Category Archives: Chosen People

Scapegoating

parshat achrei mot – leviticus 16

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

 

Adam Mintz  04:50

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  05:43

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

 

Adam Mintz  07:23

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  08:45

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

 

Adam Mintz  10:38

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  12:22

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

 

Adam Mintz  15:35

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  17:00

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

 

Adam Mintz  19:51

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  21:36

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

 

Adam Mintz  24:59

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  26:21

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

 

Adam Mintz  29:56

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  30:24

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

 

Henry Feurstein  30:48

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  31:23

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

 

Henry Feurstein  33:22

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  33:50

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

 

Henry Feurstein  34:37

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  34:58

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

 

35:01

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  35:18

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

 

Henry Feurstein  35:26

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  35:45

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

 

Henry Feurstein  37:56

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  38:22

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

 

39:48

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  39:55

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

 

Henry Feurstein  40:15

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  40:18

yes

 

Henry Feurstein  40:19

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  40:30

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

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Why Blue and White?

parshat Tetzaveh (exodus 27-30)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse recorded on February 10th for a new episode of Madlik Disruptive Torah. We explore the Torah’s preeminent use of a hue of blue called Tekhelet in the construction of the Tabernacle and in the Priestly garb. This rare and dear dye; extracted from a non-kosher mollusk, was also used on the four-cornered tallit of every simple Jew.

Sefaria source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/383005

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and share it as a Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Today we’ll explore the Torah’s preeminent use of a hue of blue, called Techelet in the construction of the tabernacle, and in the priestly garb. This rare and dear die extracted from a non-kosher mollusk was also used on the four corner tallit of every simple Jew. So get ready to decorate and take out your color strips as we ask, why blue and white? Well, welcome I think last week, I said stay-tuned for a fashion edition, maybe it’s going to be more like the Pantone Edition or the pick your color for your wall edition. But in any case, here we are, we’re starting to decorate our tabernacle.

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Last week, we we had a lively discussion about why after saying build me a temple, God said the "veshachanti b'Tocham" and I will live in them. And over the week I've been thinking about it. And I started to think that you know, maybe it foreshadowed a time already when you built the temple, when you built the Mishkan, the tabernacle, that you wouldn't have it. And I think that foreshadowing thought is going to come through a little bit in our discussion of the emergence and history of this wonderful hue of blue, called "techelet", how it starts, and how from the way it starts, and its history, it foreshadows its later development. So we are in Exodus 26. And I am just going to pick those verses that mentioned our color and you'll see that I'm not really looking for a needle in a haystack. This the halo this blue is actually featured throughout and grows with importance. So in Exodus 26:1 it says "As for the tabernacle, make it of 10 strips of cloth, make these a fine twisted linen of blue, purple and crimson yards "techelt v'argamaon v'tolaat shani" and then in Exodus 26, it says "make loops of blue wool on the edge of the outermost cloth of the one set and do likewise on the edge of the outermost" so at first it's mentioned amongst another palette of different colors. And now all of a sudden, it's the edging color. In Exodus 26: 31 It says "you shall make a curtain of blue" "perochet techelet" Those of you who know about synagogue architecture know what a "perochet" is. It is the frontal canopy in front of the holiest place in the synagogue. So you shall make a curtain of blue purple and crimson yards and find twisted linen. it shall have a design of cheruvim worked into it. In 26: 36 It says "you shall make a screen for the entrance of the tent "petach ha'ochel" , "and it shall be blue, purple and crimson yarns". So blue is being featured regularly. And in fact if you look into the notes, I actually have some illustrations from a wonderful book called The Tabernacle, its structure and utensils. And the figure of elements of the perochet are actually the cheruvim themselves are in blue. In Exodus 28: 31 It says, "You are to make the tunic for the efod completely of this blue "Kalil Techelet" And of course, the "ephod" was almost a a royal garment a smock. It looked almost like an apron. So it was frontally, it's what you saw when you saw the high priest. In Exodus 28: 36. It says, "You shall make a frontlit"  this "tzitz"s on the pure gold and this is of course what the Cohen wore on his forehead and it was made of gold and engrave on it the seal of God suspended on a cord of blue, a "petil techelet" so that it should remain on the headrest. So if you stop to actually visualize this use of blue, it is, I would say, the pre-eminent color. I'd love to know what you think, Rabbi, but certainly when you look frontally at the Cohen, it's the smock. It's what he's wearing. And it's that golden name of God that sits on his forehead is tied with these "Patil techelt". So are you struck as I am by this use of this? This blue?

 

Adam Mintz  05:34

Yes, I am. And obviously, the blue is also in the talit. So it goes beyond the priests. But there's no question that blue, this blue, this techelet is the most significant color, not only in the Cohen's clothing, but I would say in the entireTorah, if you were to ask me, what is the color of the Torah, I would tell you the color of the Torah is techelet.

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:00

So the official color of the Torah of the Israelites, of the Jewish people, becomes blue. And you've already begun our journey because you referenced thetalit.  In numbers 15. It says and we say this every day as the third paragraph of the Shema. "And Hashem said to Moses as follows speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garment, "v'asu lachemtzitzit al konfei bigdeyhem" throughout the ages. Let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. "al tzitit hakanaf p'til techelet"  there shall be for you a frimge, look at it and recall all the commandments of God and observe them so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments, and to be holy to God, I got am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God. I am God." So So that's almost Is it a fast forwarding? Is it a similar parallel to what we had last week where we're this direct connection between what happened institutionally in a tabernacle? And what happens to individual Jews? I was kind of struck by that. Do you think there's any anything there?

 

Adam Mintz  07:35

I wonder. And, you know, what's the connection? Well, first of all, let's say like this, there clearly is a connection between the talit and the clothing of the Cohen. Because they're both clothing, you have to remember, this is an important thing to remember, we wear the elite as a special garments, we wear it over our clothing. That's not what the Torah has in mind, when it talks about a talit. When the Torah talks about a talit, it means that they used to wear these kaftans. And the kaftans had four corners. And they used to put tzitzit on the bottom of the kaftans. So it actually was their clothing. So there actually is a much closer connection between the description of the techelt in the talit, and the clothing of the Cohen.

 

Geoffrey Stern  08:31

Absolutely. And forgive the pun, there's a thread that connects what happened in the tabernacle in terms of the the aesthetics and aesthetic choice of color for the edifice itself, for the wearing of the high priest. And the way that a simple any-Jew could wear. In in a sense, we're going over some familiar territory for those of you who have been with us, for the past year, we had a fashion episode where we talked about Korach who led a rebellion against God. And his argument, according to the rabbinic sources, was that he was wearing a tallit, she'kulo techelet.  and according to the Midrash, he didn't just bring an argument, he actually showed up with a bunch of Kohanim. And they were wearing this garment that was fully techelet. What I was struck by as I read this, and I considered what the ephod actually was, was that was actually very close to the garb that we are describing right now. If you looked at the Cohen, the predominant color would be this techelet. So So in a sense, again, maybe foreshadowing a later time, but at the time that this was written, the Kohanim were set aside by wearing this blue. And if anything, the thread on the corners of the talit, kind of reflected the total effect, if you will, the total look, the total fashion. But you can't get away from the fact that there has to be a connection, this is the first time that techelet to my mind is actually mentioned in the Torah, and it's mentioned with regard to the tabernacle. And here, every Jew later on is commanded to simulate that in some regard. And I think that's kind of a powerful, a powerful message.

 

Adam Mintz  10:58

I would agree with that. Let's think about the techelet. Do you think the fact that it's blue is significant? Like it could be any color, and in Torah, this week, there are other colors? Why is blue such an important color? So I'll tell you what the Midrash says, The Midrash says that when you look at the blue, on the talit, you're supposed to think of the sea. When you think of the sea, then you're supposed the blue of the sea, then you're supposed to think of the blue of the heavens. And that reminds you of God. So the blue is actually a color that reminds you of God. It's a little indirect, but it reminds you of God. Isn't that interesting?

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:45

I think it is. And of course, if you add to that, that the techelet itself comes according tradition, from a dye, we'll get into the history of the dye in a few minutes. But from a mollusk, which is in the sea. So form follows function type of thing. You look at the blue, it inspires you to think both by way of its origins, and its color of the sea, then the sky, the firmament, and then God. And those are great associations. Those associations are in the Talmud, in the rabbinic literature. I think if you were to ask me reading the text itself, what the association is, I would put it into the context of everything else that's in our Parsha, which is very rare materials, beautifully selected stones that create this Orim v'Tumim, the very best, the hidur of the of the thing, and I would add, and this will come up in our discussion are very dear in the sense of very rare, very expensive, very exclusive by the laws of supply and demand, hard to come by. And so I think there's also if you look at, for instance, the word ephod, this this smock that I was describing, that was won by King David, and by King Solomon, these were royal garments. And to me the most, I would say, straightforward association, is in exclusivity, something that is of a very, very high value, hard to come by. Do you think there's any merit to that as opposed to the associative thinking of what it reminds one of?

 

Adam Mintz  13:49

Good, I think that there is absolutely something to be said for that. Now, it's interesting when you think about supply and demand, Geoffrey, where did they get this mouse from? In the desert? How do they have the color of techelet in the desert?

 

Geoffrey Stern  14:07

Well, you know, I wasn't in your synagogue last week, so I didn't hear your sermon. But if I recall, you were going to talk about how many of the materials by tradition, rabbinic tradition for the Mishkan were brought with the Jews down into Egypt and I and I added to that, that there was a much talk about when the Jews left Egypt, they were given riches that worked for them and against them when it came to the golden calf. They all seem to have jewelry to contribute, but it is an issue and you know, those who would question how this could have been done in the in the desert, either you believe in miracles or you don't so I do think it's a good question. And obviously part of that is a mollusk comes from the sea and here they are in a desert that makes it a little bit more challenging,

 

Adam Mintz  15:00

Right that's why I asked specifically here is because the mollusk comes from the sea. And here they are in the desert,

 

Geoffrey Stern  15:07

No question about it. And again, I think that whether it's the tabernacle, the Mishkan or the temple, you know, one can can make many cases that there is a foreshadowing of what would become a Mishkan or what was to be a Mishkann. But I think that, you know, it comes down to, to belief and perspective. But I think if you get over that, there is no question that the the Kohanim in the tradition of giving honor to God and building cathedrals, and a beautiful edifices, were decked out in the best, and that there's no question that techelet to me, has a level of royal blue to it. And that comes out, I think, a little bit in in coax argument as well, where he's looking for authority, he's looking for exclusive power grabbing, so to speak. So I think from that perspective, it becomes fascinating. If one traces the history of the use of techelet directly from being used by a Cohen Gadol or high priest, and then ultimately, being part of, it even with a thread of a pushiter yid, so to speak of the simple Jew

 

Adam Mintz  16:35

That reminded me, you said royal blue, and I thought to myself, Where does royal blue come from? And let me read you from Wikipedia. Royal Blue is a deep and vivid shade of blue. It is said to have been created by clothiers in road, Somerset, a consortium of who won a competition to make a dress for Queen Charlotte concert of King Charles the third. So isn't that interesting? I mean, even in England, there was significance to blue as being the royal color.

 

Geoffrey Stern  17:13

But absolutely, and in some of the readings that I've gone through this week, you know, there was talk about during the Roman period already, only the Caesar was allowed even to wear it. So one cannot help. But think of Exodus 19, "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation", that ultimately, this seamless transition from the Cohen wearing techelet, the tabernacle, the temple of God, being really accented heavily in techelet and then the simple Jew having that techelet, it seems to me overwhelming that the message is that you are a kingdom of priests in us in a sense. And that to me is you know, is very similar, like I said, from the beginning to the message that we might have taken last week, which is God says build the temple, but I'm going to live in each one of you.

 

Adam Mintz  18:13

Right, I think that's beautiful. And of course, that relates to the fact that it's not only the Cohen, but it's also in the tallit. So we are a kingdom of priests. And therefore it starts with the priests. And then it goes to each and every one of us. It's such a nice idea, right? In fact, it flows so beautifully.

 

Geoffrey Stern  18:32

It flows and you could say it's hermeneutics and Parshanut and giving drash. But the truth is, that the temple the tabernacle did not last. Techelet as a part of a temple and part of a priestly culture did not last. The remnant of it was in that thread. And so it's less of a commentary but yes, I know when you look at it, you're supposed to remember the sea and the firmament and then God, but you can't help but also remember the rich history of it in the Torah itself, and that that history carries on in each Jew. And I don't think that's hermeneutics. I think that's actually what it really mean. It was a material a material signification in a sense, and that is kind of fascinating.

 

Adam Mintz  19:29

You know, it's also interesting that for centuries, the techelet was lost, you know that right? We didn't have techelet. About 25 years ago, there were two people students of Rabbi Riskin in Efrat, who actually went diving in the sea off of Haifa, and they found what they claim to be Techelet. And today you can actually buy a tallit with techelet.

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:00

So, you again, you, you're pushing us forward rabbi, I love it. We're going forward in the history of this. I wouldn't say idea but a color. And yes, the Talmud does say that in the Midrash, Tanchuma it says that when there was real blue, but now we only have white because the blue has been hidden Shehatechelet nignaz,. I always thought that it was obviously something that was extinct. And I always loved the concept of we are guardians of God's world. And if we don't take care of it, not only can we lose a species, we can lose a commandment. I mean, that's a big deal. When one of the 613 commandments, you can't fulfill it anymore. So so I always think there's a lesson there. And I was at the the I was at the aquarium and like any aquarium in any museum in Israel doing Hol Hamoed Hasidim come and everybody comes. And I said, you have to have a whole area of this on techelet, because it's some it's an aspect of Judaism that is connected to the world that we are the guardians of. So there's a whole separate mission there. But again, it's it's related. Because just as the temple was lost, just as the Mishkan was lost, just as the Kohanim were last so the mollusk was lost. And I almost regret the fact that we quote unquote, have refound it, because looking at the simple white tallit, it reminds you as much of what is there as what is not there. And I think that's a beautiful message as well. But you're correct, that this is an area where science impacts Judaism, discovery, academics, it's it's fascinating. It's a beautiful, beautiful narrative of an arc of history, so to speak. One other aspect of how it quote unquote, was hidden, was that because it was very expensive. On the one hand, it's a wonderful lesson, that even though it's expensive, even though it's quote, unquote, royal blue, every Jew can have it. But at the end of the day, when the rubber hits the road, it's expensive. And what that meant was it created a situation for fake techelet. I mentioned this a little bit when we discuss Korach. But Yigal Yadin in a book on Bar Kochba was excavating a cave, and he found balls of wool that were blue. And he says, Wow, this is amazing. Not only have I found tephilin, but I also found techelet and it was clear that the Zealots were keeping all of these commandments. And then he sent it to a lab. And the lab came back. And this is all in his footnotes. This is a general and archaeologist, but He's tying it all into the Talmud. He says it was clear that this was not techelet. It was false techelet and that probably the Zealots were duped along with many other Jews in buying this from incorrect sources. And in the source sheet, I have places in the Talmud where it talks about this. But ultimately, it is very possible that the rabbi's, in order to stop corruption and to snuff out these black markets for fake techelet, said, there's no mitzvah. And that's an amazing lesson to take from this color. And again, it's the absence of the color that teaches this. But it is an amazing lesson.

 

Adam Mintz  23:58

That is an amazing lesson. That's right. I mean, let's just take a step back, the fact that the Talmud knows about fake Techelet so that kind of points to your idea that it was expensive. And it was special, right? Because you only make you only make replicas of things that are worth it, right? You only make replicas of things from Tiffany's right things that are really worth it. So, so techelet, obviously was something that was very, very special. And it's also interesting that it shows how important that was how important people you know that people could be duped you know, people aren't duped for just anything people are duped for things they want. And what they wanted was techelet because that was the royal color.

 

Geoffrey Stern  24:46

Yes. So that is definitely a fascinating aspect. So I want to get back to the verses that we talked about at the beginning when we were describing the fashion so to speak, and it says V'asita Tzitz" That you should make this frontlet. And then it talked about a petil techelet a chord of blue. And those two words also are pregnant with with fascinating meaning in history. So tzitz can mean wings. In Jeremiah, it says, tnu tzitz lmoav, give wings to Moab. And of course those who know about that the Hebrew for the commandment of the Tzitziot, it's on kenaf, the corners, but kanafayim is wings as well.

 

Adam Mintz  25:35

But what does it mean in this week's parsha?

 

Geoffrey Stern  25:45

So in this week's Parsha, it means vasita tzits zahav tahor, you shall make a frontlet Everett Fox says, "a flower or a gleaming, perhaps alluding to it shining quality, or its shape of some kind" on his forehead. Very similar to maybe where tephilin is.

 

Adam Mintz  26:09

I always thought that the tzitz was a funny thing. Can you imagine wearing a gold flower on your forehead?

 

Geoffrey Stern  26:18

Well, I mean, again, it's very similar to tephilin. And it's very similar to the headdress and the helmet that the Egyptians and maybe Sumerians wore with the Egyptians it has this snake coming out. But maybe it's the third eye. The forehead seems to be a place where there was embellishments, Kamiot, magical things. So yes, to us, it's probably strange. But I think too, it's a frontlet. It's, it's, you know, it's not your license plate in the back. It's it's the way you go forward.

 

Adam Mintz  27:01

If you look at the picture, the picture of the tzitz seems to be very narrow. So it may be it's like ephilin. Maybe they have the same idea that he you know, it's kind of just the more elaborate type of tephilin made out of gold.

 

Geoffrey Stern  27:18

No, no, no argument there, for sure. But since has another meaning as well, in Numbers 17. It says "the next day Moses entered the tent of the pact and there with a staff of our end of the house of Lavie had sprouted, it had brought forth sprouts produced blossoms and born almonds." So this was a particular situation. But there it talks about "Vayatzetz tzitz" produced blossoms. So we have the first image is one of soaring of wings of something that's shiny and translucent. And then we have this other aspect of tzitz as a blossom of life. And these, of course, you can't ignore the connection between tzitz and tzitziot. As a sprout from the four corners of the garment. So we're playing with language, again, how that commandment of tzitziot for the the civilian Jew, if you will, connected with many of these concepts that we see regarding the priestly garments. And that, to me is fascinating and kind of exciting.

 

Adam Mintz  28:43

That is really exciting. It's interesting, because you start with something as kind of mundane as the color doesn't sound like it's gonna be interesting. But there's so much richness in trying to figure out the color that it really brings the whole thing to life. And it really adds a different element. Usually when you learn Tezaveh, you talk about the different articles of clothing, the things themselves, but thinking about the colors is really so much more striking, because that's actually what people saw. What they wee struck by.

 

Geoffrey Stern  29:14

Well absolutely, We're getting towards the end of our half hour. And the subject of tonight was why blue and white. And we've talked a lot about the blue. We've even talked about the white where the rabbis said once the Blue was hidden, it's all white. But I as you know, and you could probably sense when I quoted Yigal Yadin, the general and the archaeologist who knew his Talmud, somehow the Zionists as secular as they were, understood this message, all the messages that we've talked about tonight, and when they picked the colors for the flag of Israel, which really If you think about it looks like that talit...  it has those blue stripes on it you call them a tzitz. When Rabbi Hertzog made the prayer for the State of Israel. And in it he played with that this idea that we say three times a day when we when we pray, and we talk about umatzmiach yeshoua...  that deliverance should sprout. I just love that word that you know deliverance, you can say could explode, it could come out but that deliverance should sprout, is amazing to me. And of course, he said Reshit tzemiachat geulatanu. He took the same concept. So we really, we've taken the history of a simple color and traced it through the ancient texts all the way to modern day Israel. And it's an inspiration hopefully to us all. May you glow in the shine of the techelit this Shabbat and join us next week. What do we have next week Rabbi?

 

Adam Mintz  31:17

Next week we have the sin of the golden calf there's so much next week wow, You know the breaking of the of the tablets and the sin of the golden calf. We're gonna be busy all week preparing for next week.

 

Geoffrey Stern  31:28

I can't wait Sabbats alone to everybody and have a great Shabbat and see you all next week.

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Is Judaism Exclusive or Inclusive?

parshat yitro (exodus 18)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on January 20th 2022 as we discuss the Torah portion that includes the Ten Commandments but is named after a non-Jewish priest. A priest who blesses God, successfully offers sacrifices, shares a sacred meal and, with God’s sanction, establishes institutions of jurisprudence for the Jewish People. For a religion that is known for exclusivism, we use this realization to explore inclusive and exclusive tendencies in Jewish tradition.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/377219

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:03

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. And this week along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we discuss the Torah portion that includes the Ten Commandments, but is named after a non Jewish priest named Jethro. For a religion that is known for exclusivism, we use Jethro’s contribution and top billing to explore inclusivism universalism and pluralism in Jewish tradition. So come listen to a story about a man named Jethro, as we ponder the question, is Judaism exclusive or inclusive?

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Geoffrey Stern  00:55

Well, welcome to Madlik. Another week of Madlik disruptive Torah. And this week, wow, do we have a great portion, a great parsha ... it is the portion that includes, as I said in the intro, the Ten Commandments, but it's named after Moses' father in law, who was a priest of Midian named a Jethro. So we are going to focus right on the beginning of the Parsha, something that we don't normally do. And I'm just going to dive into it. And as we do, we'll explore some fascinating insights. So in exodus 18: 1 it says 1) Jethro priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel His people, how the LORD had brought Israel out from Egypt. And then it goes on to say:   (6) He sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you, with your wife and her two sons.” (7) Moses went out to meet his father-in-law; he bowed low and kissed him; each asked after the other’s welfare, and they went into the tent. (8) Moses then recounted to his father-in-law everything that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardships that had befallen them on the way, and how the LORD had delivered them. (9) And Jethro rejoiced over all the kindness that the LORD had shown Israel when He delivered them from the Egyptians. - And he did something very Jewish, he made a blessing. - (10) “Blessed be the LORD,” Jethro said, “who delivered you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh, and who delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. (11) Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods, yes, by the result of their very schemes against [the people].”-c (12) And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices for God; - So in the Hebrew it says, עֹלָ֥ה וּזְבָחִ֖ים לֵֽאלֹקִ֑ים "he brought Oleh u'zevachim l'elohim"  - and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to partake of the meal before God with Moses’ father-in-law. (13) Next day, Moses sat as magistrate among the people, while the people stood about Moses from morning until evening. (14) But when Moses’ father-in-law saw how much he had to do for the people, -  Now he does something that's really Jewish, he starts giving advice. - he said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone, while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” (15) Moses replied to his father-in-law, “It is because the people come to me to inquire of God. (16) When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I decide between one person and another, and I make known the laws and teachings of God.” (17) But Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not right; (18) you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. (19) Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You represent the people before God: you bring the disputes before God, (20) and enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings, and make known to them the way they are to go and the practices they are to follow. (21) You shall also seek out from among all the people capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens,  (22) and let them judge the people at all times. Have them bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute themselves. Make it easier for yourself by letting them share the burden with you. (23) If you do this—and God so commands you—you will be able to bear up; and all these people too will go home unwearied.” - And he basically set up the laws of jurisprudence that until today are followed in, in Judaism of Beth din and a Sanhedrin of setting up how do you resolve the law and how do you define the law -  (24) Moses heeded his father-in-law and did just as he had said. And he basically set up the laws of jurisprudence that until today are followed in, in Judaism of Beth din and a Sanhedrin of setting up how do you resolve the law and how do you define the law? And he said at the end, if you do this, and come and God so commands you, you will be able to bear up and all these people to will go home unwearied Moses, he did his father in law, and did just as he had said."  So here we have this priest from Midian, a non-Jew who comes to Moses, and first of all, he gives a blessing. He gives a bracha. Then he offers a sacrifices. He brings an Ola and zevachim. And then He gives advice, which he says was sanctioned by God. And Moses listens to him. So you know, so many times when people talk about this, they focus on the last part, that he gave this sage advice, this wisdom advice about setting up the courts. And I think they miss the fact that he makes a blessing. And I think they miss the fact that he brings a sacrifice and the words that are used for that sacrifice are exactly the words that are used in the later Israelite tradition of bringing a sacrifice. And then yes, he does give a legal ruling that is sanctioned by God. So Rabbi, what do you make of this? Is this as unique and as fascinating to you as it is to me?

Adam Mintz  06:02

It is, and I'm going to echo your questions, and I'm going to raise you one. And that is, last week, we read about the splitting of the sea. This week, we read about the giving of the Torah, of the 10 commandments on Mount Sinai, you would expect that the story in the middle would be something that would be tremendously uplifting. And instead, it's a story about Moses getting advice from his father in law. And it's not even clear that Moses does anything wrong. And he gets advice from his father in law. And the question is, what is this story about? And why is it placed right before the giving of the Torah? And I would just throw an idea out, which will kind of begin our discussion of your questions. Maybe the story is here to teach us about what Moses is like. Maybe the real question in this week's Torah reading is, who is this Moses who deserve that the Torah, the 10 commandments should be given to him? What has done? He followed God, he went to Pharaoh, but who is he? And you know what we learn about him, we learn about him that his father in law's upset, because he sits and he listens to the people from the morning until the evening. That's pretty amazing. When you think about it, you know, that was his crime. That he was totally committed to the people from the morning to the evening. Maybe the story is not a story about Jethro. Maybe the story is a story about Moshe to tell us that you know what, he is the right person to receive the Torah, the Ten Commandments, because he's someone who really cares about the people. He sits with the people from morning until night.

Geoffrey Stern  07:58

So I love that you've kind of personalized it. We all know that Moses is humble. And there are many situations where one wonders where that attribute comes from, because we know he has an anger management issue. He gets angry very easily. But where's the humility? We've already come across it in the burning bush, where he says, Why pick me. But I think you're absolutely right, that this humility of the man and why maybe the man was chosen comes through. And it does take humility, to listen to advice from other people. But I think that we can focus on the Moses, but we can also focus on the bigger picture. Because as you say, why was it put here? Why was it put literally, before the Torah is given? Why are we exposed to the fact that here is another religious figure who comes and gives blessings? Who comes and give sacrifices? And who comes and can speak in the name of the Lord and say, This is not right, what you're doing. And I and I do think it's fascinating. Well, so and maybe we'll come and address this at another time. The reason that he gives is fascinating because he says it's not sustainable. He doesn't say what you're doing is wrong. He just says that it's not realistic, you'll burn yourself out. But getting back to why it features right before we get to the giving of the Torah. I think all of us know the Midrashim that talk about why was the Torah actually given where it was given at Sinai and we probably also know that the reasons that it was given in the desert and not in the land of Israel was because it was on neutral ground, so to speak. It was not in any particular country, or nationality. And I think that has to be a little bit of what factors into this discussion. We all know the wonderful Midrashim that says that God went to all the nations of the world. And that is why He gave the Torah at Sinai in Sifrei Devarim it says, "And the Lord came from Sinai, when the Lord appeared to give Torah to Israel, it is not to Israel alone that he appeared, but to all the nations." And I think this concept or this introduction of talking to a Jethro, it kind of plays with both this idea of humility, both on a personal level of Moses, but also on a national level, it takes a level of humility, to say that the truths or the revelation that you're going to be receiving not only belongs to you, but belongs to everyone. And conversely, not only comes from your wisdom, but comes from the universal wisdom of all humanity. So I'm kind of taking your point, and I'm almost expanding it. I'm taking Moses as a person, and Moses as a personification. Does that resonate with you at all?

Adam Mintz  11:53

I like it, I like it. So I was emphasizing Moses as a person, and you're talking about Moses as a personification. But both are important, because if we're going to appreciate why the Ten Commandments are given to Moses, and this is always interesting, they're given to Moses as a person, and Moses as a personification. And Moses is actually... and this is also has to do with the Jethro story... you almost get a sense that Moses is like the two train tracks at the 72nd Street subway station, you have the express, and you have the local. On one hand, you have Moses as the leader of the people, the one who talks to God, the one who seems to literally be living in heaven, that's the express train. But then you have the slower train, that's Moses as a person. And you know, Moses doesn't necessarily do so well that way. Because Moses, you know, he seems to be separated from his wife and children, because it says that Jethro brings his wife and children.  You know, we don't hear very much about Moses, his interaction to 40 years in the desert with his wife. So we're not sure how Moses does as a person. But here we have an insight. And while he may not be so good with his own family, but he's very, very good. As, we might call a shul rabbi, be someone who cares about the people from morning to night. And that's something that's also very important. So that the Ten Commandments are given given to Moses, on the express track, and given to Moses on the local track.

Geoffrey Stern  13:32

So you know, I think when we read the Torah, each one of us brings a little bit of their own personality. And I love the fact that as a pulpit rabbi, you deal with the most lifelong challenge of anyone who serves the community, not only in clergy, but in any facet of life, this this, this tension between serving man as a whole, and then wonder about your family and your children and your wife. And I love that there. But there is a tension here. And I think that to just jump in and say, yes, the reason why the Bible brings this little story of the pagan priest who has an effect on Moses right before the giving of the Torah is such a universalistic message and ties into this concept that the Torah was given in the desert and belongs to everybody. We could fall into the trap and say that this is such an easy thought. It's such an easy read. But I'd like to play the devil's advocate a little bit and talk about how the classical commentaries looked at this, to kind of give us a fact check that we are looking at this in the right way. So the Ramban Nachmanidies, who we came across a little bit last week, brings the the midrashic interpretation. And he says that this could be in sequence. It could be that this happened before the giving of the Torah. But he says it's also possible to explain "that scripture arranged the entire narrative of Jethro, even though the particular event occurred after he stayed with the Israelites a long time, and in the meantime, became converted through circumcision immersion, and the sprinkling of the blood of a sacrifice according to Jewish law." So here, Ramban, Nachmanidies is echoing what's in the Midrashim. And it's this big discussion of number one did Jethro ever convert? And if he did convert, when did this story happen? We all know there's a concept in biblical hermeneutics, and it says "Eyn Mukdam u'meucha b'Torah" , that there's no time frame within the biblical narrative, that you can have flashbacks, you don't necessarily have to render the events in the chronology that they happened, you can have some sort of literary and poetic license. And there are many within the classical biblical commentators, and the Midrashim who have a really hard time in accepting that Jethro, when he said these things, was not Jewish. It was very hard for them to accept that something as basic as how jurisprudence is set up could have come from a non-Jew, it's very hard for them to accept that non-Jews could give zevachim v'olot; sacrifices, as we Jews do. It's hard for them to accept that a non-Jew could bless God. And I think it's important to recognize this challenge that they have, because it gives more credence to the fact that if you take the opinion, which they all cite, that this was in chronological order, how revolutionary, how radical it was, and I don't want to dilute that in terms of looking at a religious - biblical text and saying matter of factly. Yeah, they were open to suggestions from a non Jew, and more importantly, that they were open and understood and gave value to religious experiences outside of Judaism.

Adam Mintz  18:01

Wow, that's a lot there. First, let's talk about whether Jethro was Jewish, and whether it mattered whether Jethro was Jewish. I mean, when you talk about who's Jewish, look at Avraham Yitzchok and Taakov. who did they marry? They didn't marry Jews. What made them Jewish? The answer is that they marry Jews, so they became Jewish. And that's probably what happened in those days. If a woman married a Jewish man, then the woman became Jewish. So what's interesting is that Tziporah's Jewish, even though her father is not Jewish? That's interesting, isn't it? But Yitro, Jethro, is identified throughout the Torah, whenever he's talked about as Cohen Midian, he's very much not Jewish. He's very much you know, the wise man from Midian. I always like to read the story, that it's nice that advice comes from outside. I don't really need Jethro to be Jewish. Do you need Jethro to be Jewish?

Geoffrey Stern  19:15

I think it's a stretch. I think that the commentators who struggle with it and who make Jethro Jewish, are telling us more about themselves than they're telling us about Jethro.

Adam Mintz  19:28

That is such an interesting point. I mean, that's really good.

Geoffrey Stern  19:32

And maybe about ourselves, ... you know, those of us who study the biblical text and I don't care whether we're Jewish or Christian, or Muslim, we all say this text. We're proud of our story. And I can understand that, but I also think that it's radical from within that story. It doesn't say the ex Cohen From Midian, it says the Priest for Midian. So I think we can all agree that the simple reading of the text is that he actually was a priest from Midian at the time that this story occurred, and that they are simply illuminating to us and reminding us how radical this is. And therefore I give their response such value, because there's a truth in what they're saying, you know, there's the expression in business, "not created here". Even in a business, even in creativity, in literature, in art, we all love to claim that we are not influenced by others, and that we came up with things on our own. And it takes a radical text to be able to clearly say that it is the the result of the best. So I want to continue with this discussion about the sacrifices and the blessing. If you recall last week, and this is kind of almost a two-part series, we had my Maimonides saying that the sacrifices will all there as kind of a concession to bring the people from one spot to another. And if you recall, Nachmanidies said, No, Noah gave sacrifices Cain and Abel gave sacrifices. They were not idol worshipers. So there was nothing wrong with using sacrifices because it was part of the original, natural religion. And I think if we have to focus on what is and dive a little bit deeper into how a text like the Torah can so easily accept the contributions of a Jethro. And, you know, I keep on saying that Jethro gave the sacrifice. Well, I should also mention that Aaron came and ate from the sacrifice. This was not anything but a holy offering to God. So those Midrashim actually on our texts here, and they're all in the source notes in Safaria and talk about how this concept that Adam and Cain, and Noah actually followed a natural religion that every human being is imbued with, that has this kind of desire to make an offer of a sacrifice, if you will, that have this natural desire for prayer, that have a natural desire for blessing, and even expand further. This is kind of fascinating. One of the Midrashim says, so why did Noah sacrifice after he was saved? Because when God told him to put animals onto the Ark two by two, when it came to kosher animals, he said, add seven. And according to the Midrash, Noah said to himself, hmm, I'm not a dummy. Why is he adding more of these pure animals.... the word kosher didn't exist in those days. But even here, there's this sense that Judaism has allegiance, and is a continuation of this what I would love to call this natural tendency, characteristic part of humankind, for religion. You know, sometimes I listen on clubhouse to atheistic groups, and what they all forget, when they ask, is there a god? Is there not a god? You know, I'd like to say is there beauty is there love, there are things that are part of the human condition that have been there for such a long time, that you can't put your finger on, but they are part of us, we have this sensibility for love. We have this sensibility for beauty. And we have this sensibility for religion. And I think the Jewish texts that talk about the origins of many of the customs of the Jews, in human nature, play tribute to that. And I think that's also part of what this is an exploration of. It is almost as though the Torah was given at Sinai to the Jews, but it was offered to all of humankind. It was offered in a neutral zone, and therefore it is an exploration. It's an aspiration. It's a rendering of what is very natural to humanity. And I think that's also part of the message here.

Adam Mintz  25:01

So that Midrash, that the Torah was offered to all the nations, does that mean that the Torah is inclusive? Or is that point of that Midrash that the other nations gave up the chance that they're no good, because they didn't appreciate the value of total? See, I don't think that's about inclusion. There is a Midrash, about inclusion. The Midrash, about inclusion says that the when God said, I am the Lord your God, who took you out of the out of Egypt, that the entire world was quiet, that a bird didn't chirp at a baby didn't cry. And the entire world heard God say, I am the Lord your God, that Midrash is very much inclusive. That means that the entire world was part of the experience and outside not, which is a very powerful idea. Not that we left people out, but actually that everybody was part of it.

Geoffrey Stern  26:05

So I agree with you totally. But I want to focus on the flip side of that, it's not so much that everybody was included and open and privy and made available, to the revelation at Sinai going forward. But that the revelation at Sinai was an expression of something that was natural to man and there's a critical difference there. And what I was touching upon was this sense that Jethro was in the tradition of Noah, of Adam, of Cain and Abel, of those who followed this natural kind of human condition where we believe and that man reaches out that there's something more there, and that we don't know quite what it is. And we express ourselves whether we're Buddhist, whether we're Hindus, or whether we're Muslims, or whether we're Christians. And there is this aspect in Judaism, and in the classical texts, where we all had it, and we kind of lost it. A good example, is the story of, of why we celebrate a holiday of lights. And the the Talmud in Avodah Zara 8a talks about the exact seven days that we celebrate Hanukkah that is close to when the Christians celebrate Christmas, and have their lights. And it says that Adam in the first year that he experienced, he saw the days were getting shorter and shorter, and he was sure the world was coming to an end. And then all of a sudden, there was the winter solstice, and the days started to get longer. And he created a festival. And it's where the Talmud in a Avoda Zara is talking about pagan festivals. And it ends by saying "he Adam established these festivals for the sake of heaven. But they the Gentiles of later generations, established them for the sake of idol worship." So here too, it's almost as those there's a patrimony of humanity, that we all have these needs to celebrate light when it gets dark, to talk about hope, when it seems that there is no hope. And that the Judaic or the the concept of revelation that we're celebrating in the Parsha of Jethro is one that says not only is it available to all the nations, but it comes from a shared patrimony of all the nations. And I think that's kind of fascinating and exciting.

Adam Mintz  29:00

That is fascinating and exciting. And I think, you know, we talked about inclusion, and that was the title of tonight's class, the idea of inclusion. And I think that maybe that's the lesson.  We started at least I started by suggesting that the reason the story is here is to tell you about the personality of Moses. And I think we're coming full circle and your suggestion is a little different. Your suggestion is that the reason this story is here is to tell us the Judaism, the Ten Commandments, the law is really inclusive, and incorporates a lot of different kinds of people and a lot of different kinds of traditions, and a lot of different kinds of things. And while God may have said I am the Lord you got it took you out of the land of Egypt, the house the bondage, which is something very Jewish, but actually before he says that, we have the story of Jethro, before it's exclusive, versus inclusive. And I think that's a great great point. So I think that's really a you know, a really nice read of the, of the introductory chapter to the giving of the telegraph. Want to wish everybody that they should enjoy receiving the Ten Commandments this Shabbat and we look forward to seeing you next week when we start the civil law; Mishpatim and all the stories related to that. Shabbat Shalom Geoffrey Shabbat Shalom everybody.

Geoffrey Stern  30:30

Shabbat Shalom to you all. We've certainly had a wonderful introduction with the help of these parshiot to the law that we're going to get so I look forward to sharing with you our journey as we discover those laws. I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom and listen to the podcast. This is recorded and there are source notes that go much farther in terms of the discussion then the half hour will permit but Shabbat Shalom to you all and I will see you all next week on Madlik disruptive Torah.

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Members of the Tribe

parshat vayechi (genesis 49)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on Thursday December 16th 2021 as we recognize that Jacob introduced the handle #TwelveTribes. The book of Genesis ends, as does Deuteronomy with blessings over these iconic Twelve Tribes of Israel but the count is unclear. Joseph is at times counted as one tribe and at times subdivided. Shimon and Levi are likewise alternately diminished or removed. What are we to make of these inconsistencies and of Jacob’s desire to share the future? Join us as we discuss who’s in and who’s out and what it all means for us.

Members of the Tribe

Parshat Vayechi – Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse December 16th 2021 as we recognize that Jacob introduced the handle #TwelveTribes. The book of Genesis ends, as does Deuteronomy with blessings over these iconic Twelve Tribes of Israel but the count is unclear.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/369304

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:04

Welcome to Madlik, my name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. And this week along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we explore the ins and outs of the 12 tribes. So gather your tribe together and join us as we discuss Members of the Tribe who’s in and who’s out, and what it all means for us.

Geoffrey Stern  00:38

So, welcome to Madlik, we keep this as a podcast, and we’ll post it before Shabbat. So if you enjoy what you hear, share it with friends, give us a few stars, and write a nice review. In any case, this week, the parsha is vayechi and as you mentioned last week, Rabbi it is the end of the book of Genesis. So it’s a momentous occasion. And it’s really about Jacob, the last of the patriarchs, on his deathbed, so to speak, blessing, at least his grandchildren, Manasseh and Ephraim. And then although many people think that he is blessing the rest of his boys, we will be the judge. Because the blessings can be pretty harsh, to even put it mildly. But I have to say that, you know, there are many aspects of the parsha that are fascinating. But I am looking forward to seeing a West Side Story. And that is about tribes, and that is about different clans and gangs. And so I decided let’s talk about the tribes because they feature so highly here. And in fact, as we shall see, it’s the first time in the Bible that not only are the tribes of Israel mentioned, but also the fact that there are 12 tribes mentioned. So in Genesis 49, it starts out pretty innocuously. And it says And Jacob called his sons and said, Come together that I may tell you what will befall you in the days to come “B’achrit Hayamim”. And I don’t know about you, Rabbi. But when when I was studying in the seminary, in the yeshiva, everybody seemed to follow the traditional explanation of what happens ‘B’achrit Hayamim”, in the end of days, so to speak, and this is the first reference to eschatology to the end of days. And this is the interpretation that Nachmanidies for one gives. And he goes “and everybody agrees that this is what this is talking about”. And of course, what is a little surprising is the fact that it doesn’t mention anywhere these “end of days”, takes a little bit away from his argument, and he has to actually explain if he’s going to make a prediction about the end of days, why doesn’t he say it? And the traditional explanation is that he was hushed up by the angels, because we can’t know what will happen in the end of days. So let’s start right there. What Rabbi do you think is meant here by “b’achrit hayamim” in the days to come. Is Jacob about to make a big disclosure and is hushed up?

Adam Mintz  03:53

So the rabbi’s like to say it like that. Like this was almost the moment when we would know what was going to happen for all of us. And it didn’t happen. But I don’t think that’s the simple reading of the Torah. I think the simple reading of the Torah tells us that what what’s really going on here is that Jacob is making predictions for each of his sons about what’s gonna happen. I think that’s the key word. Sometimes we say the blessings that Jacob gave to his sons, but it’s not true. They’re not all blessings, some of them are actually not blessings. Some of them are curses. And so therefore, I think “b’acharit Hayamim” is what Jacob is saying to them is, this is what’s going to happen to you in the time to come. This is what you should expect from your tribe going forward. So Judah gets the blessing of kingship. And Joseph gets the blessing of a double portion. And Simeon and levy get cursed because they, you know, killed the people of Shchem. It’s a prediction of what will happen ‘B’acharit Hayamim”.

Geoffrey Stern  05:19

So, you know, I think throughout Genesis, we found many times where it’ll give the name of a place, and it’ll say, this is what it’s called “ad Hayom Hazeh” up until these times, and of course, biblical critics will use that as proof that it was written at a later date, and those who are loyal to the fact that it is a holy writ. And it was given at Sinai will say simply that the Torah knew that it was going to be read in in many ages to come and made a prediction. So I think we can kind of quickly get around that problem and let Jewish commentators whether they believe that the tone was written at a later date, or not speak with each other. And I’m almost tempted to start calling the Madlik podcast into the Shadal podcast. Because once again, I am visiting my my new friend, Shmuel David Luzzatto. And he actually references these critics. And he says that clearly there is no reference here to the days of the Messiah. And clearly it relates to the conquest of the Land of Israel and its division. So the the direction that he takes it in is, as we shall see, it’s the first time that we will get a reference to the tribes of Israel even to the 12 tribes of Israel. And rather than blessings, we shall see that Jacob is actually describing and evaluating the children. And we’re going to focus on Shimon and Levi in particular, because Shimon and Levi are picked out. And he says something when he talks to them about what the ramifications will be of his negative critique. So let’s go right to the portion. It starts by saying listen to Israel, your father, Rueben is my firstborn. And he talks about how he was the the child who gave him his fruit and vigor and rank, but in a little bit of an Oedipal moment, we didn’t discuss this on Madlik, but Reuben did try to lay on his father’s bed, and so he’s not happy with Reuben.  But then he gets to Shimon and Levi and he says Shimon and Levi are a pair their weapons are tools of lawlessness, let not my person be included in their council. Let not my being be counted in their assembly. For when angry they slay men and when pleased, they maim oxen, curse it be their anger is so fierce and their wrath, so relentless, I will divide them in Jacob scatter them in Israel. So here and we’re going to get to the background, the context of why he is cursing them in a sense and thinking unhighly of them. But for now, I would like to focus on ‘Achalet B’Yaakov V’afitzam b’Yisrael” that I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel. …. If any of you now or after a Google map of the tribes of Israel, you will see two interesting facts. Number one, the tribe of levi did not get a portion they were given towns throughout the land of Israel. I think if you want it to reference a Buddhist monk who lives off of charity who lives off of tithes, you would have a better picture of the way the Levi’s were living in the land of Israel. They were given land to live in houses to have, cities if you will, but not to have agriculture and they were dependent on the tithes the Ma’aser, given by the rest of Israel. And then if you look in that map and you look at Shimon, you will see that Shimon is inside of the tribe of Judah. So the truth is that this “I will divide them and scatter them in Israel” actually does relate to the distribution of land to the tribes of Israel, that’s the Shadal’s reading, I find it very convincing. What about you, Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  10:07

I didn’t know that reading. That’s, that’s a good reading. And that’s what it means to really to separate them. It’s interesting, then in the predictions, he says, Shimon and Levi “achim” (brothers). He puts shit Shimon and Levi together, they’re the only two tribes that are put together, everybody else gets their own lesson or their own prediction, but Shimon and Levi, get a joint prediction. What do you make of that?

Geoffrey Stern  10:39

Well, you know, I think the commentaries will say that they had the same mindset, that they were of the same philosophy. I will make a point later, that because we are talking about tribes here, it’s not necessary that it gets wrapped up with a bow. So simply that these are necessarily the 12 children of Jacob.  You could make the argument that what we are experiencing here in the book of Genesis, is how different peoples different tribes different clans, came together, and united in the land of Israel. And from that perspective, when it says about two of them that they were Achim, maybe that means they were literally Achim / brothers, but some of the others maybe not so much, but I’m going out on a limb there, I definitely think they were like minded.

Adam Mintz  11:39

That’s good that that’s interesting to kind of give a positive twist to it. They were brothers, they were like minded. Turns out, they didn’t necessarily do the right thing, but they were likeminded.

Geoffrey Stern  11:54

So as I said, in this last bequest, Jacob does for the first time say in verse 16, Dan shall govern his people as one of the Tribes of Israel “Shivtei Yisrael”. And since it’s the first time that we think of Shivtei (tribes), it does give us pause, because until now, we were talking about a closely knit family, we weren’t talking about tribes, per se. And then towards the very end, it says, “All these were the tribes of Israel 12 in number”. And the interesting thing about this 12 In number is that there are other places in the Torah, where the number of members of the tribes are delineated. And they’re not always the same in terms of membership, they are always the same in equaling 12. In this particular rendering, there is no Manasseh and Ephraim who if you look at that map that I hope you Google, you will see that there were two tribal spots for Manasseh and Ephraim, and there is no spot for Joseph. So in a sense, Joseph did get the [status of] firstborn who gets a double portion. But there were other times at the end of Deuteronomy, which we read a few months ago, that again, Moses blesses all of the tribes of Israel. And there believe it or not, there is no mention of Shimon. So I think we can kind of conclude from that, that there is a dedication to this number 12, whether it’s 12 months of the year, whether it’s the signs of the zodiac, whether it’s just something that is universally accepted as complete and unified. The idea is that there was a unified people, but the membership is not all to gather clear. Do you think that’s a safe supposition?

Adam Mintz  14:02

I think that that is a safe supposition. Yes, I would agree with that.

Geoffrey Stern  14:07

Good. So now, let’s get to the meat of the story. I said that I really was driven here by the upcoming release of West Side Story. And of course, West Side Story is based on Romeo and Juliet. And I think if you keep that in mind, and now we’re going to read why Shimon and Levi got the bad end of Jacob’s wrath here. We’re going to read a story that really can be read and smack of a Romeo and Juliet type of story. So it goes back into Genesis 34. And it says, Dina, the daughter of Leah, born to Jacob went out to visit the daughters of the land, Shchem, son of Hamor the Hivitte chief of the country, “nasi Ha’aretz”  saw her and took her and lay with her. And my English translation says, By force.  So, so far, we have a rape, “being strongly drawn to Dina daughter of Jacob and in love with the maiden and he spoke to the maiden and tenderly” gets a little complicated now, because now it sounds like a love story.

Adam Mintz  15:27

Right

Geoffrey Stern  15:28

“Shchem said to his father, Hamor, get me this girl, as a wife, Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dina. But since his sons were in the field with his cattle, Jacob kept silent until they came home.” So we clearly see that Jacob is ambivalent, maybe he needs to talk with the other sons in terms of what his strategy should be how he should relate. But anyway, his response is not to get a clear either. “Then Shchem’s father Hamor came out to Jacob to speak to him. Meanwhile, Jacob’s sons, having heard the news came in from the field”, this is very dramatically written. “The men were distressed and very angry, because he had committed an outrage in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, a thing not to be done “v’Ken Lo Yaaseh”, and Hamor spoke to them saying, My son, Shchem longs for your daughter, please give her to him, in marriage. Iintermarrie with us. Give your daughters to us and take our daughters for yourselves, you will dwell among us, and the land will be opened before you settle, move about and acquire things. Then Shchem said to his father and brothers, do me this favor, and I will pay whatever you tell me, ask of me a bride price ever so high, as well as gifts, and I will pay” and the story goes on. And the brothers come back and they’re very angry. And they come back and it says at this point, it says “you have one condition that we will agree with you. And that is that every male be circumcised, then we will give our daughters to you and take your daughters to ourselves.” So depending how you look at it, you could say that they are using ritual and circumcision as leverage. Alternatively, you could be saying that they are agreeing to become a kindred. And since the Israelites have believed in circumcision, they were asking them to join their group to join their tribe. “Then Hamor and his son Shchem went to the public place of their town and spoke to their fellow townsmen.” So he had to just as Jacob had kind of waited until his people, his children came home to discuss it with them. Now, Hamor does the same thing, and he discusses it with his fellow townspeople. To make a long story short, he convinces all of the townspeople to get circumcised. On the third day, which according tradition, is the hardest day to recuperate from surgery. Shimon and Levi come, and they slaughter all the people of Shchem and then the rest of the boys come in, and they rob all of the belongings, they plunder the town that defiled their sister. Jacob thinks he has the last word and he says, “What have you done? We are a minority, we are weak, my men are few in number so that if they the Shchemits unite against me and attack me, I in my house will be destroyed. He says, You have brought calamity upon us.” And Shimon and Levi said, No, “should our sister be treated like a hore?”, we did the right thing. So this could be a story of rape. But I would argue as much as you have in here, the ingredients of a rape, you also have the ingredients of a love story. You also have the ingredients of a turf war between two vying tribes and the potential for bringing those tribes together. How do you read this story rabbi or anybody in the audience?

Adam Mintz  19:58

I think that you’re read is the right read, let’s go back to the beginning, you point out the fact that when you read the story, it’s not entirely clear whether it’s a rape story, or a love story. And actually, Geoffrey read the whole story is different, depending on whether it’s a love story or a rape story. Because if it’s a rape story, then the brothers are taking revenge against the people for raping their sister. If it’s a love story, then it’s a story about assimilation. And the fact that the brothers are opposed to assimilation, they don’t want to assimilate with the people of the land, and therefore they feel they have to kill the people of the land. And you wonder about Jacob’s reaction being so upset with them. Which reads better? You know what Jacob be upset with them that they took revenge against people who raped his daughter, maybe it makes more sense that Jacob is upset with them, because it’s really a love story. And what they don’t like is they don’t like the assimilation. And Jacob thinks that’s not the way you deal with it. If you don’t want assimilation we don’t have to have assimulation, but you can’t go killing the people. So I think Jeffrey, that’s something to consider, the fact that the story reads differently. If you have it as a love story, or is a rape.

Geoffrey Stern  21:27

I think the higher biblical critics say that clearly this is two stories, not necessarily elegantly edited together.

Adam Mintz  21:36

So obviously, the critics are important. But usually when we study this stuff, in a sense that’s too easy. They put together two stories. But the problem is that the beginning of the story is two stories. But there are two endings. Geoffrey, you wonder why there aren’t two endings. If there are two beginning, maybe Jacobs reaction is different. If it’s a love story, or if it’s a rape story.

Geoffrey Stern  22:08

Yeah, so I think one of the things that helps guide me is now after many years, we got his initial reaction, his initial reaction smacks of the ghetto Jew Who’s afraid of the minority who’s afraid. What he says on his deathbed, is a little bit more strident. He says their weapons are tools of lawlessness. He accuses them of acting out of anger, and slaying people. And by way of looking down that way of trying to evaluate it, I would look at what happens when we get to Deuteronomy. So in Deuteronomy, when Moses is blessing all of the children of Israel, he praises the tribe of Levi. You will remember at the sin of the golden calf, it was the tribe of Levi, who stood up, and they were the ones who took God’s challenge, and went ahead and killed all of the people, their fellow Jews, who had worshipped the golden calf. And in Deuteronomy, Moses says almost to their credit, that they did not consider even whether that person was related to them or not. So it’s clear to my mind, that there is an aspect of Levi at least, which has to do with the purity of the ideology, the purity of the family, the purity of the tribe and the purity of the nation. And I think that that is the aspect that I take away if you read this from the perspective of the beginning of the creation of the 12 tribes, that if we see this story, and it’s you know, you can’t but overlook not only the romance here, but the woman’s is so strong, that clearly Hamor and Shchem who are the majority who are ruling the land, who are in a similar position, as was when Abraham bought the Kever the burial cave (for Sarah) he was begging here, they who have all the chips, all the cards are truly saying we want to accept you, you we want you to to be able to walk amongst the land. And my take from this is that if you look at the two blessings, there’s the critique of Jacob and the critique, or I wouldn’t say critique the, the admeration that Moses has relate to (racial purity). And of course, we can’t forget the zariz (zealot) Pinchas, who was also a Lavi, who are speared, the Moabites with the Israelite. These are people who took God’s ideology very strongly and took the law into their own hand and retain the racial purity, if you will, of the people of Israel.

Adam Mintz  25:48

I would just add one thing, you know, Moses skips shimbo when he gives the blessings at the end of Deuteronomy. So I think what you just said is right. I don’t think Moses forgets what Jacob said, you know, cursing their anger. And you know, and all of that. I think Levi, actually, in a certain sense turned, they become good, because of the way they acted at the Sin of the Golden Calf, in a sense, they did teshuva (repentance). And Moses, therefore reflects on their more recent actions at the time of the golden calf. But Moses does not forget what Jacob says. And therefore Shimon, which never actually repents, they’re just totally left out, which I always found was fascinating.

Geoffrey Stern  26:44

Absolutely, I would maybe add a maybe a little bit more commentary in terms of, I’m not sure that Levi ever changed totally. But they were able to channel or at least Moses was able to channel and history was able to channel that anger, there is a place maybe for that anger, and for that puritanism. I do think it’s important to note that not only were the tribe of Levi, not landowners, but they didn’t get drafted into the army. So they were not allowed to militarize, so to speak. And they were distributed to the land, so that they had too, too beg. You know, there’s an interesting parallel story that happens much later on, and is in the book of Joshua. And that is a story of when the Israelites came into the land. They said that they were going to, to, to get rid of all of the existing infrastructure and tribes that were living there, for whatever reason, we can get into it on another day and discussion. But they felt very strongly about that. And there was a one of those native tribes who made a decision. They said, rather than they get killed, let’s get dressed up and pretend that we are not one of the seven tribes. But we are from outside the land, and we’ll make a treaty with Joshua. And they do just that. And then of course, just like the the ruse of Shchem and Hamor is revealed their rules is revealed two, but the end, the difference is that Joshua says We made a deal, we’re going to keep the deal. So I think my takeaway from this discussion, and from ending the book of Genesis, is that one thing is clear that the stories of the patriarchs are not sugar coated, they lend themselves to interpretation in multiple ways. There are no heroes or complete demons. There are multiple sides to each of the different personalities that we have met, and that the history of our family, of our tribe and our nation has sorded elements, to it, to say the least. But nonetheless, at the end of the day, there was a moment of unity that was achieved. It was a moment because you all know about the lost tribes. They truly did get lost. We split up pretty quickly. And Judea was the tribe of Judah, the other tribes disappeared. So I think the warning is clear. But I think that the message is that we are not as homogenous as one would believe. One can walk down the streets of Israel, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, see all these different colors, all these different types of people. That is who we are. And, you know, welcome welcome to the family. But this is the setting stone for now, what is the next book, which is the book of Exodus, where we get molded into one people from, from the outside, if you will.

Adam Mintz  30:50

I think that’s a really a nice idea. And that’s really a nice way to look at this moment. I think, you know, I just like the moment where Moses blesses the people at the end of Deuteronomy. This is the end of the book of Genesis. And it’s very striking that this is the way both the book of Genesis, and the book of Deuteronomy, and with these kinds of blessings or predictions for the future. There’s always a look towards “acharit Hayamim” towards the future. The book ends, but it’s not an end. It’s a look forwards “acharit Hayamim”. So we got to go back at the end to where you started with an understanding of what “Acharit Hayamim” really means. So I want to thank you Geoffrey. I think this was a great discussion about Vayechei. To everybody. Hazak Hazak v’Nitchazek. This is what we say always when we finish a book of the Torah, we should be strongly to be strong, we should strengthen one another. And we look forward to seeing you next week again, eight o’clock. Where we’ll talk about the parsha of Shemot as we begin the Book of Shemot. Thank you, Geoffrey. Shabbat shalom.

Geoffrey Stern  31:57

Shabbat shalom. See you next week.

https://www.clubhouse.com/join/Madlik/WGUNtQ1o/M82Y2nAP

Listen to last weeks episode w/ bonus Avidan Freedman interview – Joseph – Tool of a Repressive Regime?

Joseph – Tool of a Repressive Regime?

Parshat Vayigash – A live recording of Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on December 9th 2021 as they ask: What if our Prince of Egypt, was not an ancient-day Paul Samuelson using science and economic theory to serve society?

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Arguing with God and Man

parshat Vayishlach (genesis 32)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded live on Clubhouse on November 18th 2021 as they discuss arguing with God in the Bible and later Rabbinic texts and Jewish Literature. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel which we are told means to struggle with Man and God. How do we live up to this name?

Arguing with God and Man

parshat Vayishlach (genesis 32) Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded live on Clubhouse on November 18th 2021 as they discuss arguing with God in the Bible and later Rabbinic texts and Jewish Literature. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel which we are told means to struggle with Man and God.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/363352

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:04

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern. And at Madlik we like to light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish tradition or text. We also host a clubhouse at 8pm, Thursday nights Eastern, where we have disruptive Madlik Torah. And tonight I’m joined with Rabbi Adam Mintz. And we are going to discuss the metamorphosis of Jacob, who turned into Israel by fighting, arguing, struggling with an angel. So get yourself into  debating mode, where we discuss arguing with God, and man. Welcome to another week of Madlik, the Parsha is Vayishlach and we have the story of Jacob coming back to the land of Israel. He’s about to cross the Jordan. And because we are all a product of our past, now he has to confront his past, he has to confront his brother Esau, who if you remember he swindled out of birth blessing. And now he comes with a family. He’s a family man. He’s gotten some wealth to him. But he is basically fearful for his life. And we are going to focus on that moment, before he comes and crosses the Jordan River. And he’s alone at night, he sent his family, split them up into two camps to protect them. And now is alone on the bank of the Jordan and confronts an angel. So in Genesis 32, it says, “Then Jacob said, oh god of my father, Abraham and God of my father, Isaac, oh Lord, who said to me, return to your native land, and I will deal bountifully with you, I am unworthy of all the kindness you have steadfastly shown your servant with my staff alone, I cross this Jordan, and now I have become two camps, deliver me I pray from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, else, I fear, he may come and strike me down, mother and children alike “am al banim”. And then he goes on and he says, after taking them across the stream, he sent them all his possessions. Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn, when he saw that he had not prevailed against him. He wrenched Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him. Then he said, let me go for dawn is breaking. But he answered, I will not let you go unless you bless me, said the other. What is your name? He replied, Jacob, said, he, your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed. Jacob asked, pray, tell me your name. But he said, You must not ask why name and he took leave of him. So Jacob named the place Penuel meaning I have seen a divine being face to face yet my life has been preserved. Then the sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel limping on his hip. That is why the children of Israel to this day, do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the socket of the hip, since Jacob’s hip socket was wrenched at the muscle.” So this is the source of why Jews cannot eat filet mignon. So already, we have a wonderful takeaway. But the real question, is, this striving this struggling with this angel, and the name change to Israel, and the name Israel literally implies struggling with man, and God. So you can’t even say that this is a subtext of a subplot when someone’s name is changed, and that name means to struggle with God and man, that’s pretty profound. Are we? The B’nai Yisrael, the children of Israel, are we a little argumentative? Are we strugglers is that that the take away from this, is this a key characteristic of the Israelite Jewish story?

Adam Mintz  05:09

I think the answer is yes. I think that Jews throughout the ages have liked the impression that the Jews struggle that goes with Jews being a minority, you know, Jews are a minority, we always have to struggle. And therefore, even though obviously, the name change goes back to the Torah, I think it’s a name change that has resonated with Jews throughout history. And I think that’s kind of interesting when you think about it.

Geoffrey Stern  05:42

You know, there’s a famous saying, in Perkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, that says, A machloket l’shem shamayim an argument that is for the sake of heaven, will endure forever, but one that is not for the sake of heaven will not endure it. And anyone who has studied whether it’s the Mishneh, whether it’s the Talmud, the Oral Law, which is actually an oral law, it is a transcript of literal arguments between our rabbis, and those of you who like myself has studied in a traditional yeshiva know that when you walk into the study hall of a traditional Academy of Jewish learning, of a yeshiva, it is the absolute opposite of walking into a library, which is calm and quiet. A yeshiva the din of students arguing amongst themselves, they call it the Kol Torah is overwhelming. But in a sense, because everyone is arguing there’s a silence as well, you can actually focus and concentrate. But that truly is a real element of an argument and conflict of ideas and passions, deeply rooted in our tradition.

Adam Mintz  07:16

That is correct. The Rabbi’s say in the Talmud, that there’s nothing better than students arguing with one another when they’re studying Torah. That’s part of the experience of studying Torah is being able to argue with one another. And I that’s that’s a very strong idea. And you know, what’s interesting about the name Israel, is the fact that the Torah says that Jacob struggled with God and with man. And the question is, what the significance of that is, actually the one he’s struggling with is the angel. But the angel seems somehow to represent Easav, who’s the one he’s about to confront. So there seems to be two parallel stories, almost like two parallel train tracks going on here. One is the experience of Jacob and the angel. And the other is the experience of Jacob and Easav. And I wonder what we make about the combination of those two stories here.

Geoffrey Stern  08:20

You know, before I get to my understanding of what he means, by struggling with man, I want to make us very current, there was a book written about 10 years ago, and it’s called Startup Nation. And it tries to address why Israel per capita has so many entrepreneurs has so many startups and in the preface, it talks about a few Israelis who are sitting in a conference room and arguing amongst themselves at the top of their lungs, about a who knows what some minutiae of how to program or start their company, and the American colleague who views this, and then sees the same people that had been deep in argumentation, go have a drink later and laugh and hug each other was amazed by it. And the same thing applies to the Israeli army with is this lack of recognition of [authority], this anti hierarchical respect. And they both go to this sense of you can argue with anybody and and he liked something rather interesting, and I’ll quote, so when he asked Major General Fakash why Israel’s military is so anti higherarchical and open to questioning. He told us it was not just the military, but Israel’s entire society and history. Our religion is an open book, he said, in a subtle European accent that traces that traces back to his early tweens in Transylvania, the open book he was referring to was the Talmud a dense recording of centuries of rabbinic debates over how to interpret the Bible and obey its laws. And the corresponding attitude of questioning is built into Jewish religion, as well as into the national ethos of Israel. and Israeli author Amos Oz has said, Judaism and Israel have always cultivated a culture of doubt and argument, an open ended game of interpretations counter interpretations reinterpretations opposing interpretations from the very beginning of the existence of the Jewish civilization. It was recognized by its argumentativeness.” And and I quote that picking up on your comment about this sense of arguing with God, and arguing with men, and there’s no question that deep in our essence, in our core, is this sense of taking the other position of looking at an alternative approach. And whether he’s talking about his potential future confrontation with his brother ESAV, or the years that he spent working for his father in law, and striving against a man who at every turn, was out to get him? I think that in our case, Jacob Yaakov really did have under his belt, the ability to say, I have striven with man and I have striven with God. And I have prevailed.

Adam Mintz  11:44

I think that’s right. You see, Jacob is always identified as the first Jew in exile, the first diaspora Jew, because Abraham is basically in the land of Canaan. And Isaac never leaves the land of Canaan. But Jacob, his whole life is with Laban. And then with Easav It’s a life of struggle. We often don’t think about the story here. But Jacob has another confrontation in the city of Shem, when his daughter Dina is raped. And that’s a very difficult story, because his sons take revenge against the people of Shem. And Jacob seems to get angry at the sons for embarrassing him. And the sons seem to get angry back at Jacob, which is just a very interesting back and forth there about what’s going on. What exactly is Jacob’s, place in the diaspora, Jacob always seems to be struggling. And just to look forward to next week what’s interesting is, when Jacob finally gets settled back at home, that’s when he has real trouble, because that’s when he favors his son, Joseph. And that’s when Joseph is hated by the brothers, and sold, and the whole story of Egypt begins. So actually, Jacob has a hard time, we would say in today’s language, figuring it out, I think.

Geoffrey Stern  13:22

So. So in other words, it doesn’t end. [laughs]

Adam Mintz  13:25

Yes, That’s, that’s my, that’s my read of from here to the end of the book of Genesis. It doesn’t really end, Jacob has trouble. And more than anything, Jacob struggles, you know, is he victorious? I don’t know. If he’s victorious.  You know, the rabbi’s want to make him victorious, the rabbi’s are very proud of Jacob, because Abraham has Yishmael, and Isaac has Esav, but Jacob, all his children are true to his tradition. So you know, in a sense, they want to make it seem as if Jacob is somehow superior to his father and grandfather. But I don’t know that that’s so clear or so simple.

Geoffrey Stern  14:11

So I want to pick up on this concept of argument is the essence of the Jewish people. I mean, you know, again, the fact that we are called Yisrael which means striving with God and man, according to the verses that we just read. You can you can ignore that. So there’s a wonderful book, and it’s called Arguing with God, a Jewish Tradition by Anson Laytner. And he literally writes a whole book about this concept and you have heard me speak previously about how we now know from Ancient Near Eastern texts, this whole concept of making a [treaty] covenant and stuff like that, what he picks up from similar ancient texts is that is a whole tradition of what he calls this prayer of arguing with God. And what he does is he talks about how it’s called The Law Court Pattern of Prayer. It’s literally taking a god to court. And of course, what the Jews did with that was because their relationship with their God was so unique, and they only had one God, it was taking the single God to court. And of course, that makes a paradigm shift, because you can’t play one god against another. And I think as we look at different examples that the author brings, I think we’ll see stuff that really resonates that we’ve all heard about. But I want to start with one of the texts that he bought that actually relates to the argument, or I should say, the thoughts that Jacob shares with us today. If you recall, when I read a second ago, Jacob split up his his family into two. And  he said whether musing to himself or to God, that He says, I fear he may come and strike me down. Mothers and children alike, “Aim al Banim”and, and the Midrash pipes in and explains that he is actually in a sense, taking God to court here. And what he’s saying, and I quote, Bereshit Rabba 76 He says, “I fear he may come strike me down mothers in childhood, like, but you said, [Jacob says to God,] if along the road you chanced upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on ground with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings, or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young”, there is a law in Deuteronomy that literally prohibits you from taking the eggs out of a nest, while the mother bird is still on it. Somehow, it broke with the moral, the ethical aesthetic of the Bible. There’s another law that said, “he may come and strike me down mothers and child alike, but you wrote, you have written in your Torah, do not kill a cow, or ewe and it’s young on the same day.” So again, according to this operation, robber, Jacob is also referring to a law in Leviticus that says, you cannot, again for this same moral aesthetic reason, kill a mother and child cow on the same day. There’s something about uprooting any sense of continuity among any species that rankles the ethics of the the Torah. And it goes on to say, “if this wicked one, Esau comes and destroys all at once, what will happen to your Torah, which in the future you will give on Mount Sinai, who will read it, I entreat you deliver me from his hand, that he will not come and kill both mother and child together” So the the author of this book has multiple examples, we’re going to visit a few through history, where this Jewish concept of taking God to task, quoting his own Torah, and this is something that the author feels in any case, is unique in the Jewish religion, Rabbi, do you feel that that is something that is unique to us?

Adam Mintz  18:47

That’s a good question. I don’t know the other traditions well enough? To answer that question. I can just say that it is a very striking aspect of Judaism. calling God to task is a fascinating idea. The fact that, we have all these examples, my favorite is Abraham calling God to task about destroying stones, and you know, really try to negotiate with God, the idea of negotiating with God, it’s such a crazy notion, how can you  negotiate with God, but Abraham feels comfortable enough to negotiate with God. So I think the fact that we’re willing to take God to task is something that is very striking, I’ll just add to that idea of taking God to task. There’s another rabbinic idea. And that’s the idea that God suffers with us, that when we suffer, God suffers together with us. We take God to task but God it’s not as if God’s our enemy, God is with us and even God, when we go into exile, God goes into exile with us so we take God Death. And God responds in a way that really is very compassionate.

Geoffrey Stern  20:05

Absolutely. Almost God’s there with us. You know, the other thing that we have touched upon in the past is that much about Genesis is a forecast of what will happen in Exodus, going down into Egypt, in the case of Abraham and Sarah, and even Jacob. And it occurs to me, that Jacob here crossing the Jordan is identical to Moses about to cross the Jordan. But unlike many of the other precursors, I think that this story is slightly different, because Jacob is allowed to cross the Jordan, with his people, and Moses is not. And another example of this argument with God can be found in Devarim Raba. And this is, what words are put into Moses, his mouth, and Moses says, “Master of the Universe, the labors and pains which I have devoted to making Israel believe in your name are manifold and known to you to what trouble I have gone with them in connection with the precepts in order to fix them Torah and precepts thought, just as I have witnessed, they are Whoa, so too, I would behold their award. But now that we’re word of Israel has come, and you say to me, You shall not go over this Jordan. [And here’s where Moses gives his argument.] Behold, you made a fraud of your own Torah as it is written, you must pay him his wages on the same day before the sunsets, for he is needy, and urgently depends upon it else, he will cry to the Lord against you, and you will incur guilt. Is this the reward I get for 40 years labor that I went through in order that Israel should become a holy and faithful people.” So here Moses is taking the law, that you have to pay a laborer, the money that you owe him before you go to sleep, you can’t let the sun set without paying him. And Moses is saying, I suffered with these people for 40 years, I paid my dues, and now you won’t pay me what is is owed to me. And and again, it’s an amazing argument. But I think in the sense, it becomes even more profound, because we have to grapple with why Jacob was allowed to cross over into the Jordan, I mean, Jacob, if you look at the text, both this week, and last week, Jacob makes a very similar argument. He says, I worked with Laban and I worked for seven years for one wave seven years for another, he gets to ESAV. And he goes, I know you are concerned about me having the blessing. But I worked for everything that I show you today. I paid my dues, and he is somehow allowed, to course the Jordan, but Moses, who makes this type of argument that I think only a B’nai Israel could make is somehow not allowed. So my question is, well, my comment is twofold. Number one, why was Moses not successful in his request, but two this sense of argumentation, of literally, just as Jacob was able to hold the angel and say, I will not let you go until you bless me is a tradition that starts, as you say, from Abraham, and goes all the way through Moses, and we’ll see in a second through throughout Jewish history, it’s it’s very profound.

Adam Mintz  24:05

Yeah, I mean, yes, the answer is it is it is very profound. How do you take it as it relates to Jacob specifically, What do you think the fact that this is true about Jacob, and that we’re called Israel? What does that mean for us going through history?

Geoffrey Stern  24:25

Well, I think it certainly gives us a license, if not an obligation to argue and to take our God to task. You know, it’s a very fine line who this angel is, at some point he’s called Elohim. At some point, you could come to understand him as to be man, but definitely, somehow by the end of the story, and Jacob is obviously a person who throughout his life is looking for blessings he’s looking for recognition, he’s looking for someone to, say you are you, you are your own person. But nonetheless, Jacob does achieve that. He can’t forget his past, it’s not going to go away from him. But the legacy that he gives to his children, and to the world is this, I would say, not only license but an obligation to struggle and to argue with one’s God. And it enables him, I think, to get across the the Jordan and get into the promised land. And so he is successful, where maybe Moses was not.

Adam Mintz  25:55

Yes. So the idea that He gives permission that I think is a very critical idea that Jacob is actually the one who gives us permission to challenge God. And that, throughout history, Jews have challenged God as the descendants of Jacob. And that’s what we do. We challenged God. I mean, we asked, Where was God? Where was God in the Holocaust? Where was God when young children are killed in terrorist attacks in Israel? Where was God? And what you’re really saying correctly, is that that’s what Jacob did in a way, in, you know, in in challenging the angel is he’s challenging God. I wonder why the rabbi’s say that the angel was the angel of Esav. What did they gain by that?

Geoffrey Stern  26:51

Hmm, I hadn’t really seen that. But whether the angel was the angel of God, or whether the angel was the angel of ESAV, where Jacob becomes Israel, is by standing on his own feet and standing up to him. And, you know, I think this concept of arguing with God almost transcends a standard belief in God. In the texts and the traditions that the author that I quoted before brings, he brings poetry written and prayers written during the Holocaust, and after the Holocaust, and you mentioned the Holocaust. And you know that, that is a tipping point, in a sense, and I’d like to read just a little poem written by somebody called Jacob Gladstein, that he quotes. And I’m not sure the person who writes it can anymore believe in God. But when I read it, I pictured Jacob, sitting after fighting the angel, giving thought to what everything he’s come through all of the losses that he’s had. And here’s what he writes. And it’s really about God, and this person sitting in the DP camp. And he writes, “I love my sad god, my brother Refugee love to sit down on a stone with him and tell him everything wordlessly, because when we sit like this, both perplexed, our thoughts flow together in silence, my poor God, how many prayers I’ve profaned, and how many nights I’ve blasphemed him and warned my frightened bones at the furnace of the intellect. And here he sits my friend, his arm around me, sharing his last crumb, the God of my unbelief is magnificent. Now that he’s human and unjust, how I love my unhappy God, how exalted is this proud, pauper, now that the merest child rebels against his word” , and I really see in this words, Jacob sitting with the angel after fighting all night, and they’re both breathless and out of any strength, and they just put their arms around each other. And it’s an amazing picture. I had a professor of philosophy at Columbia, Sidney Morganbesser, and he was in great pain before he died. And one of his students came to him, and he said, “Why is God making me suffer So? do you think it’s punishment for me not believing in Him?” …. yeah he said that and he’s quoted as saying that, but again, it has this same tension that we of Israel are obliged to struggle with our God. And that, in a sense, is our essence. It’s it’s just, it’s just fascinating.

Adam Mintz  29:59

That is correct. It is just fascinating that that becomes our essence. And your essence is always your name. We always say that right? You know, names mean a lot. And the fact that we are named the children of Israel means a lot that, you know, that shows that our essence is that we’re made to struggle. You know, they often talk about you talked at the beginning what it’s like to be in yeshiva, and you know, the argumentation. You know, that goes on. But that’s our personality, we argue with one another. And we challenge everybody, we even challenge God, Isn’t that an amazing thing? We argue with one another, and we even argue with God.

Geoffrey Stern  30:47

I think it is amazing. And the most fascinating takeaway that I have taken away from this, and I haven’t seen it written anywhere else. Is I started by saying that the outcome of this story is that the Jewish people do not eat filet mignon, they do not eat that part of the animal that has the sciatic nerve in it. Because Jacob walked away from this battle with a limp. And what’s fascinating is, there is really no commandment from God, that we not eat this piece of meat. The verse says, That is why the children of Israel to this day, do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the socket of the hip. And what’s amazing to me is this is a commandment that possibly does not come from God. Is it one of our 613 commandments? Yes, it is. But where does it come from? It comes from Israel to Jewish people. And it’s a sense of when you come out of that struggle, and you limp away and you fought with man, but more importantly, in this context, you fought with God. Therefore, until this day, we Jews, maybe it’s our commandment, versus God, we are we remind our God, our God within ourselves or a God out there, that we have struggled with him or her, we continue to struggle with him or her, but it is a commandment that comes from us. I mean, how many times in Genesis does it say there were seven wells and therefore until today it is called Beersheba. It’s not a commandment. It’s a point of fact. But in this particular case, the fact that Jews, Israelites B’nai Israel do not eat from this piece of meat is a testament to our willingness and our need and our obligation to strive with God and man.

Adam Mintz  32:59

That I think is a beautiful note with which to end this discussion. The portion next week is Vayesh. It’s right before Hanukkah. Let’s have a great discussion next week. Thank you and welcome back. Geoffrey, this was a really good discussion this week. And Shabbat Shalom to everybody. Happy Thanksgiving. And we look forward to seeing you all next Thursday, Thanksgiving day to talk about Yayeshev.

Geoffrey Stern  33:21

Shabbat shalom. Thank you. Bye bye

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Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse on Thursday November 18th at 8:00pm Eastern as they discuss arguing with God in the Bible and later Rabbinic texts and Jewish Literature. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel which we are told means to struggle with Man and God. How do we live up to this name?

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Listen to last week’s podcast: HaMakom: Place / No Place

HaMakom – Place / No Place

Parshat Vayetzei – The Rabbis learn from the multiple use of the word MAKOM – Place in the story of Jacob’s Ladder, that God is the Place of the World, but the World is not His Place. What can we learn from the Rabbis?

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Filed under Bible, Chosen People, Hebrew, Israel, Judaism, monotheism, prayer, Religion, social commentary, Torah

Stolen Blessings & the Crooked Timber of Humanity

parshat toldot (genesis 23 – 25)

Recorded live on Clubhouse on November 4th from Tzofar in the Arava of the Negev Desert in Israel with Rabbi Adam Mintz in New York, we explore Yaakov’s name and career path and struggle with his twice stolen blessing. We ask how parents could give a child a name such as “heel-sneak” or “heal grabber’ and how Israel could emerge from such crooked timber?

Special “guests” include Shmuel Yoseph Agnon and Isaiah Berlin

Stolen Blessings and the Crooked Timber of Humanity

Recorded live on Clubhouse on November 4th from Tzofar in the Arava of the Negev Desert in Israel with Rabbi Adam Mintz in New York, we explore Yaakov’s name and career path and struggle with his twice stolen blessing.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/358410

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:03

Welcome to Madlik, my name is Geoffrey stern and that Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host a weekly disruptive Torah discussion on clubhouse every Thursday evening at 8pm. Eastern today along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we explore Jacob’s name and career path and struggle with his twice stolen blessing. I’m broadcasting live from the Negev in Israel. So join me in the desert as we explore stealing your blessings. So welcome, another week of disruptive Torah. And as I said, I am in the Negev, and I’ve been talking to my buggy mates as we dune buggy across the desert and my camping mates about the Parsha. So you are going to get some very Israeli and secular Israeli cultural Israeli insights into this parsha that I am very, very excited to share with you. So as I said in the intro, we’re really going to focus on the personality that is scripted for Yaakov known in English as Jacob, and the personality and the career path that he has starts from the first moment of his birth. In Genesis 25: 26. It says then his brother emerged [because he was twins with a guy named ESAV]. And his brother emerged holding on to the heel of a Esav. So they named him Jacob. Yaakov comes from the word. Ekav, which means heel. So right from the beginning, from the moment he was born, there is this relationship with Esav, clearly, but it’s a special relationship. Because unlike Achilles, whose heel also plays a major role in his life, at least it’s HIS heel. In the case of the alcove, he gets his characterization by grabbing on to his brother’s heel. And then of course, as we talked about in the pre party, there’s two stolen blessings. And we’re not going to really get into all the details about how the blessings was stolen, mostly because we all know the story, the first stealing of the blessing. And I’m saying that in quotes, because I’m going  to ask the rabbi in a second, whether he feels in fact that they were stolen. But the first episode is when he Esav who’s a hunter, very vibrant, comes home after being out in the fields, and sees a pot of, of lentils, red lentils on the table that Yakov is about to eat. And he just says I could die for those lentils. And sure enough, Jaco takes advantage of the situation. And he says, Well, no problem. I will sell you these lentils for the birth right, because he was ultimately the second born child, he came out second grabbing onto that heel. And Esav went ahead and said, Sure, not a problem. Fast forward to later on in the Parsha. We know the second episode, which is where Yaakov dresses up in a garment that makes him feel Smell Taste like his brother, and he goes to his father who is blind, and he impersonates his brother, and gets the blessing in that way. So let me stop here and ask you, Rabbi, and anyone in the audience, do you feel that these blessings were actually stolen? And if they were, were they stolen twice? Or just once? What’s the deal?

Adam Mintz  04:21

Okay, first of all, Geoffrey, it’s so nice that you’re able to do this all the way from the Negev. And I look forward to the perspective that you’re going to share from your friends who are with. I think the simple reading of the text is that the blessings are stolen once. It’s only the second time the story with Jacob dressing up like Esav with his and his father being blind. That was trickery. The first time he took advantage of his situation. I don’t think we would say that that’s dishonest. He took advantage of a situation Esav should have been more careful. So I think it’s an interesting question what the relationship is between the first story about the soup? And the second story about stealing the blessings? Does Jacob feel as if he’s legit in taking the blessings? Because he bought them from Esav? The Torah never says that. Exactly. Does the Torah mean that? Is that supposed to be understood? So I’m not quite sure. So your questions a good question. I don’t think he stole them twice. But I think there is a fair question about what the relationship is between story A and story B.

Geoffrey Stern  05:41

So as I said in the intro, I’ve been camping in the desert of the Negev. And as any of you who are campers or have seen Blazing Saddles, will know that campers do end up eating beans into the trip. And so sure enough, one night, we were served beans this week. And I said, you know, what’s, what’s the connection between beans and and this week’s parshah with Jacob, Yaakov and ESAV. And the Israeli says, well, there is an expression and it’s called NAZID ADASHIM  and Nazi Adashim is the opposite of something that I was aware of which is ONAH, you’re not allowed to charge too much for something by biblical law, NaZID ADASHIM is when you buy something for much, much less than it’s worth. So if you go ahead and Google that you’ll see in Wikipedia,  two examples from literature of how these words are used. So one example is the guy had to sell an interest in his company, for a lot less than it was worth mamash nazid adashim It was really a case of nazid adashim. So from the Hebrew vernacular of modern day Hebrew, I think it’s pretty clear whether it was actual stealing, or gross taking advantage of a situation. It certainly was not something that if anything, we would put on a pedestal and say, this is the way we want to live our lives. Even if you look at the prophets, like Jeremiah, Jeremiah says, In 9: 3 “beware every man of his friend, turn not even a brother. For every brother takes advantage, every friend, is base in his dealings”, and the words that he uses for every brother takes advantage is Kol ach Akov Yakov.  So here you have both modern day Hebrew and the prophets themselves. Jeremiah is in the business of bringing the Jews back to proper behavior. And clearly the reference is to a Yakov. But it’s even deeper than that. It’s almost his vernacular way of saying, you know, the brothers should not take care of brothers and they shouldn’t be grabbing the heels. So I do believe that both traditional Jewish texts and the way the story is carried on in modern Israeli culture. The premise is that Yakov did not do a good thing that’s for sure. Whether it was outright stealing or crass, taking advantage of his brother, is up for grabs. But before you respond, Rabbi or anyone in the audience, what I would like to add to my question is, what sort of a name is it for parents to give their child or if you want to look at it as literature, the author of our holy text to give to one of our patriarchs a name that ultimately means heel or a heel grabber? It It’s so strange. I mean, Rabbi this Shabbat you’re going to be talking about what did Isaac see in ESAV, who was out there hunting and earning a living, but what did he see and his wife see in their son that they would give him such a name? There’s literally nothing nice you can say about using the word Yaakov which could mean crooked. I mean when when armies attack from the rear,  the word that is used is attacking the heel, the Ekev. And we all know what Amalek is hated for it attacked the rear of the Jewish people. Rabbi, what do you make of this? And how could anybody call their child? Yakov?

Adam Mintz  10:25

It’s fantastic question. I mean, the simple answer to the question, of course, is that Yaakov held on to the heel of Esav when they were born. So actually he was named after an event that took place in his life. Now, that doesn’t answer your question. It’s still not a good name.  But you have to know something, you know, they always ask the question the book of Ruth, the sons, the husband of Ruth and the husband of her sister in law, Orpa names are Machlon and Kilion means disease, andKilion means destruction. And you have the same question, Geoffrey. And that is, how in the world could you name your kids disease and destruction? And I think the answer they give is that in the Bible, the names are not always names that were given by parents at the birth of the children. Sometimes it’s the Bible, giving these names to these people, reflecting what their life was about. They want you to identify these people. So Machlon and Kilion were bad guys. They died young. So they’re called Machlon and Kilion . And Yaakov. Interestingly enough, if we take this view, the Torah wants us to know that he was a very complicated guy, and that he basically made his way by being cunning. It’s not only this week, Geoffrey, next week, he’s gonna do exactly the same thing except with his father in law, Lavan, you know, when he has this kind of very strange way in which he’s able to take the flock of Lavan. Now, he’s also someone who is tricked. Because next week, Laban tricks him and gives him the one daughter rather than the other daughter. So, so Yaakov lives a life of trickery. And if we understand like the verse in Jeremiah, that the word really means trickery. That’s the way we remember Jacob, as someone who lived a very complicated life. He’s the first one of the forefathers, who actually, his life is not straight. His life is very, you know, very crooked, back and forth, and forth and back. And I think it’s our job to try to figure out what do we think about this guy Jacob, were named after him. By the way, Binay Yisrael, the children of Israel were named after Jacob. But interestingly, just on your point, we’re not called B’nai Yaakov. We’re called B’nai Israel. I don’t think that’s a mistake. Right? They don’t want to call us b’nai Yaakov, B’nai Yisrael the word Sarita means either to struggle or to be victorious over, that’s a much better name than Yaakov.

Geoffrey Stern  13:27

If I can interpret what you’re saying a little bit, is first of all, yes, there are many instances where our names in the Bible foreshadow what is to come. And if what is to come is not that pretty? You might get a lame name like, you referenced. Of course, that begs the question here a little bit, because as you say, Yakov is our patriarch, we are the children of Jacob. So this is not a side character. Or you could certainly not say that Yakov is the bad guy in this story. The story continues from him. So I would like to suggest that maybe his name foreshadows a name change. And of course, we all know that Yaakov evolves into Israel. And that becomes kind of an interesting dynamic here. Do you think there’s any any any thought to that where one needs to grow into a name? I mean, if we look at Yakov as the one who follows the crooked path, the schemer, the conniver, the one who basically has to claw his way up by his bootstraps, and then we look maybe at the future Parsha where he fights with the angel and he wins and and gets a new name. Maybe in his case, he’s foreshadowing, this change in terms of whether it’s his parents or if we look at it from a literary point of view, the author of this story, do you think there’s any basis there?

Adam Mintz  15:24

I’m sure there’s basis there. This week’s portion and next week’s portion are Jacob, the conniver. Jacob’s name is changed two weeks from now in Vayshlach, by then he’s done conniving, he meets his brother Esav right when they’re both older and successful. And they actually have a confrontation. I mean, it doesn’t turn out to be a bad confrontation, but they have a confrontation, there’s no more of the conniving in Jacob. He is someone who goes out and he has the self confidence to have a confrontation with his brother. So I think that there’s no question that Jacob evolves, develops into Israel, and were named after Jacob with the name Israel. And that’s the Jacobwho has  12 sons and one daughter, that’s the Jacob who goes down to Egypt, that’s the Jacob who basically is able to reconcile his family and we’re gonna have plenty of weeks to talk about that. That’s a very interesting idea. And that is a Jacob might have been responsible for the fact that the family split apart that he favored Joseph, but in the end, it’s Jacob, who brings the family together. And it’s a nice story, because at the very end of the book of Genesis, we have the story that everybody is there, around Jacob when he passes away, because he’s able to bring everybody together. So the story of Jacob and in a very straightforward way, he’s not the conniver anymore. He’s very deliberate and very straightforward. So it might just be that the second half of the book of Genesis, is the development of the character of Jacob.

Geoffrey Stern  17:09

So I think you’re absolutely correct in terms of if you look at the book of Genesis, you get that resolution at the end, for sure. But what I would love to do is maybe we’re being a little harsh on Jacob, on Yakov may be looking at Yaakov’s need and ability to work the system work around the system to break a few rules, to get where he needs to be. Maybe it’s not all, Jacob, but maybe there’s a theme here that Jacob is meant to open our eyes to. And so when I started thinking along those lines, I started thinking of Abraham and Isaac, the parents, both of them either went down to Egypt or went down to another place when there was a famine. And for whatever reason, both of them lied about the relationship with their wife. Abraham had a beautiful wife, he was afraid that he would be killed if it was known that that was his wife, and he said, It’s my sister. And again, so now I’m kind of sensitized. We’ve talked before about the fact that the Abraham with Lech Lecha  is a wanderer, comes from the other side of the tracks, so to speak, and that’s where the word Ivri comes from M’ever, but maybe we haven’t focused enough on the more pathetic side of being a wanderer, maybe we have looked at it as too heroic. And maybe what this Pasha is making us do and what Yaakov is making us do is to understand a little more the pathos of being that wanderer, that stateless person, that one who has to land on his two feet and, and try to get a grave for his wifewithout any leverage talking to the locals, the landowner [belonger], so to speak, and has to lie about the relationship with his wife, which has to be the most emasculating thing that a person could do. And, and then I came across a beautiful verse in Isaiah 40, it actually comes from the Haftorah, that we say, after Tisha B’Av called Nachamu, and it it has a verse and it says, Let every valley be raised and Every hill and mountain made low, let the rugged ground become level and the ridges become plain You guessed it, right? If you guessed that my buddy who was driving the dune buggy with me, we started talking about crooked roads and bumpy roads. And he brought up this verse and a book by Agnon that I’ll get to in a second. But even if you look at this worse verse when it says that he makes the ground level, it says Vehaya Ha’akov L’misur  the word for crooked ground is that old word. We’ve been talking about this akov. And the Midrash has an amazing interpretation of this path of this story. Of course, Isaiah is consoling the Jewish people, he’s talking about the future. And he’s gonna say that in the future, things are going to be straight, the road is going to be flat. And the Midrash says that, yes. Not only that, but unlike when you left Egypt, and you went to Pharaoh, and you said, Hey, Pharaoh, we need to go to the desert, to pray to our Lord. And you literally had to lie. The first or second time when you were talking to Pharaoh about what you really wanted to do. We want national independence, we are human beings. No, you made up a little white lie. And the Midrash says that in the future in the final redemption, we’re not going to have to lie anymore, we can take the straight path. So it really put it clear in front of my eyes, that we’re looking at this theme of knowingly knowing that we as people, and we have a mythology of having to do that corner cutting and having to grovel and having to break a few rules. And this theme is more than just Yaakov. Does that resonate with you at all rabbi?

Adam Mintz  22:15

It does resonate with me. I’m waiting to hear the rest. Yes, that does resonate.

Geoffrey Stern  22:20

So the rest is that the guy who I’m driving with says, and you have to read a book by ag known, and the book is called Vehaya Ha’akov L’misur And the Crooked shall be made Straight. And through modern technology, I have my Kindle with me. I’m in a tent, I’m able to download, unfortunately, only an English translation of this work. And it’s an amazing story about a guy and his wife who had childless who owned a store in Eastern Europe, a hardware store. And all of a sudden, like Job, everything goes wrong. The local nobleman favors another retailer, so he raises their rent. Once the rent goes up, their taxes go up shortly after they go bankrupt. And now the the the hero of our story, a guy named Menasha Chaim has to make a decision when the decision is he’s going to go to other towns, and he’s gonna become a shnorer. And in his mind becoming a snorer a fundraiser for himself is close to stealing. And one of the stories that he tells is in the name of the Rebbe of Kochnitz. And it’s called the Gulden thief, not golden, but gulden. Because this chasid goes to his rebbe. And he says, I’m just not making it. I can’t make ends meet. And so the rabbe says, You know what you need to do, you would be a fantastic thief. So he goes out. And this is a hasidic story. And he starts, he says, I need a gulden once a week. It’s like a shekle, it’s like a pound to survive. So he breaks into stores, he breaks into homes, he opens up the safe, the safe could be full of hundreds of 1000s of dollars. He takes out one gulden and it’s a long story. But in a sense, what it’s doing is it’s talking about stealing in a way that is very simpatico you feel for this thief. And there are many different little side stories in the book and I assure you that if you read it, you will love every minute of it. But the most fascinating part story is that when he leaves his town he goes to his rabbi to get a letter saying that this man is very righteous so he can use this letter to fundraise to shnur And he’s a bashful young guy, and he just finds it, it’s difficult to use this letter and he’s, he’s really a loser. And at every turn, he’s losing money. And finally he meets another beggar in a tavern. And the otherbegger says to him, Well, why are you doing so badly and he shows him the letter. And the other beggar says, Listen, I’ll buy that letter off of you. Because you don’t have to use it. I know how to use it. I can make a lot of money with that letter. So he sells him the letter he now has money in his pocket. He gets drunk. The guy who bought the letter thinks he’s going to be rich and he gets drunk. The only problem is the beggar who has the letter dies. So now he dies with this letter in his pocket saying that he is Manassa Chaim, and he’s a good guy. Well, his wife, Manasseh Chaim’s wife has been waiting at home. And now she hears that her husband has died. So she goes to the rabbi and the rabbi says, Well, you have the letter. So you can say that he died. And she gets remarried. Now. Moshe Chaim, is coming back to town come back, he comes back. And no one recognizes him. And he talks to a beggar. And the beggar says I’m off to the circumcision of the child born to this woman who was your wife, but of course, he doesn’t say was your wife. Now he realizes he has to leave town. Because if he becomes apparent, that will ruin his wife’s life, and the child will become a bastard. So he strats to start sleeping in the cemetery because he wants to die. And the cemetery man starts putting together this beautiful gravestone. And he comes in looks at it, and his name is on it. And it turns out, his wife says, I want a beautiful gravestone for my first husband. And so you can imagine … what Agnon does, in my mind, is he parallels the story, as you were saying, Before Rabbi were a Jacob cheated his brother, Esav, what comes around goes around next week, we’ll find when he goes to Lavonne. He’s cheated. But you literally have this sale of this letter, very reminiscent of the porridge. It is absolutely fascinating. But at the end of the day, what one is left with is this sense of what it was like to live as a minority without a gulden to scratch together, begging for your life. And there was nothing heroic about it. But it was who we were. And it makes you look at this whole story from a whole different perspective. And you start to wonder, maybe 200 years ago, they read this story much differently. Maybe they saw in Yaakov themselves. And that was the question I was left with after reading the book, I just looked at the whole story totally differently.

Adam Mintz  28:26

So that first of all, thank you for sharing the book and the story. And it’s amazing that they’re in the Negev, you discovered this book, and you read the book I love the whole the whole background. But you know, that is so interesting to say that we see ourselves as Jacob. And really, Geoffrey, the sermon that you’re giving is, do we see ourselves as Jacob? Or do we see ourselves as Israel? Which name do we see ourselves, and that were called the children of Israel, but maybe depending on when you lived and what the situation was and how difficult it was? Maybe we get comfort in the fact that we’re the sons, the descendants of Jacob, that we know how to…. I think the word they use today is operate in a very hostile world.

Geoffrey Stern  29:22

And what would goes with that is, so profound because nowadays we talk about people who are victimized or have a sense of being a victim. And of course, that gets back to the part of the story that we talked about or foreshadowing a name change, you know, how do you kind of respect and understand the pathos of the Yaakov and still be able to see the Israel as the Ideal, the successful person who can stand on his two feet? How do you get around making the Yaakov, the heel grabber something that you can kind of sympathize with, understand, both in yourself and in others without making it into a model. And that, to me was a fascinating part of the story as well, I must say that the other thing that came to mind….  is I loved a thinker called Isaiah Berlin. And he wrote a book called The Crooked Timber of Humanity. And it was taken from a saying of Immanuel Kant, who believed all morality was perfect. But the concept was, that we are human. And being human, dictates what ultimately the outcomes are. In Kohelet, Ecclesiastes sees, it says, 7: 13 consider God’s doing, who can straighten what he has twisted, and in so I think part of it also, is this recognition of who we are. And the direction that Isaiah Berlin took it was that he grew up in an age where Communism and Nazism and all of these isms, these ideals will literally responsible for the deaths of millions of people. And his concept was that if the Timber of humanity is crooked, then making it straight, making some sort of ideal, which has no basis in the matter of fact, nature of our lives of our trivial lives and pathetic needs, makes no sense. And his concept was, get rid of the ideals and think of the practical things that you can do. And more importantly, understand that there might not be a resolution to every question, and that there might be more than one side, ultimately, that life can be murky, and that we all might be heel grabbers.

Adam Mintz  32:29

I mean, you go from it from OG alone to Isaiah Berlin. And you know, what you see really is that this idea of the need to sometimes be a heel grabber, and to gain comfort in the fact that one of our ancestors was a heel grabber is an extremely powerful idea. And I think just as we, as we reach 8:30, I think, Geoffrey, that you really, you put you put this in perspective, I think we always start by saying, we’re the children of Israel. And I think by sharing the unknown story and sharing Isaiah Berlin’s insight. I think what we really see is it’s not so simple. And Yaakov’s his life was not so simple. And the way we look back and we associate with those lives is not so simple. And that being a heel grabber is not necessarily something that we need to be ashamed of. But you know, different situations require different kinds of reactions. So that’s fascinating, and I look forward Geoffrey, to next week. continuing our conversation we’ll talk about Vayetze, we’re gonna continue our conversation about Jacob’s life so Shabbat Shalom, you’re gonna get to Shabbat before we will. But Shabbat Shalom, enjoy the Negev enjoy Toldot in the Negev and Shabbat Shalom, everybody. We look forward to seeing you next Thursday night at 8pm to discuss Parshat Veyetze.

Geoffrey Stern  33:54

Thank you so much rabbi, Shabbat Shalom to everybody. And please know that this part this was recorded and it will be published as a podcast, and it will include a Safira source sheet so you can go ahead and look at all the sources but forget about all that and run out and buy that book by Agnon. It is amazing and it’s called And The Crooked Shall Be Made Straight. Shabbat Shalom to you all.

Adam Mintz  34:24

Shabbat shalom. Bye bye

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Listen to last week’s episode: Life is with People and so is Death

Life is with People and so is Death

Parshat Chayei Sarah – Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on October 28th 2021 as they explore the Bible’s euphemism for death: “and he was gathered unto his people” as an opportunity to question our assumptions regarding the biblical view of the afterlife …

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The Audacity of Torah

Who gave us permission to serve the Lord?

Recorded live at TCS, The Conservative Synagogue of Westport Connecticut, an exploration of the fine line between expressions of piety in the service of the Divine and the seduction of self-pride.

Using biblical, Talmudic, liturgical and Maimonidian texts and anecdotes from the Novardok school of Mussar we come to a surprising conclusion. The Torah not so much commands us to worship the Lord as it does give us permission or license. We call this the audacity of Torah.

Listen to the madlik podcast:

Access source sheet in Sefaria here.

1. There is a popular Jewish joke about the former Novardok Yeshiva, founded by Rabbi Yosef Yozel Horowitz known as the Alter of Novardok (1847–1919). Novardok was one of the more extreme exemplars of the mussar movement that developed in Lithuania in the latter part of the 19th century. This yeshiva placed great emphasis on “the negation of the ego and the physical world”. Students wore tattered clothing and engaged in deliberately humiliating activities to achieve that end. The joke goes as follows:

Chaim, a new student, arrived at the Novardok Yeshiva. Being a novice and not knowing exactly what was expected of him, he simply observed what the other students were doing and copied them. When it was time for davening, observing his fellow yeshiva students engaged in fervent prayer and shokeling back and forth with great intensity, he did the same. During the period for Talmud study, he mimicked the others with their sing-song chants and exaggerated hand gestures. Finally, it was time for mussar self-examination, when each student retreated to a private corner, beat his fist remorsefully against his chest and repeated the refrain in Yiddish: “Ish bin a gor nisht! Ish bin a gor nisht!” (“I am a complete nothing!”) Observing the behaviour of these students, Chaim sat down and, pounding his fist against his chest, likewise repeated the same mantra: “Ish bin a gor nisht! Ish bin a gor nisht!” One of the veteran students seated nearby observed Chaim disdainfully, turned to another old-timer and commented, “Look at this one! He’s been here just one day, and he already thinks he’s a gor nisht!” source

(ח) אֶת שֵׁם הָאֵ-ל, הַמֶּלֶךְ הַגָּדול הַגִּבּור וְהַנּורָא קָדושׁ הוּא.

וְכֻלָּם מְקַבְּלִים עֲלֵיהֶם על מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם זֶה מִזֶּה.

וְנותְנִים רְשׁוּת זֶה לָזֶה לְהַקְדִּישׁ לְיוצְרָם בְּנַחַת רוּחַ. בְּשפָה בְרוּרָה וּבִנְעִימָה.

קְדֻשָׁה כֻּלָּם כְּאֶחָד. עונִים וְאומְרִים בְּיִרְאָה:
קָדושׁ קָדושׁ קָדושׁ ה’ צְבָאות. מְלא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבודו:

the name of the Almighty, the king, the great, the mighty, the awesome One; holy is He.

And they take upon themselves the yoke of sovereignty one from the other

and give permission one to another to sanctify their Creator in a spirit of serenity

with clear speech and sweet harmony

They proclaim [His] holiness in unison and reverently proclaim:

“Holy, holy, holy is Adonoy of Hosts the fullness of all the earth is his glory.”

(א) וקרא זה אל זה. נוטלין רשות זה מזה שלא יקדים האחד ויתחיל ויתחייב שריפה אלא אם כן פתחו כולם כאחד וזהו שיסד ביוצר אור קדושה כולם כאחד עונים כו’ ומדרש אגדה מעשה מרכבה הוא וכן תירגם קדוש קדוש קדוש ג’ פעמים כתרגומו:

Rashi on Isaiah 6:3

3.  They would take permission from one another so that one would not precede [the others] and be guilty of [a sin punishable by] burning; rather, they all commenced simultaneously. This is the basis for what is said in the K’dushah d’Yotzeir Or: “all, as one, respond [and proclaim God’s holiness…]”…

האם בני אדם יכולים להידמות למלאכים? מיכאל גרץ פוסטים23/02/2020

ר’ חיים בן שלמה טיירר מצ’רנוביץ’ (נולד ב1816) מסביר את הפסוק והתפילה כך:

“…כי באמת כבר כתבנו במקום אחר שמי שאוהב את ה’ יתברך לא אהבת עצמו בשום אופן, אין חילוק לפניו כלל וכלל בעשיית המצוות אם הוא עשאה או אחרים עושים ויבוא הטוב מכל מקום”.

אסור שתתקיים “תחרות” על עשיית מצוות. יהודי שעושה רק מצווה אחת ביום, עשייה זאת משמחת את הקב”ה. ואין לאדם אחר רשות לבקר אותו שזה רק מצווה אחת. והוא ממשיך:

“וזה הוא עיקר עבודתו לעשות נחת רוח לפניו, ומה לו אם יגיענו נחת רוח ממנו או מחבירו. … האוהב את בוראו אהבת אמת שמשתוקק שיגיע נחת רוח לבורא עולם, לא ישתדל כלל לחטוף המצוה מזולתו שהוא יעשנה”

אין אפוטרופסות על המצוות! אסור שחוג זה או אחר יטען שרק הם יודעים איך לקיים את המצוות, ולכן כל מצווה שיהודי אחר עושה פסול מלכתחילה. גישה כזאת גורמת צער לה’ במקום שמחה.

“ועל כן אומרים בקדושה של יוצר אצל קדושת המלאכים וכולם מקבלים עליהם וגו’ ונותנים באהבה ‘רשות זה לזה’ להקדיש ליוצרם בנחת רוח וגו’, …

ולא יחפוץ אחד להיות גדול מחבירו אף בעיני המקום, ועל כן נותנים באהבה רבה רשות זה לזה להקדיש וכו’ כי כל כוונתם שיגיע הנאה לבורא עולם יהיה ממי שיהיה מאתו או מזולתו…” (ספר באר מים חיים פרשת תצוה – פרק כח)

4. Rabbi Michael Gertz: Can Humans Resemble Angels 2/23/2020

Rabbi Chaim Ben Shlomo Tierer of Czernowitz (born 1816) explains the verse and prayer as follows:

“… Because we have already written elsewhere that whoever loves God will not act selfishly under any circumstance, there is no difference in him at all in doing the commandments whether he did or others do and the good comes from everywhere.

Ganze: There must be no “competition” for the observance. A Jew who does only one mitzvah a day does so pleasing the Almighty. And no one else has permission to criticize him that is only one mitzvah. And he continues:

“And that is the crux of his work please the Lord, and what if this Divine pleasure comes from him or from his friend. … Who loves his Creator A true love that longs for a spirit of Creator will never endeavor to snatch the mitzvah from others.

Ganz; There is no guardianship of the commandments! One or the other circle must not claim that only they know how to keep the commandments, and therefore every commandment that another Jew makes is wrong in the first place. Such an attitude causes God sorrow instead of joy.

And so they say with regard to the Kedusha: and everyone accepts them And lovingly give ‘each other’s permission’ to sanctify their creator in divine pleasure … ‘ And no one wants to be bigger than his friend even in the eyes of the God, and therefore, with great love, give each other permission to dedicate, etc. that all their intentions that come to give pleasure to the Creator of the world whether it comes from them or their fellow.

ברכות ל״ב א

וְאָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר: מֹשֶׁה הֵטִיחַ דְּבָרִים כְּלַפֵּי מַעְלָה. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל מֹשֶׁה אֶל ה׳״ אַל תִּקְרֵי ״אֶל ה׳״, אֶלָּא ״עַל ה׳״. שֶׁכֵּן דְּבֵי רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר בֶּן יַעֲקֹב קוֹרִין לָאַלְפִין עַיְינִין, וְלָעַיְינִין אַלְפִין.

דבֵי רַבִּי יַנַּאי אָמְרִי, מֵהָכָא: ״וְדִי זָהָב״. מַאי ״וְדִי זָהָב״? אָמְרִי דְּבֵי רַבִּי יַנַּאי: כָּךְ אָמַר מֹשֶׁה לִפְנֵי הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא: רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם, בִּשְׁבִיל כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב שֶׁהִשְׁפַּעְתָּ לָהֶם לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, עַד שֶׁאָמְרוּ ״דַּי״ — הוּא גָּרַם שֶׁעָשׂוּ אֶת הָעֵגֶל. אָמְרִי דְּבֵי רַבִּי יַנַּאי: אֵין אֲרִי נוֹהֵם מִתּוֹךְ קוּפָּה שֶׁל תֶּבֶן אֶלָּא מִתּוֹךְ קוּפָּה שֶׁל בָּשָׂר. אָמַר רַבִּי אוֹשַׁעְיָא: מָשָׁל לְאָדָם שֶׁהָיְתָה לוֹ פָּרָה כְּחוּשָׁה וּבַעֲלַת אֵבָרִים, הֶאֱכִילָהּ כַּרְשִׁינִין וְהָיְתָה מְבַעֶטֶת בּוֹ. אָמַר לָהּ: מִי גָּרַם לִיךְ שֶׁתְּהֵא מְבַעֶטֶת בִּי — אֶלָּא כַּרְשִׁינִין שֶׁהֶאֱכַלְתִּיךְ. אָמַר רַבִּי חִיָּיא בַּר אַבָּא אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: מָשָׁל לְאָדָם אֶחָד שֶׁהָיָה לוֹ בֵּן. הִרְחִיצוֹ וְסָכוֹ, וְהֶאֱכִילוֹ וְהִשְׁקָהוּ, וְתָלָה לוֹ כִּיס עַל צַוָּארוֹ, וְהוֹשִׁיבוֹ עַל פֶּתַח שֶׁל זוֹנוֹת. מַה יַּעֲשֶׂה אוֹתוֹ הַבֵּן שֶׁלֹּא יֶחֱטָא?! אָמַר רַב אַחָא בְּרֵיהּ דְּרַב הוּנָא אָמַר רַב שֵׁשֶׁת: הַיְינוּ דְּאָמְרִי אִינָשֵׁי: מְלֵי כְּרֵסֵיהּ זְנֵי בִּישֵׁי. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״כְּמַרְעִיתָם וַיִּשְׂבָּעוּ שָׂבְעוּ וַיָּרׇם לִבָּם עַל כֵּן שְׁכֵחוּנִי״. רַב נַחְמָן אָמַר: מֵהָכָא: ״וְרָם לְבָבֶךָ וְשָׁכַחְתָּ אֶת ה׳״. וְרַבָּנַן אָמְרִי, מֵהָכָא: ״וְאָכַל וְשָׂבַע וְדָשֵׁן וּפָנָה״. וְאִי בָּעֵית אֵימָא מֵהָכָא: ״וַיִּשְׁמַן יְשׁוּרוּן וַיִּבְעָט״. אָמַר רַבִּי שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר נַחְמָנִי אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹנָתָן: מִנַּיִן שֶׁחָזַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא וְהוֹדָה לוֹ לְמֹשֶׁה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וְכֶסֶף הִרְבֵּיתִי לָהֶם וְזָהָב עָשׂוּ לַבָּעַל״. ״וַיְדַבֵּר ה׳ אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֶךְ רֵד״. מַאי ״לֶךְ רֵד״? אָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר: אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְמֹשֶׁה: מֹשֶׁה, רֵד מִגְּדוּלָּתְךָ! כְּלוּם נָתַתִּי לְךָ גְּדוּלָּה אֶלָּא בִּשְׁבִיל יִשְׂרָאֵל. וְעַכְשָׁיו יִשְׂרָאֵל חָטְאוּ — אַתָּה לָמָּה לִי? מִיָּד תָּשַׁשׁ כּוֹחוֹ שֶׁל מֹשֶׁה, וְלֹא הָיָה לוֹ כֹּחַ לְדַבֵּר. וְכֵיוָן שֶׁאָמַר ״הֶרֶף מִמֶּנִּי וְאַשְׁמִידֵם״, אָמַר מֹשֶׁה: דָּבָר זֶה תָּלוּי בִּי! מִיָּד עָמַד וְנִתְחַזֵּק בִּתְפִלָּה, וּבִקֵּשׁ רַחֲמִים. מָשָׁל לְמֶלֶךְ שֶׁכָּעַס עַל בְּנוֹ, וְהָיָה מַכֵּהוּ מַכָּה גְּדוֹלָה. וְהָיָה אוֹהֲבוֹ יוֹשֵׁב לְפָנָיו, וּמִתְיָרֵא לוֹמַר לוֹ דָּבָר. אָמַר הַמֶּלֶךְ: אִלְמָלֵא אוֹהֲבִי זֶה שֶׁיּוֹשֵׁב לְפָנַי — הֲרַגְתִּיךָ. אָמַר: דָּבָר זֶה תָּלוּי בִּי. מִיָּד עָמַד וְהִצִּילוֹ. ״וְעַתָּה הַנִּיחָה לִּי וְיִחַר אַפִּי בָהֶם וַאֲכַלֵּם וְאֶעֱשֶׂה אוֹתְךָ לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל וְגוֹ׳״.

אָמַר רַבִּי אֲבָהוּ: אִלְמָלֵא מִקְרָא כָּתוּב, אִי אֶפְשָׁר לְאוֹמְרוֹ.

And Rabbi Elazar said: Moses also spoke impertinently toward God on High, as it is stated in the verse following the sin of those who murmured against God in the desert: “And Moses prayed to the Lord and the fire subsided” (Numbers 11:2), and this verse is interpreted homiletically: Do not read to [el] the Lord, but rather onto [al] the Lord, which indicates that he spoke impertinently….

The Sages of the school of Rabbi Yannai, however, say proof that Moses spoke impertinently toward God on High is derived from here, Moses’ rebuke at the beginning of Deuteronomy: “And Di Zahav” (Deuteronomy 1:1). …The Sages of the school of Rabbi Yannai said that Moses said the following before the Holy One, Blessed be He, to atone for Israel after the sin of the Golden Calf: Master of the Universe, because of the gold and silver that you lavished upon Israel during the exodus from Egypt until they said enough [dai]; it was this wealth that caused Israel to make the Golden Calf.

Rabbi Oshaya said: This is comparable to a person who had a lean, but large-limbed cow. At one point, he fed it lupines, a choice food, and soon thereafter the cow was kicking him. He said to the cow: Who caused you to begin kicking me if not the lupines I fed you? Here, too, the sin was caused by an abundance of good. The Gemara offers another analogy: Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: This is comparable to a person who had a son; he bathed him and anointed him with oil, fed him and gave him drink, and hung a purse of money around his neck. Then, he brought his son to the entrance of a brothel. What could the son do to avoid sinning? ….

Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani said that Rabbi Yonatan said: From where in the Torah is it derived that the Holy One, Blessed be He, ultimately conceded to Moses that the reason for the sin of the Golden Calf was indeed the riches lavished upon Israel? As it is stated: “And I gave them an abundance of silver and gold, which they used for the Ba’al” (Hosea 2:10). …

In an additional aspect of the sin of the Golden Calf, God told Moses: “Now leave Me be, that My wrath will be enraged against them and I will consume them; and I will make of you a great nation” (Exodus 32:10). Explaining this verse,

Rabbi Abbahu said: Were the verse not written in this manner, it would be impossible to utter it, in deference to God.

5.

הנה כבר התבאר לך כי כל אשר התבאר לך במופת שלילת דבר אחד ממנו – תהיה יותר שלם וכל אשר תחיב לו דבר מוסף – תהיה מדמה ותרחק מידיעת אמיתתו. …

וכאשר הרגיש כל אדם שאי אפשר להגיע אל השגת מה שבכוחנו שנשיג כי אם בשלילה והשלילה לא תודיע דבר מאמיתת הענין אשר נשלל ממנו הדבר אשר נשללהו – בארו בני אדם כולם העוברים והבאים שהאלוה ית’ לא ישיגוהו השכלים ולא ישיג מה הוא אלא הוא ושהשגתו היא הלאות מתכלית השגתו. וכל הפילוסופים אומרים נצחנו בנעימותו ונעלם ממנו לחוזק הראותו כמו שיעלם השמש מן העינים החלושים להשיגו. וכבר האריכו בזה במה שאין תועלת לשנותו הנה. והמפולג שנאמר בזה הענין – אמרו ב’תלים’ “לך דומיה תהילה” – פרושו השתיקה אצלך היא השבח. וזה המרצת דברים עצומה מאוד בזה הענין – שאנחנו כל דבר שנאמר אותו שנכון בו הגדלה ושבח – נמצא בו מעמס אחד בחוקו ית’ ונשקיף בו קצת חסרון; אם כן השתיקה יותר ראויה וההסתפקות בהשגת השכלים כמו שצוו השלמים ואמרו “אמרו בלבבכם על משכבכם ודומו סלה”:

וכבר ידעת אמרתם המפורסמת (אשר מי יתן והיה כל המאמרים כמותה!) ואני אזכרה לך בלשונה (ואף על פי שהיא ידועה) להעירך על עניניה.

הַהוּא דִּנְחֵית קַמֵּיהּ דְּרַבִּי חֲנִינָא, אֲמַר ״הָאֵל הַגָּדוֹל הַגִּבּוֹר וְהַנּוֹרָא וְהָאַדִּיר וְהָעִזּוּז וְהַיָּראוּי, הֶחָזָק וְהָאַמִּיץ וְהַוַּדַּאי וְהַנִּכְבָּד״.

הִמְתִּין לוֹ עַד דְּסַיֵּים. כִּי סַיֵּים אֲמַר לֵיהּ: סַיֵּימְתִּינְהוּ לְכוּלְּהוּ שִׁבְחֵי דְמָרָךְ?! לְמָה לִי כּוּלֵּי הַאי? אֲנַן, הָנֵי תְּלָת דְּאָמְרִינַן אִי לָאו דְּאַמְרִינְהוּ מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ בְּאוֹרָיְיתָא, וַאֲתוֹ אַנְשֵׁי כְּנֶסֶת הַגְּדוֹלָה וְתַקְּנִינְהוּ בִּתְפִלָּה — לָא הֲוֵינַן יְכוֹלִין לְמֵימַר לְהוּ, וְאַתְּ אָמְרַתְּ כּוּלֵּי הַאי וְאָזְלַתְּ! מָשָׁל לְמֶלֶךְ בָּשָׂר וָדָם שֶׁהָיוּ לוֹ אֶלֶף אֲלָפִים דִּינְרֵי זָהָב, וְהָיוּ מְקַלְּסִין אוֹתוֹ בְּשֶׁל כֶּסֶף. וַהֲלֹא גְּנַאי הוּא לוֹ! ברכות ל״ג ב

– עד הנה הגיע מאמר זה החסיד:

והסתכל תחילה שתקו ומאסו רבוי תארי החיוב. והתבונן איך הראה כי התארים אילו הונחו לשכלינו לבד לא אמרנום לעולם ולא דברנו בדבר מהם; ואמנם כאשר הצריך הכרח הדיבור לבני אדם במה שיתקים להם מעט ציור – כמו שאמרו ‘דברה תורה כלשון בני אדם’ – שיתואר להם האלוק בשלמיותיהם תכליתנו – שנעמוד על המאמרים ההם ולא נקרא שמו בהם אלא בקראנו אותם ב’תורה’ לבד;

וכבר הישירנו שלמה לזה הענין במה שבו די ואמר “כי האלוקים בשמים ואתה על הארץ על כן יהיו דבריך מעטים”

5.   Guide for the Perplexed, Part 1 59

It will now be clear to you, that every time you establish by proof the negation of a thing in reference to God, you become more perfect, while with every additional positive assertion you follow your imagination and recede from the true knowledge of God. …

Since it is a well-known fact that even that knowledge of God which is accessible to man cannot be attained except by negations, and that negations do not convey a true idea of the being to which they refer, all people, both of past and present generations, declared that God cannot be the object of human comprehension, that none but Himself comprehends what He is, and that our knowledge consists in knowing that we are unable truly to comprehend Him. All philosophers say, “He has overpowered us by His grace, and is invisible to us through the intensity of His light,” like the sun which cannot be perceived by eyes which are too weak to bear its rays. Much more has been said on this topic, but it is useless to repeat it here. The idea is best expressed in the book of Psalms, “Silence is praise to Thee” (lxv. 2). It is a very expressive remark on this subject; for whatever we utter with the intention of extolling and of praising Him, contains something that cannot be applied to God, and includes derogatory expressions; it is therefore more becoming to be silent, and to be content with intellectual reflection, as has been recommended by men of the highest culture, in the words “Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still” (Ps. 4:4).

You must surely know the following celebrated passage in the Talmud (Berakhot 33b) –would that all passages in the Talmud were like that!–although it is known to you, I quote it literally, as I wish to point out to you the ideas contained in it: “A certain person, reading prayers in the presence of Rabbi Haninah, said, ‘God, the great, the valiant and the tremendous, the powerful, the strong, and the mighty.’–The rabbi said to him, Have you finished all the praises of your Master? The three epithets, ‘God, the great, the valiant and the tremendous,’ we should not have applied to God, had Moses not mentioned them in the Law, and had not the men of the Great Synagogue come forward subsequently and established their use in the prayer; and you say all this! Let this be illustrated by a parable. There was once an earthly king, possessing millions of gold coin; he was praised for owning millions of silver coin; was this not really dispraise to him?” Thus far the opinion of the pious rabbi.

Consider, first, how repulsive and annoying the accumulation of all these positive attributes was to him; next, how he showed that, if we had only to follow our reason, we should never have composed these prayers, and we should not have uttered any of them. It has, however, become necessary to address men in words that should leave some idea in their minds, and, in accordance with the saying of our Sages, “The Torah speaks in the language of men,” the Creator has been described to us in terms of our own perfections; but we should not on that account have uttered any other than the three above-mentioned attributes, and we should not have used them as names of God except when meeting with them in reading the Law.

Solomon has already given us sufficient instruction on this subject by saying, “For God is in heaven, and thou upon earth; therefore let thy words be few” (Eccles. 5:2).

אי אפשר לפי טבע האדם שיניח כל מה שהרגיל בו פתאום. וכאשר שלח האלוק ‘משה רבנו’ לתתנו “ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש” בידיעתו ית’ – כמו שבאר ואמר “אתה הראת לדעת וגו'” וידעת היום והשבות אל לבבך וגו'” ולהנתן לעבודתו – כמו שאמר “ולעבדו בכל לבבכם” ואמר “ועבדתם את ה’ אלוקיכם” ואמר “ואותו תעבודו” – והיה המנהג המפורסם בעולם כולו שהיו אז רגילים בו והעבודה הכוללת אשר גדלו עליה – להקריב מיני בעלי חיים בהיכלות ההם אשר היו מעמידים בהם הצלמים ולהשתחוות להם ולקטר לפניהם והעבודים והפרושים היו אז האנשים הנתונים לעבודת ההיכלות ההם העשויים לכוכבים (כמו שבארנו) – לא גזרה חכמתו ית’ ותחבולתו המבוארת בכל בריאותיו שיצונו להניח מיני העבודות ההם כולם ולעזבם ולבטלם כי אז היה זה מה שלא יעלה בלב לקבלו כפי טבע האדם שהוא נוטה תמיד למורגל; והיה דומה אז כאילו יבוא נביא בזמננו זה שיקרא לעבודת האלוק ויאמר האלוק צוה אתכם שלא תתפללו אליו ולא תצומו ולא תבקשו תשועתו בעת צרה אבל תהיה עבודתכם מחשבה מבלתי מעשה: ומפני זה השאיר ית’ מיני העבודות ההם והעתיקם מהיותם לנבראים ולענינים דמיוניים שאין אמיתות להם – לשמו ית’ וצונו לעשותם לו ית’. וצוונו לבנות היכל לו “ועשו לי מקדש” ושיהיה המזבח לשמו “מזבח אדמה תעשה לי” ושיהיה הקרבן לו “אדם כי יקריב מכם קרבן לה'” ושישתחוו לו ושיקטירוהו לפניו. והזהיר מעשות דבר מאלו המעשים לזולתו “זובח לאלוקים יחרם וגו'” “כי לא תשתחוה לאל אחר”. והפריש ‘כהנים’ לבית ה’מקדש’ ואמר “וכהנו לי” וחיב שייוחדו להם מתנות על כל פנים שיספיקו להם מפני שהם עסוקים בבית ובקרבנותיו והם מתנות ה’לוים וה’כהנים’. והגיע בזאת הערמה האלוקית שנמחוה זכר ‘עבודה זרה’ והתקימה הפינה הגדולה האמיתית באמונתו והיא מציאות האלוק ואחדותו; ולא יברחו הנפשות וישתוממו בבטל העבודות אשר הורגלו ולא נודעו עבודתו זולתם: ואני יודע שנפשך תברח מזה הענין בהכרח בתחילת מחשבה ויכבד עליך ותשאלני בלבך ותאמר לי איך יבואו מצוות ואזהרות ופעולות עצומות ומבוארות מאד והושם להם זמנים והם כולם בלתי מכוונות לעצמם אבל הם מפני דבר אחר כאילו הם תחבולה שעשה העלוה לנו להגיע אל כונתו הראשונה? ואי זה מונע היה אצלו ית’ לצוות לנו כונתו הראשונה ויתן בנו יכולת לקבלה ולא היה צורך לאלו אשר חשבת שהם על צד הכונה השניה? – שמע תשובתי אשר תסיר מלבך זה החלי ותגלה לך אמיתת מה שעוררתיך עליו. והוא שכבר בא ב’תורה’ כמו זה הענין בשוה – והוא אמרו “ולא נחם אלוקים דרך ארץ פלישתים כי קרוב הוא וגו’ ויסב אלוקים את העם דרך המדבר ים סוף”. וכמו שהסב האלוק אותם מן הדרך הישרה אשר היתה מכוונת תחלה מפני יראת מה שלא היו גופותם יכולים לסבלו לפי הטבע אל דרך אחרת עד שתגיע הכונה הראשונה – כן צוה בזאת המצוה אשר זכרנו מפני יראת מה שאין יכולת לנפש לקבלו לפי הטבע שתגיע הכונה הראשונה והיא – השגתו ית’ והנחת ‘עבודה זרה’. כי כמו שאין בטבע האדם שיגדל על מלאכת עבדות בחומר ובלבנים והדומה להם ואחר כן ירחץ ידיו לשעתו מלכלוכם וילחם עם ‘ילידי הענק’ פתאום כן אין בטבעו שיגדל על מינים רביםמן העבודות ומעשים מורגלים שכבר נטו אליהם הנפשות עד ששבו כמושכל ראשון ויניחם כולם פתאום. וכמו שהיה מחכמת האלוק להסב אותם במדבר עד שילמדו גבורה – כמו שנודע שההליכה במדבר ומעוט הנאות הגוף מרחיצה וסיכה וכיוצא בהם יולידו הגבורה והפכם יוליד רוך לב – ונולדו גם כן אנשים שלא הרגילו בשפלות ובעבדות וכל זה היה במצות אלוקיות על ידי משה רבינו’ “על פי ה’ יחנו ועל פי ה’ יסעו – את משמרת ה’ שמרו על פי ה’ ביד משה” – כן בא זה החלק מן התורה בתחבולה אלוקית עד שישארו עם מין המעשה המורגל כדי שתעלה בידם האמונה אשר היא הכונה הראשונה. ושאלתך “אי זה מונע היה לאלוק מצוותנו כונתו הראשונה ויתן לנו יכולת לקבלה?” תחיב זאת השאלה השנית ויאמר לך ואי זה מונע היה לאלוק שינחם ‘דרך ארץ פלישתים’ ויתן להם יכולת להלחם ולא היה צריך לזה הסיבוב ב”עמוד הענן יומם ועמוד האש לילה”? וכן תחיב שאלה שלישית – על סיבת היעודים הטובים אשר יעד על שמירת המצוות והיעודים הרעים אשר יעד על העברות ויאמר לך אחר שכונת האלוק הראשונה ורצונו היה שנאמין זאת התורה ונעשה ככל הכתוב בה למה לא נתן לנו יכולת לקבלה ולעשותה תמיד ולא היה עושה לנו תחבולה להיטיב לנו אם נעבדהו ולהנקם ממנו אם נמרהו? ולעשות הטובות ההם כולם והנקמות ההם כולם? – כי זאת גם כן תחבולה שעשה האלוק לנו עד שיגיע ממנו אל כונתו הראשונה – ואי זה מונע היה אצלו לתת רצון במעשי העבודה אשר רצה וריחוק העברות אשר מאסם טבע מוטבע בנו?: והתשובה על אלו השאלות השלש וכל מה שהוא ממינם – תשובה אחת כוללת והיא שהאותות כולם אף על פי שהם שינוי טבע איש אחד מאישי הנמצאות אך טבע בני אדם לא ישנהו האלוק כלל על צד המופת. ומפני זה השורש הגדול אמר “מי יתן והיה לבבם זה להם וגו'” ומפני זה באה המצוה והאזהרה והגמול והעונש. וכבר בארנו זאת הפינה במופתיה במקומות רבים מחיבורינו. ולא אמרתי זה מפני שאני מאמין ששינוי טבע כל אחד מבני אדם קשה עליו ית’ אך הוא אפשר ונופל תחת היכולת אלא שהוא לא רצה כלל לעשות זה ולא ירצהו לעולם כפי הפינות התוריות; ואילו היה מרצונו לשנות טבע כל איש מבני אדם למה שירצהו ית’ מן האיש ההוא היה בטל שליחות הנביאים ונתינת התורה כולה:

(ג) ואשוב אל כונתי ואומר כי כאשר היה זה המין מן העבודה – רצוני לומר ה’קרבנות’ – על צד הכונה השניה והצעקה והתפלה וכיוצא בהם ממעשי העבודות יותר קרובות אל הכונה הראשונה והכרחיות בהגיע אליה – שם בין שני המינים הפרש גדול והוא שזה המין מן העבודה – רצוני לומר הקרבת הקרבנות – אף על פי שהוא לשמו ית’ לא חויב עלינו כמו שהיה בתחלה – רצוני לומר שנקריב בכל מקום ובכל זמן ולא שנעשה היכל באשר יזדמן ושיקריב מי שיזדמן “החפץ ימלא ידו” אבל נאסר כל זה עלינו והושם בית אחד “אל המקום אשר יבחר ה'” ואין מקריבים בזולתו “פן תעלה עולותיך בכל מקום אשר תראה” ולא יהיה ‘כהן’ אלא זרע מיוחד – כל זה הענין – למעט זה המין מן העבודות ושלא יהיה ממנו אלא מה שלא גזרה חכמתו להניחו לגמרי. אבל התפילה והתחינה היא מותרת בכל מקום וכל מי שיזדמן. וכן ה’ציצית’ וה’מזוזה’ וה’תפילין’ וזולתם מן העבודות הדומות להם:

(ד) ובעבור זה הענין אשר גיליתי לך נמצא הרבה בספרי הנביאים שמוכיחים בני אדם על רוב השתדלותם והתחזקם להביא הקרבנות ובואר לכם שאינם מכוונים לעצמם כונה צריכה מאד ושהאלוה אינו צריך להם – אמר שמואל “החפץ לה’ בעולות וזבחים כשמוע בקול יי? וגו'”; ואמר ישעיה “למה לי רוב זבחיכם? – יאמר ה’ וגו'”; ואמר ירמיה “כי לא דברתי את אבותיכם ולא צויתים ביום הוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים על דברי עולה וזבח – כי אם את הדבר הזה צויתי אותם לאמר שמעו בקולי והייתי לכם לאלוקים ואתם תהיו לי לעם”. וכבר הוקשה זה המאמר בעיני כל מי שראיתי דברים או שמעתים ואמר איך יאמר ירמיה על האלוק שלא צוונו ב’דברי עולה וזבח’ – ורוב ה’מצוות’ באו בזה? אמנם כונת המאמר הוא מה שבארתי לך וזה שהוא אמר שהכונה הראשונה אמנם היא – שתשיגוני ולא תעבדו זולתי ‘והייתי לכם לאלוקים ואתם תהיו לי לעם’; וזאת המצוה בהקרבה וכיון אל הבית אמנם היתה בעבור שתעלה בידיכם זאת הפינה ובעבורה העתקתי אלו העבודות לשמי עד שימחה שם ‘עבודה זרה’ ותתקים פנת יחודי; ובאתם אתם ובטלתם התכלית ההיא והתחזקתם במה שנעשה בעבודה והוא – שאתם ספקתם במציאותי “כחשו בה’ ויאמרו “לא הוא” ועבדתם ‘עבודה זרה’ “וקטר לבעל הלוך אחרי אלוקים אחרים… ובאתם אתם ובטלתם התכלית ההיא והתחזקתם כמה שנעשה בעבורה והוא – שאתם ספקתם במציאותי “כחשו בה’ ויאמרו “לוא הוא” ועבדתם ‘עבודה זרה’ “וקטר לבעל והלוך אחרי אלוקים אחרים… ובאתם אל הבית וגו'” – ונשארתם מכונים אל ‘היכל ה” ומקריבים הקרבנות אשר לא היו מכוונים אל ‘היכל ה” ומקריבים הקרבנות אשר לא היו מכוונים כמה ראשונה: ולי בפרוש זה ‘הפסוק’ פנים אחרים והוא מביא הענין בעצמו אשר זכרנוהו והוא שכבר התבאר בכתוב ובקבלה יחד שתחילת מצוה שנצטוינו בה לא היו בה ‘דברי עולה וזבח’ כלל ואין צריך שתטריד כלל שכלך ב’פסח מצרים’ כי היא היתה לסיבה מבוארת גלויה – כמו שאני עתיד לבאר; ועוד שהמצוה היתה ב’ארץ מצרים’ והמצוה הרמוז אליה בזה ה’פסוק’ ואמר ‘ביום הוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים’ – כי תחלת ‘צווי’ שבא אחר יציאת מצרים’ הוא מה שנצטוינו בו במרה – והוא אמרו לנו שם “אם שמעו תשמע לקול ה’ אלוקיך וגו’ “שם שם לו חוק ומשפט חוגו'” ובאה הקבלה האמיתית “שבת ודינין במרה אפקוד” – וה’חוק’ הרמוז אליו הוא ה’שבת’ וה’משפט’ הוא ה’דינים’ והוא הסרת העול. וזאת היא הכונה הראשונה כמו שבארנו – רצוני לומר אמונת הדעות האמיתיות והוא חידוש העולם. וכבר ידעת שעיקר מצות שבת אמנם היא – לחזק זאת הפינה ולקימה – כמו שבארנו בזה המאמר. והכונה עוד עם אמיתת הדעות – להסיר העול מבני אדם. הנה כבר התבאר לך שהמצוה הראשונה לא היו בה ‘דברי עולה וזבח’ – אחר שהם על צד הכונה השנית כמו שזכרנו: וזה הענין בעצמו אשר אמרו ירמיה הוא אשר נאמר בתהילים על צד ההוכחה לאומה כולה בסכלה אז הכונה הראשונה ולא היתה מבדלת בינה ובין הכונה השנית. – אמר “שמעה עמי ואדברה ישראל ואעידה בך אלוקים אלוקיך אנוכי לא על זבחיך אוכיחך ועולותיך לנגדי תמיד לא אקח מביתך פר ממכלאותיך – עתודים”. וכל מקום שנכפל זה הענין – זאת היא הכונה בו. והבינהו מאד והסתכל בו:

a. It is, namely, impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other: it is therefore according to the nature of man impossible for him suddenly to discontinue everything to which he has been accustomed. Now God sent Moses to make [the Israelites] a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod. 19:6) by means of the knowledge of God. Comp. “Unto thee it was showed that thou mightest know that the Lord is God (Deut. 4:35); “Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the Lord is God” (ibid. 5:39). The Israelites were commanded to devote themselves to His service; comp. “and to serve him with all your heart” (ibid. 11:13); “and you shall serve the Lord your God” (Exod. 23:25); “and ye shall serve him” (Deut. 13:5).

b. But the custom which was in those days general among all men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up, consisted in sacrificing animals in those temples which contained certain images, to bow down to those images, and to burn incense before them; religious and ascetic persons were in those days the persons that were devoted to the service in the temples erected to the stars, as has been explained by us. It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God, as displayed in the whole Creation, that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service; for to obey such a commandment it would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used;

c. it would in those days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present if he called us to the service of God and told us in His name, that we should not pray to Him, not fast, not seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, and not by any action. For this reason God allowed these kinds of service to continue; He transferred to His service that which had formerly served as a worship of created beings, and of things imaginary and unreal, and commanded us to serve Him in the same manner; viz., to build unto Him a temple; comp. “And they shall make unto me a sanctuary” (Exod. 25:8); to have the altar erected to His name; comp. “An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me” (ibid. 20:21); to offer the sacrifices to Him; comp. “If any man of you bring an offering unto the Lord” (Lev. 1:2), to bow down to Him and to burn incense before Him. He has forbidden to do any of these things to any other being; comp. “He who sacrificeth unto any God, save the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed” (Exod. 22:19); “For thou shalt bow down to no other God” (ibid. 34:14). He selected priests for the service in the temple; comp. “And they shall minister unto me in the priest’s office” (ibid. 28:41). He made it obligatory that certain gifts, called the gifts of the Levites and the priests, should be assigned to them for their maintenance while they are engaged in the service of the temple and its sacrifices. By this Divine plan it was effected that the traces of idolatry were blotted out, and the truly great principle of our faith, the Existence and Unity of God, was firmly established; this result was thus obtained without deterring or confusing the minds of the people by the abolition of the service to which they were accustomed and which alone was familiar to them.

d. I know that you will at first thought reject this idea and find it strange; you will put the following question to me in your heart: How can we suppose that Divine commandments, prohibitions, and important acts, which are fully explained, and for which certain seasons are fixed, should not have been commanded for their own sake, but only for the sake of some other thing: as if they were only the means which He employed for His primary object? What prevented Him from making His primary object a direct commandment to us, and to give us the capacity of obeying it? Those precepts which in your opinion are only the means and not the object would then have been unnecessary.

e. Hear my answer, which win cure your heart of this disease and will show you the truth of that which I have pointed out to you. There occurs in the Law a passage which contains exactly the same idea; it is the following: “God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt; but God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea,” etc. (Exod. 13:17). Here God led the people about, away from the direct road which He originally intended, because He feared they might meet on that way with hardships too great for their ordinary strength; He took them by another road in order to obtain thereby His original object. In the same manner God refrained from prescribing what the people by their natural disposition would be incapable of obeying, and gave the above-mentioned commandments as a means of securing His chief object, viz., to spread a knowledge of Him [among the people], and to cause them to reject idolatry. It is contrary to man’s nature that he should suddenly abandon all the different kinds of Divine service and the different customs in which he has been brought up, and which have been so general, that they were considered as a matter of course; it would be just as if a person trained to work as a slave with mortar and bricks, or similar things, should interrupt his work, clean his hands, and at once fight with real giants. It was the result of God’s wisdom that the Israelites were led about in the wilderness till they acquired courage.

f. For it is a well-known fact that travelling in the wilderness, and privation of bodily enjoyments, such as bathing, produce courage, whilst the reverse is the source of faint-heartedness: besides, another generation rose during the wanderings that had not been accustomed to degradation and slavery. All the travelling in the wilderness was regulated by Divine commands through Moses; comp. “At the commandment of the Lord they rested, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed; they kept the charge of the Lord and the commandment of the Lord by the hand of Moses” (Num. 9:23). In the same way the portion of the Law under discussion is the result of divine wisdom, according to which people are allowed to continue the kind of worship to which they have been accustomed, in order that they might acquire the true faith, which is the chief object [of God’s commandments]. You ask, What could have prevented God from commanding us directly, that which is the chief object, and from giving us the capacity of obeying it? This would lead to a second question, What prevented God from leading the Israelites through the way of the land of the Philistines, and endowing them with strength for fighting? The leading about by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night would then not have been necessary. A third question would then be asked in reference to the good promised as reward for the keeping of the commandments, and the evil foretold as a punishment for sins. It is the following question: As it is the chief object and purpose of God that we should believe in the Law, and act according to that which is written therein, why has He not given us the capacity of continually believing in it, and following its guidance, instead of holding out to us reward for obedience, and punishment for disobedience, or of actually giving all the predicted reward and punishment? For [the promises and the threats] are but the means of leading to this chief object. What prevented Him from giving us, as part of our nature, the will to do that which He desires us to do, and to abandon the kind of worship which He rejects? There is one general answer to these three questions, and to all questions of the same character: it is this: Although in every one of the signs [related in Scripture] the natural property of some individual being is changed, the nature of man is never changed by God by way of miracle. It is in accordance with this important principle that God said, “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me,” etc. (Deut. 5:26). It is also for this reason that He distinctly stated the commandments and the prohibitions, the reward and the punishment. This principle as regards miracles has been frequently explained by us in our works: I do not say this because I believe that it is difficult for God to change the nature of every individual person; on the contrary, it is possible, and it is in His power, according to the principles taught in Scripture; but it has never been His will to do it, and it never will be. If it were part of His will to change [at His desire] the nature of any person, the mission of prophets and the giving of the Law would have been altogether superfluous.

g. I now return to my theme. As the sacrificial service is not the primary object [of the commandments about sacrifice], whilst supplications, prayers, and similar kinds of worship are nearer to the primary object, and indispensable for obtaining it, a great difference was made in the Law between these two kinds of service. The one kind, which consists in offering sacrifices, although the sacrifices are offered to the name of God, has not been made obligatory for us to the same extent as it had been before. We were not commanded to sacrifice in every place, and in every time, or to build a temple in every place, or to permit any one who desires to become priest and to sacrifice. On the contrary, all this is prohibited unto us. Only one temple has been appointed, “in the place which the Lord shall choose” (Deut. 12:26); in no other place is it allowed to sacrifice: comp. “Take heed to thyself, that thou offer not thy burnt-offerings in every place that thou seest” (ibid. 5:13); and only the members of a particular family were allowed to officiate as priests. All these restrictions served to limit this kind of worship, and keep it within those bounds within which God did not think it necessary to abolish sacrificial service altogether. But prayer and supplication can be offered everywhere and by every person. The same is the case with the commandment of ẓiẓit (Num. 15:38); mezuzah (Deut. 6:9; 11:20); tefillin (Exod. 13:9, 16); and similar kinds of divine service.

(4) Because of this principle which I explained to you, the Prophets in their books are frequently found to rebuke their fellow-men for being over-zealous and exerting themselves too much in bringing sacrifices: the prophets thus distinctly declared that the object of the sacrifices is not very essential, and that God does not require them. Samuel therefore said, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord” (1 Sam. 15:22)? Isaiah exclaimed, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord” (Isa. 1:11); Jeremiah declared: “For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offering or sacrifices. But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my, voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (Jer. 7:22, 23). This passage has been found difficult in the opinion of all those whose words I read or heard; they ask, How can Jeremiah say that God did not command us about burnt-offering and sacrifice, seeing so many precepts refer to sacrifice? The sense of the passage agrees with what I explained to you. Jeremiah says [in the name of God] the primary object of the precepts is this, Know me, and serve no other being; “I will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (Lev. 26:12). But the commandment that sacrifices shall be brought and that the temple shall be visited has for its object the success of that principle among you; and for its sake I have transferred these modes of worship to my name; idolatry shall thereby be utterly destroyed, and Jewish faith firmly established. You, however, have ignored this object, and taken hold of that which is only the means of obtaining it; you have doubted my existence, “ye have denied the Lord, and said he is not” (Jer. 5:12); ye served idols; “burnt incense unto Baal, and walked after other gods whom ye know not. And come and stand before me in this house” (ibid. 7:9-10); i.e., you do not go beyond attending the temple of the Lord, and offering sacrifices: but this is not the chief object.–I have another way of explaining this passage with exactly the same result. For it is distinctly stated in Scripture, and handed down by tradition, that the first commandments communicated to us did not include any law at an about burnt-offering and sacrifice. You must not see any difficulty in the Passover which was commanded in Egypt; there was a particular and evident reason for that, as will be explained by me (chap. xlvi.). Besides it was revealed in the land of Egypt; whilst the laws to which Jeremiah alludes in the above passage are those which were revealed after the departure from Egypt. For this reason it is distinctly added, “in the day that I brought them out from the land of Egypt.” The first commandment after the departure from Egypt was given at Marah, in the following words, “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His sight, and wilt give ear to His commandments” (Exod. 15:26).” There he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them” (ibid. ver. 25). According to the true traditional explanation, Sabbath and civil laws were revealed at Marah: “statute” alludes to Sabbath, and “ordinance” to civil laws, which are the means of removing injustice. The chief object of the Law, as has been shown by us, is the teaching of truths; to which the truth of the creatio ex nihilo belongs. It is known that the object of the law of Sabbath is to confirm and to establish this principle, as we have shown in this treatise (Part. II. chap. xxxi.). In addition to the teaching of truths the Law aims at the removal of injustice from mankind. We have thus proved that the first laws do not refer to burnt-offering and sacrifice, which are of secondary importance. The same idea which is contained in the above passage from Jeremiah is also expressed in the Psalms, where the people are rebuked that they ignore the chief object, and make no distinction between chief and subsidiary lessons. The Psalmist says: “Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify against thee: I am God, even thy God. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt-offerings, they have been continually before me. I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he-goats out of thy folds” (Ps. 50:29).–Wherever this subject is mentioned, this is its meaning. Consider it well, and reflect on it.

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Footnote on “If it Were Not a Written Verse it Could Not be Said /אלמלא מקרא כתוב אי אפשר לאמרו

see

משה הלברטל and Moshe Halbertal Tarbiẕ /תרביץ כרך סח‎, חוברת א‎ (תשרי-כסלו תשנ”ט), pp. 39-59 (21 pages) here

Abstract

The formula ‘If it were not a written verse it could not bee said’ is a sentence that introduces few statements in the Midrash. This rare formula serves as a conscious expression that something daring is about to be said, and that without the shield of a written verse it could not be said. The analysis of the occasions in which the ‘If it were not’ formula occurs is thus a key for our understanding of rabbinic religious sensitivities. The study of midrashim that are introduced with the formula yields the following conclusions: (1) in most cases the idea expressed by the midrash is actually not written in the verse in its straightforward meaning. The formula reveals therefore a circular nature: the interpreter creatively rereads the text, and then he states that if his interpretation weren’t already in the text he would not have dared to offer his reading; (2) in answer to the problem what is considered daring in the Midrash the following pattern is manifested: most of the midrashim that are introduced by such formula represent God in anthropomorphic metaphors in which God’s role is reversed and transformed. Anthropomorphic metaphors are usually drawn from hierarchical human structures, such as king and slaves, father and son, husband and wife, etc. God is always represented as the figure which is superior in the analogous social relationship; He is the husband, the king, the father, and so on. In midrashim that are introduced by the formula ‘If it were not’, God is represented as the inferior partner in the analogy — he is a slave, a student, a wife and a defendant in a trial. In these metaphors or parables Israel or the righteous are represented as the superior figure. Another form in which hierarchical metaphors are reversed is exhibited in the Midrashim that use metaphors from non-hierarchical relationship such as friends and twins. The last part of the essay is devoted to uncover the same pattern in other midrashim that are not introduced by the ‘If it were not’ formula, and to a discussion of the significance of this phenomenon in rabbinic religious thought.

See also: Torah min Hashamayim Ba-aspaklaria shel Hadorot (Theology of Ancient Judaism) Vols. 1-2, vol. 3 by Abraham Joshua Heschel; pages 191- 198 and in English Translation: Heavenly Torah as Refracted through the Generations by Gordon Tucker pp 223 – 235

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The Tisha B’Av Syndrome

Tisha B’av: Is it time to celebrate?

Now that we have regained sovereignty should we mourn our past powerlessness or celebrate that we Jews are finally coming to terms with power?

Listen to the madlik podcast:

The podcast was recorded in front of a live audience at a Kavanah session at TCS The Conservative Synagogue of Westport, CT.

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The Tisha B’Av Syndrome[i] – Podcast notes

  1. Humor“the Frenchman, the German and the Jew who are walking in the desert. They trudge in the heat for days, gasping for a drink. The Frenchman says: “I am hot, I am tired, and I am thirsty. I must have some French wine.” The German pipes up: “I am hot, I am tired, and I am thirsty. I must have some German beer.”  The Jew says: “Oy! Am I tired! Am I thirsty! I must have diabetes.”

    Howard Jacobson’s Booker-prize winning novel, The Finkler Question

  2. Josephus[ii]Why the Almighty Caused Jerusalem and His Temple to be Destroyed –

The burning of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 CE/AD created a profound dilemma for faithful Jews of the time. Hadn’t religious observance throughout the land reached new heights in the years preceding the war? Wasn’t the revolt against Rome directly the result of zealous people vowing to have “no master except the Lord?” (Ant. 18.1.6  23). Then why did the Lord allow the Romans to crush the revolt and destroy his Temple?

Josephus offered a variety of solutions to this problem. His overall goal was to defend the Jews against the accusation that their Lord had deserted them. A further goal, which he only hinted at, was to pave the way for approval by the Roman authorities, at some future time, for the rebuilding of the Temple.

  1. “I should not be wrong in saying that the capture of the city began with the assassination of Ananus [the High Priest by the Zealots]”
  2. “I cannot but think that it was because God had doomed this city to destruction, as a polluted city, and was resolved to purge his sanctuary by fire”
  3. “Certain of these robbers went up to the city, as if they were going to worship God, while they had daggers under their garments; and, by thus mingling themselves among the multitude, they slew Jonathan [the high priest]; and as this murder was never avenged, …..  And this seems to me to have been the reason why God, out of his hatred to these men’s wickedness, rejected our city; and as for the Temple, he no longer esteemed it sufficiently pure for him to inhabit therein, but brought the Romans upon us, and threw a fire upon the city to purge it; and brought upon us, our wives, and children, slavery – as desirous to make us wiser by our calamities.
  4. The Slaughter of the Guards – by Zealots
  5. Oh most wretched city, what misery so great as this didst thou suffer from the Romans, when they came to purify thee from thy internal pollutions! For thou couldst be no longer a place fit for God, nor couldst thou longer survive, after thou hadst been a tomb for the bodies of thine own people, and hast made the Holy House itself a burying-place in this civil war of thine. Yet mayst thou again grow better, if perchance thou wilt hereafter appease the anger of that God who is the author of thy destruction.
  6. Jesus in 63CE cursed the Temple and foretold its destruction. (War 6.5.3 288-309)
  7. Ruth Wisse“Is it not curious that the destruction of the Second Jewish Commonwealth came to be known from the perspective of a Jew determined to vindicate its destroyer? Josephus became an esteemed emissary to the Gentiles, the interpreter of the Jews to others as well as to themselves. Jews not only lost the war against Rome, but they supplied the historian who held them responsible for their downfall. By the middle of the sixteenth century, Josephus had been translated into every major western European language. Gentiles and Christians among whom the Jews resided learned from him that the Jews had deserved their ruin.”

Ruth R. Wisse. Jews and Power Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

  1. Israel Jacob Yuval“Jesus already prophesied the Destruction of Jerusalem: “For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:43-44). The Destruction is described as the vengeance of; God: “For these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written” (Luke 21:22). From the fourth century on and throughout the Middle Ages, these verses were included in the pericope (the weekly reading from the Gospel) read at Mass on the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, that is, during the week, of Tisha b’Av, thereby clearly paralleling the Jewish day of mourning for the Destruction of their Temple.”

    Two Nations in Your Womb: Perceptions of Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages by Israel Jacob Yuval, p.39

  2. Anti-Zionists – exile as release
    Intellectuals:

    1. “Herman Cohen, the main spokesman for liberal Judaism in Germany in the early years of the twentieth century, held that Jews had been able to develop a universal ideal of messianic redemption because they had been freed of the burdens of a state. In his view, Jewish religion alone was the driving force of modern Jewish life, having become more ethically advanced because it was freed of nationalism and a state apparatus.”[iii]
    2. Similarly, Franz Rosenzweig writes that a return to Israel would embroil the Jews into a worldly history they should eschew. In his pre-Holocaust book ‘The Star of Redemption he expressed his belief that a return to Israel would embroil the Jews into a worldly history they should shun. He viewed Judaism as a “supra-historical entity” whose importance lies in the fact that it is not political but presents a “spiritual ideal” only. He saw the creation of a nation-state as a blow to the Jewish ideal of an apolitical spiritual life…
  3. Pietists:

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither;
let my tongue stick to my palate
if I cease to think of you,
if I do not keep Jerusalem in memory
even at my happiest hour.

Psalm 137

“Yet for all its rhetorical severity, Psalm 137 does not exhort Jews to take up arms on their own behalf. Assuming full moral responsibility for the violence that war requires, it calls on the Lord to avenge the Jews’ defeat and on other nations to repay Babylon “in kind.” This reflects the historical record: It was the Persians, not the Jews, who defeated the Babylonians, and King Cyrus who allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild their Temple, thereby inspiring Isaiah’s reference to him as “the Lord’s anointed,” the messenger of God’s will. God’s hand, not the soldiering of Israel, is credited with the Jews’ political recovery, for had the Persians not prevailed and acted magnanimously, who knows how much longer it would have taken the Jews to return to their home?” (Ruth Wisse)

R. Yossi ben R. Chanina: What are these Three Oaths?
One, that Israel should not storm the wall [Rashi interprets: forcefully].
Two, the Holy One adjured Israel not to rebel against the nations of the world.
Three, the Holy One adjured the nations that they would not oppress Israel too much.
Babylonian Talmud, Ketuobot 111a[iv]

  1. Yitz Greenberg – The Third Era of Judaism“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, but absolute powerlessness corrupts the most.”[v]

    The destruction of the Second Temple and the extended exile caused an even greater crisis of faith. Some Jews despaired and gave up, some Jews (such as Christian Jews) concluded the covenant was finished, and left. The fundamental answer of the Jewish people was the rabbinic one. God had self-limited in order to call humanity to greater responsibility in the covenant. For the first time, in rabbinic literature, we get the term “partnership” between God and man. ….[vi]

In our lifetime, we are living through another major transformation of the covenant. The crisis of the greatest destruction of all time — the Holocaust– raises the question of the credibility of the covenant altogether, and whether God exists or cares…. In effect, the Jewish people has concluded that God has even further self-limited in order to call the human being – in this case, the Jews – to greater responsibility…

From the beginning~ of Jewish history the conflict of power and its limits, particularly the covenant, was a source of difficulty…. The Rabbis came to leadership in the second era of Jewish history.  In that era, exile and dispersion left the Jews relatively powerless in a world which was hostile.  The rabbinic tradition proceeded to develop a sort of ‘ethic of powerlessness’. This ranged from the assurance that God is with the people in exile and there is no need to revolt, to the conscious suppression of hostility.  In later centuries, the concept of the Jewish people doing its work through a sort of cosmic mysticism developed. Meticulous observance and the expanded list of observances would eventually evoke the messianic redeemer to come and restore life and faith to its wholeness.  …

The ethic of powerlessness is relatively pure ethically, because it is unchecked by the needs of power politics or daily political reality. That, too, became part of the Jeish ethic, side by side with a focus on passivity.  This period came to its tragic reduction ad absurdum in the catastrophic Jewish powerlessness of the Holocaust. …

The primary challenge of this era is the acquisition and exercise of power.  Costs of acquiring that power have been enormous, — thousands of Israeli lives, tens of thousands of wounded, months of reserve duty and personal…. A moral army causes as few innocent casualties as possible, but it is impossible that it never cause innocent suffering….

8.            Rav Kook

“All who mourn [the destruction of] Jerusalem will merit to see it in its joy.” (Ta’anit 30b)

“There are some Jews for whom international recognition of the Jewish people’s right to its land fails to inspire joy. This is because the primary focus of their mourning is the spiritual destruction of Jerusalem and Eretz Yisrael. The bitter humiliation of the Land of Israel being subjected to foreign rule does not trouble them.

But for those who always felt a deep sorrow, not only for the destruction of Jerusalem and the desolation of the Land, but for the absence of Jewish sovereignty in our land… the international declaration that the Land of Israel must return to the people of Israel is a source of joy. These individuals merit ‘to see Jerusalem in its joy.

The nation’s jubilation over sparks of redemption will rebuild that which baseless crying destroyed.”

“Baseless crying” — bechiyah shel chinam — refers to the spies sent by Moses who spoke against the Land of Israel, causing the people to despair and weep in vain. What is the tikun for this sin? How do we correct their cries of despair?

We repair the sin of the spies, Rav Kook explained, with teshuvat ha-mishkal, with a good that counterbalances the evil. We must show excitement and joy as the Land of Israel is rebuilt, stone by stone.[vii]

In messianic time Tisha B’av (and all other fast days related to the loss of Jewish sovereignty will become holidays.

Thus saith the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month (Seventeenth of Tammuz), and the fast of the fifth (9th of Av), and the fast of the seventh Fast of Gedaliah), and the fast of the tenth (10th of Tevet), shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful seasons; therefore love ye truth and peace.    Zechariah 8:19

We know from Berl Katznelson. Leader of the Social Zionists until his death in 1944 who came in 1909 from Russia, that his party’s youth movement held celebratory campfires on Tisha B’Av. [viii]

  1. May 2018 – Gaza – The parallel Universe of Israeli Liberals and non-Israeli Liberals

Facebook Post – Sarah Silverman May 17, 2018

Is there anyone on the political left who sees — and has the courage to say — that Israel is truly defending ourselves right now? Hating Israel is super cool, I know. Can I have someone, anyone on the left, speak out about Israel not killing for fun on the Gaza border right now? Or are the consequences too great for your lefty credentials? Dear Lord. This is a modern day blood libel. PS Stick to my particular question.

Susan Silverman is a Reform Rabbi living in Israel.  She has been a vocal supporter of the African asylum seekers, Founding Director of Second Nurture which advocates adoption of children in need of a home, she is a supporter of Women of the Wall and an egalitarian prayer space… she also has a son in the IDF. Listen to the Promised Podcast discuss this post here: https://s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/patreon-posts/YI459NgAAByjq5VEIpDQbdr2oEKIk1VfMGy2Prd8lXr35Zq__Kxe2ELvaaIvvkXs.mp3 here is a link to her FB post and comments: https://www.facebook.com/susan.silverman.927/posts/10214732140511432

10           Josephus redux

Last reason given by Josephus: It was ordained: “Now, although any one would lament the destruction of such a work as this was, since it was the most admirable of all the works that we have seen or heard of, both for its curious structure and its magnitude, and also for the glorious reputation it had for its holiness; yet might such a one comfort himself with this thought, that it was fate that decreed it so to be, which is inevitable, both as to living creatures and as to works and places also.

However, one cannot but wonder at the accuracy of this period thereto relating; for the same month and day were not observed, as I said before, wherein the Holy House was burnt formerly by the Babylonians.

[i] The term “Tisha B’Av Syndrome“ was coined by Isaac Herzog (leader of the Opposition and grandson of the 2nd Chief Rabbi of Israel) in 2015 when he accused Prime Minister Netanyahu of leading with a politics of fear and despair see: https://www.timesofisrael.com/herzog-netanyahu-suffering-from-tisha-bav-syndrome/

[ii] See: http://www.josephus.org/causeofDestruct.htm

[iii] Wisse, Ruth R.. Jews and Power (Jewish Encounters Series) (Kindle Locations 138-143). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[iv] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Oaths

[v] See: http://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/the-embattled-voice-of-modern-orthodoxy/ hear: http://www.judaismunbound.com/podcast/2018/1/4/judaism-unbound-episode-100-the-third-era-yitz-greenberg-2

[vi] Israel Jacob Yuval understands this “partnership” as a nefarious linkage between the suffering and martyrdom of the Jews forcing the hand of God to bring the redemption and associated retribution.  Cf. the last stanza of Maoz Tzur: Bare Your holy arm and hasten the final salvation, Avenge the vegenance of Your servants’ blood from the wicked nation… see Two Nations p106-7

[vii] (Adapted from Mo’adei HaRe’iyah, pp. 567-568) http://www.ravkooktorah.org/TISHA58.htm

[viii] See: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/secular-zionism/

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Pour out your Wrath on my Hametz

– An exploration of the prayers and visions of redemption expressed at the climax of the Seder 

Listen to the madlik podcast:

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The podcast was recorded in front of a live audience at a Kavanah session at TCS The Conservative Synagogue of Westport, CT.

For   see Sefaria Source Sheet see: Pour Out Your Wrath on my Hametz and  Where has all the Hametz gone?

 

notes

1. A Night of Watchings ליל שמרים

Exodus 12: 42

ליל שמרים הוא לה’ להוציאם מארץ מצרים הוא־הלילה הזה לה’ שמרים לכל־בני ישראל לדרתם

That was for the LORD a night of watchings (Shemarim) to bring them out of the land of Egypt; that same night is the LORD’s, one of watchings for all the children of Israel throughout the ages.

‘R. Joshua says, In Nisan they were delivered, [and] in Nisan they will be delivered in the time to come’. Whence do we know this? — Scripture calls [the Passover] ‘a night of watchings’, [twice – which means], a night which has been continuously watched for from the six days of the creation. (Rosh HaShana 11b) [i]

2.   The Four Cups – The Four stages of Redemption

1.     I will bring you out from the suffering of Egypt

                                                                                          וְהוֹצֵאתִ֣י אֶתְכֶ֗ם מִתַּ֙חַת֙ סִבְלֹ֣ת מִצְרַ֔יִם

  1.      and I will save you from enslavement

                                                                                                       וְהִצַּלְתִּ֥י אֶתְכֶ֖ם מֵעֲבֹדָתָ֑ם

  2.      I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements

     Exodus 6: 6                                                      וְגָאַלְתִּ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ בִּזְר֣וֹעַ נְטוּיָ֔ה וּבִשְׁפָטִ֖ים גְּדֹלִֽים

  1. and I will take you for me as a Nation, and I will be for you, the Lord”

     Exodus 6: 7                                                      וְלָקַחְתִּ֨י אֶתְכֶ֥ם לִי֙ לְעָ֔ם וְהָיִ֥יתִי לָכֶ֖ם לֵֽא-לֹהִ֑ים

3 The Climax of the Seder – Opening the Door for Elijah

Bless and drink the third cup of wine..

Pour the fourth cup of wine and pour the cup of Eliyahu and open the door.

שְׁפֹךְ חֲמָתְךָ אֶל־הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יְדָעוּךָ וְעַל־מַמְלָכוֹת אֲשֶׁר בְּשִׁמְךָ לֹא קָרָאוּ. כִּי אָכַל אֶת־יַעֲקֹב וְאֶת־נָוֵהוּ הֵשַׁמּוּ. שְׁפָךְ־עֲלֵיהֶם זַעֲמֶךָ וַחֲרוֹן אַפְּךָ יַשִּׂיגֵם. תִּרְדֹף בְּאַף וְתַשְׁמִידֵם מִתַּחַת שְׁמֵי ה’

Pour your wrath upon the nations that did not know You and upon the kingdoms that did not call upon Your Name! Since they have consumed Ya’akov and laid waste his habitation (Psalms 79:6-7). Pour out Your fury upon them and the fierceness of Your anger shall reach them (Psalms 69:25)! You shall pursue them with anger and eradicate them from under the skies of the Lord (Lamentations 3:66).

First found in Mchzor Vitry compiled by a pupil of Rashi in the 11th century.

4.  Pour Out Your Love – Alternative reading

Pour out Your love on the nations that know You

And on the kingdoms that call upon Your Name

For the loving-kindness that they perform with Jacob

And their defense of the People of Israel

In the face of those that would devour them.

May they be privileged to see

The Succah of peace spread for Your chosen ones

And rejoice in the joy of Your nations.

שְׁפֹךְ אַהֲבָתְךָ עַל הַגּוֹיִים אֲשֶׁר יְדָעוּךָ

וְעַל מַמְלָכוֹת אֲשֶׁר בְּשִׁמְךָ קוֹרְאִים

בִּגְלַל חֲסָדִים שֶׁהֵם עוֹשִׂים עִם יַעֲקֹב

וּמְגִנִּים עַל עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל מִפְּנֵי אוֹכְלֵיהֶם.

יִזְכּוּ לִרְאוֹת בְּסֻכַּת בְּחִירֶיךָ

וְלִשְׂמֹחַ בְּשִׂמְחַת גּוֹיֶיךָ.

“Chayyim Bloch (1881-1973) reported that he found an unusual version of this prayer in a manuscript haggadah that had been compiled in 1521.  He states that this manuscript, which included other poems that are not found in standard haggadot and differing versions of the text, had disappeared during the Holocaust without a trace.  Fortunately, he claims, he retained some notes with this prayer… ….  Chayyim Bloch has a reputation for presenting new texts as ancient documents.” The JPS Commentary on the Haggadah, Joseph Tabory, 2008 Jewish Publication Society p55

5.   Earlier alternative tradition – SIMEON BAR-ISAAC c950[ii]

אויל המתעה מרגיז ומחטיא        בלעהו קלעהו ועוד בל יסטיא

געול המגאל ומטנף טהורים        דחהו מחהו מלבות והרהורים

התל המהתל ומפתל ישרים        וכחהו שכחהו ולא יקומו אשרים

זבוב המארב במפתחי הלב         חנקהו נקהו ולב חדש תלבלב

טמא המזוהם ומסית להאשים    יעהו צעהו בלי ענוש בענשים 

כלי אשר כליו רעים                 לפתהו כפתהו מקום בית מרעים

מנון המפנק מנוער לאחרית       נדחהו קדחהו מהשאיר לו שארית

שאור המעפש ומבאיש העסה    עקרהו נקרהו חטא בלי לשא

פתלתל המנקש ומעקש דרכים    צרפהו ערפהו בלי היות סרוכים

קוץ המכאיב וסלון הממאיר      רעלהו העלהו כרם להפאר

שפוך מי טוהר דמים להדיח      תחטאנו באזוב תכבס ותריח

שני מתלבן עולם ונושע           ברחמים יצדיק חקר כבודם לשעשע

חוזק זרע יחשוף וישיב           וכשנים קדמוניות אותנו ישיב

Destroy and cast away the seductive folly which excites man to sin, so that he may mislead us no more.

Cast away and blot out from our hearts and thoughts the pollution which defiles and pollutes the pure.

Mislead the deceiver, who causes the straight to be crooked; rebuke him and discard him so that idolatry shall not be established.

 Strangle and clear away the gadfly that lurks at the gate of the heart, so that a new heart may flower (within us).

Sweep utterly away the unclean and foul who seduces us to sin, that he may not cause us to be sorely punished.

Seize the rogue whose instruments are evil, bind him fast, lest the house of the evildoers rise again.

Repel and burn him that was brought up delicately from a child, and has in the end become a master, so that no remnant be left of him.

Remove and destroy the moldy leaven which spoils the dough, so that it may not involve us in sin.

Cause the intriguer, who ensnares us and leads us astray to be burnt out; break his neck, so that he should have no followers.

Poison and uproot the pricking thorn and piercing briar, lest it spoil the vineyard.

Pour out water of purification to rinse away our guilt, purge us with hyssop, and wash us clean.

Let the scarlet (sin) be whitened that we may be saved for ever; may he justify us in his mercy, and delight in the search of our glory.

May he lay bare his powerful arm and bring back our captives, and restore us to our former condition as in the days of old.

From: The Authorised Selichot for the Whole Year by Abraham Rosenfeld 1978 p. 150 Selichot for the Eve of the New Year.

 

6.   Two views of Redemption – inner/outer – personal/national

“The considerations I would like to set forth in what follows concern the special tensions in the Messianic idea and their understanding in rabbinic Judaism. These tensions manifest themselves within a fixed tradition which we shall try to understand. But even where it is not stated explicitly, we shall often enough find as well a polemical side-glance, or an allusion, albeit concealed, to the claims of Christian Messianism.

Judaism, in all of its forms and manifestations, has always maintained a concept of redemption as an event which takes place publicly, on the stage of history and within the community. It is an occurrence which takes place in the visible world and which cannot be conceived apart from such a visible appearance.

Christianity conceives of redemption as an event in the spiritual and unseen realm, an event which is reflected in the soul, in the private world of each individual, and which effects an inner transformation which need not correspond to anything outside.

But it remains peculiar that this question concerning the inner aspect of the redemption should emerge so late in Judaism—though it finally does emerge with great vehemence.”[iii]

7.  The leaven in the bread – The original Passover Purge

Jewish

a.

שִׁבְעַ֤ת יָמִים֙ מַצּ֣וֹת תֹּאכֵ֔לוּ אַ֚ךְ בַּיּ֣וֹם הָרִאשׁ֔וֹן תַּשְׁבִּ֥יתוּ שְּׂאֹ֖ר מִבָּתֵּיכֶ֑ם כִּ֣י ׀ כָּל־אֹכֵ֣ל חָמֵ֗ץ וְנִכְרְתָ֞ה הַנֶּ֤פֶשׁ הַהִוא֙ מִיִּשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מִיּ֥וֹם הָרִאשֹׁ֖ן עַד־י֥וֹם הַשְּׁבִעִֽי

Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the very first day you shall remove leaven from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day to the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. Exodus 12: 15

b.

“Sovereign of the Universe, it is well known to You that it is our will to do Your will. Who prevents us from doing so? The leavening agent in the dough (the evil inclination within us) and our subservience to the nations. May it be Your will to save us from these so that we can return to fulfilling Your commandments wholeheartedly.” Prayer of Rabbi Alexandrai

c.

May it be Your will, Lord, our G-d and G-d of our fathers, that just as I remove the chametz from my house and from my possession, so shall You remove all the extraneous forces. Remove the spirit of impurity from the earth, remove our evil inclination from us, and grant us a heart of flesh to serve You in truth. Make all the sitra achara (evil inclination), all the kelipot (barriers), and all wickedness be consumed in smoke, and remove the dominion of evil from the earth. Remove with a spirit of destruction and a spirit of judgment all that distress the Shechina, just as You destroyed Egypt and its idols in those days, at this time. Amen, Selah. (kabalistic kavanah recited before the bedikat HaChametz (searching for the Leaven).

Christian

Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened [bread] of sincerity and truth. [Corinthians 5:8]

“the leaven of the Pharisees,” which is “hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1; d. Mark 8:15).

8. You’re both right

Jewish history speaks to our generation in the voice of two biblical commands to remember. The first voice commands us to remember that we were strangers in the land of Egypt, and the message of that command is: “Don’t be brutal.” The second voice commands us to remember how the tribe of Amalek attacked us without provocation while we were wandering in the desert, and the message of that command is: “Don’t be naive.”

The first command is the voice of Passover, of liberation; the second is the voice of Purim, commemorating our victory over the genocidal threat of Haman, a descendant of Amalek.

“Passover Jews” are motivated by empathy with the oppressed; “Purim Jews” are motivated by alertness to threat.

Both are essential; one without the other creates an unbalanced Jewish personality, a distortion of Jewish history and values.

Yossi Klein Halevi, CJN, March 11, 2013

—————————-

[i] See also Megillah 6b: Where Rabbi Gamaliel argues that in a leap year, Purim is celebrated on the 2nd Adar: “R. Simon b. Gamaliel again reasoned: Just as in most years [we think of] Adar as adjoining Nisan, so here [we keep the precepts] in the Adar which adjoins Nisan. …. The reason of R. Simon b. Gamaliel is that more weight is to be attached to bringing one period of redemption close to another.” Purim and Passover are times of future redemption.

See also:  “It is customary not to close the door at all in the house in which we are sitting … and when we go to greet Elijah we do so without any (closed door) obstructing our way.

 בספר “מעשה רוקח” מובא: “מצאתי במגילת סתרים, ראיתי מרבנא אלוף אבא – לא היה סוגר דלתי הבית אשר אנו יושבין בו כלל. מעידנא ועד עתה כך מנהגנו, ודלתות הבית פתוחות, וכשיבוא אליהו נצא לקראתו במהרה בלא עיכוב. ואמרינן: בפסח עתידין ליגאל, שנאמר: ליל שימורים הוא לה’ – ליל המשומר ובא מששת ימי בראשית”

[ii] Paytan

Born after c. 950

Born in Mainz, Germany. An important scholar of his time. As a paytan he composed yozerot, kerovot, selihot, hymns, and rashuyyot le-hatanim. It is probable that he sang his piyutim himself. His piyutim bare traces of the language found in early piyutim, and they are marked by the pain of the persecutions of the Jews in Bar-Isaacs’ lifetime.   Birth:      after circa 970 Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany Death:          1020

[iii] Scholem not only distinguishes between an inner and outer, personal and nationistic view of messinaism, but also distinguishes between catastrophic and utopian trends in messianism:  “I spoke of the catastrophic nature of redemption as a decisive characteristic of every such apocalypticism, which is then complemented by the utopian view of the content of realized redemption. Apocalyptic thinking always contains the elements of dread and consolation intertwined. The dread and peril of the End form an element of shock and of the shocking which induces extravagance. The terrors of the real historical experiences of the Jewish people are joined with images drawn from the heritage of myth or mythical fantasy.

The apocalyptists have always cherished a pessimistic view of the world. Their optimism, their hope, is not directed to what history will bring forth, but to that which will arise in its ruin, free at last and undisguised.

This catastrophic character of the redemption, which is essential to the apocalyptic conception, is pictured in all of these texts and traditions in glaring images. It finds manifold expression: in world wars and revolutions, in epidemics, famine, and economic catastrophe; but to an equal degree in apostasy and the desecration of God’s name, in forgetting of the Torah and the upsetting of all moral order to the point of dissolving the laws of nature.

Little wonder that in one such context the Talmud cites the bald statement of three famous teachers of the third and fourth centuries: “May he come, but I do not want to see him.”

This utopianism seizes upon all the restorative hopes turned toward the past and describes an arc from the re-establishment of Israel and of the Davidic kingdom as a kingdom of God on earth to the re-establishment of the condition of Paradise as it is foreseen by many old Midrashim, but above all by the thought of Jewish mystics, for whom the analogy of First Days and Last Days possess living reality. But it does more than that. For already in the Messianic utopianism of Isaiah we find the Last Days conceived immeasurably more richly than any beginning. The condition of the world, wherein the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Isa. 11:9), does not repeat anything that has ever been, but presents something new. The world of tikkun , the re-establishment of the harmonious condition of the world, which in the Lurianic Kabbalah is the Messianic world, still contains a strictly utopian impulse.

But it always retains that fascinating vitality to which no historical reality can do justice and which in times of darkness and persecution counterpoises the fulfilled image of wholeness to the piecemeal, wretched reality which was available to the Jew. Thus the images of the New Jerusalem that float before the eyes of the apocalyptists always contain more than was ever present in the old one, and the renewal of the world is simply more than its restoration.”

Gershom Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism

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Two State Solution – Earliest Mention in the Bible

Parshat Lekh Lekha

Rav Shai Held has written a breathtaking commentary on the Five Books of Moses, two succinct commentaries for each weekly portion.

The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion Do yourself a favor, and run (don’t walk) and buy it.

I have been fortunate to have studied at Machon Hadar, where Held is President and Dean (aka Founder and Mashgiach Ruchni).  At the book launch, we were encouraged to study a single weekly entry, in detail, with a study partner and then as a group in a class (Shiur). In my opinion, each of the two weekly pieces justify such intensive learning, not only because of the message that Held wishes to convey, but because, hidden, and sometimes overtly exposed in the short 4-5 page treatments are insights worthy of a screeching halt and complete change in travel plans. The second article on Lech Lecha is a fine example.

The article is titled: Between Abram and Lot Wealth and Family Strife and is focused primarily on the potentially corrosive nature of wealth acquisition. But segued into the discussion is a clear and powerfully suggestive reference to the dialectic between sharing/splitting the Promised Land in two and fulfilling the divine promise of a complete and Greater Israel. Abram and Lot have returned from Egypt richer and estranged. Abram offers a solution. Held writes:

… in his offer to Lot, Abram is “magnanimous in the extreme”: “Is not the whole land before you? Kindly part from me: If you go north, I will go south; and if you go south, I will go north” (Genesis 13:9). Abram’s magnanimity is enormously important and instructive: “His trust [in God’s] promise makes him gracious and generous.” Abram believes what God has told him—the land will one day belong to him and his descendants—but he does not insist that the promise must be fulfilled in its entirety at the present moment. Some modern Jewish thinkers insist that the religious person “discerns in every divine pledge man’s obligation to bring about its fulfillment, in every promise a specific norm.” [ Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, 100.] But Genesis 13 has other ideas, emphasizing instead that sometimes the appropriate religious posture is patience and a willingness to wait. Abram understands that, ultimately, the land is a gift, not an earthly possession—and so he refuses to grasp it too tightly. The land has been promised to Abram by God, and yet he is willing to let go of part of it in the interest of peace. Abram treasures the land, but he trusts in God so deeply and values family concord so highly that he lets go of precisely what is so precious to him. Strikingly, Bible scholar Victor Hamilton notes, Abram “is prepared to sacrifice what has been promised to him, as he will later willingly offer Isaac who has been promised to him.” Jon Levenson insightfully adds: “Since Abraham is finally again promised the lands he ceded to Lot, the chapter has a certain parallel with the Akedah, in which Abraham gets back him whom he gave up and receives anew the promises that depend on the would-be offering.” [Jon D. Levenson, personal communication {with Held}, October 12, 2014. Levenson’s comments are in some ways reminiscent of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.] Immediately after Abram and Lot part ways, God reiterates the promise of land and even intensifies it. Abram is to receive “the whole land . . . through its length and its breadth.” And now it is Abram himself, and not just his descendants, who will inherit the land (Gen. 13:14–17). Bible scholar Gordon Wenham observes that “the reiteration of the promises puts the divine seal of approval on Abraham’s treatment of Lot.”

Held, Shai. The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Genesis and Exodus (Kindle Locations 999-1019). The Jewish Publication Society. Kindle Edition.

Held’s profound insight and implied critique of those who practice Greater Israel activism in order to comply and fulfill a divine promise needs no embellishment, certainly not by me. “the enlightened will understand” המשכיל יבין


I should note that this vote for restraint by Held, could be  mistakenly construed to echo the Babylonian Talmud at the end of Ketubot (111a) which was and is used by the ultra-Orthodox to argue for quitism and against the entire Zionist project of actively repatriating the Land of Israel.

… it is written: “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and by the hinds of the field, that you not awaken or stir up love, until it please” (Song of Songs 2:7). Rabbi Yehuda derived from here that no act of redemption should be performed until a time arrives when it pleases God to bring about the redemption. And Rabbi Zeira maintains that the oath mentioned in that verse means that the Jews should not ascend to Eretz Yisrael as a wall, i.e., en masse, whereas individuals may immigrate as they wish.

ורבי זירא ההוא שלא יעלו ישראל בחומה

While the reference to a wall is ironic, I think it safe to say that Held is not anti-activist in any sense of the word, certainly not when it comes to fulfilling the moral mission of the Hebrew Bible, nor the manifest destiny contained in God’s, and prophetic promises. It is only when nationalist activism conflicts with  “the interest of peace”, “family concord” or kavod habriut … respecting the human dignity of the other, that Held would argue for patience relating to God’s promises and activism towards God’s creations.

 

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