Category Archives: Jewish jesus

Is Judaism Exclusive or Inclusive?

parshat yitro (exodus 18)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz at 8:00pm Eastern on January 20th 2022 on Clubhouse 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 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 Inclusivism, Universalism and Pluralism in Jewish tradition.

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Listen to last week’s episode: God’s Gracious Ruse

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Filed under Bible, Buddhism, Chosen People, Israel, Jewish jesus, Judaism, monotheism, prayer, Religion, social commentary, Torah, Yehudah Halevy

Moses – Reluctant Magician

parshat shemot (exodus 3-4)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on December 23rd 2021on Clubhouse as we discuss Judeo-Christian Magical Thinking….. Moses encounters a miraculous burning bush, receives a magical rod and learns an incantation of the name of God. But the Rabbis of the Talmud call Jesus a magician…. We explore the Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic Judaism’s uniquely ambivalent attitude to the miraculous.

Moses – Reluctant Magician

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse as we discuss Judeo-Christian Magical Thinking….. Moses encounters a miraculous burning bush, receives a magical rod and learns an incantation of the name of God. But the Rabbis of the Talmud call Jesus a magician….

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/371145

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:04

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. And this week with Rabbi Adam Mintz we discuss Judeo Christian, magical thinking, Moses encounters a miraculous burning bush, he receives a magical staff and learns an incantation of God’s name, but the rabbi’s of the Talmud accuse Jesus of being the magician. Judaism’s ambivalent attitude to the miraculous is what our subject matter is tonight. So take out your magic wand and put on a top hat and let’s meet Moses, the Reluctant Magician. So welcome. You know, they say every parsha ultimately turns out to be very relevant to the times we’re in. And I think that the calendar this year is such that we probably don’t have the first chapter or the first parsah of Exodus called Exodus Shemot coincide with Christmas, very often, but here we are and because so much about this time of year is about miracles, I think that it suits us to read the story of Moses from the lens of the Miraculous;  Magic, and see how the text of the Torah, how later rabbinic tradition and how even Christianity saw the use of magic and miracles, in their narrative, their story and their belief system. So let’s start with Exodus 3.  You all know that Moses was tending the flock, and he went into the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire out of a bush, he gazed, and there was a bush all aflame, yet the bush was not consumed. Moses said, I must turn aside to look at this marvelous sight. Why doesn’t the bush burn up? When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to look, called him and said, Moses, Moses, he answered who I am, Hineni. And he said, Do not come close to remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. And we all know that God then told him that he has remembered the children of Israel, and he’s seen their plight. And he continues in verse 10, “come, therefore, I will send you to Pharaoh, and you shall free my people, the Israelites from Egypt. But Moses said to God, who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt, and he said, I will be with you, that shall be your sign that it was I who sent you “ze l’cha ha’ot”, this will be the sign. And when you have freed the people from Egypt, You shall worship God at this mountain. Moses said to God, when I come to the Israelites, and say to them, the God of your fathers has sent me and they ask me, What is his name? What shall I say to them? And God said to Moses, “Ehiye Asher Ehiye” he continued, thus shall you say to the Israelites, Ehiye sent you to me. So so far, we have a miracle of a burning bush. And we have what many could consider an incantation, a secret name of God, that he was to tell to the children of Israel, to establish himself. Then it goes on. Go and assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, the Lord, the God of your forefathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has appeared to me and said, I have taken note of you, and what is being done to you in Egypt. And he says, yet I know that the king of Egypt will let you go only because of great might. So I will stretch out my hand and smite Egypt with various wonders. “niflaot”, another word for miracle, which I will work upon them. After that, he shall let you go. And then Moses starts complaining and saying, what what about me? He says, What if they do not believe Me and do not listen to me? But say the Lord did not appear to you and the Lord had said to him, What is that in your hand, and he replied, Rod, and he said, cast it on the ground, he cast it on the ground, and it became a snake, a nachash. And Moses recoiled from it. Then the Lord said to Moses, Put out your hand and grasp it by the tail, he put out his hand and seized it. And it became a rod in his hand, that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, did appear to you. And then he goes on says, if they don’t believe that miracle, stick your hand into your vest and pull it out. And all of a sudden, it was encrusted with scales. And he says, now put it back into your vest, he put it back in, and Miraculously, he was healed. And he says, Well, what happens if they still don’t believe me, and he says, You will be able to take that magic rod that I gave you, and you’ll be able to touch the water and the water of the Nile, pour it onto the ground, and it will turn into blood. And then, of course, we know as the story progresses, that actually all of these miracles do happen. So let’s stop here. I think I can coin a phrase of gratuitous miracle. I think this is the first time in the Torah and we’ve read it all the way through Genesis, we’ve seen miraculous things. But this in terms of the burning bush, at least, is the first time that we’ve seen a miracle for its own sake to grab attention. I mean, we’ve seen miracles of Lot’s wife leaving Sedom turning around and being turned into a pillow of soil. That was a punishment. We’ve seen miraculous births. We’ve seen all sorts of miracles. But Rabbi, am i right, if we just focus on the first of the many miracles in these passages, that this is a gratuitous miracle.

Adam Mintz  06:57

There’s no question that that’s right. I mean, this is a gratuitous miracle. And it’s a miracle that kind of comes from nowhere, like you’re not quite sure you know why there’s a need for the miracle. Moses says, Who am I to go to Pharaoh? And God says, I’m going to be with you. And as the proof that I’ll be with you, I’m going to perform a miracle. Why does God need to perform the miracle doesn’t make sense. If you can’t trust God, who can you trust? So I mean, I think that the other miracles even that we’ve mentioned till now, where he teaches them how to use this magic rod, or he teaches him the trick of healing the leprosy. At least, that’s forward thinking, and that’s looking towards, you’re going to have to get out there, you’re going to have to convince people, you’re going to have to speak their language, if you will. But with that first miracle of the burning bush, and you know, the Jewish Theological Seminary, the conservative movement, they took that as their theme. It’s an iconic moment. It’s hard to understand how that fits into the tradition. And I think what I’m trying to get at is, we don’t have gratuitous miracles in our tradition that really lies at the basis of my question is, is it valid?

Adam Mintz  08:24

So I want to go back to what you call the incantation. Ehiye asher Ehiye Iwill be that I will be what is God telling Moses? What kind of name of God is that? Ehiye Asher Ehiye Maimonides actually says that that is one of the names of God. God has many names. One of God’s names is that Ehiye Asher Ehiye, I will be that I will be. I’ve always understood, Moshe says to God, who am I to go to Pharaoh? And God answers says, Don’t worry so much. I’ll be there with you. Ehiye Asher Ehiye, I will be there. To me what that means is that God is promising Moshe that he’s going to be there in the moment. You know, you think about presidents or kings? The last they’re never in the moments, right? They have to deal with the with the big picture. They can deal with every, every single person’s moment. And what God says to Moses is, even though I’m God, Ehiye Asher Ehiye I will be there in the moment with you. You don’t have to worry about going to Pharaoh, I will be there in that moment. And I think that that’s a very, very powerful incantation. Because what that really says about God generally is Ehiye Asher Ehiye God promises to be there for everybody in their moment. God doesn’t doesn’t rule The way kings or presidents rule to be just kind of over the, to kind of, you know, can administer the big picture and to leave the details to others. God actually is interested in the details. And that’s an amazing comment. Now that doesn’t answer why we need a gratuitous miracle. I think that’s the second question. But the first question about the incantation, probably that’s the most important identification of God that we have had yet kind of identifying God telling Moshe what and who God really is that God is in the moment.

Geoffrey Stern  10:38

So I think that what you and I Rabbi have in common is, we just can’t take a miracle by itself. We can’t take an incantation by itself. We as Jews need to see symbolism. It has to mean something. We’re not just looking for someone to say, boom, I did something miraculous, I pulled a rabbit out of the hat. Therefore, you have to believe me. And one of my arguments tonight is that is very deeply Jewish. So supplement or even emphasize your interpretation of Ehiye Asher Ehiye, Let’s go back to the bush for a second Rashi comes and says as follows. He says, Why is it an “Ot” and now we’re starting to get into the multiplexity of what a miracle is in Judaism. It calls it an “ot” but all of us know that the Tephilin the phylacteries that we put on our arm and on our head is called an “Ot” it’s a sign. It’s a something designed to symbolically transmit a message we call Shabbat an “ot”, a sign. So it could be that the rabbinic tradition doesn’t even take the burning bush, as a miracle. It takes it as a sign. And Rashi says that just as thou has seen the bush carrying out its mission I laid upon it, and it was not consumed. So you too shall go on your mission, and you shall not be consumed. And the Ramban gives a different explanation. But all of them are kind of like Jungians looking at this from a symbolic message-oriented approach, they’ve almost ignored the fact that it was a miracle. I would almost argue that they don’t consider it a miracle. They consider it a sign. It’s like looking at a painting, what does it mean to you? And so they are taking from the burning bush, a sign that God will be with you, Moses, and Ramban takes it to mean God will be with the Jewish people. And that is one of the interpretations that especially Buber and Rosensweig give to Ehiye Asher Ehiye, it’s similar what you said, you said that I will be with you in the present. The way they look at it is again, I will be down there with you, I will be there with you.

Adam Mintz  13:23

I think that’s what they mean. But I’m really shouting channeling their view, I will be down there with you, I’ll be there in the moment with you. You don’t need to worry.

Geoffrey Stern  13:35

So So again, all of a sudden, we have taken the first miracle and kind of neutralized it because we’ve said it’s more of something symbolic that is designed to catch the attention. And the emphasis is not on changing the rules of nature. And now we’re taking what I called an incantation. And we’re saying no, no, it’s not a mumbo jumbo magical words. It actually is again a message. And Everett Fox who wrote a commentary on the Bible. He says the following. He says it’s also possible that Ehiye asher Ehiye is a deliberately vague phrase, whose purpose is anti magical, and an attempt to evade the question. And he goes and gives  the fascinating history of this term that was used by the kabbalists , who, as you say, gave many names to God, who used it as a kind of a magical charm word in the Middle Ages. And then he talks about how then it turned full cycle and again, became something that was just a meaningful message. So it really is so fascinating how we Jews…..  It’s like you know, somebody can’t take Yes for an answer, We at this point in time of the commentaries and the discussion that we’ve had, we find it hard to accept a miracle, don’t we?

Adam Mintz  15:10

We definitely do. I mean, I think that’s right now, you talk about whether it’s a miracle or aside, I think the fact that the bush was not consumed, that, to me is a miracle.Right? Isn’t a miracle by definition, something that breaks the laws of nature, the fact that the bush was not consumed. Sounds to me like a miracle.

15:36

I agree with you. But I also would like to emphasize that the takeaway for the commentaries was, Well, you see that bush wasn’t consumed and it was doing God’s will, we won’t be consumed either. So So again, it was a lack of interest, even in the miraculous aspect of it. So we’ve looked at the word “Ot” is a word that can be used as a sign as a symbol, and also a miracle. The, the, the other one that I’d love to talk about is the “Nes” a word that we’ve we probably know. But again, as we’ve probably commented before, has multiple meanings. So of course, before the sacrifice or the binding of Isaac, it says, And God, “Nisa, et Avraham”. And, the word there, there seems to be no miracle, unless, again, you want to go to the end of the story, and an ox miraculously shows up. But all of the commentaries there say that a Nes, and I think the Ramban is the most famous, he talks about how a Nes, a trial of a person brings from potential into actual, it tests you. So it shows what you’re capable of both to yourself, and to God. But again, it’s this sense that the word for miracle “nes” is is also a miracle of inspiration, aspiration, and something that tests us.

Adam Mintz  17:25

So that’s fascinating, the use of the word NES, to test and also to be a miracle is a very, very interesting thing. So God tests Avraham, I don’t buy the fact that that means that there’s going to be a miracle. I mean, God tested Abraham, that’s what it means. And that’s the explanation is that he wanted to bring out the potential in Abraham. And that’s what a miracle does. A miracle brings out the potential. Now the potential of what the miracle is, or what the miracle represents, as you want to say. So actually, it’s the same word. It’s bringing out the potential in something. But it’s so interesting that the same word is used to work to test and for a miracle, even though there’s so much they’re so different from one another….. that’s what’s so interesting, how can they be so different from one another?

Geoffrey Stern  18:32

I agree. And I and I want to emphasize that this is not a supposition or a kind of a comparison that we’ve come up …. with the rabbi’s play with it themselves. I think I’ve quoted in the past Perkei Avot chapter 5: 6, which says that the 10 Obvious miracles that happened, things such as the Earth swallowing up Korach, or the mouth of the donkey of Billam. Speaking, these 10 things, according to the Mishenh of Pirkei Avot were created in The Twilight Hours of creation. In other words, I always use this to show that the rabbi’s was so adverse to breaking the laws of nature, to a miracle that what they did was they said no, no, no, it’s not an exception to the program. When God was writing the code for the future. He wrote these little hacks into it. So it’s not a miracle little interestingly, the burning bush is not in that list……  But what I had never realized is if you go up a few paragraphs, a few Mishnaot in Pirke Avot, you get the following 10 trials was Abraham or father may he rest in peace tried assara nisaynot nitnase Avraham and it says and 10 Miracles were wought for ancestors is in Egypt, Asara Nisim naaseh l’avotentu it is freely going between the use of the word of Nes as a trial and Nes as a miracle. And then of course, it says that there were 10 Miracles were wought for our ancestors in Egypt and 10 at the sea, those of you who have been to a Seder, one of the most annoying I think parts of the seder is when Rabbi Akiva is saying it wasn’t 10, but it was 10 times 10. And it was 10 times 10 times 10. So to say that we don’t have an element of infatuation with miracles, I think would be false. But it does certainly say we take them in a fascinating new new way. I would say there’s an ambiguity here.

Adam Mintz  20:52

Well, let’s, let’s just take one second, that part of the Haggadah that talks about 10 times 10. And that whole thing, you know, how many miracles were there? That’s a different kind of miracle, because that’s about destroying the enemy. And you know, so that’s not a miracle in the sense of breaking the laws of nature. That’s how God is able to be victorious in a way that breaks the usual rules. He was totally victorious over the enemy. So I think that that is a slightly different use of the term.

Geoffrey Stern  21:29

Okay, I definitely accept that. Let’s look a little bit further. When you look at Judaism in terms of magic, you have to go to the code of law as well. And in Deuteronomy 18: 9 it says, Let no one be found among you who consigned his son or daughter to the fire, or who is an auger a soothsayer, a diviner, a sorcerer, one who cast spells or one who consults ghosts, or familiar spirits, or one who inquires of the the dead. And the words that are used here is Kosem kisamim,, m’onen, minachesh um’kasef. Michasefa is a witch. But I want to focus for a second on Minachesh . Minachesh. Haste is a word that’s used for a making magic. We are in the west or in the east, I should say, have a tradition of a snake charmer. Nahash is a snake. And here seconds ago, when we read from our Parsha, they take the rod and they throw it down. And in this version, it becomes an Nachash. So I don’t want to say that we’re having wordplay here. But there is no question that these themes of playing with reality I think the Nahash has a sense of dishonesty of screwing, and defacing reality is part of this magic, but it’s prohibited in Judaism, which is kind of fascinating as well.

Adam Mintz  23:19

Well, we have to remember a very important thing. In Egypt, Pharaoh has his own magicians. So at the beginning of the story this week, and next week, it’s actually a game between Moses and Pharaoh’s magicians, Moses performs a miracle, and they match the miracle. So magic clearly had a different role in Egypt than it does in the Torah. And it might just be, and I’m not making this up a lot of the commentaries say this, that the reason the Torah in Deuteronomy prohibits magic, is because the Egyptians thought that magic was so important that they believe that magic somehow was God-like, and therefore to kind of uproot that, we say that magic is not allowed. So actually, what you read from the code might actually be a reaction to the stories we’re reading now, which makes it even more interesting. So that God really descends to the level of the Egyptians, in order to make a point, and Moses, in a lot of ways is an Egyptian. And therefore Moses understands the idea of magic. God was actually speaking to Moses and Moses in terms that Moses understood. And I think we need to go back to something that you read at the beginning. And that is God says Moses, you need to go to Pharaoh and Moses It says to God, who am I to go to Pharaoh? Now on one hand, that’s humility and humility is always good. But at the same time when God says do something, isn’t it automatic that God’s gonna make sure that you’re successful? Isn’t it a little bit of a Chuzpah for Moshe to say, I’m not going who am I to go?

Geoffrey Stern  25:20

Well, absolutely. And I think that raises the question of what was Moses’ objection? We normally say that Moses says, I am not a man of words, the Hebrew is Lo Ish Dvarim anochi I am not a man of words. I’m not a man of things. In the context of the conversation, all God is asking him to do is to tell the story that he saw the bush that was not burned, the “mareh” (miraculous vision) that he saw, he’s asking him to repeat over the incarnation of the power of this God-word. He’s asking him to throw down his rod and turn it into a snake. And then something happens. And this is early in the relationship of God to Moses. And he said, “Please, oh, Lord, make someone else your agent. The Lord became angry with Moses.” And he said, Get your brother. When was another time that God was angry with Moses? When was God so angry with Moses, that he changed his life

Adam Mintz  26:41

when he hit the rock,

Adam Mintz  26:42

When he hit the rock, and what was hitting the rock if not doing a miracle, and Moses didn’t do it, right. So he that he was not good at being a magician, or, remember, God said, Speak to thee. This is, this is a modern day Alexa story. You know, God says, talk to them. He didn’t listen. So he hit it. But but the point is, that we as we do with any biblical character, we try to understand what is behind that character, who that character is. And I don’t want to project on Moses and make it sound like he was anti miracle. But in a sense, we don’t know for sure that he was slow to speech. We know within the context of this discussion, that the things that he was being asked to do, and to repeat in front of Pharaoh was these types of things, symbolic acts, miraculous acts, and God got angry at him. And God got angry at him again, in the end of his life. So it certainly does give us a little bit of a perspective on Moses that I had not thought of before.

Adam Mintz  28:03

I think that’s really good god getting angry at Moses, is the word anger or the word frustrating. You see God’s frustrated, the relationship between God and Moses is a unique relationship in the Torah. Because actually, in a way, the conversation that takes place between God and Moses, in chapter three this week, is actually a conversation doesn’t happen anywhere else in the Torah, of someone talking to God that way, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not speak to God, the way Moses speaks to God. And I think that’s something that’s interesting. This is something we’re going to see again, after the sin of the worshipping of the golden calf. God says, I want to destroy the people. And Moses says, No, you will not. And God listens to Moses. So it seems to be that there’s a kind of understanding between the two of them, that Moses can speak to God in a way that nobody else can speak to God. And I think that that’s really, really important.

Geoffrey Stern  29:06

I totally agree. But I do think that we are privy to an aspect of Moses that seems to have issues with miracles one way or the other. And, and what I’d like to do as we finish I promised that because of the confluence of Shabbat, and Christmas, we would talk a little bit about Christianity and Jesus, there was a professor at Columbia named Morton Smith, and he wrote a very controversial book called Jesus The Magician. And his argument basically is and it comes from sources outside of Christianity. So some of those sources are ones like Celsus, who was a Greek thinker, and some of them were the Talmud. But the main opponents of Christianity, one of their main arguments was that Jesus was nothing more than a magician. And Morton Smith takes a look at the types of miracles that Jesus did. And by the way, he got a PhD in Talmudic at Hebrew University, he was a close friend of Grershom Scholom and Saul Lieberman. And he says that you know, the stories of turning the water into the wine, he just wanted to outdo Moses turning or the editors wanted to, to outdo Moses turning the water into the blood, walking on the water wanted to outdo crossing, the Red Sea, healing, which was a very big part of the magician’s work. Again, we came across those typos in this week’s parsha with a three miracles, the three types of miracles that God shows to his would-be magician, Moses is curing the hand of leprosy, turning the water into blood, and of course, the miracle of the staff. So he tries to make an argument about the historic Jesus, I would tend to say, we can’t do that. All we can say is that with the competition, sometimes healthy, sometimes not so much. between Christianity and Judaism, it made both religions rethink their relationship with miracles, the Church Fathers, even according to Morton Smith, hid these criticisms, they censor the Talmud, where it said that Jesus was a magician, and could heal the sick. But there were other thinkers who have come in and said, you know, really, that Judaism and Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity came at the same moment. And some things were influenced in one direction, and others in another. So as we approach Shabbat, which is also Christmas, I think we can safely say that in our texts in our parsah in the texts that are going to be lived and celebrated by our Christian brothers and sisters. There is an open question about what is magical, and what is meaningful. What is wonder, and, and what is simple magic… playing with nature and trying to impress, and I think that’s a fascinating discussion. And if you look at the source notes, books, like Jesus in the Talmud, written by another scholar, and Morton Smith are fascinating. I think we learn about ourselves by learning about other religions that grew at the same time as us.

Adam Mintz  32:58

I think that’s that’s a great way to end. And I think, you know, we raised a whole bunch of fascinating questions about the beginning of the story of Moses, and about the beginning of the relationship of God and Moses, and Morton Smith, who obviously was a legend. You know, and one of the great scholars who was knowledgeable and Talmud and wrote about Christianity, I think he’s the perfect scholar to quote, as we approach Christmas…. he would smile to know that he was quoted as we get ready to, to observe Shabbat, which is also Christmas. So I want to wish everybody Shabbat Shalom, enjoy the beginning of the book of Exodus. It’s a great book, and we look forward next week to continue next week, Geoffrey will start talking about the plagues. And there’s nothing more fascinating than the plagues.

Geoffrey Stern  33:45

So thank you so much, Rabbi, Shabbat Shalom. But I do think that, at least on Madlik, we do have a moment of goodwill to man and peace on earth, we are discussing each other’s texts with respect and learning. And I think we live in a golden age of dialogue, especially between Judaism and Christianity. And any of you who have an opportunity to read some of the books, whether by Levinson, or by Daniel Boyarin , or Morton Smith, or whatever. You’ll be surprised at the level of learning of our Christian brothers and sisters, and their willingness and thirst to learn our texts as well. Michael, welcome to the Bima

Michael Stern  34:34

Thank you, Geoffrey, today’s talk about miracles and what’s a miracle and the burning bush that didn’t burn and using miracles to compete. I’m always relating it to life today is I find it’s a miracle to grow up in an alcoholic home and somehow forgive or to grow up as a gay boy in a religious Jewish home and feel part of the family or to marry a non-Jewish person and be a Jew and be loved and accepted, be ADD …. You made some life situations that we all live with. You turn them into miracles for me a miracle of who each of us are to come out of this evolving time. And I just want to thank you and ask… I know I take it to this different place if, if this resonates and Christmas and bringing it all together and talking about it. As Jews, you just really did a lot of beautiful making magic in real life.

Michael Stern  35:55

Well, thank you so much. I think miracles are kind of like beauty they are in the eye of the beholder. And those of us who want to see miracles can see them everywhere. And maybe that’s ultimately the real message of the burning bush that he saw it and that’s what God saw in him that he was someone who could recognize a miracle when it was there. So Shabbat Shalom, thank you so much all for joining us, and we’ll see you next week.

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Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/371145

Listen to last week’s episode: Members of the Tribe

Members of the Tribe

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

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Filed under Bible, Jewish jesus, magic, miracle, Religion, Torah

The Miraculous Birth and Resurrection of Isaac

parshat Vayera – genesis 18-22

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

The Miraculous Birth and Resurrection of Isaac

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

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

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:00

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

Adam Mintz  04:59

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

Geoffrey Stern  07:45

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

Adam Mintz  12:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:41

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

Adam Mintz  13:05

Oh OK, good,  I like that.

Geoffrey Stern  13:09

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

Adam Mintz  14:55

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:13

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

Adam Mintz  23:38

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

Michael Stern  24:07

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:49

Thank you, Michael.

Adam Mintz  25:50

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

Geoffrey Stern  26:01

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

Michael Stern  30:06

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

Adam Mintz  30:30

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

Geoffrey Stern  30:37

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

Adam Mintz  32:43

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

Geoffrey Stern  33:04

Shabbat Shalom.

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Original announcement below:

Friday October 22nd at 4:00pm Eastern

https://www.clubhouse.com/join/Madlik/Lgs5Wmm1/M4WN7Z2K

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

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

Abraham’s Epic Journey and our Own

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

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

The Tisha B’Av Syndrome

Tisha B’av: Is it time to celebrate?

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

Listen to the madlik podcast:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  2. Anti-Zionists – exile as release
    Intellectuals:

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

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

Psalm 137

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8.            Rav Kook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook Post – Sarah Silverman May 17, 2018

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

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

10           Josephus redux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pour out your Wrath on my Hametz

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

Listen to the madlik podcast:

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

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

 

notes

1. A Night of Watchings ליל שמרים

Exodus 12: 42

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

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

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

2.   The Four Cups – The Four stages of Redemption

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

                                                                                          וְהוֹצֵאתִ֣י אֶתְכֶ֗ם מִתַּ֙חַת֙ סִבְלֹ֣ת מִצְרַ֔יִם

  1.      and I will save you from enslavement

                                                                                                       וְהִצַּלְתִּ֥י אֶתְכֶ֖ם מֵעֲבֹדָתָ֑ם

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

     Exodus 6: 6                                                      וְגָאַלְתִּ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ בִּזְר֣וֹעַ נְטוּיָ֔ה וּבִשְׁפָטִ֖ים גְּדֹלִֽים

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

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

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

Bless and drink the third cup of wine..

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

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

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

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

4.  Pour Out Your Love – Alternative reading

Pour out Your love on the nations that know You

And on the kingdoms that call upon Your Name

For the loving-kindness that they perform with Jacob

And their defense of the People of Israel

In the face of those that would devour them.

May they be privileged to see

The Succah of peace spread for Your chosen ones

And rejoice in the joy of Your nations.

שְׁפֹךְ אַהֲבָתְךָ עַל הַגּוֹיִים אֲשֶׁר יְדָעוּךָ

וְעַל מַמְלָכוֹת אֲשֶׁר בְּשִׁמְךָ קוֹרְאִים

בִּגְלַל חֲסָדִים שֶׁהֵם עוֹשִׂים עִם יַעֲקֹב

וּמְגִנִּים עַל עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל מִפְּנֵי אוֹכְלֵיהֶם.

יִזְכּוּ לִרְאוֹת בְּסֻכַּת בְּחִירֶיךָ

וְלִשְׂמֹחַ בְּשִׂמְחַת גּוֹיֶיךָ.

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

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

אויל המתעה מרגיז ומחטיא        בלעהו קלעהו ועוד בל יסטיא

געול המגאל ומטנף טהורים        דחהו מחהו מלבות והרהורים

התל המהתל ומפתל ישרים        וכחהו שכחהו ולא יקומו אשרים

זבוב המארב במפתחי הלב         חנקהו נקהו ולב חדש תלבלב

טמא המזוהם ומסית להאשים    יעהו צעהו בלי ענוש בענשים 

כלי אשר כליו רעים                 לפתהו כפתהו מקום בית מרעים

מנון המפנק מנוער לאחרית       נדחהו קדחהו מהשאיר לו שארית

שאור המעפש ומבאיש העסה    עקרהו נקרהו חטא בלי לשא

פתלתל המנקש ומעקש דרכים    צרפהו ערפהו בלי היות סרוכים

קוץ המכאיב וסלון הממאיר      רעלהו העלהו כרם להפאר

שפוך מי טוהר דמים להדיח      תחטאנו באזוב תכבס ותריח

שני מתלבן עולם ונושע           ברחמים יצדיק חקר כבודם לשעשע

חוזק זרע יחשוף וישיב           וכשנים קדמוניות אותנו ישיב

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jewish

a.

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

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

b.

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

c.

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

Christian

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

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

8. You’re both right

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

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

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

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

Yossi Klein Halevi, CJN, March 11, 2013

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

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

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

[ii] Paytan

Born after c. 950

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gershom Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism

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Life is with People – Immortality in the Hebrew Bible

An exploration of Death and Resurrection in the Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic Literature

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Intro

the Sefer ha-Chinuch was published anonymously in 13th century Spain and was written by a father to his son, upon reaching the age of Bar Mitzvah. See

27 The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD (Proverbs 20: 27)

כז  נֵר ה’, נִשְׁמַת אָדָם

23 For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light, and reproofs of instruction are the way of life;
(Proverbs 6: 23)

The only word that comes close to the netherworld is Shaol [Strongs H7585] which translates as “grave”, “pit”, or “abode of the dead”.  It first appears in with regard to Jacob in

And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said: ‘Nay, but I will go down to the grave to my son mourning.’ And his father wept for him. Genesis 37: 35

וַיָּקֻמוּ כָל-בָּנָיו וְכָל-בְּנֹתָיו לְנַחֲמוֹ, וַיְמָאֵן לְהִתְנַחֵם, וַיֹּאמֶר, כִּי-אֵרֵד אֶל-בְּנִי אָבֵל שְׁאֹלָה; וַיֵּבְךְּ אֹתוֹ, אָבִיו

And he said: ‘My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he only is left; if harm befall him by the way in which ye go, then will ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. (Genesis 42: 38)

יֹּאמֶר, לֹא-יֵרֵד בְּנִי עִמָּכֶם:  כִּי-אָחִיו מֵת וְהוּא לְבַדּוֹ נִשְׁאָר, וּקְרָאָהוּ אָסוֹן בַּדֶּרֶךְ אֲשֶׁר תֵּלְכוּ-בָהּ, וְהוֹרַדְתֶּם אֶת-שֵׂיבָתִי בְּיָגוֹן, שְׁאוֹלָה

In the field of biblical studies, renowned for its deficit of basic agreement and the depth of its controversies, one cannot but be impressed by the longevity and breadth of the consensus about the early Israelite notion of life after death. The consensus, to be brief, is that there was none, that “everyone who dies goes to Sheol,” as Johannes Pedersen put it about eighty years ago,

 

 

Genesis 49: 33 And Jacob concluded commanding his sons, and he drew his legs [up] into the bed, and expired and was brought in to his people.

 

וַיְכַ֤ל יַֽעֲקֹב֙ לְצַוֹּ֣ת אֶת־בָּנָ֔יו וַיֶּֽאֱסֹ֥ף רַגְלָ֖יו אֶל־הַמִּטָּ֑ה וַיִּגְוַ֖ע וַיֵּאָ֥סֶף אֶל־עַמָּֽיו:

and he drew his legs: Heb. וַיֶאֱסֹף רַגְלָיו, he drew in his legs.  

ויאסף רגליו: הכניס רגליו:

and expired and was brought in: But no mention is made of death in his regard, and our Rabbis of blessed memory said: Our father Jacob did not die. — [From Ta’anith 5b]  

ויגוע ויאסף: ומיתה לא נאמרה בו, ואמרו רבותינו ז”ל יעקב אבינו לא מת

 

Our forefather Jacob did not die. He said to him: Was it for not that he was eulogized, embalmed and buried? He said to him: I expound a verse as it is written (Jeremiah 30:10) “Do not fear, my servant Jacob, said Adonai, and do not be dismayed O Israel. For I will save you from afar and your seed from the land of captivity.  The verse likens him (Jacob) to his seed (Israel); as his seed will then be alive so he too will be alive.

 

הכי אמר רבי יוחנן: יעקב אבינו לא מת. – אמר ליה: וכי בכדי ספדו ספדניא וחנטו חנטייא וקברו קברייא? – אמר  ליה: מקרא אני דורש, שנאמר (ירמיהו ל‘) ואתה אל תירא עבדי יעקב נאם הואל תחת ישראל כי הנני מושיעך מרחוק ואת זרעך מארץ שבים, מקיש הוא לזרעו, מה זרעו בחיים אף הוא בחיים..

 

A major focus of that favor – especially important, as we are about to see, in the case of Abraham and job – is family, particularly the continuation of one’s lineage through descendants alive at one’s death. Many expressions, some of them idiomatic, communicate this essential mode of divine favor. The idiom “He was gathered to his kin” or “to his fathers” (wayye’asep ‘el-`ammayw / ‘abotayw),

 

Professor Jon D. Levenson. Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life

 

Eternal Life – Immortality

Daniel 12:2

And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence.

וְרַבִּים, מִיְּשֵׁנֵי אַדְמַת-עָפָר יָקִיצוּ; אֵלֶּה לְחַיֵּי עוֹלָם, וְאֵלֶּה לַחֲרָפוֹת לְדִרְאוֹן עוֹלָם

“One element that truly is novel in Dan 11z:11 -3 is, however, signaled by an expression that, for all its frequency in later Jewish literature, occurs nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible, hayye `olam, “eternal life””

Death, Children, draught

There are three things that are never satisfied… The grave; and the barren womb; the earth that is not satisfied with water Proverbs 30: 15-16

שְׁאוֹל, וְעֹצֶר-רָחַם:    אֶרֶץ, לֹא-שָׂבְעָה מַּיִם

Famine, miraculous birth, Heaven on earth … return to land

Slavery

To these must be added slavery, of course, which often appears in connection with them, especially with death. Thus, it is revealing, as we have observed,13 that Joseph’s brothers, seething with resentment over their father’s rank favoritism, resolve first to kill the boy and then, having given that nefarious plan up, sell him into slavery instead (Gen 37:118- z8). This parallels and adumbrates (in reverse order) Pharaoh’s efforts to control the rapid growth of Israel’s population, which begin with enslavement and graduate to genocide (Exod 11:8-22). It also parallels, and perhaps distantly reflects, the Canaanite tale of the god Baal, who miraculously overcomes comes the daunting challenges of enslavement to Yamm (Sea) and annihilation by Mot (Death).14 That Israel, fleeing Pharaoh’s enslavement, escapes death by a miraculous passage through the sea (Exod 114:11-115:211) is thus no coincidence and anything but an arbitrary concatenation of unrelated items.15 It is, rather, a manifestation in narrative of the deep inner connection between slavery and death that we have been exploring in another genre, the poetic oracles of prophets.”

Moses on the Mountain top – national redemption

Could it be clearer that the Mosaic promises center on the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that is, the whole Israelite nation, and not on Moses’ own progeny? Thus, when “the LORD showed him the whole land” (Dent 34:1) just before Moses died and the Israelites began to take possession of it, the scene is remarkably reminiscent of Jacob’s, Joseph’s, and job’s viewing several generations of descendants just before their own deaths. In the Deuteronomic theology, the fulfillment of Moses’ life continues and remains real, visible, and powerful after his death. It takes the form of Israel’s dwelling in the promised land and living in deliberate obedience to the Torah book he bequeathed them, for all their generations (e.g., Dent 31:9-z3; Josh z:6-8). In Deuteronomy, all Israel has become, in a sense, the progeny of Moses.

Untimely death

Thus, Jacob, having (so far as he knows) lost to the jaws of a wild beast his beloved Joseph, the son of his old age, “refused to be comforted, saying, `No, I will go down mourning to my son in Sheol”‘ (Gen 3735)• It would be a capital error to interpret either Joseph’s or Jacob’s anticipated presence in Sheol as punitive. Joseph’s is owing to his having died a violent and premature death that is not followed by a proper burial or mitigated by the continuation that comes from having children. Each of these conditions alone could bring him to Sheol.

 
Just as a person is commanded to honor his father and hold him in awe, so, too, is he obligated to honor his teacher and hold him in awe. [Indeed, the measure of honor and awe] due one’s teacher exceeds that due one’s father. His father brings him into the life of this world, while his teacher, who teaches him wisdom, brings him into the life of the world to come.  Mishnah Torah, Talmud Torah – Chapter Four: 1

כשם שאדם מצווה בכבוד אביו ויראתו כך הוא חייב בכבוד רבו ויראתו יתר מאביו שאביו מביאו לחיי העולם הזה ורבו שלמדו חכמה מביאו לחיי העולם הבא

 

See: Bava Metzia 33a Keritot 28a states a different reason: “He and his father are both obligated to honor his teacher.” The Rambam quotes this in Sefer HaMitzvot (Positive Mitzvah 209).

 

When his teacher dies, he should rend all his garments until he reveals his heart. He should never mend them.  Mishnah Torah, Talmud Torah – Chapter Four: 9

וכשימות רבו קורע כל בגדיו עד שהוא מגלה את לבו ואינו מאחה לעולם

When his teacher dies, he should rend all his garments until he reveals his heart. – With regard to the rending of one’s garments until one’s heart is revealed, see Hilchot Eivel 8:3, 9:2 and Mo’ed Katan 22a.

He should never mend them. – Mo’ed Katan 26a equates garments torn over a teacher’s passing with those torn over a father’s passing, with regard to the latter law. On this basis, the Rambam concludes that the same principle applies regarding the extent one rends his garments.

Kadish DeRabanan

Magnified and sanctified — may God’s Great

Name fill the world God created. May God’s

splendor be seen in the world In your life, in your

days, in the life of all Israel, quickly and soon.

And let us say, Amen.

Forever may the Great Name be blessed.

Blessed and praised, splendid and supreme —

May the holy Name, bless God, be praised

beyond all the blessings and songs that can be

uttered in this world. And let us say, Amen.

 

For Israel and for our teachers, our students,

and generations of teachers and students to

come, for all who study Torah here and

everywhere, for them and for you, may there

be fullness of peace, grace, kindness and

compassion, long life, ample nourishment and

salvation from our Source who is in heaven

and on earth. And let us say, Amen.

עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל וְעַל רַבָּנָן. וְעַל תַּלְמִידֵיהוֹן וְעַל כָּל תַּלְמִידֵי תַלְמִידֵיהוֹן. וְעַל כָּל מַאן דְּעָסְקִין בְּאוֹרַיְתָא. דִּי בְאַתְרָא קַדִּישָׁא הָדֵין וְדִי בְכָל אֲתַר וַאֲתַר. יְהֵא לְהוֹן וּלְכוֹן שְׁלָמָא רַבָּא חִנָּא וְחִסְדָּא וְרַחֲמִין וְחַיִּין אֲרִיכִין וּמְזוֹנֵי רְוִיחֵי וּפֻרְקָנָא מִן קֳדָם אֲבוּהוֹן דְּבִשְׁמַיָּא וְאַרְעָא וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן

 

May there be great peace and good life from

heaven above for us and all Israel. And let us say,

Amen. May the One who makes peace in the

high heavens compassionately bring peace upon

us all and all Israel. And let us say, Amen.

 

יתגדל ויתקדש שמיה רבא דעתיר לחדתא עלמא ולאחייא מתייא ולמיפרק עמיה ולמיבני קרתא דירושלים ולשכללא היכלא קדישא ולמיעקר פולחנא נוכראה מן ארעא ולאתבא פולחנא דשמיא לאתריה בזיויה ויחודיה, וימליך מלכותיה… ונחמתא דאמירן בעלמא ואמרו אמן. על רבנן ועל תלמידיהון ועל תלמידי תלמידיהון דעסקין באורייתא די באתרא הדין ודי בכל אתר ואתר, יהא להון ולכון חינא וחסדא ורחמי וסייעתא ורווחא מקדם אבוהון דבשמיא ואמרו אמן. יהא שלמא… וכו’ (רמב”ם הלכות תפילה)

 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לָנוּ תּוֹרַת אֱמֶת וְחַיֵּי עוֹלָם נָטַע בְּתוֹכֵנוּ, בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי נוֹתֵן הַתּוֹרָה

 

 

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in thy blood do not live

parshat shemini

Please feel free to visit previous Madlik posts:

keep it short where I argue that the sin of Strange Fire brought by Aaron’s sons was that they made the service too long!

be still where I argue that the sin of Nadab and Abihu was of being holier than Thou…

But who said that these two sons of Aaron sinned and that their death was a tragedy? The simple reading of the text, amplified by Rashi, is that they were sanctified; they were holy sacrifices, child sacrifices…

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר משֶׁ֜ה אֶל־אַֽהֲרֹ֗ן ה֩וּא אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֨ר הֹ | לֵאמֹר֙ בִּקְרֹבַ֣י אֶקָּדֵ֔שׁ וְעַל־פְּנֵ֥י כָל־הָעָ֖ם אֶכָּבֵ֑ד וַיִּדֹּ֖ם אַֽהֲרֹֽן

Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke, [when He said], ‘I will be sanctified through those near to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ ” And Aaron was silent.

Rashi:

 אל תקרי בכבודי אלא במכובדי. אמר לו משה לאהרן אהרן אחי יודע הייתי שיתקדש הבית במיודעיו של מקום והייתי סבור או בי או בך, עכשיו

רואה אני שהם גדולים ממני וממך

Do not read בִּכְבוֹדִי, “through My glory,” but בִּמְכֻבָּדַי, “through My honorable ones.” Moses said to Aaron, “Aaron, my brother! I knew that this House was to be sanctified through the beloved ones of the Omnipresent, but I thought it would be either through me or through you. Now I see that they [Nadab and Abihu] were greater than I or you!”- [Vayikra Rabbah 12:2]

My friend and teacher Amichai Lau-Lavi has offered an alternative translation for Aaron’s Silence:

Never mind right now what Moses meant. I want to focus on Aaron’s reaction. ‘Silent’ is elsewhere translated as ‘speechless’, or ‘calmed’ or ‘held his peace’. These are very different descriptions – or suggestions – for handling grief. What does ‘holding one’s peace’ mean? Is it noble courage or emotional constipation? And does the (Orthodox) translator who used ‘calmed’ mean to say that Aaron was soothed by the theological explanation given to him by Moses – ‘only the good die young’? The Hebrew word argued here is ‘Va-yidom’ – a word that has in it both the allusion to great silence – ‘demama’ but also the word ‘da-am’ – Hebrew for ‘blood’.  It is one of those loud Hebrew words, loaded with many meanings. (here)

It is clear that human sacrifice, and child sacrifice in particular is something that our tradition and human-kind has, and continues to struggle with.  Whether it is Abraham and Isaac, Moloch, Baal and the cult of martyrdom in all Abrahamic religions.. Nadav and Abihu and the ambiguity of Aaron’s silence remind us that the struggle to rid ourselves of this cancer is ongoing.

We need to address our liturgy, especially in this holy month when we children of Abraham recall the drowning of the First Born, the passion of Jesus or the Day of Ashura and the assassination of Hussein.  Death can never be glorified… it does not bring a resurrection or a redemption.  When a child is born we ought not think it a blessing or predilection when we welcome him with the chant.. “In thy blood, live, in thy blood, live”  וָאֹמַר לָךְ בְּדָמַיִךְ חֲיִי, וָאֹמַר לָךְ בְּדָמַיִךְ חֲיִי.  When these words appear in Ezekiel 16:6 there is no ambiguity… they are not a blessing… They are a promise that even if in your primal past there is blood, sacrifice and martyrdom, I God will raise you up and wash you off and help you live. 16:9 Then washed I thee with water; yea, I cleansed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil.” (see also)

For further reading on the struggle in Abrahamic religions with child sacrifice see: The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity Revised Edition by Jon D. Levenson

child sacrifice

 

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jews, buddhists and extraterrestrials

some thoughts before I go to the Orient  …. on jews, buddhists and extraterrestrials 

I’m leaving for the alien shores of China, Cambodia and Vietnam and reminded of a dialog in Rodger Kamenetz’s jewel of a book: The Jew in the Lotus:   The book tracks the journey of “eight high–spirited Jewish delegates to Dharamsala, India, for a historic Buddhist–Jewish dialogue with the Dalai Lama”

Early on in the narrative, the Jewish protagonists realize, to their dismay, that while many of the 300+ million Buddhists have heard of Islam and Christianity, they have not, for the most part,  heard of Judaism. For someone who has dedicated his/her life to a belief system that claims to be the word of the Master of the Universe (ריבונו של עולם) … this is a demeaning experience to say the least….  For a Jew, confronted with someone who has never heard of Moses to have to use the “Have you heard of Jesus.. he was Jewish?” calling-card it is no doubt humbling.  Writes Kamenetz:

Our Sikh driver had heard of Muslims and met some Christian tourists. To him, Jews were news. That pricked my vanity. I didn’t like to think that in vast areas of the planet, the story of my people is unknown. … After all, Jews make up less than half of one percent of the world’s population. There are as many Sikhs in the Punjab as Jews on the planet. … Just outside my car window there was enough human tragedy, comedy, and heartbreaking struggle to fill a dozen Torah scrolls.

He continues:

I decided that the most important baggage Jews carry is an absolute conviction of our significance because we are Jews, because we have survived. On Route One, the whole grand story of Jewish survival, the tremendous importance I attach to my history, my Torah, shrank in perspective: to a single line, a single letter. I felt absurd: in the middle of India, did it really make any difference that we were Jews?  (pp. 26-27)

Kamenetz and his band of Rabbis were not the first Jews to be asked the question: “Who is a Jew and who is this God of which you speak?.  Remember in Exodus 5: 2 Pharaoh challenges Moses and Aaron:  “Pharaoh said: ‘Who is the LORD, that I should hearken unto His voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, and moreover I will not let Israel go.'”

  ‘וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה–מִי ה’ אֲשֶׁר אֶשְׁמַע בְּקֹלוֹ לְשַׁלַּח אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל: לֹא יָדַעְתִּי אֶת-ה

In a recent article in the Science section of the New York Times, Dennis Overbye asks Do Aliens know it’s Christmas – How Possibilities of Life Elsewhere Might Alter Held Notions of Faith.  For those interested in this new track in theology called astrotheology, the Times article provides a comprehensive survey of opinions and (primarily Christian) opinionators in this field.

I was struck by a comment from Geoffrey Marcy, an exoplanet explorer and holder of the Watson and Marilyn Alberts Chair in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence at the University of California, Berkeley.

Surely, earthlings were not the only beings in the Milky Way blessed in God’s eyes, he elaborated, saying that he liked to tease public audiences with the question. “Conversations about religion with intelligent beings from an exoplanet might jolt humanity into realizing how parochial our beliefs are,” he said.

For a Christian the question becomes, how do extraterrestrials get “saved” if they were never visited by Jesus or if their ancestors had not participated in the Original Sin in Eden?  For Jews who believe that non-Jews need follow only  the seven laws of Noah, the question is less intense but still nagging….  How can there be fully developed religions and cultures who have not heard of the Flood, an Exodus from Egypt and a return to a geographical Zion?

With travel being so costly and with Virgin Galactic suffering a recent setback, how fortunate am I.  As a Jew, I don’t need to visit outer-space or await  the arrival of extraterrestrials to discover those who have not heard of my God, His prophets or His chosen people and their escapades…

So, I’m off to the Orient and looking forward to being both humbled and enlightened…

On another, yet related note, I cannot help but ponder the attraction that Buddhism has on Jews… to the degree that there’s even a word (Jewbu) and Wikipedia page for Jewish Buddhists.

A fascinating explanation for this affinity was given by Shlomo Carlebach in a rare interview recorded by Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi at the Torah and Dharma Conference in Berkeley in 1974. [1]

Please listen….

cambodia-e1365521895541

—————–

 

From Rabbi David Zeller book “The Soul of the Story” (see)

In 1974, there was a conference – “Torah and Dharma” – in Berkeley, California, focusing on the connections between Judaism and other traditions like Sufism, Zen Buddhism, and Yoga. Representatives of the different traditions were invited, including Reb Shlomo and Reb Zalman. Shlomo, as often happened, was double-booked and couldn’t come. There were keynote talks, smaller seminars, and panel discussions. The final panel had all the teachers together for the last questions and answers.

Someone in the audience asked the question: “It appears to me that the Sufis, the Yogis, and the Zen teachers on our panel are all Jewish! Can anyone explain what’s going on?”

There was a murmur from the audience and from the panel. Zalman rose to the occasion. “Before I left for the conference, I called up Reb Shlomo and said, ‘Shloimele, I’m about to go to the conference in Berkeley. I know you really wanted to be there, too. Do you have anything you want to say to them? The tape recorder is hooked up to the phone and recording.’ And this is what he said in answer to your question.” And with that Zalman pressed the start button on a tape recorder sitting on the table in front of him.

This is a paraphrase of what Shlomo said. It is one of those classic teachings of his that I have been retelling ever since: My sweetest friends, I’m so sorry I couldn’t be with you for this holy gathering, but I’d like to share with you one thought I have, so please open your hearts. The Torah teaches that a Cohen, a priest, must remain in a state of purity if he is to serve God in the Holy Temple. Among the things that would disqualify him was contact with a dead body. The question arises: What was the nature of the impurity? Did the dead body have cooties or carry disease? It appears that the problem was quite different. The impurity stemmed from the confrontation with death: its concept and its reality and the thoughts and feelings around it.

Coming in touch with death, a person can’t help thinking, “What kind of God makes a world with death in it? If I were God, I’d do things very different; I’d do things better.”

Let’s put it this way. When you come in contact with death, you can’t help being a little angry with God. And if you are a Cohen, how can you be angry in your heart with God, and then go into the Holy Temple to serve Him? It just doesn’t go. So the priest had to wait until sunset, and take a mikvah, a ritual bath, and then he could return to serve God the next day.

These laws of the priesthood regarding serving God became the basis for many of the Jewish laws of mourning. If your father or mother, brother or sister, son or daughter, husband or wife died, from the time of their death until they are buried, you are technically exempt from most positive commandments. For example, you don’t have to say blessings, because that’s a form of thanking and serving God, and right now, you may be in a frame of mind of being a little bit angry with God. So you aren’t obligated to say those blessings.

And you know, my sweetest friends, today we don’t have a Beit HaMikdash, a Holy Temple, and although we still have Cohanim, priests, we don’t have animal or incense offerings to serve God in the Holy Temple. Today we serve God through offerings of words of Torah study and words of prayer. Today our rabbis are like our priests, serving God through teaching Torah. But if you are angry with God, you can’t teach Torah. You can say the words, but the love and light within them do not flow through them.

So please open your hearts. The saddest thing is that today our teachers and rabbis haven’t just touched one dead person. They’ve been touched by Six Million dead people. And they are so angry with God, so angry with God. Gevald, are they angry with God! And because they are so angry with God, all their words of Torah are just that: words. There’s no light, no taste, no meaning, no melody in them.

But young people today are so hungry for that light, for that meaning, for that melody – for the deepest inner dimensions of truth. And if they can’t get it from Judaism, they’ll go anywhere that love and light are to be found.

Thank God our hungry, searching, younger generation found some traditions that weren’t so angry with God, and they could get the love and light and meaning that they so craved. And today in Judaism, Baruch HaShem, thank God, we have a whole new generation of teachers who haven’t been touched directly by the Six Million (or maybe they have taken Six Million mikvahs from tears of sadness and then another Six Million mikvahs from tears of joy). And their words are filled with light and joy and love.

God willing, now people can come back to Judaism to quench that deep, powerful, longing for God’s love and from our own tradition. I bless us all that we should find that beauty in Torah, in Shabbos, and in the deepest depths of the heart of our holy and ancient and living tradition.

Thank you so much. God bless you all. Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos.

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as good as it gets

hanukah

Confronting the December Dilemma I have always felt that Hanukah never had a chance.  Christmas is an “Imagine” holiday where we are invited to aspire to a world of Peace-on-Earth and Goodwill-to-Man.  Hanukah is a (nother) Jewish survival holiday… They tried to kill us, we survived, now let’s eat.

In my first post on this blog Imagining Shabbat, I argued that to have a winning horse in the “Imagine” race, I would suggest Shabbat; a Jewish holiday that actually comes 52 times a year and aspires to Peace-on-Earth and Goodwill-to-Man as well, if not better, than any holiday I know.

That being said, conflicting feelings about the Hanukah remain.

Certainly the Maccabees serve as a wonderful model of Jews standing up for their rights and fighting…. literally fighting, for their independence. I also admire Judah the Maccabee’s pragmatism for establishing the precedent that Jews can defend themselves on the Shabbat.  But certainly tolerance and pluralism is not a word associated with the Maccabees and later generations of Maccabee priests/rulers were known for their corruption. The Hasmonean dynasty was a precursor for King Herod and the Herodian dynasty.  The Maccabees thrived on power and we all know the power of power to corrupt.

I have always figured that it was a pacifistic strain in Rabbinic Judaism that was responsible for emasculating the Maccabees and modulating the militaristic nature of their victory by providing a cute story of miraculously energy efficient oil.  I attributed this pacifism with the Rabbi’s decision not to include the Book of the Maccabees in the Canon of the Hebrew Bible.

It turns out that the Rabbinic ambivalence to the Maccabees was for another reason… a reason that actually makes me a fan of the Maccabees and gives me added reason to celebrate Hanukah.

Since I love going to the sources, I bought myself a copy of the Anchor Bible‘s Book of First Maccabees and it turns out that this book which we now have only in Greek, but which was originally written in Hebrew may have included a heresy that the Rabbis wished to hide.  It turns our that “First Maccabees, rejects Daniel 7-12 [1] and the belief in the resurrection and suggests that martyrdom can be in vain”. It turns out that Judah the Maccabee’s real ideological polemic was not with the Jewish Hellenists,  but rather with compatriot Jews who wished to conquer the Greek Hellenists and curry God’s favor (and redemption) by way of martyrdom.  (see Jonathan A. Goldstein, I Maccabees, a new translation with introduction and commentary, The Anchor Bible 1976, p 56)

First Maccabees is actually a first class work.  “The author is generally well informed on Seleucid institutions.  He probably intended to add his work to the sacred scriptures of the Jews.  However, it was destined to be rejected. The later history of the Hasmonaeean dynasty proved false our author’s claim that God had chosen mattathias’ line to be both high priests and kings.  Belief in the resurrection, denied by our author, became a fundamental of Judaism. Already Josephus was amending the text of First Maccabees and departing from its narrative as he would never have done with sacred scripture.  In the times of Origen and Jerome, when the Hebrew was still being read by Jews, First Maccabees was clearly outside the canon of the Jewish scriptures.  The book is never mentioned or quoted by the tannaim and the amoraim.  Medieval Jews begin to know its contents from the Latin and Greek versions and from Josephus.” [Goldstein ibid. p 26)

According to Goldstein, what is blatantly missing from I Maccabees I 50 -64 is any glorification of the death of the Jewish protagonists:

50 Whoever refused to act according to the command of the king was to be put to death.
57 Whoever was found with a scroll of the covenant, and whoever observed the law, was condemned to death by royal decree.
60 In keeping with the decree, they put to death women who had their children circumcised,
61 and they hung their babies from their necks; their families also and those who had circumcised them were killed.
62 But many in Israel were determined and resolved in their hearts not to eat anything unclean;
63 they preferred to die rather than to be defiled with food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die.
64 And very great wrath came upon Israel. (see)

Writes Goldstein: “Pietists before had tried to rouse God’s vengeance against the persecuting gentiles by displaying helpless martyrdom, …. Martyrdom was unnecessary, they held; display of mere helplessness by the pious would rouse God to act… (Goldstein ibid p. 262)

Compare also I Maccabees 2: 29 – 41

29 At that time many who sought righteousness and justice went out into the wilderness to settle there,
30 they and their children, their wives and their animals, because misfortunes pressed so hard on them.
31 It was reported to the officers and soldiers of the king who were in the City of David, in Jerusalem, that those who had flouted the king’s order had gone out to secret refuges in the wilderness.
32 Many hurried out after them, and having caught up with them, camped opposite and prepared to attack them on the sabbath.
33 The pursuers said to them, “Enough of this! Come out and obey the king’s command, and you will live.”
34 But they replied, “We will not come out, nor will we obey the king’s command to profane the sabbath.”
35 Then the enemy attacked them at once.
36 But they did not retaliate; they neither threw stones, nor blocked up their secret refuges.
37 They said, “Let us all die in innocence; heaven and earth are our witnesses that you destroy us unjustly.”
38 So the officers and soldiers attacked them on the sabbath, and they died with their wives, their children and their animals, to the number of a thousand persons.

39 When Mattathias and his friends heard of it, they mourned deeply for them.
40 They said to one another, “If we all do as our kindred have done, and do not fight against the Gentiles for our lives and our laws, they will soon destroy us from the earth.”
41 So on that day they came to this decision: “Let us fight against anyone who attacks us on the sabbath, so that we may not all die as our kindred died in their secret refuges.” (see)

To appreciate how Mattathias and his friends disparage the martyrdom of these pietists we need to contrast this account in I Maccabees with the (originally) Greek II Maccabees 2: 6: 18 -31 (Martyrdom of Eleazar)

18 Eleazar, one of the foremost scribes, a man advanced in age and of noble appearance, was being forced to open his mouth to eat pork.
19 But preferring a glorious death to a life of defilement, he went forward of his own accord to the instrument of torture,
20 spitting out the meat as they should do who have the courage to reject food unlawful to taste even for love of life.
21 Those in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside, because of their long acquaintance with him, and privately urged him to bring his own provisions that he could legitimately eat, and only to pretend to eat the sacrificial meat prescribed by the king.
22 Thus he would escape death, and be treated kindly because of his old friendship with them.
23 But he made up his mind in a noble manner, worthy of his years, the dignity of his advanced age, the merited distinction of his gray hair, and of the admirable life he had lived from childhood. Above all loyal to the holy laws given by God, he swiftly declared, “Send me to Hades!
24 “At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense; many of the young would think the ninety-year-old Eleazar had gone over to an alien religion.
25 If I dissemble to gain a brief moment of life, they would be led astray by me, while I would bring defilement and dishonor on my old age.
26 Even if, for the time being, I avoid human punishment, I shall never, whether alive or dead, escape the hand of the Almighty.
27 Therefore, by bravely giving up life now, I will prove myself worthy of my old age,
28 and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.” He spoke thus, and went immediately to the instrument of torture.
29 Those who shortly before had been kindly disposed, now became hostile toward him because what he had said seemed to them utter madness.
30 When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned, saying: “The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that, although I could have escaped death, I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging, but also suffering it with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him.”
31 This is how he died, leaving in his death a model of nobility and an unforgettable example of virtue not only for the young but for the whole nation. (see)

And II Maccabees chapter 7  Martyrdom of a Mother and Her Seven Sons

1 It also happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law.
2 One of the brothers, speaking for the others, said: “What do you expect to learn by questioning us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”
3 At that the king, in a fury, gave orders to have pans and caldrons heated.
4 These were quickly heated, and he gave the order to cut out the tongue of the one who had spoken for the others, to scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of his brothers and his mother looked on.
5 When he was completely maimed but still breathing, the king ordered them to carry him to the fire and fry him. As a cloud of smoke spread from the pan, the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die nobly, with these words:
6 “The Lord God is looking on and truly has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his song, when he openly bore witness, saying, ‘And God will have compassion on his servants.’”
7 After the first brother had died in this manner, they brought the second to be made sport of. After tearing off the skin and hair of his head, they asked him, “Will you eat the pork rather than have your body tortured limb by limb?”
8 Answering in the language of his ancestors, he said, “Never!” So he in turn suffered the same tortures as the first.
9 With his last breath he said: “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up* to live again forever, because we are dying for his laws.”
10 After him the third suffered their cruel sport. He put forth his tongue at once when told to do so, and bravely stretched out his hands,11as he spoke these noble words: “It was from Heaven that I received these; for the sake of his laws I disregard them; from him I hope to receive them again.”
12 Even the king and his attendants marveled at the young man’s spirit, because he regarded his sufferings as nothing.
13 After he had died, they tortured and maltreated the fourth brother in the same way.
14 When he was near death, he said, “It is my choice to die at the hands of mortals with the hope that God will restore me to life; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.”
15 They next brought forward the fifth brother and maltreated him.
16 Looking at the king, he said: “Mortal though you are, you have power over human beings, so you do what you please. But do not think that our nation is forsaken by God.
17 Only wait, and you will see how his great power will torment you and your descendants.”
18 After him they brought the sixth brother. When he was about to die, he said: “Have no vain illusions. We suffer these things on our own account, because we have sinned against our God; that is why such shocking things have happened.
19 Do not think, then, that you will go unpunished for having dared to fight against God.”
20 Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance was the mother who, seeing her seven sons perish in a single day, bore it courageously because of her hope in the Lord.21Filled with a noble spirit that stirred her womanly reason with manly emotion, she exhorted each of them in the language of their ancestors with these words:22e “I do not know how you came to be in my womb; it was not I who gave you breath and life, nor was it I who arranged the elements you are made of.
23 Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who shaped the beginning of humankind and brought about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life, because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law.”
24 Antiochus, suspecting insult in her words, thought he was being ridiculed. As the youngest brother was still alive, the king appealed to him, not with mere words, but with promises on oath, to make him rich and happy if he would abandon his ancestral customs: he would make him his Friend and entrust him with high office.
25 When the youth paid no attention to him at all, the king appealed to the mother, urging her to advise her boy to save his life.
26 After he had urged her for a long time, she agreed to persuade her son.
27 She leaned over close to him and, in derision of the cruel tyrant, said in their native language: “Son, have pity on me, who carried you in my womb for nine months, nursed you for three years, brought you up, educated and supported you to your present age.
28 I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things. In the same way humankind came into existence.
29 Do not be afraid of this executioner, but be worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that in the time of mercy I may receive you again with your brothers.”
30 She had scarcely finished speaking when the youth said: “What is the delay? I will not obey the king’s command. I obey the command of the law given to our ancestors through Moses.
31 But you, who have contrived every kind of evil for the Hebrews, will not escape the hands of God.
32 We, indeed, are suffering because of our sins.
33 Though for a little while our living Lord has been angry, correcting and chastising us, he will again be reconciled with his servants.
34 But you, wretch, most vile of mortals, do not, in your insolence, buoy yourself up with unfounded hopes, as you raise your hand against the children of heaven.
35 You have not yet escaped the judgment of the almighty and all-seeing God.
36 Our brothers, after enduring brief pain, have drunk of never-failing life, under God’s covenant. But you, by the judgment of God, shall receive just punishments for your arrogance.
37 Like my brothers, I offer up my body and my life for our ancestral laws, imploring God to show mercy soon to our nation, and by afflictions and blows to make you confess that he alone is God.
38 Through me and my brothers, may there be an end to the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation.”
39 At that, the king became enraged and treated him even worse than the others, since he bitterly resented the boy’s contempt.
40 Thus he too died undefiled, putting all his trust in the Lord.
41 Last of all, after her sons, the mother was put to death.
42 Enough has been said about the sacrificial meals and the excessive cruelties. (see)

If Goldstein is correct and the Hebrew original of First Maccabees was sentenced to the dust heap because it failed to show any enthusiasm for martyrdom, an eternal life or resurrection of the dead then our celebration of the Maccabees becomes a celebration of a Judaism free of the eschatology of end-of-day Armageddons and Messiahs, both real and false.

As troubling to our modern ears as the violence and intolerance of Judah and his band may be, at least it was not informed by a desire for a New Jerusalem or a Greater Israel.  Theirs was a battle for cultural, religious and physical independence, and nothing more.

In the final analysis, it may be that Hanukah is actually the perfect antidote for a messianic Christmas.

If the Peace-on-Earth and Goodwill-to-Man of Christmas is of the Second Coming variety, then the Hanukah of the Maccabees can be taken as a rejection of such change of world orders through martyrdom (whether of a god or a foot soldier) ideologies.

If so much vitriol and violence in our world is the result of this insane desire to harken a savior, messiah, hidden Mahdi or second coming, then the Maccabees that I celebrate, for all their faults, at least believed that independence is as good as it gets and that, my friends, is worth its weight in hanukah gelt.

————-

 

[1] Especially Daniel 12: 2 “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence.” and further discussion in II Maccabees, Anchor Bible pp 63.. and see full discussion pp 293 .. and pp 303

 

 

 

 

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the first fashion statement

parshat korach

It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when clothing designers wouldn’t dare put a logo, let alone a product endorsement on clothing.  It’s all the fault of a French tennis star named René Lacoste, nicknamed “The Crocodile“ who, in the late 20’s developed a shirt that was more accommodating to movement.  According to the Smithsonian, Lacoste “had a logo of the reptile embroidered onto his blazer. It became his personal brand before there was such a thing.”

izod-rene-lacoste-crocodile-big

According to Wikopedia “One of the earliest examples of T-shirts with a logo or decoration can be found in the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz”. Three men attending to the Scarecrow at the Wash & Brushup Company in Emerald City are seen wearing green T-shirts with the word “Oz” printed on the fronts.”

dorothy-gets-cleaned-up-at-the-wash-and-brush-up-company-3

The rest, as they say, is fashion history.  Nowadays, every commercial and celebrity brand, let alone political position, hosts clothing that carry their graphic message.

The Biblical source for clothing with a message lies at the feet of a radical named Korach who made a political argument from an all blue prayer shawl. The impact of his fashion statement was so profound that an expression in Modern Hebrew was coined to describe someone who thinks too much of himself.

In modern Hebrew idiom, the sarcastic expression, “a completely blue tallit” (טלית שכולה תכלת) is widely used to refer to something that is ostensibly, but not really, absolutely pure, immaculate and virtuous. .. The phrase “more kosher than tzitzit” is a Yiddish metaphoric expression (כשר’ער ווי ציצית) with similar connotations but is not necessarily used in a sarcastic sense. It can refer, in the superlative, to something that is really so perfect and flawless as to be beyond all reproach or criticism. (see Wikipedia – Tallit)

Poor Korach.  He made a good argument to democratize religion, but instead of wining the debate he was forever remembered as the guy guilty of the fashion faux pas of wearing the blue tallit and who, in the words of Isaiah 65:5 (following the King James translation) strutted as though he was “holier than Thou”.

Here’s the backstory:

Numbers 15 ends with the commandment to all Hebrews to put fringes on any four-cornered garment

Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them throughout their generations fringes in the corners of their garments, and that they put with the fringe of each corner a thread of blue. (Numbers 15:38)

דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם, וְעָשׂוּ לָהֶם צִיצִת עַל-כַּנְפֵי בִגְדֵיהֶם, לְדֹרֹתָם; וְנָתְנוּ עַל-צִיצִת הַכָּנָף, פְּתִיל תְּכֵלֶת

Followed immediately with the narrative of the Korach Rebellion.

Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; and they rose up in face of Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty men; they were princes of the congregation, the elect men of the assembly, men of renown; and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them: ‘Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?’ (Numbers 16: 1-3)

  וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח, בֶּן-יִצְהָר בֶּן-קְהָת בֶּן-לֵוִי; וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב, וְאוֹן בֶּן-פֶּלֶת–בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן

  וַיָּקֻמוּ לִפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה, וַאֲנָשִׁים מִבְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתָיִם, נְשִׂיאֵי עֵדָה קְרִאֵי מוֹעֵד, אַנְשֵׁי-שֵׁם

וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ עַל-מֹשֶׁה וְעַל-אַהֲרֹן, וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם רַב-לָכֶם–כִּי כָל-הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים, וּבְתוֹכָם ה ; וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ, עַל-קְהַל ה

Writes Rashi:

What did he do? He went and assembled two hundred and fifty men, heads of Sanhedrin, most of them from the tribe of Reuben, his neighbors. ….. He dressed them with cloaks made entirely of blue wool. They came and stood before Moses and asked him, “Does a cloak made entirely of blue wool require fringes [’tzitzith’], or is it exempt?” He replied, “ It does require [fringes].” They began laughing at him [saying], “Is it possible that a cloak of another [colored] material, one string of blue wool exempts it [from the obligation of techeleth], and this one, which is made entirely of blue wool, should not exempt itself? – [Midrash Tanchuma Korach 2, Num. Rabbah 18:3]

מה עשה, עמד וכנס מאתים חמישים ראשי סנהדראות, רובן משבט ראובן שכיניוץ…. והלבישן טליתות שכולן תכלת. באו ועמדו לפני משה. אמרו לו טלית שכולה של תכלת חייבת בציצית או פטורה. אמר להם חייבת. התחילו לשחק עליו, אפשר טלית של מין אחר חוט אחד של תכלת פוטרה, זו שכולה תכלת לא תפטור את עצמה:

Notice , that Korach didn’t just make a hypothetical argument… he actually hired a tailor and put on a fashion show!

One could argue that the ultimate sin of Korach was that by making his fashion statement, he separated himself from the congregation.

Writes Rashi:

Korah… took: He took himself to one side to dissociate himself from the congregation, to contest the [appointment of Aaron to the] kehunah. This is what Onkelos means when he renders it וְאִתְפְּלֵג,“and he separated himself.” He separated himself from the congregation to persist in a dispute. Similarly, מה יקחך לבך, “Why does your heart take you away?” (Job 15:12) meaning, it removes you, to isolate you from others (Midrash Tanchuma Korach 2).

ויקח קרח: לקח את עצמו לצד אחד להיות נחלק מתוך העדה לעורר על הכהונה, וזהו שתרגם אונקלוס ואתפלג נחלק משאר העדה להחזיק במחלוקת, וכן (איוב טו, יב) מה יקחך לבך, לוקח אותך להפליגך משאר בני אדם

But it’s also the way he did it.  Talk about wearing our religion on your sleeve, he exploited a ritual mitzvah to make a syncratic point…. Forget about the fact that the blue die techelet was a royal blue which had a price to match… these blue prayer shawls were ostentatious and elitist…  Come to think of it… Korach wasn’t making an argument for every plebian Jew, but rather for his caste…

But I digress… here’s the pet peeve that Korach raises …. The growing trend to imprint one’s eschatological beliefs on your kippah.

It used to be that if you had something to say, you’d get it imprinted on the inside of the kippah…. “Joey’s Bar Mitzvah”, “Harvey and Sheila’s wedding” … no big message here.

I don’t know if it was the Jews for Jesus who started this trend

jfor j shirts

But any observant Jew will admit that eschatology has hit the kippah industry in a big way.

First there was the Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman (Hebrew: נַ נַחְ נַחְמָ נַחְמָן מְאוּמַן‎) kippah.

4967_22_centimeter_black_knitted_na_nachman_breslov_kippah_with_tassel_view_1

The phrase is a Hebrew language name and song used by a subgroup of Breslover Hasidim colloquially known as the Na Nachs. The complete phrase is Na Nach Nachma Nachman Me’uman. It is a kabbalistic formula based on the four Hebrew letters of the name Nachman, referring to the founder of the Breslov movement, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.  The words come from an alledged “Letter from Heaven” from the Rebbe which reads:

my fire will burn until
Messiah is coming be strong and courageous
in your devotion
Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman

Most Breslover Hasidim do not use Na Nach Nachma (some groups actually oppose it) and not everyone believes it is an authentic writing from Rebbe Nachman. (see more: Wikipedia)

So while it is escatological, it is also divisive…..

Next came the kippot of those Chabad Hasidim who believe that the recently deceased Rebbe; Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, is the messiah. The Chabad “Yechi” yarmulkes have the slogan “yechi adonaynu moreynu v’rabbaynu melech hamoshiach l’olam va’ed,” “long live our master our teacher our rabbi king messiah forever and ever” embroidered or printed on them.

Chabad kippah

According to Wikipedia (I have left the links to the footnotes) “While some believe that he died but will return as the Messiah,[3] others believe that he is merely “hidden”. A very small minority believe that he has God-like powers,[4][5] or is the “creator”[6] while others negate the idea that he is the Messiah entirely. The prevalence of these views within the movement is disputed,[7][8][9][10][11] though very few will openly say that Schneerson cannot be the Messiah.[7]

Once again, this escatological kippah is divisive.

To prove the point, the IDF has recently ruled that it is prohibited for soldiers in uniform to wear a kippa with writing on it.

I believe that our prayer shawls should be nondescript in color and that our kippot should not advertise an end-of-days message.  But…. Following the “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy, I am pleased to announce that Madlik has decided to offer it’s own eschatologically correct kippah to be known as the LoBa™ Kippah…. Stay tuned!

 

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