Category Archives: divine birth

Murder in the Desert

parshat Chukat, numbers 20

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on July 7th 2022 on Clubhouse. In a parsha dedicated to death and with much attention on the enigmatic law of the Red Heifer we also witness the death of Moses and his siblings; the primary protagonists of the Exodus. Miriam dies in two verses and Moses and Aaron are sentenced to death with Aaron quickly dispatched. Which leads to the age-old question: Who Done it and why?

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/417920

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  This week’s parsha is dedicated to death and with much attention on the enigmatic law of the Red Heifer. But we also witness the death of Moses and his siblings; the primary protagonists of the Exodus. Miriam dies in two verses and Moses and Aaron are sentenced to death with Aaron quickly dispatched. Which leads to the age-old question: Who Done it and why? So welcome to Murder in the Desert.

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So, this year, as I’m going through the parshiot the second time, I tend to go to the second half and realize that there’s a sequence and there’s a connection, as tenuous as it sometimes is. And as I said in the intro, last year, we talked about this enigmatic law of the Red Heifer for which is used when any Israelite comes into contact with death in any aspect. And we discussed it last year. It’s fascinating. But then the very next chapter Numbers 20 Verse number 1 says, and the Israelites arrived in a body at the wilderness of zin on the first moon, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there. And then it begins with the next crisis, which is there was no water. But Rashi on that verse says, Why is this section narrating the death of Miriam placed immediately after the section treating of the red halfa? And he answers to suggest to you the following comparison, what is the purpose of the sacrifices, they affect atonement, so too does the death of the righteous effect atonement, מִיתַת צַדִּיקִים מְכַפֶּרֶת. So we’ve been spending a lot of time on sacrifices. And of course, that is the segue; the red heifer is part of the sacrificial cult, and Rashi is disturbed by why is the death of Miriam and we’ll see in a second the death of Aaron, put right next to this story of the Red Heifer. I think the question is as good as any answer you could give. The question is telling us that there is a connection, that you don’t just have a death without there being meaning to that death, you don’t have a death in terms of its placement without there being lessons to be learned. And his particular lesson is that just as when we sacrifice an animal, we are trying to somehow parlay that into acceptance of repentance. When we lose somebody very dear or in this case a Tzadik or Tzadekus, a female righteous person, that kind of bodes well for us. But what intrigues you more the question or the answer, Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  03:27

Well, the answer is very interesting that the death of the righteous somehow atone. I mean, that sounds very Christian to me. Right. So, I think we I think I think we need to, to own it, to kind of call it as it is, and say the idea the answer is really problematic, unless we say that the Jews had it first, that that’s our idea that the death of the righteous somehow atones. And the Christians took it from us. Now first of all, that would be interesting, historically. But I think religiously, we have to figure out what does that actually mean? What does it mean, the death of righteous atone? I mean, that’s a pretty harsh statement, …. there’s a big question, obviously, about why bad things happen to good people. And you know, there’s no good answer to that question. One of the bad answers to that question is that the death of the righteous atones, and because the death of the righteous atones, so therefore, you know, somehow there’s a reason for the righteous to die. So, you know, that’s, where that’s coming from. The question is whether we’re satisfied with that approach.

Geoffrey Stern  04:37

So I’m willing to discuss that I love the connection that you made with Christianity, and I would go even further and make a connection with Islam as well. In terms of the founding fathers, the seminal leadership is taken away and look at it from that perspective as well. Yes, we can talk about somehow, we’ve always accepted as a Christian notion that the death of the Savior somehow redeems all of mankind. And we talked a little bit about that, even when we discussed the Akedat Yitzchok (The Sacrifice of Isaac). Then there are those Midrashim that says he was actually sacrificed and brought back to life. We’ve had this sense of where the tribe of Israel put their hands on the Leviim וְסָמְכ֧וּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל אֶת־יְדֵיהֶ֖ם עַל־הַלְוִיִּֽם and gave them certain powers, we have that with the Sir L’Azazel, the goat that on Yom Kippur gets thrown over the rugged mountain with the sins of the Jewish people, you get this kind of sense of transference, where somehow you can transfer your liability on to something or somebody else. And that’s a very strong tradition. And I think you’re absolutely correct. That probably, or for sure, Christianity took that from us. And I would also say on the rebound, almost for sure. We sublimated it, we made that kind of concept. “Oh, that’s Christian. That’s not us.” But what I want to talk about because it kind of follows the story a little bit, is that when we get to Aaron, we’re gonna find out that Aaron and Moses did something wrong. And that’s why Aaron is told his life is at an end. In the case of Miriam, you really have to dig, you have to go back way back to the earlier Numbers. 12, where if you recall, Miriam and Aaron, are speaking against Moses and his Kushite wife. And they basically said, Has God spoken only through Moses? הֲרַ֤ק אַךְ־בְּמֹשֶׁה֙ דִּבֶּ֣ר ה. And that resonates with us a little bit from Korach’s argument last week, there seems to be two things that bother the Jewish people in the desert. One is food, or drink. And we have that in this week’s parsha. But the other thing is רַב־לָכֶם֒, you’ve taken too much upon yourself. It’s kind of like we benefit from our leaders, and then we destroy them. Do you think there’s that thread as well here?

Adam Mintz  07:38

You know, that’s interesting that we benefit from our leaders and then we destroy them. That you know, that’s a lack of gratitude. That’s a very interesting idea that we don’t appreciate what we have. Now, the Jews of the desert. This is a little a little far afield, but it’s important for the general discussion. The Jews of the desert, don’t appreciate God, and they don’t appreciate their leaders, right? They complain about God, you know, God splits the sea. And the first thing they do is they complain that we don’t have water. When we don’t have water. Obviously, if God splits the sea, he can give them water, but it doesn’t matter. They don’t appreciate what they have. And they don’t appreciate Moshe that’s the story last week of Korach, that they don’t appreciate Moshe. So, they have these leaders, they benefit from the leaders, but then they complain about the leadership. That’s an important thing. Now that’s not exactly the same thing as the fact that their death atones. Let’s take a step back. Who does the death atone for? Geoffrey, you mentioned the rabbinic statement then מִיתַת צַדִּיקִים מְכַפֶּרֶת Who exactly does it atone for? Does it atone for the person who dies? Does it atone for the people? What exactly is it? You should know that there’s some Midrash, I don’t know where it is that says that in every generation, there are 10 children, innocent children who died and that that atones for the entire generations. I mean, that’s a very hard statement to make. Because how could you say that that there should be some kind of justifications for the fact that children would die.

Geoffrey Stern  09:16

What makes the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer such an enigma is typically said in the following phrase שתטהר הטמאים ותטמא הטהורים, it makes the impure pure, and it defiles the pure; the priest who’s in charge of doing it, he himself becomes impure. And one of the takeaways that I took from that is that somehow this sense of kapara (purification) is a zero-sum game meaning to say that it’s like the transfer of energy, of pouring water from one glass to another. You know, we love to say The reason why Torah is compared to a light; is a light you can light and you can spread it without diminishing from the flame. But the way it treats purity, in a sense almost feels like it’s zero sum that if I have it you don’t. And if I give it to you, there’s a vacuum with me and I become impure. And my read on those 10 tzadikim, the ten pure children my read on the the sacrifices that they do in the temple and my read certainly on the tzadikim who are Michaperet, is that there is this transference. And we’re going to talk a little bit about Freud later, but it is a psychoanalytic concept where you transfer what you have, you expiate somehow on to something else, and then somehow you feel pure. And I do think that’s the basis of it.

Adam Mintz  10:58

Well, of course, that’s the idea of the of the goat that sent to Azazel, that’s sent to the desert and thrown off the cliff. And then the Jewish people are relieved of their sins on Yom Kippur war? Obviously, that’s the source of this whole idea. But that’s a goat. That’s not a person.

Geoffrey Stern  11:18

Well, absolutely. So let’s tack back a little bit to this concept of killing our leaders after they give us something and you said it lacks of Hakarat Tov of recognition of the good that we’re getting. So Rashi on Numbers 20: 2 says as follows There was no water for the congregation. Since this statement follows immediately after the mention of Miriam’s death. We may learn from it that during the entire 40 years, they had the well through Miriam’s merit. הַבְּאֵר בִּזְכוּת מִרְיָם. And of course, we nowadays have many songs with Miriam, the prophetess, and the relationship that she has to song and the timbrel, but also to the water. And unlike Aaron and Moses, that have someone to take up the charge, Moses famously has Joshua. And Aaron we’ll see in a few verses, has his son; Eleazar, Miriam, as I said, in the intro she dies in two verses. That in itself is tragic. But what’s amazing is that she when she dies, there’s something missing. When Aaron dies, they mourn. When Moses dies, they mourn, but when Miriam dies, they lose water, they lose water. And I think that is kind of fascinating because the next whole narrative in our parsha deals with the ramifications of them complaining about not having water, losing the water and then we’ll see in a few verses what Moses and Aaron did that got them into such trouble.

Adam Mintz  13:08

I think all this is good. I think that that’s good. I love the transference I love I love the Freudian transference idea. I think that if we can really prove that the toe rough where the rabbis have that idea of transference I think we can we can move Freud back about 3,000 years we’ll really have accomplished something today.

Geoffrey Stern  13:26

[Laughs] Very good. I liked that. I liked that a lot. So, in Numbers 20:  7 – 13. It has another famous story. And it says And God spoke to Moses saying you and your brother Aaron take the rod and assemble the community and before their very eyes order the rock to yield its water. Thus you shall produce water for them from the rock and provide drink for the congregation and their beasts. Moses took the rod from before God as He had been commanded. Moses and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of them and said to them, Listen, you rebels. Shall we get water for you out of this rock and Moses raised his hand and struck the rock …. twice with his rod. Out came copious water in the community and they are beasts drank. But God said to Moses and Aaron because you did not trust me enough to affirm my sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead the congregation into the land that I have given them. Those are the waters of Meribah meaning that the Israelites quarreled with God, whose sanctity was affirmed through them. And this is why I put the title of this podcast as Murder on the Desert, because it’s starting to sound a lot like Agatha Christie. First Miriam dies. Now we have Aaron and Moses within seconds and associated with the same issue of water, and they are told they too will die in an untimely fashion, if you consider not going into the promised land, which was their whole mission, an untimely fashion. So that’s why it seemed to me and I was struck by the key protagonists of the Exodus from Egypt, are given a death sentence in this parsha, and within a few verses of each other, it’s like the whole leadership of the whole people in one fell swoop in one chapter is knocked out. Well, don’t forget that last week, their leadership was questioned. So, you know, when your leadership is questioned, and that’s interesting, just in terms of, you know, today, Boris Johnson resigned, you know, when your leadership is questioned, that’s often the beginning of the end, right? You read the stories about Boris Johnson, you know, it started with a controversy, and then all of a sudden, he’s not the Prime Minister anymore, you know, and Korach questions, Moshe’s leadership, and all of a sudden, the next parsha they sin and they lose their leadership. It’s not by accident, it just didn’t just happen. Now, maybe Moshe and Aaron are frustrated, because their leadership was questioned, and therefore they lose their cool in a way that they would not have lost their cool had their leadership not been questioned. That in itself is a possibility and interesting, but I think the connection between these two parshas is very, is very, you know, significant. And again, we always look at the Kodak story, thank you for bringing it up. As what was wrong with Korach, what did he say that had no merit. But here we go. We have the same argument with Miriam and Aaron, questioning Moses, leadership in the in the beginning of the book of Numbers, we have it through the mouth of Korach. And here, we have basically God questioning their leadership to the extent that for whatever reason, and we can get into the minutiae of was it that he hit it was it that he hit it twice. But ultimately, the bottom line is that Moses and Aaron, were told, you’re not going to finish this job. You know, you can, you can take so many lessons from this, you can say, You know what it says in Perkei Avot,  לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה, the job is not on each one of us to finish. And I think Martin Luther King Jr. made this case the most, he says, I’ve been to the mountaintop, and I might not finish it. And that’s always been one takeaway. And you could say what I said earlier, which is somehow we kill our leaders, maybe to expiate, in the sacrificial tradition. And maybe just because we have this, I don’t know, a difficult relationship with our leaders, we respect them, but in a sense, we feel they detract from our own identity. It’s kind of all here, and I’d love to hear your comments on that. But I’m gonna go right from here into what Freud actually did say about the death of Moses in the desert. But do you agree with me that it sounds so many different levels here?

Adam Mintz  18:19

I agree with you. I think this is the time to transition into Freud. Let’s see what Freud says, let’s try to pull the whole thing together. Good.

Geoffrey Stern  18:25

Good. So, in a book that he wrote in 1956, it was the last book that he wrote, it was called Moses and Monotheism. And he made two radical statements, I would say, three radical statements in it. The first thing that he did, and we’ve touched upon this before, is in the tradition of all of Greek and Roman mythology, where Romulus and Remus are, the children of the king, or exiled, have to fight their way back like Odysseus does. And then re-claim they’re titled, he said, something doesn’t work with the Moses story because Moses is not brought up by royalty and exiled to live with the slaves. He’s raised as a slave and then exiled to live with royalty. So, I think that makes our Bible unique Freud says that you don’t break any rules of mythology. He says, number one, Moses was an Egyptian. Number two, he was an in very enlightened Egyptian, and he was the one who came up with the idea of monotheism. And he took this rabble of Israelites into the desert. And like any good leader, he taught them these rules of against idolatry and all that and all they wanted to do is to go back to Egypt and eat their watermelons. And at the end of the day, what he preached was too much and they murdered him. And I want to focus on the murdering him part. Because usually as radical as a statement as you’ll make about, our texts, you’ll normally find a tradition like that in the text itself. And you really have to scratch your head to find something along those lines. We’re jumping a little bit ahead. But in our Parsha, after Moses and Aaron are condemned to death, it actually says that they took Aaron up out Aaron gathered his kins. And he told him I can’t go into the land of Israel. I’ve disobeyed Him. And they went with his son Elazar to the top of Mount Har. And it goes on and it says, And all the congregation saw that Aaron had died. And Rashi says, when they saw Moses and Elezar decending and that Aaron was not descending with them, they said, Where then is Aaron? He replied to them, he is dead. They thereupon said, Is it possible that a man who stood up against the angel and stayed the plague should die? And that’s why it says “in front of all the congregation”, Moses at once offered prayer, and ministering angels showed him (Aaron) lying upon the bier, and they believed, so I don’t want to drive the stake too low in this. But certainly, what it shows is that there was controversy over Aaron dying, all of a sudden, there were questions that were being asked here, Moses and Aaron go up, and only Moses comes down. So, it’s not, I think, outlandish to say that questions could have been asked by those of less faith, as to why Aaron, died. And of course, we all know putting on our Agatha Christie hats again, that Moses died in an unmarked grave, there was no habeas corpus they never produced the body for Moses. So, I think what the theory is, is something that potentially you could argue on a literary level as well, if you’re writing a book, or you have a series, and all of a sudden you do away with one of the characters. Okay, so you’re not murdering them. But you’re terminating them. And I do think that we have a right, with the suggestion of Freud to look at our texts. And think in terms of why was Miriam, Aaron, and Moses terminated? And that’s how I would like to rephrase Freud’s question, if you will, or statement, if you will, saying that they were terminated.

Adam Mintz  22:45

Right. Okay, so that’s really good. I mean, what you’re really doing is you’re saying, usually, when we think about Freud, Moses and Monotheism, you kind of get caught up in the fact that he says Moses was murdered. And it Torah doesn’t say Moses was murdered. So therefore, he’s making up the story. So, who cares about Freud’s story, but what you are saying is, leave that aside, don’t get caught up in that. Let’s talk about the fact that Moses is terminated, an airman is terminated and Miriam is terminated. Why are the leaders terminated? Why is it important that they’re they don’t reach their goal, and that they’re terminated? Now, this question is more complicated, because in the book of Devarim, Moses asked God, at least twice to be led into the land, you know, Moses, who put his life on the line so many times for the Jewish people, he asked God a little favor? And the answer is, he can’t even get that favor. And if you want to even go further than that, Moses wasn’t even buried in the Land. Right? At least you would say, you know, today when somebody dies, and they want to be buried in the Land, we put them on El Al, and they’re buried in the Land. But Moses didn’t even get that there was no El Al, but they didn’t take Moses into the land. Joseph, who dies in Egypt, they take him into the land, they carry him through the desert, they take him into the land and Kever Yoseph you know, the grave of Joseph is somewhere there on the West Bank, there is a grave of Joseph so that He was buried in the Land, Why did Moses get that benefit to be buried in the Land. So, he really is terminated, if you want to use the word in a cruel kind of way.

Geoffrey Stern  24:14

So picking up on this termination from a literary sense that he was dropped from the sequel, so to speak, in our portion and now portion contains a lot but this is kind of fascinating. In the next episode, the Jews are moving on and they reach out to the king of a Edom. And they say that we’d like to pass through you. We are going to stay on the Kings Road. We’re not going to take any food or water. And in his introduction, what Moses says by way of introduction, and he says as follows in Numbers 20: 15-16, He says our ancestors went down to Egypt that we dwelt in Egypt for a long time. And then he says, and we cry to Hashem who heard our plea, sending a messenger who freed us from Egypt. And it says, וַיִּשְׁלַ֣ח מַלְאָ֔ךְ וַיֹּצִאֵ֖נוּ מִמִּצְרָ֑יִם. So, Rashi says, a messenger, this was Moses. From this, we may learn that the prophets are termed angels. Iban Ezra was said, this is to be taken literally, it’s actually a real angel. And for those of you who know the Haggadah, the Haggadah in the first fruits decoration, we say and the Lord took us out of Egypt, not through an angel, not through a Seraph and not through a messenger, but directly by the Holy One, blessed behave, it goes on, I will pass through the land of Egypt, I am not an angel. And that of course always elicits the discussion. Why is Moses not mentioned in the Haggadah? So, I am making a case rabbi, that even in the beginning of this conversation, where we start repeating to other nations and people and then to ourselves, all of a sudden, we start to lose Moses, all of a sudden, now a discussion is being made, when you say, a messenger took us out, was that angel? Was it Moses, and the Haggadah maybe the result of a response to Christianity and Islam that had charismatic leaders, and they wanted to downplay the role of Moses, but in a sense, he was terminated in history too. And I think that is absolutely fascinating.

Adam Mintz  26:43

That is absolutely fascinating. And your connection to Christianity and Islam is also fascinating that the Jewish people moved away from charisma. Charisma became a bad word. It’s interesting in today’s world, you know, charismatic leadership, people are kind of suspicious of charismatic leadership, they’re worried that you know, what’s behind charismatic leadership, but what you’re going back is to is the ancient religions, and what you’re saying is that the charismatic leadership was problematic, or at least the Christians in the and the Muslims, they picked up on charismatic leadership. So, what Judaism did was they kind of tempered it, and Moses ism becomes less important. And the fact that Moses is not in the Haggadah is fascinating. And that is an attempt by the Rabbi’s, or the editors of the Haggadah, whomever they happen to be to temporal. Moses, his leadership, because it can’t be about Moses, because if it’s about charismatic leaders, then we’re all in big trouble.

Geoffrey Stern  27:39

So, in researching Moses and Monotheism and I love that book, from the first time that I read it, I found it so stimulating, I discovered that no less than Moshe Chaim Yerushalmi he wrote a book critiquing Freud’s whole approach on every level. But there is a guy named Mark Edmondson and I found an old article from the New York Times that I stuffed in my version of the Moses and Monotheism that I have in my library. And he talks about the third point that Freud makes. And the third point is that because the message that Moses gave was just too profound, too extreme for the Jewish people that he was, he was, yes, he was terminated. But then many years later, this enabled him the strength of that message, and the contrast to all of the cultures enabled to Jews to rediscover it. And at certain points in his book towards the end, he talks about this was the beginning of the power of ideas, that not only did we not have idols, we didn’t even have these charismatic, these icons of people that were bigger than life. And in a sense, that was his takeaway. And of course, Freud himself at the end of his days was starting to feel a little bit like Moses, because he had followers who will already started to eject his theory. So, I guess this was very personal for him. autobiographical, Moses is our father-figure at the end of the day, there is this deep-seated need, whether it’s Oedipal, and we want to kill our father or we want to distance ourselves from our parents and stand on our feet. This is as basic and as primal as it gets. And it’s all here in this this parsha that is dedicated to finding out how do we purify ourselves from the pull, the threat of death.

Adam Mintz  29:58

I think that’s great; I think Murder in the Desert. I think the idea of terminating I think connecting it to Freud. There’s a lot of, there’s a lot of food for thought here. And thank you, Geoffrey for these for these topics for these ideas. I wish everybody a Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem. I look forward to being back next week in New York back to our regular scheduled time at 8pm. New York Time Eastern Daylight Time, New York time and Shabbat Shalom to everybody and thank you, Geoffrey.

Geoffrey Stern  30:25

Shabbat Shalom, Nesia Tova, enjoy!

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/417920

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The Nativity of a Child – redemption starts small..

exodus 1:22 – 2:4

(22) Then Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, “Every boy that is born you shall throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

(1) A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. (2) The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw how beautiful he was, she hid him for three months. (3) When she could hide him no longer, she got a wicker basket for him and caulked it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. (4) And his sister stationed herself at a distance, to learn what would befall him.

(כב) וַיְצַ֣ו פַּרְעֹ֔ה לְכׇל־עַמּ֖וֹ לֵאמֹ֑ר כׇּל־הַבֵּ֣ן הַיִּלּ֗וֹד הַיְאֹ֙רָה֙ תַּשְׁלִיכֻ֔הוּ וְכׇל־הַבַּ֖ת תְּחַיּֽוּן׃

(א) וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ אִ֖ישׁ מִבֵּ֣ית לֵוִ֑י וַיִּקַּ֖ח אֶת־בַּת־לֵוִֽי׃ (ב) וַתַּ֥הַר הָאִשָּׁ֖ה וַתֵּ֣לֶד בֵּ֑ן וַתֵּ֤רֶא אֹתוֹ֙ כִּי־ט֣וֹב ה֔וּא וַֽתִּצְפְּנֵ֖הוּ שְׁלֹשָׁ֥ה יְרָחִֽים׃ (ג) וְלֹא־יָכְלָ֣ה עוֹד֮ הַצְּפִינוֹ֒ וַתִּֽקַּֽח־לוֹ֙ תֵּ֣בַת גֹּ֔מֶא וַתַּחְמְרָ֥ה בַחֵמָ֖ר וּבַזָּ֑פֶת וַתָּ֤שֶׂם בָּהּ֙ אֶת־הַיֶּ֔לֶד וַתָּ֥שֶׂם בַּסּ֖וּף עַל־שְׂפַ֥ת הַיְאֹֽר׃ (ד) וַתֵּתַצַּ֥ב אֲחֹת֖וֹ מֵרָחֹ֑ק לְדֵעָ֕ה מַה־יֵּעָשֶׂ֖ה לֽוֹ׃

Rashi on Exodus 2:1:1ויקח את בת לוי AND HE HAD TAKEN TO WIFE A DAUGHTER OF LEVI — He had lived apart from her in consequence of Pharaoh’s decree that the children should, on their birth, be drowned. Now he took her back and entered into a second marriage with her, and she also physically became young again. For really she was then 130 years old — for she was born “between the walls” when they were about to enter Egypt (cf. Rashi on Genesis 46:15) and they (the Israelites) remained there 210 years, and when they left Egypt Moses was 80 years old; consequently when she became pregnant with him she was 130 years old — and yet Scripture calls her בת לוי a young daughter of Levi (Sota 12a; Bava Batra 119b).

רש”י על שמות ב׳:א׳:א׳ויקח את בת לוי. פָּרוּשׁ הָיָה מִמֶּנָּה מִפְּנֵי גְּזֵרַת פַּרְעֹה, וְהֶחֱזִירָהּ וְעָשָׂה בָהּ לִקּוּחִין שְׁנִיִּים, וְאַף הִיא נֶהֶפְכָה לִהְיוֹת נַעֲרָה; וּבַת ק”ל שָׁנָה הָיְתָה, שֶׁנּוֹלְדָה בְּבוֹאָם לְמִצְרַיִם בֵּין הַחוֹמוֹת, וּמָאתַיִם וָעֶשֶׂר נִשְׁתַּהוּ שָׁם, וּכְשֶׁיָּצְאוּ הָיָה מֹשֶׁה בֶּן שְׁמוֹנִים שָׁנָה, אִם כֵּן כְּשֶׁנִּתְעַבְּרָה מִמֶּנּוּ הָיְתָה בַּת מֵאָה וּשְׁלוֹשִׁים וְקוֹרֵא אוֹתָהּ בַּת לֵוִי (עי’ סוטה י”ב, בבא בתרא קי”ט ושמות רבה):

Shemot Rabbah 1:22 And his sister stationed herself at a distance -why did Miriam stand from afar, Rabbi Amram said in the name of Rav, for she would make a prophesy and said in the future my mother would give birth to a son who would save (Yehoshiya) Israel, since Moses was born, the whole house was filled with light, her father stood and kissed her head, told her “my daughter, your prophesy has been fulfilled” as it is written: (Exodus 15: 20): Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels.” Aharon’s sister and not Moses’ sister, since she made this prophecy when she was Aharon’s sister and still no Moses was born, and since he was cast into the river, her mother stood and patted her on the head, told her my daughter and where is your prophecy?, and therefore it is written: “And his sister stationed herself at a distance” To know what will be at the end of her oracle. The Rabbis said all this verse was written in the name of the holy spirit as it is written: (Samuel I 3:10.): The LORD came, and stood there, and He called as before: “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel answered, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.” and (Proverbs 7, 4): “Say to Wisdom, “You are my sister,”and after (Jeremiah 31: 3): The LORD revealed Himself to me from afar”. “To know what would happen” from Samuel I 2:3 For the LORD is an all-knowing God; By Him actions are measured.

וַתֵּתַצַּב אֲחֹתוֹ מֵרָחֹק, לָמָּה עָמְדָה מִרְיָם מֵרָחוֹק, אָמַר רַבִּי עַמְרָם בְּשֵׁם רַב לְפִי שֶׁהָיְתָה מִרְיָם מִתְנַבֵּאת וְאוֹמֶרֶת עֲתִידָה אִמִּי שֶׁתֵּלֵד בֵּן שֶׁיּוֹשִׁיעַ אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל, כֵּיוָן שֶׁנּוֹלַד משֶׁה נִתְמַלֵּא כָּל הַבַּיִת אוֹרָה, עָמַד אָבִיהָ וּנְשָׁקָהּ עַל רֹאשָׁהּ, אָמַר לָהּ בִּתִּי נִתְקַיְּמָה נְבוּאָתֵךְ, הַיְינוּ דִּכְתִיב (שמות טו, כ): וַתִּקַּח מִרְיָם הַנְּבִיאָה אֲחוֹת אַהֲרֹן אֶת הַתֹּף, אֲחוֹת אַהֲרֹן וְלֹא אֲחוֹת משֶׁה, אֶלָּא שֶׁאָמְרָה נְבוּאָה זוֹ כְּשֶׁהִיא אֲחוֹת אַהֲרֹן וַעֲדַיִן לֹא נוֹלַד משֶׁה, וְכֵיוָן שֶׁהֱטִילוּהוּ לַיְּאוֹר, עָמְדָה אִמָּהּ וְטָפְחָה לָהּ עַל רֹאשָׁהּ, אָמְרָה לָהּ בִּתִּי וְהֵיכָן נְבוּאָתֵךְ, וְהַיְנוּ דִּכְתִיב: וַתֵּתַצַּב אֲחֹתוֹ מֵרָחֹק וגו’. לָדַעַת מַה יְּהֵא בְּסוֹף נְבִיאוּתָהּ. וְרַבָּנָן אָמְרִין כָּל הַפָּסוּק הַזֶּה עַל שֵׁם רוּחַ הַקֹּדֶשׁ נֶאֱמַר, וַתֵּתַצַּב, עַל שֵׁם (שמואל א ג, י): וַיָּבֹא ה’ וַיִּתְיַצַּב. אֲחוֹתוֹ, עַל שֵׁם (משלי ז, ד): אֱמֹר לַחָכְמָה אֲחֹתִי אָתְּ. מֵרָחֹק, עַל שֵׁם (ירמיה לא, ב): מֵרָחוֹק ה’ נִרְאָה לִי. לָדַעַת מַה יֵּעָשֶׂה לוֹ, עַל שֵׁם (שמואל א ב, ג): כִּי אֵל דֵּעוֹת ה’ [וכל הענין].

I have a custom of watching Midnight Mass and am happy to share with you two Sermons that were particularly meaningful for me, and I hope for you, on the concept of a new-born savior.

In 1995 I caught the midnight mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  I was so blown away by Cardinal O’Connor’s sermon that I wrote the Archdiocese of New York for a copy.  I kept it all these years, and have not found it reproduced on the web or in Google books.

The Cardinal quotes Arthur Miller:

“Jew is only the name we give to the stranger, that agony we cannot feel, that death we look at like a cold abstraction.  Each man has his Jew, it is the other. And the Jews have their Jews.”

He (the Cardinal) writes of Jesus: “That Baby was a Jew. He might have been black or Japanese or Eskimo. To hate a Jew because he is a Jew is not an offense merely against political correctness. To hate a Jew, or a Black, or a Hispanic, or a Muslim or a homosexual, simply because he or she is such, is to hate God.”

For the full text of the sermon click here.

Last night I heard the midnight mass given by Pope Francis:

Brothers and sisters, standing before the crib, we contemplate what is central, beyond all the lights and decorations, which are beautiful. We contemplate the child. In his littleness, God is completely present. Let us acknowledge this: “Baby Jesus, you are God, the God who becomes a child”. Let us be amazed by this scandalous truth. The One who embraces the universe needs to be held in another’s arms. The One who created the sun needs to be warmed. Tenderness incarnate needs to be coddled. Infinite love has a miniscule heart that beats softly. The eternal Word is an “infant”, a speechless child. The Bread of life needs to be nourished. The Creator of the world has no home. Today, all is turned upside down: God comes into the world in littleness. His grandeur appears in littleness.

For the full text of the sermon click here

Cardinal O’Conner’s sermon, in particular, struck a cord with my neshama… needless to say, I was not surprised to learn that in fact, the Cardinal also had a Jewish neshama….  According to the New York Times, John Cardinal O’Connor, the Cardinal of New York for 16 years, was Jewish…. and his grandfather was a Rabbi.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Filed under Bible, Catholicism, divine birth, immaculate conception, John Cardinal O'Connor, Judaism, miracle, Pilgrimage, prayer, Religion, social commentary, Torah

Genesis as Her-story

parshat vayeshev (genesis 38)

A live recording of Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and friends on Clubhouse recorded on November 25th as they explore how the story of Joseph and the patriarchal origins of the Exile to Egypt is interrupted by the story of Tamar and the matriarchal origins of redemption through the Davidic bloodline. They wonder whether we might re-read Genesis as Her Story? With special “guest” appearances from Jonathan Kirsch (author of The Harlot by The Side of the Road) and Harold Bloom (the author of The Book of J).

Genesis as Her-story

Parshat Vayeshev – Join Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and friends. Recorded on Clubhouse on November 25th as they explore how the story of Joseph and the patriarchal origins of the Exile to Egypt is interrupted by the story of Tamar and the matriarchal origins of redemption through the Davidic bloodline.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/365002

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 text or tradition. This week I’m joined by Rabbi Adam Mintz on clubhouse recorded live on Thursday nights. And we are discussing Parshat Vayeshev, the story of Joseph and the patriarchal origins of the exile in Egypt, and we noticed that it’s interrupted by the story of Tamar and the matriarchal origins of redemption through the Davidic bloodline. So we are going to do what we always do at Madlik and read the Torah through a totally new lens. So put on a new fresh pair of glasses, sit back, and let us hear the story of Genesis as Her-story.

So welcome, everybody, as I said in the intro, we’re about coming to the end of Genesis. And one of the things we’ve always said about Genesis is a foreshadows events to come, the rabbi’s talked about Ma’asei Avot Siman l’banim. And the big event is obviously going down to Egypt and the Birth of a Nation and the Exodus. And we’re just about to get there. And we’re leaving the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and discovering the 12 sons, and beginning the story of Joseph. And in Genesis 38. There’s an interruption. We’ve already read about how Joseph is the favorite son, and how he engenerds jaolousy from all of the brothers and thrown into a pit. And one of the brothers Judah sells him as a servant. And then all of a sudden, in Genesis 38, there is a very strange story. And while most of us will know the story of Joseph, many of us do not know the story of Judah and Tamar. So how it begins is: Judah had a certain a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shua and he married her and lived with her and she conceived and bore a son, and he was named heir, she conceived again and bore son and named him Onan, once again, she bought a son and named him shella. He was at Kazib when she bore him, so Judah got married to a local Canaanite woman, which is in itself, unique to us, because so many of the patriarchs went to such great trouble to make sure that their children did not marry Canaanite. And now we move on, and Judah got a wife for Er, his first born, and her name was Tamar. And the story goes on to say how Tama was married to Er. And all of a sudden, Er was displeasing to the Lord and the Lord took his life so Er dies, and then Judah said to Onan join with your brother’s wife and do your duty by her as a brother in law and provide offspring for your brother. So you might have heard of the rule of the Levirate marriage, and it has nothing to do with the tribe of Levi. It has to do with keeping one’s seed alive through a surrogate by way of one’s brother. And so Onan goes ahead. And he is married to Tamar. But he does not have offspring, and he did what was displeasing to the Lord. And basically he let his seed drop to the ground and did not impregnate his wife. And then the story goes on and says that he was afraid that he might die like his brothers. So Tamar went back to her father’s house, and a long time afterward. Sue adore sue his daughter, the wife of Judah died. So now Judah is a widower, and tomorrow is is not married. When this period of mourning was over Judah went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers together with his friend Hirah the Adullamite and Tamar was told your father in law is coming up to Timnah for sheep shearing, so she took off her widow’s garb, covered her face with a veil, and wrapping herself up sat down at the entrance of Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah, for she saw that Shelah was grown up, yet she had not been given to him as a wife. When Judah saw her, he took her for a harlot, a prostitute, for she had covered her face. So he turned aside to her by the road and said, Here, let me sleep with you, for he did not know that she was his daughter in law. What she asked, Will you pay for sleeping with me? He replied, I will send a kid from my flock. But she said, You must leave a pledge until you have sent it. And he said, What pledge Shall I give you? She replied, Your a seal, and chord and the staff which you’re carrying, and the story goes on. And I suggest that we all read the whole chapter in detail, it is engaging. Ultimately, then, a trial is created for this prostitute. And she is about to be burned at the stake for being a prostitute. And it’s a public hearing. And Judah says, Let her be burned. As she was being brought out, she sent this message to her father in law, I am with child by the man to whom these belong. And she added, examine these whose seal and cord and staff are these. Judah recognize them and said, she is more in the right than I am, in as much as I did not give her to my son Shela. And he was not intimate with her again. When the time came for her to give birth, there were twins in her womb. While she was in labor, one of them put out his hand and the midwife tied, a crimson thread on that hand to signify this one came out first. But just then he drew back his hand, and out came his brother, and she said, What a breach you have made for yourself. So he was named Peretz, which means a breach afterward his brother came out, um, whose hand was the crimson thread, he was named Zeira. What do we think of this fascinating story? Here, Judah, who ultimately is the precursor, the foreshadower of the tribe of Judah, from which King David comes, is definitely caught in a compromising situation. And, as we have seen so many times in Genesis, the punch line many times comes at the end, especially with a genealogy. And here we cannot but remember that Peretz, the child that was born, was directly related to Boaz, who was the father of King David? So what do we make of this story? Is it just something that the editor had laying around? Or that Hashem put into a story? Because he thought it needed a place? Why does it come here? And what is its meaning for us?

Adam Mintz  08:10

So thank you Geoffrey for bringing up all these amazing topics. What is the significance of the story of one son sticking out his hand? And that is the idea that in Genesis, generally, firstborn is never the one who is victorious. Ishmael loses out to Isaac, Esauv loses out to Jacob, and Reuven who’s the firstborn of Jacob, also loses out to Judah and to Joseph. And here Zerach who is born first, he’s second to Peretz. And that I think, is really very, very interesting. And it goes to show that if the book of Genesis is not a book about what’s coming to you, that you deserve it, you have to earn it. And that’s why Peretz pushes through. He’s not really the oldest, but he pushes through, and because he pushes through, that’s why he is the one who was the ancestor of the Messiah. And I think that’s a very important lesson, the lesson of the lesson of pushing through. It’s not what you deserve. Peretz should have been second, because Zerach; the red thread was around his head, but parents push through. That’s the right personality trait for the Messiah.

Geoffrey Stern  09:42

So I totally agree with you. But I think that one has to go back and cannot ignore the story behind it. Meaning to say that it’s not simply Peretz there’s context here

Adam Mintz  10:00

Charles did have something to add to that.

Charles S  10:04

Well, I was gonna talk more about the story as it relates to Judah. Because in some respects, you know, last week we were talking about Yaakov and how he gets the name Yisrael and what it means to, to struggle with with God and how, the people of Israel bear that name and what that namesake means for us, and obviously Yehudah is also the namesake for the Jewish people, in that we are Yehudim from Yehudah. And I guess I’ve always thought about this story and Yehudah’s story as just being a model for Teshuva (repentance). And Judah was instrumental in the in the Yoseph story. So this is kind of his teshuva story…. this is his story, which I’ve always thought as a model for teshuva. And again, I’m not sure of the linkage, but it also kind of reminds me a little bit about, you know, the Aaron story, where he’s kind of the leader, [and I’m jumping around a little bit, obviously], but he’s sort of the leader of the Sin of the golden calf. But then, of course all the Kohanim come from Aaron, which a sort of an elevated class within the Jewish people. So again, throughout Torah, we have these models of people who are fallible, but ultimately serve as models for teshuva for the Jewish people, because they’re not perfect, but nonetheless, they their legacy lives on. And, you know, that makes them I think, more relatable.

Adam Mintz  11:58

Charles, so you’re more interested in the Judah piece of it. And actually, for you, the most two important words in this story, are “zedkah Mimeni” you’re more righteous than I am. That’s an admission on Judah’s part. It’s actually the first time at the Torah, that we have an admission of wrongdoing. You know, Adam and Eve when they eat from the fruit, they don’t admit to doing wrong, but Judah admits to doing wrong. And that’s the first example of what you call teshuvah, of repentance. And that’s why this story is so important. So that’s good. And maybe Charles, just to connect your point and my point, maybe the idea is that because Judah’s, the first one to repent, therefore he is the one who’s worthy to have the Messiah come from his seed. And that’s why the Messiah comes from Peretz. How about that?

Geoffrey Stern  12:54

I think that’s great. So I think that they’re all Midrashim that focus on the fact… that Judah started to apologize and to do teshuva, as Charles said, and he even then started to talk about what he did to Joseph, in terms of selling him and then Reuven in the Midrash pipes into so this becomes almost a Teshuva-Fest on the side of the men. But I want to focus on another word, which is mimeni. And I want to focus a little bit on Tamara Rashi says, as follows Mimeni from me, is she with child, or rabbis of blessed memory explained this to mean that a Bat Kol came forth and said the word Mimeni from me, and by my agency have these things happened, because she proved herself a modest woman, while in her father’s house, I have ordained that kings shall be descended from her. And I have already ordained that I will raise up kings in Israel from the tribe of Judah. So I think that what we’re all kind of agreeing upon, is that, number one, you can’t ignore the fact that this is the genesis, if you will excuse the pun, of the Davidic line, of the redemption of the Jewish people. And by saying Peretz that makes it very clear, and that there were at least three parties that we have identified so far. We’ve talked in terms of Peretz himself, even as an infant, where he did the peritza he did what was necessary he took the act into his own hands. Then we have the father who is Judah, who even though he fails, he recognizes his failure, his sin, and He does teshuva and now I would like to start focusing a little bit on Tamar, the Mimeni that she is more righteous than I am. And I think as we come to the end of Genesis, and we segue into Exodus, which is the story of the birth of the Jewish people, I think we would be remiss if we didn’t use this as an opportunity to look backwards at all of the narratives and stories that we’ve read. And maybe now as you say, Rabbi, it’s the first time that a patriarch has asked for forgiveness, I would argue, it’s also the first time that a patriarch has recognized his better half his wife. Has recognized the actions, the ability of the female to mold the forward motion of history. And I think if we take this moment for a second, and grab it, and we start looking back through all of the stories that we’ve read, we will see them in an entirely new light. And in fact, there’s two books that that come to mind. One is a popular book called The harlot by the Side of the Road, by Jonathan Kirsch. And obviously, the title comes exactly from the story of Tamar. And he details throughout the the Bible, all the stories that we might not hear in Hebrew school. Were women play critical, critical roles, and the others. The book is the book of J by Harold Bloom, Now Harold Bloom is a literary critic, he doesn’t claim to be a biblical scholar. And of course, he looks at it to the world, the world of scholarship that believes that the total was written from different documents and put together I think we can ignore that for a second. But what he sees is throughout genesis a female voice, and he sees this as the pinnacle of a theme that we might have been missing till now. So for instance, if we go back, and we look at Genesis 27, when Rebecca said to her son, Jacob, “I overheard your father speaking to your brother Esau of saying, Bring me some game.” Remember that story, where Rebecca goes ahead and convinces Jacob to cover himself in fleece, and to fleece his father, so to speak, and to steal the birthright. What I had never recognized till now was how she ends it. “Jacob says, If my father touches me, I shall appear to him as a trickster, and bring upon myself a curse, not a blessing. But his mother said to him, your curse my son, be upon me, just do as I say, and go fetch them for me.” So he and now we have two stories we are Tamar, I don’t know if you pick this up. But at the end of the story, she has the twins, and Judah leaves her alone. She’s done her job in terms of changing Jewish history. And now she is not thanked, she is not praised the way Judah is set to the side, here to with Rebecca. And I think we’re going to find a theme that these women who go ahead and change the destiny of our people, and our narratives ultimately say, and if I suffer, I suffer. Do you think that there’s any any merit to this theme? Am I bringing up any thoughts that resonate with anybody here?

Adam Mintz  19:02

Mendy What do you think?

Mendy  19:04

I think here is, there’s a Hasidic twist on, on every single story, Torah or everything in the Torah. And the story here with the Yehudah and Tamar, what everyone said, it’s like, I’m sure everyone knows what a chulent is here in the audience. So it’s like a mixture, because basically, if he did the wrong thing, or the right thing, obviously, he went to the side of the road to meet this lady here. But the deep explanation is that he knew that from him and through Tamar, that’s where Meshiach that’s where King David is going to come. And he, he it wasn’t like a mistake, something obligation that he had to do, just like Peretz, he had to jump in and do the wrong thing. Sometimes you have to be assertive, or sometimes you got to go ahead to to get to the goal. And sometimes you go to good, bad and ugly in order to get to reach our goal. So this is basically what happened. And also similarly speaking in our last scandal with Yosef and Potiphar. Also, it apparently it looked like something bad was going on. But that was the ultimate way how the Jewish people ended up in Egypt because that was the route they had to take in order to get to Israel eventually. I hope that makes sense.

Geoffrey Stern  20:36

It makes a lot of sense. I mean, picking up on the Hasidic or even the Kabbalistic element here. There is a strange verse in Leviticus, that it actually associates with what happened because Judah did a number of things wrong. Not only was she a harlot, but she was his daughter in law. And Leviticus says, If a man marries his sister, the daughter of either his father or his mother, so that they see her nakedness and she sees his nakedness. It is a disgrace. But the Hebrew doesn’t say it is a disgrace. It says “hesed, hu”, and the the interpretation is this amazing phrase that says “Olam al Hesed Yibaneh”, that the world is built on this hesed. And the example given is another story of women, saving the day, so to speak, and that is Lot’s two daughters, if you remember, and this is a review of all of Genesis, thanks for being part of the journey. If you remember after Sodom is destroyed, lote runs to the hills with his wife and two daughters, his wife turns around and turns into a pillow of salt, and the daughters and he go up into a cave and look like most provincials, they thought the whole world was Sodom, there is no world outside of Sodom. And so the daughters decide that the world will end unless they procreate with their father. So they get him drunk. And the child of that one of the sisters unions is called Moab of which means literally, from my father. And of course, those of you who know the other lineage of King David, it comes from Ruth, the Moabite. So here too, you have this story of women who take charge of the situation, who maybe take charge, even to the degree of breaking a few rules, but the rules need to be broken in order to achieve the ends. And of course, that can be a very dangerous concept. But looking back through the story of Genesis, I think we will see more and more of it now that our eyes are opened up and kind of be enamored by the critical role that women play. And I’m wondering what everyone makes of that. Let’s focus for a second upon the role of women in the narrative that begins in the Garden of Eden and ends up with Yehuda Tamar.

Mendy  23:20

So I wouldn’t say about the woman’s psrt, I will say it’s the feminine part. That’s what it is. We need to have the masculine and feminine to tell the world was created from the beginning. So it doesn’t become personal anyways, but this is the real truth.

Adam Mintz  23:37

That’s good. And he I think, aGeoffrey, what’s interesting is when you think about the woman’s role, or as Mendy says the feminine role. So of course you think back to the Garden of Eden and he got it got in trouble. But when you think about the, the mothers and the fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel. What’s interesting is that Sarah, Geoffrey has a very major role. She has a major role with Hagar. She has a major role with her son protecting her son, she has a major role. Rebecca, obviously has a major role. She’s the one who helps Jacob steal the blessings. But when we get to Rachel and Leah, while they have initially unimportant role, they seem to kind of fall away. Now Rachel dies. Leah, though, is just not heard from after that. Jacob all of a sudden assumes the more dominant personality in the family. And actually beginning of this week as Paracha it’s his mistakes as a father that get the family in trouble and lead to the sale of Joseph. You want to ask Geoffrey, Where was Leah? Where was his wife? I know that Joseph’s mother wasn’t around anymore. But what about his other wife? Why doesn’t she stand up and say Jacob, you can favor one son over the other. That’s just not how we do things around here. That’s not going to inclusion. So it’s interesting you talk about the feminine piece or the woman’s piece. Tamar is really the last important woman in the story. I mean, it’s not totally true, because you go to the wife of Potifar. But she’s importan because of how Joseph relates to her, I don’t think that she’s important in terms of the idea of legacy, right? It’s not our legacy. So I wonder, Geoffrey, what you make of that, that not only is Tamar, an important woman, but she’s the last important woman in the book of Genesis.

Geoffrey Stern  26:00

Well, I think first of all, you’re absolutely right in identifying the difference between the women that I’ve just mentioned, and a character in the story like Potipar, the women that we’ve been talking about that start with Eve, and with Tamar, are women that have changed the course of biblical history, so to speak, have changed the narrative, they’ve made decisions, whether it was Sarah, who said to Abraham, send out your son Ishmael. And and in that case, Abraham never admits to Sarah, that she’s right. It takes God to say listen to your wife. But getting back to your point of Rachel and leah, and why they don’t play a more important role. I don’t really have an answer to that. I mean, I think that we’re really moving forward. And these two stories, the story of Joseph, which is the continuation of the three patriarchs in terms of not picking, the oldest son of having a favorite son, and going into exile is one narrative. And this Yehudah and Tamar, where it’s really, you can say almost a different kind of direction, and arc of history, where it is the sin and the admonition or the understanding that a sin was made. And the woman taking history into her hands, that moves us into into a future of redemption with David. So it is kind of fascinating, but I don’t I don’t pretend to say I have an answer why Leah and Rachel don’t play a more important part. I mean, I think Rachel got neutered a little bit, because, she lied to her father, stole the idols, and that’s why she’s buried, and she becomes another type of icon. For those who live forever in exile. But Leah, you right, she disappears from the story.

Adam Mintz  28:28

I mean, Rachel dies. So I think she gets neutered a little bit and then she dies. So she’s not a fit figure. I don’t know the answer to this, because I think this is thing that, you know, that is a question, what happens to Leah? Geoffrey, I think as we get come to 930 I think what we’ve seen in this story is something very interesting. And it really is food for thought. And that is that each one of the characters in this story is extremely important. Judas important, you get out that Tamar is very important. Clearly the sons are important, because that’s the legacy that from which Messiah will come. And then you have the question of all the people who are not in the story. That’s Rachel and Leah, and what their role is going forward. And then even better, Geoffrey, in the next chapter, we talk about the white but Potipar like we said, you can compare Tamar who changes the course of Jewish history with the wife of Potipar, who’s just someone in the story, but doesn’t change Jewish history. So I think when we think about this story, we think about the pasha the characters here are really really, literally pregnant with meaning and interpretation. And I want to thank everybody for joining us tonight on Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving. Shabbat Shalom. Happy Hanuka, Hanuka begins on Sunday night, and we look forward next Thursday night to continuing the story of Joseph. I will be participating from Dubai and Geoffrey from home. And we will be continuing in the story of Joseph and his brothers. So Happy Thanksgiving Shabbat Shalom, everybody.

Geoffrey Stern  30:21

Shabbat Shalom to you, Rabbi. I’ve been requested that we keep the line open in case anybody wants to have to jump in and discuss anything further. I will say that the big takeaway for me this week, and I read this book by Harold Bloom, who literally says, if you read the, the book of Genesis, and you think in terms of Sivim Panim l’Torah that there were 70 different faces to Torah. Well, certainly one of those faces would let us consider that the whole book of Genesis was written from the perspective of a woman. And I think, to me the punch line after going backwards from Tamar to Sarah, to Rebecca, to all that, and then I end up back at the Garden of Eden in Genesis. And if you notice, and this I noticed, for the first time, after the sin of the eating of the apple, and true to form, just like Tamar ended up being punished. And just like Rebecca said, If anyone gets punished, it’s me. Eve gets punished. But after that, it says, “The man named his wife Eve, because she was Mother of all the living.” And it just kind of brought home to me that from the perspective of looking at all of these stories, from a woman’s point of view, who maybe has been marginalized and has to work in the background, and maybe we can enlarge the picture. It doesn’t have to be a woman, it can be an other, it can be somewhat outside of what today is very fashionable to call the patriarchy. But it really changes all of the stories. So I am thankful for that. I’m thankful for all of you, studying Torah every week. And now if anyone wants to come up, raise your hand and discuss any of this further. We’ll leave the mic open. Michael, welcome to the to the Bema

Michael Stern  32:46

Thank you, Happy Thanksgiving. I think it’s important for me, I love that we have this extra time, just to say how I feel when I leave this discussion. And today, I feel so much better, because I feel that there was so much dysfunction, and so many agendas and men and women and mothers and fathers and children all doing things. I call them mistaken ways. And then to hear that, oh my gosh, the Messiah messianic lineage comes from a lineage of mistaken power plays, agendas manipulations, because I have had my share of living life in that kind of way. And I could feel guilt and shame but actually starting today, I feel compassion. And I know that there’s so many paths mistaken paths, and that’s the feeling I go away with, with an uplifted feeling that. Wow, there’s hope. So thank you.

Mendy  34:21

Okay. So first of all, Potipar, when we touched on her, her daughter ended up being Joseph’s wife. And she was the mother of Ephraim and Menashe. That’s she’s not insignificant. She’s very significant in the story. And back to Adam and Eve, as we were talking just very recently now. The choice was, the world should stay spiritual. Or if you touch the tree, because if you really see the the text it’s very confusing. He’s the way God said, don’t eat from it, but if you eat from it, so he was like implying that you would eat from it or you’re not,…. it’s complicated, which I don’t want to get into the whole discussion, but the short of it is, Eve. “Hava”, she realized that the world, which is a very high level, because the woman has extra understanding the “Bina Yesera” there a certain way of thinking the woman has more powerful than the man. And she realized that in order for the world to get to the destiny that it needed to go, it had to go through all this troubles and corruption or whatever you want to call it, a different kind of scandals. And that’s the whole way of of the life, the feminine is like the up and down the wavy part, you know, man is a strong part. But it needed to go through this, all these mistakes and all these problems…  because if you don’t toil for something, if you don’t work hard for something, then it’s not significant at all. So the world we need to go through all these craziness. And hopefully, this will end and we will come to our destiny very soon.

Geoffrey Stern  36:09

Thank you so much, Mandy, I just want to pick up on what you were saying, Michael, about this sense that there’s so many crooked paths that lead to redemption, and you can call it the Messiah, you can call it salvation. But that clearly is the story here. And the phrase that i mentioned before, Olam al hesed Yibaneh  that the world is built on hesed, we Jews don’t normally translate the word hesed as Grace. Because somehow whether when we split word, we had a divorce with Christianity. They took the grace word, and we got the Old Testament God of justice. But my rabbi Shai Held is right now writing a book. And he’s reclaiming hesed. And I think this sense of grace that Christianity took where you can be forgiven, no matter what your sins are, is something that Jesus took from. The New Testament took from the Old Testament, and this chapter, this sensual, explicit and a one could say, adhorent chapter is evidence number one, that out of the depths of problem and sin can come salvation, and I think that’s what you were saying. And it’s an extremely, extremely important lesson, and one that we have to reclaim, I think, because it clearly is in our texts, and we have to be thankful for it and to use it as a way to pull ourselves up and to know that every one of us can achieve complete redemption and salvation. And again, it’s all in Humash in our Parsha in our Torah.

Michael Stern  38:15

Geoffrey, I’m I really appreciate that. And I have a question about redemption because it seems to me that redemption is that some outer force God redeems, forgives redeems us, lets us still have a you know, clean slate. But for me, the how do you tie that into self redemption? Do we come as individuals? And is that part of it? Can you tie self redemption where one forgive oneself for the mistaken ways?

Geoffrey Stern  38:54

Again, I think that in the divorce with Christianity, we got national redemption and they took personal redemption, but personal redemption is so much part of Judaism, you know, we talk about Yetziat Mitzrayim, leaving Mitrayim as a country, and becoming a nation. And then we call Mim hameytzar karaati Yah that I call God from the narrow place and that’s the personal redemption. So I think that Judaism has always believed  very strongly about the personal redemption. And the most wonderful story that I’ve ever heard, is, I think Maimonides says, when we prepare for the holidays, and we’re all being judged not as a nation, but as a world and the scales are teetering on either side. Each one of us has to feel that our personal redemption our personal teshuva can move the scale in one direction or the other. So he brilliantly ties personal redemption to the larger redemption of the world. But I totally think that it all starts with me and with you and with each one of us.

Michael Stern  40:13

Thank you

Mendy  40:14

very very appreciated.

Geoffrey Stern  40:17

Okay, so Shabbat Shalom and Hodu Lashem Kitov to you all.

Listen to last week’s podcast: Arguing with God and Man

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.

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Filed under Bible, divine birth, feminism, Hebrew, Israel, Judaism, kabbalah, Religion, social commentary, Torah, women's rights

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

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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Filed under Bible, Chosen People, divine birth, divine right, Hebrew, Israel, Judaism, Religion, social commentary, Torah

The Miraculous Birth and Resurrection of Isaac

parshat Vayera – genesis 18-22

A live recording of Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse October 22nd 2021as they ask: Was it the Binding of Isaac or the Sacrifice of Isaac and what difference does it make? We use the seminal story of the miraculous birth of Isaac and the hints at the sacrifice and subsequent resurrection of Isaac in the biblical and later Rabbinic texts to explore the meaning of these themes in Judaism and Christianity.

The Miraculous Birth and Resurrection of Isaac

A live recording of Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse with Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz as we ask: Was it the Binding of Isaac or the Sacrifice of Isaac and what difference does it make?

Link to Sefaria Source sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/356011

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:00

Welcome to Madlik disruptive Torah. I should say we’ve been doing this every week at four o’clock eastern on Friday. But because the nights are coming sooner, we are going to move to 8pm on Thursday. And I hope that all agrees with you. But if it doesn’t fit into your schedule, do remember, I’m going to try to publish the podcast now on Friday, so you will have it before Shabbat. So what we mean by disruptive Torah is that we hopefully look at the ancient texts through new lenses, new angles, and share those insights with you and invite you to introduce your own. But hopefully walk away thinking about these texts a little bit differently. Sometimes it’s a little unsettling, but that’s all good, because it means that the ancient texts remain live and vibrant with us. And today, my friends is no exception. We are in Vayera, it is, I believe, the fourth portion that we’ve read in the book of Genesis, and it contains some really repetitive themes that we’ll touch upon. And one theme that maybe it’s unique, and maybe it’s not. And that’s one of the things that we’re going to discuss. The repetitive theme is a miraculous birth. A barren mother may be in today’s portion, because we’re talking about Abraham and Sarah. maybe even an impotent Father, we don’t know he was 100 years old, and a miraculous birth of a child. And that is a theme that actually does appear over and over and over again, and we’re going to get to that. But there’s another…. I won’t call it a theme, because it might be a theme. But it also might be a unique incident. And that is what is called by the Jews, typically the Binding of Isaac, and what is many times called by Christians, the Sacrifice of Isaac, and we will actually get into the question of is it the sacrifice? Or is it the binding of Isaac? And does it make a difference? But in any case, let’s start with the biblical account in Genesis 22. And it says, “And it was after these things that God put Abraham to the test. He said to him, Abraham, and he answered, Hineni, here I am. And he said, Take your son, your favorite one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah Lech L’cha el Eretz haMoriah.   and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you. So early the next morning, Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac, he split the word for the Burnt offering, and he set out for the place of which God had told him. And on the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his servants, you stay here with the ass, and the boy and I will go up there, we will worship and we will return to you. Abraham took the wood for the burn to offering and put it on his son, Isaac.” And we’re going to look a little bit further into the story. I don’t think I need to read it all at this point, because so many of you know this iconic story, and possibly are troubled by it. But as you know, Abraham and Isaac walked silently up to the mountain together. And at certain point Isaac says to Abraham, Hey, Dad, I don’t see that you have a lamb with you. And Abraham says, enigmatically. God will provide the lamb. And then he binds Isaac, and has the knife raised above his throat, if you will. And an angel calls down from heaven, Abraham, Abraham, don’t touch the boy. And that is this story. So the question that I pose to all of you, and you’re all welcome to raise a hand and come up and discuss, I’m sure we all have opinions. But first to you rabbi, is this a unique incidence? Or is this part of a theme? This sense of sacrificing your child? Certainly, if you take it literally, Judaism is against in the Bible is against child sacrifice. Maloch is famous for that. But whether in the literal sense or in a larger sense, the sense of giving up to prove one’s faith or to prove something? Is this unique, or is this part of a general theme that I’m missing?

Adam Mintz  04:59

Good question. I mean, obviously, this is the most important question in the entire Bible. So the answer is it’s a unique story. And let me just back up a minute. You started by saying, Geoffrey, that the there’s a difference between the way the Jews refer to it and the way the Christians refer to it. The Christians refer to it as a sacrifice of Isaac, the Jews refer to it as the binding of Isaac. The Binding of Isaac is actually the translation of the biblical word Akeda, which is the word that we find in the Torah. “L’akod” means to bond. Now the first amazing thing Geoffrey is that that word to bind “L’akid” is a unique word in the Torah.  It only appears once in this context. So even in terms of the word, we know that this is an exceptional story. And the story is exceptional. There’s no other story like it. The question of course, is what’s the lesson of the story and again, we invite everybody to raise your hand that will bring you up to you can share. So very famously, there was a Danish philosopher by the name of Soren Kierkegaard. Most people don’t know Soren Kierkegaard except for his view about the Akeda. He says that the story of the Akeda is that God asked Abraham to sublimate the ethical which means to squash his ethical behavior of treating his son well, for the sake of listening to God. Recently, there was a book written by a professor at Yeshiva University, by the name of Aaron Kohler. And Aaron Kohler took issue with Kierkegaard. He said, You’re right. That’s what God says to Abraham, sublimate your ethical to listen to me. But then the angel comes, and the angel says, Don’t kill him. And what Professor Kohler says is that the lesson that the angel is trying to teach Abraham is that: Know, the ethical is the most important, what’s most important is how you treat your children, even at the expense of listening to God. And that’s the lesson we should walk away with. [Unbinding Isaac: The Significance of the Akedah for Modern Jewish Thought Hardcover – 2020 by Aaron Koller] But I think that’s an amazing dispute is the lesson of this story, that we need to listen to God above all else, even if he tells us to do something unethical, or no, is the punchline of the story that the ethical is the most important.

Geoffrey Stern  07:45

I think that’s a great insight. And of course, part of your resolution of the problem is how it ends. In other words, the story may or your explanation, or that of the rabbi would be different. If in fact, Isaac was sacrificed but as you say, the punchline is that he wasn’t sacrificed. And that teaches us something. And that teaches us that the ethical, is more important, but I want to I want to pick up on Kierkegaard, because Kierkegaard  believed that this was a test of faith, but the faith that Kierkegaard believes that the faith that God was testing in Abraham was Do you believe when I told you, that your children, you would have children and that they would be like the stars of the heaven and the sands and all that, do you believe that I will be able to fulfill that promise. And because Kierkegaard was Christian obviously, the way he tweaked that slightly was, Do you believe that even if I kill Isaac, I will resurrect him and you will still have him? Do you believe that I am capable of asking you to, in a sense, physically end my prophecy, and that I can still fulfill my prophecy? And I want to, to quote a verse that actually supports Kierkegaard a little bit, and this is Genesis 22. I read it during the introduction. And if you recall, it says, then Abraham said to his servants, you stay here with the ass, the boy and I will go up there, we will worship and we will return to you. We will return to you. So what the commentary would say that Abraham was a man of faith. He knew that God was asking him to sacrifice his son. But somehow, he knew in his heart of hearts, either that there was going to be an angel at the last moment, the deus ex machina, or that even if he killed him, he some how would rebuild, we birth, Isaac, and give it back to him? If you look at Rashi on that verse, Rashi says he prophesized that they would both return. So he understands the intent of this verse, and Rashi’s explanation is in the middle of being tested. He also knew that somehow it was going to work out. In a sense, you could say that Rashi and Kierkegaard are on the same page. Another Rabenu Bahia says and we will return to you. At that time Abraham intended to bring back Isaac’s bones for burial. And this is why he said we will come back. I mean, the commentary are very sensitive test to this. And you could also say clearly, that he was fooling them because he didn’t, as we discussed last week, he figured if he told these guys, he was going up to kill his son, they might stop him. But this notion that in fact number one, that the challenge here and I think Rabbi Avraham Bronstein mentioned it last week, Was this an ethical question that was confronting Abraham in the Akeda? Was it the emotional question of losing his son? You certainly don’t feel that in the text. There’s no angst here? Or was it this question of God promised he was going to give me progeny? Now he’s asking me to destroy the possibility of that promise? Do I still believe in the promise?

Adam Mintz  12:10

Yes, there’s so much there to build on. Let’s let’s talk about Rashi for a minute. I’m just trying to parse all the different things you talked about. Let’s talk about Rashi. You think that Kirkegaard and Rashi are saying the same thing. That what Rashi saying is that God asks Abraham to do it, even though it’s unethical. You think Rashi’s sensitive to that? That’s interesting.

Geoffrey Stern  12:41

I’m not sure that part of it, I what I was picking up on was another part of Kierkegaard that I discovered that Kierkegaard identifies the question of faith, and the question of faith has to do with this promise of future generations. And what Rashi is ultimately saying, and what Kierkegaard was saying is that that was the faith part that was being questioned.

Adam Mintz  13:05

Oh OK, good,  I like that.

Geoffrey Stern  13:09

 What Rashi is saying is that this man who is now being tested for his faith prophesizes is that everything is going to work its way out? That he prophesized that even if he listened to God, somehow, and you can conjecture that it was because there was going to be an angel to stop it. Or there was going to be something else like a resurrection. And I’m going to read a text now about the resurrection, …. because that is the critical difference, I believe, between the term the sacrifice of Isaac, and the binding of Isaac. So listen to Perkei d’Rabbi Eliezer. “Rabbi, Jehuda said, when the blade touched his neck, the soul of Isaac fled and departed. But when he heard his voice from between the two Chrubim, the two angels saying to Abraham lay not thine hand upon the lad, his soul returned to his body, and Abraham set him free. And Isaac stood upon his feet. And Isaac knew that in this manner, the dead in the future will be quickened, he opened his mouth, he said, blessed art thou our Lord our God Mechiyeh Hameytim, who brings back the dead. So here is a source that looks at this as part of a bigger theme. And the theme is that God who gives life God is capable of re giving life. And this kind of concept of resurrection of the dead, finds its first instance, in the story of the sacrifice of Isaac.

Adam Mintz  14:55

Good. I mean, that medrish is playing with an idea that Abraham actually killed Isaac, and that  Isaac was brought back to life. I didn’t know that Midrash, Thank you, Geoffrey. Because it says it pretty explicitly. I will tell you that the tradition in Judaism not in Christianity, in Judaism, the place where that tradition really evolves, that Abraham killed Isaac. And then he came back to life was actually something that Jews in Germany and France during the crusades, when Jews were given the choice, whether to die or to convert to Christianity, and they chose death, over conversion to Christianity. There were some people who saw that decision of death, rather than conversion to Christianity as an experience of th4e Akeda.  And there’s a professor in JTS by the name of shalom Spiegel, who wrote an entire book called The Last Trial, in which he collects all of the sources that suggests that Abraham actually killed Isaac. I didn’t know that Midrash but that Midrash says it’s so explicitly Baruch Ata Hashem Mechayeh Hameytim that Isaac is brought back to life. My problem, Geoffrey, with that Medrash is that it’s not explicit in the text. The text doesn’t seem to say that Abraham killed Isaac. Mechayei Hameytim doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of the text. I’ll tell you another text. On Rosh Hashannah in the Mussaf prayer, we also talk about the Binding of Isaac. And there we say to God, God, have compassion upon us. The same way that Abraham was willing to give up everything, in order to listen to you to sacrifice his son, as a reward for that mayyou God have compassion upon us. And that’s an interesting idea. What we say to God is just like Abraham, sublimated the ethical, he was willing to kill his son, because you said it, you should sublimate your desire to punish the people and be nice to us. But even that midrash even that, that quote, from the prayers doesn’t suggest that Abraham actually killed Isaac, that’s in the preliminary part of the story, that Abraham was willing to do it, not that he actually did it. And I think that’s an important point that Professor Kohler makes. And that is we need to distinguish between what the beginning of the story says, and what the punchline says.

Geoffrey Stern  18:13

So I just want to comment on Professor Spiegel, but also the fact that we are living right now in a golden age of Christian Jewish Studies. And by that I mean that the notion that many times that Christianity took ideas from Judaism. But now scholars like Daniel Boyarin  John Levinson and others are saying, Yes, but this gives us license to look into Christianity, and through looking at Christianity possibly understand some of our texts and traditions. And this is based on the assumption that Christianity was trying to convince the Jewish people to accept this new Messiah. And they argued from existing traditions. Making something up would not have gotten them very far. So scholars like Spiegel and Levinson are now looking through our texts, and they’re coming up with amazing material. So for instance, we read in Genesis 22, 6, Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, and put it on his son Isaac. Here’s what Bereshit Rabbah said, Robert says, And Abraham took the word of the burnt offering, like one who carries his own tzlav, his own stake on his shoulder, he literally says, like carrying your own cross. So again, according to this way of looking at some of these texts, it’s not as though when the New Testament describes Jesus as carrying his own cross, it might have been very conscience to, in a sense, type. into and latch into these existing traditions. You mentioned the mussaf service of Rosh Hashanah there’s even a bigger parallel with Passover and the pascal lamb. With Rosh Hashanah we have the ram’s horn and that’s important, but with the pascal lamb listen to what the the Bible in Exodus 12 says. If you recall the Jews are leaving Egypt the firstborn sons are being killed. Everybody is an Abraham in Egypt killing their Isaac, and the blood on the houses where you shall be staying shall be a sign for you. When I see the blood I will pass over you so that no plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. The Mechilta d’Rab Yishmael  says, What is the intent of this and I shall see the blood, I shall see the blood of the binding of isaac as it is written and Abraham came to the place, the Lord will see Hashem yiraeh.  But he was about to destroy the Lord said, and he repented himself of the evil. What did he see? He saw the blood of the binding of Isaac. So there are two issues that are fascinating here. One is that he makes the connection to a very powerful theme of the pascal lamb to the sacrifice…. sorry, I misspoke to the binding of Isaac. …And second, he talks about the blood of Isaac, so you can try to answer that Rabbi and say that maybe Isaac was nicked before the angel interrupted. But where does the blood of Isaac come all of a sudden. And so you have in this week’s parsha , at the end, it says Abraham then returned to his servants, and they departed for Beer Sheba. So the commentaries pick up on saying, why does it say Abraham then returned? Why doesn’t it say Abraham and Isaac returned. So the Ibn Ezra says, Isaac is not mentioned because he was under Abraham’s care. Those who say that Abraham slaughtered Isaac and left him on the altar. And following this, Isaac came to life are contradicting scripture. The point that I’m making is, Ibn Ezra would not say this, if there weren’t people arguing the case and you’re right, it might have been Christians. But again, we’re talking about levels of texture and tradition that are clearly part of this story. In the classical rabbinic texts, they certainly become more profound as history goes forward. This Levinson talks about the Maccabees, were the first to really begin this concept of the Techiyat Hameytim , the resurrection of the dead in Judaism. And if you read the book of the Maccabees time and time again, when they are sacrificing themselves to the Greeks, rather than break the law, they reference Akedat Yitzchak . So there is something there. And that’s why I raised my original question. Is it the binding of Isaac? Or was it the actual sacrifice of Isaac? And does it make a difference?

Adam Mintz  23:38

So I think all those points are amazing points. You took us on a journey through rabbinic literature. And the answer to your question, Geoffrey is yes, it makes a difference. The sacrifice of Isaac is one thing, the blood of Isaac as part of the sacrifice of Isaac. The Binding of Isaac suggests that there was a binding but they didn’t actually kill it. But Michael is up here. So Michael, why don’t you take it away?

Michael Stern  24:07

Thank you, Rabbi. Thank you, Geoffrey. I understand that sacrifice is giving up something for the sake of something else or giving up something you want to keep. They say no sacrifice is too great when it comes to children. So binding is for me like a straight jacket. And sacrificing is giving up something. And when it comes to children, I think in this golden age, there is a liberation from old belief systems from the shoulds  and shouldn’ts, and the young generation today and every young generation questions, the traditions and the ways of the forefathers. And so a father has to, as I understand fatherhood, bless his children, and sacrifice his own. My children, I don’t like that my children, I understand that children are there to raise as best you can, and then send them off and bless them and be wind under their wings. And then there is the prophecy of return. When you do come home alone, like Abraham came home alone, but he, like parents go home alone, empty nesting, and then maybe, and I bet the children come home. And they come home with their own stories, and their own new traditions and their own new ways that they’d fought hard to birth.

Geoffrey Stern  25:49

Thank you, Michael.

Adam Mintz  25:50

Michael, thank you so so much. I mean, I think that’s a whole different way of looking at children. And I think that is something that if you bring that out from the story, I think that’s beautiful.

Geoffrey Stern  26:01

So the question is, what now becomes the takeaway? One of the scholars, who I’ve read, who’s fascinating here, talks about this break of natural birth, meaning to say, and I started by talking about this week’s parsha, we have two themes. One is, we can now call it this potential sacrifice of Isaac, and his rebirth, and the other is miraculous birth. And by miraculous birth, I should say that every parent group from Abraham forward, it didn’t occur before. As far as I could tell Adam and Eve did not have a problem conceiving. But from Abraham and Sarah going forward, every patriarch and great prophet, is born out of miraculous situations. And in fact, Abraham and Sarah had to even change their name. They were a Abram and Sarai had to change their name in order to give birth, changing one’s name is being reborn. Yes, in the Bible, it means being reborn already in the Old Testament. And then they have at 90 for Sarah, and 100. For Abraham, they have this miraculous birth. And you can look at the language which is fascinating. It says, and God visited Sarah veHashem pakad et Sarah, like he said, Now, there’s a great movie with Woody Allen, and it’s called The Front and he’s being grilled to see if he knows any communists. And finally, he says, Do you mean in the biblical sense, and of course, what he’s talking about is something called carnal knowledge, which is that the word know, Adam knew Eve can mean carnal relations. Well, there’s also something called a conjugal visit. And the word pakad is used mostly in Rabbinic Judaism. And many times as a euphemism for a conjugal visit, meaning to say if someone is about to go on a trip, Hayav adam lipkod et ishto lifei nesiato.. a man has to visit his wife before he leaves. So what I’m trying to get at is not to necessarily say we have a story of a virgin birth here, or the alternative, which is a barren mother past menopause, and an impotent father in his hundreds have a baby. The point is that it’s miraculous, and that it is an absolute break with natural birth. And that’s how I’m kind of taking your comment, Michael, which is that there is a big theme in Judaism that you need that break, let’s not forget that when Abram began his journey from Haran, it says, you leave your father’s house, you’ve got to leave your parents to find yourself. And according to that interpretation, that’s what happens if Isaac gets sacrificed. He is being brought up to this mountain by a man newly reborn as Abraham who was given a child, a miraculous child. And now he himself is having to go through this miraculous transformation of of dying and being reborn. So you could argue that both themes that we’re seeing here Michael, are very along the lines that you are talking that redemption, liberation, full actualization can only come when you break possibly and it doesn’t have to be forever, it might be momentarily the umbilical cord of natural birth.

Michael Stern  30:06

And that is the pain in suffering and sacrifice and pain in the binding. Because wearing straitjackets I can attest is painful. So real unbinding and sacrificing is painful and sacrifice and releasing the pain in the  unbinding.

Adam Mintz  30:30

That’s nice. You’re taking the other side, not the binding, not the binding Geoffrey, but the unbinding …. an  interesting twist

Geoffrey Stern  30:37

But that’s what happens when you talk about the sacrifice of Isaac, you’re ultimately talking about the resuscitation and rebirth as a new person. You know, the takeaways are kind of fascinating. And the takeaways make this less of extra ordinary incident. And actually, something very apart of what a Judaism I turned out to be. This guy who I quote, says that it doesn’t stop here. He says, if you think about all of the patriarchs, whether Jacob going to sleep, and the angels coming down and going up, which could be a metaphor for dying and being reborn, whether it’s fighting with the angel to the last moment. So it seems to be a very basic theme. But as we started rabbi, and you talked about the key is how the story ends. I do believe that if we benefit a little bit from reading those rabbinic texts, through new lenses, with a little bit of help, from the way Christianity took this motif, it does become something that becomes both thematically important, but also, in a sense, edifying in the sense that we all need to be reborn. And the question is what we do with our life, and that more to the point that all of our births have to be miraculous. And that in a sense, God is the third partner in our in our births. And that is something that is a very famous rabbinic text. So maybe that is a little bit of the takeaway of what otherwise can be a very challenging, depressing and rattling story in the Bible.

Adam Mintz  32:43

Thank you so much, Geoffrey, amazing conversation today. We look forward Enjoy your Shabbat everybody. We look forward to seeing everybody this Thursday night 8pm Eastern Daylight Time and we will discuss the portion of Hayei Sarah. Geoffrey, have a great trip to Israel. And we will see you from Israel on Thursday night. Everybody Shabbat shalom.

Geoffrey Stern  33:04

Shabbat Shalom.

——————————–

Original announcement below:

Friday October 22nd at 4:00pm Eastern

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Link to Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/356011

Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: Abraham’s Epic Journey and Our Own

Abraham’s Epic Journey and our Own

Recorded live on Clubhouse on Friday October 15th 2021 Parshat Lech Lecha – Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and Rabbi Abraham Bronstein explore various ways of viewing Abraham’s epic journey and how it reflects our own. Sefaria Source Sheet: http://www.sefaria.org/sheets/354270 Transcript (excerpt): You know, I could make the argument that Abraham was the first atheist.

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Filed under Bible, divine birth, immaculate conception, Jewish jesus, Judaism, miracle, Passover, resurrection, Torah

Re-imagining God and Man for a New Year

In preparation for the Jewish New Year where the kingship of God is proclaimed, we re-explore the essence of the prohibition of Idol Worship and its opposite, the image of God.

Recorded live at TCS, The Conservative Synagogue of Westport Connecticut we come to the surprising conclusion that from the perspective of the earliest biblical texts, the prohibition of Idol worship was less important than the positive injunction for mankind to serve as the Tzelem or Image of God.

Listen to the madlik podcast:

Access Source Sheet in Sefaria here.

If the rejection of idolatry is the essence of the Biblical project, why does it not appear in the Genesis account of the founders?

But Didn’t Abraham destroy his father’s idols?

2
בראשית רבה ל״ח
(יג) וַיָּמָת הָרָן עַל פְּנֵי תֶּרַח אָבִיו (בראשית יא, כח), רַבִּי חִיָּא בַּר בְּרֵיהּ דְּרַב אַדָא דְּיָפוֹ, תֶּרַח עוֹבֵד צְלָמִים הָיָה, חַד זְמַן נְפֵיק לַאֲתַר, הוֹשִׁיב לְאַבְרָהָם מוֹכֵר תַּחְתָּיו. הֲוָה אָתֵי בַּר אֵינַשׁ בָּעֵי דְּיִזְבַּן, וַהֲוָה אֲמַר לֵהּ בַּר כַּמָּה שְׁנִין אַתְּ, וַהֲוָה אֲמַר לֵיהּ בַּר חַמְשִׁין אוֹ שִׁתִּין, וַהֲוָה אֲמַר לֵיהּ וַי לֵיהּ לְהַהוּא גַבְרָא דַּהֲוָה בַּר שִׁתִּין וּבָעֵי לְמִסְגַּד לְבַר יוֹמֵי, וַהֲוָה מִתְבַּיֵּשׁ וְהוֹלֵךְ לוֹ. חַד זְמַן אֲתָא חַד אִתְּתָא טְעִינָא בִּידָהּ חָדָא פִּינָךְ דְּסֹלֶת, אֲמָרָהּ לֵיהּ הֵא לָךְ קָרֵב קֳדָמֵיהוֹן, קָם נְסֵיב בּוּקְלָסָא בִּידֵיהּ, וְתַבְרִינוּן לְכָלְהוֹן פְּסִילַיָא, וִיהַב בּוּקְלָסָא בִּידָא דְּרַבָּה דַּהֲוָה בֵּינֵיהוֹן. כֵּיוָן דַּאֲתָא אֲבוּהָ אֲמַר לֵיהּ מַאן עָבֵיד לְהוֹן כְּדֵין, אֲמַר לֵיהּ מַה נִּכְפּוּר מִינָךְ אֲתַת חָדָא אִתְּתָא טְעִינָא לָהּ חָדָא פִּינָךְ דְּסֹוֹלֶת, וַאֲמַרַת לִי הֵא לָךְ קָרֵיב קֳדָמֵיהון, קָרֵיבְתְּ לָקֳדָמֵיהוֹן הֲוָה דֵּין אֲמַר אֲנָא אֵיכוֹל קַדְמָאי, וְדֵין אֲמַר אֲנָא אֵיכוֹל קַדְמָאי, קָם הָדֵין רַבָּה דַּהֲוָה בֵּינֵיהוֹן נְסַב בּוּקְלָסָא וְתַבַּרִינוֹן. אֲמַר לֵיהּ מָה אַתָּה מַפְלֶה בִּי, וְיָדְעִין אִינוּן. אֲמַר לֵיהּ וְלֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ אָזְנֶיךָ מַה שֶּׁפִּיךָ אוֹמֵר.

Bereishit Rabbah 38
(13) “And Haran died in the presence of his father Terah” (Gen. 11:28). Rabbi Hiyya the grandson of Rabbi Adda of Yaffo [said]: Terah was a worshiper of idols. One time he had to travel to a place, and he left Abraham in charge of his store. When a man would come in to buy [idols], Abraham would ask: How old are you? They would reply: fifty or sixty. Abraham would then respond: Woe to him who is sixty years old and worships something made today – the customer would be embarrassed, and would leave. A woman entered carrying a dish full of flour. She said to him: this is for you, offer it before them. Abraham took a club in his hands and broke all of the idols, and placed the club in the hands of the biggest idol. When his father returned, he asked: who did all of this? Abraham replied: I can’t hide it from you – a woman came carrying a dish of flour and told me to offer it before them. I did, and one of them said ‘I will eat it first,’ and another said ‘I will eat it first.’ The biggest one rose, took a club, and smashed the rest of them. Terah said: what, do you think you can trick me? They don’t have cognition! Abraham said: Do your ears hear what your mouth is saying?

But Didn’t Rachel steal her father’s idols?

3
בראשית ל״א:י״ט
(יט) וְלָבָ֣ן הָלַ֔ךְ לִגְזֹ֖ז אֶת־צֹאנ֑וֹ וַתִּגְנֹ֣ב רָחֵ֔ל אֶת־הַתְּרָפִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר לְאָבִֽיהָ׃

Genesis 31:19
(19) Meanwhile Laban had gone to shear his sheep, and Rachel stole her father’s household idols.

4
תגנב רחל את התרפים. לְהַפְרִישׁ אֶת אָבִיהָ מֵעֲ”זָ נִתְכַּוְּנָה (בראשית רבה):

AND RACHEL STOLE THE TERAPHIM — her intention was to wean her father from idol-worship (Genesis Rabbah 74:5). quoted by Rashi

5
בראשית ל״א:ל״ב-ל״ה
(לב) עִ֠ם אֲשֶׁ֨ר תִּמְצָ֣א אֶת־אֱלֹקֶיךָ֮ לֹ֣א יִֽחְיֶה֒ נֶ֣גֶד אַחֵ֧ינוּ הַֽכֶּר־לְךָ֛ מָ֥ה עִמָּדִ֖י וְקַֽח־לָ֑ךְ וְלֹֽא־יָדַ֣ע יַעֲקֹ֔ב כִּ֥י רָחֵ֖ל גְּנָבָֽתַם׃

Genesis 31:32-35
(32) But anyone with whom you find your gods shall not remain alive! In the presence of our kinsmen, point out what I have of yours and take it.” Jacob, of course, did not know that Rachel had stolen them.

6
לא יחיה. וּמֵאוֹתָהּ קְלָלָה מֵתָה רָחֵל בַּדֶּרֶךְ (בראשית רבה)

LET HIM NOT LIVE — In consequence of this curse Rachel died on the journey (Genesis Rabbah 74:9). quoted by Rashi

Rather the only reference to a rejection of false images, is a positive reference to the Image of God – Imago Dei

7
בראשית א׳:כ״ו-כ״ח
(כו) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹקִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ וְיִרְדּוּ֩ בִדְגַ֨ת הַיָּ֜ם וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה֙ וּבְכָל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבְכָל־הָרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽרֹמֵ֥שׂ עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃ (כז) וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹקִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹקִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם׃ (כח) וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָם֮ אֱלֹקִים֒ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר לָהֶ֜ם אֱלֹקִ֗ים פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ וּרְד֞וּ בִּדְגַ֤ת הַיָּם֙ וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּבְכָל־חַיָּ֖ה הָֽרֹמֶ֥שֶׂת עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

Genesis 1:26-28
(26) And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.” (27) And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (28) God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.”

8
בראשית ה׳:א׳
(א) זֶ֣ה סֵ֔פֶר תּוֹלְדֹ֖ת אָדָ֑ם בְּי֗וֹם בְּרֹ֤א אֱלֹקִים֙ אָדָ֔ם בִּדְמ֥וּת אֱלֹקִ֖ים עָשָׂ֥ה אֹתֽוֹ׃

Genesis 5:1
(1) This is the record of Adam’s line.—When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God;

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בראשית ט׳:ו׳
(ו) שֹׁפֵךְ֙ דַּ֣ם הָֽאָדָ֔ם בָּֽאָדָ֖ם דָּמ֣וֹ יִשָּׁפֵ֑ךְ כִּ֚י בְּצֶ֣לֶם אֱלֹקִ֔ים עָשָׂ֖ה אֶת־הָאָדָֽם׃

Genesis 9:6
(6) Whoever sheds the blood of man, By man shall his blood be shed; For in His image Did God make man.

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במדבר ל״ג:נ״ב
(נב) וְה֨וֹרַשְׁתֶּ֜ם אֶת־כָּל־יֹשְׁבֵ֤י הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ מִפְּנֵיכֶ֔ם וְאִ֨בַּדְתֶּ֔ם אֵ֖ת כָּל־מַשְׂכִּיֹּתָ֑ם וְאֵ֨ת כָּל־צַלְמֵ֤י מַסֵּֽכֹתָם֙ תְּאַבֵּ֔דוּ וְאֵ֥ת כָּל־בָּמֹתָ֖ם תַּשְׁמִֽידוּ׃

Numbers 33:52
(52) you shall dispossess all the inhabitants of the land; you shall destroy all their figured objects; you shall destroy all their molten images, and you shall demolish all their cult places.

11
“any Old Testament scholar worth her salt will tell you that the semantic range of tselem, the Hebrew word for “image” in Genesis 1, typically includes “idol,” which in the common theology of the ancient Near East is precisely a localized, visible, corporeal representation of the divine. A simple word study would thus lead to the preliminary observation that visibility and bodiliness are minimally a necessary condition of being tselem elohim or imago Dei. Based on this usage Walter Kaiser Jr. translates tselem as “carved or hewn statue or copy.” The Liberating Image? Interpreting the Imago Dei in Context By J. Richard Middleton Christian Scholars Review 24.1 (1994) 8-25

12
מלכים ב י״א:י״ח
(יח) וַיָּבֹ֣אוּ כָל־עַם֩ הָאָ֨רֶץ בֵּית־הַבַּ֜עַל וַֽיִּתְּצֻ֗הוּ אֶת־מזבחתו [מִזְבְּחֹתָ֤יו] וְאֶת־צְלָמָיו֙ שִׁבְּר֣וּ הֵיטֵ֔ב וְאֵ֗ת מַתָּן֙ כֹּהֵ֣ן הַבַּ֔עַל הָרְג֖וּ לִפְנֵ֣י הַֽמִּזְבְּח֑וֹת וַיָּ֧שֶׂם הַכֹּהֵ֛ן פְּקֻדּ֖וֹת עַל־בֵּ֥ית ה’׃

II Kings 11:18
(18) Thereupon all the people of the land went to the temple of Baal. They tore it down and smashed its altars and images to bits, and they slew Mattan, the priest of Baal, in front of the altars. [Jehoiada] the priest then placed guards over the House of the LORD.

13
דברי הימים ב כ״ג:י״ז
(יז) וַיָּבֹ֨אוּ כָל־הָעָ֤ם בֵּית־הַבַּ֙עַל֙ וַֽיִּתְּצֻ֔הוּ וְאֶת־מִזְבְּחֹתָ֥יו וְאֶת־צְלָמָ֖יו שִׁבֵּ֑רוּ וְאֵ֗ת מַתָּן֙ כֹּהֵ֣ן הַבַּ֔עַל הָרְג֖וּ לִפְנֵ֥י הַֽמִּזְבְּחֽוֹת׃

II Chronicles 23:17
(17) All the people then went to the temple of Baal; they tore it down and smashed its altars and images to bits, and they slew Mattan, the priest of Baal, in front of the altars.

14
יחזקאל ז׳:כ׳
(כ) וּצְבִ֤י עֶדְיוֹ֙ לְגָא֣וֹן שָׂמָ֔הוּ וְצַלְמֵ֧י תוֹעֲבֹתָ֛ם שִׁקּוּצֵיהֶ֖ם עָ֣שׂוּ ב֑וֹ עַל־כֵּ֛ן נְתַתִּ֥יו לָהֶ֖ם לְנִדָּֽה׃

Ezekiel 7:20
(20) for out of their beautiful adornments, in which they took pride, they made their images and their detestable abominations—therefore I will make them an unclean thing to them.

15
עמוס ה׳:כ״ו
(כו) וּנְשָׂאתֶ֗ם אֵ֚ת סִכּ֣וּת מַלְכְּכֶ֔ם וְאֵ֖ת כִּיּ֣וּן צַלְמֵיכֶ֑ם כּוֹכַב֙ אֱלֹ֣קֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר עֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם לָכֶֽם׃

Amos 5:26
(26) And you shall carry off your “king”— Sikkuth and Kiyyun, The images you have made for yourselves Of your astral deity—

16
דניאל ג׳:א׳
(א) נְבוּכַדְנֶצַּ֣ר מַלְכָּ֗א עֲבַד֙ צְלֵ֣ם דִּֽי־דְהַ֔ב רוּמֵהּ֙ אַמִּ֣ין שִׁתִּ֔ין פְּתָיֵ֖הּ אַמִּ֣ין שִׁ֑ת אֲקִימֵהּ֙ בְּבִקְעַ֣ת דּוּרָ֔א בִּמְדִינַ֖ת בָּבֶֽל׃

Daniel 3:1
(1) King Nebuchadnezzar made a statue of gold sixty cubits high and six cubits broad. He set it up in the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.

The case for demut (“likeness”) is more complicated. Although biblical scholars have often suggested that the physical, concrete connotation of tselem is intentionally modified by the more abstract demut, this latter term is sometimes used within Scripture for concrete, visible representations. [Middleton ibid.]

Tselem and demut are also used with reference to resemblance:

17
בראשית ה׳:ג׳
(ג) וַֽיְחִ֣י אָדָ֗ם שְׁלֹשִׁ֤ים וּמְאַת֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וַיּ֥וֹלֶד בִּדְמוּת֖וֹ כְּצַלְמ֑וֹ וַיִּקְרָ֥א אֶת־שְׁמ֖וֹ שֵֽׁת׃

Genesis 5:3
(3) When Adam had lived 130 years, he begot a son in his likeness after his image, and he named him Seth.

“a recent (1979) excavation at Tell Fekheriyeh in Syria unearthed a 9th century statue with a bilingual inscription containing the cognate equivalents of both tselem and demut in Assyrian and Aramaic as parallel terms designating the statue.” [Middleton ibid.]

18 A Statue from Syria

19
The statue is referred to by two Aramaic words, both with Hebrew cognates. The initial word of the inscription introduces it as dmwt’, “the image.” At the start the second part the word used in the Aramaic is slm “statue,” in the Assyrian its cognate salmu. This is not a means of distinguishing the two parts of the inscription, for dmwt’ reappears three lines later. These two words in their Hebrew dress are the famous “image” and “likeness” in God’s creation of man in Gen 1:26; cf. 5:3. Their clear application to this stone statue, the only ancient occurrence of the words as a pair outside the OT, provides fuel for the debate over the meaning of the clause in Genesis 1 [STATUE FROM SYRIA WITH ASSYRIAN AND ARAMAIC INSCRIPTIONS A. R. Millard and P. Bordreuil, BIBLICAL ARCHEOLOGIST/SUMMER 1982]

20 A Statue from Syria - inscripton

21
Among Bible scholars one of the most common interpretations is that being created in the image of God means being given the special role of “representing . . . God’s rule in the world.” The Torah’s view is that people are God’s “vice-regents” and “earthly delegates,” appointed by God to rule over the world. One traditional Jewish commentator, R. Saadia Gaon (882–942), anticipated this understanding of Genesis, arguing that being created in the image of God means being assigned to rule over creation (Saadia Gaon, commentary to Gen. 1:26). בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ שליט

The ancient Near Eastern context sheds remarkable light on the audacity of the Torah’s message. In the ancient world, various kings (and sometimes priests) were described as the images of a god. It is the king who is God’s representative or intermediary intermediary on earth, and it is he who mediates God’s blessings to the world. In dramatic contrast to this, the Torah asserts that ordinary human beings—not just kings, but each and every one of us—are mediators of divine blessing. “The entire race collectively stands vis-à-vis God in the same relationship of chosenness and protection that characterizes the god-king relationship in the more ancient civilizations of the Near East.” Genesis 1 thus represents a radical democratization of ancient Near Eastern royal ideology. We are, the Torah insists, all kings and queens.

Shai Held. The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Genesis and Exodus . The Jewish Publication Society.

22
Feminist Objection to the Royal Interpretation of “In the Image of God”

Such a picture, claims McFague, is derived from a patriarchal model of man ruling over woman and serves to enforce and legitimate such rule by its association of male dominance with God’s transcendence. [Sallie McFague, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), pp. 63-69.]

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The Environmental Objection to the Royal Interpretation of “In the Image of God”

Some environmentalists have placed the blame for the modern West’s despoliation of the earth squarely at the Bible’s feet. Thus, for example, one influential writer charges that according to Christian (and by implication, Jewish) thinking, “God planned all of this explicitly for man’s benefit and rule: No item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes.” The environmental crisis, he insists, was rooted in religious “arrogance towards nature” and the only solution, therefore, lay in moving beyond these patently damaging and outdated ideas. [Held, Shai. The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Genesis and Exodus . The Jewish Publication Society.]

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“ancient Near Eastern society, whether Mesopotamian (that is, Sumerian, Babylonian or Assyrian), West Semitic (that is, Canaanite), or Egyptian, was hierarchically ordered…. Standing between the human realm, on the one hand, and the gods, on the other, was the king, universally viewed in the ancient Near East as the mediator of both social harmony and cosmic fertility from the gods. To contrast the two cultures we know most about, whereas in Egypt the Pharaoh is viewed as the eternally begotten son of the gods, in Mesopotamia the king was but an adopted son. Both, however, are referred to as the image of this or that particular god, whether Re, Amon, Marduk, ‘Shamash or Enlil. [Middleton ibid.]

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פסיקתא דרב כהנא כ״ג
(א) פסקא כג אות א ראש השנה: (א) לעולם י”י דברך נצב בשמים (תהלים קיט פט) תני ר’ אליע’ בעשרים וחמשה באלול נברא העולם ואתיא דרב כהדא דתני ר’ אליע’ דתניא בתקיעתא דרב זה היום תחילת מעשיך זכרון ליום ראשון וגו’ כי חק לישראל הוא משפט וג’ (שם פא ה) על המדינות בו יאמר איזו לחרב ואיזו לשלום איזו לרעב ואיזו לשובע איזו למות ואיזו לחיים וביריות בו יפקדו להזכירם חיים ומות נמצאת אומ’ בראש השנה נברא אדם הראשון בשעה ראשונה עלה במחשבה בשנייה נמלך במלאכי השרת בשלישית כינס עפרו ברביעית גיבלו בחמישית ריקמו בשישית העמידו גולם על רגליו בשביעי’ זרק בו נשמה בשמינית הכניסו לגן עדן בתשיעית ציוהו בעשירית עבר על ציוהו באחת עשרה נידון בשתים עשרה יצא בדימוס מלפני הק”ב א’ לו הקב”ה אדם זה סימן לבניך כשם שנכנסתה לפניי בדין ביום הזה ויצאתה בדימוס כך עתידין בניך להיות נכנסין לפניי בדין ביום הזה ויוצאין בדימוס אימתי בחדש השביעי באחד לחדש (ויקרא כג כד

Pesikta D’Rav Kahanna 23
A. Rosh Hashanah. Your word stands firm in heaven (Psalms 119; 89) R. Eliya learnt: On the 25th of Elul the world was created and he cited R. Kehada who learnt that R. Eliya learnt during the blowings of Rav “This is the day, the beginning of your works, is in remembrance of the first day etc. For it is a law for Israel, a ruling of the God of Jacob; etc. (psalms 81:5) on the Nations it was written, who for the sword, who for peace, who for famine who for plenty, who for death, and who for life and with shots he will be selected deserving of life and death as they say On Rosh Hashanah Adam (the first Man) was created.

In the first hour it came into His mind. In the second (hour) he ruled among the heavenly host. In the third he gathered the dirt. In the fourth He kneaded. In the fifth he formed him. In the sixth he raised the Golem onto his feet. In the seventh he threw into him a soul. In the eighth he brought him into the garden of Eden. In the ninth he commanded him (not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge). In the tenth he (Adam) transgressed His command. In the eleventh he was judged. In the twelfth hour he was pardoned by the Holy One Blessed be He. Said to him, God: “Adam, this is a sign for your children. Just as you came in judgement before me on this day and went out pardoned so also in the future your children will come before me in judgement on this day and leave pardoned. When? On the seventh month on the first (day) of the month (Leviticus 23:24)

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The Torah’s assertion that every human being is created in the image of God is a repudiation of the idea, so common in the ancient world, that some people are simply meant to rule over others. If everyone is royalty, then on some level, when it comes to the interpersonal and political spheres, no one is.

Assigned the role of God’s delegates, human beings are told to “be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it . . . rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on the earth” (Gen. 1:28).

What’s more, Genesis 1 repeatedly emphasizes and seems to revel in the fact that God created both vegetation and creatures “of every kind.” … then, the biblical . . . creation story is like a hymn to biodiversity, which is seen as unambiguously good in its own right.

If Genesis 1 teaches that human beings are meant to be kings and queens over creation, …“The task of a king is to care for those over whom he rules, especially for the weakest and most helpless. . . . This means that humans are expected to care for the earth and its creatures. Such is the responsibility of royalty.” What we find in Genesis 1, then, is not a license to abuse and exploit but a summons to nurture and protect.

The problem with the notion of human stewardship over creation is not that it authorizes human exploitation of the earth and abuse of the animal kingdom—which, as we have seen, it emphatically does not. The problem is, rather, that we have not really taken it seriously enough to try it. In modern times, amid an almost manic need to produce and consume more and more, we have all too often lost sight of what has been entrusted to us. What we need is not to abandon Genesis 1 but to return to it and to rediscover there what we have forgotten or failed to see altogether. We are created in the image of God and are thus mandated to rule over creation; this is a call to exercise power in the way Tanakh imagines the ideal ruler would, “in obedience to the reign of God and for the sake of all the other creatures whom [our] power affects.” [Held, Shai. ibid]

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“Obedience to God is also the negation of submission to man.”

You Shall be as Gods – A Radical Interpretation of the Old Testament and its Tradition, Erich Fromm 1966 p73

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Isaac’s smile

Parshat Vayera

In a previous post Divine Birthers I, I explore the concept of miraculous birth and resurrection in Judaism.  It’s ironic that such a heavy discussion is raised by the birth and life of a guy named Isaac … יִצְחָק which literally means to laugh and in context, means to laugh at God.

And Sarah laughed within herself, saying: ‘After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?’  And the LORD said unto Abraham: ‘Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying: Shall I of a surety bear a child, who am old?  Is any thing too hard for the LORD. At the set time I will return unto thee, when the season cometh round, and Sarah shall have a son.  Then Sarah denied, saying: ‘I laughed not’; for she was afraid. And He said: ‘Nay; but thou didst laugh.’ Genesis 18: 12-16

וַתִּצְחַק שָׂרָה, בְּקִרְבָּהּ לֵאמֹר:  אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָה-לִּי עֶדְנָה, וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן

וַיֹּאמֶר ה’, אֶל-אַבְרָהָם:  לָמָּה זֶּה צָחֲקָה שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר, הַאַף אֻמְנָם אֵלֵד–וַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי

הֲיִפָּלֵא ה’, דָּבָר; לַמּוֹעֵד אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ, כָּעֵת חַיָּה–וּלְשָׂרָה בֵן

וַתְּכַחֵשׁ שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר לֹא צָחַקְתִּי, כִּי יָרֵאָה; וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא, כִּי צָחָקְתְּ

 

And Abraham was a hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him and Sarah said: ‘God hath made laughter for me; every one that heareth will laugh on account of me.’  Genesis 21: 6-7

וְאַבְרָהָם, בֶּן-מְאַת שָׁנָה, בְּהִוָּלֶד לוֹ, אֵת יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ

וַתֹּאמֶר שָׂרָה–צְחֹק, עָשָׂה לִי אֱלֹהִים:  כָּל-הַשֹּׁמֵעַ, יִצְחַק-לִי

This past Rosh HaShanah, my Rabbi, Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn asked why, Isaac, the “middle Father” of the three patriarchs was featured in the Torah readings of the High Holidays?  The first day of Rosh Hashanah we read the story of the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael after the birth of Isaac:  Genesis 21: 9.   Ironically, Ishmael is banished by Sarah because he exhibits the same trait as Isaac… he’s a jokester….

And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne unto Abraham, making sport.

וַתֵּרֶא שָׂרָה אֶת-בֶּן-הָגָר הַמִּצְרִית, אֲשֶׁר-יָלְדָה לְאַבְרָהָם–מְצַחֵק

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah we read of the Sacrifice of Isaac, which is admittedly not a laughing matter.

Even the Torah makes a connection between the Sacrifice of Isaac.. the Akeda and what lies before… the account of he Akeda begins with Genesis 22:1

And it came to pass after these things, that God did prove Abraham, and said unto him: ‘Abraham’; and he said: ‘Here am I.’

 וַיְהִי, אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה

Like any middle child, argued Wiederhorn, Isaac had a conflicted life and much to teach us…. ergo we read both of these troubling stories that revolve around him on the high holy days.

What connects Isaac and his jokester brother Ishmael is how these two brothers came to reconcile with each other, and forgive their father.

According to the the Talmudic sage Raba in Baba Batra 16b  quoted by Wiederhorn, these two feuding brothers reunited at their father’s funeral and shiva.

Ishmael repented in the lifetime of his father. [We know this] because it says, And Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him. (Genesis 25: 9) But perhaps the text arranges them in the order of their wisdom? — If that were so, then why in the verse, And Esau and Jacob his sons buried him (Genesis 35: 29) are they not arranged in the order of their wisdom? What we have to say is that the fact of the text placing Isaac first shows that Ishmael made way (‘made him lead’)  for him, and from the fact that he made way for him we infer that he repented in Abraham’s lifetime. [1]

According to a conversation imagined by Rabbi Wiederhorn…. Ishmael was bitter and complained to Isaac that that their father had cruelly rejected and exiled him…. said Isaac “Dad rejected you… but he tried to kill me!”.  It was this humor shared by these two victims of exile and persecution that brought them together.

But there’s more joking going on in this narrative.  When in Genesis 26: 8 the Abimelech, king of the Philistines catches Isaac “sporting” with his wife Rebecca, many commentaries provide sexual innuendo…

And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife.

וַיְהִי, כִּי אָרְכוּ-לוֹ שָׁם הַיָּמִים, וַיַּשְׁקֵף אֲבִימֶלֶךְ מֶלֶךְ פְּלִשְׁתִּים, בְּעַד הַחַלּוֹן; וַיַּרְא, וְהִנֵּה יִצְחָק מְצַחֵק, אֵת, רִבְקָה אִשְׁתּוֹ

I must say, I have always loved the Torah’s humor in “Isaac was sporting” “Yitchak Mitzahek”  יִצְחָק מְצַחֵק  but Wiederhorn makes the point that not only does the author of the Torah make us smile with this word play… but maybe, just maybe it was not gratuitous sex that was part of this screenplay …  maybe for once we should take the text literally and Isaac was making his wife smile in a way that only one who is intimately connected can.  Isaac, true to his name, used humor, charm and a gratuitous smile to navigate through the trials and tribulations of life.  that was what Isaac was doing too…. making Rebeca smile in a way that showed the closeness of the relationship.

According to Wiederhorn’s sometimes we need to look on the bright side of life…

Writing this post in Israel, after a difficult few weeks of conflict over the Temple Mount and terror attacks with cars mowing down innocent victims waiting for a light rail, the message of Isaac could never be more timely… we … all parties.. the children of Sarah and the children of Hagar, need to smile more and make each other smile more.  We share enough tragedy to smile in a way that only those sharing the same fate and suffering can.  If we can’t smile together, we may never get out of the rut we’re in.

———————

[1]

baba batra 16bWiederhorn was inspired by the commentary to Genesis 25:9 in the Etz Hayim Chumash: “Isaac and Ishmael are reunited at their father’s funeral, a sign that Ishmael changed his ways as he matured [BT BB 16b].  Although he could not have forgotten how his father had treated him and how his brother had supplanted him, he seems to have forgiven Abraham for having been a less-than-perfect father.  Isaac too seems to have come to terms with his father’s nearly killing him on Mount Moriah.

Might these reconciliations have occurred in Abraham’s lifetime and be the reason for the Torah’s describing him as “contented” in his old age (Gen. R. 38:12)? Can we see this as a model for family reconciliations, forgiving old hurts? And can it not be a model for the descendents of Ishmael and Isaac, contemporary Arabs and Israeli Jews, to find grounds for forgiveness and reconciliation?”

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you are not my boss

parshat shoftim

When the month of Elul arrives, the Jewish High Holidays are soon to follow, but what is so Jewish about these High Holidays (ימים נוראים lit. Days of Awe)?  Unlike the three pilgrimage holidays (שָׁלשׁ רְגָלִים ), Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur don’t celebrate the Exodus from Egypt or the giving of the Torah to the Jewish People.  Their only commonality shared by all Jewish holidays is that they are an adaptation of earlier Pagan holidays. Unlike Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot which were originally agricultural and harvest holidays, Rosh Hashanah is a deeply political holiday and it’s adaptation was not so much a transition as it was a radical paradigm shift.

As we shall see, the most important holiday celebrated in both Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia was the annual New Year rebirth, judgment and coronation of the King as god. So the best introduction to Judaism’s rendition of this king-making celebration is to understand Judaism’s love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with kingship.

When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein; and shalt say: ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are round about me’;
thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose; one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee; thou mayest not put a foreigner over thee, who is not thy brother.
Only he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses; forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you: ‘Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.’
Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away; neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.
And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book, out of that which is before the priests the Levites.
And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them;
that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left; to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the midst of Israel. Deuteronomy 17: 14-20)

 כִּי-תָבֹא אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ, וִירִשְׁתָּהּ, וְיָשַׁבְתָּה בָּהּ; וְאָמַרְתָּ, אָשִׂימָה עָלַי מֶלֶךְ, כְּכָל-הַגּוֹיִם, אֲשֶׁר סְבִיבֹתָי
שׂוֹם תָּשִׂים עָלֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ בּוֹ:  מִקֶּרֶב אַחֶיךָ, תָּשִׂים עָלֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ–לֹא תוּכַל לָתֵת עָלֶיךָ אִישׁ נָכְרִי, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-אָחִיךָ הוּא
רַק, לֹא-יַרְבֶּה-לּוֹ סוּסִים, וְלֹא-יָשִׁיב אֶת-הָעָם מִצְרַיְמָה, לְמַעַן הַרְבּוֹת סוּס; וַ ה’, אָמַר לָכֶם, לֹא תֹסִפוּן לָשׁוּב בַּדֶּרֶךְ הַזֶּה, עוֹד
וְלֹא יַרְבֶּה-לּוֹ נָשִׁים, וְלֹא יָסוּר לְבָבוֹ; וְכֶסֶף וְזָהָב, לֹא יַרְבֶּה-לּוֹ מְאֹד
וְהָיָה כְשִׁבְתּוֹ, עַל כִּסֵּא מַמְלַכְתּוֹ–וְכָתַב לוֹ אֶת-מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת, עַל-סֵפֶר, מִלִּפְנֵי, הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם
וְהָיְתָה עִמּוֹ, וְקָרָא בוֹ כָּל-יְמֵי חַיָּיו–לְמַעַן יִלְמַד, לְיִרְאָה אֶת- ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ, לִשְׁמֹר אֶת-כָּל-דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת וְאֶת-הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה, לַעֲשֹׂתָם
לְבִלְתִּי רוּם-לְבָבוֹ מֵאֶחָיו, וּלְבִלְתִּי סוּר מִן-הַמִּצְוָה יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאול–לְמַעַן יַאֲרִיךְ יָמִים עַל-מַמְלַכְתּוֹ הוּא וּבָנָיו, בְּקֶרֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל

The institution of the monarchy was the ultimate divine concession to the shortcomings and shortsightedness of the chosen people.  This same sentiment is presented in the Book of Samuel (Samuel I 8: 4-22)

Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah.
And they said unto him: ‘Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways; now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.’
But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said: ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.
And the LORD said unto Samuel: ‘Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not be king over them.
According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, in that they have forsaken Me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.
Now therefore hearken unto their voice; howbeit thou shalt earnestly forewarn them, and shalt declare unto them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.’
And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king.
And he said: ‘This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: he will take your sons, and appoint them unto him, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and they shall run before his chariots.
And he will appoint them unto him for captains of thousands, and captains of fifties; and to plow his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his chariots.
And he will take your daughters to be perfumers, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. …..
And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king whom ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not answer you in that day.’
But the people refused to hearken unto the voice of Samuel; and they said: ‘Nay; but there shall be a king over us;

We should keep in mind that the appointment of a human King and the appointment of a human Messiah are one and the same.. both are a major concession to the lack of vision and faith by God’s flock.  Both a King and the Messiah are the anointed of God [1]

The monarchy was accepted, with legal restrictions and much of the prophetic tradition represents a check and balance on the monarchy [2]

Getting back the New Year’s Coronation Festival in the Ancient Near East, the Classical study was written by Henri Frankfort and called Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of Society and Nature and is available for download here.

Frankfort details how in Mesopotamia the festival of the new year lasted twelve days; it was a time of purification, of renewal of the vegetation. It was also a time of dramatic reenactments, the most important of which were the rites of the Sacred Marriage, and the recitation of the Sumerian creation epic, Enuma elish. It was at this time that the destinies of both gods and mankind were fixed, and the king began his reign on new year’s day.  (see)

One fascinating aspect of the Akitu involved a kind of ritual humiliation endured by the Babylonian king. This peculiar tradition saw the king brought before a statue of the god Marduk, stripped of his royal regalia and forced to swear that he had led the city with honor. A high priest would then slap the monarch and drag him by his ears in the hope of making him cry. If royal tears were shed, it was seen as a sign that Marduk was satisfied and had symbolically extended the king’s rule. Some historians have since argued that these political elements suggest the Akitu was used by the monarchy as a tool for reaffirming the king’s divine power over his people. (see)

Likewise in Ancient Egypt there was the Sed Festival held in the Fall hat celebrated the continued rule of a pharaoh. The ancient festival might, perhaps, have been instituted to replace a ritual of murdering a pharaoh who was unable to continue to rule effectively because of age or condition. … They primarily were held to rejuvenate the pharaoh’s strength and stamina while still sitting on the throne, celebrating the continued success of the pharaoh.   The Sed-festival developed into a royal jubilee intended to reinforce the pharaoh’s divine powers and religious leadership.

Writes Frankfort: “

The Egyptian calendar started with the first day of the first month of the Season of Inundation (1 Thoth), a day originally coinciding with the beginning of the rise of the Nile.  But four months later there was another new beginning: the inundation ended the Nile returned to its bed, and the new crops were sown.  The first day of the first month of the “Season of Coming Forth” (1 Tybi) was consequently celebrated as a rite de passage appropriate to a new beginning, although it was not the Calendrical New Year’s Day.  This “New Year’s Day” in autumn was presided over by a snake-demon called Nehebkau, a name which can be translated as “Bestower of Dignitaries” or as “Uniter of the Ka’s” (of Horus and Osiris), and we have , in both cases, an illusion to the definitive assumption of power by the new king.  … it was fitting that a king should be crowned to re-establish harmony between nature and society which had been shattered by the death of the previous ruler.  Hence it is said of Tuthmosis I, when he indicates the date for the coronation of Hatshepsut: “He knew that a coronation on New Year’s Day was good as the beginning of peaceful years.” (pp 103-4). [3]

This understanding of the context of the New Year’s Festival in the Ancient Near East, radically changes our understanding to the Jewish New Year holiday, Rosh Hashanah.  What Rosh Hashanah becomes is a radical statement of independence of all human rule.

On Rosh Hashanah we declare God King as a direct and vocal rejection of the widespread and widely known (at the time) traditions of making a human of blood and flesh… into a divine king.

Although God as king always enters into our prayers (e.g. Blessed are You King of the Universe…), it is on Rosh HaShanah that we have the focal point on Malchiot – Kingship, culminating at the end of the Neilah service where we end the service with the threefold repetition of “Praised is His name, whose glorious kingdom for ever and ever,” that recalls the threefold declaration: “The Lord is king (present), the Lord was king (past), and the Lord will be king (future).”

Ultimately, it is in our New Year’s Festival that we reject our people’s request for a human king (and a human anointed one) as we reject the rule of any human being and we declare God is King.  For a humanist… it doesn’t get any better, because the emphasis is not that God is King… but that no human can rule us.  We say to all tyrants and others attempting to form our opinions and curtail our actions and imagination… you are not my boss.

——————-

[1]

To-morrow about this time I will send thee a man out of the land of Benjamin, and thou shalt anoint him to be prince over My people Israel, and he shall save My people out of the hand of the Philistines; for I have looked upon My people, because their cry is come unto Me.’ (Samuel I 9: 16)

 כָּעֵת מָחָר אֶשְׁלַח אֵלֶיךָ אִישׁ מֵאֶרֶץ בִּנְיָמִן, וּמְשַׁחְתּוֹ לְנָגִיד עַל-עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְהוֹשִׁיעַ אֶת-עַמִּי, מִיַּד פְּלִשְׁתִּים:  כִּי רָאִיתִי אֶת-עַמִּי, כִּי בָּאָה צַעֲקָתוֹ אֵלָי

And the spirit of the LORD will come mightily upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man. Samuel I 10:6

וְצָלְחָה עָלֶיךָ רוּחַ ה’, וְהִתְנַבִּיתָ עִמָּם; וְנֶהְפַּכְתָּ, לְאִישׁ אַחֵר

[2]

As Frankfort, Wilson, and Jakobsen write in The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man: An Essay of Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East (p348)  “A jealous concern for their traditional prerogatives was kept alive among the people by various agitators, notably the prophets.  Nathan’s rebuke of David, as Elijah’s of Ahab, was a direct denial of the assumptions of divine right and a bold affirmation of the principle that the king was amenable to the same standards of right, the same pervasive natural law as his humblest subject.  Here, too, it is apparent, was the principle basic to the entire attitude of the prophets and other progressive thinkers toward the monarchy: the king ruled, not by divine right, but under divinely imposed responsibility”

[3]

For further reading regarding Nisan and Tishrei as Kinmaking New Year’s festivals including actual Mesopotamian liturgy that has striking parallels to the Rosh Hashanah liturgy see Kingship and the Gods chapter 22 The New Year’s Festival pp 313-) here

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judaism: a dirty business

Parshat hukat

The Red Heifer is actually a rather simple ritual.  Death, the result of man’s original sin in Eden and the ultimate insult to our spiritual immortality; makes us ritually impure and is in need of an antidote.  The Red Heifer is that antidote.

The sacrificial cult and culture contained in the Hebrew Bible provides the mother of all sacrifices, an unblemished red cow, which is to be sacrificed, and whose ashes are to be mixed with water and sprinkled by a priest onto those defiled by contact with the dead.  End of story.

But for reasons to be explored below, the Red Heifer represents THE puzzling paradox of the Jewish Religion. (Numbers 19: 2-10)

This is the statute of the law which the LORD hath commanded, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer, faultless, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke. [1] And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up without the camp in a clean place, and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water of sprinkling; it is a purification from sin. And he that gathereth the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even; and it shall be unto the children of Israel, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among them, for a statute for ever.

 זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה, אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה יְהוָה לֵאמֹר:  דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה אֲשֶׁר אֵין-בָּהּ מוּם, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-עָלָה עָלֶיהָ, עֹל.

[2]

 וְכִבֶּס בְּגָדָיו הַכֹּהֵן, וְרָחַץ בְּשָׂרוֹ בַּמַּיִם, וְאַחַר, יָבֹא אֶל-הַמַּחֲנֶה; וְטָמֵא הַכֹּהֵן, עַד-הָעָרֶב.

וְהַשֹּׂרֵף אֹתָהּ–יְכַבֵּס בְּגָדָיו בַּמַּיִם, וְרָחַץ בְּשָׂרוֹ בַּמָּיִם; וְטָמֵא, עַד-הָעָרֶב.

  וְאָסַף אִישׁ טָהוֹר, אֵת אֵפֶר הַפָּרָה, וְהִנִּיחַ מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה, בְּמָקוֹם טָהוֹר; וְהָיְתָה לַעֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמִשְׁמֶרֶת, לְמֵי נִדָּה–חַטָּאת הִוא.

 וְכִבֶּס הָאֹסֵף אֶת-אֵפֶר הַפָּרָה, אֶת-בְּגָדָיו, וְטָמֵא, עַד-הָעָרֶב; וְהָיְתָה לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְלַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּתוֹכָם–לְחֻקַּת עוֹלָם.

Rashi immediately goes on the defensive:

This is the statute of the Torah: Because Satan and the nations of the world taunt Israel, saying, “ What is this commandment, and what purpose does it have?” Therefore, the Torah uses the term “statute.” I have decreed it; You have no right to challenge it. — [Yoma 67b]

זאת חקת התורה; לפי שהשטן ואומות העולם מונין את ישראל לומר מה המצוה הזאת ומה טעם יש בה, לפיכך כתב בה חקה, גזירה היא מלפני ואין לך רשות להרהר אחריה 

Sprinkling some water and “poof” your sins are washed away give us moderns the Heebie jeebies, but also seemed to trouble non-Jews of the 1st Century. (Pĕsikta Dĕ-Rab Kahăna, Chapter 4 Parah Aduma)

RHeifer pesikta rav kahana 4 1[3]

But what really made the Red heifer into a theological flash point was the fact that while it purified the impure, the priests involved with it’s preparation and with the sprinkling, were made impure.

מטהרת את הטמאים ומטמאה את הטהורים

[as formulated by Saadia Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions 3:10] [4]

 

RHeifer pesikta rav kahana 4 2It is hard to understand what made this paradox so perplexing.  After all, if you take a glowing piece of molten metal and put it into a cold pot of water…. The water gets hot and the metal gets cool.  In physics, we call this the law of conservation of energy which states that the total energy of an isolated system cannot change.

Which brings us to God and religion…

The Pĕsikta Dĕ-Rab Kahăna devotes a whole chapter to the Red Heifer and starts as follows:

RHeifer pesikta rav kahana 4 start 1

RHeifer pesikta rav kahana 4 start 2What makes the Red Heifer so audacious is that ultimately it is God who purifies the world and according to the law of the Red Heifer (and the law of the conservation of energy) … God must become impure in the process.

This heresy lies behind the Lurianic Kabbalistic concept of Tzimtzum (צמצום   contraction/constriction/condensation/withdrawal”) that God began the process of creation by “contracting” his infinite light in order to allow for a “conceptual space” in which finite and seemingly independent realms could exist.  If God’s purity is in His infinite nature, then to allow a finite world to exist, He had to contract, or compromise His purity.

This heresy lies behind a lesser known concept sported by Maimonides known as the “gracious ruse” a concept perhaps borrowed from the second-century-C.E. philosopher Alexander of Aphrodisias who developed the theory of divine condescendence (Greek synkatabasis; cf. Arabic talattuf Hebrew:   הערמה האלהית  ibn tibbon ).  Maimonides uses this concept of the Divine trick to explain why God permitted Judaism to be compromised with so many artifacts of paganism:  “It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God (literally “gracious ruse”), 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.  Part III, chapter 32

Ultimately, this is the heresy that gave birth to the concept that the suffering, even death of a holy person can purify and redeem the Chosen People. (read Isaiah 53 excerpted below )

He was despised, and forsaken of men, a man of pains, and acquainted with disease, and as one from whom men hide their face: he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried; whereas we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded because of our transgressions; he was crushed because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed. All we like sheep did go astray, we turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD hath made to light on him the iniquity of us all. … Yet it pleased the LORD to crush him by disease; to see if his soul would offer itself in restitution אָשָׁם נַפְשׁוֹ, that he might see his seed, prolong his days, and that the purpose of the LORD might prosper by his hand: Of the travail of his soul he shall see to the full, even My servant, who by his knowledge did justify the Righteous One to the many, and their iniquities he did bear.  Therefore will I divide him a portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty; because he bared his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many וְהוּא חֵטְא-רַבִּים נָשָׂא, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Of no surprise, scholars, even Jewish scholars, have seen this Suffering Servant as a precursor of the, initially Jewish expectation that a messiah will come who will die for our sins (see The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ by Daniel Boyarin pp150-)

See also “Said R. Ammi, Wherefore is the account of Miriam’s death4 placed next to the [laws of the] red heifer?5 To inform you that even as the red heifer afforded atonement [by the ritual use of its ashes], so does the death of tie righteous afford atonement [for the living they have left behind].  (Moed Katan 28a)

It’s a slippery slope and a short walk to go one step further and require that not the messiah, but God Himself must commit the ultimate compromise and …. Die, so that we can live.

It’s no wonder that when Moses goes up to heaven to visit God he finds God studying the Torah portion of the Red Heifer!

When Moshe went up to the heights of heaven, he heard the voice of the Holy One, blessed be He, as He sat engaged in the study of the passage on the Red Heifer, citing a law in the name of the sage who stated it: “Rabbi Eliezer said: The heifer whose neck is to be broken must be [not more than] one year old; and the red heifer [not more than] two years old.”

Moshe said before the Holy One, blessed be He: “Master of the Universe, worlds above and worlds below are in Your domain, yet You sit and cite a law ascribed to flesh and blood!”

The Holy One, blessed be He, replied: “Moshe, there will arise in My world a righteous man who, [in his concern for the purification of Israel], will begin his instruction of the Oral Law with the passage on the red heifer, and so I, [also concerned for the purification of Israel], say: ‘Rabbi Eliezer said: The heifer whose neck is to be broken must be [not more than] one year old; and the red heifer [not more than] two years old.'” [Pĕsikta Dĕ-Rab Kahăna, Chapter 4] [5]

Fortunately for us Jews, Christianity took this heresy and ran with it.  We Jews replaced the laws of the Red Heifer and the sacrificial cult with prayer and water works… washing our hands and dunking in the mikva (ritual bath). Mishna Yoma 8:10

Rabbi Akiva says: Fortunate are you O Israel! Before whom do you purify yourselves? [And] who purifies you? Your Father in Heaven! As it is said: “I will sprinkle upon you pure water and you shall become purified” (Ezekiel 36:25), and it is further said: “The hope [dewn] of Israel is the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:13), just as a mikvah purifies the defiled so too, does the Holy one Blessed is He, purify Israel

אָמַר רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא

אַשְׁרֵיכֶם יִשְׂרָאֵל

לִפְנֵי מִי אַתֶּם מִטַּהֲרִין

וּמִי מְטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם

אֲבִיכֶם שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם…

וְאוֹמֵר, (ירמיה יז) “מִקְוֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל יְיָ” –

מַה מִּקְוֶה מְטַהֵר אֶת הַטְּמֵאִים

אַף הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מְטַהֵר אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל

Akiva changed the model.  Unlike the water of the Red Heifer, the water of the ritual bath (mikveh) is not a zero sum game.  The impurity removed from the impure in the mikveh is not transferred to the living water (בְּמַיִם חַיִּים) of the mikva (Leviticus 15:13), and so presumably God need not be compromised and made impure when He purifies His people.

Judaism may be a dirty business, but fortunately we have Akiba and God Himself reviewing the texts and massaging the data.  As for me… and it’s hot outside… I’m going to take my pre-shabbat dip.

—————–

For a wonderful (hebrew only) source of texts on Parah Adumah go here.

[1] And ye shall give her unto Eleazar the priest, and she shall be brought forth without the camp, and she shall be slain before his face. And Eleazar the priest shall take of her blood with his finger, and sprinkle of her blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times. And the heifer shall be burnt in his sight; her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, with her dung, shall be burnt. And the priest shall take cedar-wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer. Then the priest shall wash his clothes, and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he may come into the camp, and the priest shall be unclean until the even.

[2]

וּנְתַתֶּם אֹתָהּ, אֶל-אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן; וְהוֹצִיא אֹתָהּ אֶל-מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה, וְשָׁחַט אֹתָהּ לְפָנָיו.

וְלָקַח אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן, מִדָּמָהּ–בְּאֶצְבָּעוֹ; וְהִזָּה אֶל-נֹכַח פְּנֵי אֹהֶל-מוֹעֵד, מִדָּמָהּ–שֶׁבַע פְּעָמִים.

וְשָׂרַף אֶת-הַפָּרָה, לְעֵינָיו:  אֶת-עֹרָהּ וְאֶת-בְּשָׂרָהּ וְאֶת-דָּמָהּ, עַל-פִּרְשָׁהּ יִשְׂרֹף.

וְלָקַח הַכֹּהֵן, עֵץ אֶרֶז וְאֵזוֹב–וּשְׁנִי תוֹלָעַת; וְהִשְׁלִיךְ, אֶל-תּוֹךְ שְׂרֵפַת הַפָּרָה

[3]

שאל עובד כוכבים אחד את רבן יוחנן בן זכאי: אילין עובדייא דאתון עבדין [הדברים האלה שאתם עושים] נראין כמין כשפים. אתם מביאים פרה, ושורפין אותה, וכותשין אותה, ונוטלין את אפרה, ואחד מכם מטמא למת מזין עליו שתים ושלוש טיפין [=טיפות (של מי הפרה)], ואתם אומרים לו: טהרת

[4]

R saadia gaon egel arufa-english1

The Book of beliefs & Opinions, trans Samuel Rosenblatt pp 177-8

The Book of beliefs & Opinions, trans Samuel Rosenblatt pp 177-8

R saadia gaon egel arufa

R. Saadia Gaon, Emunah Vedayot, 3:10

[5]

RHeifer pesikta rav kahana 4 moshe up at sinai

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the jews have their jews and the catholics do too …

john cardinal o’connor

It’s official.  According to the New York Times, John Cardinal O’Connor, the Cardinal of New York for 16 years, was Jewish…. and his grandfather was a Rabbi.

As an avid student of religion, I recall Christmas Eve in 1995 turning on the TV to watch midnight mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  I was so blown away by Cardinal O’Connor’s sermon that I wrote the Archdiocese of New York for a copy.  I kept it all these years, and have not found it reproduced on the web or in Google books.

The Cardinal quotes Arthur Miller:

“Jew is only the name we give to the stranger, that agony we cannot feel, that death we look at like a cold abstraction.  Each man has his Jew, it is the other. And the Jews have their Jews.”

He (the Cardinal) writes of Jesus: “That Baby was a Jew. He might have been black or Japanese or Eskimo. To hate a Jew because he is a Jew is not an offense merely against political correctness. To hate a Jew, or a Black, or a Hispanic, or a Muslim or a homosexual, simply because he or she is such, is to hate God.”

I am pleased to present the complete sermon here. (to download the .pdf click here)

Cardinal OConnor Midnight Mass 25 December 1995-1

 

 

Cardinal OConnor Midnight Mass 25 December 1995-2Cardinal OConnor Midnight Mass 25 December 1995-3Cardinal OConnor Midnight Mass 25 December 1995-4

 

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