Category Archives: Hebrew

Free at Last

parshat vayeilech – deuteronomy 31

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

Adam Mintz  02:51

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

Geoffrey Stern  03:01

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

Adam Mintz  06:09

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

Geoffrey Stern  07:02

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

Adam Mintz  09:11

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

Geoffrey Stern  09:46

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

Adam Mintz  12:06

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

Geoffrey Stern  13:08

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

Adam Mintz  15:31

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

Geoffrey Stern  15:40

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

Adam Mintz  16:32

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

Geoffrey Stern  16:39

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

Adam Mintz  17:27

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

Geoffrey Stern  17:50

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

Adam Mintz  18:50

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

Geoffrey Stern  19:10

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

Adam Mintz  21:56

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

Geoffrey Stern  23:36

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

Adam Mintz  26:44

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

Geoffrey Stern  27:20

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

Adam Mintz  28:54

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

Geoffrey Stern  30:21

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

Adam Mintz  32:05

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:36

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

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

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

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First Fruits – First Prayers

parshat ki tavo – Deuteronomy 26

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

Adam Mintz  02:34

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

Geoffrey Stern  03:22

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

Adam Mintz  04:28

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

Geoffrey Stern  04:46

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

Adam Mintz  08:48

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

Geoffrey Stern  10:10

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

Adam Mintz  11:27

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

Geoffrey Stern  11:51

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

Adam Mintz  12:36

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

Geoffrey Stern  13:00

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

Adam Mintz  14:09

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

Geoffrey Stern  15:24

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

Adam Mintz  18:50

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

Geoffrey Stern  19:00

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

Adam Mintz  20:00

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:22

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

Adam Mintz  20:26

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:31

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

Adam Mintz  21:28

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

Geoffrey Stern  22:12

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

Adam Mintz  25:20

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:30

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

Adam Mintz  26:12

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

Geoffrey Stern  28:37

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

Adam Mintz  30:36

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:01

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

Adam Mintz  32:14

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:20

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

Adam Mintz  32:50

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:57

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

Miriam Gonczarska  33:08

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

Geoffrey Stern  33:32

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

Miriam Gonczarska  33:39

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

Geoffrey Stern  34:07

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

34:42

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

Geoffrey Stern  36:05

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

Miriam Gonczarska  36:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  36:15

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

Miriam Gonczarska  36:26

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

Geoffrey Stern  37:07

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

Miriam Gonczarska  37:23

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

Geoffrey Stern  37:41

As you should have been.

Miriam Gonczarska  37:43

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

Geoffrey Stern  37:47

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

Miriam Gonczarska  37:56

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

Geoffrey Stern  38:14

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

Miriam Gonczarska  38:17

Bye bye.

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Enough

parshat vaetchanan, deuteronomy 3

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

Adam Mintz  01:15

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

Geoffrey Stern  01:20

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

Adam Mintz  03:59

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

Geoffrey Stern  04:32

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

Adam Mintz  04:52

Exactly the same idea.

Geoffrey Stern  04:54

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

Adam Mintz  06:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  06:45

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

Adam Mintz  07:23

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

Geoffrey Stern  08:16

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

Adam Mintz  11:18

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:15

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

Adam Mintz  12:53

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

Geoffrey Stern  13:05

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

Adam Mintz  14:25

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

Geoffrey Stern  15:10

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

Adam Mintz  16:44

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:19

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

Adam Mintz  18:53

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

Geoffrey Stern  19:05

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

Adam Mintz  20:29

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

Geoffrey Stern  21:21

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

Adam Mintz  22:21

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

Geoffrey Stern  22:32

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

Adam Mintz  23:57

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:24

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

Adam Mintz  27:44

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

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

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

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God – What’s in a name

parshat balak – numbers 22-23

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on Thursday July 14th 2022. We read the story of Balaam and note the selective use of the generic “God-Elohim” and the particular name of the God of Israel – “YHVH”. We wonder if it is simply stylic variation or does it have significance. In the process we compare traditional Rabbinic solutions to the so-called Documentary Hypothesis and consider whether the Torah is comprised of different literary voices edited together.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/418965

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we discuss parshat Balak which has a great story about a talking donkey and contains a curse turned into an iconic blessing of the People of Israel.  But our focus will be on how God is referred to, both here and elsewhere in the Torah and what that teaches us about who wrote and how the Bible was written.  So Baruch Hashem you are here and let’s begin God – What’s in a Name

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Adam Mintz  00:58

Bararuch Hashem Nice to see you, nice to be part of this with you and we’re ready to roll. Let’s hear about God.

Geoffrey Stern  01:04

So as I said in the intro, the parsha is called Balak, who was a motorbike king who sees the people of Israel starting to make their way into the promised land. And guess what he’s in the way. So he hires a prophet for hire, named Bilaam. And the idea is that Bilaam will curse the Jewish people, the people of Israel. And during that, we’ll see there’s a there’s a story about a donkey. So we have a Disney moment, if you will, a talking donkey. But I want to focus on the words that are used specifically how God is referred to in the text itself, and see if there are any lessons to be learned. So we’re in Numbers 28. And I’m starting because I gave you the context, right from verse 8, which is after the messengers from King Balak come to higher Bilaam and ask him to Chris, the Jewish people. In verse 8, he said to them, spend the night here, and I shall reply to you, as Hashem may instruct me. So whenever God is referred to by Yud Hey Vav Hey which the witnesses referred to as Jehovah, and we are Jews referred to as simply the name I will say Hashem. So, he says, Stay the night, and I will reply to you, as Hashem may instruct me. So the Moabite dignitaries stayed with Balaam. God, the Lord, now it does not use the word Hashem. It uses Elohim, which is a generic name for the Godhead, God came to Balaam and said, what do these men want of you? Balaam said to God, Balak son of Tzipur king of Moab sent me this message. Here is a people that came out from Egypt and hides the Earth from view, come now and curse them for me. Perhaps I can engage them in battle and drive them off. But God said to Balaam do not go with them. You must not curse that people for they are blessed. Balaam arose in the morning and said to Balak’s dignitaries, go back to your country for Hashem will not let me go with you. The Moabite dignitaries left and they came back to Balak and said Balaam refused to come with us. Then the king sent more dignitaries to convince him to come. And again, Balaam replies in verse 18. Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything big or little contrary to the command of Hashem. So stay here overnight, and let me find out what else Hashem may say to me. That night, God came to Barlaam and said to him, if these agents have come with you, you may go with them. And then we segue into the whole story of Balaam being on the donkey, on the ass going to see the King, and this donkey appears in front of him. But let us stop right here. Rabbi, do you think it’s strange that whenever Bilaam is talking to the people, he wants to influence, the people he wants to impress, That he refers to God as Hashem, the Jewish God. And when he talks to God, the text and you assume him refers to God by the generic name. Is there a lesson there?

Adam Mintz  05:05

Well, you know, let’s take a step back and let’s try to evaluate what it means to be a prophet in the Torah, who’s not part of the Jewish people. It’s a unique situation. The prophets we know were all Jews, the prophets we know in the Torah, the prophets, we know in the later books of the Bible, they’re all Jews. What build on doing being a prophet? How can he be a prophet? Why does God choose to speak to Bilaam? And it seems to be and it’s hard to know, but it seems to be that the point of the tow HR is that God chooses people from the many nations of the world to spread God’s message to different people. And if that’s true, it’s not surprising that when Bilaam, speaks about God, he refers to God as the Jewish God, because his role is to spread the Jewish God’s word to other people. That’s a very, very interesting idea, just kind of theologically, that there is such a person to spread God’s message to the world.

Geoffrey Stern  06:22

In my mind, you give you give Balaam too much credit. In other words, he might have ended up as a prophet, and I refer to the beautiful blessing, the curse that became a blessing that he preached the famous מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹהָלֶ֖יךָ יַעֲקֹ֑ב, how goodly are the tents of Jacob, that you find in pretty much every sanctuary. So he ended up being a Jewish prophet, or a prophet that spoke well of the Jews and delivered. And I guess if that’s the point, if he’s a prophet, he delivered God’s message. But I don’t think he did that intentionally. And so I think I take your question to be really, whether he was a prophet of the non-Jews. And of course, I think sometimes we confuse prophecy with someone who predicts the future, from the true prophet, which is the Jeremiah, that we’ll be hearing in a few weeks, in Lamentations, the conscience of God, the nagging guilt deliverer who puts you on the straight path, and can bless you. But I think that the first question you asked, and I took it to be, can a non-Jew be a prophet for his own people? For others, I do think that we do have examples of, for instance, a Job. We have an instance of a Jethro, where, in Jefro’s case, he’s presented as a very good guy who gives good advice to Moses. So my answer to the first part of your question is, yes, clearly there are non-Jews who are given accelerated access to the Divine and can provide insight. I mean, would you agree to me on at that level?

Adam Mintz  08:24

Absolutely. would agree with you about that. Yes.

Geoffrey Stern  08:27

So then I think the next question is: was he a prophet of God? Or another way of saying that is, how does the Bible use these non-Jewish prophets? And I think, if we exclude Job for a second, I think if you look at Jethro and you look at Bilaam, it’s kind of like we Jews today, when a Jew does well wins a Nobel Prize, or when there’s a character in a book, a tale, who’s Jewish, because we’re a minority, somehow it validates us. And I think a large function of the non-Jews, certainly in the typos of Jethro and Bilaam is ultimately to validate the Jewish people. There’s a there’s a commentator, actually a translator of the Bible called Everett Fox. And he says that one of the functions of this story of a curse turning into a blessing right here is because in Numbers in the in the stories that we’ve been reading of Korach, and of the water, the Jews have just been punished; of the spies. They’ve just been one punishment after another, one curse after another. If you take: you will not go into the Promised Land as a curse. And this is to give us a little respite. This is according to Fox to show that curses can change into blessings. But whether that’s the case or not, I think certainly that the non-Jewish figurehead or prophet who does good things for the Jewish people, validates us. And that’s why it’s worthwhile putting them into a sacred text.

Adam Mintz  10:19

I would agree that 100% Actually, I want to talk about both those things, you know, the idea that that those who you bless will be blessed, and those who you curse will be cursed, is actually a phrase that used twice in the Torah. It’s used concerning Bilaam. In this week, parish shot, and it’s used continuing Abraham at the beginning of the Torah, right, God says to Abraham, those who you bless will be blessed, and those who you curse will be cursed. That’s so interesting that the Jewish puppet and the non-Jewish prophet have the same power, that is that those who you bless will be blessed, and those who curse will be cursed. That’s a unique thing to this prophet. We don’t find that anyplace else. You talk about Job. You talk about Jethro, but we don’t have that idea, the idea that it flips, what they say, flips is an amazing idea, isn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  11:19

Yeah, absolutely. And the idea of it flipping giving it power, giving it more power than had it not flipped. Because it was supposed to be a curse, and it became a blessing that makes it that much more effective. No question, no question about it. And it’s like, when you preach to the choir, that’s not necessarily such a great sermon. But when you preach to people who aren’t in the choir, and they listen, that’s a little bit, I think of what we have here. So, I want to get back a little bit to the choice of names of God. And when I first read it, my first impulse was, you know, it’s like, if you want to get access to the president, let’s use our present president as an example. And you say, Do you know the President, you go, Joe, Joe, and I go way back. When you go into the room, it’s Mr. President. And so I think there’s a little bit of that, it’s clear to me that Elokim is and we can, we’re going to talk a little bit about what we Jews do to these words, we say Elokim, we don’t say Elohim. But Elohim is God. It’s a generic word. We can refer to other gods as Elohim Aherim, other gods and it ultimately comes from the word power, El and some people make a case that the word Allah in Arabic, is similar. It comes from the same shoresh, if you will, and it means the Godhead, but Yud Hey vav Hey, those four letters put together that our tradition says no one, but the Cohen Gadol pronounces on the highest holy day of the year in the Holy of Holies. That’s clearly a reference to the particular god of the Jewish people. And I think at the most basic level, that’s what’s happening here. And it’s kind of fun from a literary perspective, because it’s giving you insight through the word choice of what Bilaam is trying to do. He’s trying to make himself like, yeah, I talked to a Hashem all the time, you know, and let me go in there, and you sleep on it tonight, and I’m going to talk to my buddy, Hashem. Do you think there’s part of that here?

Adam Mintz  13:45

There’s no question. As part of that. Let me just go back to the beginning of what you said. So first of all, the word Elohim, you’re right. It’s not a special word. You know, Elohim Acherim more than that. The Torah in Parshat Misppatim uses the word Elohim to refer to judges. Also people of power, judges are called Elohim. You know, what’s interesting about the yud hay vav hey name is that it’s not pronounced the way it’s spelled. It’s a mysterious name. You know, it’s that you’re not allowed to refer to them by their names. You know, that’s exactly what you said about Mr. President. I always think of that in terms of the queen. The queen doesn’t have a name. If I asked you what’s the family name of the royal family? Nobody knows the family name of the royal family because they don’t have a name. They’re just no known as royalty, Queen and Prince, all those kinds of things. Right. So the idea of having mystery in a name gives the name a certain amazing power to it, doesn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  14:59

It does So on one level, it’s an amazing power. And on the other hand, it really has a sense of intimate friendship. And you know, I once heard and I didn’t have a chance to, to find this out if anyone in the audience knows for sure. The answer to this, I’d love to hear it. But I once heard that in Islam. The preference is when you speak a language other than Arabic, that you refer to who they refer to as Allah, you refer to as God, because they don’t want you to think that the word Allah is like a name they too believe that God has no name. But what that does in a sense, is it illuminates a strange fact that because we use the word Hashem, which, you know, and I know means the name, and is literally continuing on this tradition of he has no name. When we say Hashem, or when a kitd in cheder says Hashem is going to help me with my homework tonight. It’s our best friend. And in a sense, that is kind of defeated. The, the meaning and the purpose of God not having a name, …. now he has a nickname. Now he’s your closest buddy. But it’s an insight into what bilaam did. Bilaam used the ability to say the Hebrew word for the God as a way of trying to show his intimacy when the curtain closed. We know God knew, Bilaam them knew there was no intimacy there, we went back to God. Elohim

Adam Mintz  16:47

You’re really playing on a very interesting idea. And that is the tension between intimacy with God. And the fact that God is mysterious and scary, and far away. Isn’t that an interesting kind of tension. And maybe that’s the tension that we have with God. You know, when we when we make a bracha (blessing), we say Baruch atah hashem…. We don’t usually think about this, but actually the tense changes, Baruch, bless be Atah is you….  were talking directly to God, we refer to God as you, that’s personal. And then we go back to a HaShem, which is in the third person. So we talk to God both personally. And in the third person, we ourselves every single time we make a Bracha, we have that tension.

Geoffrey Stern  17:49

Absolutely. And I think the word I was looking for is the word you chose personal. It’s a personal name. So let’s move on a little bit. For anyone who has ever studied the Bible at academic levels. They all know that there was this theory called the Documentary Hypothesis, and that was in broad strokes that the Bible was edited at the time of Ezra probably, and combined multiple manuscripts. And the names for those manuscripts. One is E for Elohim, and the other is the P , the priestly code. And the they make a distinction between texts that use the word Elohim. And J is the other another text that is Jehovah is Hashem. And we’re gonna get to them in a second. But for those of you who have listened to the podcast before, you know that I believe heartily, that modern scholarship has never discovered anything that the rabbi’s didn’t already recognize. So if I would normally say to you, Rabbi, when the Torah speaks, in and uses the term Elohim. And when it uses the word Hashem, is it referring to something different? Or are they synonyms? What would your typical response be?

Adam Mintz  19:21

My typical response is that they’re synonyms.

Geoffrey Stern  19:23

(laughs) So you didn’t fall for my trap.

Adam Mintz  19:31

We can discuss it on, you know, on a deeper level. But you asked me what my first instinct is, my first instinct is that God has different names, Shadai is the name of God, HaShem is the name of God. Elohim is the name of God. Sometime it’s Hashem Elohim. There are different ways to refer to God. It’s all the same name. Okay, so I actually I think I ended up in your place, but I want to go through the rabbinic traditions and One of the rabbinic traditions and it’s all over, but I’m going to quote Sifrei Devarim כל מקום שנאמר ה’ זו מדת רחמים, and כל מקום שנא’ אלקים זו מדת הדין whenever the word God is used as Hashem the personal name of the Jewish God, it is the attribute of mercy. And whenever it is used as Elohim, just God, it is the attribute of strict justice. And that segues a little bit into what we were saying before that even Bilaam was aware of when he wanted to show that he had an inside track to the Godhead, He would use Hashem, which is the Midat HaRachamum, because you come from the rechem, because you come from the womb, because you have a relationship. And when he was in the room, and the facade came off, he knew he had to speak with God, and God was going to tell him the straight truth, Din, and you know, if you look at the first chapters of Bereshit and this is why the biblical critics that are documentarists will say that there are different accounts of creation, that were coming from different texts from different collections, the beginning of creation is Elohim. Midat HaDin or the E document, and then it moves into Yud Hey Vav Hey. And so in Bereshit Rabbah, it says as follows. So to the Holy One of blessing said, If I create the world with the attribute of compassion alone, no one be concerned with the consequences with the attribute of justice alone, how would the world stand rather Behold, I created with both the attribute of judgment and compassion. So if you remember in our segment on Challah, first Gods creates it with the Midat ha’din, strict justice, and then Man is created, and we mix the two together. So it seems to me that the rabbi’s 100% was sensitive to ways in which the representation of God and I’ll agree to you, Rabbi that they might be synonyms. But I think you’ll agree with me that Say what you will, the Yud Hey Vav hey is personal to the Jews, it would never be used to describe other gods, it would never be used to describe gods of other nations. So that you’ll give me. Yes, I’ll give you that.

Geoffrey Stern  22:30

And so there we do have contiguity here, and to answer the biblical critics will say, yes, it’s conscious. You can learn lessons from it, you don’t have to ignore it. Whether that means that there are different documents or the texts are written in slightly different voices, from a different perspective, which the same author could obviously do, that you can discuss amongst yourselves.

Adam Mintz  23:23

I will accept that. I think that that is probably right. You know, it’s interesting that we’re having this conversation regarding Bilaam. You know, you talk about how he refers to God, it’s Bilaam. You know, how does Moshe refer to God, when he talks to God? You know, the Torah tells us that Moshe had a unique relationship with God, Pe el Pe b’mareh v’lo bechidot says that Moshe talked to God. Like we talk to one another. We look at each other in the eye, we look at each other, mouth to mouth Moshe spoke to God. Now Bilaam didn’t have that relationship with God, I don’t think and therefore, it was a whole different kind of experience, wasn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  24:16

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And again, I think that that comes through when he has to change the way he talks when he’s in the inner sanctum so to speak. He might make it sound like he can speak to God like a Moses or an Aaron. But when we get privy to the private conversation, it’s a one way conversation. And when he addresses it’s Elokim. It’s God. So I think it’s there and I think it helps us understand the text. I looked up some of the great scholars who addressed things like the documentary theory, and they say, there are those who then come to a portion like ours, and they Try to figure it out, they actually try to make the case that all verses that I talked about the inside and the outside ones are different texts combined. And I think if anything, our story here shows the fallacy of that, it does confirm that you can make a distinction based on how God is referred to about the situation. I mean, I must say in the source sheet, you will find Shadal, Shmuel David lezzato and he takes this historically to Rome. And he says many nations when they conquer another nation, they not only take their God, but they bring it back to Rome, and they set up a temple for that god. So he puts it into the context of, of a Bilaam, trying to colonize to hijack to, engage in cultural imperialism….  without permission, the Hashem, the Jehovah so to speak, and I think that’s a fascinating insight as well, but at least Shadal was focused on the question that I had. Not a lot of other traditional commentaries comment on this back and forth ping pong between the use of the two names of God, which I, I must say surprised me.  I think, you know, in terms of what you said that your sense is that they were used interchangeably. If you look at Psalms 47, 6 it says, עָלָ֣ה אֱ֭לֹקִים בִּתְרוּעָ֑ה ה’ בְּק֣וֹל שׁוֹפָֽר God ascends amidst acclamation the Lord to the blasts of the Horn. That is your position. They are you they are synonymous, they are used interchangeably. And even in our own portion, when Bilaam, finally gets around to a blessing the Jewish people he, he does the following. He says in 23, No harm is in sight for Jacob, No woe in view for Israel. Their God ה’ is with them,. So he interchanges Yaakov with Yisrael, we would totally get that. And then he says Hashem Elokav, he puts them together. So I think you’re absolutely right. That’s why I say at the end of the day, I agree with you that ultimately they are synonyms. But there are nuances involved with being synonymous one with the other. And I think that is kind of fascinating. The really fascinating thing that I’d like to discuss is that the Talmud believes that all Parsha, especially the part that deals with a Bilaam is a book in of itself. In the Talmud in Baba Batra, it says The baraita now considers the authors of the biblical books: And who wrote the books of the Bible? Moses wrote his own book, i.e., the Torah, and the portion of Balaam in the Torah, and the book of Job.  It says מֹשֶׁה כָּתַב סִפְרוֹ וּפָרָשַׁת בִּלְעָם And the book of Job. So we’ve discussed this before, we always think of a parsha, as what you read in the Torah that week. But the Parsha here is not parshat Balak  It’s parshat Bilaam. It’s a literary segment. And the rabbi’s for whatever reason, and that’s one of the reasons I chose this story, to talk about documentary theory and the belief that the Torah is a combination of different documents, is for whatever reason, maybe because, as you started by saying, What’s a non-Jewish prophet doing in a book like this, they made this into a separate book. What do you make of that? What did they accomplish? What did they achieve? And does it relate at all to our wider discussion?

Adam Mintz  24:16

It might, because I think that the rabbi’s who said that the book of Bilaam is a separate book are bothered by how you can have a non-Jewish prophet. You see, you talked about Job, and you talked about Jethro, Job and Jethro, are not portrayed as prophets. They may have spoken to God. Here Bilaam is a prophet. He is called on by the king to curse the Jewish people. He is plugged into God, we would say the following we would say that he somehow has God’s cell phone number, right? That he knows how to access God and Balaam knew that and because Balak knew that he wanted to take advantage of Bilaam. Isn’t that right? Yeah. Isn’t that what it’s all about? It’s about having someone’s cell phone number. If you have God’s cell phone number, then you’re really in good shape.

Geoffrey Stern  30:03

I think so. And the manifestation that we see it in the text is this use of God. And I want to get back as we finish up to to that kind of concept when we Jews use the word Hashem, which really just means we don’t know his name, he’s not my best friend, I don’t have his cell phone number, I call him the name. But what it means in reality is he is my best friend, he’s my, I call HaShem. And we do G-D, as something that is specifically what Jews do. Again, the G-D should be removing us from saying that this word means more than it is. And in a sense, we make it into something that is very personal. And I think that is a kind of a fascinating takeaway into the use of God’s name in real life. And in reality, where do you stand with the G-D?

Adam Mintz  31:06

I don’t think that’s necessary. I mean, plenty of people do it. But you know, the idea is that it’s only Yud Hey Vav Hey  that’s not allowed to be written. That’s the special name of God, the translation of God’s name doesn’t really have sanctity in the same way. Yeah, means I got it. I understand why they do it. But I think that that’s an unnecessary stringency.

Geoffrey Stern  31:27

And I think possibly to a degree when the other monotheistic religions were born, and they were basically talking about the same God, we had to find out or make a way of keeping that distinctiveness nonetheless, and maybe that had something to do with it. I couldn’t find it. But I’ve got to believe in the last year, I actually saw an article written by evangelical Christian and it used G-D. I don’t know whether that’s a thing or not. But it is kind of fascinating how we try to parlay the way we use God’s name to translate into a representation of our relationship to God. And I think that’s kind of a fascinating takeaway of our story. I think the other fascinating takeaway from the story is all their different voices in the Torah, I think the answer is yes. You can say whatever you want about why the rabbi said that, our Pasha, or parts of our Pasha, were a book by themselves. It’s fascinating that Moses wrote them anyway. Moses, it says, wrote his book, Moses wrote, The Balaam and he wrote the book of Job, and then Joshua wrote his book. But I do think that we can all agree there are different voices. And it doesn’t matter if it’s from the same author or multiple authors, whether it was written at one time or over time, whether part of that is reflection on our voice and our hearing. But as I always say, the most academic reading of the of the Bible and the rabbinic reading of the Bible in traditional reading the Bible don’t need to be at odds.

Adam Mintz  33:26

I think that’s right. This is a great topic. And I think it really you know, adds a lot of different levels to our understanding of the parsha. So enjoy the parish everybody we look forward to next week, joining you again as we start the three weeks and we start with Parshat Pinchas be well everybody Shabbat Shalom, enjoy

Geoffrey Stern  33:45

Shabbat shalom. B’ezrat Hashem, we’ll see you all next week. Looking forward

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Milk and Money

parshat korach, numbers 16-18

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

Adam Mintz  04:11

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

Geoffrey Stern  05:17

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

Adam Mintz  07:36

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

Geoffrey Stern  07:51

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

Adam Mintz  08:05

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

Geoffrey Stern  08:12

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

Adam Mintz  09:21

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

Geoffrey Stern  10:09

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

Adam Mintz  13:42

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

Geoffrey Stern  13:51

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

Adam Mintz  15:38

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

Geoffrey Stern  16:23

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

Neil (Nachum) Twersky  17:09

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:43

is it not an almond. Is it an almond?

Neil (Nachum) Twersky  18:48

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

Adam Mintz  19:36

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:56

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

Adam Mintz  22:09

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

Geoffrey Stern  22:29

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

Adam Mintz  25:31

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

Geoffrey Stern  26:21

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

Adam Mintz  26:28

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

Geoffrey Stern  26:37

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

Adam Mintz  27:23

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

Geoffrey Stern  27:30

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

Adam Mintz  29:32

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:03

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

Adam Mintz  31:20

Correct… that’s definitely date honey.

Geoffrey Stern  31:22

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

Adam Mintz  31:32

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:43

Absolutely.

Adam Mintz  31:44

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

Geoffrey Stern  33:35

 Shabbat Shalom to everybody have a great one.

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Listen to last week’s episode: Make Challah

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Filed under Bible, Hebrew, Judaism, Rosh Hashanah, Torah

Nachshon

parshat bamidbar, numbers 1

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

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

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Join us today as we meet a man who is hardly mentioned in the text of the Torah but whose singular action, on one day in history has kindled the imagination of scholars, rebels, social activists and leaders alike.  So take of your shoes and prepare to dip you toe into a stream called Nachshon.

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

Adam Mintz  04:44

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

Geoffrey Stern  05:02

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

Adam Mintz  06:59

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

Geoffrey Stern  07:13

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

Adam Mintz  10:09

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

Geoffrey Stern  10:23

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

Adam Mintz  10:30

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

Geoffrey Stern  10:48

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

Adam Mintz  10:58

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

Geoffrey Stern  11:15

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

Adam Mintz  11:40

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:09

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

Adam Mintz  13:00

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

Geoffrey Stern  13:28

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

Adam Mintz  14:42

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

Geoffrey Stern  15:10

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

Adam Mintz  18:24

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:53

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

Adam Mintz  20:48

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

Geoffrey Stern  21:39

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

Adam Mintz  23:26

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

Geoffrey Stern  24:09

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

Adam Mintz  26:41

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

Geoffrey Stern  27:33

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

Adam Mintz  27:53

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

Geoffrey Stern  27:58

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

Adam Mintz  30:21

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

Geoffrey Stern  30:26

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

Adam Mintz  32:41

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:54

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

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divide and sanctify

parshat kedoshim – leviticus 19 – 20

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

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

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00 PM Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we ask: what does it mean to be holy? Does holiness divide or unite us? so settle down and cut yourself a slice of pie for this week’s episode divide and sanctify.

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

 

Adam Mintz  01:34

Rabbi, that is what they say.

 

Geoffrey Stern  01:37

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

 

Adam Mintz  02:18

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  02:20

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

 

Adam Mintz  05:58

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:15

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

 

Adam Mintz  06:20

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:35

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

 

Adam Mintz  07:00

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:45

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

 

Adam Mintz  09:28

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  09:46

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

 

Adam Mintz  11:12

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:47

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

 

Adam Mintz  15:40

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  15:45

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

 

Adam Mintz  16:46

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  18:08

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

 

Adam Mintz  19:31

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  19:36

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

 

Adam Mintz  20:23

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:28

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

 

Adam Mintz  20:32

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:35

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

 

Adam Mintz  20:58

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  21:01

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

 

Adam Mintz  21:09

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  21:13

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

 

Adam Mintz  21:34

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  21:47

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

 

Adam Mintz  22:05

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  22:43

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

 

Adam Mintz  22:53

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  24:49

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

 

Adam Mintz  27:03

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  28:21

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

 

Adam Mintz  30:03

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  30:14

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

 

Adam Mintz  32:10

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:47

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

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Scapegoating

parshat achrei mot – leviticus 16

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

 

Adam Mintz  04:50

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  05:43

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

 

Adam Mintz  07:23

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  08:45

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

 

Adam Mintz  10:38

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  12:22

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

 

Adam Mintz  15:35

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  17:00

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

 

Adam Mintz  19:51

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  21:36

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

 

Adam Mintz  24:59

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  26:21

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

 

Adam Mintz  29:56

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  30:24

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

 

Henry Feurstein  30:48

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  31:23

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

 

Henry Feurstein  33:22

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  33:50

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

 

Henry Feurstein  34:37

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  34:58

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

 

35:01

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  35:18

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

 

Henry Feurstein  35:26

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  35:45

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

 

Henry Feurstein  37:56

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  38:22

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

 

39:48

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  39:55

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

 

Henry Feurstein  40:15

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  40:18

yes

 

Henry Feurstein  40:19

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  40:30

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

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Why Blue and White?

parshat Tetzaveh (exodus 27-30)

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

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Transcript:

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

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

 

Adam Mintz  05:34

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:00

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

 

Adam Mintz  07:35

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  08:31

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

 

Adam Mintz  10:58

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:45

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

 

Adam Mintz  13:49

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  14:07

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

 

Adam Mintz  15:00

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  15:07

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

 

Adam Mintz  16:35

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  17:13

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

 

Adam Mintz  18:13

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  18:32

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

 

Adam Mintz  19:29

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:00

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

 

Adam Mintz  23:58

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  24:46

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

 

Adam Mintz  25:35

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  25:45

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

 

Adam Mintz  26:09

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  26:18

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

 

Adam Mintz  27:01

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  27:18

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

 

Adam Mintz  28:43

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  29:14

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

 

Adam Mintz  31:17

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

 

Geoffrey Stern  31:28

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

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WHEN GOD gets small

parshat terumah (exodus 25:8)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on February 3rd 2022 as we explore a single verse: “Make Me a temple and I will dwell within them” This iconic verse, pregnant with meaning, enables us to visit classical Jewish commentaries and discover some surprising views of God’s relationship with His creation, not just with a tabernacle or temple.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/380865

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:02

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on the Jewish text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. Today we explore a single verse, “Make me a temple, and I will dwell within them.” Was that a typo? Did the toe mean to say I will dwell in it. Nah, there are no typos in the Torah. So put away your Wit-Out as we discover some surprising views of God’s relationship with our world. Join us as GOD gets small Well, welcome, welcome to Madlik. You know, it’s rare. I think that we spend the whole evening on just one pasuk (verse)  or maybe even one word within that pasuk. But tonight’s the big night, we are in parshat Terumah and we’ve gotten the Ten commandments, we’ve gotten a Code of Civil Law and, and here we are, and we’re going to build the tabernacle. And as I said in the intro… Teruma means collecting the tax. So there’s the, the the technical aspects of collecting the materials, and I know Rabbi Adam is going to speak about that in his synagogue on Shabbat. But at the end of the day, after God shows Moses or Betzalel the builder, a blueprint, he says, As I quoted before in Exodus 25: 8, “and let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” “Veshachanti b’tocham” There are many times where we connive, we push, we massage a text, to give us meanings that are beyond the Pshat.. beyond the simple meaning of the text. But if you look at this, why does it say b’Tocham? Why does it say after God says to make a sanctuary, an edifice if you will, or that he will live amongst them? Before we get into a whole journey of what will the commentaries say? Rabbi, what do you think the simple interpretation is?

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Adam Mintz  02:30

I don't think there is a simple interpretation. I think this verse is begging for interpretation for a real interpretation. It's so blatant, that the Torah uses the word that you wouldn't expect it to use, right? It's just like, kinda of a WOW momewnt...

 

Geoffrey Stern  02:50

I've been thinking about it all week. And the only straightforward explanation I could come up with is if it envisioned many temples. And so it was looking into the future and saying, there's going to be a tabernacle, there's going to be a temple at Shilo and at Bethel, and maybe they were going to be synagogues and sanctuaries throughout the world.

 

Adam Mintz  03:13

But then it would say Say in them... Yeah, I mean, it sounds like "B'tocham" is human amongst them amongst the people.

 

Geoffrey Stern  03:24

I agree. I'm convinced. But it's very rare. And that's why I say it seems almost like a typo  and you don't even get a sense that the commentaries are looking for a straightforward explanation. Rashi, who always comes to help, he simply says, Make for Me a sanctuary, make a holy place for the sake of My name. "V'asu L'shmi Beit Kedusha", he's bothered by a whole other problem. He's bothered by the fact that God is going to be dwelling in an edifice in a in a material subject. So he says, it's not for God, it's for his name. But he totally ignores this whole issue of what does it mean that he's going to dwell and I agree with you, it sounds almost humanistic "within them".

 

Adam Mintz  04:19

That's the question. and maybe the midrashic explanation that make me a tabernacle, and I will dwell among them, means the tabernacle will allow me to dwell among the people. Maybe that's okay. Maybe that's that's the simple explanation that the tabernacle is just made of wood or fabric or whatever it is, but it allows him to dwell among the people.

 

Geoffrey Stern  04:54

So, you know, we're kind of dancing around what I think us 20 century Jews believe which is the obvious explanation is B'tocham, means inside of you people inside of you Jews. You know, my grandmother lived to 102. And she was a health affectionado way before her time. And she always said your body is a temple. And when I read this, I think of her. But we all assume that the knee jerk interpretation is that it clearly is very humanistic. And it means that you can build all the temples you want with all the stained glass, windows and all the bricks and stones. But at the end of the day, the goal is that God will live within you; humankind. And then I'm looking for the texts. And to be honest, and maybe I'm missing something. But I didn't find an ancient Midrash or in the Talmud, something that said that explicitly. Let me give you a sense of the types of things that I did found find in the Babylonian Talmud in Ketubot, it says earlier, or in Exodus 15. It says "vetiviamu" that I will bring you and then you will make a temple. And it says, but ultimately, as it is written, that I will build a sanctuary to dwell among you. And the takeaway there is God couldn't wait. He was in love with these people. These people were in love with him. They were engaged, if you will, and they wanted to rent already, they wanted to buy a house. So it has an element of the humanity of the humanistic side. It has an element of what we've discussed in past episodes, where we say why was the Torah given in the desert and not in the land of Israel. So it makes it a universal house, because again, God's first tabernacle was on neutral ground. But most of all, it has this love story and this affection in it. But again, it's not a straightforward. I'm gonna live within every human being.

 

Adam Mintz  07:11

That is interesting. And I wonder why? Why do they shy away from what seems to be the obvious explanation?

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:21

So in Shemot Rabba It quotes Shir Hashirim the Song of Songs, it says, Open for me, my sister, my friend, and then it goes on to say For how long must I travel without a home. So the Torah says, Make for Me a sanctuary so that I need not be on the outside. "Ad Matay ehiye mithalech b'lo bayit" So here too it is a love story. There's more of a sense of the passion. There's more of a sense of this marriage. And I know, there are many interpretations of the tabernacle, as a Huppah, or maybe I should say, of the Huppah as a tabernacle. And this is a beautiful kind of commentary on what it is. But it's again, not the straight forward, Living within every human being. The one that I love the most is one that says that we are partners. So this takes away the romantic part of it. And it's in Hagaoni Uziel. So I've never heard of this. I don't think it's that old. But it talks about when you make Kiddush on Friday night, that you should not read Vayechulu that God finished. But it should save Vayechalu that we finished. And it says that when you make Kiddush on Friday night, you become a partner with God in the creation. And it goes on to say And every judge who judges a judgment and gives a truthful, true judgment. He is a partner with God. And then it ends by saying, Man is a chariot to the divine presence in the world. As it says, I may dwell among them. The whole world was not created except for this directive." So that too, I love the partnership part about it. I love the the fact that there's a little bit of the kind of necessity for God to be in the world and a partner with us. But all of these explanations are so beautiful.

 

Adam Mintz  09:40

So let's take a step back. What does it mean that God's a partner with us? Or that we're a partner with God? How do you understand just simply what those words mean? In what way are we partners with God? And why does the tabernacle reflect that

 

Geoffrey Stern  10:01

Well, I mean, I think the easiest way to, to dance around it is the Shabbat. The kiddush thing. We somehow sanctify God, we say kiddush. On a Friday night in this world, we stop working. When we work there's sweat of the brow, when God creates the world, it's more of a metaphor. But it does seem and I think we're going to touch upon this as we survey other interpretations of these words, that there is some inexplicable need. And I think that's the real answer to your question, there is no good answer of why would God create a world that needs him or her? I mean, that at the end of the day, is the real question that we're asking. When you say a partner, a true partnership is one maybe doesn't have to be of equals. But at least there's a reciprocal relationship, a need for the two parties. And the most obvious question is, why did God need a world? Why does he need a creation? Why does he need us?

 

Adam Mintz  11:12

Yeah, I mean, what you just did is you took this question about the Mishkan, and you blew it up to be a question about everything?

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:22

Well, I mean, it is a big question. And I think this concept of building a tabernacle would, on the face of it be a good time to ask a question. But by writing the verse, the way the Torah writes it, it almost forces us to to to discuss God's presence in this world. And God's presence in this world, begs the question of God's need for a world. So let me quote one more or two of these traditional commentaries that have this sense of partnership, have this sense of romance. And I shouldn't mention rabbi, in past episodes, I believe you've brought up certain Midrashim and historic texts that say that when the Jewish people are in Tzarot, are in trouble, God comes down, God is with them. And that, you know, is is part of this in terms of God making a temple and that will play out a little bit here. But that is something that you have quoted, that is a thread in Jewish thought that I think also enters into this picture. So one of the most amazing stories that I read, and I didn't have time to translate them, but they're in the source sheets in Sefaria is it's it talks about God saying to Moses, look at the plans now I need you to build this and it compares it to somebody showing a simple person, the most glamorous dress, the most glamorous habitat, and saying, I want you to go ahead and make this and it says "Kach amar Hakodosh Barachu l'Moshe asey li miskan" . Similarly, God said to Moses, make this Mishkan. And he says, and if you make this Mishkan l'mala, that I've shown you from above, and you make it L'mata, then I will come down. And it uses a word that for any of those of us who have studied the Kabbalah or the mystical tradition, it's going to make us open up our eyes, because it says,"V;yared umetzamzem shechinati benechem"  , I will come down and I will be "mitzamztem" I will diminish, I will contract, I will make small, my holy presence, and I will be down with you." So here too, you have this sense of if you'll take this bold step, and you can't say it anything but a bold step of creating this beautiful abode as if, for God. God will take the diminishing step the the reciprocal step of coming down and contracting Himself inside of it. I think that's an amazing image.

 

Adam Mintz  14:48

That is an amazing image. Now that is a definition of what partnership means. If you do A then God will do B. Partners play off one another, right they respond to one another's needs. If you do this, then God will do that "v'asu li mikdash" if you make me a tabernacle, "v'shochani b'tocham"  I will be your partner, because I will dwell in your midst. And I think the dwell in the midst means, at least according to the kabalists, that God will be "mitzamzem" somehow that he will contract Himself. Contract Himself means that he will take God which is everywhere, and kind of focus God just on the Mishkan. So  I like that a lot.

 

Geoffrey Stern  15:37

Yeah, in a previous episode, I think we called it gaming the calendar or gaming the universe. We talked about the Leap Year, and how actually, you know, creating a leap year and we have about to do that in this in this particular year, of adding a month to make the whole calendar workout is kind of like almost admitting that the world isn't quite perfect. So there's another Midrash Vayikrah Rabba Robin, that says Rabbi Abuha explained the scripture to be about the five elders that convene to make the year a leap year. What does the Holy One blessed be he do, he leaves his court above and descends and contracts His divine presence among them below. So it uses the same language "umetzamem et shechinato benehem milematan" And so there is this sense of a partnership, there is this sense of being, I wouldn't say it's a partner in crime, but it's a partner in fixing something that is, beyond our control, is not perfect. It's material. It's, it's a fascinating use of, and of course, you know, traditionally, when we talk like this, we should say the words "kiviyachol" "as if you can say" that God contracts himself, "as if you can say" that God comes down, these are all metaphors. But the metaphors are beautiful. And the metaphors are definitely powerful.

 

Adam Mintz  17:12

I would agree with that, and on some level, the idea of Mishkan is the idea of visualizing these metaphors, making these metaphors real, because if we have a tabernacle, we should imagine that God comes down, you know, the ark was built with the two cherubs on top. And the idea was that God's presence comes down through the cherubs, to the ark, and then out to the people. Now, that's an amazing image, because like, this is about God and how God is "m'tzamtzem"  but yet the image is seen as being real. And I think that's very powerful.

 

Geoffrey Stern  17:57

So the one image I want to share before we go and see how the Kabbalah took this, and the direction that it went, is the Midrash Tanchuma. And what it says is that "Rabbi Joshua Yahshua, of seeking said in the name of Rabbi Levy, this may be compared to a cave situated at the edge of the sea, though the sea rushes forth and fills the cave, the sea lacks nothing. Similarly, with the Holy One, blessed it be he may his name be blessed for through it is written and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Nevertheless, his glory is above the heaven and the earth, you should not say that the Holy One bless it be he compressed his sheckinah only into the tabernacle", I love this image of the vast sea, that doesn't need to fill the cave. But as as the water laps onto the shore, and this is particularly strong wave, it goes into the cave, and it comes out of the cave, and it doesn't need to fill the cave. But of course, for the cave, this is a big event. And I love that image of all of these images. Are the rabbi's playing, struggling, enjoying maybe this concept of how does the Divine Presence come into the physical world? Frankly, what I did is I went onto Sephera. And I did a search with tzimzum, this contraction, and all of the texts are pretty late, and they're pretty Kabalistic and we're going to get to them in a second. But there were a few pearls like this, that use this concept of contraction in a different way. It was a way of God making himself small and leaving a mark, making himself small and being our partner. Making himself or herself small, and being our lover. And I just loved all of the metaphors. And they really give such a profound meaning to and I will dwell within them.

 

Adam Mintz  20:15

I think that's great. And I think, obviously, and I will dwell within them, it calls for a metaphor, because without a metaphor, you don't know what to do with it, right?

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:25

Yeah, absolutely. And and it would have been so easy to ignore the issue, though, because everybody has a temple, you know, how do you have a religion without a temple. And this kind of focuses a little bit on some of the things that we've been talking about, which is, you know, this was not a given, this was not a kind of a reflex action, that we had to have a temple, we had to have sacrifices, we had to have prayers. At the end of the day, this was a revolution, and how the revolution chose to take certain cultural behaviors and modify them and change them is the story of the Torah that we're entering right now, when the rubber hits the road.

 

Adam Mintz  21:13

Yes, so that's also interesting, that this is the beginning of a different, you know, a different section of the Torah. And what's the relationship of this section of the Torah to what came before? Why is the why does the tabernacle follow Mount Sinai? Is it a symbol to the fact that actually the tabernacle is trying to concretize the holiness, the experience of Mount Sinai? You know, Mount Sinai was, was fleeting, it left in a second, but maybe now what we need is, we need something that will stick and that's the tabernacle.

 

Geoffrey Stern  21:53

So I think I love what you just said. That and the story of the water lapping into the cave, is a wonderful segue to see how the Kabalists and specifically Isaac Loria, and what is known as Laurianic Kabbalah, took this concept, because the reason I say it's a wonderful segue is because the whole concept of tzimzum of this contraction, as we will see, is how the spiritual Divine Presence leaves a mark. So you have a revelation, and you have a exodus from Egypt. And those are all stories in time. But how do you leave that mark? So let's explore for a second, the way Isaa Loria took this message. And this is someone who was expelled from Spain, and went to live in Safed. This was at the Inquisition in 1492. And in Safed, they created or some people believe found these ancient texts, and they created what we now call Jewish mysticism, and what he did, and I will quote, Gershon Scholem. I will paraphrase Gershom Scholem is he took what we have been discussing where God contracts him or herself, and fits it into a temple or a narrow place. And he turned it on its head, and he says, "it is one of the most amazing and far reaching conceptions ever put forth in the whole history of Kabalism. Tzimzum originally means contraction, but if used in the Kabbalah, it means withdrawal, or retreat." Let me explain how tzimzum works. The theory of symptom is as follows. Prior to Isaac Lauria, those people who were concerned with the issue we're talking about, say, How could a spiritual God create a material finite world? And one of the theories that they came up with from Plotinus was one of emanation. And emanation means, well, you know, God didn't actually create material things. First, he created maybe the idea of a table and then there was another sphere and those of you who know Kabbalah understand spherot. Spherot  are degradations. So in a more crass way, the the head of the mob is never going to have his finger on the murder. It goes through many, many different levels until it happens. It's not philosophically that satisfying because ultimately you're kicking the can down the road, and you're saying it wasn't directly that he created or she created something physical, but it was through many different spheres of increasingly material fire light objects, angels and thoughts and so forth and so on. Comes along Isaac Loria. And he turns that on his head, he says, No, God did not emanate, he contracted. So what did he do? He pulled himself away from what was and gave space for matter to appear. From a from a humanistic point of view from a pedagogic point of view. It's an amazing concept. Philosophically, you could say it doesn't resolve it any more than emanation does. But what it does do is say that God pulled himself away. And then the theory goes on that just like that water lapping into the caves, there were klipot... there were little parts of the Divine, that were left everywhere. But there was something called Shevirat hakelim, the breaking of the vessel. So when God pulled himself in, maybe this is a little bit like the Big Bang Theory, there was an explosion. And there were parts of God that we're all over. And talking about the partnership that we started in the early part, it's man's duty to be m'taken to bring those sparks of God's divinity back together. And when that happens, there will be true salvation. But what he did was he took the same concept of God somehow contracting himself. But unlike the earlier texts where God contracted and put himself into the world, and gave man the ability to experience the holiness, in Lauria's tzimsum  he pulled away from himself, and gave man the opportunity to find and to be M'taken to cure the world. It's just an amazing, absolutely amazing vision. Do you find it as exciting as I do?

 

Adam Mintz  27:13

I find it amazing. I think that's an amazing passage as you just read .... that idea. And the question is, if I could just bring it back to where we started, how is that really just an explanation of what "b'tocham"? Right ... basically that image is explaining what B'tocham means, what God does to be amongst us? And I'm trying to figure out, how does that all work?

 

Geoffrey Stern  27:41

So Shai Held my Rebbi, from Hadar, writes about the contradiction that most people believe that what the Bible says in our Parsha, about God cantracting himself into the tabernacle is 180 degrees different than God contracting himself away from the world, and letting the world become. And the way he rounds that corner, is quoting Martin Buber and others he gets back to the relationships. He says, if we're going to take away from this beautiful statement that we started with, about God being inside of the temple, and we look at it from a partnership point of view, and we look at it from a love and romance point of view. You don't want to smother the person that you love, you don't want to overwhelm the person you partner with. And so what Held does, and this is wonderful, is he says they are two sides of the same coin, that what we're learning here is that they are both right, that a relationship whether it's love or partnership or with God has to contain both the aspect of knowing that that person is present in a very profound way. But also know that that person or object or force or spirit gives you space to develop on your own. And I just love that that variation on Tzimzum, which at the end of the day becomes a variation on B'tocham, on what it means for God's presence to be amongst us.

 

Adam Mintz  27:43

I think that's beautiful. And I would just you know, kind of add that I wonder whether Kabbalah,  the whole idea of tzimzum doesn't actually find its source in the word b'tocham. That maybe the whole principle of tzimzum is an attempt to explain the way we started about why b'tocham is the right word in this context.

 

Geoffrey Stern  29:58

Well certainly Scholem when he references, the Midrash that I started with that has the word tzimzum in it, he says that Luria picked out a Midrash that no one had really focused on or studied before. So if that's the case, we give him a lot of credit. And that's the beauty of the history of ideas that ideas evolve. And so yes, it can be both things, and mean both things to everybody. So I do think that it comes from b'tocham. And at the end of the day, you know, for God's presence to be in the world is the key question that we are thinking about today, when we read Terumah, and when we discuss a tabernacle, which I love more than the temple because it is so fleeting. Because on a sukkot, which we compare to a tabernacle, we always talk about the "sukkah hanofelet" that the tabernacles can be put together and they can be taken apart. And that too, is part of tzimzum. I think what Luria pointed out was that it's a process, maybe it's a breath, in and out, present and removed. But to me, that makes b'tocham and Terumah and the Mishkan such a living message to us all in any generation.

 

Adam Mintz  31:31

That's fantastic. What a wonderful way to start these portions of the Torah that talk about Mishkan. Shabbat Shalom, everybody, enjoy "b'tocham" enjoy the understanding of the Mishkan. And we look forward to seeing everybody, next Thursday night to talk about the clothing that the Cohen used to wear. Shabbat Shalom, Geoffrey

 

Geoffrey Stern  31:52

Shabbat shalom. So you heard it here first. Next week is the fashion episode of Madlik disruptive Torah. And as always, I opened up the mic on the bimah, anyone who wants to join the after-party and has any comments, you're welcome to join. Otherwise, remember that this is a podcast and it is recorded, and you can listen to it, you can look at the Sefira source sheet and explore some of the sources that maybe we didn't have a chance to cover, Michael, welcome to the Bima. And welcome back.

 

Michael Stern  32:28

Thanks, Geoffrey. Really beautiful evening. Remember when you sent me about what the Pope wrote about the little going into the little? And so I just wanted to ask you if you're still trying to get the message that God is within?

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:50

So thank you for reminding me. And what Michael is talking about is I have a custom, I  turn on high mass at the Vatican on Christmas night. And this year, the Pope was talking about why in Christianity, God chose a little baby. And it was that littleness. And I do think that there's no question about it. Whether every human being is a temple, or this temporary tabernacle, and even the dwelling itself, nothing is permanent, but it's also very small, the small voice, so I love that addition. And I think it it rings very true.

 

Michael Stern  33:38

Well, good. And I also love Geoffrey ... from now on when I made kiddish, I will be making kiddish with God. I thought it was like a nice L'Chaim ... we look at each other's eyes. But wow, it's like with God and me how the week was, what my lessons learned, and new commitments and to God and me. And that was so beautiful. Thank you.

 

Geoffrey Stern  34:05

I love that. I love that. And you know, there were those that say that the reason why we have two candles is because we have an extra soul on Shabbat Neshama Yetera and I think that also reflects, no pun intended, the partnership, it's about a partnership. It's about welcoming the angels when you start it's about the two loaves so much of it as you think about it is about the duality that becomes one or even if it doesn't become one, at least it goes down that path. So I do love that. I do love that Vayechulu story. Ok. Shabbat Shalom, everybody, and we'll see you all next week.

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