Category Archives: Judaism

Food Fights and Gastro Diplomacy

parshat miketz (genesis 43)

Ancient Egyptians wouldn’t break bread with Hebrews and were known to have rigorous dietary restrictions….. How does this play out in the Exodus narrative and what does it mean for us? Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz for a live recording on Clubhouse December 2nd, 2021 for the first Madlik lunch & learn as we discuss the social power of food.

Food Fights and Gastro Diplomacy

Parshat Miketz- Shabbat Hanukkah – Food Fights-Gastro Diplomacy. Ancient Egyptians wouldn’t break bread with Hebrews and were known to have rigorous dietary restrictions….. How does this play out in the Exodus narrative and what does it mean for us?

Sefaria Source Sheet: http://www.sefaria.org/sheets/365771

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:04

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey stern and at Madlik we like to light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host a weekly disruptive clubhouse, Torah discussion on clubhouse, typically on a Thursday evening, but today is a special first, of all time Lunch and Learn 12:30 Eastern, which happens to be about 9:30 in Dubai, which is where my sidekick Rabbi Adam Mintz is so welcome, Adam. In any case today, we are going to look at a very small little mention of eating habits in Egypt and of Jews. So I suggest you all get on your aprons put down those latkes, maybe take of a vodka. And join us as we discuss food fights and gastro diplomacy. Well, Rabbi Adam, welcome from Dubai a few weeks ago, I was in Israel and you were in New York. Now I’m in Connecticut, and you are in Dubai, how exciting.

Adam Mintz  01:13

This really exciting, really, really exciting, but the best part of it is that we’re able to continue this tradition even though we’re so far away. And I’m looking forward to discussing the this week’s parsha which is parhast Mikeitz together with everybody. Happy Hanukkah, everybody. And Geoffrey, why don’t you introduce the topic? And we’ll take it from there.

Geoffrey Stern  01:31

Absolutely. Well, it’s a lunch and learn and guess what we’re going to be talking about food. So in this week’s parsha of Miketz we’ve been following Joseph Story. And we’ve gotten to the point in this story where finally all of the brothers come back to Egypt. With Benjamin, the younger brother they’ve met met all the requirements of the visor, the prince of Egypt named Joseph. And in the beginning of Genesis 43 Joseph says to his servants, he said, When he saw Benjamin, “take the men into the house, slaughter and prepare an animal for the men will dine with me at noon”. And again, nothing really out of the ordinary here. He says, they’ll dine with me, which is fine. But then, as the story progresses, first of all we get an emotional response because Joseph now is going to have lunch with his brothers. So he says, after he saw Benjamin, “Joseph hurried out for he was overcome with feeling toward his brother, and was on the verge of tears, he went into a room and wept there. Then he washed, his face reappeared, and now in control of himself gave the order: ‘serve the meal’. They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, for the Egyptians could not dine with the Hebrews, since that would be abhorrent to the Egyptians. KiTohavat hi l’mitzrayim’. So now already, we understand that when he said “they will dine with me”, there were a dietary restrictions, and we as Jews who are so used to having our own dietary restrictions cannot but be interested, intrigued by the fact that we’ve seen no dietary restrictions by the Hebrew people, but here they are in Egypt. And it seems like the Egyptians will not eat with the Jews either because of who they are, or what their diet is. And then if we continue on a little bit into a future parshiot, we see that when the 70 family members of these 12 brothers come to Egypt, and this favored nation is going to be given a place in the suburbs. It says, Pharaoh tells them to go live in Goshen, “you may stay in the region of Goshen”, it says in Genesis 46 “for all shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians uses the same word, “ki tohevat l’mitzrayim kol roeh Tzon” And so now we’re starting to see a little bit of a trend here. And finally, and then I’ll get some comments from the rabbi is that much later on, when Moses is saying to Pharaoh, let my people go, we want to go into the desert to worship and sacrifice to our Lord. Pharoah says Nah, why don’t you just do it in Egypt? And here Moses replied, “That would not be right to do” he says in Exodus 8, for what we sacrifice to the Lord our God is untouchable to the Egyptians the same word Toheva. “If we sacrifice that which is untouchable to the Egyptians before their very eyes, they will stone us.” So this is a major, I would say sociological, anthropological statement that goes through the the Jews, the Israelites that he was 400 years sojourn in Egypt, there was a dietary wall between them and the Egyptians. Rabbi Adam, have you ever thought about this? How does it affect you? And what are your impressions?

Adam Mintz  05:40

Well, first of all, let me say, Geoffrey, it’s a fantastic topic. Because, you know, when you think about Joseph in Egypt, as the viceroy, and the brothers coming down to Egypt, there’s so much intrigue, you know, interpersonal intrigue, but to take a step back and to see how they fit in with the Egyptians, I think is a great topic. So let me just back up, you brought a couple of examples. One was the fact that in this week’s parsha be Egyptians wouldn’t eat with the Jews. The last example you brought was the Moses said that we can sacrifice sheep in Egypt, because that would be a pourraient to the Egyptians. Let’s take the second thing first. The question is, why is sacrificing sheep abhorrent to the Egyptians? So I think the classic explanation is that the Egyptians used to worship the sheep. And therefore, for us to sacrifice sheep, which is their God, we would be considered to be totally inappropriate. Now, if that’s true, we can relate that back to here. And that is we can say that the Egyptians wouldn’t eat with the Jews, because there are different dietary rules. Now, that’s interesting, because, you know, in today’s world, you say, okay, you know, I’ll eat the fish, or I’ll eat the salad. It’s okay, I can eat with anybody. But clearly, the Egyptians didn’t feel that way. Clearly, the Egyptians felt that if we eat differently than the Jews, then we can eat with the Jews. So that’s Possibility number one. Possibility number two is, of course, that is a social thing. And that is the Jews are beggars. They’re coming from the land of Canaan. We know that Canaan is a foreign country, we know that they look down on the people of Canaan, and maybe they just wouldn’t sit down with people they consider to be lower class. Now that Geoffrey is a whole different ballgame. That’s a whole different discussion, because that has ramifications in how they saw Joseph, meaning Pharaoh appoints Joseph to the viceroy. Why? Because Joseph interprets the dream, and he predicts the famine, and he turns out to be right, so he makes him viceroy. But what did they really think about Joseph? Did they really respect Joseph? Or did they think that Joseph was really second rate, or we would use the term second class, and maybe that’s reflected in the brothers. And maybe Joseph the whole time, is really worried that his position as viceroy is very fragile, that you know, because they don’t really respect me. And therefore, if I don’t act, just so I’m gonna get thrown out of my position. And maybe that can help us understand some of the ways that Joseph reacts to his brothers, and to Pharaoh and kind of being nervous about Pharaoh. So I think we want to today explore two options. One is the option of food. And that is the question of whether the Egyptians and the Jews share the same food. And the second is the social issue. And that is, did they sit together, even though they consider themselves to be more upper class?

Geoffrey Stern  08:52

Wow, you’re raising a lot of issues and it is complicated, like everything else in the Torah. So I want to pick up on on the two points that you you made. One is that you’re absolutely correct. The, the traditional explanation given by the Rabbi’s, is that kind of like in India, where the cows are holy and cannot be touched. It seems to be the impression that for the Egyptians, sheep were, it’s like taboo, is it because they were holy or they were untouchable. It’s hard to say, but But certainly, they could not be eaten. But I think the fact that we elevate our eating habits to a question of theology, and God really emphasizes the fact and I’ve called this week’s episode. The food wars is that eating food is is something that is so social and imbedded with emotion, that it ultimately does become a very primary battleground for distinguishing and identifying ourselves and ourselves, visa vis others. So so that, you know, I started by saying that Joseph wiped away tears went into another word, eating with his brothers was an emotionally laden experience. The other thing that you raise is it so much diet? Or is it a way of defining the Egyptians as opposed to putting down the Jews? So there is  one of commentaries is an a guy born in the 1800s of the 19th century thinker called Shadal Shmuel David Luzzatto. And he references in the Hebrew that even Hordut, which is Herodotus, testifies to the fact that the Egyptians were very picky eaters. And so I went ahead and googled and found a study of what Herodotus says about Egyptian eating habits. And lo and behold, this is the case of that when Herodotus deals with them. He says that the Egyptians had many food avoidances, they have this pickiness, which was all foreign to the Greeks, they maintained food taboos, and it is the Egyptian ones who were expressing disgust at the practices of the Greeks. So here we go, and even a Greek who would find himself in Egypt. And of course, this might be many late years later after the Exodus, but the Egyptians had a very strong tendency of using food and eating and that social interaction as a way of defining themselves as superior it would seem to not only the Jews, but also to the Greeks so we don’t have to take it that that personally. But clearly, if we were leaving Egypt, and ultimately the whole story of Genesis and Exodus is to help us define who we were. So many times we focus on slavery and freedom. So many times we focus on, whether it’s the Egyptian preoccupation with death. But this does add a kind of fascinating new element to what the exodus from Egypt is and what it could be. In terms of the the ruling Egyptians, the Overlord Egyptians used food and looked at food as something that was very divisive. And that was kind of fascinating to me.

Adam Mintz  12:49

Yeah, that point, Geoffrey is a super interesting point, the fact that that food is divisive, it’s kind of startling, because we think of food is the great unifier. When you want to make up with somebody, what you do is you take him out to dinner. I don’t know how long that’s been going on going on for but it definitely has been the tradition for as long as we remember. Right? You take him out to dinner, because somehow food’s the great equalizer, even if we disagree about everything, but we can agree about the food that we eat, we can enjoy food together. So food is a is a tremendous unifier. And it’s been used that way let’s imagine centuries. So isn’t it interesting that in Egypt, food is the divider? That’s like a Wow, isn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  13:41

It is and it’s not because as I said previously, but I’ll kind of amplify now, food is something that unites us, but many times it unites us in counter distinction to others. And anyone who keeps kosher knows that on the one hand, you’re absolutely correct sitting down and having our latkes…  there’s nothing more cementing in terms of relationships than that. On the other hand, by being kosher in many cases, one says I can’t eat with somebody else. And I think that the rabbis picked up on this I found a fascinating Midrash, in the MidrashTanchuma and it goes back to earlier in the Joseph story, and it says And Joseph poured an evil report of them to his father….  remember the Father gave him this multicolored ggarment, and sent him out to check up on the brothers. So he told his father, according to this Midrash my brothers eat the limbs of living animals. My brothers are doing what is called Ever min haChai, they’re breaking one of the seven Noahide laws, the only kosher law that presupposes the giving of the Torah at Sinai. The Holy One bless it be he declared, continues the Midrash, be assured you will be such suspected of committing the very act you accused them of committing. And he says because he spoke slander against them his brothers became embittered, set into motion the chain of events that resulted in the descent of ancestors that their bondage in Egypt for 400 years. So talk about food being a part of this discussion, and the use of food to both unite but in this case to divide, according to this Midrash. That’s what started this whole exile…. 400 years of exile in Egypt was caused by Joseph telling his father, my brothers are not eating kosher, they went to a McDonald’s.

Adam Mintz  15:44

I mean, that is absolutely fantastic. Now, of course, you always have to take those kinds of things with a grain of salt, because what I was gonna say is, what’s also interesting is that the laws of Kosher don’t come up for another two books. It’s not till the book of Vayikra (Leviticus), that we’re actually taught about the laws of Kosher. So you wonder about that tradition that that’s what caused the 400 years of exile. Was it really kosher? Or was it really just this idea that certain groups of people eat certain types of foods, see we’re not even talking about that, but you think about, you know, different classes of people eat differently. We don’t have that so much in our day, because everybody has access. But when you watch television programs or movies, about British royalty, you always watch, I would say the help you know, the the butler’s and the servers and all those people, they’re always eating in the basement. And if you notice, they’re not eating the same food that is being served upstairs in the royal dining room, there was an idea that there was certain types of food that were special for royalty, and that not everybody else was allowed to eat that food. So when you talk about Joseph, and you talk about what they ate, there might have been a certain feeling that Jacob’s family was royalty. We know that actually, it’s interesting. I’m switching a little bit because visa vis Egypt, they might have been second class. But in Canaan, we know that they were royalty, right? Abraham is royalty. Isaac is royalty, Jacob is royalty, everybody’s afraid of them. Maybe they eat a special kind of food that other people didn’t eat, because just like the king eats special kinds of food. So I always wondered about that. Is it that they ate McDonald’s? …. Maybe McDonald’s is the kind of food that royalty doesn’t eat.  Did they eat non kosher? Or did they just eat a food that wasn’t becoming of them. But that’s really a serious thing. And maybe just to take it one step further, maybe just maybe the laws of kosher and I know it’s always tricky to give explanations for the laws of the Torah, but maybe the laws and the Torah of Kosher also related to the fact that we’re God’s people, right. However, the Torah understands that, that God’s people need to eat certain kinds of food. I’ll just tell you that this is off topic, but it’s related because we’re talking about food, the Ramban? Nachmanidies one of the great Spanish commentators who lived in the 1200s. So he gives a great explanation. The Ramban says why is it that the animals need to have split hooves and chew their cud? He said, Because animals that have split hooves means that they have toes, the opposite his claws, he said, animals with claws, they devour their prey, right, they clawed their prey. We don’t want to eat animals like that you are what you eat. And the same thing with fish, we only eat fish with fins and scales. He says that fish with fins and scales tend to swim closer to the surface. And because they swim closer to the surface, therefore, they’re more human than the fish that swim all the way in the deep, the deep water fish. And so it might be related to the fact that that even the laws of Kosher are somehow connected to the idea that God says you’re gonna be my people. I want you to certain kind of food.

Geoffrey Stern  19:20

So I think that’s fascinating. I’m wanta pick up on what you said about we are way ahead of the laws of kashrut at this point, and I agree to a degree but I want to bring up what I think is the punch line. Now that we’re looking at this as a gastronomical. Journey, the punch line of the last night in Egypt, so we’ve gone through the 10 plagues, and now we’re ready…..  We’re having the first mandated Torah mandated meal that ultimately developed into the Passover Seder. They are taking that lamb which is taboo either because it’s holy or for some other reason to the Egyptians, so they are taking the deity of Egypt, and they are going to slaughter it and eat it. But the Torah adds an additional restriction. And what it says is you have to form a family or a household. And then it says in Exodus 12, “o foreigner shall eat of it”. So the idea was, if you start with our story today, where we see Joseph is not allowed to dine with the Egyptians, the Egyptians are in charge. Here at the end of the 400 year Exodus story, it gets flipped on its head, and the Israelites are having a meal, and no, Egyptians are allowed to dine with them. So it truly becomes then a story of a food fight, so to speak. But I will add an additional element to this. And it’s a question that I must say, is bothering me. You know, it seems that if you were a slave in a land of Egypt, where they use food, and I use the word “use” in the sense of exploiting, they exploit food and eating as a way of distancing themselves from other people of degrading other people, you would have thought that the Israelites, the Jews would have rebelled against that. And in a sense, you can almost say, and this is the disruptive thought that I have of the week, is that we’ve absorbed it that it’s like the victim becomes the victimizer, so to speak, that we Jews have taken from our masters, the Egyptians, this sense of using food to divide us from other peoples in a sense, as much as we recognize that food is something that unites us. That was a question that came to my mind.

Adam Mintz  22:04

Good. So I like that. I mean, obviously, that’s disruptive Torah. I mean, what you’re suggesting is that we are still using food to separate us. There’s a very interesting law, there’s a law that wine needs to be kosher. Now, that’s a strange thing, because we all know that wine is the same wine, whether it’s kosher or not kosher, but kosher wine means that the wine is prepared by Jews. Where did that come from? So the rabbi’s. This is not from the Torah, the rabbi’s decided that basically, matches between men and women, boys and girls are made over wine. And therefore, and they didn’t want assimilation, they didn’t want intermarriage, they felt the best way to prevent intermarriage was to not allow us to drink wine and with non Jews. Now, first of all, that’s also interesting, because you know, alcohol is not included in that it’s only wine. That was because 2000 years ago, they didn’t drink alcohol. They only drank wine, but the but that idea, but here you go, Geoffrey, this is your disruptive point. And that is that we over time, have used food as the great divide as the great separator.And that law, that rabbinic law is so fascinating, because it recognizes the potential of food to be the unifier. And what we’re saying is no, we don’t want it to be a unifier. We want it to be a separator. Interesting thing, I’ll just tell you, the Conservative movement actually wrote that that’s ridiculous. You know, if a Jewish man wants to marry a non Jewish woman, you know whether or not they drink wine together is not going to make the difference. And therefore they did away with that prohibition. But just see that that’s really at issue here.

Geoffrey Stern  23:57

Yeah, I mean, it is fascinating in terms of historical development, and it started with Rav Moseh Iserles , the Ramah who found a whole community of Jews and their rabbis who were drinking regular wine, and he went out of his way and he said, You can’t use this in general terms. But you know, the the laws of, of making a wine libation and idol worship, they don’t exist anymore today. So we come down to a social question. And I think that’s where the Conservatives kind of said, if if we could stop into marriage by prohibiting wwine we would do it in a heartbeat. But guess what, that that’s not the answer. But again, this is gives us both an appreciation for the power of food. And here we are in Hanukkah, and we love the food associated with a holiday and know what it means to us and how it almost transcends so many other other things of the holiday, it’s part of our identity. So it shows the power of it. So I’d like to move a little bit forward and share wiyh you two amazing stories that I have kind of garnered and cherished through my life that kind of relate a little bit to this question of, of food and and what we call gastro diplomacy. So the first I heard from Rabbi Riskin, and it’s in the source sheet, and it’s of the great Mussatnik rabbi Yisrael Salanter. And he’s invited to the home of a very prestigious, wealthy person in the in the community. And he walks in coming back from synagogue on Friday night with this gentleman, and the gentleman is aghast, he sees that the challah has not been covered. And he screams to his wife, Yada, why is the hollow not covered and she embarrassed comes and covers the challah and Rabbi Yisrael Slanter turns to this person. And he says, Do you know why we cover the challah? And the guy says, Well, of course any child in cheder knows why we cover the challah. Because all through the week, we start our meals with a blessing on the bread. And on Shabbat, we start with wine. So in order not to embarrass the bread, we cover it. Rabbi Yisrael takes a breath. And he responds, he said, and you just embarrassed your wife. So you totally don’t understand the message that came out of your mouth. He says I’m sorry, the food in this house is not kosher, and he left. And of course that touches upon, you know something that Rebbe Jesus if you will said that it’s not important what goes into a person’s mouth, but that which coming out of his mouth that is what defiles a man, but certainly we Jews have taken in the concept of eating this ethical element. And you were talking a little bit about that when you talked about maybe what makes an animal Kosher or fish kosher. But certainly what we did was we took from the Egyptians, this understanding that food is a powerful vehicle of a philosophy an ideology and ethics and morals. And I think that is a positive takeaway that we took from our oppressor and we reirected it and maybe that’s a direction that we can take this in.

Adam Mintz  27:40

I think that’s good. I mean, first of all that story about Yisrael Salanter is a beautiful Rabbi Riskin story. And you know it says everything about what food is and what really matters when it comes to food. So I love that story. What’s your second story?

Geoffrey Stern  27:53

My second story is related to what is called the Maimonedian Controversy. So Maimonedes was a radical thinker with a capital “R”. And the Europeans, the Ashkenazim had many problems with Maimonedes. And at a certain point in time, they put a delegation together. And this again in the source sheet, and it’s well documented, they sent a rabbi Meir to go visit Maimonedes. And the first thing, Maimonedes, invited him to a meal. And the first thing is he put food on the plate that looked like human hands, then Miamonedes goes ahead, and he asks his servant Peter, to fetch the wine, please and pour some wine for everyone at the table. And finally, he takes a calf, and he slaughters it in a very humane way. But he doesn’t use a schita knife, he doesn’t slaughter it in the manner prescribed by Jewish law. And so then he sits down and of course, Rabbi Meir as all of us would says, Thanks, I’ll have the fruit cup. He doesn’t want to embarrass the rabbi. But basically, he assumed that Maimonedes was guilty of preparing the most treif of treif dishes. I’d like to think that we talk about kosher style food, which is food that looks kosher, but actually doesn’t necessarily fit all the prescriptions. What Maimonides did and this might be the first time in history this was done was made a treif style meal, and Maimonides explained to him exactly why everything was kosher. But I think in a sense, Maimonides understood this turf war that we all use in terms of determining what somebody’s standing is what somebody his relationship with God is with the law is and he rebelled against it. He probably rebelled against somebody judging him in general. But he explained why everything was kosher. But clearly he went out of his way to circumvent what many times is used by our kosher laws, which is to use them as a way of defining other people.

Adam Mintz  30:15

So I think that’s a great last story for this. I mean, I think today’s class, just to kind of summarize, since we have two minutes to go, I think today’s class is really is a kind of subversive kind of class, because it really highlights the fact that food which we take as the great unifier, is actually something that’s a lot more complicated. And back to the time of Joseph, and literally today, we have this idea that food is a divider. And the question is really how you use food. And I think Geoffrey probably what we want to say is that it’s kind of the combination of prohibited food, and the social aspects of food. So when I brought up at the beginning that there are two ways to understand this one is it the Egyptians wouldn’t eat sheep, and the other is the Egyptians wouldn’t sit with the lower class people. I think the answer is it’s both correct. And every story that we’ve told, and even the Israel Salanter story shows that there’s more of a social thing. That’s a cultural thing. So I think that’s really mean that really gives people a lot to think about. And I think it was a great topic for this week. Because Hanukkah, one of the things that brings people together on Hanukkah is of course the food, right? Every Hanukkah party has special foods for Hanukkah, and we know that Hanukkah actually is the holiday when you’re supposed to eat fried foods, because that’s the oil. You’re also supposed to eat dairy foods, because somehow they interpret the miracle that the that the general of the enemy was defeated, because there was a righteous woman by the name of Judith, who gave him milk and therefore got him thirsty. And then she got him drunk, and then she killed him and the Jews were saved. So we have we have fried food and we have dairy foods. So here you go. We have food again, as an equalizer, but I think Geoffrey will be able to go into Shabbat Kanaka appreciating the fact there’s more to food than just what goes into our mouths. So thank you, everybody. Shabbat shalom. Hanukah Sameyach from Dubai. We look forward next week again to doing our lunch and learn this was a great setup, at least for one more week. And Geoffrey enjoy. And I look forward to continuing next week.

Geoffrey Stern  32:25

Thank you so much rabbi. And I was inspired for the subject matter by last Shabbat last weekend. Michael is in the audience. I was with him. And we were basically in the kitchen for three days and there was a chef there, there was a wonderful woman named Anna Polanski, who is making a film on what has been called the Hummas Wars. And yes, there’s something called the Hummas Wars. And it is as cutting edge in terms of cultural adaptation, appropriation, these are issues that are on the front burner of so many people as food becomes more and more important to us and the planet. And I just want to thank so many people who are using food in novel ways. And we are just I think, at the cusp of how some of these stories become our stories. And so I wish everybody a Happy Hanukkah, enjoy your your latkes, maybe with some vodkas and Shabbat shalom. And please feel free to listen to this as a podcast on Madlik. And now we’re going to have the after-party, and I am going to invite any one of you who would like to make a comment or introduce a subject. Michael, welcome to the Bima

Michael Stern  33:55

Thank you. Such a wonderful Hag Samayach! This whole conversation reminded me of a story called which wolf do we feed and this is an internal concept where there’s the wolf, which is our ego, the wolf with switches our immediate gratification, the wolf, which doesn’t understand that some action might have a bad effect in the future. And the other wolf is kind and caring and takes into concern others and which wolf do we feed and so for me, in this internal family system, there are the Egyptians which is that wealth of ego, which disdains and even comes up with justification and stories and rationalizations and judgments and dividing concepts. And then there’s the Israelite wolf that honors not to eat the calf in the mother’s milk, that honors family, that honors and knows there’s cause and effect. And so which wolf do we feed? And I love seeing Torah as this metaphor. And for today, I really see an internal family, an internal universe, an internal planet, which has my own divides inside of me. And I want to learn from this to be more careful, more caring to know, am I the Israelite wolf or the Egyptian wolf, and do I feed my higher power? As you said the fish from the higher waters, God wants us to be our higher selves. So I have to feed by which thoughts will I build upon and digest and which thoughts will I throw out into the sea of thoughts? And we suffer in today’s world also from eating disorders. And I think eating disorders are known to represent a psychological emotional imbalance. So I love also taking it to this level of perception. Thank you. It’s beautiful.

Geoffrey Stern  36:32

Thank you so much. And again, happy Hanukkah to everybody. Feel free to check out our podcast and share it with your friends and family. Shabbat Shalom and Hanukkah Samayach.

https://www.clubhouse.com/join/Madlik/aNTn8REz/MR006KXa

Sefaria Source Sheet: http://www.sefaria.org/sheets/365771

Listen to last weeks episode: Genesis as Her-Story

Genesis as Her-story

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Judaism, Religion, social commentary, Torah, tribalism

Genesis as Her-story

parshat vayeshev (genesis 38)

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

Genesis as Her-story

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

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

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:04

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

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

Adam Mintz  08:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  09:42

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

Adam Mintz  10:00

Charles did have something to add to that.

Charles S  10:04

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

Adam Mintz  11:58

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:54

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

Adam Mintz  19:02

Mendy What do you think?

Mendy  19:04

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:36

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

Mendy  23:20

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

Adam Mintz  23:37

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

Geoffrey Stern  26:00

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

Adam Mintz  28:28

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

Geoffrey Stern  30:21

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

Michael Stern  32:46

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

Mendy  34:21

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

Geoffrey Stern  36:09

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

Michael Stern  38:15

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

Geoffrey Stern  38:54

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

Michael Stern  40:13

Thank you

Mendy  40:14

very very appreciated.

Geoffrey Stern  40:17

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

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

Arguing with God and Man

parshat Vayishlach (genesis 32) Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded live on Clubhouse on November 18th 2021 as they discuss arguing with God in the Bible and later Rabbinic texts and Jewish Literature. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel which we are told means to struggle with Man and God.

Leave a comment

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

Arguing with God and Man

parshat Vayishlach (genesis 32)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded live on Clubhouse on November 18th 2021 as they discuss arguing with God in the Bible and later Rabbinic texts and Jewish Literature. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel which we are told means to struggle with Man and God. How do we live up to this name?

Arguing with God and Man

parshat Vayishlach (genesis 32) Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded live on Clubhouse on November 18th 2021 as they discuss arguing with God in the Bible and later Rabbinic texts and Jewish Literature. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel which we are told means to struggle with Man and God.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/363352

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:04

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern. And at Madlik we like to light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish tradition or text. We also host a clubhouse at 8pm, Thursday nights Eastern, where we have disruptive Madlik Torah. And tonight I’m joined with Rabbi Adam Mintz. And we are going to discuss the metamorphosis of Jacob, who turned into Israel by fighting, arguing, struggling with an angel. So get yourself into  debating mode, where we discuss arguing with God, and man. Welcome to another week of Madlik, the Parsha is Vayishlach and we have the story of Jacob coming back to the land of Israel. He’s about to cross the Jordan. And because we are all a product of our past, now he has to confront his past, he has to confront his brother Esau, who if you remember he swindled out of birth blessing. And now he comes with a family. He’s a family man. He’s gotten some wealth to him. But he is basically fearful for his life. And we are going to focus on that moment, before he comes and crosses the Jordan River. And he’s alone at night, he sent his family, split them up into two camps to protect them. And now is alone on the bank of the Jordan and confronts an angel. So in Genesis 32, it says, “Then Jacob said, oh god of my father, Abraham and God of my father, Isaac, oh Lord, who said to me, return to your native land, and I will deal bountifully with you, I am unworthy of all the kindness you have steadfastly shown your servant with my staff alone, I cross this Jordan, and now I have become two camps, deliver me I pray from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, else, I fear, he may come and strike me down, mother and children alike “am al banim”. And then he goes on and he says, after taking them across the stream, he sent them all his possessions. Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn, when he saw that he had not prevailed against him. He wrenched Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him. Then he said, let me go for dawn is breaking. But he answered, I will not let you go unless you bless me, said the other. What is your name? He replied, Jacob, said, he, your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed. Jacob asked, pray, tell me your name. But he said, You must not ask why name and he took leave of him. So Jacob named the place Penuel meaning I have seen a divine being face to face yet my life has been preserved. Then the sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel limping on his hip. That is why the children of Israel to this day, do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the socket of the hip, since Jacob’s hip socket was wrenched at the muscle.” So this is the source of why Jews cannot eat filet mignon. So already, we have a wonderful takeaway. But the real question, is, this striving this struggling with this angel, and the name change to Israel, and the name Israel literally implies struggling with man, and God. So you can’t even say that this is a subtext of a subplot when someone’s name is changed, and that name means to struggle with God and man, that’s pretty profound. Are we? The B’nai Yisrael, the children of Israel, are we a little argumentative? Are we strugglers is that that the take away from this, is this a key characteristic of the Israelite Jewish story?

Adam Mintz  05:09

I think the answer is yes. I think that Jews throughout the ages have liked the impression that the Jews struggle that goes with Jews being a minority, you know, Jews are a minority, we always have to struggle. And therefore, even though obviously, the name change goes back to the Torah, I think it’s a name change that has resonated with Jews throughout history. And I think that’s kind of interesting when you think about it.

Geoffrey Stern  05:42

You know, there’s a famous saying, in Perkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, that says, A machloket l’shem shamayim an argument that is for the sake of heaven, will endure forever, but one that is not for the sake of heaven will not endure it. And anyone who has studied whether it’s the Mishneh, whether it’s the Talmud, the Oral Law, which is actually an oral law, it is a transcript of literal arguments between our rabbis, and those of you who like myself has studied in a traditional yeshiva know that when you walk into the study hall of a traditional Academy of Jewish learning, of a yeshiva, it is the absolute opposite of walking into a library, which is calm and quiet. A yeshiva the din of students arguing amongst themselves, they call it the Kol Torah is overwhelming. But in a sense, because everyone is arguing there’s a silence as well, you can actually focus and concentrate. But that truly is a real element of an argument and conflict of ideas and passions, deeply rooted in our tradition.

Adam Mintz  07:16

That is correct. The Rabbi’s say in the Talmud, that there’s nothing better than students arguing with one another when they’re studying Torah. That’s part of the experience of studying Torah is being able to argue with one another. And I that’s that’s a very strong idea. And you know, what’s interesting about the name Israel, is the fact that the Torah says that Jacob struggled with God and with man. And the question is, what the significance of that is, actually the one he’s struggling with is the angel. But the angel seems somehow to represent Easav, who’s the one he’s about to confront. So there seems to be two parallel stories, almost like two parallel train tracks going on here. One is the experience of Jacob and the angel. And the other is the experience of Jacob and Easav. And I wonder what we make about the combination of those two stories here.

Geoffrey Stern  08:20

You know, before I get to my understanding of what he means, by struggling with man, I want to make us very current, there was a book written about 10 years ago, and it’s called Startup Nation. And it tries to address why Israel per capita has so many entrepreneurs has so many startups and in the preface, it talks about a few Israelis who are sitting in a conference room and arguing amongst themselves at the top of their lungs, about a who knows what some minutiae of how to program or start their company, and the American colleague who views this, and then sees the same people that had been deep in argumentation, go have a drink later and laugh and hug each other was amazed by it. And the same thing applies to the Israeli army with is this lack of recognition of [authority], this anti hierarchical respect. And they both go to this sense of you can argue with anybody and and he liked something rather interesting, and I’ll quote, so when he asked Major General Fakash why Israel’s military is so anti higherarchical and open to questioning. He told us it was not just the military, but Israel’s entire society and history. Our religion is an open book, he said, in a subtle European accent that traces that traces back to his early tweens in Transylvania, the open book he was referring to was the Talmud a dense recording of centuries of rabbinic debates over how to interpret the Bible and obey its laws. And the corresponding attitude of questioning is built into Jewish religion, as well as into the national ethos of Israel. and Israeli author Amos Oz has said, Judaism and Israel have always cultivated a culture of doubt and argument, an open ended game of interpretations counter interpretations reinterpretations opposing interpretations from the very beginning of the existence of the Jewish civilization. It was recognized by its argumentativeness.” And and I quote that picking up on your comment about this sense of arguing with God, and arguing with men, and there’s no question that deep in our essence, in our core, is this sense of taking the other position of looking at an alternative approach. And whether he’s talking about his potential future confrontation with his brother ESAV, or the years that he spent working for his father in law, and striving against a man who at every turn, was out to get him? I think that in our case, Jacob Yaakov really did have under his belt, the ability to say, I have striven with man and I have striven with God. And I have prevailed.

Adam Mintz  11:44

I think that’s right. You see, Jacob is always identified as the first Jew in exile, the first diaspora Jew, because Abraham is basically in the land of Canaan. And Isaac never leaves the land of Canaan. But Jacob, his whole life is with Laban. And then with Easav It’s a life of struggle. We often don’t think about the story here. But Jacob has another confrontation in the city of Shem, when his daughter Dina is raped. And that’s a very difficult story, because his sons take revenge against the people of Shem. And Jacob seems to get angry at the sons for embarrassing him. And the sons seem to get angry back at Jacob, which is just a very interesting back and forth there about what’s going on. What exactly is Jacob’s, place in the diaspora, Jacob always seems to be struggling. And just to look forward to next week what’s interesting is, when Jacob finally gets settled back at home, that’s when he has real trouble, because that’s when he favors his son, Joseph. And that’s when Joseph is hated by the brothers, and sold, and the whole story of Egypt begins. So actually, Jacob has a hard time, we would say in today’s language, figuring it out, I think.

Geoffrey Stern  13:22

So. So in other words, it doesn’t end. [laughs]

Adam Mintz  13:25

Yes, That’s, that’s my, that’s my read of from here to the end of the book of Genesis. It doesn’t really end, Jacob has trouble. And more than anything, Jacob struggles, you know, is he victorious? I don’t know. If he’s victorious.  You know, the rabbi’s want to make him victorious, the rabbi’s are very proud of Jacob, because Abraham has Yishmael, and Isaac has Esav, but Jacob, all his children are true to his tradition. So you know, in a sense, they want to make it seem as if Jacob is somehow superior to his father and grandfather. But I don’t know that that’s so clear or so simple.

Geoffrey Stern  14:11

So I want to pick up on this concept of argument is the essence of the Jewish people. I mean, you know, again, the fact that we are called Yisrael which means striving with God and man, according to the verses that we just read. You can you can ignore that. So there’s a wonderful book, and it’s called Arguing with God, a Jewish Tradition by Anson Laytner. And he literally writes a whole book about this concept and you have heard me speak previously about how we now know from Ancient Near Eastern texts, this whole concept of making a [treaty] covenant and stuff like that, what he picks up from similar ancient texts is that is a whole tradition of what he calls this prayer of arguing with God. And what he does is he talks about how it’s called The Law Court Pattern of Prayer. It’s literally taking a god to court. And of course, what the Jews did with that was because their relationship with their God was so unique, and they only had one God, it was taking the single God to court. And of course, that makes a paradigm shift, because you can’t play one god against another. And I think as we look at different examples that the author brings, I think we’ll see stuff that really resonates that we’ve all heard about. But I want to start with one of the texts that he bought that actually relates to the argument, or I should say, the thoughts that Jacob shares with us today. If you recall, when I read a second ago, Jacob split up his his family into two. And  he said whether musing to himself or to God, that He says, I fear he may come and strike me down. Mothers and children alike, “Aim al Banim”and, and the Midrash pipes in and explains that he is actually in a sense, taking God to court here. And what he’s saying, and I quote, Bereshit Rabba 76 He says, “I fear he may come strike me down mothers in childhood, like, but you said, [Jacob says to God,] if along the road you chanced upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on ground with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings, or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young”, there is a law in Deuteronomy that literally prohibits you from taking the eggs out of a nest, while the mother bird is still on it. Somehow, it broke with the moral, the ethical aesthetic of the Bible. There’s another law that said, “he may come and strike me down mothers and child alike, but you wrote, you have written in your Torah, do not kill a cow, or ewe and it’s young on the same day.” So again, according to this operation, robber, Jacob is also referring to a law in Leviticus that says, you cannot, again for this same moral aesthetic reason, kill a mother and child cow on the same day. There’s something about uprooting any sense of continuity among any species that rankles the ethics of the the Torah. And it goes on to say, “if this wicked one, Esau comes and destroys all at once, what will happen to your Torah, which in the future you will give on Mount Sinai, who will read it, I entreat you deliver me from his hand, that he will not come and kill both mother and child together” So the the author of this book has multiple examples, we’re going to visit a few through history, where this Jewish concept of taking God to task, quoting his own Torah, and this is something that the author feels in any case, is unique in the Jewish religion, Rabbi, do you feel that that is something that is unique to us?

Adam Mintz  18:47

That’s a good question. I don’t know the other traditions well enough? To answer that question. I can just say that it is a very striking aspect of Judaism. calling God to task is a fascinating idea. The fact that, we have all these examples, my favorite is Abraham calling God to task about destroying stones, and you know, really try to negotiate with God, the idea of negotiating with God, it’s such a crazy notion, how can you  negotiate with God, but Abraham feels comfortable enough to negotiate with God. So I think the fact that we’re willing to take God to task is something that is very striking, I’ll just add to that idea of taking God to task. There’s another rabbinic idea. And that’s the idea that God suffers with us, that when we suffer, God suffers together with us. We take God to task but God it’s not as if God’s our enemy, God is with us and even God, when we go into exile, God goes into exile with us so we take God Death. And God responds in a way that really is very compassionate.

Geoffrey Stern  20:05

Absolutely. Almost God’s there with us. You know, the other thing that we have touched upon in the past is that much about Genesis is a forecast of what will happen in Exodus, going down into Egypt, in the case of Abraham and Sarah, and even Jacob. And it occurs to me, that Jacob here crossing the Jordan is identical to Moses about to cross the Jordan. But unlike many of the other precursors, I think that this story is slightly different, because Jacob is allowed to cross the Jordan, with his people, and Moses is not. And another example of this argument with God can be found in Devarim Raba. And this is, what words are put into Moses, his mouth, and Moses says, “Master of the Universe, the labors and pains which I have devoted to making Israel believe in your name are manifold and known to you to what trouble I have gone with them in connection with the precepts in order to fix them Torah and precepts thought, just as I have witnessed, they are Whoa, so too, I would behold their award. But now that we’re word of Israel has come, and you say to me, You shall not go over this Jordan. [And here’s where Moses gives his argument.] Behold, you made a fraud of your own Torah as it is written, you must pay him his wages on the same day before the sunsets, for he is needy, and urgently depends upon it else, he will cry to the Lord against you, and you will incur guilt. Is this the reward I get for 40 years labor that I went through in order that Israel should become a holy and faithful people.” So here Moses is taking the law, that you have to pay a laborer, the money that you owe him before you go to sleep, you can’t let the sun set without paying him. And Moses is saying, I suffered with these people for 40 years, I paid my dues, and now you won’t pay me what is is owed to me. And and again, it’s an amazing argument. But I think in the sense, it becomes even more profound, because we have to grapple with why Jacob was allowed to cross over into the Jordan, I mean, Jacob, if you look at the text, both this week, and last week, Jacob makes a very similar argument. He says, I worked with Laban and I worked for seven years for one wave seven years for another, he gets to ESAV. And he goes, I know you are concerned about me having the blessing. But I worked for everything that I show you today. I paid my dues, and he is somehow allowed, to course the Jordan, but Moses, who makes this type of argument that I think only a B’nai Israel could make is somehow not allowed. So my question is, well, my comment is twofold. Number one, why was Moses not successful in his request, but two this sense of argumentation, of literally, just as Jacob was able to hold the angel and say, I will not let you go until you bless me is a tradition that starts, as you say, from Abraham, and goes all the way through Moses, and we’ll see in a second through throughout Jewish history, it’s it’s very profound.

Adam Mintz  24:05

Yeah, I mean, yes, the answer is it is it is very profound. How do you take it as it relates to Jacob specifically, What do you think the fact that this is true about Jacob, and that we’re called Israel? What does that mean for us going through history?

Geoffrey Stern  24:25

Well, I think it certainly gives us a license, if not an obligation to argue and to take our God to task. You know, it’s a very fine line who this angel is, at some point he’s called Elohim. At some point, you could come to understand him as to be man, but definitely, somehow by the end of the story, and Jacob is obviously a person who throughout his life is looking for blessings he’s looking for recognition, he’s looking for someone to, say you are you, you are your own person. But nonetheless, Jacob does achieve that. He can’t forget his past, it’s not going to go away from him. But the legacy that he gives to his children, and to the world is this, I would say, not only license but an obligation to struggle and to argue with one’s God. And it enables him, I think, to get across the the Jordan and get into the promised land. And so he is successful, where maybe Moses was not.

Adam Mintz  25:55

Yes. So the idea that He gives permission that I think is a very critical idea that Jacob is actually the one who gives us permission to challenge God. And that, throughout history, Jews have challenged God as the descendants of Jacob. And that’s what we do. We challenged God. I mean, we asked, Where was God? Where was God in the Holocaust? Where was God when young children are killed in terrorist attacks in Israel? Where was God? And what you’re really saying correctly, is that that’s what Jacob did in a way, in, you know, in in challenging the angel is he’s challenging God. I wonder why the rabbi’s say that the angel was the angel of Esav. What did they gain by that?

Geoffrey Stern  26:51

Hmm, I hadn’t really seen that. But whether the angel was the angel of God, or whether the angel was the angel of ESAV, where Jacob becomes Israel, is by standing on his own feet and standing up to him. And, you know, I think this concept of arguing with God almost transcends a standard belief in God. In the texts and the traditions that the author that I quoted before brings, he brings poetry written and prayers written during the Holocaust, and after the Holocaust, and you mentioned the Holocaust. And you know that, that is a tipping point, in a sense, and I’d like to read just a little poem written by somebody called Jacob Gladstein, that he quotes. And I’m not sure the person who writes it can anymore believe in God. But when I read it, I pictured Jacob, sitting after fighting the angel, giving thought to what everything he’s come through all of the losses that he’s had. And here’s what he writes. And it’s really about God, and this person sitting in the DP camp. And he writes, “I love my sad god, my brother Refugee love to sit down on a stone with him and tell him everything wordlessly, because when we sit like this, both perplexed, our thoughts flow together in silence, my poor God, how many prayers I’ve profaned, and how many nights I’ve blasphemed him and warned my frightened bones at the furnace of the intellect. And here he sits my friend, his arm around me, sharing his last crumb, the God of my unbelief is magnificent. Now that he’s human and unjust, how I love my unhappy God, how exalted is this proud, pauper, now that the merest child rebels against his word” , and I really see in this words, Jacob sitting with the angel after fighting all night, and they’re both breathless and out of any strength, and they just put their arms around each other. And it’s an amazing picture. I had a professor of philosophy at Columbia, Sidney Morganbesser, and he was in great pain before he died. And one of his students came to him, and he said, “Why is God making me suffer So? do you think it’s punishment for me not believing in Him?” …. yeah he said that and he’s quoted as saying that, but again, it has this same tension that we of Israel are obliged to struggle with our God. And that, in a sense, is our essence. It’s it’s just, it’s just fascinating.

Adam Mintz  29:59

That is correct. It is just fascinating that that becomes our essence. And your essence is always your name. We always say that right? You know, names mean a lot. And the fact that we are named the children of Israel means a lot that, you know, that shows that our essence is that we’re made to struggle. You know, they often talk about you talked at the beginning what it’s like to be in yeshiva, and you know, the argumentation. You know, that goes on. But that’s our personality, we argue with one another. And we challenge everybody, we even challenge God, Isn’t that an amazing thing? We argue with one another, and we even argue with God.

Geoffrey Stern  30:47

I think it is amazing. And the most fascinating takeaway that I have taken away from this, and I haven’t seen it written anywhere else. Is I started by saying that the outcome of this story is that the Jewish people do not eat filet mignon, they do not eat that part of the animal that has the sciatic nerve in it. Because Jacob walked away from this battle with a limp. And what’s fascinating is, there is really no commandment from God, that we not eat this piece of meat. The verse says, That is why the children of Israel to this day, do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the socket of the hip. And what’s amazing to me is this is a commandment that possibly does not come from God. Is it one of our 613 commandments? Yes, it is. But where does it come from? It comes from Israel to Jewish people. And it’s a sense of when you come out of that struggle, and you limp away and you fought with man, but more importantly, in this context, you fought with God. Therefore, until this day, we Jews, maybe it’s our commandment, versus God, we are we remind our God, our God within ourselves or a God out there, that we have struggled with him or her, we continue to struggle with him or her, but it is a commandment that comes from us. I mean, how many times in Genesis does it say there were seven wells and therefore until today it is called Beersheba. It’s not a commandment. It’s a point of fact. But in this particular case, the fact that Jews, Israelites B’nai Israel do not eat from this piece of meat is a testament to our willingness and our need and our obligation to strive with God and man.

Adam Mintz  32:59

That I think is a beautiful note with which to end this discussion. The portion next week is Vayesh. It’s right before Hanukkah. Let’s have a great discussion next week. Thank you and welcome back. Geoffrey, this was a really good discussion this week. And Shabbat Shalom to everybody. Happy Thanksgiving. And we look forward to seeing you all next Thursday, Thanksgiving day to talk about Yayeshev.

Geoffrey Stern  33:21

Shabbat shalom. Thank you. Bye bye

——————————–

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse on Thursday November 18th at 8:00pm Eastern as they discuss arguing with God in the Bible and later Rabbinic texts and Jewish Literature. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel which we are told means to struggle with Man and God. How do we live up to this name?

https://www.clubhouse.com/join/Madlik/WdvReddo/mgb9zodb

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/363352

Listen to last week’s podcast: HaMakom: Place / No Place

HaMakom – Place / No Place

Parshat Vayetzei – The Rabbis learn from the multiple use of the word MAKOM – Place in the story of Jacob’s Ladder, that God is the Place of the World, but the World is not His Place. What can we learn from the Rabbis?

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Chosen People, Hebrew, Israel, Judaism, monotheism, prayer, Religion, social commentary, Torah

HaMakom – Place / No Place

parshat vayetzei (genesis 28-32)

A live recording of Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse on November 11th 2021 as we discuss the Rabbi’s enigmatic saying that God is the Place of the World, but the World is not His Place. שֶׁהוּא מְקוֹמוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם וְאֵין עוֹלָמוֹ מְקוֹמוֹ What can we learn from the Rabbis?

With “guest” appearances from Spinoza and the Kotzke Rebbe

HaMakom – Place / No Place

Parshat Vayetzei – The Rabbis learn from the multiple use of the word MAKOM – Place in the story of Jacob’s Ladder, that God is the Place of the World, but the World is not His Place. What can we learn from the Rabbis?

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/360797

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:04

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host a clubhouse every Thursday evening at eight Eastern which we record and post as the Madlik podcast. If you like what you hear, give us a star and share with your friends. And write a review. Today along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we climb up and down Jacob’s Ladder, and explore the evolution of the Hebrew word for place; Makom. Makom signifies both a unique place in Jewish history and geography, and a place that transcends both place and time. So find yourself a comfortable spot, but don’t get too comfortable as we explore hamakom- place / no place. Well, welcome I am broadcasting from Tel Aviv and rabbi Mintz is in New York. So we are in two different places. And we have a wonderful portion today it’s called Vayetzea, and it is about a famous story of Jacob, on his way to find himself a bride and the sun sets and he finds himself in a certain spot, he puts a bunch of rocks under his head as a pillow. And he falls asleep and has a dream of a ladder going from the ground up to heaven. And there are angels going up and angels going down. And when he wakes up, he realizes that he is in a very special place. And we are going to focus not so much on that story, because I just told you this story. And know you remember it from Hebrew school. But we are going to focus today on a word that is used multiple times. And I have used it already a few times today. And it is the word for place it is Makom. So now I’m going to read a little bit of the text in the actual language it’s written in. And we are going to focus on how this word is used here. And then how the history of that word developed over time. So we are in Genesis 28. And it says of Jacob, “He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night for the sun had set, taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. That was one verse and it said Makom three different times. And then it talks about the story that I just described. And towards the end it says Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, Surely the Lord is present in this place. And I did not know it  Shaken, he said, how awesome is this place? This is none other than the abode of God. And that is the gateway to heaven. Early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put unto his head, set it up as a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.”So Rabbi, what do you make of this use of the word place over and over again? Is it just a special place? What is going on here?

Adam Mintz  03:43

Well, first of all, let me say that, you know, that clearly is the key word in this story. It’s not so much the dream. It’s the fact that Jacob has found the place. Now according to rabbinic tradition to start backwards. This place is the place where Abraham was ready to sacrifice Isaac, it’s this place that became the place where the temple was going to be built. So therefore this is the place the mountain in Jerusalem, this is the place and Jacob locates the place. And I think that’s a really interesting idea in Judaism, that there’s significance to place. You know, on one hand, we’re told to believe that God is everywhere. Hasidic masters always say, Where is God wherever you let him in. But in addition to that, there is the idea of God being in a specific place, there was the temple, and when the temple was destroyed, the temple was replaced by synagogues and Geoffrey you’re in Israel, and this week you were in Northern Israel. They have some amazing archaeological finds there. of ancient synagogues. There were synagogues that go back more than 2000 years. So the idea of having a place in Judaism, and of course, you know, it’s funny in COVID, people had synagogues outdoors. But in the Middle East in the summer, they needed synagogues outdoors,  so they kind of beat us to the punch. They had synagogues outdoors in gamla and in many of these places. So the significance of place is extremely important to find the place, there is a place where God is closer, there is a place where we can communicate with God. And I think at least on the simplest level, that’s what the Torah is telling us about Jacob, he found this place.

Geoffrey Stern  05:48

So you mentioned that the rabbinic interpretation is that the place is Moriah, it’s where the binding of isaac occurred. And Rashi, of course, because he always gives us an insight into what the traditional interpretation says, says exactly that. And the interesting thing about that is if you look at Genesis 22: 4 it says, “On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar” haMakom meRachok  So that’s kind of interesting and some of the classical commentators pick up on that as well. That there’s a sense, of course, with Yaakov, of not knowing that he was in a very holy place, having the dream waking up and realizing my gosh, I am in a very holy place. And Abraham seeing the place from afar. As you mentioned, there is this connection between the place and a temple, a synagogue. If you notice at the last few lines that I read, what he does, when he realizes that he’s in a holy place, is he takes a stone, and he sets it up as a pillar and he pours oil on it. Later on in the parsha. way. later on, after Jacob has toiled for both Leah and Rachel, his two wives, and he leaves Laban, his father in law in a hurry. After Laban chases  him they make a pact of friendship, because there’s a lot of tension there. And here, too, it’s kind of interesting, they set up a stone, very similar to what Yakov did at the beginning of the portion, when he finds out he’s in a holy space. And here, too, they set it up, but they do something kind of interesting. Yaakov calls it Gal Eid” (Gilaid) which means the stone is a witness. And Laban, in one of the few times in the Bible where we get a kind of a translation, he calls it “yigal Saduta” which is Aramaic. And those of you who have studied archaeology know, whenever they find one of these stones (stella’s)  that has languages translated on it, it provides a way of understanding the past. So I think that if you look at it, just from the perspective of a physical stone, of physical place, we have all of these dynamics going on. We have man seeing the holiness from afar, and then maybe discovering it, we have man solving problems of social conflict and making a pact and consecrating so even if you look at it at the most, I would say literal way. It’s a fascinating insight into sanctification of a particular place, wouldn’t you say?

Adam Mintz  09:12

I would say there’s no question about that. And again, the idea that you can sanctify a place, we still have that idea. You know, there are certain rules that apply to synagogues that don’t apply to other places. You have to treat synagogues with a certain amount of respect. synagogues are sanctified

Geoffrey Stern  09:29

in a similar way. And then of course, there’s this concept of this stone here. So before we leave and go on a World Wind tour of how this developed in rabbinic literature, I think we would be remiss if we didn’t talk a little bit about the significance to at least two religions of literally, this stone. If you go to the Dome of The Rock if you go to Har Habayit, there is the cornerstone there, the Even hashatea   We call it the Foundation Stone. And in Islam, it’s called the Noble Rock. And it’s very likely that this is the story of exactly that stone. And of course, you have the beautiful Midrash which explains why when Yaakov went to sleep, it says he put a number of stones under his head, and he woke up and it says, He took the single stone. So you have these stones fighting amongst themselves, whose head who will have the head of this righteous man on me, and they all come together. But this is the noble rock this is the Even hashatia, is it not?

Adam Mintz  10:53

It definitely is. So that stone becomes the holiest stone, the holiest place in Jewish history.

Geoffrey Stern  11:01

And there is a another beautiful Midrash that says that when the world was created, and man was made from the earth, that in fact, he was made from literally this earth. According to Rashi, it says “he took the dust from that spot on which the Holy Temple with the altar of atonement was in later times to be built, an altar of Earth thou shalt make for me.” And Rashi draws the conclusion, between the words Earth used in making the altar, and the words Earth used in making humankind so this is really the kind of the fulcrum, the eye of the universe for the biblical and rabbinic mind. It’s pretty dramatic.

Adam Mintz  11:56

It most definitely is  This story of the place is extremely dramatic. And you drew the parallel to the story of the binding of Isaac. And they’re also Abraham sees the place  It’s never by accident, when the Torah uses, the same word in different contexts. If the Torah uses the same word in different contexts, it’s coming to tell you that you’re supposed to connect the stories. So when you connect this story of Jacob’s dream with the story of the binding of Isaac, this story is elevated. And actually just to say another thing. That means that all three of our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all had an experience in the place, the place that would become the holiest place in Judaism is a place where the forefathers had their experience of relating to God, that’s very powerful.

Geoffrey Stern  12:52

So if we were to stop right here, we would have enough to chew on so to speak, in terms of taking these ancient stories and narratives of our forefathers and bringing them into the present in terms of the temple in ancient times and even today, but what amazes me is there’s a phrase in the Talmud, that is, brought in Bereshit Rabba and it’s from right here, and it asks a question. And the premise of the question is, for those of you who are aware of Jewish tradition, the word place makom in rabbinic tradition became a name for God. And of course, we know there were many names for God. You’re not supposed to speak inside of a bathroom because you might say the word Shalom. Shalom is a name for God. In a sense, we believe that God has no name and therefore there are many names. The colloquial, the common way of referring to God for religious Jews today is Hashem which means “the name” but Makom is used as a name of God. And we are going to visit all the times that it’s used, or at least the famous times that it’s used. But before we do, here is the amazing statement in Bereshit Rabbah 68 And it says, “And he came upon this place, quoting from our portion Rav Huna says in the name of Rabbi Ami: why do we substitute the name of the holy blessed one and use “place”? So he literally asks why when we do the Seder do we say Baruch hamakom, baruch hu” Why when we go to a Shiva, do we say “hamakom yinachem” instead of God should console you, we say the place should give you consolation. And here’s the answer that he gives. He says, because “God is the place of the world, but the world is not the place of God.” And for those of you who know Hebrew, you have to listen to the lyricism here. He says, “makomo shel olam v’eyn olam makomo” It’s an amazing phrase, I’m going to say it one more time, that “God is the place of the world. But the world is not God’s place.” And that is what Rob Hoonah says, is the reason why we substitute the name of Makom for God’s name. Are you as amazed by this phrase, as I am rabbi?

Adam Mintz  15:58

Well first of all, like you said, the poetry of the phrase, is that really amazing? It’s brilliant how they do that? But yeah, I mean, it’s such an interesting idea, you might have thought that the world and God are one, that it’s not that one is the place of the other, but the world is God and God is the world. But this phrase says that that actually is not true, that it’s not true, that the world is not God’s place, but God is the world. I mean, what is it? What let me ask you a different question, a Talmudic Question. What’s the difference between the two formulations? Meaning, what difference does it make if God is the world or the world is God?

Geoffrey Stern  16:47

Well remember what it says is that God is the world, but the world is not God’s place. So it doesn’t actually parallel the two. So I always think, I always think of when Elie Wiesel was standing in front of Reagan, and Reagan was about to go to a (SS) cemetery, He said, It is not your place. So I think in maybe the most broadest sense, what it’s saying is that everything is God. In other words, everything that we can see with us senses is God, every stone, every beam of light, every sound that we hear, but it’s not God’s place, meaning that doesn’t limit God. He’s more than that. But he is all of that. That’s kind of the way I kind of take it at face value.

Adam Mintz  17:47

That’s interesting. It doesn’t limit God, but it gives God a kind of a foundation in the world. I like that. And so the question is, if God is not connected to the world, how do we relate to God? God needs to be connected to the world somehow, right?

Geoffrey Stern  18:10

I think so. And that’s why I think there’s this sense of imminence and transcendence. In other words, it’s kind of like Jacob wakes up in the morning, and he goes, my God, (excuse the pun) This is his God’s place. He hadn’t seen it before. Or when Abraham sees the Makom from afar. I think there’s that also and of course that ties in a little bit to the ladder, doesn’t it about being close what you’re going to talk about this Shabbat, about the heavens and the earth, being both transcendent, and imminent?

Adam Mintz  18:54

Right. I mean, that is a very important point, the relationship between heaven and earth. Now, interestingly, the it’s the world that’s called Makom not heaven. You get the impression that God’s place or the place of God is the earth, not heaven. And that’s something different than we usually are brought up to think. Don’t we usually think haShamayim Shamayim L’Hashemthe … the heavens belong to God. VeHa’aretz natan l’bnai adam.  But that’s not the way they’re saying it here.

Geoffrey Stern  19:29

Yep. And then if you think of the future temple, where God says “v’shechanti n’tochem” that “I will dwell withim you” You have that aspect of it. What I’d love to do is now that we have this amazing sense of what Makom came to mean for the rabbis, to first of all agree that in the biblical texts themselves, there’s not this sense at all. We started by talking About the holiness of this particular place this stone. And the question then if we agree on that is what happened? Why did the rabbis or how did the rabbis and what license did the rabbis have to go to this so sophisticated, so lyrical, so poetic, maybe even a Buddhist sense in a sense it’s everything is here but nothing is here  How did this happen?

Adam Mintz  20:30

Yeah, that’s a good question. What was the development of the idea? Where did it come from? Since it’s not in the text? Where does the development come from? That’s really your question. Yeah.

Geoffrey Stern  20:43

Yeah. So what I’d love to do is to kind of go over a few different kind of key phrases where this new sense of Makom as God’s name appeared. And maybe we can together and I invite anyone from the audience to come up. We are in virgin territory. No matter how many (or few) years of learning gives you any prerogative here. It’s really poetic. But the first time that we really see this in the biblical text is in your Ezekiel  and we use this phrase in our prayers in kedusha on Shabbat, so here’s what Ezekiel says. “Then he said to me, mortal, listen with your ears and receive in your mind all the words that I speak to you. Go to your people, the exile community, and speak to them, say to them Thus said the LORD our God, whether they listen or not, then a spirit carried me away. And behind me, I heard a great roaring sound, bless it is the presence of the Lord in his place. “Baruch Hashem mimkamo” If this is the first time that you really get a sense of Makom being associated with God, it certainly does bring up exile. And maybe that’s what this is all about. Maybe after the first physical sense of Temple no longer had meaning. And the people were in exile. This became a new temple, and it was a temple in God himself. I don’t know. But there is this association with exile in Yehzkel.

Adam Mintz  22:39

So let me tell you a very strong rabbinic tradition. The strong rabbinic tradition is a phrase “imo anochi b’tzara” that when someone is suffering, we empathize with the suffering. And the amazing thing is that the rabbi’s say that that phrase applies to God as well, that when Jews suffer, God empathizes with them, that when the Jews go into exile, God goes into exile with them. When the Jews are being punished, God is also being punished. And what they do is they reread several verses in the Torah to suggest that idea, Baruch Hashem Mimkamo from God’s place. Now, it’s not God’s place, it’s every place God is where he needs to be, or where God needs to be, not he or she, and when Jews are suffering or when people are suffering, God is with that. When people are celebrating, God is with them. I think that’s a very strong, very strong idea.

Geoffrey Stern  24:02

And part of that idea is that man is somehow involved here. So one of the alternative explanations of why God was there (with Jacob) was a “b’makom sh’tzadikim omdim sham haKadosh barchu nimtza” in the place where the righteous people are, that’s where God is. And I think that kind of ties a little bit into what you were saying. It also ties into the famous answer of the kotzke Rebbe when they say where is God, and he said, wherever we let him in. So you’re saying he’s everywhere, but nonetheless, it does relate to humanity in a sense, whether it’s because they’re righteous or because some other sanctification (suffering or joy). Michael, welcome up to the Bima, How are you today?

Michael Stern  24:54

Good. Thank you and it’s late at night for you and I really appreciate you being on this from Israel, I wanted to consider that. There’s a saying I think it was job. It’s like his heart is as firm as a heart of stone. I remember hearing that. And so when I think of what the rabbi’s said it’s everything is a perspective. So a heart of stone could be cold and hard and no empathy. And just crushing, walk, stepping on anything it passes. And then a hardest stone could be connected to earth energy, have permanence stability. I have endure and strength structure. So I just think that for me, I was listening of Makom And for my understanding Makom is this place. That’s everywhere. But I have been searching for it. And it’s within. And I have tried it all the heart of stone, no empathy, me, me, me and then a stone that is connected to the earth and to everyone else and the sacred space. So I just think it’s interesting, this heart of stone could be also seen in two different ways.

Geoffrey Stern  26:34

I think that’s beautiful. You know, there is a sense of, as you were saying, that this place is is available to everybody is all encompassing this sense of having the stone but having it accept everybody on different journeys on different narratives. Is one that I find very appealing. And if you think of how we use Makom in the Haggadah of the Passover Seder, we say Baruch Hamakom baruch hu baruch sh’natan Torah l’amo Yisrael. We’re saying how great is God that He gave us the Torah. And then it goes on. And it says keneged arba banim dibra torah  that God spoke to the four children, which is really just a symbol of four different amongst a multiplex of different pathways that one could find to that stone. So I love that idea of having it being all encompassing. And the other time that we use makom is when someone is in mourning. And you know, the advice that the rabbi’s give is don’t say anything to somebody in mourning, whether it’s a Job or it’s Joe from next door. Who are we to understand what they’re suffering, what got them to where they are. So it says hamakom yinachem etchem, that the God or the place this all encompassing place should accept you. So I do believe that there’s a really strong sense in this attribute of God as a place that opens it up to so many different emotions and pathways.

Adam Mintz  28:18

Yeah, I mean, let’s let’s take a second go back to the idea that in Shiva, when you offer consolation, you say HaMakom the place why do we think that that is why do we refer to God as being HaMakom? Or is that actually what it means Hamakom yinachem etchem. Does it mean God? Or does it mean this place where you sit Shiva together with everybody else? Let that provide the comfort means I think it’s ambiguous what Hama comb refers to exactly

Geoffrey Stern  28:55

yeah, I agree. We do see here in Hamakom Yinachem this reference to the exile again, so that it is a recurring theme. It says that God should have Mamakom should comfort you amongst the gates of the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. So again, you know, you kind of get a sense of the evolution of this concept of a physical place to a less tactile place a more all encompassing place. Yes, Elise.

Elise Meyer  29:34

I keep thinking of Makom as being like a state like the state of mind the state of being the state of togetherness, you know, whatever. Whatever the Makom is, that’s your Makom.

Adam Mintz  29:49

Interesting hamakom yinachem etchem means where you are now that should comfort you. However you’re feeling now that should be a sign a source of comfort. The question elise is how do you get that from the word hamakom?

Elise Meyer  30:06

Think of the word situation? Situation is like makom.

Adam Mintz  30:11

Yeah, I mean, that’s what you need to say what you need to say is that it’s the situation. May the situation console you, right? That’s a very nice Geoffrey, what do you think of that? That’s a nice little twist to this.

Geoffrey Stern  30:28

I think it’s all there. And and I think we would be remiss and we are starting to run out of time, if we didn’t mention the most famous heretic and I say that in quotes of Judaic thought, and that is a guy named Baruch; Benedict Spinoza. And he was accused of something called Panantheism. Only because he said something to the effect of “whatever is, is in God, and nothing can be or be conceived without God.” In the notes that I give on Sefaria for this talk. There is a erudite lecture that says that who could say that this idea of Spinoza was not in Judaism. And literally the first argument he gives is our sense, that God is the world but the world is not God. And it’s really, it’s so transcendental and so universal. It’s such a powerful, powerful idea. But one of the things that Spinoza was influenced by was Descartes, who literally said, everything in the world is probably what’s in your mind. Because, you know, he said, Cogito ergo sum I think, therefore I am. And in a sense, at least, that’s what you’re saying this Makom is in our head, but maybe Spinoza took it one step further. And he said, the whole world is in God’s mind. So this is a mind blowing concept. There’s no question about it.

Elise Meyer  32:24

I love this. I love this conversation. It was great.

Adam Mintz  32:28

Thank you, Elise.

Geoffrey Stern  32:29

I want to conclude at least my comments by bringing ourselves back to Israel, which is where I am right now. And I was trekking in the Negev and I came to a sign put up by the nature authority, and it’s the type of sign that you’d expect to find on a campground. It says put all your trash away, lieve the site clean, but it’s in Hebrew, and it says at the end, Ben Adam L’makom between man and earth and place. And of course what it is doing is it’s taking another time that Makom is used in our tradition, which is before Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, we are told that for sins between man and God, between Adam v’Makaom you can ask forgiveness on your own between Adam v’havero (man and his fellow) you have to request permission. But what this sign did is it took this concept that we’re talking about right now. Back to the physical piece of land, and in an environmental way. It says it’s ben adam l’makom it’s between man and his responsibility to this beautiful world that we live in. And that really blew my mind.

Adam Mintz  33:56

That is a great way to end Geoffrey thank you so much. Enjoy Israel enjoy the Makom. Everyone we wish you a Shabbat Shalom and we look forward next Thursday night to learning the parsha of Vayishlach continuing the stories of Jacob and Geoffrey Shabbat Shalom in Israel. Lila Tov to everybody. Have a great week. Be well everybody, bye bye.

Geoffrey Stern  34:19

Shabbat Shalom to everyone and let the place be with you.

Adam Mintz  34:22

Amen.

https://www.clubhouse.com/join/Madlik/h6eU1ESR/xpQJjRdj

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/360797

Listen to last week’s Podcast: Stolen Blessings and the Crooked Timber of Humanity

Stolen Blessings and the Crooked Timber of Humanity

Recorded live on Clubhouse on November 4th from Tzofar in the Arava of the Negev Desert in Israel with Rabbi Adam Mintz in New York, we explore Yaakov’s name and career path and struggle with his twice stolen blessing.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Buddhism, haggadah, Hebrew, Israel, Judaism, kabbalah, monotheism, Passover, prayer, Religion, Torah

Stolen Blessings & the Crooked Timber of Humanity

parshat toldot (genesis 23 – 25)

Recorded live on Clubhouse on November 4th from Tzofar in the Arava of the Negev Desert in Israel with Rabbi Adam Mintz in New York, we explore Yaakov’s name and career path and struggle with his twice stolen blessing. We ask how parents could give a child a name such as “heel-sneak” or “heal grabber’ and how Israel could emerge from such crooked timber?

Special “guests” include Shmuel Yoseph Agnon and Isaiah Berlin

Stolen Blessings and the Crooked Timber of Humanity

Recorded live on Clubhouse on November 4th from Tzofar in the Arava of the Negev Desert in Israel with Rabbi Adam Mintz in New York, we explore Yaakov’s name and career path and struggle with his twice stolen blessing.

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

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:03

Welcome to Madlik, my name is Geoffrey stern and that Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host a weekly disruptive Torah discussion on clubhouse every Thursday evening at 8pm. Eastern today along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we explore Jacob’s name and career path and struggle with his twice stolen blessing. I’m broadcasting live from the Negev in Israel. So join me in the desert as we explore stealing your blessings. So welcome, another week of disruptive Torah. And as I said, I am in the Negev, and I’ve been talking to my buggy mates as we dune buggy across the desert and my camping mates about the Parsha. So you are going to get some very Israeli and secular Israeli cultural Israeli insights into this parsha that I am very, very excited to share with you. So as I said in the intro, we’re really going to focus on the personality that is scripted for Yaakov known in English as Jacob, and the personality and the career path that he has starts from the first moment of his birth. In Genesis 25: 26. It says then his brother emerged [because he was twins with a guy named ESAV]. And his brother emerged holding on to the heel of a Esav. So they named him Jacob. Yaakov comes from the word. Ekav, which means heel. So right from the beginning, from the moment he was born, there is this relationship with Esav, clearly, but it’s a special relationship. Because unlike Achilles, whose heel also plays a major role in his life, at least it’s HIS heel. In the case of the alcove, he gets his characterization by grabbing on to his brother’s heel. And then of course, as we talked about in the pre party, there’s two stolen blessings. And we’re not going to really get into all the details about how the blessings was stolen, mostly because we all know the story, the first stealing of the blessing. And I’m saying that in quotes, because I’m going  to ask the rabbi in a second, whether he feels in fact that they were stolen. But the first episode is when he Esav who’s a hunter, very vibrant, comes home after being out in the fields, and sees a pot of, of lentils, red lentils on the table that Yakov is about to eat. And he just says I could die for those lentils. And sure enough, Jaco takes advantage of the situation. And he says, Well, no problem. I will sell you these lentils for the birth right, because he was ultimately the second born child, he came out second grabbing onto that heel. And Esav went ahead and said, Sure, not a problem. Fast forward to later on in the Parsha. We know the second episode, which is where Yaakov dresses up in a garment that makes him feel Smell Taste like his brother, and he goes to his father who is blind, and he impersonates his brother, and gets the blessing in that way. So let me stop here and ask you, Rabbi, and anyone in the audience, do you feel that these blessings were actually stolen? And if they were, were they stolen twice? Or just once? What’s the deal?

Adam Mintz  04:21

Okay, first of all, Geoffrey, it’s so nice that you’re able to do this all the way from the Negev. And I look forward to the perspective that you’re going to share from your friends who are with. I think the simple reading of the text is that the blessings are stolen once. It’s only the second time the story with Jacob dressing up like Esav with his and his father being blind. That was trickery. The first time he took advantage of his situation. I don’t think we would say that that’s dishonest. He took advantage of a situation Esav should have been more careful. So I think it’s an interesting question what the relationship is between the first story about the soup? And the second story about stealing the blessings? Does Jacob feel as if he’s legit in taking the blessings? Because he bought them from Esav? The Torah never says that. Exactly. Does the Torah mean that? Is that supposed to be understood? So I’m not quite sure. So your questions a good question. I don’t think he stole them twice. But I think there is a fair question about what the relationship is between story A and story B.

Geoffrey Stern  05:41

So as I said in the intro, I’ve been camping in the desert of the Negev. And as any of you who are campers or have seen Blazing Saddles, will know that campers do end up eating beans into the trip. And so sure enough, one night, we were served beans this week. And I said, you know, what’s, what’s the connection between beans and and this week’s parshah with Jacob, Yaakov and ESAV. And the Israeli says, well, there is an expression and it’s called NAZID ADASHIM  and Nazi Adashim is the opposite of something that I was aware of which is ONAH, you’re not allowed to charge too much for something by biblical law, NaZID ADASHIM is when you buy something for much, much less than it’s worth. So if you go ahead and Google that you’ll see in Wikipedia,  two examples from literature of how these words are used. So one example is the guy had to sell an interest in his company, for a lot less than it was worth mamash nazid adashim It was really a case of nazid adashim. So from the Hebrew vernacular of modern day Hebrew, I think it’s pretty clear whether it was actual stealing, or gross taking advantage of a situation. It certainly was not something that if anything, we would put on a pedestal and say, this is the way we want to live our lives. Even if you look at the prophets, like Jeremiah, Jeremiah says, In 9: 3 “beware every man of his friend, turn not even a brother. For every brother takes advantage, every friend, is base in his dealings”, and the words that he uses for every brother takes advantage is Kol ach Akov Yakov.  So here you have both modern day Hebrew and the prophets themselves. Jeremiah is in the business of bringing the Jews back to proper behavior. And clearly the reference is to a Yakov. But it’s even deeper than that. It’s almost his vernacular way of saying, you know, the brothers should not take care of brothers and they shouldn’t be grabbing the heels. So I do believe that both traditional Jewish texts and the way the story is carried on in modern Israeli culture. The premise is that Yakov did not do a good thing that’s for sure. Whether it was outright stealing or crass, taking advantage of his brother, is up for grabs. But before you respond, Rabbi or anyone in the audience, what I would like to add to my question is, what sort of a name is it for parents to give their child or if you want to look at it as literature, the author of our holy text to give to one of our patriarchs a name that ultimately means heel or a heel grabber? It It’s so strange. I mean, Rabbi this Shabbat you’re going to be talking about what did Isaac see in ESAV, who was out there hunting and earning a living, but what did he see and his wife see in their son that they would give him such a name? There’s literally nothing nice you can say about using the word Yaakov which could mean crooked. I mean when when armies attack from the rear,  the word that is used is attacking the heel, the Ekev. And we all know what Amalek is hated for it attacked the rear of the Jewish people. Rabbi, what do you make of this? And how could anybody call their child? Yakov?

Adam Mintz  10:25

It’s fantastic question. I mean, the simple answer to the question, of course, is that Yaakov held on to the heel of Esav when they were born. So actually he was named after an event that took place in his life. Now, that doesn’t answer your question. It’s still not a good name.  But you have to know something, you know, they always ask the question the book of Ruth, the sons, the husband of Ruth and the husband of her sister in law, Orpa names are Machlon and Kilion means disease, andKilion means destruction. And you have the same question, Geoffrey. And that is, how in the world could you name your kids disease and destruction? And I think the answer they give is that in the Bible, the names are not always names that were given by parents at the birth of the children. Sometimes it’s the Bible, giving these names to these people, reflecting what their life was about. They want you to identify these people. So Machlon and Kilion were bad guys. They died young. So they’re called Machlon and Kilion . And Yaakov. Interestingly enough, if we take this view, the Torah wants us to know that he was a very complicated guy, and that he basically made his way by being cunning. It’s not only this week, Geoffrey, next week, he’s gonna do exactly the same thing except with his father in law, Lavan, you know, when he has this kind of very strange way in which he’s able to take the flock of Lavan. Now, he’s also someone who is tricked. Because next week, Laban tricks him and gives him the one daughter rather than the other daughter. So, so Yaakov lives a life of trickery. And if we understand like the verse in Jeremiah, that the word really means trickery. That’s the way we remember Jacob, as someone who lived a very complicated life. He’s the first one of the forefathers, who actually, his life is not straight. His life is very, you know, very crooked, back and forth, and forth and back. And I think it’s our job to try to figure out what do we think about this guy Jacob, were named after him. By the way, Binay Yisrael, the children of Israel were named after Jacob. But interestingly, just on your point, we’re not called B’nai Yaakov. We’re called B’nai Israel. I don’t think that’s a mistake. Right? They don’t want to call us b’nai Yaakov, B’nai Yisrael the word Sarita means either to struggle or to be victorious over, that’s a much better name than Yaakov.

Geoffrey Stern  13:27

If I can interpret what you’re saying a little bit, is first of all, yes, there are many instances where our names in the Bible foreshadow what is to come. And if what is to come is not that pretty? You might get a lame name like, you referenced. Of course, that begs the question here a little bit, because as you say, Yakov is our patriarch, we are the children of Jacob. So this is not a side character. Or you could certainly not say that Yakov is the bad guy in this story. The story continues from him. So I would like to suggest that maybe his name foreshadows a name change. And of course, we all know that Yaakov evolves into Israel. And that becomes kind of an interesting dynamic here. Do you think there’s any any any thought to that where one needs to grow into a name? I mean, if we look at Yakov as the one who follows the crooked path, the schemer, the conniver, the one who basically has to claw his way up by his bootstraps, and then we look maybe at the future Parsha where he fights with the angel and he wins and and gets a new name. Maybe in his case, he’s foreshadowing, this change in terms of whether it’s his parents or if we look at it from a literary point of view, the author of this story, do you think there’s any basis there?

Adam Mintz  15:24

I’m sure there’s basis there. This week’s portion and next week’s portion are Jacob, the conniver. Jacob’s name is changed two weeks from now in Vayshlach, by then he’s done conniving, he meets his brother Esav right when they’re both older and successful. And they actually have a confrontation. I mean, it doesn’t turn out to be a bad confrontation, but they have a confrontation, there’s no more of the conniving in Jacob. He is someone who goes out and he has the self confidence to have a confrontation with his brother. So I think that there’s no question that Jacob evolves, develops into Israel, and were named after Jacob with the name Israel. And that’s the Jacobwho has  12 sons and one daughter, that’s the Jacob who goes down to Egypt, that’s the Jacob who basically is able to reconcile his family and we’re gonna have plenty of weeks to talk about that. That’s a very interesting idea. And that is a Jacob might have been responsible for the fact that the family split apart that he favored Joseph, but in the end, it’s Jacob, who brings the family together. And it’s a nice story, because at the very end of the book of Genesis, we have the story that everybody is there, around Jacob when he passes away, because he’s able to bring everybody together. So the story of Jacob and in a very straightforward way, he’s not the conniver anymore. He’s very deliberate and very straightforward. So it might just be that the second half of the book of Genesis, is the development of the character of Jacob.

Geoffrey Stern  17:09

So I think you’re absolutely correct in terms of if you look at the book of Genesis, you get that resolution at the end, for sure. But what I would love to do is maybe we’re being a little harsh on Jacob, on Yakov may be looking at Yaakov’s need and ability to work the system work around the system to break a few rules, to get where he needs to be. Maybe it’s not all, Jacob, but maybe there’s a theme here that Jacob is meant to open our eyes to. And so when I started thinking along those lines, I started thinking of Abraham and Isaac, the parents, both of them either went down to Egypt or went down to another place when there was a famine. And for whatever reason, both of them lied about the relationship with their wife. Abraham had a beautiful wife, he was afraid that he would be killed if it was known that that was his wife, and he said, It’s my sister. And again, so now I’m kind of sensitized. We’ve talked before about the fact that the Abraham with Lech Lecha  is a wanderer, comes from the other side of the tracks, so to speak, and that’s where the word Ivri comes from M’ever, but maybe we haven’t focused enough on the more pathetic side of being a wanderer, maybe we have looked at it as too heroic. And maybe what this Pasha is making us do and what Yaakov is making us do is to understand a little more the pathos of being that wanderer, that stateless person, that one who has to land on his two feet and, and try to get a grave for his wifewithout any leverage talking to the locals, the landowner [belonger], so to speak, and has to lie about the relationship with his wife, which has to be the most emasculating thing that a person could do. And, and then I came across a beautiful verse in Isaiah 40, it actually comes from the Haftorah, that we say, after Tisha B’Av called Nachamu, and it it has a verse and it says, Let every valley be raised and Every hill and mountain made low, let the rugged ground become level and the ridges become plain You guessed it, right? If you guessed that my buddy who was driving the dune buggy with me, we started talking about crooked roads and bumpy roads. And he brought up this verse and a book by Agnon that I’ll get to in a second. But even if you look at this worse verse when it says that he makes the ground level, it says Vehaya Ha’akov L’misur  the word for crooked ground is that old word. We’ve been talking about this akov. And the Midrash has an amazing interpretation of this path of this story. Of course, Isaiah is consoling the Jewish people, he’s talking about the future. And he’s gonna say that in the future, things are going to be straight, the road is going to be flat. And the Midrash says that, yes. Not only that, but unlike when you left Egypt, and you went to Pharaoh, and you said, Hey, Pharaoh, we need to go to the desert, to pray to our Lord. And you literally had to lie. The first or second time when you were talking to Pharaoh about what you really wanted to do. We want national independence, we are human beings. No, you made up a little white lie. And the Midrash says that in the future in the final redemption, we’re not going to have to lie anymore, we can take the straight path. So it really put it clear in front of my eyes, that we’re looking at this theme of knowingly knowing that we as people, and we have a mythology of having to do that corner cutting and having to grovel and having to break a few rules. And this theme is more than just Yaakov. Does that resonate with you at all rabbi?

Adam Mintz  22:15

It does resonate with me. I’m waiting to hear the rest. Yes, that does resonate.

Geoffrey Stern  22:20

So the rest is that the guy who I’m driving with says, and you have to read a book by ag known, and the book is called Vehaya Ha’akov L’misur And the Crooked shall be made Straight. And through modern technology, I have my Kindle with me. I’m in a tent, I’m able to download, unfortunately, only an English translation of this work. And it’s an amazing story about a guy and his wife who had childless who owned a store in Eastern Europe, a hardware store. And all of a sudden, like Job, everything goes wrong. The local nobleman favors another retailer, so he raises their rent. Once the rent goes up, their taxes go up shortly after they go bankrupt. And now the the the hero of our story, a guy named Menasha Chaim has to make a decision when the decision is he’s going to go to other towns, and he’s gonna become a shnorer. And in his mind becoming a snorer a fundraiser for himself is close to stealing. And one of the stories that he tells is in the name of the Rebbe of Kochnitz. And it’s called the Gulden thief, not golden, but gulden. Because this chasid goes to his rebbe. And he says, I’m just not making it. I can’t make ends meet. And so the rabbe says, You know what you need to do, you would be a fantastic thief. So he goes out. And this is a hasidic story. And he starts, he says, I need a gulden once a week. It’s like a shekle, it’s like a pound to survive. So he breaks into stores, he breaks into homes, he opens up the safe, the safe could be full of hundreds of 1000s of dollars. He takes out one gulden and it’s a long story. But in a sense, what it’s doing is it’s talking about stealing in a way that is very simpatico you feel for this thief. And there are many different little side stories in the book and I assure you that if you read it, you will love every minute of it. But the most fascinating part story is that when he leaves his town he goes to his rabbi to get a letter saying that this man is very righteous so he can use this letter to fundraise to shnur And he’s a bashful young guy, and he just finds it, it’s difficult to use this letter and he’s, he’s really a loser. And at every turn, he’s losing money. And finally he meets another beggar in a tavern. And the otherbegger says to him, Well, why are you doing so badly and he shows him the letter. And the other beggar says, Listen, I’ll buy that letter off of you. Because you don’t have to use it. I know how to use it. I can make a lot of money with that letter. So he sells him the letter he now has money in his pocket. He gets drunk. The guy who bought the letter thinks he’s going to be rich and he gets drunk. The only problem is the beggar who has the letter dies. So now he dies with this letter in his pocket saying that he is Manassa Chaim, and he’s a good guy. Well, his wife, Manasseh Chaim’s wife has been waiting at home. And now she hears that her husband has died. So she goes to the rabbi and the rabbi says, Well, you have the letter. So you can say that he died. And she gets remarried. Now. Moshe Chaim, is coming back to town come back, he comes back. And no one recognizes him. And he talks to a beggar. And the beggar says I’m off to the circumcision of the child born to this woman who was your wife, but of course, he doesn’t say was your wife. Now he realizes he has to leave town. Because if he becomes apparent, that will ruin his wife’s life, and the child will become a bastard. So he strats to start sleeping in the cemetery because he wants to die. And the cemetery man starts putting together this beautiful gravestone. And he comes in looks at it, and his name is on it. And it turns out, his wife says, I want a beautiful gravestone for my first husband. And so you can imagine … what Agnon does, in my mind, is he parallels the story, as you were saying, Before Rabbi were a Jacob cheated his brother, Esav, what comes around goes around next week, we’ll find when he goes to Lavonne. He’s cheated. But you literally have this sale of this letter, very reminiscent of the porridge. It is absolutely fascinating. But at the end of the day, what one is left with is this sense of what it was like to live as a minority without a gulden to scratch together, begging for your life. And there was nothing heroic about it. But it was who we were. And it makes you look at this whole story from a whole different perspective. And you start to wonder, maybe 200 years ago, they read this story much differently. Maybe they saw in Yaakov themselves. And that was the question I was left with after reading the book, I just looked at the whole story totally differently.

Adam Mintz  28:26

So that first of all, thank you for sharing the book and the story. And it’s amazing that they’re in the Negev, you discovered this book, and you read the book I love the whole the whole background. But you know, that is so interesting to say that we see ourselves as Jacob. And really, Geoffrey, the sermon that you’re giving is, do we see ourselves as Jacob? Or do we see ourselves as Israel? Which name do we see ourselves, and that were called the children of Israel, but maybe depending on when you lived and what the situation was and how difficult it was? Maybe we get comfort in the fact that we’re the sons, the descendants of Jacob, that we know how to…. I think the word they use today is operate in a very hostile world.

Geoffrey Stern  29:22

And what would goes with that is, so profound because nowadays we talk about people who are victimized or have a sense of being a victim. And of course, that gets back to the part of the story that we talked about or foreshadowing a name change, you know, how do you kind of respect and understand the pathos of the Yaakov and still be able to see the Israel as the Ideal, the successful person who can stand on his two feet? How do you get around making the Yaakov, the heel grabber something that you can kind of sympathize with, understand, both in yourself and in others without making it into a model. And that, to me was a fascinating part of the story as well, I must say that the other thing that came to mind….  is I loved a thinker called Isaiah Berlin. And he wrote a book called The Crooked Timber of Humanity. And it was taken from a saying of Immanuel Kant, who believed all morality was perfect. But the concept was, that we are human. And being human, dictates what ultimately the outcomes are. In Kohelet, Ecclesiastes sees, it says, 7: 13 consider God’s doing, who can straighten what he has twisted, and in so I think part of it also, is this recognition of who we are. And the direction that Isaiah Berlin took it was that he grew up in an age where Communism and Nazism and all of these isms, these ideals will literally responsible for the deaths of millions of people. And his concept was that if the Timber of humanity is crooked, then making it straight, making some sort of ideal, which has no basis in the matter of fact, nature of our lives of our trivial lives and pathetic needs, makes no sense. And his concept was, get rid of the ideals and think of the practical things that you can do. And more importantly, understand that there might not be a resolution to every question, and that there might be more than one side, ultimately, that life can be murky, and that we all might be heel grabbers.

Adam Mintz  32:29

I mean, you go from it from OG alone to Isaiah Berlin. And you know, what you see really is that this idea of the need to sometimes be a heel grabber, and to gain comfort in the fact that one of our ancestors was a heel grabber is an extremely powerful idea. And I think just as we, as we reach 8:30, I think, Geoffrey, that you really, you put you put this in perspective, I think we always start by saying, we’re the children of Israel. And I think by sharing the unknown story and sharing Isaiah Berlin’s insight. I think what we really see is it’s not so simple. And Yaakov’s his life was not so simple. And the way we look back and we associate with those lives is not so simple. And that being a heel grabber is not necessarily something that we need to be ashamed of. But you know, different situations require different kinds of reactions. So that’s fascinating, and I look forward Geoffrey, to next week. continuing our conversation we’ll talk about Vayetze, we’re gonna continue our conversation about Jacob’s life so Shabbat Shalom, you’re gonna get to Shabbat before we will. But Shabbat Shalom, enjoy the Negev enjoy Toldot in the Negev and Shabbat Shalom, everybody. We look forward to seeing you next Thursday night at 8pm to discuss Parshat Veyetze.

Geoffrey Stern  33:54

Thank you so much rabbi, Shabbat Shalom to everybody. And please know that this part this was recorded and it will be published as a podcast, and it will include a Safira source sheet so you can go ahead and look at all the sources but forget about all that and run out and buy that book by Agnon. It is amazing and it’s called And The Crooked Shall Be Made Straight. Shabbat Shalom to you all.

Adam Mintz  34:24

Shabbat shalom. Bye bye

https://www.clubhouse.com/join/Madlik/dSjT1w1t/xe7ezo1G

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

Listen to last week’s episode: Life is with People and so is Death

Life is with People and so is Death

Parshat Chayei Sarah – Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on October 28th 2021 as they explore the Bible’s euphemism for death: “and he was gathered unto his people” as an opportunity to question our assumptions regarding the biblical view of the afterlife …

Leave a comment

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

The Miraculous Birth and Resurrection of Isaac

parshat Vayera – genesis 18-22

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

The Miraculous Birth and Resurrection of Isaac

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

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

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:00

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

Adam Mintz  04:59

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

Geoffrey Stern  07:45

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

Adam Mintz  12:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:41

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

Adam Mintz  13:05

Oh OK, good,  I like that.

Geoffrey Stern  13:09

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

Adam Mintz  14:55

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:13

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

Adam Mintz  23:38

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

Michael Stern  24:07

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:49

Thank you, Michael.

Adam Mintz  25:50

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

Geoffrey Stern  26:01

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

Michael Stern  30:06

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

Adam Mintz  30:30

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

Geoffrey Stern  30:37

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

Adam Mintz  32:43

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

Geoffrey Stern  33:04

Shabbat Shalom.

——————————–

Original announcement below:

Friday October 22nd at 4:00pm Eastern

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

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

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

Abraham’s Epic Journey and our Own

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

Leave a comment

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

Abraham’s Epic Journey and our Own

parshat lech lecha (genesis 12)

Abraham’s Epic Journey and our Own

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

Join Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz, Rabbi Avraham Bronstein and friends as they explore various ways of viewing Abraham’s epic journey and how it reflects our own. Recorded on Clubhouse on Friday October 15th, 2021

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:00

So everybody, welcome to Madlik. This is our weekly clubhouse where we do what we call disruptive Torah, which means that we look at the Torah through slightly new lenses from a new angle, and hopefully inspire all of us to do the same and to think freshly about our ancient texts. And we do record and we post as a podcast on Sunday. And so if you enjoy what you hear, go ahead and listen to the podcast, give us a few stars, say something nice and share it with your friends. And with that we are literally beginning a journey because today’s Parsha is Lech Lecha, which is the beginning of the epic journey of Abraham. And the words Lech Lecha are open, as is his journey to multiple interpretations. And I’m sure we’re going to get into them all. But basically, in Genesis 12: 1, it says, “And the Lord said to Abraham, go forth from your native land “Lech Lecha Meartzecha” , from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you, I will make of you a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those that curse you. And all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” And certainly we know that the Abrahamic families are far and wide. Both Islam and Christianity all account their faith and their journey to Abraham. So this is a man who began a wild adventure. So let’s start by asking you in the audience and our panel? What is striking to you about the onset of this epic journey and Lech Lecha?

Adam Mintz  02:00

I’ll start by saying that what strikes me about Lech Lecha more than anything else, is the fact that the background is not there. We don’t know anything about what led to God saying to Abraham leave your father’s house, and, you know, go to this land. And I wonder why that is? If the Torah tells you something, there’s a reason for it. And if the Torah doesn’t tell you something, there’s a reason for it. And I wonder what the reason that the Torah doesn’t tell you is here.

Geoffrey Stern  02:36

I think that’s a great question, Michael?

Michael Posnik  02:41

Yes, it’s a wonderful question. Having worked in the theater for so long, when anything happens on stage, you try to find out from the actors, where they came from, so that when they walk in, they walk in with a bit of history. So I got an opportunity, as I said, to study the Zohar with my friend Misha Shulman, a rabbi, and I’ll share with you some of what we found. It begins with a principle. It says nothing is aroused above, before it is first aroused below, so that what is aroused above rests on it. So the indication is, the work below has to be done first. Before anything can happen from above, there has to be an awakening. So it says here, the secret behind the words Lech Lecha is that Hakadosh Baruch Hu (the holy one blessed be he)  inspired Abraham with the spirit of wisdom. Abraham knew how to judge the spirits and the winds of the civilized world. He observed them, weighed them in the scales, and knew how to connect them to the powers and trusted to govern the inhabited places of earth. And he measured and observed very carefully. And he realized that the whole middle point of the inhabited world is the point from which the whole world moves out to all its corners. Then he discovered, continuing to observe in weigh, in an effort to determine the nature of that central point of the creation, but he was unable to understand it. So he could not cleave to it. It says, he saw the strength of that place, HaMakom, and realized that he could not understand it. Abraham knew and checked all the governors and rulers of the world that had dominion over the entire civilized world. And he was examining all those who governed and ruled over directions of the inhabited world. And he learned how to exercise their power over one another. But he still when he reached the place, the point of Malchut (Rulership), he saw the force of those depths that he couldn’t understand it. As soon as Hakadosh Baruch Hu noticed his awakening and his passion. He immediately revealed himself to Abraham said, Lech Lecha, go learn perfect yourself. So those other words of the Zohar in translation. So you want to know what he was doing before? He was learning everything there was to know about the entire creation and the Center, the core of it was this mystery that could only be filled by Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

Geoffrey Stern  05:46

So so I’m not sure whether what you’re saying is an answer. Or it begs the question, because it seems to me that as you look through the commentaries, you’ve given a beautiful commentary from a mystical point of view. So a mystic feels free to project on to Abraham, what he imagined him going through the this story that most of us learn in cheder, in Hebrew school, is the famous story of Abraham’s father who had a store where they sold idols. And he let Abraham be an idle sitter, if you will, to take care of the store while he went away. And one after the other people came in, either to buy an idol or to give an homage, some food to the idol. And similar to Michael, when you were talking about Abraham, somehow, it doesn’t really in this regard, say where he came to these revelations. But he engages in almost a Socratic dialogue, saying, Well, why are you feeding this idol? If it was made just yesterday? Why are you worshiping Him? If he has eyes and he can’t see if he has he is if he can’t hear. And again, I’m not sure that this midrash, which most kids walk away thinking as part of the text, but it’s not, begs the question or answers it or maybe what it says. And we can discuss some other perspectives on what led Abraham to this moment. Maybe what it says is that Abraham’s journey is our journey, and that all of us, therefore have license or maybe an obligation to project on to Abraham, that journey of discovery of the hidden mystery, if you will, as you put it, of the universe.

Adam Mintz  08:07

I like that. I like the idea that Abraham’s journey is our journey, the Sefat Emet, one of the Hasidic masters, says that God says Lech Lecha to everybody, it’s just Abraham was the first person who actually heard

Geoffrey Stern  08:28

If you join Madlik a few minutes before four, we always ask Rabbi Adam, what he’s going to speak about in synagogue on the coming Shabbat. And he intimated that it’s not altogether clear that what we just read, is actually the full story, even from the text. I’m not sure who divided up the Torah into portions, who divided it up into chapters, maybe one day we’ll spend a session going over that. But if you look a few lines before the beginning of our Torah reading of Lech Lecha, it actually has either a variant or a supplemental account of what actually happened in Genesis 11. It says, “Terach, took his son Abraham, his grandson, Lot, the son of hawan, and his daughter in law, Sarai, the wife of his son Abraham, and they set out together from Or of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan. But when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there.” So just as in Genesis 1 and 2, we have two stories of the creation of Adam and Eve. Here too. It seems almost as if we have two stories of leaving Haran. In chapter 11 of Genesis. It doesn’t give credit to Abraham. It doesn’t say that Abraham left his father this To Rebel Without a Cause this rouser of breaking of the the loaded idols of his parents here, it says that his father took him and his grandson and his wife, and maybe they didn’t make the whole trip. But certainly from this text, it looks as though his father was involved. And I’m wondering, not only do we have a license to look at this story through our own eyes, but we have a license to say, Abraham could also envision it with his own eyes. How many times do we as children envision certain things that we believe we’ve come up with on our own, and in the second telling, maybe we realize, we got that from dad, or we discovered that for mom, and I’m wondering if a little bit of that is going on here as well, what thinks you?

Michael Posnik  10:55

Clearly, we all receive a good part of our personality from parents, there’s no doubt that it may well be that the man who made idols, made idols but didn’t believe them. It’s possible that that was his business, and he knew it was a good business. I don’t know, the question that comes to my mind is, when they left, where did they think they were going? And how many times in our lives do we have a destination in mind, but something wonderful or not so wonderful happens, and our destination has to change? In Abraham’s case, it seems to me they were headed towards Or of the Chaldeans or whatever that was, where they were headed. And then God says, I’ll show you where to go. So it’s completely open. It completely impromvisatory, if you will, spontaneous, he asked to just go and follow that son. whatever direction they were going, that’s, that’s been my experience in life, actually, I lived my life where I was intending something or nothing, and suddenly, I hear a voice to go in that direction. ….I met wonderful people.

Adam Mintz  12:17

I just want to point out Geoffrey, you know, this story of the family of Abraham, traveling from Or Chasdim  to Haran all of that, you know, this is really the first time in the Torah. And this is already the third portion where people travel. Each of the two, previous Parshot has talked about genealogies talked about different people. And it almost never says they started here, they went there. So what you see at the very least is the Terach is exploring. And I think you get credit for exploring, even if you have bad intentions, the idea that you want to explore, is it itself something that we encourage. And I think that’s an important point.

Geoffrey Stern  13:23

Well, I mean, a little bit later in the portion, we get into some fights and interactions between Abraham and other people. And obviously, it’s only when you interact with other people, that people get to name you and you get to name yourself.

Michael Posnik  13:39

Just jump in for a second. I’m thinking about Cain who is Nad veNad, who is constantly in motion from place to place with no direction.

Adam Mintz  13:51

Correct and that was God. That was the punishment. he had to travel. Here is the first time we have traveled where he chooses to track.

Geoffrey Stern  14:01

So but let me let me go a little bit later on, you know, Abraham strikes to be defined and to define himself and he gets involved in some battles with other kings, and his brother gets kidnapped. And in Genesis 14, it says “And a fugitive brought the news to Abraham, the Hebrew who was drilling at the terebinths of Mamre”, and this is the first time to my knowledge that Abraham is actually called a Hebrew. “L’Avram HaIvri”  and Rashi quite rightly says, the one who came from the other side of the river “Mever HaNahar”. And so in one verse, not only is Abraham defined as this traveler, as this person who’s defined by not where he is but where he is coming from, but it is kind of interesting that a fugitive is the one who is giving him a message. We almost are in a world that is populated in a different way. And it’s not simply one heroic person, but we’re surrounded by a world in flux. And it gives I think, more emphasis to this whole concept of Lech Lecha, in terms of a journey, I do believe that we’re all kind of on the same page here. In terms of this process. There is this trite saying where “life is a journey and not a destination”. And whether it is literally Abraham, beginning on this journey, or whether it is the fact that maybe he didn’t quite start it all by himself, but his father started it, but didn’t finish it. And that kind of echoes this concept of we never finish our journey. And our journey is only the beginning of a bigger journey. It’s just so emblematic of what Abraham created, and what the story values, I think. So what what makes us of “God” here? Because I think so many of the interpretations revolve around the birth of monotheism. Michael, you were talking from a kabbalistic point of view, that it was clear that what instigated this departure was some eureka moment or some lifelong struggle for identifying the mysteries of the universe. But if you look at the text itself, you know, I don’t think there would have been our person in that ancient world who would have done anything unless he was inspired by the Spirit. The fact that God said to him make this journey, you know, God spoke in the Epic of Gilgamesh to…  the gods was speaking all the time. There’s nothing inherent in this tale that leads one to believe that Abraham created some revolution in theology. And I’m just wondering if that is something that resonates at all with you? Or is it clear that this man began his trip because of some theological inspiration?

Adam Mintz  17:37

I don’t think anything is clear. And I don’t even know what a theological revelation means. What you just said was right. We talk about Abraham as being the first Jew. The truth of the matter is that scholars all say that’s not technically correct. Jews are related to Judah. It only came later. Abraham is the first monotheist

Geoffrey Stern  18:06

Well, he’s the first Hebrew he’s the first Iviri.

Adam Mintz  18:09

right Ivri. He’s separate from everybody else. He recognizes God. There’s a very famous Rashi. Rashi says that when they were traveling, it says that Abraham, “converted” is the word Abraham megayeret et ha anashim veSara mgayeret et aha nashim” and Sara was converting the women, “converting” does it mean converting like we have today. It means the day actually we’re teaching monotheism. They believed that monotheism was something that needed to be taught, that needed to be spread to all different people. And I think that’s really interesting.

Geoffrey Stern  18:56

You know, I could make the argument that Abraham was the first atheist. And what I mean to say is, if you look at Abraham from the perspective of Terach, or if you follow the story of Nimrod, who puts him into a fiery furnace? Here is a guy who’s saying that everything the world believe was a God does not exist. He says, No, the sun has no power, the stars have no power, this Totem, this animal, it has no power. And and what he was claiming, was, in fact, of a power and of course, this is all a projection of the Midrash, or of Maimonides or of the Zohar was this hidden this unseen, untouchable thing from the perspective of the landed powers that be he was denying God, he was denying all that they believed in and from that perspective it leads all the way to Spinoza, who was excommunicated by saying God is no way but God is everywhere. Maybe he was the first secularist.

Avraham Bronstein  20:13

You remind me of Peter Brown. So Peter Brown, the great historian of the Roman Empire, and one of his books about religion in the ancient Roman Empire, or the classical world, talks about how the Judeans, the original Jews were seen as atheists by the more polytheist, pre Christian Roman Empire at the time, because they couldn’t comprehend how Jews maintain the belief not in their God, but in a god. It didn’t make any sense to them.

Geoffrey Stern  20:44

Fantastic. Yochanan welcome to the bima

Yochanan  20:48

Thanks, thanks. Thanks so much for having me. By the way, Rabbi Maza, the Chief Rabbi of Moscow, 400 years ago, he says what you just said. So he says that Abraham was a kultur b’kalim . He was like, like you said, he was the first secularist or atheists to to deny all the deities, all the old the religions of the environment.

Geoffrey Stern  21:14

I think that’s fantastic. We forget sometimes, because Judaism is 3000 years old, that there was a time where it was the rebel in the room, and it was offering ideas that seemed to break all of the accepted beliefs. So we’re moving along, I want to talk a little bit about Lech Lecha the words itself. And I think if you had to translate it, simply, you would say lech means to go. And lecha means to yourself. And in Rashi, his interpretation is for your benefit. L’hanatcha, l’tovatcha for your good. But as any good researcher will do. One, will look to see where else these two words come together. And I know of one other place where they come together, I don’t have the confidence to say it’s the only other place where they come together. But it is certainly a very prominent place. And it is in Genesis 22. And similar to our text God comes forward and says Abraham, and he says who I am. And he says take your son, your favorite one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. He says ulech lecha el eretz hamoriah. And so iconically. In Perkai Avot it says that Abraham had been given 10 tests in his life. And the commentary say the first and the last test both began with lech l’cha. And so the two are certainly connected. But it makes one wonder if Rashi’s interpretation is correct. Because certainly it’s a hard sell to say that as you’re asked to take your son, you only son that this is for your benefit. Another parallel and then I’ll open it up to discussion is that notice the cadence in both of these renderings. In both God steps it up. God says in our parsha, he says to go from your land, from your father, from your home. And on the Akida, the The Binding of Isaac, he does the same thing. And of course, the commentaries say, well, it’s a test. So it’s to give him more benefit, to give him more credit for the different steps that he’s taken. But what makes all of you about this connection between the Lech l’echa of leaving a land a temporal place, and this lech lecha of this amazing, challenging, tragic test towards the end of his life?

Adam Mintz  24:31

Well, let me ask you, you know, Geoffrey, the question is, which was more challenging, right? Was it harder for him to leave everything that he had grown up with? Or was it harder, not knowing what God’s stood for? Or maybe at the end of his life, he learned to trust God already. And even though God said sacrifice your son, maybe he had enough trust in God to believe that, I don’t know how it’s gonna work out okay, but somehow is gonna work out Okay.

Geoffrey Stern  25:05

One of the commentators says that it relates to this testing that in lech l;echa we come literally to our essence to find out to discover who we are. And one can make the argument that one only knows who one is when one is tempered with the test and the experience of life, another commentary and I kind of love this and this, maybe he resonates a little bit with what Michael was saying about the esoteric texts of the Kabbalah. Emek Davar says that it is Lecha (only to you) a secret. So Lech Lecha, this is something that was hidden only to the recipient. This is a private journey. And so he says, when it comes to the binding of isaac, he says to Abraham, keep it quiet, because if anyone else knows this crazy mission that you’re on, they are going to resist. So Lech Lecha it’s a hidden message. But I do believe that the, the fact that this iconic term was used in both instances is certainly fascinating. Uri welcome to the bema

Uri  26:30

Thank you so much.

26:30

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz as they explore various ways of viewing Abraham’s epic journey and how it reflects our own.

Recorded on Clubhouse on Friday October 15th, 2021

https://www.clubhouse.com/event/MzrkWw0a

Link to Sefaria source sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/354270

Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: Noah’s Rainbow

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Judaism, Religion, Torah, Uncategorized

noah’s rainbow

parshat noach (genesis 1)

We follow a less traveled path down Noah’s family tree.

Join Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and Pastor Dumisani Washington of IBSI – Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel and Christians United For Israel for a live recording of a discussion on Clubhouse Friday October 8th, 2021 with the Pastor regarding his book Zionism and the Black Church: Why Standing with Israel Will Be a Defining Issue for Christians of Color in the 21st Century. We follow a less traveled path down Noah’s family tree. We discover the Biblical Mission of Africa and the bond between the Children of Shem and the Children of Ham.

Noah’s Rainbow

Parshat Noach – Join Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and Pastor Dumisani Washington of IBSI – Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel and Christians United For Israel for a live recording of a discussion on Clubhouse Friday October 8th with the Pastor regarding his book Zionism and the Black Church: Why Standing with Israel Will Be a Defining Issue for Christians of Color in the 21st Century.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/352058 

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:00

[To Reverend Dumisani Washington] Thank you so much for being with us. On our clubhouse when you come up to the platform, we say first of all that you’re coming up to the bimah [the podium or platform in a synagogue from which the Torah and Prophets are read from]. And then second of all, when we make you a presenter, we give you smicha… So that means that you are ordinated. So instead of Reverend, we’ll call you Reb. Is that okay?

Dumisani Washington  00:20

That sounds good to me. Sounds good, no problem.

Geoffrey Stern  00:23

So anyway, welcome to Madlik. Madlik is every week at four o’clock, and we do record it and post it as a podcast on Sunday. And if you listen to it, and you’d like what you hear, feel free to share it and give us a few stars. And what we do is disruptive Torah. And what we mean by disruptive Torah is we look at the ancient text of the Torah, with maybe a new lens, or to see a new angle. And today, I’m delighted to say that we’re not only looking at it through a new lens, but we’re looking at it through another lens, a lens of a pastor, of a man of God, who we will learn about his mission. I heard about it on clubhouse one evening, I was scrolling, and I stumbled upon you Reverend, and you’re on a mission and you see Judaism and you see Zionism from a whole new perspective. So I want to thank you for coming on. And I want to say that, as I told you, in my email that I sent you that you know, every week about Saturday on Shabbat, on Sunday, I start thinking about what I’m going to pick as a subject matter for the coming Madlik session. And I purchased your book maybe two months ago, and it was sitting by the side of my bed, and for some reason, and of course, I’m sure there are no coincidences in this world. I picked it up this Shabbat. And it starts with our portion of Noah, it starts by talking about the line less traveled by us Jews of Shem’s son Ham. And I should say that nothing is written for no reason in the Bible. And when it gives you a genealogy, it’s because of what comes in the future. And many of us Jews will look at the genealogy in Genesis 10. And focus on Shem… with Semites. And that’s where the name comes from. And we go down that path, and your book starts. And of course, I should say that your book is called “Zionism and the Black Church, Why Standing with Israel will be a Defining issue for Christians of color in the 21st Century”. And it begins by traveling down this path less taken, of Ham. Welcome to Madlik.  But if you could begin by touching upon our portion of the week, no off and and and discussing what you see in it, and maybe your mission.

Dumisani Washington  03:06

Absolutely. And thank you, again, Rabbi for having me on. Yes, there are six chapters in “Zionism in the Black Church”. And the first chapter is entitled The African Biblical Tie to Israel. And so we as I say, in the book started the beginning, right, we start at the beginning of the Scriptures, and so as you know, between the two portions of “Bereshi”  I believe whether the towards the end is when Noah was first introduced, but of course in “Noach” there’s the explanation of the nations where all the nations of the earth come from, from Noah’s three sons Shem, Ham, and Jafet. And so we recognize that in the Scriptures, it is said that Ham has four sons. And there’s a couple of unique things as you know, you read the book, that the scriptures that in the law of Moses deals, Psalms and some of the prophets, there’s a term that’s given several times in the scripture about Ham’s descendants harms the sentence differently, then either Jafet or Shem.  The land of Ham is actually something that’s in the scriptures. And I don’t know what that Hebrew word is … “Aretz Ham” … I never looked at that part of it, Rabbi but it talks about that, which is really interesting because there’s not, to my knowledge, and I’ve kind of looked at for a little while, a similar rendering like the Land of Japhet or Land of Shem. Right? We’re obviously the genealogy is there, right? But there’s not the same thing that deals with the land and the peoples …. interesting and we’ve come to know that of the four sides of Hem, which are in order Kush, which you know, is where obviously the Hebrew for later on Ethiopia I believe is a Greek word, but from that region Mitzrayim, which is Egypt. Fut or Put which is Libya, and then Canaan, which is Canaan, right? So those four sons who come from him. But interestingly in the scriptures when it says land of Ham, it almost exclusively refers to Egypt and Ethiopia, what we would call today, Africa, right? This region. And again, you’re talking about an antiquity these regions were much broader in size. And they are today if you look at the map today, you see Egypt as a small state and go down to the south, west, south east, and you’ll see Ethiopia then you see Yemen, you see Kenya, well, obviously all those states weren’t there that happened much later in modernity is particularly after the colonial period where those nations were carved up by a few states in Europe, and they were given certain names everything right, but these were regions in the Bible. And so Kush, the land of Kush, and the land of Mitzrayim, they’re actually dealt with many, many times. Right? After the words obviously “Israel” and “Jerusalem”. You have the word Ethiopia, I believe one of the Ethiopian scholar says some 54 times or something like that the word Ethiopia actually comes up in the Bible, obviously not as many times as Israel or Jerusalem but more than virtually any other nation other than Egypt. Right? So Egypt obviously that we know too. Africa plays a huge role in Israel’s story right? The 430 years in slavery is in Africa, right? The Torah was received at Sinai: Africa. All these things happen in Africa. At some point God tells Jeremiah during the time of the impending doom, the exile that will happen at the hand of of Nebuchadnezzar and God says to to the Israelites to the Judeans, and “don’t run down into Egypt, Egypt won’t be able to save you.” Why does he say that? Well, because historically the Israelites would go to Egypt when it until it got safer, right? For those Christians who may be on the call, you’ll know that in the New Testament, Jesus, his parents take him down into Egypt because Herod’s gonna kill him. Right? So there’s this ongoing relationship between Ham and Shem, that’s very intertwined. Moses, his wife, or his second wife, depending on how you interpret it….  Some of the sages. She’s Ethiopian, right? She’s kushite. So you have this interchangeable thing all the time, throughout the scriptures, but actually starts with the genealogy. And I’ll say just one last thing, rabbis ….. we’re opening up. This is also unfortunately, as I mentioned, the book as you know, the misnomer of the quote unquote, “Curse of Ham”, as we know in the text, Ham is never cursed for what happens with Noah it is Canaan that is cursed. And he actually says, a curse that Canaan become a servant of servants shall he be, even though it was Ham who however you interpreted…. I’ve heard many different interpretations of “uncovered the nakedness he saw his father, naked,” but somehow, for whatever reason, Noah cursed Canaan, not Ham.  Who is Canaan…  is one of him so’s, his fourth son, as we know those who are listening, you may know that it is The Curse of Ham, quote, unquote, that has been used sadly, unfortunately, among many other things as a justification of the slavery of Africans. Right? That somehow, Africans are quote, unquote, “Cursed of Ham”, therefore, the transatlantic slave trade, the trans Saharan slave trade, those things are somehow…  God prescribed these things in the Bible, the curse was making him black. That’s why he’s like all those things that are nowhere in the text whatsoever, right? skin color is not in the text. slavery as a descendant of Ham. None of those things are in the text. What’s in the text? Is that Canaan is cursed for that? And so we start there, Rabbi, and from there trying to walk out this whole Israel Africa thing.

Adam Mintz  08:47

First of all WOW… thank you so much. I just want to clarify in terms of color, I think that’s a very interesting thing. It’s very possible that in the biblical period, everybody was dark.

Dumisani Washington  09:00

Yes, sir. I mentioned that in the book as well. But yes, sir. Yes, yeah. All right. Sorry,

Adam Mintz  09:04

I didn’t see that in your book. But that’s important, you know, because a lot of people are caught up in this color thing. Did you know that there’s a distinction, we don’t know it for sure but it makes sense that everybody was dark in those periods. So that the difference in color was not significant. So when, when Moses marries goes to Ethiopia, maybe is king of Ethiopia, and marries an Ethiopian. And the idea is that he marries a foreigner. The fact that she’s darker may or may not have been true.

Dumisani Washington  09:39

Yes, absolutely. No, thank you Rabbi. And I do touch on that, as well. We say in the terms in this modern term, even in my book, I use the term Christians of color and I don’t usually use those terms just in when I’m speaking. I did it that way in the title so that it would be presented in a way that is going to deal with some provocative things but hopefully the people that they read it they’ll see what I mean by that and if you’re talking about the Israelite people, the Hebrew people they are what I call an afro Asiatic people. Israel is still at that at the point of where those two continents meet right Southwest Asia northeast Africa is landlocked with Egypt I tell people God opened up the Red Sea because he wanted to right … He’s big and bad and he can do what he wants to do but you can literally; I wouldn’t recommend it obviously, but you could literally walk from Egypt to Israel and you always have been able to for 1000s of years that has always been the case and so you have a people that in terms of skin tone or whatever… Yes, absolutely, they would be what we would call today quote unquote people of color right and so unfortunately particularly in our country we all know race and colorism is such a huge topic and it’s often so divisive and it’s used in so many different ways and we know much of that goes back to whether slavery, Jim Crow, people being assigned work obviously based on how dark or light they are all of those things but the problem as you all know is that those things aren’t in the Bible right? There’s no God likes this person doesn’t like this person, this person’s dark this person’s like, that type of thing. But again, that’s what men do, we are fallen creatures, we read what we want to read into the text, and then we use it unfortunately, in a way that’s not helpful. Let me just say and pause here, I can tell you that as a Christian pastor, over the years of my just delving into what we often call the Jewish roots of our faith, by studying Torah with rabbis and with other Jewish scholars, my faith has been more important to me than ever in that it helps me understand even more so right, what is the Hebrew in this word here? What do the sages say about that, that’s been a fascinating journey for me, over the last 30 some odd years since I’ve been doing this particular work.

Geoffrey Stern  11:58

So I just want to jump in, you said so many things. But there is in this verse that we are reading today, the word “ashkenaz”, he was one of the children of of Shem, and you quote, an Ethiopian Rabbi named Ephraim Isaac, and this is a sample of some of the humor in your book or the sense of discovery. And somebody said to him, You don’t look Jewish. And he said:, “Ethiopia is mentioned the Bible over 50 times, but Poland not once.” And I feel like that was, that was a great line. And what it really talks to is our preconceptions, and your book, and your vision, and your mission breaks preconceptions of what it is to be a Jew, what the mission of a Jew is, but most importantly, what the relationship is between the Jewish people and the African people. And one of the things that you touched upon was the sense of Mitzraim and Kush , and in your book, you really talk about how many times they’re interchangeable, because really, it is the same area and those of us who think about Mitzrayim, or Egypt, we focus on the Exodus story, we focus on the pharaoh story. But as you mentioned, the prophets later on, we’re having to talk to the Jews about not going back, because ultimately, the experience in Egypt was always favorable, it was our neighbor, and it was our place of refuge. Abraham goes down there with Sarah twice, Jacob sends his kids down there during a time of famine. The relationship and the reference to a Ham and to Mitzrayim  and to Kush is a very positive one. And yes, it does say in our week’s parsha of all of the children, it says, “b’artzetam v’goyehem” , that they have a special language, and they have a family and they have a land. So the fact that we are neighbors is so important in the biblical context. So I said if we were going to walk down this wonderful path, and I would love for a second to talk about your mission about reuniting our two peoples and some of the challenges that you have. Clearly you don’t speak to groups like us very much, although I think that I’m going to have an opportunity later to say that I think you should, because there’s so much that we can learn. But what is your mission? How did you discover it? And what are your challenges?

Dumisani Washington  14:40

Well, I’ll do it concise, just because I don’t want to take up too much time to firstly touch as much as we can. I am the founder and CEO of an organization called The Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel. I started it in 2013 but for about nearly seven years, I was not as active I started it. I did a lot of touring and a lot of speaking throughout the United States, churches, sometimes synagogues as well. And with this mission, it was a mission that was really placed in my heart. Actually in 2012, my first trip to Israel, I went as a guest of Christians United for Israel, I would come later on to join the staff with CUFA. But I was a guest pastor, I knew some friends who were part of the organization. And the short version of that story was my first tip ever, I’m in Israel, I’m at the Western Wall of the kotel. And I have a very intense experience in which I feel although Africa and Israel were passions of mine already, but the fusing of those two things together and a real work in which we continue to strengthen the alliance between Israel and Africa. And then obviously, in the States in the black and Jewish community. And there and finished the first edition of the book now, what you have there Rabbi is the second edition. And we started this organization for that very purpose to do both of those things continue to strengthen the black Jewish relationship, and also the Israel Africa Alliance. And so the challenges have been probably more than any other thing disinformation, right? There’s a lot of false information that’s there, when it comes to those things that would seek to divide and separate when you’re talking about whether Africa Israel, now we’re talking about the modern state of Israel, obviously, the rebirth of Israel in 1948. Israel’s close ties with African nations throughout the continent, starting especially with Golda Meir, the foreign minister, all the way up into the 70s, where you have, as I mentioned in the book, Israel has more embassies throughout Africa than any other nation other than the United States, African economy, some of them are thriving, a great deal. You have a lot of synergy between the African nations and Israel. And after the Yom Kippur War in 1973, like never before Israel’s enemies target that relationship between Israel and its African neighbors for different reasons. One of those is voting in the United Nations, right? And that became very much of a challenge. So one of the greatest challenges is, is information. What we share in the book and when we do our organization, we teach what we call an organization “Authentic History” is really simply telling what happened, how did something [happen]. Whether we’re talking about biblically, whether we’re discussing the parsha or we’re talking about historically, right? We’re talking about what the relationship was, and is. Why those connections there? And I’ll just give one quick example if you’re talking about black Jewish synergy in the United States, not just Dr. King’s relationship with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in the civil rights community, not that it happened, right? But why, what was that synergy about? Right? So we’ve delve into that. We share from the documents from the Rabbinical Assembly; Dr. King’s most famous words regarding Israel that were recorded 10 days before he was killed, right, why? And as a pastor, what we call a prophetic moment. Why 10 days before he’s taken from us, is he telling the black community in the world to stand with Israel with all of our mind and protect its right to exist? Why is he saying these things? What’s so important about it. And even the generation before? Why was it a black and Jewish man who changed the trajectory of this nation, Booker T. Washington, and Julius Rosenwald; millions of now first and second generation, slave; free slaves, right? but who had no access to education, not in a broader sense, and why that synergy saw some 5400 Rosenwald schools built throughout the segregated south. We touch on those historical points, and we delve into why that black Jewish synergy has been so powerful for so many people for so long. So that is our mission to strengthen those ties, because we believe that there’s a great future ahead.

Geoffrey Stern  19:05

You did such amazing research. I mean, I can tell you I never knew that Herzl said about Africa, “that once I have witnessed the redemption of Israel, my people, I wish to assist in the redemption of the Africans.” And that is taking a small quote out of a full paragraph where the histories of the two people are so similar. I mean, it comes to us as a pleasant surprise, these synergies but it shouldn’t because both our peoples have really traversed and continue to reverse the same pathway. And you quote Marcus Garvey and even Malcolm X and William Dubois. Malcolm X says “Pan Africanism will do for the people of African descent all over the world, the same that Zionism has done for Jews. All over the world.” there was a sincere admiration for this miracle of a people returning to its land, we were talking before you came on about this whole kind of image of an ark. And it reminds you of Odesyuss… and it reminds you of all of these stories of man going on this heroic journey to find their their roots to come back, gain, experience and come back to their homeland, to their Aretz.. On the one hand, your job should be very simple. I guess, like any other fights, the closer you are, the bigger the friction can be. And there’s nothing bigger than the friction between brothers. But it’s such a challenge to address, as you say the misinformation.

Dumisani Washington  20:51

Absolutely. And this is, again, why that’s our primary goal. And then as part of what our mission is, we have launched here just recently, an initiative called The PEACE initiative. And PEACE is an acronym for Plan for Education, Advocacy, and Community Engagement, and the short version of that, again: We recruit young, black American and African young people from certain cities throughout the United States, a group of them, they go to a 16 week study course having some of the same conversations we’re having now, including the modern state of Israel, ancient Israel, the United Nations, all these things that intersect when it comes to the black Jewish relations, then they will travel to Israel for about 10 days, and returned to the cities from where they’ve been recruited, and be the hub of black Jewish synergy in their communities. We believe with our organization that one of the reasons for the synergy that we’ve seen in the past, whether it was at the turn of the century with Booker T Washington, and Julius Rosenwald, or the mid part of the century with Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel, right now we are in different challenges, there are challenges that face particularly the more vulnerable black communities. And we see that that synergy could really address so many issues, whether it’s education, whether it’s jobs, those types of things, they can be really be addressed in a very holistic way. And really harnessing that synergy between the black and the Jewish community. And this is what we are doing. An Israel advocacy that is also rooted in these communities. And it’s amazing. We see already rabbis and black pastors are working together all over the country. So that continues to happen. But we want to highlight those things even more and go even further in meeting some of the challenges what we call MC ambassadors will be leading that in different cities across the country.

Geoffrey Stern  22:02

That’s amazing. I want to come back to this sense of self-discovery and pride. And we always talk about it from our own perspective. So if you’re African American, you want to make sure that your children believe that black is beautiful, that they come from an amazing heritage to be proud of who they are. And if you’re Jewish, you want the same thing. But it seems to me, and you kind of cage the question in this way, “Why standing with Israel will be a defining issue for Christians of color”, when we as Jews can see ourselves in the black community as we did during the civil rights movement that redeems us. And that empowers us. And I think what you’re saying, and I don’t want to put words into your mouth, but the same thing works in reverse. That in a sense, when the African community can recognize in Israel, its own story. It also can find a part of itself. Is there any truth there?

Dumisani Washington  23:50

I believe so Rabbi. I believe that that’s exactly as a matter of fact, what we saw was the synergy. So let me use the example and go back to the early 1900s with Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald. The way that story happens, as you may know is that Booker T Washington writes his seminal book “Up From Slavery”. Julius Rosenwald, who lives in Chicago at the time, is very active in his community. As a matter of fact, he was active, using his wealth; of those of you who don’t know of Sears Roebuck fame, he is the one who took his company to this whole different level, economically and everything. And so with his wealth as a businessman, he’s helping the Jews who are being persecuted in Russia. And one of his own testimony, I don’t say this part of the book, but I kind of alluded to it, that here he is driving to work from the suburbs to where his factory is where his store is, and he’s passing by throngs of black people who’ve left the South, right? looking for a better life, but they’re living in very, very bad conditions, a lot of poverty and everything. And he says to himself, basically, if I’m going to do all of this to help Russian Jews right, way over the other side of the world, and I have this human crisis right here, where I live, I want to be able to do that and his, his Rabbi was Emile Hirsch, one of the founding members of the NAACP. Right? So his Rabbi encourages him. And we see this with our Jewish brothers and sisters all the time, see yourself, do help, do use your wealth, use your ability, right? To help. And so he reads Booker T. Washington’s book he’s taken with him, they begin to correspond. And Booker T. Washington says, Here’s how you can help me I’m trying to build schools for my people who don’t have access. And Rabbi to your point. Here is this man, this Jewish man who is very well aware of his history, he knows his People’s History of persecution and struggle and triumph, right? Very much sees himself in that black story, and then he uses his ability. It’s amazing even what he does; there’s a Rosenwald film about Rosenwald schools, I believe his children were the ones who produced it. And they were saying that what he actually did was pretty ingenious, he put up a third of the money, the black community raised a third of the money, and then he challenged the broader white community to partner with them and bring the last third and that is how those Rosenwald Schools began.  Because what he wanted to do, he wanted to see people come together, he wanted to see them all work together. Even though Booker T. Washington passes away only three years into that, right, that venture continues on Julius Rosenwald goes and sits on the board of the Tuskegee college, Tuskegee University, right? There’s this long connection that’s there. So in that struggle, the black American community, and he connected with this black American leader, the one of the most prominent of the time, Booker T, Washington, and they, like I tell people, changed the world. Like, can we imagine what the United States would have been if you had those millions of now freed slaves, right? with no access, and particularly those who are living in the Jim Crow South, no access whatsoever to education, Would the Harlem Renaissance have become what it become, with the black Wall Street, whether it was in Tulsa, whether in Philadelphia, these things that explode because of the access to education to now these first and second generations of people coming out of slavery, right? So I believe that that’s the case and which is why I’ll say again, here today, some of those challenges are there, some of the challenges are different than they were, obviously 50, 60, 70, 80 years ago, but we believe in organization that those challenges can be met with that same amazing synergy between the black and the Jewish community.

Geoffrey Stern  27:26

A lot of people would argue that the rift or the change of the relationship between the African American community and the Jewish community was when the Jews or Israel stopped being looked at as the David in the Goliath story and we won the Six Day War. And how do you ensure that the facts are told, but also as you climb out of the pit, and as you achieve your goals, you shouldn’t be necessarily punished for being successful. Success is not a sin. It’s an inspiration. But it seems to me that’s one of the challenges that we have, especially in the Jewish community for our next generation of children, who really do see ourselves not as the minority and don’t see ourselves anymore mirrored in the African American community.

Dumisani Washington  28:25

But one of my favorite things about the Jewish tradition of the Seder, is that you all lean and recline in the Seder today, and you tell your children, when we had the first one, we sat with our sandals on, our staff, in our hand, our belts ….because we were slaves leaving slavery, but now we are no longer. And that whole ethos of telling children, right? There’s a strong parallel in the black American community, right? The whole point of going from struggle to a place where you can live in peace or at the very least, you recognize and realize the sacrifice of the people who came before you right? And I won’t step into the controversial for lots of different reasons, we’ll be able to unpack it, but let me just say this, for the black American experience when you’re talking I often teach this in our sermons and other things that arc …. and let me say again, no, people are monolith. Obviously we just kind of put that on the table, all the Jews arent’ alike all black Americans aren’t alike….. Having said that, there is an overarching story when you talk about black Americans, who, from slavery to Jim Crow, segregation, black codes, all of those types of things to the modern era. And that story cannot accurately be told without talking about God and His people. In other words, when you’re talking about the spirituals “Go Down Moses”. “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” and I talked about that in the book, these songs that are rooted in the scriptures, most of the time in, in the Tanakh, our Jewish brothers and sisters’ side of the Bible. I mean, sometimes in the New Testament, most of the time, these songs are being sung in hope. And that hope was realized, right? It’s not an Negro spiritual song technically, but I put it in that category, part of the greatest one ever. I mean, how it culminates would be “Lift Every Voice and Sing” us a song that today has all these political things connected to it for lots of different unfortunate reasons. But when James Weldon Johnson wrote that song, wrote it as a poem? Those stanzas and anybody listening to this, I want to tell Google that Google Lift Every Voice and Sing”; just read the words. And this was a very powerful, very, very much God and God’s love, and our hope and our faith and our trust, and our honoring the people who came before us; all of those things. And he talked about being free. Now, it’s written in 1899. Right? You still have questions. I mean, there are no laws against lynching there going on, it’s still crushing racism. However, he as a father in the black community is not only acknowledging what God has done, there’s amazing things that are happening. One of the economist’s that I quote, in my book, Thomas Sol said that the black community after slavery, and less than 50 years after slavery went from 0% literacy to almost 50% literacy, in that half a century, something economic historians say has never happened before. And now you’re later on, you’re talking about the black Wall Street, you’re talking about black oil barons and landowners and factory owners, right? You’re talking about this black middle class emerging. There’s been no civil rights bill, right? There’s been no Pell grants for school. These things don’t even exist yet. We’re talking about the 19 teens and the 1920s. You’re talking about black people who had previously been slaves for hundreds of years. Why am I saying all that we as a people know full well; if we know our history, know full well what it is to come from all of those dire situations into a place of blessing, even though there may be struggles just like our Jewish brothers and sisters. We are convinced an organization that as we know, as a black community, particularly younger people that we are talking with, and teaching, as we know and appreciate our history, not the history that’s regurgitated in terms of media and, and for political purposes. But truly our history, there is a great deal to be proud of about that. And to see, as I said in the sermon a couple of months ago, not only does it not a victim narrative, I descended from superheroes, my people went through slavery, Jim Crow, and still build on Wall Street still built the Tuskegee Institute. Still, we’re soldiers who fighting for their own freedom in the Civil War. I mean, you’re talking on and on and on things that they should have never been able to accomplish. When I consider what they accomplished with not very much help often. I recognize the greatness of the heritage that I come from, then that allows me to see an Israel rise like a phoenix from the ashes and not spurn that but recognize that our Jewish brothers and sisters have gone through millennia of this and Israel then to be celebrated, not denigrated.

Adam Mintz  33:12

Thank you. We want to thank you. Your passion, and your insight is really brought a kind of a new insight to our discussion here. We really want to thank you, you know, we at Madlik we start on time and we end on time, Shabbat is about to begin in just a little while. Hopefully we’ll be able to invite you back in the future as we continue this conversation. But I know I join Geoffrey and everybody on the call and everybody who’s gonna listen to the podcast. Thank you for joining us and for really your insight and your passion. You really leave us with so much to think about as we begin the Shabbat.

Dumisani Washington  33:51

Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Adam Mintz  33:53

Thank you Geoffrey, Shabbat Shalom, everybody,

Geoffrey Stern  33:55

Shabbat Shalom. And Reb Dumisani, you mentioned the songs. There’s a whole chapter in your book about Negro spirituals. And as the rabbi said, w are approaching the Shabbat. And as you observe the Sunday we observed Saturday, but you know that the secret of living without a land or being on a difficult mission is that Sabbath, the strength of the Sabbath, and the connection between Noah and the word Menucha which is “rest” is obvious. And there was a great poet named Yehuda halevi. And he wrote a poem about the Yona; the dove that Noah sent out of the ark to see if there was dry land. And he he said that on Shabbat. Yom Shabbaton Eyn L’shkoach, “the day of Shabbat you cannot forget”  Zechru l’reach Hanichoach”  He also uses Reach Nichoach which is a pleasing scent,Yonah Matzah Bominoach, the yonah, the dove found on it rest v’shom ynuchu yegiah koach  and there in the Shabbat , in that ark of rest on that ark of Sunday or Saturday is where we all gain strength. So I wish you continued success in all that you do. And that this Shabbat and this Sunday we all gather the strength to continue our mission. But I really do hope that we get another chance to study Torah together. And I really hope that all of the listeners go out and buy your book, Zionism in the Black Church because it is an absolute thrill. And I understand you’re coming out with a new book that’s going to talk more about the Jewish people and the various colors and flavors that we come in.

Dumisani Washington  35:55

Hopefully to put that out next year sometime. Absolutely.

Geoffrey Stern  35:59

Fantastic. Well thank you so much so Shabbat Shalom and we are we are in your debt.

Dumisani Washington  36:05

Thank you. Shabbat Shalom and looking forward to bye bye

Music: Lift Every Voice and Sing – Melinda Dulittle https://youtu.be/6Dtk9h1gZOI 

Join Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz and Pastor Dumisani Washington from Christians United For Israel on Clubhouse Friday October 8th at 4:00pm (ET) for a discussion with the Pastor regarding his book Zionism and the Black Church: Why Standing with Israel Will Be a Defining Issue for Christians of Color in the 21st Century. We follow a less traveled path down Noah’s family tree. We discover the Biblical Mission of Africa and the bond between the Children of Shem and the Children of Ham.

Please make every effort to attend to show Dumisani your appreciation for his mission.

Friday October 8th at 4:00pm Eastern Time

https://www.clubhouse.com/event/m3GGZBZv

Link to Sefaria source sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/352058

Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: Exile and Return…. from the Beginning

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, Judaism, Religion, Torah, Uncategorized

exile and return… from the Beginning

parshat bereshit (genesis 1-4)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse Friday October 1st at 4:00pm (ET) as we discover the quintessential Jewish theme of Exile and Return …. at the very beginning of creation. We explore this theme, normally associated with Exodus and the national narrative of the Jewish People as primal to the Bible’s presentation of the human condition and our heroic struggle.

Friday October 1st at 4:00pm Eastern Time

https://www.clubhouse.com/event/M4o7Balx

Link to Sefaria source sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/348859

Listen below to last week’s Clubhouse meeting: turn! turn! turn! i hope it’s not too late

1 Comment

Filed under Bible, Judaism, Religion, Torah, Uncategorized

A Passover Makeover

Passover at a time of Corona

Recorded live on a Zoom conference at TCS, The Conservative Synagogue of Westport Connecticut, an exploration of what the biblical provision for celebrating a second Passover (Pesach Sheni) teaches us about celebrating Passover under extenuating circumstances.

Listen to the madlik podcast:

Link to Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/227396
2.

Numbers 9:2-13

(2) Let the Israelite people offer the passover sacrifice at its set time: (3) you shall offer it on the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, at its set time; you shall offer it in accordance with all its rules and rites. (4) Moses instructed the Israelites to offer the passover sacrifice; (5) and they offered the passover sacrifice in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, in the wilderness of Sinai. Just as the LORD had commanded Moses, so the Israelites did. (6) But there were some men who were unclean by reason of a corpse and could not offer the passover sacrifice on that day. Appearing that same day before Moses and Aaron, (7) those men said to them, “Unclean though we are by reason of a corpse, why must we be deprived [diminished, restrained, withdrawn, hindered, let down] from presenting the LORD’s offering at its set time with the rest of the Israelites?” (8) Moses said to them, “Stand by, and let me hear what instructions the LORD gives about you.” (9) And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: (10) Speak to the Israelite people, saying: When any of you or of your posterity who are defiled by a corpse or are on a long journey would offer a passover sacrifice to the LORD, (11) they shall offer it in the second month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, (12) and they shall not leave any of it over until morning. They shall not break a bone of it. They shall offer it in strict accord with the law of the passover sacrifice. (13) But if a man who is clean and not on a journey refrains from offering the passover sacrifice, that person shall be cut off from his kin, for he did not present the LORD’s offering at its set time; that man shall bear his guilt.

במדבר ט׳:ב׳-י״ג

(ב) וְיַעֲשׂ֧וּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל אֶת־הַפָּ֖סַח בְּמוֹעֲדֽוֹ׃ (ג) בְּאַרְבָּעָ֣ה עָשָֽׂר־י֠וֹם בַּחֹ֨דֶשׁ הַזֶּ֜ה בֵּ֧ין הָֽעֲרְבַּ֛יִם תַּעֲשׂ֥וּ אֹת֖וֹ בְּמוֹעֲד֑וֹ כְּכָל־חֻקֹּתָ֥יו וּכְכָל־מִשְׁפָּטָ֖יו תַּעֲשׂ֥וּ אֹתֽוֹ׃ (ד) וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר מֹשֶׁ֛ה אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לַעֲשֹׂ֥ת הַפָּֽסַח׃ (ה) וַיַּעֲשׂ֣וּ אֶת־הַפֶּ֡סַח בָּרִאשׁ֡וֹן בְּאַרְבָּעָה֩ עָשָׂ֨ר י֥וֹם לַחֹ֛דֶשׁ בֵּ֥ין הָעַרְבַּ֖יִם בְּמִדְבַּ֣ר סִינָ֑י כְּ֠כֹל אֲשֶׁ֨ר צִוָּ֤ה ה’ אֶת־מֹשֶׁ֔ה כֵּ֥ן עָשׂ֖וּ בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (ו) וַיְהִ֣י אֲנָשִׁ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֨ר הָי֤וּ טְמֵאִים֙ לְנֶ֣פֶשׁ אָדָ֔ם וְלֹא־יָכְל֥וּ לַעֲשֹׂת־הַפֶּ֖סַח בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֑וּא וַֽיִּקְרְב֞וּ לִפְנֵ֥י מֹשֶׁ֛ה וְלִפְנֵ֥י אַהֲרֹ֖ן בַּיּ֥וֹם הַהֽוּא׃ (ז) וַ֠יֹּאמְרוּ הָאֲנָשִׁ֤ים הָהֵ֙מָּה֙ אֵלָ֔יו אֲנַ֥חְנוּ טְמֵאִ֖ים לְנֶ֣פֶשׁ אָדָ֑ם לָ֣מָּה נִגָּרַ֗ע לְבִלְתִּ֨י הַקְרִ֜ב אֶת־קָרְבַּ֤ן ה’ בְּמֹ֣עֲד֔וֹ בְּת֖וֹךְ בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (ח) וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֖ם מֹשֶׁ֑ה עִמְד֣וּ וְאֶשְׁמְעָ֔ה מַה־יְצַוֶּ֥ה ה’ לָכֶֽם׃ (פ) (ט) וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר ה’ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃ (י) דַּבֵּ֛ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר אִ֣ישׁ אִ֣ישׁ כִּי־יִהְיֶֽה־טָמֵ֣א ׀ לָנֶ֡פֶשׁ אוֹ֩ בְדֶ֨רֶךְ רְחֹקָ֜הׄ לָכֶ֗ם א֚וֹ לְדֹרֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם וְעָ֥שָׂה פֶ֖סַח לַה’׃ (יא) בַּחֹ֨דֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִ֜י בְּאַרְבָּעָ֨ה עָשָׂ֥ר י֛וֹם בֵּ֥ין הָעַרְבַּ֖יִם יַעֲשׂ֣וּ אֹת֑וֹ עַל־מַצּ֥וֹת וּמְרֹרִ֖ים יֹאכְלֻֽהוּ׃ (יב) לֹֽא־יַשְׁאִ֤ירוּ מִמֶּ֙נּוּ֙ עַד־בֹּ֔קֶר וְעֶ֖צֶם לֹ֣א יִשְׁבְּרוּ־ב֑וֹ כְּכָל־חֻקַּ֥ת הַפֶּ֖סַח יַעֲשׂ֥וּ אֹתֽוֹ׃ (יג) וְהָאִישׁ֩ אֲשֶׁר־ה֨וּא טָה֜וֹר וּבְדֶ֣רֶךְ לֹא־הָיָ֗ה וְחָדַל֙ לַעֲשׂ֣וֹת הַפֶּ֔סַח וְנִכְרְתָ֛ה הַנֶּ֥פֶשׁ הַהִ֖וא מֵֽעַמֶּ֑יהָ כִּ֣י ׀ קָרְבַּ֣ן ה’ לֹ֤א הִקְרִיב֙ בְּמֹ֣עֲד֔וֹ חֶטְא֥וֹ יִשָּׂ֖א הָאִ֥ישׁ הַהֽוּא׃

3.

Pesach Haggadah, Magid, Rabban Gamliel’s Three Things

In each and every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he left Egypt, as it is stated (Exodus 13:8); “And you shall explain to your son on that day: For the sake of this, did the Lord do [this] for me in my going out of Egypt.” Not only our ancestors did the Holy One, blessed be He, redeem, but rather also us [together] with them did He redeem, as it is stated (Deuteronomy 6:23); “And He took us out from there, in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He swore unto our fathers.”

הגדה של פסח, מגיד, פסח מצה ומרור

בְּכָל־דּוֹר וָדוֹר חַיָּב אָדָם לִרְאוֹת אֶת־עַצְמוֹ כְּאִלּוּ הוּא יָצָא מִמִּצְרַיִם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר, בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה ה’ לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרַיִם. לֹא אֶת־אֲבוֹתֵינוּ בִּלְבָד גָּאַל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, אֶלָּא אַף אוֹתָנוּ גָּאַל עִמָּהֶם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְאוֹתָנוּ הוֹצִיא מִשָּׁם, לְמַעַן הָבִיא אוֹתָנוּ, לָתֶת לָנוּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נִשָׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֵינוּ.

4. The Marranos of Belmonte Portugal

Despite being forcibly converted to Christianity in 1497 many of the Jews of Portugal continued to practice Judaism in secret. Today, residents of the village of Belmonte practice an amalgam of Christian and Jewish rituals.

Lighting Shabbat candles in secret closet. © Frédéric Brenner

Belmonte Marranos Celebrate Passover in Secret © Frédéric Brenner

The day of the Lord – the Day of the Great Forgiveness – (O Dia do Senhor) and the Holy Feast – the Easter – (A santa Festa) are the great holy days that remain; some still light the Sabbath lamp. Passover, the most important and most elegant holiday about a month after its actual date in the Jewish calendar, a memory of the Inquisition. The box of unleavened bread is the main ritual, which is performed in secret, at home. We see him here for the first time. Dressed in white, the participants sanctify the piece by throwing water and purging prayers of purification. They invoke God’s protection from various evils, don’t torture. During the Holy Feast they consume no meat or coffee and eat no bread other than unleavened bread. Then the Marrranes leave the city, in groups, and will pick bitter herbs (maror in The Jewish tradition); men and women whip the river with plants abseiling from the Red Sea crossing by Moses during the Egyptian Exodus. These ceremonies are preserved thanks to the photographs of Frederic Brenner for the first and perhaps the last time.

Prof. Yosef Haim Yerushalmi Introduction to Marranes (H.COL.BEAUX ART) (French Edition) (French) Paperback – 1992 by Frédéric Brenner (Author) p42

For once these Marranos of Belmonte expose themselves, a historic moment and a turning point in their becoming; they overexpose themselves to the camera. They make of their secret an archived invisible visibility. They are the only ones, in this series of photograms, to keep the secret that they exhibit and to sign their belonging without belonging. More than for all the others, I ask myself “who” they are and what they are thinking, in their for intérieur, as we say in French—that is, in their “heart of hearts.” (What is their for intérieur? What do they finally know of their secret, of the secret that keeps them before they keep it?) What do they think of what is happening to them, including the forgiveness asked by Mário Soares (“In the name of Portugal, I ask forgiveness of the Jews for the persecutions they suffered in our country”)? The film The Last Marranos bears witness to the fact that those named in the title are undergoing the loss of their secret. They are forgetting it, paradoxically, in the very movement and moment in which they are reappropriating their memory in an “authentic,” assumed, “normal” Judaism: another “normalization” on the agenda, after the avowal, or rather let us say the confession, and then, finally, the repentance of the guilty ones.

— JACQUES DERRIDA Diaspora: Homelands in Exile (2 Volume Set) Hardcover – September 30, 2003

by Frederic Brenner Vol 2 Voices, p65

Please see Video: The Last Marranos on YouTube here and here at point where they describe previous practice of Pesach Sheni.

9.

Sukkah 25b

they were unnamed people who were engaged in tending to a corpse whose burial is a mitzva, i.e., which has no one else available to bury it, and their seventh day of impurity occurred precisely on the eve of Passover, as it is stated: “And they could not observe the Pesaḥ on that day” (Numbers 9:6). The Gemara infers: On that day they could not observe it; on the next day they could observe it. Although they would be purified at nightfall and would then be eligible to partake of the Paschal lamb, at the time of the slaughter and the sprinkling of the blood they were not yet pure. They asked whether the Paschal lamb could be slaughtered on their behalf. Apparently, they were obligated to perform the mitzva of burial of the corpse although it prevented them from fulfilling the mitzva of sacrificing the Paschal lamb, which is a stringent mitzva.

סוכה כ״ה ב

אלא עוסקין במת מצוה היו שחל שביעי שלהן להיות בערב פסח שנאמר (במדבר ט, ו) ולא יכלו לעשות הפסח ביום ההוא ביום ההוא אין יכולין לעשות הא למחר יכולין לעשות

10.

Mishnah Pesachim 9:2

(2) What is “a far-off journey”?From Modi’im and beyond, and the same distance on all sides [of Jerusalem], the words of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Eliezer says: from the threshold of the Temple court and beyond. Rabbi Yose said to him: for that reason the heh has a dot on it in order to say, not because it is really far-off, but [even when one is] from the threshold of the Temple court and beyond.

משנה פסחים ט׳:ב׳

(ב) אֵיזוֹ הִיא דֶרֶךְ רְחוֹקָה, מִן הַמּוֹדִיעִים וְלַחוּץ, וּכְמִדָּתָהּ לְכָל רוּחַ, דִּבְרֵי רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא. רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר אוֹמֵר, מֵאַסְקֻפַּת הָעֲזָרָה וְלַחוּץ. אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹסֵי, לְפִיכָךְ נָקוּד עַל ה’, לוֹמַר, לֹא מִפְּנֵי שֶׁרְחוֹקָה וַדַּאי, אֶלָּא מֵאִסְקֻפַּת הָעֲזָרָה וְלַחוּץ:

11.

12.

הגדה של פסח, נערך ע’י הרב יוסף קישוטים וציורים מאת ברורית אונה ,אומנות’ ירושלם

14.

Pesachim 93a:12

And all three of them expounded the same verse to derive their opinions: “But the man who is ritually pure, and is not on a journey, and refrains from offering the Paschal lamb, that soul shall be cut off from his people; because [ki] he did not bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed season, that man shall bear his sin” (Numbers 9:13). Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi holds that the verse should be understood as follows: The phrase: “And refrains from offering the Paschal lamb, that soul shall be cut off,” means that he did not participate in the offering on the first Pesaḥ. In the continuation of the verse, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi understands the word ki to mean: If, as the word ki has various meanings, one of which is: If. Therefore, the verse can be interpreted in the following manner: If he also “did not bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed season,” with regard to the second Pesaḥ, “that man shall bear his sin.”

פסחים צ״ג א:י״ב

ושלשתן מקרא אחד דרשו והאיש אשר הוא טהור ובדרך לא היה רבי סבר וחדל לעשות הפסח ונכרתה דלא עבד בראשון אי נמי קרבן ה׳ לא הקריב במועדו בשני

15.

Deprived: From the fact that they nevertheless did demand, “Why should we be deprived” we learn a wonderful lesson. When a Jew feels that he is missing something in Torah and mitzvos, some aspect of fear of Heaven, he relies on no one — not on Moshe Rabbeinu and not even on G‑d (so to speak). Instead, he cries out and demands, “Why should we be deprived!”

Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson Pesach Sheni 1984

Source Sheet created on Sefaria by Geoffrey Stern

Leave a comment

Filed under Bible, haggadah, Hebrew, Judaism, Passover, prayer, Religion, social commentary, Torah