parshat yitro (exodus 18)
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on January 20th 2022 as we discuss the Torah portion that includes the Ten Commandments but is named after a non-Jewish priest. A priest who blesses God, successfully offers sacrifices, shares a sacred meal and, with God’s sanction, establishes institutions of jurisprudence for the Jewish People. For a religion that is known for exclusivism, we use this realization to explore inclusive and exclusive tendencies in Jewish tradition.
Geoffrey Stern 00:03
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. And this week along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we discuss the Torah portion that includes the Ten Commandments, but is named after a non Jewish priest named Jethro. For a religion that is known for exclusivism, we use Jethro’s contribution and top billing to explore inclusivism universalism and pluralism in Jewish tradition. So come listen to a story about a man named Jethro, as we ponder the question, is Judaism exclusive or inclusive?
Geoffrey Stern 00:55
Well, welcome to Madlik. Another week of Madlik disruptive Torah. And this week, wow, do we have a great portion, a great parsha ... it is the portion that includes, as I said in the intro, the Ten Commandments, but it's named after Moses' father in law, who was a priest of Midian named a Jethro. So we are going to focus right on the beginning of the Parsha, something that we don't normally do. And I'm just going to dive into it. And as we do, we'll explore some fascinating insights. So in exodus 18: 1 it says 1) Jethro priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel His people, how the LORD had brought Israel out from Egypt. And then it goes on to say: (6) He sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you, with your wife and her two sons.” (7) Moses went out to meet his father-in-law; he bowed low and kissed him; each asked after the other’s welfare, and they went into the tent. (8) Moses then recounted to his father-in-law everything that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardships that had befallen them on the way, and how the LORD had delivered them. (9) And Jethro rejoiced over all the kindness that the LORD had shown Israel when He delivered them from the Egyptians. - And he did something very Jewish, he made a blessing. - (10) “Blessed be the LORD,” Jethro said, “who delivered you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh, and who delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. (11) Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods, yes, by the result of their very schemes against [the people].”-c (12) And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices for God; - So in the Hebrew it says, עֹלָ֥ה וּזְבָחִ֖ים לֵֽאלֹקִ֑ים "he brought Oleh u'zevachim l'elohim" - and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to partake of the meal before God with Moses’ father-in-law. (13) Next day, Moses sat as magistrate among the people, while the people stood about Moses from morning until evening. (14) But when Moses’ father-in-law saw how much he had to do for the people, - Now he does something that's really Jewish, he starts giving advice. - he said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone, while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” (15) Moses replied to his father-in-law, “It is because the people come to me to inquire of God. (16) When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I decide between one person and another, and I make known the laws and teachings of God.” (17) But Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not right; (18) you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. (19) Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You represent the people before God: you bring the disputes before God, (20) and enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings, and make known to them the way they are to go and the practices they are to follow. (21) You shall also seek out from among all the people capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, (22) and let them judge the people at all times. Have them bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute themselves. Make it easier for yourself by letting them share the burden with you. (23) If you do this—and God so commands you—you will be able to bear up; and all these people too will go home unwearied.” - And he basically set up the laws of jurisprudence that until today are followed in, in Judaism of Beth din and a Sanhedrin of setting up how do you resolve the law and how do you define the law - (24) Moses heeded his father-in-law and did just as he had said. And he basically set up the laws of jurisprudence that until today are followed in, in Judaism of Beth din and a Sanhedrin of setting up how do you resolve the law and how do you define the law? And he said at the end, if you do this, and come and God so commands you, you will be able to bear up and all these people to will go home unwearied Moses, he did his father in law, and did just as he had said." So here we have this priest from Midian, a non-Jew who comes to Moses, and first of all, he gives a blessing. He gives a bracha. Then he offers a sacrifices. He brings an Ola and zevachim. And then He gives advice, which he says was sanctioned by God. And Moses listens to him. So you know, so many times when people talk about this, they focus on the last part, that he gave this sage advice, this wisdom advice about setting up the courts. And I think they miss the fact that he makes a blessing. And I think they miss the fact that he brings a sacrifice and the words that are used for that sacrifice are exactly the words that are used in the later Israelite tradition of bringing a sacrifice. And then yes, he does give a legal ruling that is sanctioned by God. So Rabbi, what do you make of this? Is this as unique and as fascinating to you as it is to me?
Adam Mintz 06:02
It is, and I'm going to echo your questions, and I'm going to raise you one. And that is, last week, we read about the splitting of the sea. This week, we read about the giving of the Torah, of the 10 commandments on Mount Sinai, you would expect that the story in the middle would be something that would be tremendously uplifting. And instead, it's a story about Moses getting advice from his father in law. And it's not even clear that Moses does anything wrong. And he gets advice from his father in law. And the question is, what is this story about? And why is it placed right before the giving of the Torah? And I would just throw an idea out, which will kind of begin our discussion of your questions. Maybe the story is here to teach us about what Moses is like. Maybe the real question in this week's Torah reading is, who is this Moses who deserve that the Torah, the 10 commandments should be given to him? What has done? He followed God, he went to Pharaoh, but who is he? And you know what we learn about him, we learn about him that his father in law's upset, because he sits and he listens to the people from the morning until the evening. That's pretty amazing. When you think about it, you know, that was his crime. That he was totally committed to the people from the morning to the evening. Maybe the story is not a story about Jethro. Maybe the story is a story about Moshe to tell us that you know what, he is the right person to receive the Torah, the Ten Commandments, because he's someone who really cares about the people. He sits with the people from morning until night.
Geoffrey Stern 07:58
So I love that you've kind of personalized it. We all know that Moses is humble. And there are many situations where one wonders where that attribute comes from, because we know he has an anger management issue. He gets angry very easily. But where's the humility? We've already come across it in the burning bush, where he says, Why pick me. But I think you're absolutely right, that this humility of the man and why maybe the man was chosen comes through. And it does take humility, to listen to advice from other people. But I think that we can focus on the Moses, but we can also focus on the bigger picture. Because as you say, why was it put here? Why was it put literally, before the Torah is given? Why are we exposed to the fact that here is another religious figure who comes and gives blessings? Who comes and give sacrifices? And who comes and can speak in the name of the Lord and say, This is not right, what you're doing. And I and I do think it's fascinating. Well, so and maybe we'll come and address this at another time. The reason that he gives is fascinating because he says it's not sustainable. He doesn't say what you're doing is wrong. He just says that it's not realistic, you'll burn yourself out. But getting back to why it features right before we get to the giving of the Torah. I think all of us know the Midrashim that talk about why was the Torah actually given where it was given at Sinai and we probably also know that the reasons that it was given in the desert and not in the land of Israel was because it was on neutral ground, so to speak. It was not in any particular country, or nationality. And I think that has to be a little bit of what factors into this discussion. We all know the wonderful Midrashim that says that God went to all the nations of the world. And that is why He gave the Torah at Sinai in Sifrei Devarim it says, "And the Lord came from Sinai, when the Lord appeared to give Torah to Israel, it is not to Israel alone that he appeared, but to all the nations." And I think this concept or this introduction of talking to a Jethro, it kind of plays with both this idea of humility, both on a personal level of Moses, but also on a national level, it takes a level of humility, to say that the truths or the revelation that you're going to be receiving not only belongs to you, but belongs to everyone. And conversely, not only comes from your wisdom, but comes from the universal wisdom of all humanity. So I'm kind of taking your point, and I'm almost expanding it. I'm taking Moses as a person, and Moses as a personification. Does that resonate with you at all?
Adam Mintz 11:53
I like it, I like it. So I was emphasizing Moses as a person, and you're talking about Moses as a personification. But both are important, because if we're going to appreciate why the Ten Commandments are given to Moses, and this is always interesting, they're given to Moses as a person, and Moses as a personification. And Moses is actually... and this is also has to do with the Jethro story... you almost get a sense that Moses is like the two train tracks at the 72nd Street subway station, you have the express, and you have the local. On one hand, you have Moses as the leader of the people, the one who talks to God, the one who seems to literally be living in heaven, that's the express train. But then you have the slower train, that's Moses as a person. And you know, Moses doesn't necessarily do so well that way. Because Moses, you know, he seems to be separated from his wife and children, because it says that Jethro brings his wife and children. You know, we don't hear very much about Moses, his interaction to 40 years in the desert with his wife. So we're not sure how Moses does as a person. But here we have an insight. And while he may not be so good with his own family, but he's very, very good. As, we might call a shul rabbi, be someone who cares about the people from morning to night. And that's something that's also very important. So that the Ten Commandments are given given to Moses, on the express track, and given to Moses on the local track.
Geoffrey Stern 13:32
So you know, I think when we read the Torah, each one of us brings a little bit of their own personality. And I love the fact that as a pulpit rabbi, you deal with the most lifelong challenge of anyone who serves the community, not only in clergy, but in any facet of life, this this, this tension between serving man as a whole, and then wonder about your family and your children and your wife. And I love that there. But there is a tension here. And I think that to just jump in and say, yes, the reason why the Bible brings this little story of the pagan priest who has an effect on Moses right before the giving of the Torah is such a universalistic message and ties into this concept that the Torah was given in the desert and belongs to everybody. We could fall into the trap and say that this is such an easy thought. It's such an easy read. But I'd like to play the devil's advocate a little bit and talk about how the classical commentaries looked at this, to kind of give us a fact check that we are looking at this in the right way. So the Ramban Nachmanidies, who we came across a little bit last week, brings the the midrashic interpretation. And he says that this could be in sequence. It could be that this happened before the giving of the Torah. But he says it's also possible to explain "that scripture arranged the entire narrative of Jethro, even though the particular event occurred after he stayed with the Israelites a long time, and in the meantime, became converted through circumcision immersion, and the sprinkling of the blood of a sacrifice according to Jewish law." So here, Ramban, Nachmanidies is echoing what's in the Midrashim. And it's this big discussion of number one did Jethro ever convert? And if he did convert, when did this story happen? We all know there's a concept in biblical hermeneutics, and it says "Eyn Mukdam u'meucha b'Torah" , that there's no time frame within the biblical narrative, that you can have flashbacks, you don't necessarily have to render the events in the chronology that they happened, you can have some sort of literary and poetic license. And there are many within the classical biblical commentators, and the Midrashim who have a really hard time in accepting that Jethro, when he said these things, was not Jewish. It was very hard for them to accept that something as basic as how jurisprudence is set up could have come from a non-Jew, it's very hard for them to accept that non-Jews could give zevachim v'olot; sacrifices, as we Jews do. It's hard for them to accept that a non-Jew could bless God. And I think it's important to recognize this challenge that they have, because it gives more credence to the fact that if you take the opinion, which they all cite, that this was in chronological order, how revolutionary, how radical it was, and I don't want to dilute that in terms of looking at a religious - biblical text and saying matter of factly. Yeah, they were open to suggestions from a non Jew, and more importantly, that they were open and understood and gave value to religious experiences outside of Judaism.
Adam Mintz 18:01
Wow, that's a lot there. First, let's talk about whether Jethro was Jewish, and whether it mattered whether Jethro was Jewish. I mean, when you talk about who's Jewish, look at Avraham Yitzchok and Taakov. who did they marry? They didn't marry Jews. What made them Jewish? The answer is that they marry Jews, so they became Jewish. And that's probably what happened in those days. If a woman married a Jewish man, then the woman became Jewish. So what's interesting is that Tziporah's Jewish, even though her father is not Jewish? That's interesting, isn't it? But Yitro, Jethro, is identified throughout the Torah, whenever he's talked about as Cohen Midian, he's very much not Jewish. He's very much you know, the wise man from Midian. I always like to read the story, that it's nice that advice comes from outside. I don't really need Jethro to be Jewish. Do you need Jethro to be Jewish?
Geoffrey Stern 19:15
I think it's a stretch. I think that the commentators who struggle with it and who make Jethro Jewish, are telling us more about themselves than they're telling us about Jethro.
Adam Mintz 19:28
That is such an interesting point. I mean, that's really good.
Geoffrey Stern 19:32
And maybe about ourselves, ... you know, those of us who study the biblical text and I don't care whether we're Jewish or Christian, or Muslim, we all say this text. We're proud of our story. And I can understand that, but I also think that it's radical from within that story. It doesn't say the ex Cohen From Midian, it says the Priest for Midian. So I think we can all agree that the simple reading of the text is that he actually was a priest from Midian at the time that this story occurred, and that they are simply illuminating to us and reminding us how radical this is. And therefore I give their response such value, because there's a truth in what they're saying, you know, there's the expression in business, "not created here". Even in a business, even in creativity, in literature, in art, we all love to claim that we are not influenced by others, and that we came up with things on our own. And it takes a radical text to be able to clearly say that it is the the result of the best. So I want to continue with this discussion about the sacrifices and the blessing. If you recall last week, and this is kind of almost a two-part series, we had my Maimonides saying that the sacrifices will all there as kind of a concession to bring the people from one spot to another. And if you recall, Nachmanidies said, No, Noah gave sacrifices Cain and Abel gave sacrifices. They were not idol worshipers. So there was nothing wrong with using sacrifices because it was part of the original, natural religion. And I think if we have to focus on what is and dive a little bit deeper into how a text like the Torah can so easily accept the contributions of a Jethro. And, you know, I keep on saying that Jethro gave the sacrifice. Well, I should also mention that Aaron came and ate from the sacrifice. This was not anything but a holy offering to God. So those Midrashim actually on our texts here, and they're all in the source notes in Safaria and talk about how this concept that Adam and Cain, and Noah actually followed a natural religion that every human being is imbued with, that has this kind of desire to make an offer of a sacrifice, if you will, that have this natural desire for prayer, that have a natural desire for blessing, and even expand further. This is kind of fascinating. One of the Midrashim says, so why did Noah sacrifice after he was saved? Because when God told him to put animals onto the Ark two by two, when it came to kosher animals, he said, add seven. And according to the Midrash, Noah said to himself, hmm, I'm not a dummy. Why is he adding more of these pure animals.... the word kosher didn't exist in those days. But even here, there's this sense that Judaism has allegiance, and is a continuation of this what I would love to call this natural tendency, characteristic part of humankind, for religion. You know, sometimes I listen on clubhouse to atheistic groups, and what they all forget, when they ask, is there a god? Is there not a god? You know, I'd like to say is there beauty is there love, there are things that are part of the human condition that have been there for such a long time, that you can't put your finger on, but they are part of us, we have this sensibility for love. We have this sensibility for beauty. And we have this sensibility for religion. And I think the Jewish texts that talk about the origins of many of the customs of the Jews, in human nature, play tribute to that. And I think that's also part of what this is an exploration of. It is almost as though the Torah was given at Sinai to the Jews, but it was offered to all of humankind. It was offered in a neutral zone, and therefore it is an exploration. It's an aspiration. It's a rendering of what is very natural to humanity. And I think that's also part of the message here.
Adam Mintz 25:01
So that Midrash, that the Torah was offered to all the nations, does that mean that the Torah is inclusive? Or is that point of that Midrash that the other nations gave up the chance that they're no good, because they didn't appreciate the value of total? See, I don't think that's about inclusion. There is a Midrash, about inclusion. The Midrash, about inclusion says that the when God said, I am the Lord your God, who took you out of the out of Egypt, that the entire world was quiet, that a bird didn't chirp at a baby didn't cry. And the entire world heard God say, I am the Lord your God, that Midrash is very much inclusive. That means that the entire world was part of the experience and outside not, which is a very powerful idea. Not that we left people out, but actually that everybody was part of it.
Geoffrey Stern 26:05
So I agree with you totally. But I want to focus on the flip side of that, it's not so much that everybody was included and open and privy and made available, to the revelation at Sinai going forward. But that the revelation at Sinai was an expression of something that was natural to man and there's a critical difference there. And what I was touching upon was this sense that Jethro was in the tradition of Noah, of Adam, of Cain and Abel, of those who followed this natural kind of human condition where we believe and that man reaches out that there's something more there, and that we don't know quite what it is. And we express ourselves whether we're Buddhist, whether we're Hindus, or whether we're Muslims, or whether we're Christians. And there is this aspect in Judaism, and in the classical texts, where we all had it, and we kind of lost it. A good example, is the story of, of why we celebrate a holiday of lights. And the the Talmud in Avodah Zara 8a talks about the exact seven days that we celebrate Hanukkah that is close to when the Christians celebrate Christmas, and have their lights. And it says that Adam in the first year that he experienced, he saw the days were getting shorter and shorter, and he was sure the world was coming to an end. And then all of a sudden, there was the winter solstice, and the days started to get longer. And he created a festival. And it's where the Talmud in a Avoda Zara is talking about pagan festivals. And it ends by saying "he Adam established these festivals for the sake of heaven. But they the Gentiles of later generations, established them for the sake of idol worship." So here too, it's almost as those there's a patrimony of humanity, that we all have these needs to celebrate light when it gets dark, to talk about hope, when it seems that there is no hope. And that the Judaic or the the concept of revelation that we're celebrating in the Parsha of Jethro is one that says not only is it available to all the nations, but it comes from a shared patrimony of all the nations. And I think that's kind of fascinating and exciting.
Adam Mintz 29:00
That is fascinating and exciting. And I think, you know, we talked about inclusion, and that was the title of tonight's class, the idea of inclusion. And I think that maybe that's the lesson. We started at least I started by suggesting that the reason the story is here is to tell you about the personality of Moses. And I think we're coming full circle and your suggestion is a little different. Your suggestion is that the reason this story is here is to tell us the Judaism, the Ten Commandments, the law is really inclusive, and incorporates a lot of different kinds of people and a lot of different kinds of traditions, and a lot of different kinds of things. And while God may have said I am the Lord you got it took you out of the land of Egypt, the house the bondage, which is something very Jewish, but actually before he says that, we have the story of Jethro, before it's exclusive, versus inclusive. And I think that's a great great point. So I think that's really a you know, a really nice read of the, of the introductory chapter to the giving of the telegraph. Want to wish everybody that they should enjoy receiving the Ten Commandments this Shabbat and we look forward to seeing you next week when we start the civil law; Mishpatim and all the stories related to that. Shabbat Shalom Geoffrey Shabbat Shalom everybody.
Geoffrey Stern 30:30
Shabbat Shalom to you all. We've certainly had a wonderful introduction with the help of these parshiot to the law that we're going to get so I look forward to sharing with you our journey as we discover those laws. I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom and listen to the podcast. This is recorded and there are source notes that go much farther in terms of the discussion then the half hour will permit but Shabbat Shalom to you all and I will see you all next week on Madlik disruptive Torah.
Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/377219
Listen to last week’s episode: God’s Gracious Ruse
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
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.
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..
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.
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
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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