Category Archives: Judaism

Seventy Faces

parshat vayigash, genesis 46

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on December 29, 2022. Even if you are not a proponent of numerology you cannot ignore the repeated claim of the Torah that seventy souls went down to Egypt. The implied significance of the number 7 and its variants 70 and 49 provide a unique lens to view the Biblical narrative. Join us as we explore Gematria, rules of Biblical interpretation and the number Seventy in the Bible.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/455577

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Vayigash.  Even if you are not a proponent of numerology you can’t ignore the repeated claim of the Torah that seventy souls went down to Egypt. The implied significance of the number 7 and its variants 70 and 49 provide a unique lens to view the Biblical narrative. So join us as we explore Gematria, rules of Biblical interpretation and the number Seventy in the Bible. Seventy Faces.

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Well, welcome back to Madlik and just as we have finished Hanukah where we added a candle every night and counted to eight, we are going to spend a half hour today doing something that I typically don’t like to do, I am not into numerology, I am not into this gematria where you assign a value to each letter of the alphabet and you build high mountains of interpretation based on those types of things. Typically, I look at those things and I find them artificial, I find them impugned and ultimately, I feel that they’re almost an insult to the text itself, which has so much richness, why would you need to add numerology to it Rabbi is your take on gematria and numerology before we take off here?

Adam Mintz  01:58

I’m with you. I’m an old-fashioned traditionalists just like you. I don’t really like numerology. But numerology is one of those things you have to understand because it’s so much a part of our tradition. Now, there’s numerology. And then there’s some times where the Torah gives us numbers. I would also make that distinction. If the Torah gives us a number 70. Probably that number 70 means something.

Geoffrey Stern  02:25

So that literally was my point of departure. So in Genesis 46: 27, it says, And Joseph’s sons who were born to him in Egypt, were two in number. Thus, the total of Jacob’s household who came to Egypt was 70 persons. כׇּל־הַנֶּ֧פֶשׁ לְבֵֽית־יַעֲקֹ֛ב הַבָּ֥אָה מִצְרַ֖יְמָה שִׁבְעִֽים. And, as I said before, it is repeated in Exodus, it says, Exodus 1: 5 the total number of persons that were up Jacob’s issue came to 70, Joseph being already in Egypt, שִׁבְעִ֣ים נָ֑פֶשׁ. So again, when it repeats it twice, and of course, in the reference in our parsha. In our portion, it is preceded by what we found many times before a genealogy, and the genealogy has this is a child of Leah. This is the children of, of Rachel, these are the children of the two handmaidens. And then it says, and therefore everything added up to 70. So you can’t ignore the fact that it was important to the text that it added up to 70. And this actually is the most obvious most in your faced version of this, but it actually, according to the rabbi’s has happened before. At the end of the story of Noah, in Genesis 10. It gives all of his genealogy, he had three sons Shem, Ham and Japhet, and then in the beginning of Genesis 11, it says everyone on Earth had the same language and the same words. And the rabbis learned from this, first of all the rabbi’s go ahead and they count up each one of the members of Noah’s house, and lo and behold, in our source sheet I have quoted the Chizkuni, but he is not alone, where he adds them all up. And sure enough, there are 70 and from this comes the tradition that there are 70 nations, and that those 70 nations spoke one language before the Tower of Babel. And they spoke 70 languages after the Tower of Babel. So it’s seems to me if you look at both the Jews coming down from Canaan into Egypt, and you look at the end of the, the portion of the flood, and you talk about moving into a new basis for humanity at both of those junctures you have this group of 70. And you have a wonderful implication, I think the idea that there were 70 nations, and that they were 70 languages, had beautiful implications for us. The most beautiful is that according to the rabbi’s in the tractate of Shabbat, 88b, when the Torah was given, each utterance of God’s mouth was divided into 70 languages. So, I’ll stop here, do you believe as now we start to explore the texts or the Bible’s sense of 70? Does it have to do with transition? What do you make of 70 Languages? What was the implications for the generation of the Exodus?

Adam Mintz  06:11

Well, I mean, there are so many different pieces of this. First of all, seventy comes from seven, and seven is the number in the Torah of a cycle, because that’s seven days. How do I know that? I know that from the story of creation, the very first cycle in the history of the Torah, in the history of the world, is the cycle of seven, God works for six days, and he rests on the seventh. So, I know from Genesis chapter one, that the key number in the Torah is going to be the number seven, and therefore 70, and therefore 49. And all of those variations of seven, sorry, so right that we know from the beginning. So therefore 70 languages, and 70 people fit in. Now, we’re not talking about this yet. But Rashi points out that if you count the numbers, the numbers are wrong, that actually, it’s only 69. And that, we have to get a 78 from somewhere. And Rashi suggests that number seventy is Yochevet, Yochevet is the mother of Moses, the daughter of Levi, who’s a grandson of Jacob, and the Rabbis say, she was וְנִתּוֹסְפָה לָהֶם יוֹכֶבֶד בֵּין הַחוֹמוֹת she was literally born on the way between Canaan and Egypt. Now that that is very important in its own, because she’s the mother of Moses. Moses is the one who took the Jews from Egypt to Canaan, he asked to have been born from a mother, who also knew both cultures, she was born between Canaan and Egypt.

Geoffrey Stern  08:07

So how does that relate to the number seventy?

Adam Mintz  08:11

Well, that’s number 70. If you just count up the numbers in this week’s Parasha, you don’t get to 70 You need a seventy. So, Rashi has this idea that these 70th is someone who was born on the way, so she didn’t make it into the genealogy in the Torah, but she’s counted as number 70. But obviously, that’s significant because you need 70. So where are you gonna get 70 from?

Geoffrey Stern  08:38

So that’s, that’s amazing. They really had to work at it. And I think what’s interesting about coming to this number of 70, for the generation of the Exodus, is it wasn’t all that neat. They make a point, the verse makes a point of saying, and you have to add Joseph who was already there, or you have to add Joseph and his sons who were already there. So although it’s this sense of 70 came down, it’s not as if they came down all at once. And even a few verses earlier in Genesis 45: 7 it uses the word וַיִּשְׁלָחֵ֤נִי אֱלֹהִים֙ לִפְנֵיכֶ֔ם לָשׂ֥וּם לָכֶ֛ם שְׁאֵרִ֖ית בָּאָ֑רֶץ וּלְהַחֲי֣וֹת לָכֶ֔ם לִפְלֵיטָ֖ה גְּדֹלָֽה, which means in later Judaism, we would have congregations who were formed that left Spain, and they were called like the one in New York City Shei’rit Yisrael the leftover the remnants of Israel, Pelatah, has the same meaning. You almost get a sense that maybe there were more people in Canaan left behind who, as would happen in a famine didn’t make the boat, weren’t so lucky. But here was this remnant who reunited with their estranged son/brother and became this whole. But it was it’s part of survival too, which is fascinating to me. And that’s the בֵּין הַחוֹמוֹת you we’re talking about between the walls.

Adam Mintz  09:46

I think all that’s true. By the way, when the Jews left Egypt, they didn’t leave with a number that was a multiple of 70. 600,000. Jews left Egypt. It’s not connected to 70. I can’t explain it. I’m just telling you that that’s a fact.

Geoffrey Stern  10:20

So that that becomes kind of interesting.

Adam Mintz  10:22

I can’t explain it. I’m just telling you that that’s a fact.

Geoffrey Stern  10:27

Yeah. I want to pick up a little bit on what you were saying about the number seven. Obviously, seven times 10 is 70 times seven is 49. We count that for the years of the Shemita, the Sabbatical Year that in the 50th year then becomes the Jubilee Year, the Yovel. When I was looking at the texts, I came across a comment by Everett Fox, who we’ve come across before and he says shivim; 70. Related to sever, it has to do with completeness with something that is perfection. And then he says, I’ve written more on this, but also see a certain scholar named Umberto Cassuto and Umberto Cassuto was an Italian Jewish scholar, who, because of the persecution moved to Israel, and join the Hebrew University, and because of Everett Fox’s reference, I went ahead and I opened up my book on Genesis by Cassuto. And for someone who doesn’t like numbers, this was like a mind opener to me. And he lists, I think, seven or eight ways in which the number seven plays a part in the creation of the world. And obviously, the most obvious one is seven days of creation. But he talks about the fact that the divine name in one of its forms occurs 70 times in the first four chapters, he says, And there was evening and there was morning, is seven times he says there were seven chapters who the Masoratim, the people that gave punctuation to the Torah scroll, if you look at a Torah Scroll, there is no punctuation. They created seven paragraphs. He said, The Seven times you have this divine fiat “let there be”. Then he talks about the terms light and day are found seven times in the first paragraph, and seven references to light in the fourth paragraph, he goes on water is mentioned seven times in paragraphs two and three. He says the expression good appears seven times. The first verse of the Torah about a set has seven words, the second verse contains 14 words. And at the end, he says, to suppose that all this is a mere coincidence is not possible. Full disclosure, I think that Cassuto, was arguing with what’s called high a biblical criticism, or form criticism, which implies that the Bible, especially the first chapters of Genesis, were written by different sources. And what he is arguing is, if you believe that the numerology of seven, and seven, and 14, and what built into the text, it’s pretty difficult to assume that the multiple edited texts would be able to convey this, it’s almost looking more like a Shakespearean sonnet that has certain rules to it, the rules are followed exactly, and his seven is pulling that up. But as a byproduct, ….  if we buy into what Cassuto is trying to say, he’s trying to say that the original author of these texts was very mindful of the power of this seventh. And that, in the words of Cassuto, is very hard to believe is a mere coincidence. Have you ever seen this stuff from Cassuto? Before? This was the first I mean,

Adam Mintz  14:36

I’ve never seen it from Cassuto. But I’m very familiar with the idea. I mean, and you’re 100% right, because Cassuto was a scholar in the first half of the second half of the of the 1900s. And, you know, there was a big push towards scholarship, you know, Bible Scholarship, which says that the tau res, you know, written by multiple authors, and it’s a work of literature, and then what they I always do is they point out all these things that can’t be coincidence coincidences? And he points out that one of those big things is the number seven, seven is everywhere. You see, the Torah, even as God’s book has to be built on, you know, based on certain principles. And one of the principles, his argument is that one of the principles is seven. And he likes the fact that one of the principles is seven, because since there were seven days of creation, and that’s the first number, and that’s the first cycle. So it makes perfect sense that that should be the cycle around which the entire toe is creeping.

Geoffrey Stern  15:43

But it really I mean, it kind of you don’t have to buy one of his arguments, or two of his arguments, you can say, Well, that’s obvious. The weld was great in seven days. So, it says I was good seven times. But the cumulative power of all of these things, is fascinating. And it makes one say, okay, in our, in our profession, we have this, this sense of 70 people in the genealogy, it makes you look back at Noa where it doesn’t point out that it’s 70. And read it differently. And that’s my point. My point is that this then these numbers become a tool, a way of listening to the narrative in potentially a new way, which is kind of interesting.

Adam Mintz  16:34

Really interesting. And to think about why seven should be such an important number. So, I’m making a big deal about the fact that seven is the first number in the Torah; seven days of the week. But why is seven completeness? And why is 70 completeness. And why is 49 completeness. You know, it’s all based on God’s cycle. God determined that seven was the number. Since God determined that seven was the number, everything revolves around Gods sevens.

Geoffrey Stern  17:09

Yeah, and again, it’s not as though the tradition was not aware of 10. I mean, I think you can assume 10, and I’m no scholar in this regard. But 10 is 10 fingers, it’s the easiest way to count. We talk about the digital revolution, where everything is associated with a number digits come from our fingers. If you look up the word digit, it is a finger. So that I get and that is interesting, because that does appear we do have 70 is 10 times seven, which is fascinating. The Rabbi’s talk about the world being created in 10 phrases. And of course, Cassuto says well, he sees a combination there of the seven that he has identified, and three others, but I don’t have an answer to why seven is important other than the week and the importance of time. But that almost begs the question, how did we get to a seven-day week? It’s certainly one of the Jew’s greatest contributions to civilization, especially in terms of the seventh day, which is the holy day of rest, but I don’t have an answer. All I know is that this little exercise that we’re having today is sensitizing me and hopefully you to the numbers and the associations that the biblical author and or the rabbi’s later had with, with number associations.

Adam Mintz  18:49

I think I mentioned on this clubhouse Class A while ago, that there was a book written last year called The week. (The Week: A History of the Unnatural Rhythms That Made Us Who We Are by David M Henkin) And in the book, he traces this idea of the seven day week. And what I couldn’t believe but seems to be true, is that there have been attempts as recently as the 18 hundreds after the Civil War, to try to make the week simpler, you know, the week doesn’t work out with the month because the month is either 30 or 31 days. We all know, therefore it’s confusing. So, in December, December 10 was whatever day of the week it is. January 10 is going to be another day of the week and February 10 will be another day of the week. We’ve taken that for that we figure that out and we look it up on calendars. But before they had calendars that was complicated, one did have been easier had the week, and the month didn’t synch, meaning that the week been five or six stays. So that wouldn’t that have been easier? Yeah. And the answer is they tried it. And it didn’t work, because seven has been the number since the time of creation. And that really is interesting. You see, sometimes the fact that something wins, even though it doesn’t make sense, shows you the power of it. So, seven doesn’t make sense, it would have been better to do it the other way. But nevertheless, seven one, and I thought that was great.

Geoffrey Stern  20:32

And it speaks to the power the meaning that we humans also imbue something with it takes on a life of its own, which I think is fascinating. So, I wanted to take the discussion in a slightly different direction, because I did say that I had a kind of a bias against Gematria. And I did a little research the most preeminent scholar in Greco Roman influences on Judaism is Professor Saul Lieberman. And he wrote a book actually called a how much Hellenism in Jewish Palestine. And in it he talks about a Mishneh in Shekalim were they availed themselves the utility of putting Greek letters on jugs. The word Gematria itself… if it sounds like the word geometry there’s a reason.  it’s a Greek word. we’ve all might have been exposed to the different forms of hermeneutics of Yishmael in terms of rules of interpretation, but there is a lesser-known rules of, interpretation for the Agada …. for the narrative portions, the moral the ethics, and that’s 33 Midot. There were 33 ways of doing it. And it was the first to cite one of these Midot is the numerical values of the text. And according to Lieberman, this was by Abulwalid ibn Ganah, and as you can tell by his name, this was anything but the rabbinic period. And in terms of our experience of Gematria. Here’s an interesting one, if you remember when we did our episode on Aramaic, and we talked about Eliezer, who was Abraham’s servant going down to find a bride for his son,….And I said, if you will call, while the Rabbi say it was Eliezer. The truth is, it never says Eliezer but the rabbi’s learn it and Rashi quotes from a gematria from the numerical value of 318, servants of Abraham, but it’s rare and late. And the interesting thing that Lieberman talks about is that this sense of even ascribing numerical value to letters comes very late. It’s he quotes in the Talmud that they got it from the Greeks in terms of a Mishnah in Shekalim, where they availed themselves the Greek alphabet. to put numbers on different jugs, the word Gematria itself, if it sounds like geometry, there’s a reason it’s a Greek word. So the first interesting thing is, the value of numbers is important. We’ve pointed that out. But giving these num numerical values to each letter is something that was much later as a tool of interpretation. What’s fascinating, is, we’ve all heard the Sofrim. Sofer is an author in modern day Hebrew, and the Sofrim were one of the earliest interpreters of the Bible. But if you know Hebrew, you know the word l’saper can mean to tell a story, Lispor can mean to count, and here Lieberman says something that after reading Cassuto, we all of a sudden, can recognize. And he quotes two pieces of Talmud, where they talk about the lost art of counting verses, counting words, and that they ascribe to the Sofrim. So on the one hand, Gematria might be something late, but I think doing something along the lines that we just saw Umberto Cassuto do with some maybe a lost art.

Adam Mintz  24:55

That selection from the Talmud. Sofrim, shows that there are actually was an entire profession of people who counted the words and the letters of the Torah, exactly what Cassuto did. That’s what they did. Now you understand, in those days, they didn’t have books, the only book they had was the Torah, and the Torah was a holy book. So, if you have a holy book, you might as well turn it over and turn it over and turn it over again. And turning it over means reading it, and reading and reading it all the different ways you can read it. And they believed that counting the letters and the words of the Torah was a holy pursuit, I think that’s an important thing that needs to be said that in itself was a holy pursuit.

Geoffrey Stern  25:37

And it probably as Cassuto points out, helped with punctuation, helped with structuring the text. So when Cassuto says that there are seven paragraphs of creation, and Sofrim were great, the Mesoratim were great in terms of putting those little brackets. It fed itself. They were, you know, the question was, is how much were they projecting onto the text? And how much were they uncovering some rhythms, some patterns of the tax that were helpful in other regards, that to me, is kind of fascinating. And as much as it goes against my grain to admit this numerology, there is something there that makes it makes it fascinating. I think about 10 Years Ago, there was a book called the Bible Code. And that went a little a little bit far, and made almost a ……

Adam Mintz 

A mockery of it

Geoffrey Stern 

I think that’s exactly it. And so you have to walk a very interesting line here. And maybe you need to scholars like a Cassuto, who see it that way to listen to them to help that enrich your experience of reading the text, but not overcome it.

Adam Mintz  27:02

I think you’re making a very interesting point about the Sofrim. We know that they counted. What exactly did they count. So the Bible Code took the Sofrim and kind of exploded it. And everything was allowed, because Cassuto limits it. But it’s interesting to think about the fact that the minute you start counting things, it’s hard to create limits. And basically, to say it a little cynically, but probably truthfully, your ability to count is as good as your ability to come up with a Devar Torah.  If you’re counting will give me a good Devar Torah, that I’m willing to count. But if you’re counting is not going to give me anything. What’s the point? And I think that’s what the Bible Code got, The Bible Code has these crazy things, you know, they predicted World War Two, and all these kinds of crazy things. So, the minute that they actually were able to predict things, people took them seriously now it was wrong to take them seriously. This goes back to the very first thing you said today, and that is your kind of hesitation towards these kinds of numerologies. I think that’s our general 21st century view of that the numerology is we’re not afraid to say what Cassuto said, what we’re afraid to do is to get carried away. That’s dangerous. And that’s what the Bible Code did.

Geoffrey Stern  28:38

So yeah, I totally agree. But now I want to focus out what we can learn from this number 70. And this sense of how the rabbi’s took it. You already described this sense of between the walls and I love that it becomes part of the birth of our nation at that exact moment of transferring from Canaan to Egypt, where people were born. We had that number 70. I talked about Noah having 70 children and then having this story about languages. And from this, the rabbis learned that there are 70 languages. I also mentioned that when the total was given, there’s this beautiful Talmud that says, Every utterance emerged from the mouth of the Almighty divided into 70 languages. What I didn’t give you is the metaphor that they took from that. And they said that each word was therefore like a hammer that shatters a rock, just as a hammer breaks a stone into several fragments. So every and each utterance that emerged from the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He divided it into 70 languages ״וּכְפַטִּישׁ יְפֹצֵץ סָלַע״   and  נֶחֱלָק לְכַמָּה נִיצוֹצוֹת  so now we’re starting to see this kind of dynamism this kind of dialectic between 70 being a sense of complete, and perfection, and 70 being something that breaks outside of the boundary of completeness and perfection.. The Sparks when the hammer strikes the rock or the anvil. You know, this sense of language, we all know that you can’t translate perfectly, which maybe says something in a negative sense about translating. But the positive sense is that whenever you do translate, you’re seeing the original text in a new way, you’re taking it with new nuances. I’ll finish by saying that when the Bible was translated into Greek, the word that it was called, is this Septuagint for those of you who know Greek that comes from the word 70, because by rabbinic tradition, there was 70, scholars put in 70 different rooms, and they all translated the Bible the same, I would love to say that maybe they translated it the same, but by translating it, there was this spark this diversion and the rabbi’s understood that and that was manifest in this word. 70. Once again,

Adam Mintz  31:29

I think that’s great. And obviously, that legend about 70. It’s the same thing, you know, 70 is the round number 70 is the holy number. 70 is the special number. If you’re going to have it translated, obviously, it’s going to be 70. Right? It’s like if I were to wake you up in the middle night and say how many people translated the Torah, you will say, of course, it’s seventy.

Geoffrey Stern  31:51

What’s interesting is in the actual text, it says, it says some texts say 72, and some say 70.

Adam Mintz  32:00

We call it the Septuagint, which means the translation of the seventy. Yes,

Geoffrey Stern  32:05

And I would like to argue from that, that the word 70, was also taken in as a form as an expression. The other place that you have it, one of the reasons given for it being called the Septuagint, besides the 70 rooms, is that the text of the Greek translation was then sent to the Sanhedrin. How many people are members of the grand Sanhedrin? Rabbi?

Adam Mintz  32:34

Of course, 70, because that’s the only number it can be.

Geoffrey Stern  32:38

So here, too, we have this Sanhedrin, and that by the way, Kim was out of Numbers 11: 16, then God spoke to Moses gather to me 70 men of the elders of Israel, to whom you know that they are elders of the people and its officers. And that’s where he appointed his judges, you cannot mention the 70 members of the Sanhedrin without mentioning the unbelievable, mind-blowing piece of Talmud in Sanhedrin, 17a that says, if you have a Sanhedrin in a capital case, that has unanimity, each of the 70 judges says that this individual is guilty. He goes free. If there’s one or two of them that say no, I’m not convinced you can convict him of death. But I’d love to know what your takeaway is, my takeaway has always been in 70 people let alone 70. Jews can all agree about something there’s something wrong

Adam Mintz  33:45

There’s something wrong with the case. That’s correct. And that’s the way we’ve always interpreted it, right means you can have unanimity. There has to be some debate, There has to be a way to see it the other way. If you don’t give you can see it the other way. You haven’t tried hard enough to find the other argument. Isn’t that a great way to kind of pull the whole thing together?

Geoffrey Stern  34:06

It really speaks to this sense that seven might be complete and perfect. But perfection can never be unanimous. Universal.  there has to be an outlier. There has to be something that’s open to discussion, whether it’s a translation or a judgement. And, you know, maybe if I knew more about numbers, I would be able to understand how seven is unique. It’s clearly not. It’s not divisible by whole numbers. So there’s something there, but I just think that the Sanhedrin and the Septuagint. And that a hammer hitting the anvil and making Sparks as a metaphor for Torah is a beautiful message of what those 70 individuals going down to Egypt had in store for themselves when they launched our nation.

Adam Mintz  35:04

What a great topic. So, thank you for talking about numerology, Shabbat Shalom, everybody enjoy 70. And think of all the other examples of seven and 70 and 49 that we have in our tradition, our tradition is full of them happy new year, and we look forward to continuing it’ll be 2023 but next Thursday night, we are going to continue with Vayechei  and then we will bring it in to the book of Bereshit, the book of Genesis, Shabbat Shalom, everybody, Shabbat Shalom, Geoffrey, and everybody. And we look forward to next week be Well, everybody,

Geoffrey Stern  35:35

Shabbat Shalom that the force of 70 be with you all. And if any of you have any comments or suggestions or something that you want to share with us, please go ahead and raise your hand. And I would love to invite you up to the Bima. Hey, Michael.

Michael Stern  35:55

Hey, Geoffrey, thank you, I What a blessing to come on today. I’m driving, but I just wanted to add to the mix. That the year 2023 numerologically, adds up to seven.

Geoffrey Stern 

Wow.

Michael Stern 

Yeah, so I didn’t want to overlook it. And, of course, I believe and feels numerology. And I think that it’s very deep. And so I think there’s something going on, this is going to be a powerful time of alignment. Hanukkah and Christmas were also the same crescent moon rising. I check that out the last day of Hanukkah and the day of Christmas. So there’s something going on that I just wanted to share, and thanks for great Madlik today.

Geoffrey Stern  36:47

So Michael, I think that’s amazing that you are link our discussion today of Shivim of 70 the New Year, which adds up to seven because one of the sources that I had wanted to bring but I had neglected to bring was right out of the Haggadah. It says web Eliezer Ben Azaria said Behold, I am like a 70-year-old man, yet I have not merited to understand why the Exodus from Egypt should be said at night until Ben Zoma explained it to me. And from this, we learn that Shivim can also be related to time and more specifically years.  And whether it means that he felt like he became an old person, which is the mainstream explanation because he was very young, when he was appointed to be the head of the Sanhedrin. Or maybe because he was from another generation. There was 70 years that the Jews were in captivity. in Babylonia there was 70 years plus or minus where the Second Temple was being rebuilt. So maybe he was saying, I I’m a man of a different generation of the generation of the galut of the destruction. And I didn’t know whether we should remember the Exodus from Egypt only during good times i.e., during the day, but also during bad times, but I love that he associates 70 with years, and we are about to celebrate a new year. And I’m also reminded of the Chinese that give every year a face every year is associated with a different animal. And that was why I called the podcast 70 faces Shivim panim because there is a tradition that every verse has 70 faces 70 different explanations at least. So, for this coming year, let us discover the face of the year let us discover the different textures of our texts and aspects of our friends and family and wishing you all a very happy New Year. Shabbat shalom.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/455577

Listen to last year’s fantastic Vayigash episode: Joseph – Tool of a Repressive Regime?

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body language

parshat miketz, genesis 41-42

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on December 22nd 2022 on Clubhouse. The human act of bowing plays a major role in the dreams of the young Joseph. The people of Egypt actually call Joseph: “Abrek” a name shared by Hosni Mubarak and Barak Obama which means both blessed and bow-worthy. Join us as we explore the relationship between blessing and bowing; prayer, praise and body movement in the Bible and latter Rabbinic texts…. and on this festival of rededication, wonder how we can bring more physical movement back into our prayers.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/454638

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Miketz. The human act of bowing plays a major role in the dreams of the young Joseph. The people of Egypt actually call Joseph: “Abrek” a name shared by Hosni Mubarak and Barak Obama.  The name means both blessed and bow-worthy. Join us as we explore the relationship between blessing and bowing….  prayer, praise and body movement in the Bible and latter Rabbinic texts…. and on this festival of re-dedication, join us as we wonder how we can bring more physical movement back into our prayers: Body Language

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Well, welcome Rabbi and Happy Hanukkah.

Adam Mintz  01:14

Happy Hanukkah. Another good week and another good discussion. Good clubhouse discussion.

Geoffrey Stern  01:20

Yes. And as I said in the intro, we’re talking about a Hebrew root Abrek, which comes from Birkayim, which is knees and therefore means bowing. And also, Baruch which means blessing. And I just came from a Brit. And I was reminded by the rabbi and the mohel at the BRIT that you start a Brit in the same way as you start a wedding. You say Baruch HaBa. So, today is just full of blessings and in prayer for me, and I’m really excited about what we’re going to discuss. So, as I said, in Genesis 41: 41, we have Joseph now has come out of prison. He is the diviner of the dreams of Pharaoh, and he is put in second in command. Pharaoh put his signet ring onto Josef’s hand and in verse 43. He said, he had him ride in the chariot of his second in command, and they cried before him. Abrek  וַיִּקְרְא֥וּ לְפָנָ֖יו אַבְרֵ֑ךְ Thus he placed him all over the land of Egypt. And so, the word Abrech is one that the rabbi’s they seem to struggle with a little bit Rashi quotes a bunch of rabbis who start using the different words in Abrech. It’s kind of like you see many times in the Talmud when there’s a Greek word, and they don’t exactly know what it means. And it says he says, Is it Av Reich? Is it Reich meaning the king, or the father of the King, the source of the king? Whereupon Rabbi Jose the son of a woman of Damascus said to him: “How much longer will you pervert for us the meaning of Scripture? The word אברך can only be connected with the word ברכים knees (i.e. “Bend the knee”), for all came in and went forth only by his permission, just as it states “and he set him [over all the land of Egypt]”. So what do you think, Rabbi? Do you think it’s, is it a foregone conclusion? What this Abrech means? Or is it open to discussion?

Adam Mintz  03:46

No, I think, you know, I liked that explanation of rake as the person before whom they bowed. I mean, why do you need more than that? Doesn’t that work perfectly?

Geoffrey Stern  03:59

I think it does. And maybe a subject for another podcast could be what was going on here? Because this, this piece of Talmud that is quoted is full of Rabbi Judah saying to these rabbis, what are you complicating life for the meaning of a word is simple. In this case, it’s a foreign word, but it’s a Semitic word, and he’s pretty sure about it. But I must say that if you step back for a second, bowing is definitely a big part of the Joseph story. I looked up Joseph and bowing there was one, even a source sheet that says that there were seven bows in Josephs life. There were obviously the dreams that he had as a youth of his family, being sheaves of wheat or of stars around the moon in the sun, but bowing down to Joseph, in the stories we have read is a big deal. And then obviously, as we go further Genesis 42. It says, Now Joseph was the visor of the land, it was he who dispensed rations to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed low to him, with their faces to the ground וַיִּשְׁתַּֽחֲווּ־ל֥וֹ אַפַּ֖יִם אָֽרְצָה. So, this, this, this thing of bowing, is clearly a part of the Joseph story. And here at the pinnacle of his coronation as the Sagan the second in command to Egypt, it’s clearly Abrech means to bow, but there also has to be another sense of blessing in it as well.

Adam Mintz  05:57

Well, Abrech is the one to whom you bow, and the one who was worthy of blessing. It’s the same word, which is, of course, why in the Amidah, that we say, every day, we bow, right, Baruch, we say the word Baruch, which is the same exact word Berech, right, Abrech and Baruch we bow because that’s birkayim that’s our knees. We bless with our body. That’s what you said. And that’s what we do with our knees because it’s the same word.

Geoffrey Stern  06:30

I love that you pick that example. Because it’s the perfect example. No question. The word implies both things. And of course, we’ve come across baruch in the past, starting with Abraham, where God promises that those who will bless you will be blessed. And it continues all the way up to to to Joseph. Last week, we focused on Hatzlacha; on his success, but you know, in Genesis 39: 5 it says, And from the time that the Egyptian put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, God blessed his house for Joseph’s sake, so that the blessing of God was upon everything that he owned in the house and outside, וַיְהִ֞י בִּרְכַּ֤ת ה’ בְּכׇל־אֲשֶׁ֣ר יֶשׁ־ל֔וֹ בַּבַּ֖יִת וּבַשָּׂדֶֽה. So we really have kind of with Joseph, these two parallel tracks these two parallel understandings of the word Beracha. And they come together, he’s got this bowing both to him, bowing in the sense of his arc of his life. And then we also have this blessing. And of course, if you think back now, with this background to Abraham, when it says, those who bless you will be blessed. Again, there’s this element of respect of others, there is this element of bowing down and recognizing somebody even early on in the Abraham usage of the word bracha.

Adam Mintz  08:19

So now you’re asking an interesting question. And that is, how far back does this connection of the words go? Now, it is interesting that in the Joseph story, bowing plays an important role. But the word is always Le’hishtachavot. It’s never the word berech. It’s never the word Baruch. So even though bowing is important, but they use a different word. I wonder what you make of that?

Geoffrey Stern  08:45

Yeah. And in the verse that I quoted before, where it talks about his brothers coming, and bowed low to him וַיִּשְׁתַּֽחֲווּ־ל֥וֹ. And that, of course, is a word that we all know from the Aleinu prayer: וַאֲנַחְנוּ כֹּרְעִים וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוִים וּמוֹדִים Rashi says implies stretching out the hands and feet when a person casts himself on the ground in the act of prostration. I think, and we might even get into the various choreography of these different postures. It almost sounds like a little bit of yoga postures, because yes, you’re absolutely correct. Baruch, is Berkayim, is a bending of the knee. Veyishtachavu is much more extreme. It’s going down and you mentioned the silent prayer. There’s a whole choreography there: on Baruch, you bend your knees, and then you go on Atah and you stay down. And then by the time you say God, you rise up. it’s kind of a beautiful thing. I mean, I think the message there is that, on the one hand while we’re supplicating, and we are putting ourselves down underneath the majesty of God, the other part of it is that God brings us up and raises us up. We shouldn’t think of berkayim  necessarily as only bending the knees. It also means straightening the knees. There’s a whole choreography here.

Adam Mintz  10:30

Well, that’s a very interesting point you make; that the word bereck really just means knees. What you do to your knees, is… we’re used to bending our knees in prayer, but obviously it doesn’t say that.

Geoffrey Stern  10:44

Correct? Correct. So I think, and you can’t but look at these ways of prayer, without looking at other religions. Because I think what we’ll see is that in Judaism, some things were done more extremely at one time, and maybe fell into disuse. But it was a shared language of prayer, it is nothing particularly, necessarily Jewish about it. So, I mean, the word Baruch, as we said before, is blessed it it means to kneel. It talks about by implication is to bless God, but also to be blessed by God, to salute, to praise. The interesting thing is in Islam, Barach is blessing power, a kind of continuity of spiritual presence and revelation that begins with God and flows through that, and those closest to God. Baraka can be found within physical objects, places and people as chosen by God. This force begins by flowing directly from God into creation that is worthy of Baraka. These creations endowed with Baraka can then transmit the flow of Baraka, what I loved here, and maybe that’s what inspired me to talk about the bending of the knee, as well as the straightening of the knee, is this sense of this flowing? And I certainly got this sense of flowing, when I thought of the tradition of bending when you say Barber, staying bent when you say Atah, but then standing up, when you mentioned God’s name, it felt like that force field.

Adam Mintz  12:44

Thank you for bringing that up. Why do we bend the way that we bend? Right, who made that up? We take it for granted. But who made that up?

Geoffrey Stern  12:56

Yes. So I mean, the question is, and I kind of touched upon this, we are not necessarily thinking or touching upon something that is uniquely Jewish. In other words, I think you can safely say when it comes to sacrifices, the Bible never goes out of its way to explain. “And by the way, this is what a sacrifice is”. it was a common nomenclature, this common, sociological, anthropological aspect of life. And I think there’s no question that this bowing, prostrating and the other physical actions and movements that we’re talking about could be a common language. And that part of what we’re doing tonight is trying to uncover, rediscover and find it both within our tradition and others.

Adam Mintz  13:53

I think that makes a lot of sense. I think the idea of using our body to bless power or God is something that cuts across all religions. It kind of makes sense, right? You don’t just use words, but you want to use your body. Now we do something in Judaism, which itself needs its own, you know, history lesson, we do something called shukling. Shukling means that we move back and forth when we when we daven. Where does that come from? Is that part of the same tradition or is that something else?

Geoffrey Stern  14:31

So, in researching this, I did come across a another Sefaria source sheet that was really about all things body related in terms of a prayer. And it did mention some…  I wouldn’t say they were early sources, but certainly sources that are in the Teshuvot, in the Responsa literature that talk about this concept. And there is one Teshuva that says if it does something for you, you should move. And if it doesn’t, don’t. So, the first thing is yes, it recognized, I think the ancient nature of moving one’s body when one prays, I think it also made reference to someone who stands straight and still. it says whatever works for you. I think the key is that it recognized that there were different ways of praying and that moving the body can be an important ingredient in doing that. But I think yes, for sure. I, as a student of the Yeshiva, I cannot literally I cannot stand still, when I’m in Shul; whether I’m praying, whether I’m reading from the Torah. I just have this, this movement inside of me. And it comes very natural. And it becomes almost a sea. I think I have in my life experience been in the company of Hasidim, for instance, where it’s almost extreme. There is a sect of Hasidim called Stolin Karlin and we’re gonna get to sound in a second. But when you walk into their shoes, no one has in the history of Stolin Karlin. No one has ever said. We’re praying because you can hardly hear yourself think they scream so loud when they pray. They cup their hand over the ear to accentuate the sound. But there is swaying and it is something that is I think, very, very beautiful.

Adam Mintz  16:59

That is interesting. You always have the extremes. But what’s interesting is that shuckling. that moving during services is something like you said, it’s pretty much been standardized, hasn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  17:15

It has and I was thinking, as you said the word shuckling that when we shukle, a lullav and an Etrog, we shake. And I was once in, I think, Cambodia, and people were praying and they were shaking leaves. And I heard that sound … I just think that the toolkit of prayer that we Jew’s have or had, is much larger than maybe all of us are aware and needs to be rediscovered. But shuckling is definitely …. movement is definitely part of it. And, and you know, the choreography. You mentioned the first blessings that you say during the Shemona Esrei. Most of us know that when you say Kaddish, or even when you finish the silent prayer, you take three steps back and you say O’seh Shalom Bimromov, you turn to the left, and then you turn to the right. And if you recall, when we started reading the Parsha, the Talmud who said that it clearly means Abrech means knees, it says for all came in and went forth only by his permission, just as it is said. And so, the implication was that when you leave a king, when you leave a holy space, you back up, you don’t God-forbid, turn your back to the place of holiness. And then you go to each side. And there’s a beautiful choreography there as well. that I find fascinating.

Adam Mintz  19:12

I think that’s great. And you know, the Talmud has that already. That’s an old Jewish tradition, also, to backup and never to turn your back to the shul, to God, to the ark. We have that traditional so.

Geoffrey Stern  19:26

So if you’ve ever watched a Muslim prayer, there is a prayer called the Salat. And at the end of it, you turn to the left and you go: Al-Salamu alaykum wa Rahmat Allah wa Barakatu So you say Sholom Aleychem and you talk about the blessing Barakatu that we have, and if you’ve ever done Kiddush Levana blessing the new moon There is this strange choreography and verbiage that literally parallels that you turn to the left. And you say Shalom Aleikhem, and you turn to the right and you say Shalom Aleikhem. It just seems to me there are a lot of synergies between the different prayer cultures.

Adam Mintz  20:19

 I’ll just say something about that the idea of turning to the right and turning to the left is fantastic. Because in a sense, we’re imagining God in front of us, aren’t we? Right. And that’s kind of cool to think of, you know, it’s not only that we know we pray to God, right? So, we stand and we pray to God, but actually, even in our body motions, we imagined somebody and as if there’s somebody in front of us, I always was struck by that.

Geoffrey Stern  20:50

The thing is, that your physical body and the posture, that the pose that you strike, can have an effect on your inner disposition. I think that’s probably one of the critical lessons I take away from all of this, and how that ultimately gets accentuated in our prayers and in our ritual. I think if I had to, quote, the most famous verse in Psalms that is quoted in this regard, it Psalms 35: 10. And it says, כׇּ֥ל־עַצְמוֹתַ֨י ׀ תֹּאמַרְנָה֮ ה’ מִ֥י כָ֫מ֥וֹךָ all my bones shall say, Lord, who is like you. And it’s taken. And we’re going to see how it really gets expressed in one of the most beautiful prayers. But it’s always quoted, because it’s almost the structure of your skeleton, it’s the pose that you strike. I have a son who’s an actor, and he gave me a book, and it’s called the Lucid Body. And I when I was preparing for the essay said, I’ve always wanted an excuse to look at it. And it talks about something called the Alexander Method for actors. And part of it is just feeling your bone structure, your skeletal structure is a way of centering yourself and giving you a certain neutral sense. But we’re going to see that it comes through in actual prayers and in Tehillim. How one prays with one’s body.

Adam Mintz  22:36

Yeah, there’s no question about that. And the verse כׇּ֥ל־עַצְמוֹתַ֨י ׀ תֹּאמַרְנָה֮ ה’ מִ֥י כָ֫מ֥וֹךָ  that’s a verse from Psalms, that verse, needs a rabbinic interpretation, because it’s hard to know what that verse means. On the surface, all my bones shall say, or all my parts of my body shall say, I mean, what exactly shall they say, and the rabbi’s use that as the source for the fact that we have to use our body, our body parts, we pray with our body parts, you know, the idea that we pray, even though we don’t speak is of course, something that relates to shofar. So, you see that there are other ways to pray other than with words, you see that from shofar.

Geoffrey Stern  23:19

And a shofar at the end of the day is a breath is created by a breath. And I think the that’s a wonderful segue to, to me the most preeminent prayer in our liturgy, that talks about using the body movement for prayer, and it’s Nishmat Kol Chai and most of us think that that appears in our weekly Shabbat service. And as an aside, it happens also to be in the Haggadah. My research shows that actually the first time we have a record of it is in the second century in the Haggadah, and then it came into our daily prayer, but I’m going to read a little bit of it because this Shabbat when you’re in shul, please take a look at this amazing prayer. And you were saying something about blowing the shofar, it starts with one act of the body that we haven’t really discussed and that is breath. It says נִשְׁמַת כָּל חַי תְּבַרֵךְ אֶת שִׁמְךָ. So, it has that word blessing. It says the soul of every living being shall bless your name וְרוּחַ כָּל בָּשָׂר תְּפָאֵר וּתְרוֹמֵם זִכְרְךָ and the spirit of all flesh, shall glorify exalt and your remembrance, but you and I both know that nishmat and Ruach could just as easily be your breath. That with your breath כָּל חַי תְּבַרֵךְ אֶת שִׁמְךָ, it could be that every living being shall bless your name. And it could be every breath shall bow down to your name. It could be two physical actions. And that just blows me away. But that’s just the beginning. Because then the prayer goes on. We’re our mouth as full of song as the sea, and our tongue, as full of joyous song, as the multitude of waves, and our lips as full of praise as the breath of the heavens, and our eyes as sparkling as the sun in the moon, and our hands as outspread as the Eagles of the sky, and our feet as swift as the deers we still could not thank you sufficiently, and then it ends. Therefore, the limbs that you set within us and the spirit and soul that you breathed into our nostrils, and the tongue that you placed in our mouth. verily, they shall thank and bless and praise and glorify, and exalt and revere, and sanctify and coronate Your name, our King. For every mouth shall offer thanks to You; and every tongue shall swear allegiance to You; and every knee shall bend to You; and every upright one shall prostrate himself before You; all hearts shall fear You; and all innermost feelings and thoughts shall sing praises to Your name, as the matter is written (Psalms 35:10), “All my bones shall say, ‘Lord, who is like You? and it ends by the lips of the righteous shall you be blessed by the tongue of the devout shall you be exalted, and among the holy shall you be sanctified. WOW… Did you count how many body parts I mentioned in that one?

Adam Mintz  26:49

That was amazing, isn’t it? The prayer Nishmat is very interesting. And the fact that you traced it and it comes originally from the Haggadah, and it was such a good prayer that we actually put it into our weekly service is a great thing also.

Geoffrey Stern  27:02

I think it’s about transition. And did you notice that not only did it talk about prostrating and all that, but it said, and all our innermost feelings and thoughts shall sing praises to your name…. and that was close to the end, that which we associate with the beginning of prayer actually almost comes at the end. It’s after all of these bodily parts have been aligned and used… and it reminded me of this Alexander Method that again, believes and I think this is a very Jewish thought that outside activity affects inward thought, or psychophysical unity. The body’s physical patterns are in direct correlation to emotional and mental patterns. It’s all there.

Adam Mintz  28:05

It’s amazing. It’s all there. It’s a such a great prayer. And of course, the entire prayer…. you want to talk about prayers. The entire prayer is basically a commentary on the verse כׇּ֥ל־עַצְמוֹתַ֨י ׀ תֹּאמַרְנָה֮ which is quoted in that prayer.

Geoffrey Stern  28:22

It really is.

Adam Mintz  28:23

It’s an elaboration of that verse.

Geoffrey Stern  28:26

It is it’s just an unbelievable. You know, we talked about this prostrating falling on to your face. We’ve all seen that, potentially on Yom Kippur, when the typically the rabbi and the cantor will get two people to stand on either side of them. It’s a big honor. And they will literally prostrate themselves the way Rashi described it when I quoted him earlier on where you put your hands out, your face is lying down. I’ve kind of seen this when the Pope swears in some new bishops, you see that? You see it in, obviously in Islam… kneeling is all over the place. We see it rarely. But if you look in the Talmud… Megillah 22b, for instance, it talks about Rav, once happened to come for a public fast. And when he did the blessing, everyone else fell on their faces. But Rav did not fall on his face. And they talk a little bit about the only prohibition….  because so many of us think that Jews do not bow Jews do not pray like that. We’re conditioned. The only prohibition is on stone. And I know in Curaçao they have synagogues where the floor is sand and some people theorize that maybe so they could bow but the bottom line is the only prohibition ever was against a stone floor because maybe I guess you could be worshiping the stone.

Adam Mintz  30:05

Right… that’s what they were worried about

Geoffrey Stern  30:05

It talks about this falling on the face. And it talks about Rav didn’t want to fall on the face. He didn’t want to trouble the congregation. We have pieces in the Talmud that talk about Rabbi Akiba, who, when he was alone and praying, he would start on one corner and end up in another corner. Because he was so physically active with his bows and prostrations. I mean, it really is an aspect of our religion that I think clearly can be rediscovered, and we can take real ownership with it, especially with so many Jews who are knowledgeable in both our religion and in yoga and body movement. It’s just seems to me that if we talk about as we do on Hanukkah, about rededicating ourselves and finding that which was hidden, that certainly rediscovering some of this body language, in Judaism, for some people, it really might appeal to it might make a difference exposing us to like these emotions. I just wanted to add that we started the class with the idea of Abrech. The fact that an important person was someone you bowed to. Now in the story of Esther, you have exactly that description. Because Mordechai refuses to bow to Haman. And Haman takes that as an insult, right? That’s the same story. And when I was reading pharaoh putting his signet ring on Joseph and dressing him in the robes, I also was thinking…. there was a lot of symmetry there. And no question about it.

Adam Mintz  32:10

Does the word Abrech appear there?  Everybody I know we’re past our time. But we have to look for one second, whether the word Abrech appears there in chapter three. Hold on,

Geoffrey Stern  32:23

While you’re looking, I will talk about something else that occurred to me, and I talk about Hanukkah as being where we rededicate ourselves and find things that are missing. It also seems to me that many of us consider Hanukkah as that battle between the Hellenists and the Maccabees. And one of the things that were told that the Hellenists were criticized for was worshipping the body. And I think that has also kind of fallen onto us where maybe as a result, as a reflex reaction, we’ve gotten away from using our body in the way that Nishmat Kol Chai describes it. So I think that, you know, when we celebrate Hanukkah, we can also find those things that we lost as a result of conflict. And I just think that this is a book and this is a practice that definitely needs to be written. And now did you find whether Abrech occurred there?

Adam Mintz  33:29

No, it does not. But they in in the story, they refer back to the story of Joseph they say what is the relationship between the story of Haman and the story of the Abrech? They do have that so it’s right there. Our idea is perfectly right. Bingo. We got it right on the head. So, thank you so much. This was a great, great class. Such a fascinating discussion. I look forward next week. We’ll do a lunch and learn for the holiday weekend. Happy Hanukah everybody; Shabbos Hanukah is a always special for everybody. And we look forward to seeing everybody next week. Be well.

Geoffrey Stern  34:06

 Shabbat Shalom Hanukkah Sameyach. Look forward to next week. And I tell you what I’m going to do I’m gonna put on a recording of Nishmat Kol Chai in the Moroccan tradition and listen if you understand the Hebrew to all of the body parts and the beauty here…… Shabbat shalom. See you all next week.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/454638

Listen to last year’s Miketz podcast: Food Fights and Gastro Diplomacy

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Lost & Found in Translation

parshat toldot – Genesis 25 -28

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on Thanksgiving 2022. Isaac and Jacob choose brides from Aram. Aramaic is the chosen legal and liturgical language of the Rabbis and the lingua franca of the Ancient world. Why is Laban vilified and should we slander or offer our gratitude to the Arameans?

Sefaria Soure Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/448278

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday evening and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Toldot. Isaac and Jacob choose brides from Aram. Aramaic is the chosen language of the Talmud and our liturgy.  The Kaddish is in Aramaic and we start our Seder in Aramaic. Aramaic was also the universal language… the lingua franca of antiquity. So why is Laban vilified? Tonight on Thanksgiving we ask should we slander or offer thanks to the Arameans? Join us for Lost and Found in Translation.

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Well, welcome, Rabbi, I don’t know about you, but my tummy is full. I am still digesting my Thanksgiving meal. But I must say that living in this country we have a lot to be thankful for.

Adam Mintz  01:18

We sure do and it’s nice that we’re able to go from Thanksgiving dinner to talking about the parsha… what could be better than that?

Geoffrey Stern  01:27

Absolutely. So, as I said, in the introduction, we are going to talk about Aramaic, which for anyone who studied, the Talmud knows that that is the language used in the Talmud. If the beginning of the Passover Seder sounds a little strange when we say הָא לַחְמָא עַנְיָא דִי אֲכָלוּ אַבְהָתָנָא  That’s Aramaic.  when you say Kaddish, I was recently in Israel, and was with a family in mourning, and Israelis have a tough time saying Kaddish because we don’t realize it’s not in Hebrew, it’s in Aramaic. So, we are going to talk about this people called Aram, we were introduced to them, as I said, last week, when Abraham sent his servant Eliezer. He said, I don’t want my son marrying a Canaanite. He said, Go to a Aram and meet my family and get him a bride from there. And we didn’t really get into it. But already we started to see a little bit of a distaste for Laban, who was the son of a patriarch there. And even though he’s mentioned first so the rabbis in their commentary, say he’s arrogant. And then when he goes out to hug Aviezer, maybe he hugged him a little too tightly. And the rabbi say he was checking for coins, there isn’t a nice thing that they say about him. And it’s, you know, a kind of a prequel to what’s going to happen in the parshiot that are coming up, where Jacob goes down to Laban Laban’s house, and we have all of the Sturm und Drang of getting married to Leah instead of Rachel, and then working for so many years. So, there’s definitely on the one hand, we see that both Abraham and Isaac definitely want their children to find a bride amongst the Arameans. But on the other hand, there’s a little bit of a distaste for them. You don’t find that when it talks about the Canaanites with the Canaanites is don’t marry them. These are not good people. So that’s, that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Are you with me?

Adam Mintz  03:55

I’m with you. It’s a great topic.

Geoffrey Stern  03:57

Okay. So in Genesis 25: 20, which is in our portion, it says Isaac was 40 years old when he took to wife Rebecca, daughter of Betuel the Aramean of Padam Aram, sister of Laban, the Aramean. So if you count Aram, which you should, as a reference to the, the territory under the tutelage of the Arameans, in one verse, you have reference to Aram or the Aramean three times, and I do think that later on, you know, calling someone Aramean wasn’t necessarily a compliment…  it wasn’t necessarily something that put them on a pedestal. And then later in the parsha, it talks about again, that Isaac sent for Jacob after Jacob stole the birthright or negotiated the birthright. And he said, You shall not take a wife from among the Canaanite women, go to Padan, Aram to the house of Betuel, your mother’s father and take a wife there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. So, there’s a sense of them being family. And a sense of go back to this, this Laban guy, and it continues, again, with a real emphasis on this Aram over and over. And I want to give a little context for my interest in Aramean. Besides the fact that you and I rabbi, both studied the Talmud in it, and were exposed to this language. I think that in recent times, one of the things that kind of brought some interest in Aramaic was when a Mel Gibson did the Passion of the Christ. And I remember that I was in a study session with my rabbi, and we were talking about Mel Gibson. And you know, you can’t really buy a ticket to see it, because he was considered an anti Semite. So, I did go and buy a ticket for another movie. And then I sat in the back just to hear the Aramaic, and I closed my eyes. And sure enough, I could understand it. And then there was the civil war in Syria, where there are just a few remnants of people that still speak Aramaic, this hit them very hard. And then in 2021, a book was written, it’s, I think, at least 300 pages long. It’s a scholarly book. And it’s called Aramaic, a history of the first world language. And what happened as a result of that, is that I started to kind of read about Aramaic as the first lingua franca. I had never heard of that term before. But really, I learned very quickly, that there was almost a 1,200-year period, where Aramaic was what we consider English today, where even if it wasn’t your mother tongue, it was the language of diplomacy. It was the language of science; it was the language of commerce. And it was in a sense, you could even say it was the internet. It was what united all of these people. And I’ll just read a little bit about how important that became. This is from the Atlantic magazine, and it says Aramaic, then, is in a splintered and tenuous state. Yet it was the English of its time—a language that united a large number of distinct peoples across a vast region, a key to accessing life beyond one’s village, and a mark of sophistication to many. The Aramaeans—according to Biblical lore named for Noah’s grandson Aram—started as a little-known nomadic group. But they were seekers, and by the 11th century B.C.E. they ruled large swaths of territory in Mesopotamia, encompassing parts of modern-day Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, including, for a spell, the city of Babylon itself. On the basis of this expansion alone, however, theirs would likely have become just one of various languages of the area that briefly enjoyed fame and then vanished in the endless game of musical chairs that was ancient Middle Eastern politics. The Aramaeans themselves were in Babylon only temporarily: In 911 B.C.E., the Assyrians, who spoke a language called Akkadian, ousted them. But the Assyrians unwittingly helped the Aramaeans’ language extinguish their own.    Namely, the Assyrians deported Aramaic-speakers far and wide, … so as a Jew when you read this and you think of these Arameans being dispersed to Egypt and elsewhere. The Assyrians may have thought they were clearing their new territory, but this was like blowing on a fluffy milkweed and thinking of it as destruction rather than dissemination: The little seeds take root elsewhere. Aramaic had established itself as the language of authority and cross-cultural discourse in Babylon and beyond, And I he makes a point that if for the Jews, Hebrew was a local language, Aramaic was an international language. And so what I’m going to kind of explore today is how, in a sense, kind of bound together, the success and the growth of Judaism through the Middle East was kind of just tied to the fact that they use this language of Aramaic. And in a sense, their paths were very similar to the Aramaic’s. So, have you ever thought about this in this way? I mean, lingua franca was a new concept to me.

Adam Mintz  10:17

It’s a great idea. I mean, and the fact that there’s such an intersection between Jewish history and Aramaic means that this conversation is an important conversation to have to try to figure out what was that connection originally? And how did that connection evolve over time? I think it’s a fascinating question.

Geoffrey Stern  10:35

So the first time that we have an Aramaic in the Bible is actually coming up in Genesis 31. And it is a translation. So if you recall or you’ll see in a week or two, when finally, Jacob takes Leah and Rachel and his two concubines with him and he has his 12 children and they flee from Laban’s house and Laban catches up to them. So, they get to a point where they kind of settled their differences. There’s accusations and they say let’s make a pact. And it says come then let us make a pact you and I this is Laban and Jacob, that there may be a witness between you and me. There upon Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. And Jacob said to his kinsmen, gather stones so they took stones and make a mound and they put took of a meal there by the mound Laban named it יְגַ֖ר שָׂהֲדוּתָ֑א but Jacob named it גַּלְעֵֽד so Gal-ed. Gol is a stone if you remember last week, we talked about Gilgal where the Flint was used to circumcise all the Jews coming out of Egypt. And Ayd is a witness. Aydim is two witnesses. And what Laban did was he used Aramaic and it’s quoted in the text Yegar-sahadutha, sahadutha, is witnesses and Yegar in Aramaic is a stone. So when you and I studied the first chapter of Talmud that we studied together Shenayim Ohazin that we talk about frequently. In Baba Metzia, 3a, it talks about two guys holding on to a Tallis. This one says it’s mine and the other one says it is mine. And the Talmud brings up this concept that we in modern day law a call possession is 99% of the law. And they say that in the case they found since each litigant is holding part of the garment, it is clear to us that what is in this one’s grasp is his and what is in that one’s grasp is his and the Talmud says כיון דתפיס אנן סהדי דמאי דתפיס האי דידיה הוא we have Anan Sahadi. Now a Anan Sahadi has the same word that we just came across in the Aramaic quoted in the Bible, which is witnesses anan is we so we are witnesses. But if I were to say to any Talmudist, this is the concept of anachnu Aydim they would look at me blankly but Anan Sahadii any Talmudist would know is this principle of possession (the status quo). And so what I’m trying to get across is that Aramaic became our legal language where we created institutions that formed Jewish law and Jewish thinking. So this use of Aramaic wasn’t simply translating from the Hebrew, but was the language of our creativity. And we have to understand that we owe the Arameans that.

Adam Mintz  14:06

Absolutely, absolutely. But again, it wasn’t at that point a translation in Hebrew. This was the language….  Well, we we took Aramaic, and turned it into our Talmudic language, and our Talmudic language is our legal language. Our legal code was created in the Talmud. So אנן סהדי becomes the term because that became our language. That was the language of the Jewish legal process, isn’t it? It was its own tradition. And I think that’s still true.

Geoffrey Stern  14:43

They were creating these principles. So you know, I mentioned before that when Eliezer went to see Laban was criticized because he gave him a hug and maybe he was checking his pockets. The Arameans were considered and that came across and what I quoted from the Atlantic article, they were merchants, they were hagglers. The reason why the Aramaic language was used throughout the ancient Near East, because it was the language of commerce. You know, I didn’t even mention how far it went. Anyone who’s eaten in an Indian restaurant and orders tandoori chicken Tandoor comes from the Aramaic Tanoor. The point is, this was everywhere. And it was the language first and foremost, not a philosophical thought or theology, but a language of negotiation, and a language of commerce. And it just seems to me that if we look at Aramaic and Aram in that fashion, then maybe we can see and recognize in Aramaic and the Arameans, ourselves a little bit more. I mean, here we have a parsha where there’s a sale of a birthright, where there’s within the legal boundaries, maneuvering, where Jacob changes his dress, and maybe thereby shows his father to look at him differently. But certainly, you can make a case that the characters that we are seeing here, are, in fact, are very similar to each other. And that there’s a very good reason that Abraham will say, go to Laban’s house. They were both minorities, they were both survivors. They were both learned how to navigate inside of another society. And that, in fact, is what took Aramaic and made it the lingua franca. And I would say that it wore off on Judaism as well. Does anything resonate there?

Adam Mintz  17:10

Everything does. But I want to go back to what you started with. And that is you said that being an Armenian isn’t so good, because in the Haggadah, we talk about Laban, the Aramean. And that’s bad, right? Laban the Aramean. So, I want to suggest that we never had a bad view towards Aram. Aram was always Abraham’s family. In those days in the ancient world. It was all about family. It was all about your clan all about your family. Laban actually was part of the Klan was part of the family. Laban was a bad guy. But the family was good. I know it because his sister married Isaac and his daughters married Jacob. So his family was okay. So I think we always had a positive attitude towards Arameans.

Geoffrey Stern  18:05

So I love it that you quoted the Haggadah were I would say the core of Magid, of what we have to do in the Haggadah of telling the story is told around verses from Deuteronomy 26 It’s Thanksgiving today. So why shouldn’t I come out and say it was the formula that was considered very ancient for the Bikkurim, the first fruits, which is basically a prayer of thanksgiving. It’s the farmer coming to the temple with his crop as the Pilgrims did, after the first harvest in in the Fall, and are thanking God for giving them this harvest. And even though the Haggadah says, As you quote that Laban tried to destroy our forefathers, the Hebrew itself is not quite that clear. In Deuteronomy 26 It says My father was a fugitive Aramean. So the key word here is אֲרַמִּי֙ אֹבֵ֣ד אָבִ֔י, Oved, can be mean lost, like לְכׇל־אֲבֵדַ֥ת אָחִ֛יךָ (Deuteronomy 22: 3) there’s something that is lost and found. And it can also mean someone who’s going to be killed like when Esther says כַאֲשֶׁ֥ר אָבַ֖דְתִּי אָבָֽדְתִּי  (Esther 4: 16) , if I will be killed, I will be killed. But I think the more obvious explanation, especially understanding the history of the Arameans is that they were fugitives and in this Thanksgiving benediction in this Thanksgiving formula is saying that we come from people who are fugitives. We are related to the Arameans. And there’s nothing negative about that. And then he talks about that our narrative was we went down to Egypt. And then he goes on and to think so I think even here, you’re right. You don’t have to interpret it. Anything about Laban. And the Arameans as negative, it can be interpreted that way. But it also can be interpreted in a complimentary fashion… to give us the correspondence between us. And I think that’s kind of fascinating.

Adam Mintz  20:36

I think that is fascinating. But that little piece turns the whole conversation means Aram has always been where we came from, we always had a soft spot for Aram. So, the fact that Aramaic became our language is not surprising. Now, one little piece that you didn’t mention, is the fact that there actually are sections of the Tanakh of the Jewish Bible that are written in Aramaic some of the book of Ezra and Nechemia are written in Aramaic, and some of the book of Daniel is written in Aramaic. That’s because after the first exile, the First Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE. The Jews are exiled to Babylonia, they speak Aramaic in Babylonia, so part of the Tanakh the later books of the Tanakh, are written in Aramaic, because that’s the language that people smoke.

Geoffrey Stern  21:32

Absolutely. And I was blown away by discovering a very strange verse in II Kings 18. It’s where the city of Jerusalem is surrounded by a conquering nation, and the conquering general gets on the megaphone, and he starts speaking Hebrew, lay down your arms, and in II Kings 18: 26, Eliakim son of Hilkiah, Shebna, and Joah replied to the Rabshakeh, That’s the name of the general, “Please, speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it; do not speak to us in Judean in the hearing of the people on the wall. ”So he says, דַּבֶּר־נָ֤א אֶל־עֲבָדֶ֙יךָ֙ אֲרָמִ֔ית, and he says וְאַל־תְּדַבֵּ֤ר עִמָּ֙נוּ֙ יְהוּדִ֔ית so to your point, not only are parts of Scripture, like books of Daniel written in Aramaic, but it’s perfectly believable that there were times where the Jews did actually not understand Hebrew, where Aramaic had replaced Hebrew as their mother tongue.

Adam Mintz  22:56

I think that that’s absolutely correct. You know, it’s not clear. But in the Talmudic period when the language, when the lingua franca was Aramaic. Did they also speak Hebrew, or they didn’t know how to speak Hebrew? You know, I understand that for davening, for prayer service, they spoke Hebrew. But what about as a language? It’s almost like American Jews. You say American Jews, we speak English. American Jews can’t speak Hebrew as a conversational language; most American Jews. So, was that the same thing in these countries that the Jews spoke Aramaic, but they couldn’t speak Hebrew? The answer is we don’t know. But isn’t that an interesting question?

Geoffrey Stern  23:41

It absolutely is. And you know, in the past, a few weeks ago, I talked about the tradition of studying Chumash and Rashi. Every week you would study Chumash the portion of the week; the Bible, and then you would study the great classical commentator, but there’s actually a much older tradition than that in the Talmud in Baroque coat. It has the famous dictum שְׁנַיִם מִקְרָא וְאֶחָד תַּרְגּוּם, that every week you should go through the parsha, twice in Hebrew. And once in Targum, and targum in modern day Hebrew means in translation, but we know the Targum is there are two famous Targumim. One is Targum Yonatan and the other is Onkelos and Onkelos was a convert to Judaism who made the translation. Now, there were other translations of the Torah. There’s the Septuagint into Greek, but you will never find a dictum in the Talmud saying that you have to read it twice in Hebrew and once in the Septuagint. That is reserved for The Targum that is Aramaic.  That put the Aramaic translation on a pedestal it almost had this same holiness as the scripture in Hebrew.

Adam Mintz  25:03

And you know that the Teimonim, the Yemenites, to this very day if you go to a Yemenite synagogue in Israel, so they actually still read the Targum when they read the Torah every Shabbat, they actually pause after each couple of verses, and they read the Aramaic Targum. isn’t that great? Which means that at least in in Yemen, at least there were some people who actually understood the Targum and ran with it.

Geoffrey Stern  25:30

It’s it’s absolutely amazing. And then we have to understand that we all know that translation is always commentary, you can’t translation translate something without giving it an explanation. But the Targum…  and we came across this a few weeks ago, when we talked about how God regretted creating mankind. And we saw that the Targum clearly had a problem with the anthropomorphic emotions of regret, and they added a few words. In our parsha, when we get to Jacob stealing the blessing. It says in Genesis 2735, in the Hebrew it says, וַיֹּ֕אמֶר בָּ֥א אָחִ֖יךָ בְּמִרְמָ֑ה וַיִּקַּ֖ח בִּרְכָתֶֽךָ, and he answered, your brother came with guile, and took away your blessing. In the Targum, it says Yitzchak your brother came with Hachma and received your blessing. It says וַאֲמַר עַל אָחוּךְ בְּחָכְמְתָא וְקַבִּיל בִּרְכְּתָךְ. So it here and this gets a little bit to what I was saying about what we Jews, as minorities have in common with these cousins of ours the Arameans was that haggling was not something that was looked down upon, it was a survival mechanism. It was Hachma. And so here we have not only an example in the Targum Onkelos of translating, and also explaining, but also a sense of maybe the culture of a language came through. And unlike every other translation, this culture was embraced by the rabbis. Because the Targum was held in such high esteem.

Adam Mintz  27:27

I think that’s great. I love that I think that that’s really wonderful. I this is an interesting choice for Thanksgiving. Because Thanksgiving is about how we, we embrace the culture of the land where we live. And what you’re really talking about is that idea of embracing the culture of the land where we live, is actually the oldest Jewish tradition that that goes all the way back to the Torah and the Arameans. And the fact that our connection to Abraham’s family and the Arameans, that continued through the generations, and that we can learn about our culture, not only about the language that we use, but the way that we did business, the way that we operate. It was very similar to the Arameans and sometimes you learn it, actually from that the translation… That’s a famous Targum Onkelos means that, you know, b’Chamachma  means, with intelligence that that’s the way we did business. I think that’s a wonderful message for us on this Thanksgiving. So I want to wish everybody a happy Thanksgiving a Shabbat Shalom. Today, we gave you something to think about not only for this week’s parsha, but for the whole Jewish history. And so enjoy it this week. And we look forward to continuing next week with parshat Vayetzei by Tuesday. Shabbat shalom, Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

Geoffrey Stern  28:45

Shabbat Shalom. Happy Thanksgiving. And I am going to continue a little bit discussing of what Christianity and Aramaic had to do together, because I think part of the story of Aramaic is it took the Jewish message and made it something that the world could absorb. So there are twice in the New Testament that Jesus is quoted by his own words, and they’re Aramaic, and one is when he’s on the cross he quotes Psalms 22: 2, and he goes, God why have you forsaken me? But he says, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? in Matthew 27: 46. And that, again comes from the targum. There’s another time where a girl comes to him and I think she might have been a prostitute. (Mark 5: 41) People with throwing her down. And Jesus says to her “Talitha cumi,”and Talita is a young girl in Aramaic. So it gives us a sense that the fact that the Torah was translated into Aramaic made it available to the whole ancient Middle East And possibly, or probably responsible for the creation and the internationalization of a Rabbi, named Jesus whose message became universal. And then it was replaced by Arabic, but clearly the Aramaic lead to Islam as well. So it really was the feather inside of that pillow that the author quoted before he’s talking about. And its really part of making the message of Judaism, universal because it was in this international language.

Adam Mintz  30:39

That’s fanatstic… that’s great.

Geoffrey Stern  30:40

And I just find that I find that fascinating. And therefore, the conclusion is, do we curse? Or do we bless Aram and the Aramaic’s and I think we have to actually welcome them as brothers, the same way that the Pilgrims welcomed the Indians and thank them, and appreciate the fact that our all wandering rode on their wandering, so Shabbat Shalom, shalom, and thank you so much, all the best and Bye, bye. Hey, Euro, how you doing?

Euro Maestro  31:10

I’m doing well, thanks. I found the topic quite interesting. You know, on this topic of the lingua franca, I think it’s quite interesting to how it developed over time, because obviously, it was heavily influenced by the Akkadian language, which was the lingua franca prior to that. So that’s why I was a little surprised when he gave this example of tandoor. I did a quick search online, and I guess it doesn’t make a reference to the Aramaic word. But I mean, if you look at the etymology of the word, it, they all tend to point to the Akkadian word. And that predates the Aramaic form by anywhere from like 300 to like 1,500 years or more. And there is an example of it, because it’s actually in The Epic of Gilgamesh, which is, you know, clearly before the spread of the early form of Aramaic. So I think the author, kind of I don’t know what happened, but kind of slipped on that one.

Geoffrey Stern  32:29

You think he took a little license on that one? I think that the point was more important than the example that there’s no question that Aramaic reached to India. But I would question and I wonder what your opinion of this is, that the thing that made Aramaic lingua franca was that it was spoken outside of the empire of Aram and after the empire of Aram was destroyed, it really took on a life of itself in commerce. And, and as I was researching this, there was a stellar that have images of scribes standing in front of the king, and one is chiseling the Akkadian on a tablet and the other is writing the Aramaic into his scroll. But I do think that there’s no question they’re all Semitic languages, they all are related. I took a class at Columbia for Moshe Held in Akkadian Wisdom Literature back in the day, and he would read to us (in Akkadian) and you could close your eyes. And you could make out if you knew Hebrew, if you knew Aramaic, you could, you could make out 50 – 60% of it, they were all related. But I do believe that Aramaic was kind of unique in its longevity. And it’s a geographical spread that make it maybe arguably one of the first lingo Franco’s

34:05

So yeah, the Aramaic language was the lingua franca over two or three empires. Okay. But, you know, prior to that, you know, Akkadian was so I think, I would grant more the time element more than I would think the geographic element,

Geoffrey Stern  34:22

Okay, I totally accept that. I do believe this whole concept. And, you know, many of the popular writers who write about this, talk about English and the internet and how we look at this world today, and we kind of take it for granted that we can discourse amongst and above/around borders, over borders over cultures. And to think that far back there was a language; whether it’s Akkadian first or Aramaic afterwards. It’s just a fascinating concept, I believe in terms of the ability to spread ideas, the ability to communicate across cultures and, and boundaries. I just found that very, very appealing and refreshing and fascinating.

Euro Maestro  35:18

Yeah, well, it’s kind of interesting to the fact that languages like Aramaic, for instance, dominate after the climax of the people that the language is from. So, in other words, it’s in the decline of the people, that the language becomes predominant. And, you know, we’ve seen that time and again, you know, same thing with French, you know, French became put on their lingua franca, after the climax of the French power in the beginning of decline. And some could argue, the same thing with English. So, it’s, it’s kind of interesting how it appears to be a trailing effect. And the same thing with Greek government.

Geoffrey Stern  36:00

Yeah, fascinating. And I guess we should be thankful for that. Which I guess, proves that a culture is, is stronger than military, political, and material power, even economic power? So that’s an interesting thought.

Euro Maestro  36:22

Yeah, that’s a good point. And sort of the proof of that, in a way too is the Hebrew language and Judaism like this, this culture was kept, despite being dominated, almost to the point of extinction, in terms of, you know, politically and militarily, etcetera. But yet the culture continued and revived today.

Geoffrey Stern  36:47

yeah, I mean, I think what was fascinating to me and what I think what the Hebrew culture and the, Aramean culture did have in common, is that they never were that dominant force. I mean, even in its day, it just wasn’t one of these great, great empires. And Israel obviously never was a great world empire. But nonetheless, through their language or the culture, maybe there were some commonalities in terms of just the stickiness or some magic that we aren’t can’t even put our finger on. But they did have that in common that certainly, what they had to offer far outlasted any military, economic or political power that they may or may never even have had.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/448278

Listen to last year’s Toldot podcast: Stolen Blessings and the Crooked Timber of Humanity

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God Believes

parshat ha’azinu – deuteronomy 32

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on October 6th 2022. In Moses’ parting song to the Jewish people he mentions Faith (emuna) in two different ways, both of which don’t refer to man’s faith in God. We take the opportunity to explore the meaning of Faith in the Torah and latter Rabbinic thought.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/436267

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. In Moses’ parting song to the Jewish people, he mentions Faith (emuna) in two different ways, both of which don’t refer to man’s faith in God. We take the opportunity to explore the meaning of Faith in the Torah and latter Rabbinic thought. So gather round you faithful Madlik listeners and join us for God Believes.

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Well, I gotta say anyone who is here after being in synagogue all day and Yom Kippur, you must be Jewish addicts, or Torah addicts, because here we are, again, e just can’t get enough. And I thank you all for coming. You know, last week, I quoted a beautiful comment that that I got. And then I also said that there was the ticket lady at my synagogue who when I wanted to change my seating time said, No problem I listen to Madlik every Friday. So, this week, when I showed up to synagogue, and I saw the same lady, she goes, You know, I’m the ticket lady, and I have a name and my name is Susan. So Susan, I want to thank you, thank you for letting me into synagogue. Thank you for listening to Madlik for being one of our faithful. We also got a comment from Loren. And he said that, “The study of Torah as expanded by Commentary is indeed a remarkable yet nuanced journey. Geoffrey Stern in collaboration with Rabbi Adam Mintz each week focuses on thoughtful interpretation of the current week’s parsha and thereby bring exciting understanding and relevance to Biblical verse. There are good guides and then there are exceptional guides… Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Mintz are in the class of exceptional Torah guides. They offer credible yet creative textual foundation and in turn inspire the listener to continuing traveling roads of further study and examination. Try the podcast once…and then you too will celebrate the excitement of the gift of perspective they offer. This is a weekly study event both for the less experienced and also for the well-traveled students of Torah.” It is wonderful when we listen and we hear from our listeners, because there’s nothing worse than speaking into a vacuum. And there’s nothing better than teaching Torah and studying Torah with friends and family. So thank you, thank you all for being here. You know, Rabbi, you mentioned that next week, on Shabbat, we’re actually not going to be reading the Parsha. We’re ending the Torah but it’s not in the Sabbath cycle. Is that right?

Adam Mintz  02:59

Right. So let me just explain that since this is actually our last Thursday night of the cycle, even though there is one more parsha left. So next Shabbat, are the intermediate days of Sukkot called Hol HaMoed. And on Hol HaMoed, there’s a special Torah reading for that relates to Hol HaMoed to Sukkot and the Torah, we finish on Simchat Torah. That’s the tradition a week from Tuesday, we finish the Torah. So therefore, it’s an interesting thing. The end of the Torah is the only portion that’s actually read on a date. It’s not Shabbat. So actually, today, we’re talking about faith. Maybe we can, we can think a little bit about the fact that this is really where we’re going to end the Torah and the story of Moshe’s life,

Geoffrey Stern  03:45

And If faith means anything, at Madlik it means that we don’t have all the answers. And I want to share with all of you listeners, that we don’t have the answers of what we’re going to do next year, because for two years, we’ve been talking about the Parshat Hashavuah. And I think both Rabbi Adam and I are kind of on the same page that we maybe want to think about doing something differently. So, if any of you have any ideas, suggestions, go to Madlik.com. And write a comment, write a comment on any of the podcast platforms, we are open-eared to any suggestions and ideas that you have. But here we are. This is our last Madlik podcast of this cycle. And we picked a very, very small trivial title. We’re going to talk about faith. It’s about time; two years. What do you say Rabbi isn’t about time to talk about faith?

Adam Mintz  04:45

I’m ready. Fantastic. I love it.

Geoffrey Stern  04:47

So we are in the parsha of Ha’Azinu and it is literally the swan song. It is a song from Moses;  God through Moses to the Jewish people and it begins in Deuteronomy 32. And we’re going to read one through four and it says הַאֲזִ֥ינוּ הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם Give ear Oh, heavens, let me speak. Let the earth hear the words I uttered, may my discourse come down as the rain. My speech distill as the dew like showers on young growth, like droplets on the grass, for the name of God, I proclaim, give glory to our God, the rock whose deeds are perfect, yay. All God’s ways are just. A faithful God never faults true and upright in deed. And I am going to focus on the words of faithful God El Emunah. Because the word for faith the word for belief in Judaism is a Emunah. And it is rarely as we will see tonight used in the Toa, and this is one of the primary places that it’s used. And sure enough to our surprise, it is not talking about Moses, the man of faith. It is not talking about the people of Israel or people of faith. It is talking about אֵ֤ל אֱמוּנָה֙ a God of faith. And that’s why I call this episode God Believes. But before I open this up to the rabbis’ comments, I’m going to go down just a few more verses, because after Moses finishes talking about how God has given mankind every opportunity by giving His Word as dew and as light and all of that good stuff, it gets a little critical. And at 32: 20 It says, God said, I will hide my countenance from them, and see how they fare in the end, for they are a treacherous breed, children with no loyalty in them, לֹא־אֵמֻ֥ן בָּֽם the same word, no faith, you could say in them. So here we have in Oh, I don’t know, one small chapter, which is what our parsha ultimately is one small song. Faith is used twice, once to describe the God of faith. And the second time to describe a people with no loyalty in them. Rashi says לֹא־אֵמֻ֥ן בָּֽם, my training is not evident in them before I showed them the good way. And they have deviated from it. It doesn’t really smack of there are people lacking faith. There a people almost who have betrayed God’s trust. How do you take at least for the purposes of these few verses rabbi, the words Emunah and emun.

Adam Mintz  08:23

So, first of all, it’s really interesting to you know, to compare these two things, because what you see is that the word faith is not you know, you think that faith means what we have in God, that’s the one use of the word fake. And here you see that in both cases, that’s not exactly what it means. So let’s just say each El Emunah, a god we can count on. That’s a very important thing. You know, we just coming off of Yom Kippur, you need to be able to count on God. If you can’t count on God, you’re in big trouble. El Emunah. God is a trustworthy God. That’s a very important quality. We might argument we can discuss this, we might argue that it’s the most important quality of all; the fact that God we can trust God, that we know that God is going to take care of us from day to day we can trust God, but lo emun bam means they have no emunah, which means they can’t be trusted. What it means that God can trust the people. They’re not they’re not reliable. We have that term today, too. The worst thing you could say about someone who works for you is they’re not reliable, right? They’re not reliable. That’s terrible, not to be reliable. And that’s what he says about the people. They’re not reliable. So, God is reliable, and the people are not reliable.

Geoffrey Stern  09:53

You know, we haven’t done this for a while. But in modern Hebrew, an Ish Ne’eman is someone you You can count on it someone you can rely on. He’s reliable. And I think you kind of touched upon that in both of your explanations of the different permutations of emunah that we have in this pasuk. It says, A faithful God, what you your interpretation is a being that we can rely on. And when he talks about the children with no Uman in them, that you can’t rely on them. And I think that is you know, that has to be the most basic interpretation. And that has to be the most straightforward reading of the text. But because we’ve been spending so much time in synagogue, I like I said in the pregame once I decided on what we were going to discuss tonight, I started focusing on the prayers slightly differently and I said, How does this word Emunah appear in our prayers? And the most amazing thing is that when you wake up in the morning, even before you’ve washed your hands, and so therefore you cannot say God’s name befurash you can’t actually say, Hashem Adonoi. There is an amazing prayer that every child learns in cheder and it’s called the Modeh Ani. And it’s מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶֽיךָ I give thanks to you living and everlasting King. חַי וְקַיָּם שֶׁהֶחֱזַֽרְתָּ בִּי נִשְׁמָתִי that returned my soul to me when you wake up you’re actually the Talmud says 1/60 of coming back to life. בְּחֶמְלָה in great mercy? And then you pause and you say רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶֽךָ Great is your faithfulness. So here again, we have this word Emunah. But it doesn’t say in the sense of I am faithful, great is my belief. It is God’s faith in me, that we rejoice upon. And I look at that. And I go back to the verses that we just read. And I see a faithful God as a God who believes in us and I see children with no לֹא־אֵמֻ֥ן בָּֽם the way why she says My training is not evident God is in a sense disappointed because he had faith or he or she had faith in us, and we didn’t come through, but certainly Rabbi How do you take this רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶֽךָ great is your faith?

Adam Mintz  13:05

I mean, it’s a good question, but chemla raba,  means with kindness. rabba emunatecha , your faith in us isn’t that  really what it means it’s God’s faith in us. And I think there’s a very important point that the rabbi’s understood. And what the rabbi’s understood is that faith is one of those terms that’s multi-directional. If you’re going to have a relationship, you have to trust one another. By the way, that’s true about marriage also, right? If only one partner trusts the other one, but the other one doesn’t trust the first one, you’re not going to have a good marriage, the only way a marriage can work is if both trust one another. That’s a very, very important point. And here you have the same thing. If we’re going to have a relationship with God, it means that we have to trust one another.

Geoffrey Stern  14:02

I totally agree. I think you could make the argument that Raba emunatecha could be great is my faith in you, that you revived me I went to sleep, and I believed in it. But I don’t think that is the explanation. The amazing thing is like all of our prayers, it doesn’t come from nowhere. The Sanhedrin hagadola whoever wrote our prayers, took them from Scripture. And believe it or not, these two words come from Echa; Lamentations is the book that we read, on the saddest day of the year. And in lamentation chapter 3: 17. It says, And I am kind of coming in in the middle. If you look at the source notes, and you read it from the beginning of the chapter, it is just beautiful and poetic. but it is a whole litany of things of how we are bereft My life was bereft of peace. I forgot what happiness was. I thought my strength and hope had perished before the Lord, to recall my distress and my misery was wormwood and poison. Whenever I thought of them I was bowed low, but this do I call to mind, therefore I have hope. The kindness of the Lord has not ended his mercies are not spent. They are renewed every morning. Ample is your grace, Raba emunatecha The Lord is my portion, chelkei Hashem, God is my Helek, The Lord is my portion, I say with full heart. Therefore, I will hope in Him talk about how haTikvah talk about hope. Here is the prophet Jeremiah, giving voice to the forlorn individual, the forlorn people of Israel, and what gives them hope, is clearly not their faith in God. But the translation I read is ample is your grace. But the word is Raba emunatecha, I don’t think you can, other than give the interpretation that we are giving, which is great is your faith, even if it’s unfounded in us.

Adam Mintz  16:31

So that’s what it is God’s trust in us. And it’s exactly what you said, you know, it’s kinda a weird idea. But the idea in Modeh Ani is that every single morning God makes a decision. The decision is whether or not to give us back our life. That at night, we’re asleep, and God decides whether or not to give us back our life. B’Hemla;  Raba Emunatecha, that God is ultimately trusting, you know, he trusts us. And that’s why he gives us back our life. If he didn’t trust us, there’d be no reason to give us back our life. If he didn’t think that we were going to be good people, it wouldn’t pay to give us back our life. Raba Emunatecha isn’t that what it means?

Geoffrey Stern  17:17

I think if you’re looking at the liturgy, to give us an answer. The answer is when the liturgy talks about faith. It’s God’s faith in us. So to give you another example, the Shemona Esrei, the silent prayer, the 18 benedictions, the core of every prayer service from the simplest mundane morning service to the Ne’ela service. The second prayer, talks about Sustainer of the living with kindness Resurrector of the dead with great mercy supportive of the fallen and then healer of the sick releaser of the imprisoned and fulfiller of his faithfulness to those who sleep in the dust אֱמוּנָתוֹ לִישֵׁנֵי עָפָר again, it’s God’s faith in us. We come from a world where other religions and I’m gonna, I’m gonna prepare you for a question I’m gonna ask later Rabbi about conversion, but certainly in other religions, when you convert to Christianity, when you convert to Islam, you have to verbalize, I believe in this, I believe in Allah and Muhammad is the prophet, I believe in Jesus. And here we are encountering in the Bible and the Torah, and in our prayers, a totally different type of faith. I think it’s radical.

Adam Mintz  19:06

I think it’s radical that is really interesting. And you know, it’s interesting, just to jump ahead to your kind of question and that is, you know, statements of faith. Judaism doesn’t quite have statements of faith do they?. Right. We don’t have for us. Now we do have Shema Yisrael Hashem Elohonu Hashem Echad. we do say that God is one. But that’s about something else. That’s about that. There is no other God. It doesn’t talk about what our relationship is with God. All it says is there’s no other God. And just to jump ahead to your question, when somebody converts, we don’t make them explain what their relationship with God is. The question we ask is, do you reject the belief in other gods, that’s the key. So that’s just interesting the way we see theology, we see theology as the rejection of other gods, that’s what’s important.

Geoffrey Stern  20:12

So, so I think that’s fascinating, because so many times and again, I’m talking to the expert here, you know, Rabbi Adam, you’ve done countless conversions, you’re on the Jewish JCC of Manhattan, you’re the head of a whole agenda to explore a conversion. And we always think of conversion in terms of, okay, a Christian comes in, they want to convert, and a Muslim comes and they want to convert. And for the first time, as I’m reading these I goes, what happens if someone says, I don’t believe in God, I’m an atheist, but I fell in love with this woman, or I fell in love with this man. Oh, I fell in love with Judaism, with the rituals. We were talking about the rituals before? Do you even ask a potential convert? If they believe in God? It just struck me as a curious question.

Adam Mintz  21:09

Yeah, it’s very good. It’s a very, very good question. And especially good. Because the answer is “no”. And that’s just because we’re worried about something else. Seems to be that you know, that the history of Judaism was actually the rejection of idolatry. Now, that goes back a long way, because there’s no real idolatry anymore. But when that was an issue, that was a huge issue. And that’s what we reflect that so we refer to,

Geoffrey Stern  21:35

you know, I don’t go on Facebook all that much. But I have one young rabbi, he was a reformed rabbi, he made Alia doing COVID. And now he works for the Jewish Agency named Joe Schwartz. And he, two days ago, posted a string about the question of faith. And somebody asked him, What does faith mean to him? And he found the question to be very odd. And then he started to question himself and saying, Why is it odd? And so it elicited a bunch of comments, but one of the comments from Noah Millman and he has very learned followers, says, “the more I think about it, the more struck I am, but the number of injunctions against faith, faith in the wrong things. It’s not just idols, we all want to have faith, and it’s also people “Al tivt’chu bin’divim, b’ven adam she’ain lo teshuah.”, that kind of thing.” And that’s kind of what you were just saying, it’s so fascinating that on the one hand we have this aspect of faith, which is a God who has faith in us. And then the other aspect is misdirected faith, believing in the wrong things.

Adam Mintz  22:51

 The wrong thing. That’s very interesting. That’s correct. It seems to be the the history of Jewish theology is the fear of believing in the wrong thing,

Geoffrey Stern  23:03

Misplaced misplaced belief. So I really want to make sure that we don’t leave any stone uncovered. I think that faith or emunah is something that is used when you need it. So there’s a very famous verse in to Tehilim; in Psalms, and it says lלְהַגִּ֣יד בַּבֹּ֣קֶר חַסְדֶּ֑ךָ וֶ֝אֱמ֥וּנָתְךָ֗ בַּלֵּילֽוֹת to proclaim your steadfast love at daybreak, Your faithfulness each night. And again, getting back to our liturgy. When we finish The Shema every day, we are sign off in the morning, different than we sign off in the evening, at in the morning, we say אֱמֶת וְיַצִּיב. And at night we say אֱמֶת וֶאֱמוּנָה. Both of them have this word truth. And of course, you know, truth is part of all this. The one aspect of Emunah that comes through in all of our prayers is a simple word. It’s a word called Amen, when we say Amen, it comes from the same root as EmuNah. And what we’re saying is it’s true, or we can concur.

Adam Mintz  24:25

We believe in.

Geoffrey Stern  24:26

We believe in it. But again, in this nuanced sort of belief that we’re talking about, we can trust on it. We can rely on it. You know, I once got onto El Al flight, and I was sitting next to an old Hasidic and it was a cold day and I don’t have a lot of Yiddish but I said s’iz zeyer kalt, it’s very cold. And he said, it’s not as cold as Siberia.

Adam Mintz  24:57

That’s what he said?

Geoffrey Stern  24:58

That’s what he said…

Adam Mintz  24:59

That’s pretty funny.

Geoffrey Stern  25:00

So that was a conversation startup. And I said, Well, were you in Siberian? And he said yes. And he pulled out his passport and it had his picture front and center. And up in the upper right hand corner, it had a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and he pointed to that, and he said, That’s why I survived in Siberia, and rabbi and listeners, if you know anything about me, you know, I’m not the one to start looking at a Rebbe and to say, oh, whatever he says is right. But I said to myself, you know, maybe in Siberia, you need a little bit of an image of somebody that you can totally believe in. So, there’s this concept of Emunah at night, Emunah in the dark times. And I think that’s kind of interesting and fascinating too.

Adam Mintz  25:52

That is really interesting. I mean, that you say that that point, I wasn’t thinking about that, but that point is really good. The וֶ֝אֱמ֥וּנָתְךָ֗ בַּלֵּילֽוֹת at night you need Emunah, and Emunah means that you trust. What you trust is that there’s going to be a tomorrow that requires trust, because that’s not based on knowledge. I don’t know that there’s going to be a tomorrow. So during the day, I don’t need Emunah because it’s already light outside. But at night, I need Emunah

Geoffrey Stern  26:23

And, you know, we got a sense of that in a Eicha; in Lamentations which certainly rates right up there with Siberia. And the word emunna was linked to the word hope; a light at the end of the tunnel. And you know, in that Facebook thread, and I quote it in my Sefira notes. This Joe Schwartz says, you know, at the end of the day, what does faith mean, to me? It ultimately means that not I believe in something that I believe that I believe it’s worth it, that I believe that there’s meaning that it’s okay. One of my friends came for the break-fast. And he said, What are you going to be talking about at Madlik this week? And I said faith. And they said, Well, how can you believe after the Holocaust? And I quoted probably something that you’ve may have all heard before, where they asked a believing Jew after the Holocaust? How can you possibly believe in God after the Holocaust? And his answer was, how can you believe in man after the Holocaust? And you know, at the end of the day, what his answer means to me is that it’s a combination of this sense of real faith is Faith in Our human predicament is faith in our human condition. It’s a faith in in our world. You know, maybe it is that we believe in a God who believes in us. But at the end of the day, it’s not faith in it’s just, it’s just faith.

Adam Mintz  28:15

 Yeah. So that’s also interesting. Faith in do you need faith in and what you’re arguing is by definition, faith is not the best kind of faith, because faith needs to be even without the faith just needs to be faith.

Geoffrey Stern  28:32

Faith that there’s a better day ahead faith that it’s worthwhile to get up in the morning. That’s what Raba Emunatecha means to me. So the other the other things that I left in this a few notes is a real discussion about faith and dogma. I mean, it wasn’t until Maimonides came and gave 13, a list of 13 things that Jews have to believe in. And the first was ani Ma’amin and it’s in the siddur. That God exists. And not not surprising for those of you who listen to Madlik on a regular basis. There are rabbis who argue with him, he claims that one of the 613 commandments is one of them. The first one is to believe in God. And the Ramban says Not at all. And of course, whether he says not at all because it’s the basis of everything, because it’s the assumption of anything, or whether we moderns can interpolate from that, that it is besides the fact or because it cannot be commanded, who knows? But it’s fascinating to know how late it was before we Jews got this sense of a dogma and things that we had to believe in. And for those of you who enjoy singing, Yigdal Elohim Chai, it’s really a musical version of Maiminides 13 attributes. But again, it’s fascinating to look at something so basic as faith, and to wonder what you know what it really means to us.

Adam Mintz  30:26

I just want to say that as we conclude this round of this cycle of the Torah readings, it’s amazing to end on the idea of faith because you know, it’s the idea that is at the foundation of everything of the Torah, but it’s something that really doesn’t come up all that often. And it’s interesting that now the last week that we kind of think about what Faith means and you know how it applies to our lives. So, thank you Geoffrey, for choosing an amazing topic. I want to wish everybody a Hag Sameyach, and enjoy this week’s Parsha Ha’zinu ve’zot Habracha. And we know that when we finish the Torah we say three words. Hazak Hazak Ve’nitchzek, which means let us be strong, let us be strong, let us strengthen one another. And I think Geoffrey, what we’ve tried to do over the past two years in clubhouse is to strengthen ourselves and to strengthen one another. And we look forward after a little break of coming back with new ideas for you and to continue to Hazak Hazak Venitchazek Shabbat Shalom, everybody. Hag Sameach

Geoffrey Stern  31:25

Hag Sameyach Rabbi, I thank you for every week for joining us on this conversation. And full disclosure, today is my birthday. And I couldn’t celebrate my birthday in a better way than with all of you here on clubhouse and on our podcast, if any of you have any suggestions or ideas of what we should do in the year ahead. Don’t be shy, let us know. But in the meantime, enjoy the end of the Torah. Enjoy Sukkot and we’ll see you all in the year ahead. Shabbat Shalom.

Adam Mintz  32:01

Shabbat Shalom be Well, bye bye.

Geoffrey Stern  32:04

And if anyone has any comments or suggestions, come on down. We are open.

Mathew Landau  32:12

Hey, Geoff, great presentation Happy Birthday. What I wanted to say was having read Ha’azinu many times, although not this coming Shabbat that I thought that the rest of lines. So the Emunah Word Appears in line four. And it says אֵ֤ל אֱמוּנָה֙ וְאֵ֣ין עָ֔וֶל         צַדִּ֥יק וְיָשָׁ֖ר הֽוּא And then five and six, or at least five certainly, I thought it explains what emunah means because it says basically a faithful God. Without injustice, he is righteous and upright. And then in five when he says, he says destruction is not his is it is his children’s defect. You crooked and twisted generation. So, it’s very interesting right there. He’s really explaining what, what it means to God for being faithful. And it further goes into like, what do you means when humans aren’t? That’s all.

Geoffrey Stern  33:22

Yeah, I mean, I think the most basic straightforward explanation of faithful is reliable, consistent, more than that ….elevated, it’s someone who does the right thing. And God, as you say, in those following verses, is the one who you can count on. He does all the right things, and then the verses very quickly go down on to, by contrast into the children of Israel, who …. are not so much. And so it’s really interesting, that the translation of faith and belief, to emunah, is probably a misleading because it has nothing to do with faith or belief. It has to do with trust. And even if, you know, there were times where it talks about the Jewish people, or the Israelites are crooked, God is straight. So that’s the most interesting thing. And if you do that, and if you follow that to its end, and you say, okay, so emunah does not mean faith and belief. Do we have a word for faith and belief? And that also becomes kind of interesting, but there’s no question that in Exodus when Moses is at the burning bush, and he says to God, you know, It’s great that you’re appearing to me. But that they may believe in God. He wants to know what will it take to have the Israelites believe in him. And then when he talks later about convincing Pharaoh and the Egyptians, he uses the word emunah. So that’s where I think it gets this nuance and only in respect to others. Only in respect, I wouldn’t say necessarily to polemics, but in the sense of interaction with other people, were the word emunah becomes believing it does have that aspect to it. But certainly, in our, in the verses in Deuteronomy Devarim that we’re reading now, it’s very far afield from faith in the way that we’ve grown up to believe. But I made I made reference to Joe Schwartz and his Facebook thing, he ended up by saying, and this I find this amazing, “I assume faith is the opposite of יאוש, which is despair. Giving up. Faith, I suppose, is an attitude toward all things of this world that resists the impulse towards nihilism. ….  So, I think that at the end of the day, whether it’s being able to rely on somebody, you know, that’s that, ultimately, at the end of the day, whether you’re in a concentration camp, or you’re in Ukraine, or wherever you are, you want to know that somebody cares, that there’s somebody else out there, that cares about you that hears you. And I think that at the end of the day, and that’s, I think, what my takeaway was, that when I was saying, it’s not faith in it’s just faith, that there’s something beyond you that matters, I don’t know. And I think that at the end of the day, those of us who get up in the morning and just, you know, go about our business, at the end of the day, we’ve got to have some sort of faith, especially in this crazy world that we live in.

Mathew Landau  37:21

Well, I had two other comments. One is, the comment about radicalism was about not believing in you know, that you don’t believe in God was it was in the context of Christianity and Islam. But they came much later. So actually, it’s radical because of what came before it?

Geoffrey Stern  37:43

We don’t rehearse. And I know that the rabbi does many conversions. And I was fascinated by the question that literally just popped into my head. That was…. we all assume everybody is converting from something. But what happens if somebody shows up and say, you know, literally, I am not a believer. I’m not a religious person. But I just love Shabbat, and I love the community. And I love all that. And it was fascinating. And I kind of knew the answer, but I was fascinated to hear him say it, because you never hear of a rabbi who’s involved with that kind of thing. Who says, Well, do you believe in this? And do you believe in that? It’s, you know, are you are you on the one hand? Or what are you not going to Do? You know, can you give up your other faith options? But more importantly, do you embrace Jewish tradition in Jewish action and ritual? And do you want to join the community? And I just, it was fascinating to hear him say that, but I enjoyed asking the question.

Mathew Landau  38:52

Yeah, I remembered my last comment. I agree with everything you said. My last comment was, I think that Rabbi said, at one point, well, idolatry doesn’t really exist anymore, or something to that effect. And he may be right in the traditional sense if you’re looking for a traditional opinion, but there are many others who say for people who don’t believe in God, which we’re not seeing as a requirement anyway, that if they don’t, they generally fill it with some other belief whether it’s capitalism, communism, some ism in their lives that really, you know, motivates them, but in a way, these are all false idols. No?

Geoffrey Stern  39:30

Look, I’m a big believer in why we start cold Nidrei by saying any vows that I have are neutralized. Ultimately, at the end of the day. There’s a lot about Judaism which is saying, we don’t know what we can say yes to but we know we need to say no to we need to clean the slate. We need to clean our mind to open ourselves up and I think that’s a fascinating aspect of what faith is. It’s not misplaced faith more than what you believe in and opening one selves up. Anyway, it’s a fascinating discussion. And especially, you know, we can say, Oh, this these discussions only came up after the rise of Christianity and Islam. But again, that gives us a wonderful mirror to look at our own religion and to say, well, how different is it? So, anyway, that’s what we need to celebrate. So thank you. And if you have any ideas of what we want to do in the year ahead, let me know.

Mathew Landau  40:43

Okay, excellent.

Geoffrey Stern  40:45

Okay, Shabbat shalom, everybody. Bye bye.

Sefera Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/436267

Listen to last year’s podcast: Blame it on Dad

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First Fruits – First Prayers

parshat ki tavo – Deuteronomy 26

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

Adam Mintz  02:34

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

Geoffrey Stern  03:22

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

Adam Mintz  04:28

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

Geoffrey Stern  04:46

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

Adam Mintz  08:48

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

Geoffrey Stern  10:10

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

Adam Mintz  11:27

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

Geoffrey Stern  11:51

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

Adam Mintz  12:36

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

Geoffrey Stern  13:00

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

Adam Mintz  14:09

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

Geoffrey Stern  15:24

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

Adam Mintz  18:50

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

Geoffrey Stern  19:00

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

Adam Mintz  20:00

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:22

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

Adam Mintz  20:26

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:31

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

Adam Mintz  21:28

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

Geoffrey Stern  22:12

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

Adam Mintz  25:20

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:30

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

Adam Mintz  26:12

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

Geoffrey Stern  28:37

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

Adam Mintz  30:36

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:01

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

Adam Mintz  32:14

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:20

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

Adam Mintz  32:50

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:57

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

Miriam Gonczarska  33:08

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

Geoffrey Stern  33:32

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

Miriam Gonczarska  33:39

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

Geoffrey Stern  34:07

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

34:42

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

Geoffrey Stern  36:05

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

Miriam Gonczarska  36:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  36:15

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

Miriam Gonczarska  36:26

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

Geoffrey Stern  37:07

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

Miriam Gonczarska  37:23

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

Geoffrey Stern  37:41

As you should have been.

Miriam Gonczarska  37:43

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

Geoffrey Stern  37:47

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

Miriam Gonczarska  37:56

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

Geoffrey Stern  38:14

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

Miriam Gonczarska  38:17

Bye bye.

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

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A time that never was

parshat re’eh – deuteronomy 12-13

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse August 25th 2022. The Torah prohibits us from adding or detracting to its directives and also against rewriting history. It even predicts that there might be a time where our leaders will try to reinvent our past. We discuss.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/426413

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. In this week’s Torah reading is Re’eh. The Torah prohibits us from adding or detracting to its directives and also against rewriting history. It even warns that there might be a time where our leaders will try to reinvent our past. So hop into your time-machine and join us as we discuss…. A Time That Never Was…

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Well, welcome. We are broadcasting from the Franco-American timeline. The rabbi is in Gay Paree, and I am in Connecticut. Thank you all for joining us. And we are getting towards the end of the Torah here. And as I said in the intro, the parsha Re’eh and it really covers a lot of good stuff. It starts with a little tease about a blessing and a curse and the whole Mount Grezim him and Har Ebel thing that we’re going to have soon, but doesn’t really go there. Then it starts talking, as it’s thinking about coming into the land, of destroying the altars that are there. And it’s focused on centralizing Judaism so that the idea is that you should only worship God in the designated, appointed place and destroy all of the altars of the non-Jews. And then it talks about how do you eat meat outside of that designated place, talks about false prophets gets into kosher rules, gets into tithes, the sabbaticals and holidays. So, it’s really got a lot of stuff. But we as is our custom are going to focus on something that could literally fall through the cracks. And that is in Deuteronomy 12: 29 It says, as follows. “When your have God has cut down before you the nation’s that you are about to enter and dispossess and you have dispossessed them and settled in their land, וְיָרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֹתָ֔ם וְיָשַׁבְתָּ֖ בְּאַרְצָֽם beware of being lured into their ways after they have been wiped out before you do not inquire about their gods saying How did those nations worship their god? I too will follow these practices” you will say, “You shall not act thus towards your God, for they perform for their gods every abhorrent act that God detests. They even offer up their sons and daughters to fire to their gods.” So, this is very strange, it really struck my attention. Because we’ve heard so many times about being influenced by the Canaanites by the idol worshipers that are in the land. But here it’s talking about a situation where you’ve already dispossessed them, and you’ve settled in the land. And it really is talking about don’t start looking kind of like an archaeologist It would seem or, or maybe a theologian curious about ancient practices, beware of being lured into the ways do not inquire about their gods, it says to וּפֶן־תִּדְרֹ֨שׁ לֵאלֹֽהֵיהֶ֜ם. And the commentaries are either very silent, or there’s one commentary that I found Rabbeinu Bahya who really does point this out. He says, you know, what’s the logic here, you’ve already destroyed them. When you beat somebody and they lose a war, you hardly want to imitate them. So what’s going on here and he says, This prohibits “Even the inquiry into details of the former inhabitants’ religious worship is forbidden” So it’s almost forbidden to do what we do so many times here at Madlik wishes, we look into context in history and practices of other people.

Adam Mintz  04:37

So, your point is a very important point. And that is that, chronologically, the way the Torah is set up. This is Moses speaking to the people before they enter the land. But because Moses is not going to enter of the land. He talks to them as if they’re already in the land. And they have all the challenges of being in the lands. Now, the idea of Kosher is a very interesting thing, just to take one thing that you mentioned, the idea of Kosher is not mentioned here for the first time, it’s mentioned in the book of Leviticus. But in the book of Leviticus, it means something very different. Because in the desert, the only time the Jews were allowed to eat meat was if they sacrificed a sacrifice, they sacrificed the sacrifice, and then they ate meat as part of the sacrifice. It was only when they entered the land when the borders became too great too wide and they weren’t able to get to Jerusalem every night where they wanted to have hamburgers, that they were allowed to eat from the meat even without, even without sacrifices. So even something like that, Jeffrey, I think that’s an interesting point that you make even something like that, you know, the laws of Kosher which we know from before, but they have a completely different meaning now, because they’re talking about a different situation, a situation that’s not limiting, but actually is expanding.

Geoffrey Stern  06:13

So, I totally I totally agree, everything is now focused on going into the land. But what I took away from this is this was one step further, this imagined prophesizes, if you will, a time where you’re successful, where there aren’t no pagans in the land, either they’ve converted or they’ve left or what else could have happened to them, but they’re not there. And the commentaries kind of focus on this is what what exactly is being prohibited here. And I think either looking at the few commentators like I did, like Rabbeinu Bahya or just looking at it as we do, you gotta think it’s strange. The question is, why would you number one, one to inquire about the gods of these unsuccessful inhabitants? And what is the concern about inquiring…..  that I do think we have an inkling, it says, If you inquire, then you might start acting like them. And keep in mind, they go so far as to offer their children to their gods. But it is, to me anyway, it struck me as strange. And I think that for once the rabbinic authorities either didn’t have much to say about it, or when they did, the best they could really come up with is, maybe don’t be curious. Don’t be looking back. But I want to continue on this thread in our parsha. Because if you go to verse 13, the next chapter right after this, it says, Be careful to observe only that which I enjoin upon you neither add to it nor take away from it לֹא־תֹסֵ֣ף עָלָ֔יו וְלֹ֥א תִגְרַ֖ע מִמֶּֽנּוּ. And this, of course, is a little bit of a parallel, because you would think from the earlier statement, that you might be tempted to say, well, exactly how did they pray? And how did they deal with their tabernacle architecture, maybe we should take some of the beauty that we can see in the fallen structures around …. this idea of adding to the Torah, and clearly of taking away where we have requirements. As you mentioned, kashrut, Shabbat, all of the things that are mentioned. Don’t take those away. In historical perspective, I think this has been used as a double edged sword, correct me if I’m wrong, not adding, would really protect us from zealots who want to increase …..  I think Rashi is example that he gives is, for instance, “to place five chapters in the Tephillin, to employ five species of fruit and plants in the fulfilment of the command of Lulab”. So, Rashi is focused on a quantitative addition. But the idea is, don’t be a “Machmir”, don’t be a fanatic and crazy and start adding certain things and detracting would be the typical argument against the reformers, the enlightenment, where they would take away from the commandments and say, this is not necessary. It’s the Spirit of the Law. But do you see this? There’s kind of a correlation, a train of thought here between the two statements that we’re working on so far.

Adam Mintz  09:54

I think that’s all really good. Let me just deal with two points you just made. The first point is why people would be tempted towards idolatry. It’s interesting. The Talmud says that there are two big Yetzer Hora’s, two things that people desire. One thing is sexual, you know, sexual promiscuity, and the other is idolatry. And the Gemara says that the Yetzer Hora for idolatry has already disappeared, but the age of horror for sexual promiscuity that’s still there. But the question is, why is that so? Why is it that? Nowadays we’re not interested in idolatry, but then they were interested by Idolatry. And I think you have to understand something about what idolatry offers, that that monotheism that one God doesn’t offer. You know, when somebody’s sick, we pray to God, when we go on a trip, but we want to be safe, we pray to God, when we want to be successful in business, we pray to God. It’s the same God we pray to, in idolatry, everything has its own god, you know, like the Greek god Poseidon. When they went on a trip across the ocean, they weren’t going on planes then, when they had a trip across the ocean, they went to Poseidon. When they got married, they went to the God of love, when they got sick, they went to the god of healing. And there was something extremely, you know, desirable about this idea that everybody had a personal God, it’s kind of like the way you feel when you’re sick. You know, God forbid, if someone has a specific, problem, they don’t want to go to the general practitioner, right, Geoffrey, that was in our parents or grandparents of generation that everybody went to the to the GP, and he or she solved all the problems. Now you want the specialist, you want the specialist, who’s the specialist of the specialist of the specialists, who only deals with exactly what your problem is, the truth of the matter is that that’s the same thing with gods, we want a god who was a specialist, and naturally why there was a Yetzer Hora. And that’s why the Torah says don’t go after their gods, that, you know, they looked at these people, and they said, hey, you know, maybe something’s right, because they seem to be living in good life, and they have very specific gods. That’s number one. Number two, is the idea of not to add and not to subtract, obviously, that is at the core of everything Jewish, because that’s the whole tradition of the evolution of the law. You know, obviously, the law has been added to and has been subtracted from just take the littlest things, right, the fact that we sell our Hametz (leaven), before Pesach, is in addition to the law, the fact that we avoid the laws of the Shmita, the seven sabbatical years by selling the land to a non-Jew is an addition to the law. It’s subtraction from the law. So, what is it exactly this acceptable and what’s not acceptable? And why when the reform movement came around? And they said, you know, we’re going to cut out some the prayers and these kinds of things. How did everybody know that was unacceptable? Maybe that was part of the acceptance. And this law of don’t add it don’t subtract is really about rabbinic authority. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about who makes the rules. And the amazing thing is that according to tradition, the Torah was written 3,300 years ago, and we are still in 2022. arguing about that point, who makes the rules? I’ll just tell you a funny Paris story, Sharon, and I were walking down the street this afternoon. And we overheard some young woman who was on her cell phone….. And of course, we Americans always talk too loud…..  So, she was on her phone. And we heard her say, Maharat for Shabbos. I like, we stopped and say what, what are you talking about Maharat in Paris, and it seems to be that there is a Maharat in Paris, and she’s on of my students. And we’re going there for Shabbos lunch. And this young woman is invited, and she was telling her mother that she’s going to Maharat for Shabbos lunch. Now, that’s just kind of funny, this small world that we live in. But you know, that’s an example, who says that women can’t be rabbis? Why is that an addition to the law that the Orthodox won’t accept, while you know selling your Hametz is something that they will accept. So this idea of adding and subtracting to the law is something that we’re still fighting about this every day.

Geoffrey Stern  14:10

I love the fact that you’re all the way in Paris and you heard about Maharat the school that you teach that that trains women rabbis in the Orthodox tradition. Small world is the only term that comes to mind. So I think you’re right. And I love the fact that you bring in things that are across the border, because in Deuteronomy 13: 7, it repeats kind of with a new nuance, the prohibition about taking customs and worship rights from the pagans. It says “If your brother, your own mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your closest friend entices you in secret, saying, “Come let us worship other gods”—whom neither you nor your ancestors have experienced — from among the gods of the peoples around you, either near to you or distant, anywhere from one end of the earth to the other: do not assent or give heed to any of them.” So again, I believe this is totally new territory. Because up until now, we’ve been concerned with the pagan practices that they are being exposed to, don’t let your kids marry someone from the Canaanites, all of that stuff. And here, the field of vision is so much larger, there’s this issue of secret, which we’re going to have to deal with. But even before we get there, it’s a movement of people. But it has stuff that not even your ancestors, this isn’t even the paganism that Abraham rejected, or that you might have seen maybe in Egypt. The field of vision is so much larger. And I’m going to ask you to comment, and then I’m going to give you what I believe, is, is the historical context for these paragraphs. But do you agree with me that there’s something strange and different in this prohibition than other ones that we’ve seen here to four?

Adam Mintz  14:12

Yes, I think it’s right. And I’m gonna I’m going to pause for a second to listen to your historical analysis. Because I think that’s what it’s really all about here. What’s the background for this paragraph? So why don’t you shoot with the history and then we’ll talk about,

Geoffrey Stern  16:40

so thank you. So as you know, when we started reading Devarim (Deuteronomy), we really said it is a totally different voice, a totally different book. The Torah itself talks about it being discovered. And in the books of Tanach. There are those that say that it was written/discovered during the reign of King Josiah. But in any case, it has a different vision. And I am reading what is the first popular history of the Jewish people by a guy named Heinrich Graetz. We Jews love history, but we don’t necessarily study history. And he has two things that struck me that I read recently that really kind of put this into context. The first is a king called Jeroboam. And he ruled 977 to 955. And what he did is that he started to take control, and he’s used religion as a way of gaining control of all the people. I’m gonna read a little bit from greats. “He was the only man of ability and daring and an Ephraimite. From the tribe of Ephraim. They readily fell into his scheme and he introduced other tribes to join them. To obviate the need of pilgrimages to the temple.” Remember, we just came through the Torah, saying you have to make the pilgrimage to the set centralized temple, to which the people had been accustomed and in which their lurked a political danger, Jeroboam hit upon a mischievous scheme, which was to lead Israel back into idolatry. During his sojourn in Egypt, Jeroboam became acquainted with the animal worship of the Egyptians and learn the stupefying effects that had upon people. The introduction of Apis worship in Egypt, in effect on the Israelites would render them more tractable, and in addition would raise Jeroboam in the favor of the Egyptians.” So, there was domestic politics involved, and there was a foreign politics involved. “Moreover, Jeroboam determined to pose as a restorer of the ancient religion of Israel, and not as the creator of a new one. In Egypt and later in his own countries. They worshipped sacred bulls, and it goes into detail how this king drove them. You consolidated political party by leading a false movement of returning to a past that never existed, and he was successful. There was another king Manasha of Judah who was 200 years later, who did very similar things. He promoted idolatry again, I’m reading from Greitz throughout the kingdom, built pagan temples and Egan sacrificed on his sons and the fires of my life. He There’s a tradition that he killed Isaiah. So I think as you read these, and I would love you to go to the Sefaria notes and read in detail what Greitz wrote, and others wrote, I think that puts a totally new face on what we just read. This wasn’t pure speculation if you’re a traditional Jew, and you believe that Devarim was spoken by Moses, it was prophesizing, this period where these dastardly kings would go ahead and manipulate the past, and try first in secret amongst friends and family and then move it out where they would consolidate power, and use a religion that they imported from afar to do this. It seems to me that if you get a sense of history, and you know the history of for instance, these two kings, who by the way, preceded the King, who found (the book of Devarim) under his role, he did a true return Tshuvah, a true return to our religion. And he is responsible for bringing the book of Devarim to the fore.  I feel like I’ve been robbed, I had never realized this part of Jewish history. And once you read it, and then you read the verses that we just read in Devarim, it puts them in a totally different context. It’s talking about real situations that will happen prophetically, that did happen?

Adam Mintz  21:27

So that’s first of all, thank you to Greitz, I’m happy that you’re reading Greitz. Because, you know, the history of the prophetic period or the Kingdom is really the history of monotheism, the belief in the one God, the Jewish God, in the case of the prophets, and idolatry. And what you see is, and unless you read it Geoffrey, you can’t really believe it. You see the pull that idolatry had on people. It had on people it had on Kings, and then how complete societies were actually idol worshipers. I’m gonna tell you something else. That’s interesting. I don’t know if Greitz mentioned this. But you know, we have the tradition, the Torah, that the golden calf was the worst sin of the Jewish people. We know from archaeology now that during the time of the first temple, the Jews, the committed Jews, the Jews committed to God committed to the temple committed to the Prophet committed to the king, they actually had little idols, little golden calves at home, and they use them to worship God, the Jewish God. So, what you see is that idolatry was so strong, that even the good guys used idolatry, sometimes to help them with their religion. So, you see exactly what you said, what the pull of idolatry was all about. And you kind of understand, you know, during the end of the First Temple, the 10 tribes, they went north, and they basically broke away, and then they were captured by Sennacherib, and then they were dispersed, and we don’t know anything about them. And what we have is really the tribes of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin. So, we only have, two out of the 12 tribes have remained for everybody, maybe three because Levi also was there because idolatry gobbled up the other tribes. Yep, that’s an amazing thing. Think about that. Idolatry literally gobbled up 9 of the 12 tribes.

Geoffrey Stern  23:27

It is it is totally amazing. And the other parallel aspect of it is how closely linked politics and religion were. It’s not a modern phenomenon. Certainly, anyone who studied the papacy knows that. But the point is that if Graetz is even 80%, correct, in the in his treatment of these two kings, and he, by the way, does not make the connection to the book of Devarim. It was just that kind of small world moment where I’m reading the parsha and I’m reading Graetz, and it just leapt out of the page, that in fact, you couldn’t get a better explanation of the strange verses that we just started with, then to understand that there were going to be leaders who were going to reach near and far who were going to pretend that this was an earlier religion, that they were reformers, so to speak, and we’re going to use it and yes, the outcome is tribes were lost the whole tapestry of the Israelite tribes was broken over this. And as we as we end, what I would like to do is to bring this up to date, because I think it’s very clear that on not only from the beginning has politics and political power, diplomacy and religion been very united, we see it even today there are two books that I quote in the in the in the notes on Sefaria. One is it’s called Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites Its History Hardcover – May 1, 2015 by Marc B. Shapiro (Author). And of course, you Rabbi talked about the Halachic aspect of this. And the book is written by a real deep scholar. And the other book is The Uses of Tradition: Jewish Continuity in the Modern Era (Jewish Theological Seminary) Paperback – February 1, 1999, by Jack Wertheimer (Editor). And it brings an amazing story there. And it’s the story that in Israel, there was a great scholar named The Hazon Ish and this story is called The lost kiddush cup. And he decided that there was a particular shiur, there was a particular measurement that the kiddish cup had to be to be yotze, to fulfill the obligations of making kiddush and one of the students took his words very seriously. And he went home. And he brought back the kiddish cup that his great grandfather who was a major scholar in Poland used and guess what, it didn’t have the right shiur, it wasn’t large enough to hold the wine that the has a nice wanted. And he uses this as an example. And it goes on to say there was a whole to-do because they found the kiddush cup of the Chafetz Chaim and it also wasn’t large enough. And the scholar who wrote the book uses this to explain how we constantly are rewriting history. And we have to be careful of it. And first of all, you have to identify it. And then you have to be careful of it because as the verse said, you can’t add or detract from these things. But I think the most important thing is we have to be aware of it. And it’s so important to understand not only what’s added and what’s not, but sometimes what the motivations are. And I think that becomes very powerful and in the State of Israel, where religion at the end of the day is playing a very large role, we can definitely see how secular leaders are a able to use tag words of religion and to sway people and it’s something that I think needs to be to be studied and at times called out that to me is how up to date these warnings are and not simply about adding a few laws here and there but changing the whole fabric.

Adam Mintz  27:47

That is fantastic. So I think what you see here and it’s really more true in Devarim, these portions in Divorim than anywhere else is that the issues that affected the Jewish people 3,000 years ago were still the issues that affect us today. And we can learn both from the mistakes that were made in the past and the you know the things that people did right and you talk about the Hazon Ish and the Hazon Ish’s kiddish cup and you talk about women rabbis, and all of these kinds of things. It’s really amazing to see how we still argue about it. But we should gain strength just to end on a nice note we should gain strength and the fact that the Jewish tradition is alive. And then on clubhouse we can still argue about argue and discuss the same issues and that makes us stronger and that makes us better. So whether you’re in Paris, none on the East Coast or anywhere in between have a Shabbat Shalom, enjoy the Parsha Chodesh Tov. It’s the beginning of the month of Elul.  Rosh Hashanah is right around the corner. Enjoy everybody and we look forward to seeing you next week at our regularly scheduled time. Eight o’clock on the East Coast Eastern Daylight Time. Shabbat Shalom Shabbat Shalom Geoffrey

Geoffrey Stern  28:55

Shabbat shalom. Au revoir rabbi and enjoy and take notes from Paris and for the rest of us. Yes, let’s realize how up to date, the Torah is always and keep our focus on strange little pictures and visions that occur and try to get to the bottom of them. Be sure to look for the Madlik podcast, give us some stars say something nice. And with that I will say Au revoir from Connecticut. Shabbat shalom.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/426413

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Attitude is Everything

parshat eikev, deuteronomy 8-10

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on August 18th 2022. Much in this parsha relates to the correct and incorrect attitude. The Israelites are described as “stiff necked” and “rebels” (mamrim). They are warned not to attribute their success to their own power and commanded to bless God even when satiated. Finally, they are told that all God wants from them is their fear. We explore the power of disposition and attitude in Jewish thought.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/425215

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. In this week’s Torah reading the Israelites are described as “stiff necked” and “rebels”. They are warned not to attribute their success to their own power and commanded to bless God even when satiated. Finally, they are told that all God wants from them is Yira… translated as fear, awe or wonder. We explore the power of disposition and attitude in Jewish thought. So welcome to Attitude is Everything.

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Well, welcome back rabbi from the holy city of Beer Sheva, it’s great to have you back.

Adam Mintz  01:08

It’s nice to be back in New York. And I’m looking forward to our discussion tonight about Eikev.

Geoffrey Stern  01:13

Absolutely. And next week, we’re going to do it at 12:00 Because you’re going to be in Paris

Adam Mintz  01:19

So we’ll see whether we can put a little bit of French Jewish history into it next week.

Geoffrey Stern  01:25

You should be called the Traveling Rabbi. But anyway, we are all traveling one portion one parsha at a time. And this week, we are in the portion of Eikev. And as I referred to it has a lot in it. But towards the end it says And now Oh, Israel in Deuteronomy 10: 12. What does your god demand of you? Only this, to revere your God, to walk only in divine paths to love and to serve your God with all your heart and soul? And the fear your God isכִּ֣י אִם־לְ֠יִרְאָ֠ה אֶת־ה’ אֱלֹקֶ֜יךָ. And so, you know, this kind of reminds you of these great closing lines. I’m thinking of Micha, but where the prophets really end up saying, and this is it all in a nutshell. And the rabbi’s took something profound from this verse. In the Talmud, Berachot 33b, it says Rabbi Hannina said everything is in the hands of heaven, except for fear of Heaven. הַכֹּל בִּידֵי שָׁמַיִם, חוּץ מִיִּרְאַת שָׁמַיִם man has freewill to serve God or not, as it is stated, and he quotes our verse. And now Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you other than to fear the Lord? So why don’t we stop right here we’re going to have a great discussion about orientation and disposition and we’re going to touch upon all of those other verses that talk about maybe the characteristics of the Jewish people. But let’s stop here for a second and just talk about Yirat Shemayim. you know, it’s a very basic term you introduce religious parents to a friend in New York. He’s a real Yirat Shemayim… it’s kind of the tagline for a religious observant. Personality. What does Yirat Shemayim actually mean? Is it fear and trepidation?

Adam Mintz  03:35

It’s a good question. I like to translate it as awe what is all mean, if you meet, I don’t know, if you’re a basketball fan, and you meet LeBron James, you’re not afraid of LeBron James, but you’re in awe of Lebron James. That’s the way we’re supposed to think of God, we need to be in awe of God. Now there is some fear, because God has the ability to punish. But if you’re in awe of God, then you behave in a certain way. Like if you’re in the presence of the Queen of England, you’re going to behave in a certain way, because you’re in awe of the Queen of England. So, I prefer the word awe to fear.

Geoffrey Stern  04:16

So you mentioned about fear of punishment. And I think if you start to look at the traditional texts, you start to sense this tension between fear of outcomes and fear of God. So, in Pirkei Avot, it says Antigonus a man of Socho received [the oral tradition] from Shimon the Righteous. He used to say: do not be like servants who serve the master in the expectation of receiving a reward, but be like servants who serve the master without the expectation of receiving a reward, and let the fear of Heaven be upon you. וִיהִי מוֹרָא שָׁמַיִם עֲלֵיכֶם So here it’s almost in a positive sense rather than fear of punishment, it’s looking for reward. But they seem to be all tied together. And you can’t but ignore this concept that I always heard in the Yeshiva, which is do something for its own sake do it L’shma. What is the tension here?

Adam Mintz  05:23

Well, you bring up the idea of doing it for its own sake. See, you also said this what you learned in the Yeshiva, you know, I see them and what you call the yeshiva people had a big dispute. Hasidim thought that you should do things. because they get you closer to God. You know, there’s a dispute about what time to daven, to pray in the morning. Yeshiva, people like to pray early, because that’s when the time the Rabbis say, That’s the proper time to pray. Hasidim, if you ever went to a Chabad shul, you know, they start at 10 o’clock in the morning, because they believe that it more it’s more important to pray in a way that will get you closer to God. And the way that will get you closer to God is if you get to sleep late, then you’ll be able to pray and get closer to God. So the idea of why you do something, are you afraid of punishment? Do you want to get closer to God? Or is it just l’shma? Just because is actually a fascinating discussion.

Geoffrey Stern  06:33

So I went to, I would consider Torah Vadaath a Hasidic Yeshiva. And so the explanation I heard for why the Hasidim can start services, even after the prescribed time of saying the Shema. They say if you go to a restaurant, and the food is mediocre, it better be served fast and on time. But if you go to a five star restaurant, you’ll excuse them if it’s a little late. That’s what they tell me. So it was the quality of the prayers, too. But I totally agree there is a tension, I wouldn’t say quality and quantity. But certainly when you talk about fear of God, it brings up this dialectic between what exactly are you afraid of? And what is your motivation? So Maimonides on his commentary on the Pirkei Avot  that I just quoted, he kind of gets into this tension too. And he says, And nonetheless, he did not exempt us from fear of God. So he talks about how important it is to be serving God not for reward. And he said, even as you serve from love, do not discard fear completely. And may the fear of Heaven be upon you serve from love, serve from fear, he quotes the Talmud in Berachot. And then he adds, he says, you know, Love is a great pathway for the positive commandments. And fear is a great pathway for the negative commandments. And all the more so for the irrational commandments. So again, I think there’s this sense that even though our text in our pasuk that we just quoted seems to imply or at least the rabbi’s took it this way, because if you read the whole verse, it says, you know, revere God and then it says, work in his pathways love to serve your God with all your heart and soul. The thread that we’re following tonight, focused almost in isolation on this concept of fear. And the commentary seems to try to, I don’t know, square it with all the other intentions that are so important, and it almost comes out to be a backstop. And that’s why tangentially This Antigonus Ish Socho said, do it for the right reason, do it for the right reasons, but never give up on fear. So it almost seems like a default. A plan B if everything else fear fails, there’s always fear.

Adam Mintz  09:20

Well, let’s go back to the pasuk that you quoted. It says what is God asked from you? He only asks fear. So actually, that’s what I think they’re playing on. Why is it that he only asks fear? What about everything else? God doesn’t ask you to fast on Yom Kippur. God doesn’t ask you to keep the Shabbat. God doesn’t ask you to keep kosher. What do you mean all God asks you is for fear of God. So the Rabbis say everything’s in Heaven’s hand except for fear but that’s kind of a weak answer.  I think that’s what we have to talk about. Why is fear qualitatively different than everything else.

Geoffrey Stern  10:02

So I love I love your focus. And I think really for the rest of our discussion, we are going to discuss the “only”. The total laser focus on this disposition. But before we do, I would like to bring this Yirah up into the more present. And I do want to say, because we’re going to be discussing this concept of a disposition, of an attitude as being so singular. I do want to bring Heschel into it, and Heschel writes in God in Search of man. He says, according to the Bible the principle religious virtue is yirah. What is the nature of yirah? The word has two meanings, fear and awe. There is the man who fears the Lord lest he be punished in his body, family, or in his possessions. Another man fears the Lord because he is afraid of punishment in the life to come. Both types are considered inferior in Jewish tradition. Fear is the anticipation and expectation of evil or pain, as contrasted with hope which is the anticipation of good. Awe, on the other hand, is the sense of wonder and humility inspired by the sublime or felt in the presence of mystery. … So, we’re going to talk a lot about this isolated disposition. But clearly, I don’t think we need to be cornered into talking about fear, certainly not fear of punishment. You said you think of it as awe. I love even going a step further with Heschel to wonder. And of course, he wrote a whole book on All I ask for is Wonder, which is actually a re-statement of what “only” God asks from us. So I love this wonder. And I think if I bring anything and maybe the two of us, if we bring anything every week, it’s reading the verses again, and thinking about it with an element of wonder.

Adam Mintz  12:03

I mean, it’s so great, that really what we’re talking about here is just the definition of one word, which is yirah. And it’s on it’s wonder, and it’s fear. And it’s all of the above. But isn’t it so interesting? How we’re looking for the right English word?

Geoffrey Stern  12:18

Absolutely, absolutely. So let’s get back to this concept of intentionality and attitude and disposition. Once I focused on this verse, and I reread the portion, and I couldn’t help and I said this in the intro. Notice that for instance, in Deuteronomy 8, where God is kind of bringing back the whole history of the travels in the desert. And he said, and when you get to the land, and when things start to look good, do not say to yourselves, my own power, and the might of my own hand, have won this wealth for me. The Hebrew is כֹּחִי֙ וְעֹ֣צֶם יָדִ֔י עָ֥שָׂה לִ֖י אֶת־הַחַ֥יִל הַזֶּֽה. And for those of you who know Hebrew, certainly rabbinic Hebrew. That’s a catchphrase. That’s a phrase for again, a disposition of someone who feels that the good that he has, is because of his doing, his merit. And that, again, it’s the opposite of hakarat haTov of recognizing that we are just a small little part and anything good that happens to us, we should be thankful to God to others to happenstance to circumstance for but certainly not proud. So it is a disposition. And it’s a powerful one, is it not?

Adam Mintz  13:46

Very powerful. I mean, that this idea is something that appeared in last week’s parsha. And something that appears again this week. And that’s the idea of humility, right? Don’t think that we’re so great. And I saw somebody today gave the explanation that the reason Moses goes through a whole kind of narrative at the beginning of this week’s parsha saying, you know, it was hard for you in the desert, and God took you out and God took care of you. Because what Moshe’s is most concerned about, …. you know, when you think about it, the Jews had it pretty easy over 40 years, it took 40 years, but miraculously, they survived. They were victorious. And every battle they fought, they won, you know, it’s very easy to get haughty to get arrogant based on that. And what Moshe says to them is, don’t do that. Don’t say כֹּחִי֙ וְעֹ֣צֶם יָדִ֔י realize that we need to be grateful to God and to one another for the fact that we were so successful.

Geoffrey Stern  14:45

The next very famous attitudinal characteristic is in Deuteronomy 9, where God says, I see that this is a stiff necked people עַם־קְשֵׁה־עֹ֖רֶף הֽוּא It’s not talking about something that an orthopedic surgeon can solve or a good massage can cure. This is again, it’s a disposition. God is really through Moses or Moses on his own is really focused on the dispositions of the people and in these particular two first instances, they’re not all that positive. But to say that someone’s עַם־קְשֵׁה־עֹ֖רֶף הֽוּא is again, it appears throughout the Bible does it not

Adam Mintz  15:33

It all the time, that is a description of the Jews a stiff necked people, a stubborn people. Now stubborn and ungrateful are not exactly the same thing. I think that’s important. They’re not the same thing. Right? They’re two different criticisms.

Geoffrey Stern  15:51

And I think that’s why it’s so important. This is not a broken record today. I mean, the narrative, the soliloquy by Moses is focused on different negative dispositions, orientations, attitudes of the people that come up so often that you’ve got to recognize them, and they’re different. And then the third one is in Deuteronomy 9: 24. And it says, As long as I have known you, you have been defiant toward God, מַמְרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם עִם־ה’. So you know, again, this is slightly different than just stiff necked, stiff necked is stubborn. It’s different than כֹּחִי֙ וְעֹ֣צֶם יָדִ֔י which is have ingratitude and to very quickly think that the world operates at your request. These are three, I love that you pointed out that they’re different because they I think, intentionally different.

Adam Mintz  16:51

I think that’s right. I mean, Moses has tried to say a lot of different things. And they’re variations on the same theme, because probably people who are stubborn, are ungrateful. That’s probably true. So they’re related to one another, but they’re not exactly the same thing. Moses is making a few different points, and מַמְרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם now the word my Mamrim, that they rebelled right Mei Meriva. The, the place where Moses hit the rock is called Mei Meriva.  is where you rebelled. The idea again, if you’re stubborn, you rebel. If you rebel, then you’re ungrateful. They’re all related ideas.

Geoffrey Stern  17:36

So I think that what this raises for us, especially if we end up at the only thing I asked for you is to have this disposition, variously known as fear, or wonder, is that unlike so many other places in the Torah, this particular parsha is absolutely laser focused on you’ve got to have the right disposition. Because if you have the wrong disposition, it doesn’t matter how many of the commandments you keep, and how many of the prohibitions you keep away from your you’re not getting the message. And again, that gets back to what you focused on, which is the word “only”. This is כִּ֣י אִם. This is the holy grail. So I ended up at a yeshiva in Israel called Be’er Yaakov. And the head of it (Rav Shlomo Wolbe) was one of the last of the great mussarniks. The Mussar movement I might have mentioned it before, was started by Israel Salanter. And the whole focus was on understanding what Yirat hashem is understanding what the disposition is. And if you had to pick the textbook for the Mussar Movement, it would have been the one written by a name that we’ve heard before Luzzato.  But not Shmuel David Luzzatto. Shadal. But Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, the Ramchal and it was called Melilat Yeshurim which is The Path of the Just and they were related. The Ramchal lived in the 1700s and Shadal lived in the 1800s. They were cousins once removed. And what he did in this book and I have the introduction or parts of the introduction in the notes on Sefaria., he says, you know, there are so many of us that study creation in nature, we study astronomy, mathematics, there are those of us who study the holy Torah among those occupy themselves with halakhic and analysis, others with Midrash he says, but there are few who devote thought to this study of fear, clinging in a The branches of piety. And then he goes on to say, and most of us who are educated think of those who have a focus on fear as almost superstitious. They’re saying psalms over and over again, they’re holding their prayer beads or twiddling their, their prayer shawls. And he really created a revolution, in the sense that he wanted to focus in a laser-like fashion in trying to understand: , we truly examine the matter, we will discover the truth and benefit ourselves. He quotes King Solomon, and it says, if you will seek it as silver and search for it as buried treasure, then you will understand the fear of God. And he ends by saying, and I’ll end quoting from him here…  Why shouldn’t demand set aside for himself at least fixed times for this study, if he is forced for the rest of his time to turn to other studies or affairs? So what happened in the Mussar Yeshiva? We were talking in the pregame about us study partner at high school. The most unique thing about studying Mussar for half an hour a day in a mussar Yeshiva is you don’t do it with a study partner. You do it totally alone. And you read these books and you try to understand what is this disposition? And it really focuses on everything that we’ve been talking about till now. Which is yes, there is fear of punishment. And yes, there is fear that protects you from doing wrong and the bad things, but at the crux of it, is what is this only thing that we have? And I just find that so, so fascinating?

Adam Mintz  21:47

That is absolutely fascinating. And it’s interesting, you bring in the Mussar Yeshiva. You said you went to the last Mussar Yeshiva. What’s happened now is that everything is kind of been put together like a stew, like a cholent. The Hasidim are with the non-Hasidim, the Mussar with the non-Mussar there’s a little bit of everything. So that idea of Mussar, that idea what is fear of God, it’s still there, people still learn Mesilat Yisharim, which is an interesting thing. And you know what he says in Mesilat Yesharim in the introduction that you quote, is that this world is like an entryway to the world to come. That the whole purpose of this world is to get us ready for the world to come. So the purpose of this world is to fear God so that we can be ready for the world to come. It’s all God-centered. That idea that we’re focused on the World to Come means that everything is God-centered. It’s a very interesting notion, which really is found in the Mussar movement, but you don’t find it in traditional Jewish literature.

Geoffrey Stern  23:01

So, the only thing that I would, you know, kind of try to at least parse slightly differently, is because you can translate fear as awe, as Wonder, the what strikes me is and doesn’t have to apply to the world to come a world of punishment or reward. It just strikes me that what the Ramchal, Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto was trying to do, was trying to, in a sense, create an interpretation or an outcome from our verse. If all that God asks of us to is to fear him, or hold him in awe, or to have this disposition of wonder, then shouldn’t we kind of focus on it a little more? And, to me, what is fascinating is less the content or the answers to that question, as it is the focus on the question itself, this laser like focus on the disposition, and I think the thinker that I’m going to bring in now, I’m not sure he has ever been brought up in the same breath, as Yisroel Salanter, but I’m talking now about a psychologist named Viktor Frankl who survived the Holocaust. And he wrote a book called Man’s Search for Meaning. And what he said in that is, yes, the primary motivational force for an individual is finding meaning in life, he found that if you had meaning, your chances of surviving were better. It didn’t matter if you were communist or a Bundist or a Chasid. As long as you had something to hold on to, you could find a reason to survive. But you know, he went further and he says life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones. And that, I guess, is baked into that. But then he goes one step further, we have freedom to find meaning in what we do and what we experience, or at least in the stance we take, when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering, what he said is basically, that the most evil empire in the world could take anything away from you, but it can’t take away from you, your will to life or your will for meaning. And so what he took away from his interpretation, I believe, of the only thing you have is Yirat Hashem awe of God mystery of God is the only thing you have is attitude. And that’s why I named this week’s session, attitude is everything. You can take anything away from anybody, but not your attitude. And I think if you look then backwards, I really do believe you can start connecting the dots in the sense of not whether this person was religious or a philosopher or whatever. But ultimately, at the end of the day, what God could be at or Moses could be saying here is, you know what, at the end of the day, what you got is your attitude. Do I make too big of a leap here?

Adam Mintz  26:25

I love it. So, the I love it. So, let’s just take it, let’s parse it, as you said, you know, Viktor Frankl says, No one can take away your meaning, your self-definition of what’s important to you. And obviously, to a religious person, that meaning is awe of God, it doesn’t have to mean that. I don’t know if it meant that to Frankl. But the point is that it could mean that to people who are religious, they define their religion awe of God. So therefore, they would apply what Frankl said. And they would say, That’s right. You can’t take away my awe of God. It’s related since Frankl lived through the Holocaust, and he was talking about the Holocaust. It’s related to the people who went to the gas chambers with you know, saying Shema Yisrael, or saying Ani Ma’amin. They wanted to show that you can take away everything from me, even my life, but you can take away the meaning you can’t take away the Ani Ma’amin, you can’t take away the Shema. Which is exactly what Frankl, meant.

Geoffrey Stern  27:28

Absolutely, absolutely. And as a psychologist, the other paradigm shift that you see is he was less focused on what was out there. And more focused with what is in here, meaning in your mind. And I think that too, is an unbroken connect your dot type of trail back through the Mussarniks back through the Talmud that says, all you have is a year right Hashem, that the ultimate thing is that it’s in your it’s in your mind. And because it’s in your mind, you are the creator of it. And you can almost look at that verse and the Rabbis is saying הַכֹּל בִּידֵי שָׁמַיִם, חוּץ מִיִּרְאַת שָׁמַיִם, we haven’t really focused on that so much, which is to say, almost like God can do anything. God can predict anything. God can control anything. But God has a singular limitation, he cannot control what’s in your mind. And that aspect of it, I think, to me, is the mirror image of a Frankel’s saying that it is truly in your mind. And because it’s in your mind, it cannot be in any way diminished by outside circumstances. And I think that’s a it’s a total trail.

Adam Mintz  28:58

So I love it, I would just change the smallest little thing you know what I would say? What I would say is, I don’t know that God can’t do it. Maybe God doesn’t want to do it. Maybe the meaning your meaning needs to be defined by yourself. And that’s exactly what the Torah says that everything’s in the hands of God except for fear of God. That’s God’s choice. We believe that God can do anything, but God chooses not to do that. Isn’t that interesting?

Geoffrey Stern  29:34

I think so. And I think you would probably agree with me at the end of the day that we might be splitting hairs.

Adam Mintz  29:41

I’m sure we are but since you brought up Frankl I want to kind of fit Frankl in. Now he wasn’t intending to be fit. You know, he wasn’t thinking that he was going to be brought up in the Parsha class on the Parsha Eikev, but it’s interesting to think about him because Jewish thought is Jewish thought and if he gives us some insight into what the rabbi’s mean? They’re not that valuable.

Geoffrey Stern  30:03

So I’ll finish with one insight I had sitting in my first introductory to philosophy class and the founder of modern philosophy as many times thought of René Descartes, who started Cartesian philosophy, which is, I think, therefore, I am “cogito, ergo sum”. And what he said sitting in his room is, how does he know anything is actually out there. And I can’t do justice to that in two minutes, but you can understand how it was all in the mind. And so philosophy almost becomes the study of the mind. But what he based it on was a theologian. 100 years, 200 years earlier, named St. Anselm, and St. Anselm says, you know, you can’t imagine two plus two equal five. So not everything that you can imagine can be true, but you can imagine God we have this concept of God. And God is a being of which there is nothing greater. So, what is greater an imaginary God or a real God. And you can look at the notes, you could spend years studying this, whether it was a good proof or not a good proof. But my point is that the ontological proof for God made by St. Anselm said ultimately, it’s all in your mind. And it’s all your attitude. And I think that is where you and I are maybe splitting hairs, because at the end of the day, it’s the God that we imagine and the imagination that God gives us. And we do have these dispositions. Some of them are good, and some of them are great, and some of them are not so good. But I think what this week’s parsha makes us focus on is those things that only we have, and that are not in the hand of God. And those are our thoughts and our dispositions, and it’s a powerful poem, to the power of our own self realization.

Adam Mintz  32:08

I love it. I think this is great. This idea and Frankl and the idea of fear of God, and putting together a lot of things very much in the spirit of what Moshe tried to do in the parish of Eikev. So, thank you so much. Shabbat shalom, everybody. Looking forward to seeing you all next week from Paris be well, and Shabbat Shalom,

Geoffrey Stern  32:26

Shabbat Shalom, I’ll see you all next week. And make sure you listen to us on the podcast and if you like it, give us a review or a star and share it with your friends. So with that, I wish you a great parshat Eikev.  Parshat Mevorachim, and I’ll see you all next week.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/425215

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Enough

parshat vaetchanan, deuteronomy 3

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

Adam Mintz  01:15

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

Geoffrey Stern  01:20

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

Adam Mintz  03:59

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

Geoffrey Stern  04:32

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

Adam Mintz  04:52

Exactly the same idea.

Geoffrey Stern  04:54

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

Adam Mintz  06:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  06:45

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

Adam Mintz  07:23

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

Geoffrey Stern  08:16

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

Adam Mintz  11:18

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:15

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

Adam Mintz  12:53

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

Geoffrey Stern  13:05

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

Adam Mintz  14:25

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

Geoffrey Stern  15:10

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

Adam Mintz  16:44

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:19

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

Adam Mintz  18:53

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

Geoffrey Stern  19:05

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

Adam Mintz  20:29

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

Geoffrey Stern  21:21

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

Adam Mintz  22:21

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

Geoffrey Stern  22:32

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

Adam Mintz  23:57

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:24

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

Adam Mintz  27:44

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

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

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

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God – What’s in a name

parshat balak – numbers 22-23

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

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

Transcript:

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

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Adam Mintz  00:58

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

Geoffrey Stern  01:04

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

Adam Mintz  05:05

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

Geoffrey Stern  06:22

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

Adam Mintz  08:24

Absolutely. would agree with you about that. Yes.

Geoffrey Stern  08:27

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

Adam Mintz  10:19

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

Geoffrey Stern  11:19

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

Adam Mintz  13:45

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

Geoffrey Stern  14:59

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

Adam Mintz  16:47

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

Geoffrey Stern  17:49

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

Adam Mintz  19:21

My typical response is that they’re synonyms.

Geoffrey Stern  19:23

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

Adam Mintz  19:31

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

Geoffrey Stern  22:30

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

Adam Mintz  23:23

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

Geoffrey Stern  24:16

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

Adam Mintz  24:16

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

Geoffrey Stern  30:03

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

Adam Mintz  31:06

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:27

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

Adam Mintz  33:26

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

Geoffrey Stern  33:45

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

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Murder in the Desert

parshat Chukat, numbers 20

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

Adam Mintz  03:27

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

Geoffrey Stern  04:37

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

Adam Mintz  07:38

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

Geoffrey Stern  09:16

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

Adam Mintz  10:58

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

Geoffrey Stern  11:18

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

Adam Mintz  13:08

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

Geoffrey Stern  13:26

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

Adam Mintz  18:19

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:25

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

Adam Mintz  22:45

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

Geoffrey Stern  24:14

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

Adam Mintz  26:43

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

Geoffrey Stern  27:39

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

Adam Mintz  29:58

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

Geoffrey Stern  30:25

Shabbat Shalom, Nesia Tova, enjoy!

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

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