church has over the people? It's the pearly gates, it's damnation, or it's go to heaven. And literally, it is the biggest cudgel, the biggest stick of that religion. And I argue that Egypt again was all about that. It was all about the afterlife. And here we have a religion that yes, that's why the Kohanim in Egypt and it uses the same word. We always think of Cohanim like Cohen... Cohen's a nice Jewish name. But Cohanim means priests. And when the Bible refers to Egyptian priests, it refers to Kohanim but no wonder they had land because they had all the power. They controlled everything and here we have, the Jewish Priest doesn't have that land doesn't have that power. And to me, the punch line if you'd look at the opposite of the pyramids, is Deuteronomy 34: 6 and God buried him meeting Moses in the valley in the land of Moab near Beth poor, and no one knows his burial place to this day. Here our leader, and in the Bible at times it says Moshe was like a god Moshe was like a pharaoh. Here our leader is buried in an unmarked grave. You cannot but have a takeaway from This, that this is a radical rejection of all that was Egyptian and that's kind of natural, is it not? We were freed slaves.

Adam Mintz  20:08

Yeah. Good. I think that's all good and I gotta make one additional point, the story of Hanukkah, right B'yemai Matityahou ben Yohanan Cohen Gadol.  The story of Hanukah was actually the victory of the Cohanim. And what happened was after the story of Hanukkah, the Cohen, the High Priest actually became the king. And Ramban, Nachmanides says that that family was punished, because the Cohen is not allowed to be the king. There's a separation between church and state, the Cohen is not allowed to be the king separation of church and state, that's not great.

Geoffrey Stern  20:48

Well, absolutely. And you can almost equate the downfall of [Temple] Judaism. That was the beginning of that slippery slope, all the way to Herod. And all that when we we gave up that separation of literally, of church and state, you're absolutely correct. That absolutely amplifies what I was saying. I mentioned a few minutes ago, that the rabbi's kind of took away from these biblical verses some lessons and the first lesson they took was that you can defile yourself for a teacher. And that there's something profound in Judaism in terms of the respect we have for our parents for our past, and for the education and the transmission of our tradition, that is at the same level, possibly, or gets close to the same level as this relationship that we have with God. But the rabbi's went even further, and I'd like to explore some rabbinic texts that relate to the way they valued life. So one interesting, and this is a piece of Talmud that I searched for, because I knew it was there. And I said, you know, it's the old question of you know, two guys walk into a bar. What happens if a funeral possession and a wedding possession meet on a crossroad. In Ketubot 17a it says the sages taught one reroutes the funeral procession for a burial of a corpse to yield before the wedding possession of a bride. מַעֲבִירִין אֶת הַמֵּת מִלִּפְנֵי כַלָּה And the reason they do that is because the wedding represents the future. And the burial is the past. And again, I put it within the context of other religions, that deify, that make this realm of the afterlife as the fulcrum that guides our observance, and just a very simple rule like this is a profound statement, is it not?

Adam Mintz  23:08

It really is. These great Talmudic statements where you have one thing versus the other, you know, they have a case where yet where you have a chance to save your father or your teacher, who do you say first. What is considered to be more important, a funeral or a wedding, which is considered to be more important. I always like to study those pieces of the Talmud by asking the following question, what would we have thought if the Talmud hadn't given us an answer? What would you have thought to a bit in the right answer?

Geoffrey Stern  23:38

I don't want to get into social commentary. And maybe this doesn't apply to your synagogue and to modern, Orthodox, observant Jews, but I belong to a conservative synagogue. And I know that around the holidays, they will say services begin at this time, and Yizkor is at this time. Even Lincoln Square synagogue has a free Yizkor service. Yizkor is when we remember those who have passed away and it seems that even till today, even within our Judaism, we focus upon that aspect because we know that's what brings in people to our religion, but at the end of the day, those of us who are involved in our religion 365 days knows that it's really the wedding's not the funerals. It's really the Simchat Torah and the Purim and the Hanukkah, but nonetheless we default to using the hook of the afterlife the Netherworld? Am I wrong, am I being facetious and cynical?

Adam Mintz  24:54

What about the fact that what brings people to shul is Kaddish? Right?.

Geoffrey Stern  25:00

Yeah. And neither one of us is putting it down obviously. But nonetheless, you can ask the question: Why is Kaddish such a draw and not? You know, listening to the Torah? You know, why did you say the Torah reading begins sharply at 10:00?

Adam Mintz  25:18

We know the answer and I guess that's the that's the problem, right?

Geoffrey Stern  25:22

Yup. So I want to dig a little bit deeper. We it's very trite to say that the rabbi's were this worldly, and they loved life. But there's another thread that I find fascinating and Ketubot 103b It says: When Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi fell ill, Rabbi Ḥiyya entered to be with him and found him crying. He said to him: My teacher, for what reason are you crying? Isn’t it taught in a baraita: If one dies while laughing, it is a good sign for him; while crying, it is a bad sign for him?... Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said to him: I am crying for the Torah and the mitzvot that I will be unable to fulfill after I die. The sense that only someone of flesh and blood can feed the poor, can put tephilin on his arm can make the decision whether to be faithful to his wife or not, can study the Torah, this lack of looking at the next world as the ultimate goal and reward. It's absolutely lacking here. This gives religious substance to our life on Earth. Is it powerful?

Adam Mintz  26:44

Very powerful. So what do you make of that statement? I think it's great.

Geoffrey Stern  26:48

I think you can only take it at face value that just as those of us who come into contact with, with a friend or family who passes away, and we walk out we go, you know, we got to savor every moment on this beautiful earth. It's as good as it gets. There's such a focus on the only thing that we can do is in this world. You know, it reminds you of that Midrash where the angels were arguing with God, saying, why God are you giving the Torah to Moses, give it to us we're pure. And all the arguments are because Moses can sin and he's human, and he's hungry, and he has to work and he has to make sure he's ethical. You don't have any of those issues. That's kind of the way the Rabbi's, especially in a text like this are looking at the next world. Maybe it's a place for reward. But it's not a place for spiritual growth. It's not a place where you can learn one day what you didn't know the day before.

Adam Mintz  27:49

Yeah, I think that that's all good. I mean, the idea of this world versus the next world, how do we live our life? Are we supposed to worry about this world? Are we supposed to be concerned about the next word?

Geoffrey Stern  28:03

You know, and you don't even have to go to rabbinic sources. If you go to the psalms that we read when we sing Hallell it says lלֹ֣א הַ֭מֵּתִים יְהַֽלְלוּ־יָ֑הּ וְ֝לֹ֗א כׇּל־יֹרְדֵ֥י דוּמָֽה. The dead cannot praise the Lord, nor any who go down into silence. I shall not die but live and proclaim the works of the LORD. The LORD punished me severely, but did not hand me over to death.

Adam Mintz  28:28

I mean, King David knew the answer, right?

Geoffrey Stern  28:31

So you could look at it from the point of view of someone who's in pain and someone dying. But from the perspective that we're looking at, it's no this is the best life that we have. And it's fascinating that when the rabbi's did put together an afterlife, it was Techiyat Hameytim it was coming back with a body they were so focused, so committed to life as we know it. I just want to share one law that actually is in the Misheneh Brura and the Shulchan Aruch till today and the Gomora Berachot says one may not walk in a cemetery with tephilin on his head and a Torah in his arm and read from it. If one does so he commits a transgression due to the verse. He who mocks the poor blasphemed his creator. לוֹעֵג לָרָשׁ חֵרֵף עוֹשֵׂהוּ And there are other laws. In the Mishna Brura  that says you can't wear ztitzit, a talit in a cemetery. And again, it harps on what Rob Yehuda HaNasi said, You can be the biggest tzadik in the world buried and visited by by 1000s of Hasidim. But you can't do mitzvot anymore. And so if somebody shows up to a beit kevarot to a cemetery wearing tephilin, he is mocking the dead. And the flip side of that is that every breathing moment that we have the obligation but the privilege of being alive.

Adam Mintz  30:04

I think that's the best thing. That's the best word so far. And that is, we have the privilege to do all these things. Isn't that a great thing? We have the privilege to do these things. Once you die, you no longer have the privilege to do these things anymore.

Geoffrey Stern  30:21

Yep. And and, and it comes across, not as some sort of ethical message or a drash. But it goes all the way through to the Halacha and the fact that when you leave the cemetery, you wash your hands, we give great respect for the dead. And I should say that the laws even for a Cohen, if there's no one else to bury somebody, you got to do it. It's called a Meit Mitzvah.

Adam Mintz  30:49

I'll tell you another interesting thing about respect for the dead, you know, some people wear their tzitizit out of their shirts, you know, they wear they wear their tzitzit hanging. You know, that when you go into a cemetery, you're not allowed to have your tzitzit hanging out, because that would be embarrassing for the dead. We take that so literally, that would be considered embarrassing for the dead. Isn't that interesting?

Geoffrey Stern  31:13

It's interesting. But again, it's a it's a little trivial example of a profound message.

Adam Mintz  31:20

One more example of the same message.

Geoffrey Stern  31:24

And that love of life that we have isn't just a simple L'Chaim. It's a love of everything that we can do with every breath that we have in every blessed moment that we have. And that ultimately, is why a rejection of death is something that is holy, and it is an affirmation of our relationship with God and life and that to me is an amazing message.

Adam Mintz  31:51

Fantastic. Enjoy Israel. Shabbat shalom, everyone else Shabbat Shalom and we look forward next week to returning to our regular scheduled time at 8pm Shabbat Shalom everybody

Geoffrey Stern  32:00

Shabbat Shalom to everybody. Bye bye

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/404890

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divide and sanctify

parshat kedoshim – leviticus 19 – 20

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on May 5th 2022 as we ask: what does it mean to be holy? Does holiness divide or unite us? Join us as we ask whether the revolutionary perception of holiness contained in the biblical text is eclipsed by puritanism and sectarianism.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/403778

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 8:00 PM Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we ask: what does it mean to be holy? Does holiness divide or unite us? so settle down and cut yourself a slice of pie for this week’s episode divide and sanctify.

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Well, welcome to another week of Madlik disruptive Torah. And as we were talking about in the pre-show, usually, Kedoshim, the Parsha that we have this week is kind of wrapped with Acharei Mot, the parsha that we read last week, so it kind of gets buried in the lead. And it's rather exciting to me at any rate, to have the focus today just on the parsha of Kidoshim. And I must say that there is an Israeli expression that I heard recently this amuses me because secular Jews say it when they quote somebody who's passed away. They say Acharei Mot Kedoshim Emor. Is that correct?

 

Adam Mintz  01:34

Rabbi, that is what they say.

 

Geoffrey Stern  01:37

And all that is doing and I've heard that from secular Jews. So it's, it's kind of become part of the standard expressions, it combines the first name of the three parshiot , and it means after death, you are holy in what you say. And so when you quote somebody who's passed away, and you give them a little extra credit, you say, Acharei Kedoshim Emor . And just always love instances where things that are innocuous, Jewish halachic. biblical laws have entered the speech of everyday Israelis.

 

Adam Mintz  02:18

It's a great it's a great saying, isn't it?

 

Geoffrey Stern  02:20

Yeah, I love it. So anyway, we are in Leviticus 19 and 20. And what I am going to do the word kedoshim means holy, as I said in the intro, I believe that we are all going to be surprised by what the Bible considers holy. And so what I'm going to do is kind of read verses selectively, because my bias is normally when we think of something that's holy, we think of ritual, we think of taboo that you can't touch it, that it's pure. And I think you'll be surprised by where the emphasis of the holiness is. So let's dive right in. God spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the whole Israelite community, and say to them, You shall be holy for I Your God am holy. You shall each revere your mother and your father, and keep my Sabbath. I God am your God. You shall not pick your vineyard bear or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard, you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger, I Hashem am your God. That's the kind of repetition You shall not steal. You shall not deal deceitfully or falsely with one another. You shall not swear falsely by my name. profaning the name of God, I am HaShem. You shall not defraud your fellow Israelite You shall not commit robbery, The wages of a laborer so not remain with you until morning, you shall not insult the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind, you shall fear your God, I am HaShem your God. You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kin fairly. (16) Do not deal basely with members of your people. Do not profit by the blood of your fellow [Israelite]: I am ה'. (17) You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kin but incur no guilt on their account. (18) You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against members of your people. Love your fellow [Israelite] as yourself: I am ה'. (19) You shall observe My laws. You shall not let your cattle mate with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; you shall not put on cloth from a mixture of two kinds of material. (20) If a man has carnal relations with a woman who is a slave and has been designated for another man, but has not been redeemed or given her freedom, there shall be an indemnity; they shall not, however, be put to death, since she has not been freed.kinds of seed you shall not put on a cloth from a mixture of two kinds of material. If a man has kind of relations with a woman who is a slave and has been designated for another man, but has not been redeemed or given her freedom. There shall be indemnity they saw will not, however be put to death. Since she has not been freed. I kept on reading the last pot, because that's I think what most of us predicted would be here, there would be laws of sexual and chastity, there would be laws of mixing us the seed of flax, these who came that we had talked about earlier. But that's almost the end of it in the middle. All of these laws don't normally refer to us as the holiness laws. And the fact that it starts by saying, kind of you shall be holy, because I am holy. God doesn't have these kinds of relationships. He doesn't pay his workers, so to speak. So to me, it's a really radical definition of holiness. Are you struck in that way as I am rabbi.

 

Adam Mintz  05:58

Well, I'm struck by the definition of holiness. I'm struck by the fact that the Torah waited until the middle of the book of Vayikra, to talk about holiness. If it's so central, shouldn't the Torah start that way? It kind of sneaks up on us here, does it?

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:15

Well, maybe we've been preparing for this all this time, right?

 

Adam Mintz  06:20

that that itself is a dvar Torah. That dvar Torah 's says that we weren't ready to be holy, yet. We needed all the Torah up to now to get to holiness. I wonder whether that's true. That's a nice Dvar Torah right. I wonder whether that's true?

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:35

Absolutely. I mean, I think the other thing which comes out clearer in the Hebrew than it does in the English is, I wouldn't say it's a sing song. But it starts by saying, I am holy, therefore you should be holy. And then it rolls out one or two or three verses, and it repeats. It has like a drumbeat. I am your God,

 

Adam Mintz  07:00

Well, that's, that's the refrain. And that's the refrain from the first verse, Be holy, because I'm holy, and because I am your God, because I am your God. It seems to be that either God is seen as having these moral traits, or we need to have moral traits, because God is our God, meaning that we need to be moral, that's part of our religious obligation. You don't need to say fast on Yom Kippur, because God is God, because that's a part of the ritual. But to be moral, you may think that has nothing to do with God. The answer is yes, Ani Hashem. It's only because God is God.

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:45

So one fascinating interpretation. And I think one of the themes that we are going to kind of find today, and it's something that always impacts me, is those of you who have ever studied higher biblical criticism, where they look at the texts of the Torah as though they're written in different formats, possibly they were edited and put together. If after you study the higher biblical critics, you go back and study the traditional rabbinic interpretations, you find that this is not a discovery, the rabbi's themselves.... because they lived this language and they live these laws. They were very attenuated to when there was a change in types of phraseology. So one rabbi, Rabbi Hiyya taught: this section, and he says parsha zoo, was spoken in the presence of a gathering of the whole assembly, because most of the essential principles of the Torah are attached to it. Rabbi Levi said because the 10 commandments are included therein.  And I quote this In brief, but it goes on to map, literally map every one of the 10 commandments on to these verses. And what I want to focus on for a second is number one, that the rabbi's call it this parsha. This whole sense of having parshat hashavua ...  you know you don't really find references in the Talmud, correct me if I'm wrong, Rabbi

 

Adam Mintz  09:28

No, you're 100% right. The Talmud... in many places they had a triennial cycle. They didn't finish the Torah every year. They finish it every three years. So therefore, they didn't have parshat Hashavua the way we have it. That was something that developed only over the centuries. That's absolutely right.

 

Geoffrey Stern  09:46

But not only that, you'll never get in the Talmud where they refer like oh, yeah, like we saw in parshat Noach. Or what we saw in parshat Mishpatim.  They do have a concept of parsha. And when they refer to a parsha they mean a chapter, a piece that's clearly unique and stands on its own. And that's why again, I find if you study the rabbi's in that way, after you study higher biblical criticism, they're really talking about the same thing in different manners. So the first thing is this Rabbi Hiyya talks about this parsha, and he's not talking about Pasha hashavua, , He's talking about this segment that is clearly stands on its own and is one literary, unitary piece. And then he says that this is a piece that was said in public. And of course, the word that he uses B'hakel. And we know that there is a commandment to gather all the people at certain times and to read from the toe a biblical commandment. So he is really saying this is a very, very important piece. And then when you add to that this Rabbi Levy, who says it's really a restatement, or I'd say, a parallel presentation of the 10 commandments, that becomes fascinating.

 

Adam Mintz  11:12

That's fascinating. I mean, first of all, you know, it's interesting about the Ten Commandments. So you know, we are all sensitized to the fact that the Ten Commandments are what we like to call the top Ten Commandments, means the top 10 laws, but actually, that's not the way the Torah presents them. You know, the laws and the Ten commandments are not somehow more important than, you know, the little laws, you know, the laws of Shatnes, the prohibition against wool and linen. The idea in the Torah is that all laws are of equal importance. So that's interesting, isn't it?

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:47

You know that they used to say, the Ten commandments in services every single morning. They only changed that, because Christianity thought that the Ten commandments were the only commandments that you had to listen to. And in order to prove the Christians wrong, they took that out of the Davening. But they used to say it in the davening. It is absolutely. The issue that you raise is a complex one, because many non-Jews would come to us and try to focus on the Ten commandments. So for instance, there was a custom to stand for the Ten commandments. And then people said, Well, if we just stand for the Ten commandments, that might be an interpretation that it's more important, and that laws like Shatnes don't mean as much. So we'll stand for the whole thing. So it was a sensitive issue. But there's no question. At the end of some of these re-statements, it does say these are the Ten commandments, even if it's not the one that we target, there's something you know, call it numerology, there was something packed about Aseret Hadibrot because, obviously, Moshe came down with the 10 commandments, you can't dilute that.  So this is an ongoing theme in Madlik, where the way we Jews practice and study our Judaism has, through better or worse been affected by non Jews, by Christians, by others, whether we have been a reflex against that, or simply other dispositions. But absolutely, what you're just saying is what I was trying to say. And so there's no question that this is a very important segment. Now one of the things that I think Henry even mentioned it last week, because he read this portion as his bar mitzvah. The second half of our portion today talks about all the forbidden sexual relationships. And I think even last year for this podcast, we focused on same-sex and the prohibition against same-sex. It's all at the end of this portion. And because we operate in this portion of the week, we tend to lump them together. But I want you to listen very carefully to Vayikra Raba.  Vayikra Raba says as follows. Rabbi Judah Ben Pazi  asked, Why was the section dealing with Consanguineous relationships placed next to the section dealing with holiness? So in Hebrew, it says, Why was parshat arayot connected to parshat Kedoshim. So the rabbi's understood that these were two totally different sections. And just like sometimes they ask, why are the laws of this Sabbath connected or juxtaposed to building the Mishkan; the tabernacle. And they learned something from it. Here, too, these two sections were clearly different. And the laws of the Forbidden incestuous, and other relationships is not kedoshim. It's a way out. It's a section that deals with that topic. And that too, is fascinating to me, because it does impact what Kedoshim is, we can ask why they were put together. But kedoshim by itself doesn't include those things.

 

Adam Mintz  15:40

Yeah, that's interesting. So what do you make of that?

 

Geoffrey Stern  15:45

So again, it absolutely emphasizes what I took away when I read Kedoshim this year afresh. And what I was reading about was, yes, there was some things about the Sabbath. We'll get to that maybe in a second. And clearly, it did talk about the mixed species. But for the most part, when it says, Be holy, because I am holy, because I am your God. It's about paying the laborer on time. It's about having scales that are correct. It's about telling the truth. Even when it talks about not taking God's name in vain. It means when you swear an oath against somebody else, it is so interpersonal, it is so social, that I think it's a revolutionary interpretation of a term that we typically associate with ritual and taboo and those types of things.

 

Adam Mintz  16:46

I think that that's right. I'll just tell you in these months between Peasach and shavuot, there is a tradition each week to study Perkei Avot... , which is the ethics of the Fathers, the laws of morality, begins Moshe kibel Torah Be'Sinai  umsur l'Yehoshua it has the list of the trend of the transmission. Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai and pass it to Joshua. Joshua to the elders and the elders, to the members of the great Knesset; of the great assembly. So the question is asked, Why does the laws of morality give us this line of transmission? Isn't it true about all the Talmud, it's all part of the transmission? The answer is that we know that the obligation to fast on Yom Kippur? Or the obligations, to eat matzah on Pesach. We know that comes from God, you don't need to tell me the transmission. But it could be that the laws of morality have nothing to do with the Torah that the laws of morality have to do with the way people behave in the society that we come from. And the answer is No, the answer is Moshe kibel Torah Be'Sinai, that that that also is part of our tradition, being moral is part of our tradition, which I think is really a nice idea.

 

Geoffrey Stern  18:08

And I would emphasize that. That when you look at Kedoshim, and you read it on Saturday, on Shabbat, anew, you will see if you take just this segment of kedoshim, and you don't go into the latter stuff that talks about all of these incestuous and [forbidden] sexual [relationships] and passion and all of that you will see it is very ethical when we say ethical, ethical between ben Adam l'chavero between man and his fellow. And it's social. And so it's not "also"...  we just heard that this is read in public, this is a rephrasing of the Ten commandments. It's "emphatic", and I think that is so powerful. So I want to go back to what Kedoshim means and how it was taken. But before I do, I can't but talk about one little juxtaposition that came up. And it says in "keep my Sabbath". And I "honor your parents" and Rabbi correct me if I'm wrong, but in the standard tradition of the Ten commandments, you also have the same juxtaposition. You have the fifth commandment is to keep the Sabbath and the sixth is to honor your parents. Am I right?

 

Adam Mintz  19:31

Four and Five, Four is Honor the Sabbath and five is honor your parents.

 

Geoffrey Stern  19:36

Okay. So Rashi here gives the traditional explanation because when I say he gives an explanation. It's based on a question, why are these two laws always combined? And is two really high, high profile places where they are combined, and he says is, this is the traditional explanation that you have to honor your parents. But in a situation where your parents tell you to break the Sabbath, you don't have to listen to them. And I want to ask you point blank rabbi is, is the question a good question? And how does the answer resonate with you?

 

Adam Mintz  20:23

I mean, the question is not a good question, but the answer is a good answer.

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:28

oooooh,  I would go the other way. Why do you think the question is not a good question?

 

Adam Mintz  20:32

You think the question is good? The questions a made up question.

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:35

When it talks between four and five of the Ten commandments? I think the question is a made up question. But when you look at our verse here, that combined in one verse, Leviticus 19: 3 it says, "You shall each revere your mother and your father, and keep My sabbaths: I ה' am your God."  I think that's a good question.

 

Adam Mintz  20:58

Good. Okay. I think that's a good question.

 

Geoffrey Stern  21:01

Okay, so now we agree, it's a good question. Now, why do you think it's a good answer?

 

Adam Mintz  21:09

You you started, you tell me do you like the answer?

 

Geoffrey Stern  21:13

I don't like the answer. I think the answer? You know, it's a good question. Why are you lumping these two things that have nothing to do with with each other together? And we come up with a innocuous situation of a Ba'al Teshuva, or something, someone who's more religious than his parents?

 

Adam Mintz  21:34

Let me tell you the reason I think that it's a bad question, is because the only reason they asked the question is because they have an answer. If they didn't have an answer, they would never ask.

 

Geoffrey Stern  21:47

Okay You know what I mean, right. Before we get to the answer, everything in the Torah is next to one another, right? I mean, they could ask that question on every single verse in the Torah. Why is this next to this? But this is in the same verse? It's in the same verse,

 

Adam Mintz  22:05

But they could ask the question so many times, the only reason he asked that question is because there's an answer. Now, okay. So the answer is, so what happens if your parents tell you to violate the Shabbos? So it comes to tell you that Shabbos wins over your parents? Because I am God? Now, that's an interesting moral kind of dilemma, which is who do you listen to your parents or God? That's a great kind of question. Because I think you can make a pretty good argument that maybe you should listen to your parents, your parents are your parents.

 

Geoffrey Stern  22:43

So I am going to give a radical new interpretation...  is that okay? Heard first here on Madlik.  And this is not a interpretation that I think is the peshat, the original intent, but it is a little bit of drash. And it's looking at it through our modern eyes. For many of us, we will late Shabbat to family, we relate Shabbat to families coming together. There is an Israeli, not for profit, and it's secular, and it is arguing for some sort of public transportation system on Shabbat. And their argument is for people who don't have a car, how do you have Shabbat Friday Night Dinner with your parents. And I have in the source notes their most recent ad from Valentine's Day, and it has a picture of a challah and it says אהבה אמיתית זה לבוא איתה לארוחת שישי אצל ההורים, to come with this collar to the Friday night dinner with her parents. And then it says we should have some sort of public transportation. But what I do believe is that for all of us, it resonates the connection between Shabbat and family and whether that was the original intention or not. But I do think there is a very strong intention and that we should lean over backwards to make sure that of all of the oneg all of the joy that you can celebrate on Shabbat. The one joy that we should lean over backwards to make possible is for children to be with their parents.

 

Adam Mintz  22:53

Good Good. I like that. I mean, that's first heard on Madlik, but I like it.

 

Geoffrey Stern  24:49

So I'm going to have to contact Yisrael Hofsheet and give them some material that came out of Madlik. Okay, so let's get back to this concept of Kadosh holy. So, while she says something very interesting, you shall be holy. This means keeping aloof from forbidden sexual relations. So he studies the same Midrash that I quoted a second ago, that refers to the two parshiot the two sections individually, he is follwowing that. But what is amazing is the language that he use, הֱווּ פְרוּשִׁים מִן הָעֲרָיוֹת. So, there is an expression  קדושים תהיו פרושים תהיו   that means you shall be holy, you shall be separate. And in many sense that falls into the traditional understanding of what holiness is, when I say the mountain is holy, I have to step back, I have to make sure that I don't come into contact with my wife for three days, I have to look at it as a holy mountain sanctified it is a separation, it is holier than now it is an other, it is beyond the material. And that's one level of what he's saying. And therefore it's very natural for him to link our little segment that we read of kedoshim as a holiness with the next one, which was פָּרָשַׁת עֲרָיוֹת, which was the sexual perversions. But I want to talk about the history of this idea. Because the English translation of Peru Shem is actually Pharisees. In other words, Rabbinic Judaism, whether they refer to themselves this way, or this was a label that was put on them were called Perushim. And in a sense, that was their sense of holiness.

 

Adam Mintz  27:03

So I'm going to tell you a secret. See the Pharisees refer to a group that became the rabbinic Jews. They were a group during the Second Temple period. There were the Pharisees. And there were the Saducees. In Hebrew, we say the Perushim. And the Zadukim, the Zadukim were the priests. They were the ones who ran the show. The Peru Shem, the fat juicy, the SAT and the Pharisee. Sorry, they were not the ones who are the leadership, they were the average person. How did they make themselves special, even though they were not the ones who were the priests who worked in the temple. What they did was they separated themselves from forbidden foods, from foods that were Ta'amei from foods that were ritually impure. So what's amazing is they were known by that practice, and therefore they were called Perushim. So actually, it's exactly the same term. The term is people who separate themselves exactly the same term. Isn't that interesting?

 

Geoffrey Stern  28:21

It is absolutely interesting. And from a certain perspective, there is in the notes, you'll see modern scholarship that I bring. So there's an argument of whether this was a term that was a derogatory term like these guys are the outsiders, these guys are the rejectionists or whether it was a term of pride, and you are following a line of thought where they separated themselves from and they observe the types and the other laws of purity and are in at a higher level. And I don't think there's the verdict is not really out on this. But what I want to focus on is again, this concept and those of you who are attenuated to Hebrew, now we've used the same shoresh, the same three letter shoresh twice in the same segment, we talked about a "Parasha", which is a division of the Torah into different segments [literary pieces] , and we've talked about now holy is to be separate. And then there was this sect that really either was tagged as separatists or proudly wore the banner of being separate. But they were the same rabbis who wrote in Perkei Avot that you should not be אַל תִּפְרֹשׁ מִן הַצִּבּוּר. So they understood the problems of sectarianism. They understood the problems of this division.

 

Adam Mintz  30:03

So say it even better. That is it's okay to be separate and ritual matters. It's not okay to be separate and communal matters. And that's amazing.

 

Geoffrey Stern  30:14

I think they struggled with it. I mean, these are the same rabbis who said the temple was destroyed because of Sinat Hinum. They understood this was a time where they were different sects. And this was a time where we were tearing ourselves apart. And so what I would like to finish with is, and I don't know how I got here, but there was a term that Solomon Shechter came up with, which is a very strange term, and it's called Catholic Israel. And he brought it up in a speech where he dedicated The Seminary, the conservative seminary, and you have to understand when he dedicated that there was no real Orthodoxy in America, he was really trying to address Reform and all that. But what he said was amazing, and what the takeaway was, was amazing, and he says, What unites all of Judaism is that if you look back in history, and you look at, for instance, the Kararites who were literalist or fundamentalists who only listened to the written word and argued with the Pharisees, he says, they triggered a response in Rabbinic Judaism, to focus more on the texts to focus more on our tradition. So what he says is, we do have a lot of separation, we have different portions, we have different sects within us. But if you study those portions, and if you study those different movements, and you bring it all to your present in Torah learning, you have a Catholic Israel, which means a united Israel and a holy Israel. And I think that's a fascinating, fascinating idea, as we focus on the connection between Kedusha; holiness and separation

 

Adam Mintz  32:10

That's a great way to end because to imagine that he said that 120 years ago and we're still talking about it and trying to figure out its relevance for today that's really a nice idea. So thank you Geoffrey. I think we really kind of try to get to the bottom of what you do shot is but also what the verses at the beginning with Shabbat and parents and try to understand the tension there I think it's a parsah full of great things. Enjoy everybody and next week join us when we'll have a lunch and learn as we study parshat Emor together.

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:47

It will be at one o'clock Eastern because I will be in the Holy Land. Shabbat Shalom you should all be Kodesh bye bye

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Scapegoating

parshat achrei mot – leviticus 16

A live recording of Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse on April 28th 2022 for Madlik Disruptive Torah. A goat is thrown off a cliff to atone for our sins. A troubling rite with a rich history for the Jewish people and for Christianity that believes in a Savior who died to expiate the sins of mankind.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/401839

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 mints I host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. We’re back from spring break with fond memories of our Passover Seder, where we sang about a goat My father bought for two zuzim, Had Gad Ya Had Gad Ya. Today, we encounter another goat. This goat is thrown off a cliff to atone for our sins, a troubling rite with a rich history. So welcome back to reality, and join us as we explore Scapegoating.

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Well, welcome back from spring break. Here we are the Madlik podcast. It's on all of your favorite channels, Apple podcasts, and Spotify. So, if you like what you hear today, you can go ahead and share it with your friends, listen to it, and give us some comments as well. So Rabbi, welcome back from Israel. Here we are, we didn't miss a parsha because no one has been reading from the weekly parsha in the Torah. For the last two weeks, it's been Passover. And we are back in Leviticus, we're in chapter 16. The name of our parsha is Acharei Mot, which actually skips back a few parshiot to when Aaron's two sons died for bringing a sacrifice that was strange and not requested. So here we begin, in chapter 16. And God spoke to Moses after the death of his two sons. And it just carries on from there and talks about what the Aaron and the other Kohanim need to do. And then it begins with a very strange, rite, and it says in verse 5, from the Israelite community, he shall take two he goats for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering. And it goes on Aaron shall take the two he goats and let them stand before God at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and how you shall place lots upon the two goats. One lot is marked for God, and the other is marked for Azazel. Aaron shall bring forward the goat designated by the lot for God, which is he to offer as a sin offering, while the goat designated by the lot for Azazel shall be left standing alive before God, to make expiation with it and to send it off to the wilderness of Azazel. And then it goes on further and it says, Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated agent. Thus, the goat shall carry on it all their iniquities, to an inaccessible region, and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness. V'nasa ha se alav et kol avnotam. The one who set the Azazel goat free, he shall also wash those clothes and bathe the body and water. After that they may we enter the camp. And then finally, it ends by saying, and this shall be to you a law for all time, in the seventh month, on the 10th day of the month, you shall practice self-denial, and you shall do no manner of work neither the citizen nor the alien who resides amongst you. For on this day atonement shall be made for you to purify you of all your sins, and you shall be pure before God, it shall be a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practice self-denial. It is a law for all time. And obviously we're talking about Yom Kippur war, and it has the verse in it כִּֽי־בַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּ֛ה יְכַפֵּ֥ר עֲלֵיכֶ֖ם לְטַהֵ֣ר אֶתְכֶ֑ם מִכֹּל֙ חַטֹּ֣אתֵיכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֥י ה' תִּטְהָֽרוּ׃, which is words that we say at the high point of the Kipper service. So this has so much in it Rabbi for us to discuss It's almost hard to figure out where to begin. But as we discussed in the in the pre -how, this is the source literally, of scapegoating, which is a modern day word. It's something that came right out of this strange rite, and we use it even till today. So Rabbi, what about it? Is of the most interest to you? Is it that we put our sins upon an animal? Is it that the animal is not the animal that we sacrifice in the temple, but we send out to the wilderness? What about this is striking to you? Are you surprised by anything? Are you troubled by anything? What does it mean to you?

 

Adam Mintz  04:50

The idea that we symbolically get rid of our sins by placing the sins on this goat the scapegoat, I think is a is a such an interesting idea. I mean, it's a unique idea, in the sense that you don't find it anywhere else in the Torah. You never have this kind of symbolic, you know, transference that's really what it is. We're transferring our sins onto a goat. Isn't that fantastic? I mean, isn't that you know, like, like, how in the world does that work? And it seems to be כִּֽי־בַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּ֛ה יְכַפֵּ֥ר עֲלֵיכֶ֖ם לְטַהֵ֣ר אֶתְכֶ֑ם מִכֹּל֙ חַטֹּ֣אתֵיכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֥י ה' תִּטְהָֽרוּ׃, just like you said, On this day, God will forgive us for our sins, atone for our sins. It sounds like it actually works. Somehow this magical formula of placing our sins on the head of the goat works.

 

Geoffrey Stern  05:43

I mean, I agree with you totally. On the other hand, in a sense, I disagree. Because if you think back at religion, and I'm talking about the most primitive forms of religion, where powers are imbued upon inanimate objects, it's called Totem. It's called taboo. In fact, it's almost natural, this concept of even when we sacrifice an animal when we sacrifice a human being, are we not somehow placating the spirits? Are we not engaged in this what you were describing as projecting, displacement, focusing our feelings of aggression our hostility and it's, it's something that's primitive, but I was just quoting from the medical definition of scapegoating. It's something that we have done for ever, you know, when when your kid stubs its toe on the table, and you hit the table and say, bad table, what you're really doing is reenacting this very primal urge of us to, to get rid of the evil, to push it out, and also to bring in the holy. So on the one hand, it's very strange. But on the other hand, it's not really surprising at all.

 

Adam Mintz  07:23

So that's interesting. So I will tell you, that generally, when it comes to sacrifices, you know, sacrifices are a strange thing. Why does Judaism put such an emphasis in the Torah on sacrifices. It's not something we can relate to today, we don't have sacrifices. But in the Torah, the torah spends basically an entire book of the Torah, the Book of Leviticus, talking about sacrifices. So Rambam, Maimonides, has this theory that sacrifices were the way that the ancient world worship their gods, and therefore the Jews worship their God in the same way. But Ramban, Nachmanides, has a different explanation. He says that basically, every sacrifice is a transference. Really, we should be sacrificing ourselves to God. But practically, that won't work out very well, because we sacrifice ourselves to God, that wouldn't be a next sacrifice, that would be it. So instead of sacrificing ourselves, we sacrifice an animal in our stead, in our place. And if you take that explanation, actually, the scapegoat of Yom Kippur is very much in line with the idea of sacrifice.

 

Geoffrey Stern  08:45

So again, I totally agree with you. But one of the reasons why this has become such a subject of discussion, even we'll see with the Ramban, who you just quoted, is because it juxtaposes this sacrifice of the goat to Azazel. And we'll get into what Azazel could mean in a second to the sacrifice that is given in the temple to God. And then of course, there's this lot this, goral, you picked one goat, and it is for God. And the other one is for Azazel, could it be a place? Could it be an alternative God? Could it be an alternative power? So I think that as troubling as just the very act of throwing a goat off a cliff and putting all of your sins on it is then that's compounded by the fact that the person who does it needs to clean themselves before they can come back to the congregation. And so there's a sense of, we're doing something that's unorthodox pardon the expression. And then it has to be countered, as opposed to the other goat. So in your scheme of things, Rabbi, we have now two sacrifices, the one that is to Hashem, to God is a typical type of sacrifice. But that's not the one that we put all of our sins on. So Ramban needs to come up with an explanation to explain this alternative sacrifice.

 

Adam Mintz  10:38

Okay, so you've said a mouthful there, there's a lot of different pieces of this. So the first interesting thing is the lottery the lot. And that is you take two goats, and it seems to be random. And that is that you know, which goat goes to God and which goat goes out to the desert is literally random. That's so interesting, because we know that in many ways, life is random, and which is gonna go to God and which is gonna go out to the desert, it's random, it's by chance. That's such a, that's such a powerful idea. You know, we try to control so many things in our lives. And in the end, the ultimate, the ultimate decider of our fate is random. So that's the first interesting thing. But this idea, you see one sacrifices to God. The question is, what is the other goat that goes to the death according to many people, and Rabbi Soloveitchik, Rabbi, Joseph Soloveitchik, was famous for saying this, actually, that when the goat that goes to the desert is also a sacrifice. It's just a special kind of sacrifice. It's a sacrifice that it doesn't go on the altar. It's a sacrifice that goes to the desert. But that also has the status of a sacrifice, it sent to the death. But in a way, it's our way of asking God to atone for all our sins. So that's really a very interesting idea that the one that we send away, is also sent away, but it's also kind of towards God.

 

Geoffrey Stern  12:22

So the thing that really bothers I think the Jewish commentators is exactly this juxtaposition. And some of them focus on the fact that one of them is to God, it's more to God. And the other one is to some other force. And the the traditional Jewish sources point out also that one of the words that's used in the verses that I read a few minutes ago, where I said that this is a aw forever, it says it's a Chok. And those of you who are attenuated to, to the Hebrew know that while Chok can mean law, in many instances, it's referring to a law that is not so logical, that defies logic, maybe even more that contradicts our logic. So we've talked about the Red Heifer where the priest that brings the red heifer, which is made to purify someone who's come into contact with death. So it's Metahar et hatemaim u' mtameh et ha tehorim, it purifies the impure, and it profanes the pure, and you have a little bit of that here, and so the rabbi's pick up on this, and they say that this is one of those Chukim, this is one of those laws that defies logic, but Ramban, who you quoted earlier, goes even further. He says that this almost smacks of idolatry. This almost smacks as though one is sending a sacrifice to another being he writes, it's for this reason that our rabbis have interpreted and my statutes you shall keep these are matters against which the evil can the inclination raises accusations, and the adult who is likewise bring charges such as, and he goes on and lists and he says, They accuse us in connection with the goat that is sent away to Azazel because they think that we act as they do. So here this is not some profound question. question of why when you purify do you become impure? Here, this smacks of Bible comes out against idolatry. And here we are sending a sacrifice to this Azazel. So maybe it's a good time to discuss what Azazel might mean. And if in fact, we're talking about the Bible recognizing other powers, other forces other gods, maybe a Satan. Is that something that is here?

 

Adam Mintz  15:35

Good. That's an interesting topic. So just from reading the Torah, it sounds like Azazel is the desert. Right? It sounds like Azazel hamidbarah, the Torah says to Azazel which is in the desert. So it sounds like as well as the desert. Now you raise an interesting point, Jeffrey. Because it might mean that as Azael is a power, or a god-like being in the desert, that is how is good in the desert, that our God is in the temple. And then there's Azazel, which is in the desert. So it's not clear. But what happened was the rabbi's identified Azazel with the desert, rather than, you know, that addressing this question of potentially another deity being Azazel, they just identify Azazel as being the desert, you send it out to the desert, you send it away, far away. And we were talking in the pre-game, about how Azazel became came to mean hell. And probably it's related to that. Hell is the sense of far away the bad place with all the sins, right. And that's also the sense that you get, at least from the way the rabbi's understand the verse.

 

Geoffrey Stern  17:00

So I think the name of this episode is scapegoat. And of course, like any other great word that comes from the King James Bible, but the word Azazel. First of all, it has "oz" in it "oz" means strength and power. And again, as much as the rabbi's would love to say that it just means the wilderness, you can't get away from the fact that it's juxtaposed to this one is to God. And this one is to something that's not God. And I think that they were very sensitive to. And so there are some that talk about Azazel as a demon. There were some that look at az azal, which means Ez is a goat, and zaal means to leave. And that through the Septuagint and others is probably how the King James Bible translated the word it's, it's not even a goat. It's azazel became the scapegoat, which is kind of a fascinating, departure in the history of words. But the Ramban quotes, a Midrash, an older rabbinic tradition. And he says something that is absolutely amazing. He quotes Rabbi Eliezer and it says, the reason why they would give someone else the reason why they would give Sammael [i.e., Satan] a conciliatory gift on the Day of Atonement, he calls this a Shochad; "gift" does not do Shochad justice. Shochad is a bribe. And the Ramban picks up on a tradition where the goat is not to God, but it is to Satan. And it is a bribe to Satan. So I think there are some rabbis as you say, that talk about just the wilderness but there is no question that there's a rich tradition that goes in various other traditions that don't necessarily have to say Azazel is another god or power, but it does admit acknowledge within Judaism there is this Yetzer Hora, this inclination that we have for bad and it's personified in this Satan who always seems to be out there. Is Shochad l'Satan a bribe to Satan as radical a thought to you Rabbi as it is to me.

 

Adam Mintz  19:51

It's tremendously radical, but I have to tell you that Satan plays a very critical role in the Rosh Hashanah and the Yom Kippur service, we have an interesting tradition. The tradition is to blow the shofar every morning after services during the month of Elul before Rosh Hashanah and of course the real blowing of the shofar is on Rosh Hashana a custom developed over the centuries not to blow the shofar on the day before Rosh Hashana we take a break between the blowing during the month of lol and the blowing on Rosh Hashana and the reason given is Kidei l' Arev et hSatan, to confuse the Satan what does that mean to confuse the Satan that you know the Satan will think that shofar blowing his over that you know we finished that our holidays are over and he'll therefore he'll go on vacation and he won't bother us on Rosh Hashanah and therefore will be Satan-free on Rash Hashanah. When we blow the shofar. It's a great image because it's just like Shochad l'Satn, we try to get rid and we do whatever we can to get rid of the Satan. We trick them by not blowing the shofar on the day before Rosh Hashanah, and we send them bribes. The idea is that somehow the Satan interferes with our relationship with God. And we want to get rid of the Satan so that we at least on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can have a direct relationship to God without any interference. Isn't that a great idea?

 

Geoffrey Stern  21:36

Well, it's a great idea in the sense that all of these ideas that admit to these other powers like Satan, in a sense, crack the perfect package of monotheism. Because in the in the Talmud, the opposite of monotheism is Shtei Reshuyot, there were two powers, there's good and evil. And in a sense, this is something that as I started by saying, because I quoted the psychological definition, the medical decision of scapegoating is so primal to our existence, that even as much as Judaism, and our texts argue for, there's only one God. And there's only one power. We recognize, through these traditions, that there were other powers, there were things beyond our control, there were things that we don't understand and can control. And that, you know, the truth is, there's also a tradition before Yom Kippur that you shlug kapparot, you take a pigeon, and you hold it over your head, and then that was modified, and you take some money, and you hold it over your head (and put your sins on it). But again, it gets back to this primal need that we have. It's a zero-sum solution, that if we, if there's bad, we have to replace it with good and that bad has to go somewhere. And I think that's why studying texts like this is so helpful, because it puts us in touch with problems that humankind has been struggling from time immemorial. And this will clearly puts a picture on it. So yes, we blow the shofar to confuse the Satan. So you know, Nachmanides, the Ramban say what he brings into this discussion is he brings a little bit of a solution. And what he says is that if the priest would dedicate the merely by word of mouth and say, one for the Eternal, and one for Azazel, that would be like worshiping Azazel, or taking a vow in its name. So Ramban is actually calling as Azazel, another power, call it Satan or whatever. But Ramban makes an argument that hat changes everything is that God is telling us to do it. And he brings an example of let's say, there's somebody who's not such a nice person, but your father tells you, he wants you to eat with them. Your father tells you; he wants you to entertain them. So that modulates everything. And in a sense, what Nachmanides, Ramban is doing is he is saying that, yes, this smacks of idolatry. And yes, this smacks of admitting that they are powers other than God, but God is commanding us to do it. And I think that's also a fascinating concept, both in terms of theology, but in terms of how our religion has kind of adapted to the quirks of humanity.

 

Adam Mintz  24:59

So I I'll tell you, first of all, that's fascinating. I love that I think it's fascinating. I'll tell you a little bit about the history of religion. The biggest problem in religion is why bad things happen to good people. Right? It's not fair, why does bad happen to good people. And most religions solve that problem by saying that there are two forces a force of good and a force of evil, and basically the force of good and the force of evil, the god of good, the god of evil, they fight with each other every day. And sometimes the god of good winds, and sometimes the god of bad wins. Now, Judaism doesn't believe that because Judaism only has one God, but it still believes in that force of evil. And that force of evil is the Satan. And we also have to deal with that problem, that the that the force of evil is all over the place, and we need to try to get rid of it. And I think that relates to what you just said. And I think that relates to the Ramban about a Shichad l'Satan, I think especially on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when we want to have a direct line to God, we need to get rid of the Satan, because the Satan kind of distracts, you know, or kind of interrupts that direct line that we have to God.

 

Geoffrey Stern  26:21

So it's fascinating in terms of theology, that within Christianity, there was also a concept of the Ransom Theory of Atonement. And of course, what is missing from this whole picture, because we are celebrating, maybe celebrating is not the right word. We are commemorating Holocaust Day today, where 6 million Jews were sacrificed. That word Holocaust comes from incinerating a sacrifice. And the concept morphed very quickly, that there was this ability to put one sins on somebody who could then atone. Remember, we started with talking about the two sons of Aaron, and it segwayed right into this, the same idea was taken by Christianity, to make Jesus into also this, this person who went through the steps of the cross. And people were putting the screaming at him and saying how bad he was, and he was taking all of the sins of the people and he got that, from Isaiah. Isaiah in 53, talks about (1) “Who can believe what we have heard? Upon whom has the arm of the LORD--a been revealed? (2) For he has grown, by His favor, like a tree crown, Like a tree trunk out of arid ground. He had no form or beauty, that we should look at him: No charm, that we should find him pleasing. (3) He was despised, shunned by men,-b A man of suffering, familiar with disease. As one who hid his face from us,-c He was despised, we held him of no account. (4) Yet it was our sickness that he was bearing, Our suffering that he endured. We accounted him plagued, Smitten and afflicted by God; (5) But he was wounded because of our sins, Crushed because of our iniquities. He bore the chastisement that made us whole, And by his bruises we were healed. (6) We all went astray like sheep, Each going his own way; And the LORD visited upon him The guilt of all of us.” So Christianity took it from our texts in Isaiah, that we can also become that suffering servant who accepts these sins. So this is a very dangerous concept too. And I think I'd like to finish by saying how Judaism took it in alternative directions, the same phrases that you will find about the  the scapegoat, taking all the sins and washing away all the sins also said about the day of Yom Kippur. So in pure Heschelian fashion, we transferred the concept of putting our sins on a person on a body on something material into something in time. And I think that's ultimately what even though the Yom Kippur service has remnants, as you were describing rabbi, of the Satan and of putting our sins on something else, it also transcends it I believe, by giving us a way out where God commands us to, to to get rid of our sins, put them behind us and move on. But it is a fascinating, troubling subject.

 

Adam Mintz  29:56

It's fantastic that that is such an interesting idea and I think you know, we took off a couple of weeks and now we're back. This is really an interesting discussion. There's so much here scapegoats and transference and bribes for the Satan it was a great way to come back. We wish everybody a Shabbat Shalom, enjoy the parsha. And we look forward to seeing you next week when we discuss the code of morality, the parsha of kedoshim. Shabbat Shalom to everybody,

 

Geoffrey Stern  30:24

Shabbat shalom. I almost feel like I need another spring break after this one. We'll have Shabbat to revive us. And we'll see each other all next week. And I will stick around if anyone has any suggestions, questions something that they want to discuss on this subject? Because it's certainly a subject that is interesting to us. Henry, what says you?

 

Henry Feurstein  30:48

Okay, people, just in hearing that the last analysis that the rabbi gave? I'm, I don't understand. I don't understand. What was God's purpose in setting this setting this whole this particular system up? Was he just trying to make it easy for us, for the Jewish people or the Israelites to kind of wave a magic wand? And now you're forgiven? It? I mean, that's an easy solution. Is that what God intended? Or is it something deeper than that?

 

Geoffrey Stern  31:23

See, my take is that God, or the Bible, or the wisdom of our tradition, has recognized certain primal needs that we have. And its job is to recognize, acknowledge, and then possibly redirect. But I really do feel that unless you can address these primal needs, you can't transcend them. And I was not being a snide when I said, when that you know, two year old has stubbed their toe, and you and you smack the table and you say, bad table, we really do have this belief that if something bad happens, there has to be a culprit. And if there's impurity, the only way to get rid of it is this kind of quid pro quo. But you know, we're living with scapegoating. Look at Putin. He started a whole war based on a false accusation. We Jews know everything about a scapegoating. And we also know about the other side of it, which is as ugly, which is somehow believing that suffering will bring redemption. And these are all ideas that came out of this concept, which I don't believe started with Judaism. And that's what my real answer to you is that the Bible is recognizing a tradition, a human response, and trying to deal with it. That's so when you say did, why would God do this? I think that it's this old concept of lo dibra Torah ela b'lashon bnei Adam, that the Torah speaks in the language of man. And that doesn't mean just language, it means in the symbols in the social institutions, and I think that's ultimately what I see is happening here.

 

Henry Feurstein  33:22

Yeah, but what concerns me is there's no, you expecting this process should bring some sense of our level of repentance from the people. There's no I mean, they're not doing anything. They're just saying, you know, Hocus Pocus, I put my hand on the goat's head, and I'm done. There's no commitment. There's no investment by doing that. That's why That's why I asked the question what was God's you know, intention in this was just to make it easy for us and so that we will continue to follow him or her.

 

Geoffrey Stern  33:50

Yeah. I mean, you you wonder, the rabbi's that agonized over the fact that this is a bribe to Satan. Well, what is a sacrifice to God? Does that mean that that's okay, because it's a bribe to God. I mean, what is this whole tradition? Is it no less hocus pocus when one gives charity and wants to get a good outcome from it? You know, we're trying to control our fate in some, hocus pocus like manner. And it's natural, but it doesn't really matter whether it's to azazel or it's to God in either case, it's I think, from a modern perspective, we feel it's, it's lacking.

 

Henry Feurstein  34:37

So if this was so important, why was it addressed as a one-off? It wasn't set up as a system to continue it was the one-off you do it, you send the goat to azazel that's the end of it. That doesn't seem to have any, like stick to itness

 

Geoffrey Stern  34:58

you mean that they we have this one? exception..

 

35:01

no, no, not a one exception. It's just a one-off. Meaning, you know, you have the goat you have that you have God's goat and you have Satan's goat. I mean, just to make it simple, and we don't ever do it again, there's just this one time in the desert, that God commands us to do this.

 

Geoffrey Stern  35:18

No, no. It happened as long as there was a temple this used to actually happen.

 

Henry Feurstein  35:26

That's not what the Torah says. It doesn't always, always says you shall have the sacrifices, or you shall celebrate this holiday or you shall on Yom Kippur not anoint yourself. But it's an every year profits and every year concept. Here, there's just a one -ff and it seems like it's important

 

Geoffrey Stern  35:45

that the you know, look, I think there's another challenge to the text when it begins, there is no association with Yom Kippur. It's only towards the end that it does. So if you if you look, for instance, at Rashiat the beginning of Leviticus 16, he says he goes out of his way to say this is on Yom Kippur. But and his proof is that if you continue eating at the end, it says it's on Yom Kippur. But I think you're right in the sense that there is this tension here, whether this was only for Yom Kippur number one, but in terms of Yom Kippur. It says this shall be to you a law for all time and the rabbi's interpreted this and normative Jewish law interpreted it, as every year they had these two sacrifices, and you have Talmudic stories in in the tractate of Yoma, where it actually describes how this person would go, on Shabbat Shabaton where you're not allowed to go outside of the Tachum, outside fo the 2,000 amot, and they would set up little Sukkot, it almost sounds like a marathon, where there were people lining on the side of the road. And it actually says they had food that they were offering him on Yom Kippur. And in case he got weary, because it was a good trek to go out of town, so to speak, to get out to the suburbs and the wilderness. And it has a beautiful expression. It says that he never took the food. But it's called something called pas b'salo.... He had bread in his basket, he knew that if he got if he got too weary, he would be able to get some bread. So it gave him that extra confidence. So maybe at the end of the day, that's what's happening here. That God commands us to do something that's almost pagan, that's almost outside of everything that the Bible stands for. Just to move us along. Maybe that's that's part of it. But I mean, that's certainly in the tradition that says that Judaism is an amalgamation of earlier traditions that are modulated.

 

Henry Feurstein  37:56

I know this ended up at the, the end of the Azazel concept is yes, you and you shall commemorate on the Day of Atonement, you know, all the things you years it's not a day of happiness. It's a day of not sadness, but it's a day of repentance. I get that is what you're saying is that the Azazel concept would predate Yom Kippur, at the at the at the temple, they would actually do something like this,

 

Geoffrey Stern  38:22

oh, this was done at the temple. In in temple times, they would stand at the, at the gate of the temple, and they would take this lot, and they would take one goat for God and they would take the other goat, bring him to the wilderness. Absolutely. There's a place even in Israel today that they identify as this is Azazel, this is where it is. So no, this happened. This definitely was documented. And I think, again, getting back to the Jesus thing, when Jesus went the Stations of the cross and people were pelting him, and he was carrying the course, the Christians made this comparison, that he was like the goat of Azazel in the sense that all of the sins were being put upon him. The trick that the Christians claim that God came up with was that he was resurrected and came back to life. So they had their cake and eat it, which I'm allowed to say now that it's not Pesach. But you know, this is a very historically if you think of the persecuted Jews as a scapegoat, and that the concept basically came from our text, not created, not created, but I think you preserved here and made popular and a part of the nomenclature is fascinating.

 

39:48

What makes you what rather what makes you think there's something that predates the there's a concept that predates this particular one.

 

Geoffrey Stern  39:55

In one of the sources that I have in Sephira. It looks at this into terms of the ancient Near East and it shouldn't be surprising because this concept of putting one hands on something and then sacrificing is the most obvious a pagan concept. I think that should not surprise

 

Henry Feurstein  40:15

is the operative word is that it's a pagan concept

 

Geoffrey Stern  40:18

yes

 

Henry Feurstein  40:19

It's not us it's you know and yet we yet we are, excuse my expression, we have resurrected that concept in our in our you know tradition or history.

 

Geoffrey Stern  40:30

Absolutely yeah this is one of the few cases where it's not a surprise that we find it within the cultural milieu what's surprising is that we retained it and we actually sanctified it. Okay, Henry, I look forward to coming to shul this Shabbat and hearing you read the Torah, I'm gonna have to guess which shul you go to. Okay, Shabat shalom, everybody. Bye. See you all next week.

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