Category Archives: art

Jews with Tools

parshat vayakhel (exodus 35-36)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on February 24th 2022 as we continue our discussion of melacha – work. Last week we discovered that creative work, even the construction of the holy tabernacle is subservient to the sanctification of time. This week we celebrate creative work as a reflection of the divine. We explore the eclipse of manual labor and the arts in Jewish culture during the exile and marvel at the rebirth of physical work and Jewish artifice in the writings of early Zionist thinkers and in the State of Israel.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/386520

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark has shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz. We also host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. Last week, we celebrated the value of the sanctity of time over space, as the construction of the tabernacle was paused for the Shabbat. This week, we realize that mankind is like the divine not only in abstaining from work, but also engaging in creative work. So roll up your sleeves and set up your easel as we meet Jews with Tools. Well, welcome back, it seems more and more that as we go from one portion to another, we get diptychs triptychs. But this week, I was struck by something that I hope you will be struck by as well as once again, the Sabbath is mixed with the building, the creation of the Mishkan. So I am just going to jump in, we’re in Exodus 35. And we’ll try to skip around a little bit to emphasize that aspect that I’m trying to bring to your attention. But here we go.

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"So Moses then convoked the whole Israelite community and said to them, these are the things that God has commanded you to do. On six days work may be done. But on the seventh day, you shall have a Sabbath of complete rest wholly to Hashem, whoever does any work shall be put to death." And then he goes on. "This is what Hashem has commanded. Take them among you gifts to God, everyone whose heart is so moved, shall bring them; gifts for God." And the word that he uses the "Nadiv Libo", which literally means a "nedava" a gift, whose source is one's heart. And he goes ahead and lists all of the precious materials gold, silver, purple crimson yarns the techelet that we talked about RAM skins, Dolphin skins. And then in verse 10, he says, and let all among you who are skilled, come and make all that God has commanded. And here, in addition to "nadiv libo", he says, those of you who "Hacham Lev"  "wise of heart" playing on this concept of heart, but now we're talking about craftsman. And here too, he lists not the materials, but the objects that need to be created the coverings, the clasp, the planks, the poles, the cover. And he goes on after listing all of these different objects that needs to be created in verse 21. And everyone who excelled in ability, and everyone whose spirit was moved, came bringing to God an offering for the work of the Tent of Meeting and for all its service and for the sacred vestments. And in Hebrew it says "kol adat b'nei yisrael uyavo kol ish asher nasu libo,  that spirit move them "v'kol asher nidva rucho", using again this word of gift. And it goes on Anashim al Nashim, kol dediv lev hevu hem" now it brings in the fact that it is men and women. It's totally egalitarian, totally driven by this giving spirit and the new ingredient is those who excelled those who had the ability. And so it goes on and on. And it says that in Moses said to the Israelites, see Hashem has singled out by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur of the tribe of Judah, endowing him with a divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge in every kind of craft. So here it says that he has "Ruach Elohim b'chachma, b'tevuna v'daat b'chol melacha" these words are typically used, correct me if I'm wrong Rabbi in Torah study and here we are talking about this but Bezalel, this master craftsman, who has this chachma, wisdom "tevunah" , which is this discernment and knowledge in all that he does. And it goes on to say that he bought in he and Oholiab son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan have been endowed with the skill to do any work—of the carver, the designer, the embroiderer... So again, it kind of details.... Last week we got into the number of work actions that were done for the building of the Mishkan, we got into a quantification here, we're quantifying materials, skills, outcomes. And we're talking about these master craftsmen who are coming from different tribes, and who are men or women. And it doesn't stop it goes into chapter 36. 1 - 8 again, it talks about everyone who is skilled. So I think my first question to you Rabbi, is, are you struck as much as I am, by this really praise and discussion of, I would say, kind of getting down into the weeds and talking about every different nuance of the skill-set that was needed, and talking about it in terms that we normally would relate to other wholly intellectual pursuits. Are you struck by this as well?

 

Adam Mintz  06:48

Extremely struck by it, but not surprised. I mean, the whole point here is that the architects, the builders, of the Mishkan of the tabernacle, we're not just architects that you have for your house, they were on a holy mission. And it's interesting the way the Taurus does that. The Torah says that. But the Torah teaches that in a funny way. The way the Torah teaches that is by describing them, like you said, using words that we usually use, for religious kinds of things, for spiritual kinds of things. Bezalel was almost like the rabbi who was also the architect. Right? And it had to be that way. Because how can you not have a rabbi who was the architect of the Mishkan

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:35

True, but you didn't necessarily have to refer to him in almost glowing rabbinic terms.

 

Adam Mintz  07:41

But he had to be the best didn't he? I think that's an important piece of it.

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:49

And it doesn't come out of nowhere, this is not the first time that we are exposed to Bezalel if you go back into Exodus 31, again, it says, pretty much using the same adjectives that "I have picked this Bezalel son of Uri from the tribe of Judah, and of course, the tribe of Judah, we all know, is a featured tribe in terms of the Davidic line, the line of the of the Messiah. And again, it says that I filled him with the Spirit of God with Hachma Tevuna v'daat and then it says something that I just love. In 31; 4 it says Lachshov Machshavot It gives him the ability to think thoughts L'asot b'zahav b'kesef v'nechoshef...  that he could think thoughts (in material). He was a visionary. If that is not a visionary, then I don't know what was. And I'll finish in terms of contextualizing in Exodus 25. It says, God says to Moses, and we've really spent a whole episode in this, that make me a Mikdash a tabernacle, V'shechanti b'tocham", and I will live within it (them). But what we didn't focus on is the next verse nine that says, "Exactly as I shall show you the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all its furnishings", this "tavnit", There was definitely this association between Bezalel, who had the vision, who could "machshov machshavot", think thoughts and bring them into reality. And this kind of almost celestial Mishkan, tabernacle, that also became a reality. In a sense, but Bezalel as much as anyone else maybe I would dare to say as much as Moses could breach the gap between heaven to earth. You think I'm I'm going too far here?

 

Adam Mintz  09:55

No, I think you're not. I mean, I think it's interesting first of all to think about who Bezalel was. We're told a lot about him actually were introduced to him in last week's parsha. "Bezalel ben Uri ben hur l'matey yehudah".  Now there are a couple of things there that are striking. Number one Bezalel does not come from the tribe of Levi. That's kind of interesting. Because the Mishcon is really the business of the Levi'im. Right? They're the ones, so it's interesting thatBezalel is not from, from Levi. He's from Yehuda, Yehudah has a different job. We know that when Jacob gives the blessings to his sons, he promises Yehuda that Yehudah is going to be the king, that from him will come the kings, and King David comes from Judah, and the Messiah eventually will come from Judah. So Bezalel represents not those who work in the Mishkan, but he has more of a kind of royal position. And I think that's super interesting, that it's the King who needs to build the Mishkan not the workers in the Mishcon. Isn't that striking?.

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:19

Well, absolutely. I think one of the subjects that we are going to talk about today is labor itself, is labor, something that's menial, or is labor, something that imitates God. And I think from what you just said, again, extrapolating a little bit to say that, Bezalel was not only a thinker, and a visionary, but he was a doer, he was a builder, to say that there was this kind of dynamic relationship between priests on the one hand, but of equal importance were kings and builders, it is a different skill-set. So I totally agree with you. It's kind of interesting, the Rabbi's, to my knowledge, don't spend a whole lot of time on Bezalel b some of the things that they do say are very insightful. And in Berachot 55a it's talking about where he got his name from, but getting to the point that you just made now in terms of those different skill sets. Is there a conflict? Is there a tension between the priest and the king between the king and the builder? So it says "Rabbi Yonatan said: Bezalel was called by that name on account of his wisdom. When the Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Moses: Go say to Bezalel, “Make a tabernacle, an ark, and vessels” (see Exodus 31:7–11), Moses went and reversed the order and told Bezalel: “Make an ark, and vessels, and a tabernacle” (see Exodus 25–26). He said to Moses: Moses, our teacher, the standard practice throughout the world is that a person builds a house and only afterward places the vessels in the house, and you say to me: Make an ark, and vessels, and a tabernacle. If I do so in the order you have commanded, the vessels that I make, where shall I put them? Perhaps God told you the following: “Make a tabernacle, ark, and vessels” (see Exodus 36). Moses said to Bezalel: Perhaps you were in God’s shadow [betzel El], and you knew precisely what He said. You intuited God’s commands just as He stated them, as if you were there." I mean, there's so much to unpack here. But first and foremost, there is this tension between Moses, whether it's the academic, Moses, the ivory tower thinker, the politician, and maybe he's a little bit even of the (klutz), genius who can't really figure out how to put things together. And Bezalel, who gets it right, but the other aspect of it is that Bezalel intuits God when Moses misrepresents God, and I think that's kind of fascinating, too.

 

Adam Mintz  14:36

That is fascinating. I think that that is a good story. You know, the relationship between Bezalel and Moshe is also kind of interesting. Why is Moshe not the architect of the Mishkan? Why do we need somebody else? It seems like Moshe does everything and what Moshe doesn't do, his brother Aaron does. So why is it that we need somebody else here?

 

Geoffrey Stern  15:06

I think, the rabbinic text for sure, but maybe the rabbi's did have an insight into the written text of the Torah itself. Because what they appear to be saying is that it's a different skill-set. There's another rabbinic text in my Bamidbar Rabab. That goes back to that first text that I read to you, which says that God showed Moses the plan, and then Moses comes down. And he starts talking. And he says, You know, I just can't remember was that 20 feet or 20 and a half feet? Was that a 45 degree angle? And finally, God says, I don't know how many times I need to repeat this to you or show you the tavnit; the plan. You're not going to get it go to Bezalel, and he will make it. So Moses spoke to Bezalel. And he made it immediately, Moses began to wonder and say, in my case, how many times did the Holy One blessed it be he show it to me yet I had difficulty in making it. Now without seeing it. You have made it from your own knowledge. B'zel, you are perhaps standing b'zal el (The shadow of God). They're all fixated on how Bezalel can do things that Moses can't. The rabbi's didn't see it as a  coincidence, they didn't see it as a lacuna. In the text. They really saw it as two different types. And I think in regard to the Mishkan, they taken off their hat and their and their tipping it to Bezalel without doubt.

 

Adam Mintz  16:51

Now, let's go back to "B'Zel EL" That's fascinating, isn't it? In the shadow of God, what's that image of the shadow in the shadow of God?

 

Geoffrey Stern  17:07

So again, what the two rabbinic texts seem to imply was that not only is the skill set different, but the channel of communication, the source of knowledge is different. Whereas Moses sees God face to face, he's the only person who sees God face to face. Bezalel intuits, Bezalel can read the shadow, he can read from the sense , the context, the I love this shadow, as I think you do, too. But it is a different source. It's definitely a different source of knowledge, a different knowledge base. But nonetheless, the references are to Hochma Bina and Da'at which are a definitely part of the skill set. So I think maybe it's less of a difference of skill set. And maybe it's as much a difference in a epistemology...  of where that knowledge comes from the source of the knowledge. But I do think that you have to say that the rabbis are reading this text as a glowing vote of value to this alternative source of knowledge to the point where in both cases.... In both cases, Bezalel, in the first case, able to intuit what God said to Moses without hearing it. That's to me just, he's almost a biblical scholar in that regard, and then in the second, he's able to intuit what God shows to Moses in front of his face. And so I just think it's a total value judgment and value proposition in this alternative..... , you know, we always talk about the left side of the brain and the right side of the brain... And this is clearly it this context is there is value here, no question about it.

 

Adam Mintz  19:19

I think all this is right. So what we really just to review where we're up to now. So we really are talking about what makes Bezalel special, what the relationship is between the Bezalel and Moshe why Moshe couldn't be the architect of the Mishkan. It had to be someone else. Why Bezalel comes from the family of Yehuda and not from Levi. I think we talked about that. And I want to talk about something else Bezalel ben Uri ben Hur. Do you know who Hur is? Hur is Moshe's brother in law. Hur is married to Miriam, Moses' sister. So actually, he's part of the family. So in a weird way they keep it in the family.

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:04

And you do have is assistant from the tribe of Dan. And you do have the women and men.....

 

Adam Mintz  20:11

Isn't that interesting? Yeah, we know about Hur, because Hur plays an important role in the war with Amalek. So it says that Moses kept his hands up, and it says 'V'yadei Moshe kevaydim". Mose's hands were heavy, Vayichu even vayafimu tachtav" and they put a rock under him and he sat under it. V'Aaron v'Hur tamchu b'yeadav mize echad imize achad"  they supported his hands and the Jews were victorious. So Hur is part of this, you know, this this group, right, the three of them, they're a triumvirate. It's amazing. It's amazing, right? He is the grandson of this guy Hur.

 

Geoffrey Stern  21:03

And I think it drives home, that in every family, they are in every tribe, in every humanity, there are different people with different skill sets, and they all come from the same mother and father, but you have to value those differences. And here is not just a flippant valuation, but you know, to two chapters, at least, that really go into this. So I said in the intro, that I saw this discussion as the flip side of last week's discussion, and what I meant was, and I can say it best with this wonderful Hasidic story, where there was a tradition when Shabbat was out that you have the third meal, it's called Shalos Sudes (Seudah Shelishit) and the rabbi's sitting around the Tisch, the table loved Sabbas so much. They decided if they don't stop the meal, they can extend Shabbos on forever. And we all know we learned last week that the Sabbath is a tabernacle in time. It's the sanctification of time you can't get any better than that. And after an hour, or two or three, the Baker's Wife showed up. And the butcher’s his wife showed up, even the Rabbi's wife showed up. And they all said, Guys, we need to bake the bread we need to to go ahead and get the kids ready for school. Life has to go on. And I think that the message of that story to me is just as we rest on Shabbat, we do Manucha because we want to be like God who rested on the first Shabbat, creative labor that is done the rest of the week is as much a way of us copying and being like the divine who actually only rested because He created the world in six days. And so I think what these wonderful statements about not only Bezalel not only his helper, but talking about men and women in as egalitarian way as you could, because the way it values, the men and the women that it describes here is based on their skill set. If they can weave if they can saw if they can measure, bring them on in. And it truly is, to me a very important thread that might have been broken in our Jewish history. But nonetheless, just as there was a Heschel who could write books are talking about the power of the sanctity of time. I would love to explore at least two early Zionist thinkers who wrote the book on poetically loving Jewish creativity and Jewish art. And the first is a someone known as Aleph Dalet Gordon, and those of you who know about the beginning of the State of Israel, you know that the labor Zionists were the ones who for the most part, created it and I always thought that Labor meant that they were socialists, and they were Marxists. And I think to a large degree that might have been true, but Aleph Dalet Gordon is considered the father of labor Zionism and he would not join any of their political parties because what he meant about labor was literally labor with your hands. He believed that Jewish suffering of the whole exile was caused by Jews being disenfranchised from working with their hand, he created a philosophy of religion. And of course, like many of the earliest Zionists, he came from a very orthodox background, when he moved to Israel, one of his sons would not come because he wanted to stay in the Yeshiva. But he almost reconstituted his religion as a religion of creative labor. And he didn't even have any skill sets. But he went around Israel, his wife passed away, unfortunately, a few months after he arrived. And all he wanted to do was to work the land and to reunite with that part of him that he thought we had been disenfranchised by, and what he meant by labor was creating as God created.

 

Adam Mintz  25:46

Okay. I mean, that's, that's, you know, that's really interesting to take the idea of the Torah, and the building of the tabernacle, and to see how it was used in the modern sense of creativity, which is creating the modern state of Israel. That's amazing. It's the same idea of creativity. Now, of course, you know, you kind of mentioned Heschel in passing. But of course, that's the idea that Heschel points out, and that is that Shabbat itself is a form of creativity. So actually, the Torah itself knows that this is not just about building a Mishkan, but there's a Mishkan in time, which is the Shabbat.

 

Geoffrey Stern  26:33

Absolutely. And I think that's kind of what we discussed last week.

 

Adam Mintz  26:38

We had that already. Yeah, kind of pulling it together. Absolutely. Which when you talk about the idea of creativity, so there's creativity going backwards in creativity going forward to Zionism.  That's a great example.

 

Geoffrey Stern  26:51

You could think of Gordon as a visionary you could also think of him as a prophet. In other words, it was almost changing the facts on the ground. Once we had a state, we had to have street cleaners, we had to have a builders, we had to have engineers. So  all of those things that he said we didn't have when we were alienated from our land we developed and you could almost draw a straight line from a Gordon to Start Up Nation, ....  because the Jews had to create their own land. And fortunately, they were given a land without a lot of natural resources, this creativity, almost creating "Yesh Me'Ayin"  something from nothing. He predicted a new generation of Jews, who would make from malacha from labor, something that would be uniquely Jewish, but profoundly impactful on the on the Jewish people. You know, there was a sociologist named Max Weber, and he talked about The Protestant work ethic and in the source of Capitalism. And he gives reasons for why that happened mostly in America as a starting point of entrepreneurialism, but I think you can draw a line also, in terms of what Gordon was predicting, and what happened in the State of Israel. The other thinker that I would be remiss if I didn't mention was a guy named Boris Schatz. They were both born Gordon and Schatz 10 years apart in the 1850s and 60s, and the school Bezalel was founded by Boris Schatz., Boris Schatz, named his son, Bezalel. Boris Schatz, wrote a play about the actual Bezalel coming and taking a tour of the Israel Museum. So here was a guy who had read the two chapters that we will be reading this Shabbat and was so impacted by them. But again, what he felt was that the Jews, especially Western Jews, that had been driven into becoming peddlers. And money lenders because they didn't have the source of their own income. They also were disenfranchised from working with their hands, obviously, the Yemenites not so much. He wanted to unite those areas of a Jewish artistry that had survived with the Western thought. And he had a similar vision. When you think in terms of what this small state is creating today, in terms of art, in terms of music, in terms of culinary arts, In terms of film, and television, these you read these guys, and they really, really saw it. And it's fascinating. But I think that we tend too much because of Rabbinic Judaism growing out of a world, which no longer had a homeland, to not see this aspect of our human and our Jewish life that had been for so long, eclipsed and is now going to be rejuvenated.

 

Adam Mintz  30:39

So let's talk about the Bezalel School. So just the fact that the Bezalel school, the School of Jewish art of Jewish creativity is named for Bezalel. Well, you know, maybe it was his son, but it was obviously Bezalel the original Bezalel, you know, it comes to teach us that the idea of Jewish creativity is alive today, just as much as it was alive 3500 years ago, that that model, that when we talk about Jewish creativity, we talk about Jewish religious creativity, I think is a very, very strong message. And it's a fantastic message. Right? I mean, that idea that you know, that Jewish creativity is b'tevuna ubeda'at uBechol melacha that tevunah and Da'at kind of religious world and the fact that that has been picked up throughout history, like you pointed out to this very day is a fantastic idea, just about what Jewish creativity is about. And even if you want to talk about whether it's Jewish art, you know, the art like Isidore Kaufman's pictures of Hasidim from before the war or Jewish art in the sense of Jewish ritual objects, you know, that they're all made "b'tevunah ub'da'at", they're created by different kinds of people, you know, different backgrounds, a whole bunch of different things, but it's b'tevunah u'b'da'at., it's all following in the traditions of the original Bezalel. Isn't that fantastic?

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:12

It is. And I think and I've kind of hinted at this before. The other aspect of it that blows me away, is when it comes to artistic talent, you have the ultimate meritocracy. You might have mentioned that many of these characters came from a particular tribe, but at the end of the day, you can't fake it. You can't fake it, if you either you have you live in God's shadow, and you can intuit these beautiful creations or you don't. And I think ultimately, these two chapters if you look at them a song in praise of creativity, and building ultimately, at the end of the day, less of  a sanctuary in space as a less perfect thing. But in terms of creating something with or within our world, and being able to be as is God (We'll never understand why God chose to create a world but he or she did.) And in a sense, this is the swan song, this is the case to be made for the equal value of that creative aspect within us in terms of our future our past and ultimate redemption as well. So thank you, Bezalel!

 

Adam Mintz  33:40

Thank you Bezalel. Thank you, everybody. Enjoy the parsha this week, next week, we might be having a lunch and learn keep a lookout for exactly what time is going to be next week. Wish you all a Shabbat Shalom, a Hodesh tov. Rosh Hodesh is this week, and we can't wait to see you next week to finish up the book of Shemot with the great parsha of Kedoshim.

 

Geoffrey Stern  34:02

Shabbat Shalom to you all. Please make sure to listen to the podcast it'll issue later this evening. Share it with your friends. If you like what you hear, give us a star or say something nice and share Madlik Disruptive Toray with friends and family Shabbat Shalom.

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Sefaria Source sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/386520

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Walk like an Egyptian

parshat bo (exodus 13)

A live recording of Disruptive Torah recorded on the Madlik Clubhouse with Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz, Rabbi Abraham Bronstein and “The Haftorahman”, Reuben Ebrahimoff on January 6th 2022.

Can Biblical commandments evolve and have alternative meanings at different times and to different people? Mitzvot; for some an obligation, for others a political, cultural or fashion statement and for still others a magical charm. In Exodus 13 we are introduced to the first formal commandments given in the Torah; a book of Law. These laws relate exclusively to the celebration of the first and subsequent Passovers. Out of nowhere we discover the first reference to what was to become the commandment of Tefillin. We explore the classical commentators and modern scholarship to discover the multiple layers and nuances behind tefillin and possibly all mitzvot.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/373717

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:04 Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey stern and at Madlik we light a spark was shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. And this week with Rabbi Adam Mintz we learn of the first commandments the Jews were given as they left Egypt. They were instructed to mark their doorposts with blood and put a sign on their hands and between their eyes. We explore how a commandment like this can mean different things to different people and at different times. So get ready for our weekly journey and walk like an Egyptian. Well, welcome. It’s great to have you here. Very excited about this discussion. You know, we’ve been studying the Torah week in and week out those of you who remember when we studied Bereshit, we studied a very famous Rashi. Which said Why does the Torah begin from when God made the first commandment? It’s a book of law. It should be “HaHodesh Ha’zeh L’chem” (Exodus 12: 10), and here we are in Parshat  Bo, and we’re getting some commandments. Things are changing, we’re moving from stories, from narratives to actual commandments, the rubber is hitting the road.

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So today, we're going to focus on the beginning of one commandment, we're going to start with Exodus 13, where it kind of starts by talking about the stuff we'd expect it to talk about. It says: "Throughout the seven days, unleavened bread shall be eaten. No leavened bread shall be found with you, and no leaven shall be found in your territory. And you shall explain to your children on that day, it is because of what the Lord did for me, when I went free from Egypt. And this shall serve you as a sign on your hand. And as a reminder on your forehead, in order that the teaching of the Lord may be in your mouth, that with a mighty hand, the Lord freed you from Egypt, you shall keep this institution at its set time from year to year." So I like to read the posture of fresh every year. And when I read it this year, I was absolutely struck by this introduction of what many of us will recognize to be a law of Tefillin; these frontlets these phylacteries, these leather objects that traditional Jews put on their arms and put on their heads, and it's smack in the middle of what we absolutely expected to hear, which is the story of unleavened bread, how they had their first Seder, how they had their first Passover, and how that influenced further celebrations of the Passover. But right in the middle, is this law that resonates clearly the the law of Tefillin, but it doesn't really say anything about writing, it says "this shall serve to you as a sign". So the first question is, what is this? When we read it later into Devarim; in Deuteronomy, we kind of say, oh, okay, so it's this, this paragraph that we need to put inside of the Tefillin. But here there's a question of what is the this in the this, and then an Exodus 13" 16. Just a little bit later, it says, "and so it shall be a sign upon your hand and a symbol on your forehead, that with a mighty hand, the Lord freed you from Egypt." And here we have this strange word in the Hebrew that not only should it be a sign an "Ot", a word that we have come across before, but it should be "ul'totafot bein enecha" , this "Totefot" between your eyes? So am I the only guy who read the parsha this week, and said, What is Tefillin doing here? It's not something that we normally associate with either leaving Egypt, or with the first commandments that are given. And it's not quite talking about writing anything. And it just seems so strange to appear. And this was, frankly, the first year that I realized that here when we're listing the first mitzvot the first commandments, boom, we're hit by this non sequitur, I would say, of the law of what ultimately became Tefilin. Anybody share my surprise?

Adam Mintz  04:50

There's no question that that point is right. Let's just review for a minute that in the tefillin that you described, there are actually four selections from the Torah. Two of those selections are from this week. Actually, chapter 13 is divided in half, because there were two references, as you said to tefillin. So, there's the first portion, that's "Kadesh Li" and then the second portion "Vehaya Keviacha". And then there are two more portions, the first two paragraphs of the Shema, which are found in the Book of Devarim of Deuteronomy, also which have mentioned Tefillin. And they're also included. So there are four selections in the Torah, that talk about Tefillin, all those four are in the Tefillin that we wear. And the question I think, is, as you said, Why is it here? What does that have to do with the Exodus? So let me Geoffrey, make the question bigger. This is actually the first parsha that we have, in which we have a combination of law and narrative. Up to now the Torah has been completely narrative, and there've been a couple of little laws here and there. But basically, the Torah has been completely narrative. All of a sudden, in this week's portion, chapter 12, we switch. And we have a combination of law and narrative. That's the first important lesson. And that is that the Torah is a combination of law and narrative, Each one plays on the other to understand the laws, the rituals of Passover, you have to understand the narrative of the Exodus. So that's interesting. Now, why fill in here, the reason tefillin in this here is very simple. And that is because the remembering the exodus is primary in everything that we do. That seems to be the most basic, if not one of the most basic laws that we have, and therefore the villain in chapter 13, those paragraphs remind us of the Exodus, and we put them on our hands and on our head, because we need to remember the Exodus, we need to remember the slavery and then we need to remember how God took this out of out of Egypt.

Reuben Ebrahimoff  07:17

I just wanted to first say, every morning, we have this zoom Parshat HaShavua class. So I'm following along. You know, Yetziat Myzrayim, Pharaoh and all this and then I it just struck me this year, I didn't understand what was this text doing, like smack in the middle of your storyline? So just to say I resonated with your question. I did.

Geoffrey Stern  07:46

Reuben, there must have been something in the water this year. I don't know.

Reuben Ebrahimoff  07:49

Oh, so then the other thing Rabbi Mintz you taught me about the website, Al Hatorah (https://alhatorah.org/) And in the morning as they're reading, I try to find the Hapax legomenons (see:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hapax_legomenon ) in the parsha or words with very low frequency. And here 'l'totafott" is once in this parsha. And then when it comes around back in Devarim it mentions it two more times. So it's a very, very rare word in the Torah.

Geoffrey Stern  08:26

But, but let me just you know, add to the question a little bit, if you look at Rashi when Rashi says "VeHaya l'cha l'Ot", it should be to you a sign, he says "The Exodus from Egypt shall be to thee a sign" "Yetziat Miztrayim ti'hie l'cha l'Ot" There's already a sensitivity to what is this in the this? What is the sign? Now, we sometimes talk about this personalities that we're talking about. I think the Rashi family had a little bit of a monopoly on tefillin. First of all, it's pretty well known that the daughters of Rashi wore tefillin and the Rabbenu Tam was a grandson of Rashi and the very very observant Jews put on two pairs of tefillin every day, they put on Rashi tefillin and Rabbenu Tam tefillin.  because the the grandson argued with the grandpa about the order of the parshiot (scrolls). But there was another grandson; Rabbenu Tam had an older brother, and his name was Rashbam, and Rashbam says something amazing on this verse. He says, "According to the true meaning and exhortation that this memory should be with you permanently, "as if", "K'ilu". The matter is literally inscribed upon you hand. And he says we have similar metaphorical expressions about putting things on your body. He says in Song of Songs, it says place it on your heart, as if it had been engraved there." And take it. On my, my word. There are commentaries like the Ibn Ezra and others who understand exactly what the Rashbam is saying. He's saying, don't talk about the other instances of the mention of this law that ultimately became tefillin, these black boxes of leather that we put on our body parts. Here. It is a metaphor. Here it is in the tradition of a Jeremiah who says, "and you should write these words on your heart", he goes and quotes multiple verses, where this concept of wearing God on one's body is a metaphor. So there's clearly a fascinating aspect of how........ it's easy for us to say we're talking about tefillin. But it's not totally clear that we're talking about tefillin as we know it, we're talking about an aspect of tefilin. And that blew me away,

Avraham Bronstein  11:19

I want to say something to what you just said. And then something back to what Rabbi Mintz just said, I think that when the Rashbam is talking about the metaphor of you know, "on your heart", "between your eyes", in those ways, he's talking more about where you wear the tefillin, right, because he's telling you that you wear the tefillin on your arm corresponding to your heart. You don't wear literally on your chest. And likewise, you wear that go on your head, between your eyes on top of your head, not literally on your nose between your eyes. And I think he's trying to use the term metaphors that way. So that the practice of wearing tefillin corresponds with the verse But even so, even if you take them metaphorically, he's describing a very, very embodied experience. You're literally taking these reminders of the Exodus, and you're strapping them to your physical body and you're walking around with them, you're wearing them and feel them and you're touching them. And they're part of how you get around your day. And so much of what we do to remember the Exodus on a day-to-day basis are the mitzvot that are connected to it, are very embodied mitzvot, right. We eat things, we drink things, we say things, we hear things. And what I meant and was talking a little bit about before about the combination between law and narrative and how those two formats kind of play into each other and inform each other. I think what this is showing you also is that there's even a deeper level to it or a deeper connection, because even the remembering even the mitzvah itself is so physical, it's so embodied and still it really sums it up more than almost anything else

Adam Mintz  12:59

Rabbi Avraham. I think that's really such a good point. That actually the relationship between law and narrative is reflected in the in the selections that we use for the villain, and that actually when we put them on our arms, and on our head, we're thinking about that relationship, not just the law of putting on tefillin, but the narrative, the Exodus from Egypt. I just will add one thing, Geoffrey. And that you made reference to the fact that there are two traditions, Hasidim put on two pairs of tefillin, they put on Rashi tefillin at the beginning of davening (prayer) and at the end of davening, they take off their Rashi tefillin they put on the Rabbenu Tam and they look the same, but inside there's a difference. And the difference is what the order of the portions is. Rashi's tefillin which is the tefillin that are generally used by most people have the order of the portions in the order they appear in the Torah. So therefore, you have the two portions from Exodus chapter 13. Then you have the portion of Shema. And then you have the pope the portion of V'haya im Shemoha". And that's the order in which they appear in the Torah. Rabenu Tam has it different.  Rabenu Tam says you start with the two selections from this week's parsha "Kadesh" "VayaHi kiviyach"  but he switches the order of the two chapters in Devarim and he says first is "V'haya im Shemoa" and finally is Shema. He switches the order of "Shema" and "V'haya im Shemoa". The question is what difference does it make? It would make sense....  Rashi makes sense. You should have the port the selections in the order in which they appear in the Torah. And Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik gave an amazing explanation. He said actually the four selections are actually two different themes.... This is what Rabbi Avraham was referring to.... the selections from our portion are talking about the Exodus. The selections from the book of Deuteronomy, talk about tefillin as an expression of our acceptance of God's kingship over us. So actually, according to Rabbenu Tam, they are in order, but one you read from left to right, and one you read from right to left. So the two portions from our from our chapter, you read from left to right, "Kadesh" "VayaHi kiviyach" , but the portions from Devorim, you read from right to left "Shema" and "V'haya im Shemoa". And the reason we do it that way is because we want to separate the two, to show those are two different things. One is about remembering the Exodus, and one is about remembering that God is King over the world. And those are two very distinct themes in our Jewish lives. So I think that that's just interesting, at least for a moment to, you know, to pay respects to rabbenu Tam and his different villain than Rashi tefillin.

Geoffrey Stern  16:14

So I love this discussion, because we are discussing the first mitzvot that are commanded to the Jewish people, in a sense, and some of the commentaries make this distinction there pre-Sinai revelation as well. And here we are, and we're looking at all of the different perspectives that you can have on this one; I would say it's a seed of a mitzvah, because I am not willing to concede yet that the mitzvah of tefillin is fully played out yet. I want to get back to the rush bomb. One of the commentaries that I have in the source sheet says

רשב"ם אינו רואה בפסוקנו אזכור של מצוות תפילין, אלא מפרשו כמטפורה.

This commentary is saying is at this point in time, does the Rashbam believe that there's a commandment of tefillin? He does, he's not a Karite. He's not a Samaritan. There were fundamentalists who read not only these verses, but the later verses. And they said, you know, it says you should write these words on your door post, the Samaritans wrote them literally on their door post. They talked about writing these words on your arm and on your head, they took it as a metaphor, the Rashbam is "Lahavdeel", not in that camp. But what he is saying is at this point, it's a metaphor. And what I love when we discuss Rabbenu Tam and Rashi and their different views of what should be inside of the to fill in, is here we have the first commandment. Yes, the first commandment that piqued Reuben and my curiosity... because it was literally made as a commandment, it didn't fit into the narrative that much. And all of a sudden, we can parse it in so many ways. And I'd like to think that this is an example of all the mitzvot to that are to come. And yes, there is an aspect of this commandment that is totally physical. But the Rashbam is saying something very profound; that you can take a commandment as a metaphor. And that doesn't detract from taking it also, as a physical, tactile directive as to what to do in the first four hours of the morning. And that I think, is an amazing thought. And I'd like to use that as a segue to then get into the various interpretations and explanations that Reuben talked about which is; what does this "totafot" mean at this point in time? Where are we? What does this mean? It's clearly using a foreign term and making reference to something that the audience that it was written to understood but that we do not. What what do you all feel is going on here in terms of what is "totafot"?

Geoffrey Stern  16:57

Haftorahman what do you think?

Reuben Ebrahimoff  19:40

I'm gonna digress for a second, on purpose. These prayers are in two places. One on the Mezzuzot and two on the tefillin. And not that this adds credibility But the story was told to me by Mr. Shlomo Musayev. And Shlomo said, originally, they didn't have doorposts. They lived in tents. And that this, this scroll was a Kamia, and they would hang it like a lintel. And that when somebody would go into their tent, they would have to move their hand in front of them across to the side, and they would touch the mezzuza, thereby merging the heaven and earth by touching the Mezuzah, which was this go-between area. So, to me, that sounds beautiful on a thought level. Then the other thing I think about is the name of God. You only have two places .... Rabbi Mintz, correct me if I'm wrong, where you have the shin on the Mezuza bayit and the Shin on the tefillin boxes for the shin dalet Yud name of God. So I always found that interesting, too.

Adam Mintz  21:13

Okay, what is uh, how does that relate to the word "totafot"?

Reuben Ebrahimoff  21:17

Okay, so I'm just gonna read what they had Al Hatorah....  it says, bands, so they must have just tied these things. And I think also, Geoffrey, that the Samaritans, like put it like in between their eyes there to fill in, like right down on the forehead. If I'm not mistaken

Geoffrey Stern  21:41

Well, let's get to the band's the the most straightforward explanation is in the Gomorrah in Shabbat 57B. And it says, "The Mishna said that a woman may not go out with the ornament called a totefet. The Gemara asks: What is a totefet? Rav Yosef said: A packet of spices to ward off the evil eye. Abaye said to him: And let the legal status of this packet be like that of an effective amulet, whose effectiveness is proven, and it should be permitted, as an effective amulet may be moved on Shabbat. Rather, Rav Yehuda said in the name of Abaye: A totefet is an appuzainu, an ornament worn on the forehead. This opinion was also taught in a baraita: A woman may go out with a gilded hairnet worn to hold the hair in place, and with the totefet, and with the sarvitin that are fastened to the hairnet, since a woman would not remove her head covering to show her friend those ornaments. And they said: Which is a totefet and which is sarvitin? Rabbi Abbahu said: Totefet is that which goes around her forehead from ear to ear...." and I think that's the opinion that you quoted. But the point is even modern scholarship and if you look at the notes on Safera to this episode, it gets into great detail and basically says, you know, I think the rabbis of the Talmud had it right. Totafot, as you said, Reuben; a headband. And we come across for the first time, it's to ward off [evil]. It's an amulet. Again, the tefillin strikes us Western, Moderns, as very strange. But my guess would be that, whether you called it a Kamia or Oh, whatever. In the ancient world, people wore charms people wore amulets, and it was an accepted practice to wear an amulet as a headband and on one's arm. I'd like to point out that one of our faithful listeners, Bob, who's in the audience today, pointed out a few weeks ago, that they just discovered a pharaoh. They were able to do a scan of him without actually touching him. And they found that he was circumcised which is interesting. Yeah, but they also found a bunch of amulets, a bunch of jewelry on his arm and stuff. So I gave the subject matter of tonight's talk "Walk like an Egyptian". It seems to me that, number one, we can all assume that unlike us, when the Torah said "totafot", everybody understood what it was referring to. It wasn't speaking in riddles. And so it seems pretty clear that this was some sort of an amulet both on one's head and on one's arm. You know this question... and I'll just give two other references to trigger further discussion. It has this strange expression of "between the eyes" , "l'zicharon Beyn Eynecha". Those of us whose children ask us, are you allowed to have a tattoo? We always said, no, no, no, no, you can't have a tattoo. It says in in the Bible itself. In Deuteronomy 14, "You are children of the Lord your God, You shall not gash yourselves or shave the front of your heads because of the dead." Now I just read a translation. But the Hebrew says, "Lo Karocha beyn einechem l'Meit" You can't make a mark on yourself. You can't cut yourself "beyn einechem"  between your eyes. And it's fascinating that when the rabbi's discuss that Karocha means to make oneself bald. So they actually learn from here that tefillin is not to be actually between one's eyes, but it's to be above the hairline. So they actually learned from the law against gashing and pulling out one's hair, maybe making tattoos and signs that it is above the hairline. There's a real connection here. And these are not stuff that was made out of nowhere. Yesh, me'ayin these were amulets, these were signs that were made. The other word that's used is an "Ot". And of course, we find that with Cain, the sign of Cain. And in the Midrash, it says, What is the sign of Cain the "ot" of Cain? Well, God took one of the "otiyot", one of the letters of the 22 letters of the alphabet and wrote it on Cain. So we almost have tattooing here, which is kind of fascinating. So that kind of really opens up the discussion, in terms of what.... from a metaphor to a tattoo, to an amulet, what this could be referring to and what its antecedents are.

Adam Mintz  27:21

So I would add the following. And that is that maybe we don't know what the word totafot leads. And maybe that's the idea. Maybe tefillin is the perfect model of the integration of the Written Torah, and the oral tradition, that without the oral tradition, we can't know what tefillin in really are. The Gemara says and another Gemara, it says that Tat means two and pat means two. And totafot just means for that we have four selections from the Torah. And maybe that's what we need, maybe we have to be willing to admit that if all we have is the Written Torah that's not enough. We need an oral tradition; we need a living tradition. A bunch of years ago, there was an exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls have the things they found in Qumran. And one of the things they had in the exhibition was a pair of tefillin. And I was always struck.. Qumran is about 2,100 years ago. And the tefillin from 2,100 years ago, looks basically the same as the tefillin we put on today. That's an amazing statement about Jewish tradition. Jews have been thrown out of places Jews have been prosperous in places, a lot has happened to the Jews over 2,100 years. But the tefillin are still the same tefillin that we had. And probably 1,000 years before that they were the same tefillin. And that's part of our living tradition. It's similar, by the way, Geoffrey to the Etrog. You know, the Torah says you should take a fruit of from a tree. We don't even know what the fruit is "Pree Etz Hadar" and the way we know what an Etrog is, that's part of the living tradition. We need the living tradition without the living tradition, we have nothing. And I think that totafot the tefillin actually is a great model of that.

Geoffrey Stern  29:28

I totally agree with you. The only thing that I would add .... and we've talked about so many facets of one of the first commandments that we've come across, is .... you know, one of the questions and I'll save this for my Shabbat Hagadol drasha is the obvious question of why Mezuzah isn't mentioned here after they put the blood on the doorposts and maybe Rabbi you'll talk about that on Shabbat

Adam Mintz  29:59

That's good also

Geoffrey Stern  30:00

But it seems to me that there's another element here. And in the New Testament, when Jesus talks about the Jews wearing tefillin, he says in Matthew 23:5-7, "everything they do is done for people to see they make their phylacteries wide and tassels on their garments long." And what he captures is this sense of pride, their sense of who we are. And it seems to me and you were talking about this living tradition, I'm not a scholar, I thought of the Egyptians have every time you see an Egyptian pharaoh, you see that little snake [uraeus snake] that comes out, right on the forehead, as a sign, it was not one by a foreigner, it was not one by a layman. It was only worn by a king. And I'd like to think that another aspect of tefillin is that these Jews, they might have put on the blood on the doorposts, so that the God would pass by and spare them. But then when they were told to put these ornaments on, they were like kings, a "Mamlechet Cohanim v'goy kadosh". And I would like to think that, that is also part of the aspect of what we're talking about, that this tefillin and this commandment here is this sense of being like a pharaoh walking like an Egyptian so to speak. And the ultimate lesson and the ultimate takeaway is in half an hour, I think we've probably touched upon 13, or 14 different ways of looking at one of these first commandments of mitzvah. And I think what we can learn from this, and I'd like to extrapolate going forward, is that not only are there "shivim Panim L'Torah"  70 faces to every verse and every idea of Torah, but a mitzvah, whether it's Shabbat, whether it's tefillin, whether Pesach can be taken at a metaphorical level, it can be taken as an amulet and a little bit of superstition. It can be taken as a political statement; it can be taken as a fashion statement. It's all there. It's all acceptable. And all that we are asked to do is to study the texts and become a part of that tradition. And I'd like to think that's the element of living that you were describing in terms of what the Oral law is.

Adam Mintz  32:35

That's beautiful Geoffrey. What a way to end enjoy the parish everybody. Shabbat Shalom and look forward to taking the Jews out of Egypt and crossing the sea next week. Shabbat shalom,

Geoffrey Stern  32:49

Amen. Shabbat shalom. We will see you all next week and discover another hidden aspect of the Torah and hopefully find something that resonates with us. So, with that I bid you all Shabbat Shalom, and let's all leave Egypt together this week. Shabbat shalom.

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introducing the LoBa Bramulke by Vashti®

Shushan, New York – 15 Adar II 5776

(for press release click here)

799_yarmulkebra

In a move that took fashion industry pundits by surprise, LoBa Kippa today announced its entry into the lingerie market.  Noticing a spike in sales of its popular Loba Kippa 3-pack the Loba Google analytics team realized that women were buying one loba Kippa for their husbands and keeping two for themselves. A closer reading of Megillat Esther confirmed what women have known for over two thousand years… That “Lo” means “Lo” and when a woman says she’s not coming she means Lo Ba.. I’m not coming!  Taking the LoBa message to feminists and cross-dressers, the LoBa Bramulke supports an individual’s inalienable right to stand up to sexual exploitation and to anointed kings and saviors.

הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ אָמַר לְהָבִיא אֶת-וַשְׁתִּי הַמַּלְכָּה לְפָנָיו–וְלֹא-בָאָה

The king Ahasuerus commanded Vashti the queen to be brought before him, but she came not (Esther 1:17)

The LoBa spokesperson would not reveal any further details relating to the bramulke other than to say that due to the organization’s aversion to magical thinking  Loba intimate wear would provide a stark alternative to the Miracle Bra™ and would provide consumers with extra support and lift using hard work, sustainable materials and other natural means.

Furthermore the bra like the loba movement itself will reveal universalism and visions of eschatological harmony as no longer fashionable. The loba bramulke will lift up the related parties while enthusiastically preserving and accentuating the natural contours and healthy cleavage necessary for independent movement and divergent activities.

Asked if there is any competition, the spokesperson recalled that in the’60s there was a lobra movement, but that today LoBa is in a world unto itself.

——

About LoBa Kippa – LoBa is the next big movement in Judaism.  It’s a growing group of thought leaders who believe that while the idea of a Savior and Final Redemption have played a role in the past, in today’s world of religious fanaticism, Messianism has become the most destructive concept shared by the world’s monotheistic religions.

LoBa  (לא בא) is Hebrew  for “not coming” and the LoBa store is for those of us who are not waiting. We’re not waiting for the Mashiach, the Messiah, the Second Coming, the Caliphate, the hidden Mahdi, hidden Imam or any other end-time magical solution.

Based on lyrics from a popular Israeli song our products proclaim that the Mashiach isn’t coming, he’s not even calling…   משיח לא בא – משיח גם לא מטלפן

LoBa customers reject any theology or ideology that wishes to change the world with a bang.

We’re not a negative group, we just reject those who feel empowered to disregard the rules of society and rights of others in order to bring a new age or end-time. Rather than wait, we engage in making the world a better place one step at a time and for its own sake.

Our products make a great gift for a loved one.. including yourself.  And you don’t have to be Jewish to love LoBa.  It’s just that we Jews introduced the world to Messianism, so it’s only fair that we lead the way in getting rid of this unhelpful and oh too many times, destructive idea.

Web site: www.lobakippa.com
Contact: info@lobakippa.com

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graven images and caricatures of the prophet

You don’t hear of Jews blowing up giant Buddhas.  It’s not as though their sacred texts don’t rail against such graven images.  In fact, we invented idol smashing.  You remember. It was Abraham, the founder of those so-called monotheistic religions who, when left alone in his father’s idol shop, slashed inventory.

3rd -4th century A.D, 37 meter high,(Shakyamuni) Buddha demolished by Taliban with 50,000 kilograms dynamite on March 12, 2001 in Karachi, Afghanistan.

3rd -4th century A.D, 37 meter high,(Shakyamuni) Buddha demolished by Taliban with 50,000 kilograms dynamite on March 12, 2001 in Karachi, Afghanistan.

The midrash is so well known that most Hebrew-School graduates think it’s part of scripture and not simply a literary fiction of the Midrash (B’reishit Rabbah 38:13).  The Midrash is so well known that it appears in the Quran (Qur’an 21:51-70).  Both renderings have Abraham leaving the largest idol untouched to support his claim that “the big guy did it”. (see comparison of the midrash and Quranic accounts here).

So why don’t Jews smash idols?

It may be that we have bigger problems and it’s just low on our punch list. It may be that smashing idols beloved by billions is not prudent for those whose numbers are counted in decimal points…

It may also be that Jews don’t believe that these images represent real idols and correspondingly, that Jews don’t believe that worship as practiced by Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists etc, corresponds to the idol worship portrayed in the Bible.  This last approach is the one offered by Classical Rabbinic texts. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 102b) which argues that the idolatry referenced in the Bible had a force and efficacy that no longer exists and which we moderns have no way of comprehending. “The drive for idolatry was so strong in my [ancient] time that, had you been there, you yourself would have caught up the skirt of your garment and done the same!” (see)  Mosts Buddhists and Hindus will tell you that they are worshiping the spirit through the lens of a visual image.

A variation on this view is echoed by iconic Hebrew University Biblical scholar Yehezkel Kaufmann (1889 -1963) who argued that the Ancient Hebrew’s paradigm shift to monotheism was so complete that: What idol-worship the Scriptures speak of was only “vestigial fetishistic idolatry,” and not a genuine attachment of the people to such forms of worship… (see)

So why don’t Jews blow up Buddhas?  Is it because they have more pressing matters? Is it because we would prefer not to antagonize billions of believers?  Is it because the worship of images of Buddha, Brahma, Vishnu,  Shiva,  etc do not constitute the Idol worship of ancient Old Testament times?

Or, is it because we actually don’t take our monotheism that seriously?

Let’s face it, Jews (and Christians, for that matter) may wail against graven images, but whether it be widespread reference to God’s human features (outstretched arms, face, image etc.) and emotions (anger, jealousy etc) or calling the Godhead by different names (as in El, Yahweh, Shadai, or respectively; Father, Son, or Holy Ghost).. there are plenty of images in our texts and liturgy to go around.

I admit that in our daily speech, we Jews don’t refer to God by any of His given names.  We use a moniker: “Hashem” in the daily vernacular, but by the familial way we use it, you’d think that “Hashem” was a Jew’s best friend.

If you want to take the no-name approach seriously, you should follow our Abrahamic brothers and sisters in Islam.

Muslims do not use “Allah” the way Jews use the “Hashem”, in fact proper muslim practices suggests that one should use the word “Allah” only when speaking Arabic.  When one speaks English one should use the word “God”.  “Allah” is simply the Arabic word for “God”.. not the name of the Muslim God.

It is surprising to notice that many Muslims do not realise that the word “Allah” is simply the Arabic word for the word “God”.  Many of them believe that “Allah” is the actual name of the Muslim God! They do not realise that it is wrong to “personalise” God as He is not a person. God is much greater than to be confined to a single name.

Neither do they realise that the word “Allah” does not belong exclusively to the Muslims and that it has always been used before (and after) the revelation of the Quran by the Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians when they speak about God.

Talking to English speaking people about God using the word “Allah” is very much the same as speaking to Arabic speaking people about “Allah” using the word “God”. It makes better sense to use the equivalant word of each language. (see)

So if we Jews took our no-name approach more seriously, we would say “The Name” instead of “Hashem” when speaking English.. But let’s face it “Hashem” is so much more personal and Haimish.

So let’s be real….  we Jews don’t take our Monotheism that seriously… Baruch Hashem.

Our’s is a monotheism, full of anthropomorphisms and warmth.  It is what I like to call “Monotheism with a wink”.

As the author of a book on the Big Ideas responded when asked by a NY Times reporter what was the single worst idea in history?

Without question, ethical monotheism. The idea of one true god. The idea that our life and ethical conduct on earth determines how we will go in the next world. This has been responsible for most of the wars and bigotry in history. (see)

Monotheism with a wink, maintains that duality in thought (if not in action) is not only possible, but to be encouraged.  According to the Talmud in Eruvin 13b the Schools of Hillel and Shamai argued the law for three years until a voice from heaven issued announcing, “These and these are the words of the living God … but the practical law follows Hillel

(אלו ואלו דברי א-להים חיים הן, והלכה כבית הילל (ע’ש

Monotheism with a wink supports a radical pluralism of opinions and interpretations.

The Midrash said it this way: there are 70 “faces” to the Torah (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15 and Talmud Sanhedrin 34a  see)

שבעים פנים לתורה . מה פטיש זה מתחלק לכמה ניצוצות – אף מקרא אחד יוצא לכמה טעמים

Jewish humor summarized it this way:

Max and Isaac come to the Rabbi’s study to settle a dispute.  The Rabbi’s wife is also seated in the room.

Max explains his complaint to the Rabbi:  …. The Rabbi declares, “You’re right, Max.” Next, Isaac presents his side.  He speaks with such passion and persuasion that the Rabbi says to him, “You’re right, Isaac.” After they leave, the Rabbi’s wife is distraught and says to her husband, “..  How can you say that both of them are right?  … The Rabbi thinks long and hard and finally says to his wife, “You know, you’re also right.” (see)

Monotheism without a wink is a most dangerous thing.
But monotheism with a wink leads to humor, caricature, satire, curiosity, experimentation, innovation, invention, accommodation, conciliation, compassion, compromise and probably mixed dancing… and Baruch Hashem for that.

May the memory of those killed in the name of a monotheism without a wink, be forever a blessing.

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Filed under art, Bible, humor, monotheism, Religion, Torah

rounding the corner

Thoughts on religious iconography from Cambodia and Vietnam

There is an impressive and seamless continuity between texts, mythologies, art, ritual objects, and architecture within Hinduism and Buddhism.  A perfect example is the lotus.  In mythology and sacred Hindu texts the lotus grows from the navel of Vishnu,  the sleeping god whose dream is the universe. Brahma sits on the lotus, the symbol of divine energy and divine grace.

Reclining Vishnu at Valley of 1000 Lingas, Cambodia

Reclining Vishnu at Valley of 1000 Lingas, Cambodia

This theme of the lotus growing from the navel of the deity is echoed in Buddhist literature.  Siddharta dreams that a lotus tree rises from his navel up through the worlds to the Heaven of the “Final Limit of Form” and the very summit of the cosmos of formal manifestation… In this symbolic formula the flowering of the lotus is the attainment of Enlightment: the petals open to disclose the Buddha seated on the lotus, and in the “lotus position”. (see The Symbolism of the Stupa,  By Adrian Snodgrass pp 205

Brahma sitting on Petals, at Mỹ Sơn, Vietnam

Brahma sitting on Petals, at Mỹ Sơn, Vietnam

Brahma sits on Lotus flower, Valley of 1000 Lingas, Cambodia

Brahma sits on Lotus flower, Valley of 1000 Lingas, Cambodia

In fact, the design of the Temples at Angkar follows the pattern of the lotus flower (un-open) emerging from a base representing the lotus petals.

Banteay Prei Temple in Angkor Cambodia

Banteay Prei Temple in Angkor Cambodia

The complex Angkor Wat with it’s central lotus surrounded by four lotuses is no exception.

Layout of Angkor Wat

Layout of Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat Temple, Cambodia

Angkor Wat Temple, Cambodia

At its core the image of the lotus plant arising from the navel and the flowering of the lotus is the essence of creation and sexual in nature. The phallic nature of the temples at Angkar are oblivious.

In its most minimalistic form the lotus flower/petal motif  takes the shape of the linga and includes the mountain iconography most noticeable in the structure of the Angkar temples.  The lingam is often represented alongside the Yoni, a symbol of the goddess or of Shakti, female creative energy.

Linga assembled into square Yoni at Mỹ Sơn Vietnam

Linga assembled into square Yoni at Mỹ Sơn Vietnam

 

Round Yoni at Mỹ Sơn Vietnam

Round Yoni at Mỹ Sơn Vietnam

The yoni is the creative power of nature and represents the goddess Shakti. The linga stone represents Shiva, and is usually placed in the yoni. The lingam is the transcendental source of all that exists. The linga united with the yoni represents the nonduality of immanent reality and transcendental potentiality.

Buddha on Yoni, at Mỹ Sơn, Vietnam

Buddha on Yoni, at Mỹ Sơn, Vietnam

The Yoni represents the petals out of which the Linga emerges and rests and more ancient specimens from matrilineal societies are square, while later versions, have their power reduced by rounding.

 

Square Yoni with multiple Lingas at Valley of 1000 Lingas, Cambodia

Square Yoni with multiple Lingas at Valley of 1000 Lingas, Cambodia

Round Yoni with multiple Lingas at Valley of 1000 Lingas, Cambodia

Round Yoni with multiple Lingas at Valley of 1000 Lingas, Cambodia

In fact this combination of Famale petals and male lotus flower is the brand of Buddhism and I might add, a lot of Cambodian and Vietnamese companies.

IMG_2340

This brand is called the Linga and nowhere more apparent than at the River of A Thousand Lingas a 40 minute drive from the temples at Angkor.

Judaic Iconographic Tour 1.01

So I get it.  Judaism does not condone images.  It hardly has a brand mark.  Unlike the menorah, the Lion of Judah, the shofar and the lulav (our lotus?), the Star of David, considered by most to be the Trademark of Judaism, was never a uniquely Jewish symbol.”  Our ancient art is limited and mostly derivative of other pagan cultures in the neighborhood (see: signs of the Zodiac).

But certainly there must be some iconography which a tour guide of Judaism could point out.  Are there primal and seminal shapes and messages hidden in our texts and rituals, that we just ignore or have left buried under the surface?

So here’s a stab at giving such a tour…

Enter the SQUARE…

I have always been intrigued by the ambiguous relationship of the Hebrew Bible to corners and squares.

The word in Classical and Modern Hebrew for square is ribu’a (ריבוע) which really just comes from the word 4.  This word, along with the word for Circle (עיגול) do not to my knowledge appear in the ancient biblical texts. Geometry was not the Bible’s favorite subject… But we do have the word for corner “Payah”  (פֵּאָה) which not only appears, but appears to play an important role.

Keeping the “corners” of the beard is the source for Jewish beards and side curls.. called Payot (corners).

You shall not round off the corner of your head, and you shall not destroy the edge of your beard.(Leviticus 19: 27)

לֹא תַקִּפוּ פְּאַת רֹאשְׁכֶם וְלֹא תַשְׁחִית אֵת פְּאַת זְקָנֶךָ

The word for “round” used in the verse is (נָקַף ) which means to go around, surround, encompass, enclose, to make the round, complete the circuit. [1]  (Compare: Hakafa הקפה  “[to] en/circle” or “going a/round” in Hebrew, referring to the times when celebrations in Judaism have its adherents dance or walk or celebrate by moving in circles.)

For the Torah, the corners seem to be holy or consecrated, which means that they need to either be dedicated to God or to his chosen on earth… the poor and the stranger.  The biblical editor establishes an obvious thematic link between the corners of the beard and the corners of the field. Just a few verses earlier in Leviticus 19 we read:

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not fully reap the corner of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. .. You shall leave them for the poor and the stranger. I am the Lord, your God.     (Leviticus 19: 9 – 10)

וּבְקֻצְרְכֶם אֶת קְצִיר אַרְצְכֶם לֹא תְכַלֶּה פְּאַת שָׂדְךָ לִקְצֹר וְלֶקֶט קְצִירְךָ לֹא תְלַקֵּט

לֹא תְלַקֵּט לֶעָנִי וְלַגֵּר תַּעֲזֹב אֹתָם אֲנִי ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם

And of course, what discussion of sanctifying the square or corner would be complete without mention of the four-cornered garment and the requirement for fringes.  The word Kanaf (כָּנָף) usually means wings as in the Cherubs in Exodus 25:20

who shall spread out their wings on high, screening the ark-cover with their wings, ….

 וְהָיוּ הַכְּרֻבִים פֹּרְשֵׂי כְנָפַיִם לְמַעְלָה, סֹכְכִים בְּכַנְפֵיהֶם עַל-הַכַּפֹּרֶת, וּפְנֵיהֶם, אִישׁ אֶל-אָחִיו; אֶל-הַכַּפֹּרֶת–יִהְיוּ, פְּנֵי הַכְּרֻבִים

It is tempting to suggest a connection between wings/corners and the Hebrew creation myth which begins by God fluttering (rä·khaf’) over the abyss.

Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:2)

וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, וְחֹשֶׁךְ, עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם; וְרוּחַ אֱ-לֹהִים, מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם

Writes Rashi:

and the spirit of God was hovering: The Throne of Glory was suspended in the air and hovered over the face of the water with the breath of the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He and with His word, like a dove, which hovers over the nest, acoveter in Old French, to cover, hover over.

ורוח א-להים מרחפת כסא הכבוד עומד באויר ומרחף על פני המים ברוח פיו של הקב”ה ובמאמרו, כיונה המרחפת על הקן אקוביטי”ר בלע”ז] לכסות]

Similarly, the bird hovering/fluttering metaphor is used for both the Exodus and Revelation myth as well:

He [God] found them in a desert land, and in a desolate, howling wasteland. He encompassed them and bestowed understanding upon them; He protected them as the pupil of His eye.   As an eagle awakens its nest, hovering over its fledglings, it spreads its wings, taking them and carrying them on its pinions. (Deuteronomy 32: 10-11)

כְּנֶשֶׁר יָעִיר קִנּוֹ עַל גּוֹזָלָיו יְרַחֵף יִפְרֹשׂ כְּנָפָיו יִקָּחֵהוּ יִשָּׂאֵהוּ עַל אֶבְרָתוֹ

Writes Rash:

He encompassed them: [Rendered by Onkelos :] “He made them encamp round about His Divine Presence”-the Tent of Meeting [where the Divine Presence rested] was in the middle [of the camp] and the four divisions [i.e., the tribal camps, surrounded it] from all four directions.

hovering over its fledglings: [The eagle] does not impose its [whole] body upon them. Rather, it hovers above them, touching them and yet not quite touching them. So too, is the Holy One, Blessed is He. [As in the verse:] “We did not find the Almighty great in power” (Job 37:23). When He came to give the Torah to Israel, He did not reveal Himself to them from one direction [thus concentrating His power at one point, as it were], but rather, from four directions, as Scripture states, “The Lord came from Sinai, and shone forth from Seir to them, and appeared from Mount Paran” (Deut. 33:2). [This accounts for three directions.] The fourth direction is referred to in [the verse], “God comes from Teman” (Hab. 3:3). – [Sifrei 32:11]

spreading its wings, taking them: When it [the eagle] comes to move [its fledglings] from place to place, it does not pick them up with its feet, as do other birds. Other birds are afraid of the eagle, which soars very high and flies above them. For this reason, it [the other bird] carries them with its feet because of the eagle [above them]. The eagle, however, is afraid only of an arrow. Therefore, it carries its young on its wings, saying, “It is better that an arrow pierce me, rather than pierce my young.” So too, the Holy One, Blessed is He, [says]: “I carried you on eagles’ wings” (Exod. 19:4). [I.e.,] when the Egyptians pursued [the children of Israel] and overtook them at the [Red] Sea, they cast arrows and catapulted rocks [at Israel]. Immediately, “The angel of God moved… [behind them… and the pillar of cloud] came between the camp of Egypt [and the camp of Israel]” (Exod. 14:19-20) [for Israel’s protection]. — [Mechilta 19:4] (see for hebrew text)

Not only does the hovering wings motif include the trifecta of Creation, Exodus and Revelation, but according to the sources that Rashi references, the Biblical hovering “kenafim” wings is a four cornered force field of tenderness and protection.

If we are discussing holy squares and rectangles, we need to mention the Mishkan – Tabernacle  (מִשְׁכַּן) and the Beit HaMikdash – Temple (בֵּית־הַמִּקְדָּשׁ ) which, like Hindu and Buddhist temples was to be situated on the top of a hill/mount (הַר הַבַּיִת).

soltemp

Solomon’s Temple

Mishkan1

The Mishkan – Tabernacle

 

 

The shape of both were rectangular.  Of interest for our discussion is that the word used for side is actually our friend corner-Peyah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And thou shalt make the boards for the tabernacle, twenty boards for the south side southward (Exodus 26: 18)

וְעָשִׂיתָ אֶת-הַקְּרָשִׁים, לַמִּשְׁכָּן, עֶשְׂרִים קֶרֶשׁ, לִפְאַת נֶגְבָּה תֵימָנָה

 

In addition to corner, Peyah can also mean extremity, edge or border.

As Rashi writes:

for the southern side: Heb. לִפְאַתנֶגְבָּה ךְתֵּימָנָה. [The word לִפְאַת is derived from פֵּאָה, which usually means “corner.”] This [use of the word] פֵּאָה is not an expression meaning “corner,” rather the whole side is referred to as פֵּאָה, as the Targum [Onkelos] renders: לְרוּחַ עֵיבַר דָרוֹמָא, to the side toward the south.

לפאת נגבה תימנה אין פאה זו לשון מקצוע, אלא כל הרוח קרויה פאה, כתרגומו לרוח עיבר דרומא

 

We will conclude our survey of ambiguous sanctification of the corner/square with the one object in Judaism which cries out for a contextual reference, and whose cries have been met with a deafening silence. This ritual object are strange to the extreme.  I am referring, of course,  to the Tefillin (תפילין )… The fact that this pair of black leather boxes with black leather straps do not really have a name [2] might point to their ancient origin.  In any case, they are so distinctive in the eye of the beholder that they carry a Greek name which has survived until today – phylacteries (from Ancient Greek φυλακτήριον phylacterion, form of phylássein, φυλάσσειν meaning “to guard, protect”).  The first use of this name is in Matthew 23:5 in the New Testament where Matthew complains about the Jews: “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long;”  [2a]

A_set_of_Tefillin

We know that their square shape is ancient since Yigal Yadin found a pair of tefillin in a cave belonging to 1st century Jewish partisans serving under bar Kochba. (see)

For a wonderful scholarly treatment on Tefilin feel free to visit Probing the Earliest Origins of Tefillin (phylacteries) in a blog called Yomin D;min Alma which includes a picture of tefillin found in the Cairo Geniza that are conical in shape (so much for corners and squares!) and look a lot like our Lingas (Lehavdil)…

tefillin-from-geniza

 

Whenever I have thought about a context for odd shape of tefillin I have always thought of the Kaaba in Mecca [3] … not only because they look so similar, but also because the tefillin are also referred to as a Bayit or house… or Battim in the plural.  Since the Jewish temple is also referred to as a Bayit, (as in Beit HaMikdash and Har HaBayit), it seemed to me natural to think of it as a miniature temple and to look to our rectangular temple for context.

Fortunately, I am not the only one who has thought of this comparison.

Billy Phillips, in his blog kabbalahstudent.com argues for a connection between tefilin and the Kaaba (here)

His picture is worth a thousand words (or maybe lingas):

kaba tefilin

 

Granted that he shows a traditional tefillin box and not uncovered tefilin, but I think his visual comparison is well taken.

He goes on to argue that the Sephardim  wrap the tefillin around the left arm seven times, counter-clockwise and compares this to Muslims circumventing the Ka’ba at the end of the Haj.  Whether he is guilty of sharing too much detail or not, his point is well taken.  There seems to be a tradition of circumvention when it comes to our squares.    Today’s Jewish custom of dancing in a circle (Hora dance) and of circling the alter in the Synagogue on Sukkot (Hoshanot) comes from ancinent times.  “It was customary to make one procession around the altar on each day of Sukkot, and seven on the seventh day” (Sukkah 4:5)

It may even be that on each of the three Pilgrim festivals, ancient Jews ascended to the temple and completed their pilgrimage, by circling the square Temple.

hakafot3_text(1)

 

Think also of a bride circling the groom under the square wedding canopy (Chuppah).

The Female shall circle the male נְקֵבָה תְּסוֹבֵב גָּבֶר Jerimiah 31:21

The Female shall circle the male נְקֵבָה תְּסוֹבֵב גָּבֶר Jerimiah 31:21

This post is more of a question than a statement.  It is more of a request for further comment and research.  But certainly students of Judaism need to explore this interest in sanctifying the corner.

Comments and suggestions are welcome!

 

 

 

 

———————–

[1] See Rashi

You shall not round off the corner of your head: This refers to someone who [cuts his hair in such a way that he] makes [the hair on] his temples even with that behind his ear and on his forehead [i.e., the front hairline], thereby causing [the hairline] surrounding his head to become a circle, since the main hairline behind the ears is at a much higher level than [the hair on] his temples. — [Mak. 20b]

the edge of your beard: [meaning:] The end of the beard and its borders. And these are five: two on each cheek at the top [edge of the cheek] near the head, where [the cheek] is broad and has two “corners” [i.e., extremities, one near the temple and the other at the end of the cheek bone towards the center of the face]-and one below, on the chin, at the point where the two cheeks join together. – [Torath Kohanim 19: 74; Mak. 20b]

לא תקפו פאת ראשכם זה המשוה צדעיו לאחורי אזנו ולפדחתו, ונמצא הקף ראשו עגול סביב, שעל אחורי אזניו עקרי שערו למעלה מצדעיו הרבה

פאת זקנך  סוף הזקן וגבוליו. והן חמש שתים בכל לחי ולחי למעלה אצל הראש שהוא רחב ויש בו שתי פאות, ואחת למטה בסנטרו מקום חבור שני הלחיים יחד

[2}

The ultimate origin of Hebrew “tefillin” is uncertain.[3] The word “tefillin” is not found in the Bible, which calls them ṭoṭafot. The Septuagint renders “ṭoṭafot” ἀσαλευτόν, “something immovable.”[2] Some believe it refers to a charm, similar to the Hebrew neṭifot, “round jewel.”[2] The Talmud (Sanhedrin 4b) explains that the word ṭoṭafot is combination of two foreign words: Tot means “two” in the “Caspi” language and Fot means “two” in the “Afriki” language,[4] hence tot and fot means “two and two”, corresponding to the four compartments of the head-tefillin.[5] Menahem ben Saruq explains that the word is derived from the Hebrew Ve’hateif and Tatifoo, both expressions meaning “speech”, “for when one sees the tefillin it causes him to remember and speak about The Exodus from Egypt.”[6]

The first texts to use “tefillin” are the Targumim and Peshitta[2] and it is also used in subsequent Talmudic literature, although the word “ṭoṭafah” was still current, being used with the meaning of “frontlet.”[2] “Tefillin” may have derived from the Aramaic palal, “to plead, pray,” a word closely related to the Hebrew tefillah, “prayer.”[3] Jacob ben Asher (14th century) suggests that “tefillin” is derived from the Hebrew pelilah, “justice, evidence,” for tefillin act as a sign and proof of God’s presence among the Jewish people.[7]

The only instance of the name “phylacteries” in ancient times occurs once in the Greek New Testament (Matthew 23:5) whence it has passed into the languages of Europe. “Phylacteries” derives from the Greek phulaktērion – φυλακτήριον, “defences,” and in late Greek, “amulets” or “charms.” Neither Aquila nor Symmachus use the word “phylacteries.” see

[2a]  Interesting to note that the Jews are identified by two square shaped “cornered” wearable objects… the Talit and the Tefillin.  This charge of the demonstrative nature of the commandment is, in fact, confirmed by the rabbis, who interpret the verse “and all the peoples of the earth shall see that the name of the Lord is called upon thee” (Deut. 28:10) to refer to “the tefillin of the head” (Ber. 6a). (see Encyclopedia Judaica Tefilin).  Imagine a Jew walking by wearing talit, tefillin and sporting a beard and/or payos… that would make three sanctified squares all identifying the individual as a Jew!

For more on tefillin see: Yonatan Adler, The Content and Order of the Scriptural Passages in Tefillin: A Reexamination of the Early Rabbinic SourcesIn Light of the Evidence From the Judean Desert

[3]

The Kaaba

The Arabic word Kaaba comes from the Arabic ka’bah meaning “square house,” which in turn comes from ka’b meaning “cube.”… According to tradition the Kaaba was built by Ibrahim (Abraham). It is stated in the Qur’an that this was the first house that was built for humanity to worship Allah (God).

In her book, Islam: A Short History, Karen Armstrong asserts that the Kaaba was at some point dedicated to Hubal, a Nabatean deity, and contained 360 idols that probably represented the days of the year. In Guillaume’s translation of Ibn Ishaq, an early biographer of Muhammad, the Ka’aba itself was addressed using a feminine grammatical form.[25] Circumambulation was often performed naked by men and almost naked by women,[26] and linked to ancient fertility rites.[27]

Also of interest, is that reference is not made to the four sides of this cube, but rather to its four corners: Corner of the Black Stone (East), Corner of Yemen (South-West). Corner of Syria (North-West). Corner of Iraq (North-East).

 

For more on what the Jewish/Hebrew God looks like see: Seeing God(s) in Temples, the Heavens, and in Model Shrines: A Problem in Ancient Metaphysics by Ziony Zevit, American Jewish University, Los Angeles and Seymour Gitin Distinguished Professor

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Filed under Angkor, art, Bible, Buddhism, Cambodia, Hebrew, Judaism, Linga, Religion, Torah, travel, Vietnam

the many faces of god and man

Bayon Temple, Angkor, Cambodia

When I walk down a city street, find myself in a crowd, an over-filled subway car or visit a foreign land…. my favorite activity is not people watching, but face watching. There’s nothing like looking at the face of a stranger.

I am drawn to the fact that I have never, and most likely never will again… see that face. I am fascinated by the infinite diversity.  I imagine a story, background and trajectory of each face I view.  If there is a G/god, and if S/he creates every human being then the infinite variation of our face is the only proof I need.

Of all the anthropomorphisms in the Hebrew Bible, the least bothersome to me,  is the first… God’s image .  Twenty six verses into the Bible we hear God say: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness;

נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ

Writes Rashi on the next verse:

And God created man in His image: In the form that was made for him, for everything [else] was created with a command, whereas he [man] was created with the hands (of God), as it is written (Ps. 139:5): “and You placed Your hand upon me.” Man was made with a die, like a coin, which is made by means of a die, which is called coin in Old French. And so Scripture states (Job 38:14): “The die changes like clay.” – [from Letters of Rabbi Akiva , second version; Mid. Ps. 139:5; Sanh. 38a]

ויברא א-להים את האדם בצלמו בדפוס העשוי לו, שהכל נברא במאמר והוא נברא בידים, שנאמר (תהלים קלט ה) ותשת עלי כפכה, נעשה בחותם כמטבע העשויה על ידי רושם שקורין קוי”ן בלע”ז [מטבע] וכן הוא אומר (איוב לח יד) תתהפך כחומר חותם

“in the form that was made for him” literally means with a [printing] press that was [specifically ] made for him [each individual wo/man] or a one-off die.  God’s printing press was the first on-demand digital press where every image was unique.

Although it doesn’t specifically say it, the metaphor of the coin-press conjures up the image of the “heads’ side of the coin.  I have always assumed that what makes each wo/man unique was first and foremost their face.

If Jews have an image of nirvana or dharma where a human achieves oneness with the godhead, it is in Moses who sees God “face to face”.

And the LORD spoke unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. Exodus 33: 11

 וְדִבֶּר ה’ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה פָּנִים אֶל-פָּנִים, כַּאֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר אִישׁ אֶל-רֵעֵהו

The one molten image permitted, nay commanded by Biblical law (Exodus 25: 18) was the two golden cherubimּ facing each other on top of the ark of the covenant…. According to Rashi, the face of the cherubim was the face of an innocent child.

cherubim: Heb. כְּרֻבִים. They had the features of a child. — [from Succah 5]

כרבים דמות פרצוף תינוק להם

That image (דמות) that is referred to relates to the face (פרצוף) of a child.

Similarly, in Ezekiel’s mystical visions of the Chariot of God (see Merkabah mysticism), the first of the four divine “image” that he imagines, is a human face. (Ezekiel 1: 10)

As for the likeness of their faces, they had the face of a man; and they four had the face of a lion on the right side; and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four had also the face of an eagle. Thus were their faces; and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies.

וּדְמוּת פְּנֵיהֶם, פְּנֵי אָדָם, וּפְנֵי אַרְיֵה אֶל-הַיָּמִין לְאַרְבַּעְתָּם, וּפְנֵי-שׁוֹר מֵהַשְּׂמֹאול לְאַרְבַּעְתָּן; וּפְנֵי-נֶשֶׁר, לְאַרְבַּעְתָּן

וּפְנֵיהֶם, וְכַנְפֵיהֶם פְּרֻדוֹת מִלְמָעְלָה:  לְאִישׁ, שְׁתַּיִם חֹבְרוֹת אִישׁ, וּשְׁתַּיִם מְכַסּוֹת, אֵת גְּוִיֹּתֵיהֶנָה

It is in the face that both the mystics and doubters can find God.

As seen in Ezekiel, it was not beyond ancient and classical Jewish thinkers to put an animal’s face on a divine or human being.

After all… the Hebrew word for face “panim” is found only in the plural… no being (divine, human or animal) has only one face.

While the Rabbis of the Mishnah and Talmud did not count years as the Chinese do, with animals, it was not beyond them to characterize a generation or age with the face of an animal.

Characterizing the evil generation that will precede the coming of the messiah, the Rabbis write:

“The face of the generation will be like the face of the dog, the son will not feel ashamed before his father (alt. will not be embarrassed by his father)…” (Mishnah Sotah, 9: 16, Talmud Sotah 49b)

(בן מנוול אב בת קמה באמה כלה בחמותה אויבי איש אנשי ביתו פני הדור כפני הכלב הבן אינו מתבייש מאביו ועל מי יש לנו להשען על אבינו שבשמים” -מסכת סוטה, פרק ט’, משנה ט”ו.

In latter Jewish tradition, it was a new face (פנים חדשות) that is required in order to have the quorum necessary to bless a newlywed couple.

תנו רבנן: “מברכים ברכת חתנים [“שבע ברכות”] בעשרה כל שבעה. אמר רב, והוא שבאו פנים חדשות“.

I’d like to think that a new face could contain within it both the evil of a generation, but also the possibility of the presence of the divine. Like a visitor at a Sukkah or a guest at a meal of thanks, a new face represents a placeholder for the divine presence.…

It was coming form this context that I was able, nay driven to connect to the many faces of god that I have seen in the Far East.  Nowhere was this more powerful than at the Face towers at Bayon temple at Angkor in Cambodia.

The Bayon Temple, constructed in the late 12th – early 13th centuries  stands at the near-exact center of the Angkor Thom complex. Symbolically, it represents the center of the universe, the point at which the worlds of the divine and living intersect.

The decorations in this temple, as in all the other temples at Angkor have undergone significant alterations over its history. The original decoration was Mahayana Buddhist, consistent with the original builder-king’s; Javayarman VII’s beliefs. Decoration was then altered to meet Vaishnavite Hindu religious requirements. As part of this scheme, all of the temple’s Buddhas were converted into rishis (Hindu ascetics) and Shiva lingas. Decorative elements were given a Buddhist makeover in the 16th century to suit the new requirements of Theravada Buddhism, which prevails in Cambodia today. As you might expect, the Buddhists similarly scratched out the rishis and lingas.

The only images that were not touched… were the most striking…

IMG_1746

Nearly 200 faces — up to 1.8 meters (6 feet) tall — grace the towers rising above the Bayon. While most towers hold four faces, oriented toward the cardinal directions…. [ cf  Ezekiel’s Chariot]

 

The positions of these face towers are shown with red highlights; those that are missing or destroyed are shown with white highlights. Their position emphasizes the cardinal four directions.

temple layout

The faces’ decoration and iconography — virtually identical throughout the temple — are minimal, yet there are some distinctive features

IMG_1747

IMG_1748

Open eyes. Unlike many of Jayavarman’s earlier Buddhas who have downward-looking eyes, with lids that cover most of the pupil, the eyes on the Bayon’s faces are wide open and look directly outward.

 

Headband. Interestingly, the ornate floral headband lacks an image of Amitabha, which would have immediately identified the image as being that of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion; this has not stopped the image from being identified as such, however.

Smile. It’s infectious… and cherubic

IMG_1714

 

According to my guide book (which I have quoted extensively and italicized:  Cambodia Revealed: The Temples of Angkor,David Raezer; Jennifer Raezer (2014-08-11) While there is historical precedent for temple towers with images (even faces) pointed in the cardinal directions, there is something that makes Bayon’s face towers entirely unique. Similar four-faced images in other parts of the Hindu-Buddhist world are enclosed within frames, recreating the concept of an all-knowing god in his mountain home, the temple. This changes profoundly at the Bayon: the absence of a frame around the face has a powerful effect of personalizing the structure by blending sculpture with architecture. At the Bayon, the temple is no longer just the residence of the god, but rather the god itself, a god with 200 faces.

IMG_1726

 

 

Perhaps what spared the faces the desecration suffered by other Buddhist icons at the hands of Jayavarman VIII was their enigmatic identity: what might have been viewed as the face of a Buddhist figure under Jayavarman VII (Avalokitesvara or Vairocana) could easily be reassociated with a Hindu figure under Jayavarman VIII (Brahma or Sadashiva).

What has always fascinated me about sculptures and paintings of God and gods is the fact that human models were undoubtedly used.  In the case of the Bayon faces, scholars speculate that the face is perhaps a portrait of the builder-king himself, Jayavarman VII, assuming the form of Avalokitesvara. If this is the correct interpretation, Jayarvarman is positioning himself as the compassionate gateway to the divine.

Man depicts god by depicting man… depicting god…

IMG_1742

The other intriguing aspect of the Bayon is that relief sculptures throughout the temple are exclusively secular in nature with an emphasis on everyday life. There are more scenes depicting everyday life and historical events at the Bayon ; this compares versus a focus on mythological stories, largely from the Hindu epics, at the more famous Angkor Wat.

IMG_1734

 

Of course, the most engaging element of so many of these faces…. is the smile, and that face of Cambodian (Khmer) culture, and their image of the divine, is irrepressible and survives even unto today.IMG_1735

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the jewish cathedral

Shabbat Sukkot

There’s a story of two Hasidic rebbes sitting in a sukkah.  In answer to the question of “what’s your favorite mitzvah?”, one rebbe replied that the Sukkah was his favorite commandment, because when you sit in a sukkah, you are surrounded on all sides by the holiness of the commandment.  The other rebbe preferred the Sabbath.  “You can walk out of a sukkah, but you can’t walk out of the holiness of the Shabbat.” said he.

When hearing this story, I am reminded of Abraham Joshua Heschel ‘s insight that Shabbat is a “cathedral in time”.

The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn, a shrine that even apostasy cannot easily obliterate: the Day of Atonement. According to the ancient rabbis, it is not the observance of the Day of Atonement, but the Day itself, the “essence of the Day,” which, with man’s repentance, atones for the sins of man.

Now what was the first holy object in the history of the world? … “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” There is no reference in the record of creation to any object in space that would be endowed with the quality of holiness.  …. it seems as if to the Bible it is holiness in time, the Sabbath, which comes first.

But here’s my question… what was the response of the first rebbe?  Did he fold his hands and agree that the holiness of time trumps the holiness of things?  And what about our cathedrals, our homes, our homelands and our things… can their holiness transcend or at least engage the holiness of time?

It seems to me that while you can’t walk out of the Sabbath, it’s holiness cannot be sustained indefinitely…. When the stars come out, the sabbath is over.  You can walk out of the sukkah, but it embodies a holiness that can be sustained.. at least through the complete cycle of a week.

During Sukkot, we add a prayer: “May the All Merciful establish (raise) for us the fallen Sukkah of David”

הרחמן הוא יקים לנו את סוכת דוד הנופלת

The notion of the “fallen Sukkah” come from the prophet Amos (9:11)

In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof, and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old;

 בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, אָקִים אֶת-סֻכַּת דָּוִיד הַנֹּפֶלֶת; וְגָדַרְתִּי אֶת-פִּרְצֵיהֶן, וַהֲרִסֹתָיו אָקִים, וּבְנִיתִיהָ, כִּימֵי עוֹלָם

And I wonder whether “the Sukkah that has fallen  סֻכַּת הַנֹּפֶלֶת is best translated as the tabernacle that has fallen, or whether it is the Fallingsukkah.  (compare Frank Loyd Wright’s Fallingwater).  It seems to me that David’s Fallingsukkah is always in flux and engaged in a permanent dialectic between continuity and renewal, sustainability and disruption.  The Jewish Cathedral is a temporary structure, which by definition, can never be permanently destroyed nor can it achieve the stasis of permanence.  The Fallingsukkah informs the way we relate with the world of the physical.  The Fallingsukkah and it’s notion of holiness of things, continues the discussion begun by the notion of the holiness of time that Heschel began.

Ultimately, it is the Fallingsukkah which represents to culmination of theJwish New Year’s penitential season.

From the first day of Ellul until the last day of Sukkot we read Psalm 27 every day.

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to behold the graciousness of the LORD, and to visit early in His temple.  or He concealeth me in His pavilion (lit. Sukkah) in the day of evil;
He hideth me in the covert of His tent; He lifteth me up upon a rock.

אַחַת, שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת-ה’–    אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ
שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית-ה’,    כָּל-יְמֵי חַיַּי;
לַחֲזוֹת בְּנֹעַם-ה’,    וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלו

כִּי יִצְפְּנֵנִי, בְּסֻכֹּה–    בְּיוֹם רָעָה:
יַסְתִּרֵנִי, בְּסֵתֶר אָהֳלוֹ;    בְּצוּר, יְרוֹמְמֵנִי

It would seem that the choice of this Psalmֹ  of David addresses the tension between permanently dwelling in the house of God and being just a transient visitor, the dichotomy of taking refuge upon a rock or in a tent.

Fortunately, one day every sukkot, we get to enjoy both the wonder of the temple built in time and in space… Shabbat Sukkat Shalom

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make-believe Judaism

Parshat behalotcha

If there’s one Jewish holiday and ritual that is rooted in time, it is Passover.  It’s the Festival of Spring that commemorates the night of the Exodus on the 14th of Nisan.  As it says in the Torah (Numbers 9 2-3 :

Let the children of Israel keep the passover in its appointed seasonבְּמוֹעֲדוֹ  . In the fourteenth day of this month, at dusk, ye shall keep it in its appointed season בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַזֶּה …

So it comes as a surprise that of all the ordinances in the Torah, the only one that God offers a second chance at a more convenient time, is Passover.

And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:
‘Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: If any man of you or of your generations shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the passover unto the LORD;
in the second month on the fourteenth day at dusk they shall keep it; they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs;

 וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר.
דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר:  אִישׁ אִישׁ כִּי-יִהְיֶה-טָמֵא לָנֶפֶשׁ אוֹ בְדֶרֶךְ רְחֹקָה לָכֶם, אוֹ לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם, וְעָשָׂה פֶסַח, לַיהוָה.

  בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי בְּאַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר יוֹם, בֵּין הָעַרְבַּיִם–יַעֲשׂוּ אֹתוֹ:  עַל-מַצּוֹת וּמְרֹרִים, יֹאכְלֻהוּ.

This make-up holiday is called Pesach Sheni (The Second Passover) and it intrigues me.

You see, the Passover Seder is the one holiday when we are asked to not only observe, but to re-enact and imagine we are actually experiencing the Exodus.  As the Hagadah says: “In Every Generation One Must Look Upon Himself as if He Personally Has Come Out of Egypt”  Mordecai Kaplan said there are three kind of believers: Believers, Non-Believers and Make-Believers…. at the Traditional Seder, we are all make-believers.

This is why this make-up seder intrigues me so.  In the second month, at the Second Pesach Sheni Seder, we are make-believers who make-believe that we are at a Seder… making believe that we are leaving Egypt!

To be sure… the Rabbis probably had their fill with Jews who make-believe so they did not want to encourage a new movement of Jews who make believe that they make believe so…..  they limited Pesach Sheni to individuals.  (Talmud Pesachim 66b from  אִישׁ אִיש).

There are groups that nonetheless celebrate the Second Passover, the most prominent being the Chabad Hasidim who view the 14th of the month of Iyar as a celebration of second chances.  This is certainly a valuable lesson worth commemorating, but my good friend Frederic Brenner discovered another group who celebrated the dialectic of Pesach Sheni that is less known and embodies a more complex message.

Frederic is currently completing an ambitious project where he invited world renowned photogrpahers to come to Israel for the first time and photograph it.  The project which will begin touring the world is called This Place  and you can read early reviews here. But in his younger years, Frederic traveled the world photographing vanishing Jewish communities and one community he cataloged were a group of isolated Conversos in Portugal.  He published a book called Marranes (in French) and a movie was made based on the book called The Last Marranos Les derniers Marranes.

Despite their deep aversion to the Church, these New Christians who will only choose a mate amongst themselves go to the church and have the local priest marry them publicly after a private secret marriage ceremony. (see: The Last Marranos, Commentary Magazine May 1967 by Anita Novinsky)

Frederic took many pictures of them celebrating Passover which, they celebrated on the 14th of Iyar, Pesach Sheni.

Frederic spent much time with them and even made the aquantance of the local priest who complained that while he liked these people, they should really get themselves a Rabbi.

Needless to say, they did eventually get themselves a traditional Rabbi.

They no longer go to the Priest to get married, no longer light their Shabbat candles in specially designed hidden cabinets, and needless to say, they no longer celebrate Passover a month after the holiday was meant to be celebrated.

This loss of the Pesach Sheni of the last Marranos makes me sad.  Their Pesach sheni was a tribute to the commitment of their predecessors for their heritage, it was an artifact of God’s commitment to give second chances and it showed the radical ability we humans have to survive, persevere and to make believe that we can make believe.

morranos 3 morranos 1 morranos 2

 

——————-

In 1985,1 visited one of their villages a month after the Jewish Passover. The timing was intentional. They don’t know the Hebrew calendar, but they know that Passover falls 14 days after the new moon in March, which is approximately the
start of the Jewish month of Nissan. As part of the tradition meant to fool the spies of the Inquisition, they postpone the holiday until what Jews call “Pessah Sheni” – one month later. Therefore I knew that it was Passover for them now.
Passover being their most sacred and secret ritual, I had always been asked not to come at that time of the year. From the moment we arrived we felt that we weren’t being received in the usual manner. People avoided us. Even my best friends weren’t inviting us to visit them. Knocking at their doors, we were not asked in. They apologized and asked us to come back at a different time. From the door we saw the women of the house – busy cleaning the floor. From Passover with the Anussim in Portugal, By ©Inacio Steinhardt, Saturday, May 21, 2005

Picture of famed photographer Frederic Brenner reading Madlik blog

Picture of famed photographer Frederic Brenner reading Madlik blog

 

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Amy Sillman and the Shulchan Aruch

Jewish thought bubbles

I had the pleasure of viewing Amy Sillman: one lump or two, the current exhibit at ICA; THE INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ART/BOSTON.

I was particularly intrigued by her Seating Charts.

Amy Sillman seating combo 1

Amy Sillman Seating Charts 2006 and 2011

Sebastian Smee writes in a review in The Boston Globe:

In the process of introducing us to her talents in gouache, watercolor, oil paint, and iPhone app, the show’s first two rooms contain several examples of an ongoing series called “Seating Charts.” Mordant excoriations of social life in New York’s art world, these text-heavy diagrams spell out the kinds of silent assessment we all instinctively make in the social arena.

One person is identified, for instance, as “Frustrated artist who still has her beautiful looks but who also has financial problems that keep her up at night. She can’t reconcile her beauty with her difficult row to hoe.” Another is summed up more bluntly: “Guy who’s really a fraud and just there to suck up to the curator at the next table (keeps looking over . . . ).”

Another “Seating Chart,” this one describing guests at a benefit dinner, is pithier still: “Strange rich woman with snazzy wardrobe and frizzy hair.” “Money guy — can’t wait to leave – keeps checking time — can’t remember if he fed the dog.” And “Plus one — only here by accident.”

The humor is sharp. But it goes beyond humor into a kind of pathos that runs all through Sillman’s work: the pathos of being unable to transpose our own thought bubbles into social life; the fraudulent feeling of having to operate continuously in two registers.

The reviewer hits the mark as to how these works relate to Sillman’s oeuvre, humor and artistic contribution.  But since Art is about what the viewer brings to the table (forgive the pun) I can be excused for viewing these works through a more Talmudic lens…

Amy Sillman seating combo 2

Amy Sillman, Seating Plan 2009

Amy Sillman Seating Chart, 2009       Babylonian Talmud, Vilna Edition

Or if you draw and study Talmud outside of the lines……

Amy Sillman, Untitled (seating chart), 2009   GStern Talmud glosses 1970's

Amy Sillman, Untitled (seating chart), 2009       G Stern gloss on Talmud 1970’s

I am not the first to compare Jewish Law to dinnerware, in fact the preeminent code of Jewish law was called The Shulchan Aruch (Hebrew: שׁוּלחָן עָרוּך‎, literally: “Set Table”) authored in Safed by Sefardic scholar Yosef Karo in 1563.   Ashkenazi Jews follow rulings of Moses Isserles whose glosses to the Shulchan Aruch are widely referred to as the mappah (literally: the “tablecloth”).  Commentaries on the work include Peri Chadash (“New Fruit”) and Megadim (“Dainty Fruit”) culminating in the early 20th century work  Aruch HaShulchan (Hebrew: ערוך השולחן) (“the table is set”)  which attempts to remaster the original recipes of the overly processed rulings of the Shulchan Arukh and identify their sources.

With all the wonderful mixed metaphors of tables, fancy cloths and sweet fruits, there’s a bitter irony here.

Remember: Jewish Law was to be a vibrant and dynamic oral law.  It should come as no surprise that Karo himself had no very high opinion of his work, remarking that he had written it chiefly for “young students” (Shulchan Aruch, Introduction).  Karo wrote the Shulchan Aruch for the benefit of those who did not possess the education necessary to understand the earlier works that included multiple rulings, opinions and ambiguity.  We should be thankful that Karo had not lived to see the Sparknotes version of his work; The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Hebrew: קיצור שולחן ערוך, “The Abbreviated Shulchan Aruch“.

Today, like every day for the next 6 1/2 years, literary critic Adam Kirsch is reading a page of Talmud, along with Jews around the world and trying to make some sense of it weekly in Tablet : Close Encounters With Talmud.  It’a a heroic task, but as anyone who has tried to swim in the sea of Talmud will admit, our oral law, committed to writing, like Amy Sillman’s Seating Charts, are tortured endeavors full of the pathos of being unable to transpose our own cultural and religious thought bubbles into social life…

So why bother?  Why does Amy still go to these meetings, dinners and receptions?  Why do we still study these texts? I guess it’s like the Woody Allen joke “you know, a guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says, hey doc, my brother’s crazy! He thinks he’s a chicken. Then the doc says, why don’t you turn him in? Then the guy says, I would but I need the eggs.”

If Amy doesn’t lunch with these choice specimens of social life in New York’s art world… What’s she going to draw about?  If we don’t (hopefully) discuss the competing and contradictory texts and ideas of our religious and cultural heritage over the shabbat and holiday table ….  What will become of us?

Be honest… What are the alternatives? Schlepping our thought bubbles around with us on a ball and chain like a prisoner in solitary?

Amy Sillman Me & Ugly Montain 2003

Amy Sillman Me & Ugly Montain 2003

note: Want to read madlik on  parshat lech lecha? please click here:  walking without pretext.

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