parshat miketz, genesis 41-42
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on December 22nd 2022 on Clubhouse. The human act of bowing plays a major role in the dreams of the young Joseph. The people of Egypt actually call Joseph: “Abrek” a name shared by Hosni Mubarak and Barak Obama which means both blessed and bow-worthy. Join us as we explore the relationship between blessing and bowing; prayer, praise and body movement in the Bible and latter Rabbinic texts…. and on this festival of rededication, wonder how we can bring more physical movement back into our prayers.
Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/454638
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00pm Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Miketz. The human act of bowing plays a major role in the dreams of the young Joseph. The people of Egypt actually call Joseph: “Abrek” a name shared by Hosni Mubarak and Barak Obama. The name means both blessed and bow-worthy. Join us as we explore the relationship between blessing and bowing…. prayer, praise and body movement in the Bible and latter Rabbinic texts…. and on this festival of re-dedication, join us as we wonder how we can bring more physical movement back into our prayers: Body Language
Well, welcome Rabbi and Happy Hanukkah.
Adam Mintz 01:14
Happy Hanukkah. Another good week and another good discussion. Good clubhouse discussion.
Geoffrey Stern 01:20
Yes. And as I said in the intro, we’re talking about a Hebrew root Abrek, which comes from Birkayim, which is knees and therefore means bowing. And also, Baruch which means blessing. And I just came from a Brit. And I was reminded by the rabbi and the mohel at the BRIT that you start a Brit in the same way as you start a wedding. You say Baruch HaBa. So, today is just full of blessings and in prayer for me, and I’m really excited about what we’re going to discuss. So, as I said, in Genesis 41: 41, we have Joseph now has come out of prison. He is the diviner of the dreams of Pharaoh, and he is put in second in command. Pharaoh put his signet ring onto Josef’s hand and in verse 43. He said, he had him ride in the chariot of his second in command, and they cried before him. Abrek וַיִּקְרְא֥וּ לְפָנָ֖יו אַבְרֵ֑ךְ Thus he placed him all over the land of Egypt. And so, the word Abrech is one that the rabbi’s they seem to struggle with a little bit Rashi quotes a bunch of rabbis who start using the different words in Abrech. It’s kind of like you see many times in the Talmud when there’s a Greek word, and they don’t exactly know what it means. And it says he says, Is it Av Reich? Is it Reich meaning the king, or the father of the King, the source of the king? Whereupon Rabbi Jose the son of a woman of Damascus said to him: “How much longer will you pervert for us the meaning of Scripture? The word אברך can only be connected with the word ברכים knees (i.e. “Bend the knee”), for all came in and went forth only by his permission, just as it states “and he set him [over all the land of Egypt]”. So what do you think, Rabbi? Do you think it’s, is it a foregone conclusion? What this Abrech means? Or is it open to discussion?
Adam Mintz 03:46
No, I think, you know, I liked that explanation of rake as the person before whom they bowed. I mean, why do you need more than that? Doesn’t that work perfectly?
Geoffrey Stern 03:59
I think it does. And maybe a subject for another podcast could be what was going on here? Because this, this piece of Talmud that is quoted is full of Rabbi Judah saying to these rabbis, what are you complicating life for the meaning of a word is simple. In this case, it’s a foreign word, but it’s a Semitic word, and he’s pretty sure about it. But I must say that if you step back for a second, bowing is definitely a big part of the Joseph story. I looked up Joseph and bowing there was one, even a source sheet that says that there were seven bows in Josephs life. There were obviously the dreams that he had as a youth of his family, being sheaves of wheat or of stars around the moon in the sun, but bowing down to Joseph, in the stories we have read is a big deal. And then obviously, as we go further Genesis 42. It says, Now Joseph was the visor of the land, it was he who dispensed rations to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed low to him, with their faces to the ground וַיִּשְׁתַּֽחֲווּ־ל֥וֹ אַפַּ֖יִם אָֽרְצָה. So, this, this, this thing of bowing, is clearly a part of the Joseph story. And here at the pinnacle of his coronation as the Sagan the second in command to Egypt, it’s clearly Abrech means to bow, but there also has to be another sense of blessing in it as well.
Adam Mintz 05:57
Well, Abrech is the one to whom you bow, and the one who was worthy of blessing. It’s the same word, which is, of course, why in the Amidah, that we say, every day, we bow, right, Baruch, we say the word Baruch, which is the same exact word Berech, right, Abrech and Baruch we bow because that’s birkayim that’s our knees. We bless with our body. That’s what you said. And that’s what we do with our knees because it’s the same word.
Geoffrey Stern 06:30
I love that you pick that example. Because it’s the perfect example. No question. The word implies both things. And of course, we’ve come across baruch in the past, starting with Abraham, where God promises that those who will bless you will be blessed. And it continues all the way up to to to Joseph. Last week, we focused on Hatzlacha; on his success, but you know, in Genesis 39: 5 it says, And from the time that the Egyptian put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, God blessed his house for Joseph’s sake, so that the blessing of God was upon everything that he owned in the house and outside, וַיְהִ֞י בִּרְכַּ֤ת ה’ בְּכׇל־אֲשֶׁ֣ר יֶשׁ־ל֔וֹ בַּבַּ֖יִת וּבַשָּׂדֶֽה. So we really have kind of with Joseph, these two parallel tracks these two parallel understandings of the word Beracha. And they come together, he’s got this bowing both to him, bowing in the sense of his arc of his life. And then we also have this blessing. And of course, if you think back now, with this background to Abraham, when it says, those who bless you will be blessed. Again, there’s this element of respect of others, there is this element of bowing down and recognizing somebody even early on in the Abraham usage of the word bracha.
Adam Mintz 08:19
So now you’re asking an interesting question. And that is, how far back does this connection of the words go? Now, it is interesting that in the Joseph story, bowing plays an important role. But the word is always Le’hishtachavot. It’s never the word berech. It’s never the word Baruch. So even though bowing is important, but they use a different word. I wonder what you make of that?
Geoffrey Stern 08:45
Yeah. And in the verse that I quoted before, where it talks about his brothers coming, and bowed low to him וַיִּשְׁתַּֽחֲווּ־ל֥וֹ. And that, of course, is a word that we all know from the Aleinu prayer: וַאֲנַחְנוּ כֹּרְעִים וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוִים וּמוֹדִים Rashi says implies stretching out the hands and feet when a person casts himself on the ground in the act of prostration. I think, and we might even get into the various choreography of these different postures. It almost sounds like a little bit of yoga postures, because yes, you’re absolutely correct. Baruch, is Berkayim, is a bending of the knee. Veyishtachavu is much more extreme. It’s going down and you mentioned the silent prayer. There’s a whole choreography there: on Baruch, you bend your knees, and then you go on Atah and you stay down. And then by the time you say God, you rise up. it’s kind of a beautiful thing. I mean, I think the message there is that, on the one hand while we’re supplicating, and we are putting ourselves down underneath the majesty of God, the other part of it is that God brings us up and raises us up. We shouldn’t think of berkayim necessarily as only bending the knees. It also means straightening the knees. There’s a whole choreography here.
Adam Mintz 10:30
Well, that’s a very interesting point you make; that the word bereck really just means knees. What you do to your knees, is… we’re used to bending our knees in prayer, but obviously it doesn’t say that.
Geoffrey Stern 10:44
Correct? Correct. So I think, and you can’t but look at these ways of prayer, without looking at other religions. Because I think what we’ll see is that in Judaism, some things were done more extremely at one time, and maybe fell into disuse. But it was a shared language of prayer, it is nothing particularly, necessarily Jewish about it. So, I mean, the word Baruch, as we said before, is blessed it it means to kneel. It talks about by implication is to bless God, but also to be blessed by God, to salute, to praise. The interesting thing is in Islam, Barach is blessing power, a kind of continuity of spiritual presence and revelation that begins with God and flows through that, and those closest to God. Baraka can be found within physical objects, places and people as chosen by God. This force begins by flowing directly from God into creation that is worthy of Baraka. These creations endowed with Baraka can then transmit the flow of Baraka, what I loved here, and maybe that’s what inspired me to talk about the bending of the knee, as well as the straightening of the knee, is this sense of this flowing? And I certainly got this sense of flowing, when I thought of the tradition of bending when you say Barber, staying bent when you say Atah, but then standing up, when you mentioned God’s name, it felt like that force field.
Adam Mintz 12:44
Thank you for bringing that up. Why do we bend the way that we bend? Right, who made that up? We take it for granted. But who made that up?
Geoffrey Stern 12:56
Yes. So I mean, the question is, and I kind of touched upon this, we are not necessarily thinking or touching upon something that is uniquely Jewish. In other words, I think you can safely say when it comes to sacrifices, the Bible never goes out of its way to explain. “And by the way, this is what a sacrifice is”. it was a common nomenclature, this common, sociological, anthropological aspect of life. And I think there’s no question that this bowing, prostrating and the other physical actions and movements that we’re talking about could be a common language. And that part of what we’re doing tonight is trying to uncover, rediscover and find it both within our tradition and others.
Adam Mintz 13:53
I think that makes a lot of sense. I think the idea of using our body to bless power or God is something that cuts across all religions. It kind of makes sense, right? You don’t just use words, but you want to use your body. Now we do something in Judaism, which itself needs its own, you know, history lesson, we do something called shukling. Shukling means that we move back and forth when we when we daven. Where does that come from? Is that part of the same tradition or is that something else?
Geoffrey Stern 14:31
So, in researching this, I did come across a another Sefaria source sheet that was really about all things body related in terms of a prayer. And it did mention some… I wouldn’t say they were early sources, but certainly sources that are in the Teshuvot, in the Responsa literature that talk about this concept. And there is one Teshuva that says if it does something for you, you should move. And if it doesn’t, don’t. So, the first thing is yes, it recognized, I think the ancient nature of moving one’s body when one prays, I think it also made reference to someone who stands straight and still. it says whatever works for you. I think the key is that it recognized that there were different ways of praying and that moving the body can be an important ingredient in doing that. But I think yes, for sure. I, as a student of the Yeshiva, I cannot literally I cannot stand still, when I’m in Shul; whether I’m praying, whether I’m reading from the Torah. I just have this, this movement inside of me. And it comes very natural. And it becomes almost a sea. I think I have in my life experience been in the company of Hasidim, for instance, where it’s almost extreme. There is a sect of Hasidim called Stolin Karlin and we’re gonna get to sound in a second. But when you walk into their shoes, no one has in the history of Stolin Karlin. No one has ever said. We’re praying because you can hardly hear yourself think they scream so loud when they pray. They cup their hand over the ear to accentuate the sound. But there is swaying and it is something that is I think, very, very beautiful.
Adam Mintz 16:59
That is interesting. You always have the extremes. But what’s interesting is that shuckling. that moving during services is something like you said, it’s pretty much been standardized, hasn’t it?
Geoffrey Stern 17:15
It has and I was thinking, as you said the word shuckling that when we shukle, a lullav and an Etrog, we shake. And I was once in, I think, Cambodia, and people were praying and they were shaking leaves. And I heard that sound … I just think that the toolkit of prayer that we Jew’s have or had, is much larger than maybe all of us are aware and needs to be rediscovered. But shuckling is definitely …. movement is definitely part of it. And, and you know, the choreography. You mentioned the first blessings that you say during the Shemona Esrei. Most of us know that when you say Kaddish, or even when you finish the silent prayer, you take three steps back and you say O’seh Shalom Bimromov, you turn to the left, and then you turn to the right. And if you recall, when we started reading the Parsha, the Talmud who said that it clearly means Abrech means knees, it says for all came in and went forth only by his permission, just as it is said. And so, the implication was that when you leave a king, when you leave a holy space, you back up, you don’t God-forbid, turn your back to the place of holiness. And then you go to each side. And there’s a beautiful choreography there as well. that I find fascinating.
Adam Mintz 19:12
I think that’s great. And you know, the Talmud has that already. That’s an old Jewish tradition, also, to backup and never to turn your back to the shul, to God, to the ark. We have that traditional so.
Geoffrey Stern 19:26
So if you’ve ever watched a Muslim prayer, there is a prayer called the Salat. And at the end of it, you turn to the left and you go: Al-Salamu alaykum wa Rahmat Allah wa Barakatu So you say Sholom Aleychem and you talk about the blessing Barakatu that we have, and if you’ve ever done Kiddush Levana blessing the new moon There is this strange choreography and verbiage that literally parallels that you turn to the left. And you say Shalom Aleikhem, and you turn to the right and you say Shalom Aleikhem. It just seems to me there are a lot of synergies between the different prayer cultures.
Adam Mintz 20:19
I’ll just say something about that the idea of turning to the right and turning to the left is fantastic. Because in a sense, we’re imagining God in front of us, aren’t we? Right. And that’s kind of cool to think of, you know, it’s not only that we know we pray to God, right? So, we stand and we pray to God, but actually, even in our body motions, we imagined somebody and as if there’s somebody in front of us, I always was struck by that.
Geoffrey Stern 20:50
The thing is, that your physical body and the posture, that the pose that you strike, can have an effect on your inner disposition. I think that’s probably one of the critical lessons I take away from all of this, and how that ultimately gets accentuated in our prayers and in our ritual. I think if I had to, quote, the most famous verse in Psalms that is quoted in this regard, it Psalms 35: 10. And it says, כׇּ֥ל־עַצְמוֹתַ֨י ׀ תֹּאמַרְנָה֮ ה’ מִ֥י כָ֫מ֥וֹךָ all my bones shall say, Lord, who is like you. And it’s taken. And we’re going to see how it really gets expressed in one of the most beautiful prayers. But it’s always quoted, because it’s almost the structure of your skeleton, it’s the pose that you strike. I have a son who’s an actor, and he gave me a book, and it’s called the Lucid Body. And I when I was preparing for the essay said, I’ve always wanted an excuse to look at it. And it talks about something called the Alexander Method for actors. And part of it is just feeling your bone structure, your skeletal structure is a way of centering yourself and giving you a certain neutral sense. But we’re going to see that it comes through in actual prayers and in Tehillim. How one prays with one’s body.
Adam Mintz 22:36
Yeah, there’s no question about that. And the verse כׇּ֥ל־עַצְמוֹתַ֨י ׀ תֹּאמַרְנָה֮ ה’ מִ֥י כָ֫מ֥וֹךָ that’s a verse from Psalms, that verse, needs a rabbinic interpretation, because it’s hard to know what that verse means. On the surface, all my bones shall say, or all my parts of my body shall say, I mean, what exactly shall they say, and the rabbi’s use that as the source for the fact that we have to use our body, our body parts, we pray with our body parts, you know, the idea that we pray, even though we don’t speak is of course, something that relates to shofar. So, you see that there are other ways to pray other than with words, you see that from shofar.
Geoffrey Stern 23:19
And a shofar at the end of the day is a breath is created by a breath. And I think the that’s a wonderful segue to, to me the most preeminent prayer in our liturgy, that talks about using the body movement for prayer, and it’s Nishmat Kol Chai and most of us think that that appears in our weekly Shabbat service. And as an aside, it happens also to be in the Haggadah. My research shows that actually the first time we have a record of it is in the second century in the Haggadah, and then it came into our daily prayer, but I’m going to read a little bit of it because this Shabbat when you’re in shul, please take a look at this amazing prayer. And you were saying something about blowing the shofar, it starts with one act of the body that we haven’t really discussed and that is breath. It says נִשְׁמַת כָּל חַי תְּבַרֵךְ אֶת שִׁמְךָ. So, it has that word blessing. It says the soul of every living being shall bless your name וְרוּחַ כָּל בָּשָׂר תְּפָאֵר וּתְרוֹמֵם זִכְרְךָ and the spirit of all flesh, shall glorify exalt and your remembrance, but you and I both know that nishmat and Ruach could just as easily be your breath. That with your breath כָּל חַי תְּבַרֵךְ אֶת שִׁמְךָ, it could be that every living being shall bless your name. And it could be every breath shall bow down to your name. It could be two physical actions. And that just blows me away. But that’s just the beginning. Because then the prayer goes on. We’re our mouth as full of song as the sea, and our tongue, as full of joyous song, as the multitude of waves, and our lips as full of praise as the breath of the heavens, and our eyes as sparkling as the sun in the moon, and our hands as outspread as the Eagles of the sky, and our feet as swift as the deers we still could not thank you sufficiently, and then it ends. Therefore, the limbs that you set within us and the spirit and soul that you breathed into our nostrils, and the tongue that you placed in our mouth. verily, they shall thank and bless and praise and glorify, and exalt and revere, and sanctify and coronate Your name, our King. For every mouth shall offer thanks to You; and every tongue shall swear allegiance to You; and every knee shall bend to You; and every upright one shall prostrate himself before You; all hearts shall fear You; and all innermost feelings and thoughts shall sing praises to Your name, as the matter is written (Psalms 35:10), “All my bones shall say, ‘Lord, who is like You? and it ends by the lips of the righteous shall you be blessed by the tongue of the devout shall you be exalted, and among the holy shall you be sanctified. WOW… Did you count how many body parts I mentioned in that one?
Adam Mintz 26:49
That was amazing, isn’t it? The prayer Nishmat is very interesting. And the fact that you traced it and it comes originally from the Haggadah, and it was such a good prayer that we actually put it into our weekly service is a great thing also.
Geoffrey Stern 27:02
I think it’s about transition. And did you notice that not only did it talk about prostrating and all that, but it said, and all our innermost feelings and thoughts shall sing praises to your name…. and that was close to the end, that which we associate with the beginning of prayer actually almost comes at the end. It’s after all of these bodily parts have been aligned and used… and it reminded me of this Alexander Method that again, believes and I think this is a very Jewish thought that outside activity affects inward thought, or psychophysical unity. The body’s physical patterns are in direct correlation to emotional and mental patterns. It’s all there.
Adam Mintz 28:05
It’s amazing. It’s all there. It’s a such a great prayer. And of course, the entire prayer…. you want to talk about prayers. The entire prayer is basically a commentary on the verse כׇּ֥ל־עַצְמוֹתַ֨י ׀ תֹּאמַרְנָה֮ which is quoted in that prayer.
Geoffrey Stern 28:22
It really is.
Adam Mintz 28:23
It’s an elaboration of that verse.
Geoffrey Stern 28:26
It is it’s just an unbelievable. You know, we talked about this prostrating falling on to your face. We’ve all seen that, potentially on Yom Kippur, when the typically the rabbi and the cantor will get two people to stand on either side of them. It’s a big honor. And they will literally prostrate themselves the way Rashi described it when I quoted him earlier on where you put your hands out, your face is lying down. I’ve kind of seen this when the Pope swears in some new bishops, you see that? You see it in, obviously in Islam… kneeling is all over the place. We see it rarely. But if you look in the Talmud… Megillah 22b, for instance, it talks about Rav, once happened to come for a public fast. And when he did the blessing, everyone else fell on their faces. But Rav did not fall on his face. And they talk a little bit about the only prohibition…. because so many of us think that Jews do not bow Jews do not pray like that. We’re conditioned. The only prohibition is on stone. And I know in Curaçao they have synagogues where the floor is sand and some people theorize that maybe so they could bow but the bottom line is the only prohibition ever was against a stone floor because maybe I guess you could be worshiping the stone.
Adam Mintz 30:05
Right… that’s what they were worried about
Geoffrey Stern 30:05
It talks about this falling on the face. And it talks about Rav didn’t want to fall on the face. He didn’t want to trouble the congregation. We have pieces in the Talmud that talk about Rabbi Akiba, who, when he was alone and praying, he would start on one corner and end up in another corner. Because he was so physically active with his bows and prostrations. I mean, it really is an aspect of our religion that I think clearly can be rediscovered, and we can take real ownership with it, especially with so many Jews who are knowledgeable in both our religion and in yoga and body movement. It’s just seems to me that if we talk about as we do on Hanukkah, about rededicating ourselves and finding that which was hidden, that certainly rediscovering some of this body language, in Judaism, for some people, it really might appeal to it might make a difference exposing us to like these emotions. I just wanted to add that we started the class with the idea of Abrech. The fact that an important person was someone you bowed to. Now in the story of Esther, you have exactly that description. Because Mordechai refuses to bow to Haman. And Haman takes that as an insult, right? That’s the same story. And when I was reading pharaoh putting his signet ring on Joseph and dressing him in the robes, I also was thinking…. there was a lot of symmetry there. And no question about it.
Adam Mintz 32:10
Does the word Abrech appear there? Everybody I know we’re past our time. But we have to look for one second, whether the word Abrech appears there in chapter three. Hold on,
Geoffrey Stern 32:23
While you’re looking, I will talk about something else that occurred to me, and I talk about Hanukkah as being where we rededicate ourselves and find things that are missing. It also seems to me that many of us consider Hanukkah as that battle between the Hellenists and the Maccabees. And one of the things that were told that the Hellenists were criticized for was worshipping the body. And I think that has also kind of fallen onto us where maybe as a result, as a reflex reaction, we’ve gotten away from using our body in the way that Nishmat Kol Chai describes it. So I think that, you know, when we celebrate Hanukkah, we can also find those things that we lost as a result of conflict. And I just think that this is a book and this is a practice that definitely needs to be written. And now did you find whether Abrech occurred there?
Adam Mintz 33:29
No, it does not. But they in in the story, they refer back to the story of Joseph they say what is the relationship between the story of Haman and the story of the Abrech? They do have that so it’s right there. Our idea is perfectly right. Bingo. We got it right on the head. So, thank you so much. This was a great, great class. Such a fascinating discussion. I look forward next week. We’ll do a lunch and learn for the holiday weekend. Happy Hanukah everybody; Shabbos Hanukah is a always special for everybody. And we look forward to seeing everybody next week. Be well.
Geoffrey Stern 34:06
Shabbat Shalom Hanukkah Sameyach. Look forward to next week. And I tell you what I’m going to do I’m gonna put on a recording of Nishmat Kol Chai in the Moroccan tradition and listen if you understand the Hebrew to all of the body parts and the beauty here…… Shabbat shalom. See you all next week.
Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/454638
Listen to last year’s Miketz podcast: Food Fights and Gastro Diplomacy
parshat vayigash, genesis 46
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on December 29, 2022. Even if you are not a proponent of numerology you cannot ignore the repeated claim of the Torah that seventy souls went down to Egypt. The implied significance of the number 7 and its variants 70 and 49 provide a unique lens to view the Biblical narrative. Join us as we explore Gematria, rules of Biblical interpretation and the number Seventy in the Bible.
Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/455577
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Vayigash. Even if you are not a proponent of numerology you can’t ignore the repeated claim of the Torah that seventy souls went down to Egypt. The implied significance of the number 7 and its variants 70 and 49 provide a unique lens to view the Biblical narrative. So join us as we explore Gematria, rules of Biblical interpretation and the number Seventy in the Bible. Seventy Faces.
Well, welcome back to Madlik and just as we have finished Hanukah where we added a candle every night and counted to eight, we are going to spend a half hour today doing something that I typically don’t like to do, I am not into numerology, I am not into this gematria where you assign a value to each letter of the alphabet and you build high mountains of interpretation based on those types of things. Typically, I look at those things and I find them artificial, I find them impugned and ultimately, I feel that they’re almost an insult to the text itself, which has so much richness, why would you need to add numerology to it Rabbi is your take on gematria and numerology before we take off here?
Adam Mintz 01:58
I’m with you. I’m an old-fashioned traditionalists just like you. I don’t really like numerology. But numerology is one of those things you have to understand because it’s so much a part of our tradition. Now, there’s numerology. And then there’s some times where the Torah gives us numbers. I would also make that distinction. If the Torah gives us a number 70. Probably that number 70 means something.
Geoffrey Stern 02:25
So that literally was my point of departure. So in Genesis 46: 27, it says, And Joseph’s sons who were born to him in Egypt, were two in number. Thus, the total of Jacob’s household who came to Egypt was 70 persons. כׇּל־הַנֶּ֧פֶשׁ לְבֵֽית־יַעֲקֹ֛ב הַבָּ֥אָה מִצְרַ֖יְמָה שִׁבְעִֽים. And, as I said before, it is repeated in Exodus, it says, Exodus 1: 5 the total number of persons that were up Jacob’s issue came to 70, Joseph being already in Egypt, שִׁבְעִ֣ים נָ֑פֶשׁ. So again, when it repeats it twice, and of course, in the reference in our parsha. In our portion, it is preceded by what we found many times before a genealogy, and the genealogy has this is a child of Leah. This is the children of, of Rachel, these are the children of the two handmaidens. And then it says, and therefore everything added up to 70. So you can’t ignore the fact that it was important to the text that it added up to 70. And this actually is the most obvious most in your faced version of this, but it actually, according to the rabbi’s has happened before. At the end of the story of Noah, in Genesis 10. It gives all of his genealogy, he had three sons Shem, Ham and Japhet, and then in the beginning of Genesis 11, it says everyone on Earth had the same language and the same words. And the rabbis learned from this, first of all the rabbi’s go ahead and they count up each one of the members of Noah’s house, and lo and behold, in our source sheet I have quoted the Chizkuni, but he is not alone, where he adds them all up. And sure enough, there are 70 and from this comes the tradition that there are 70 nations, and that those 70 nations spoke one language before the Tower of Babel. And they spoke 70 languages after the Tower of Babel. So it’s seems to me if you look at both the Jews coming down from Canaan into Egypt, and you look at the end of the, the portion of the flood, and you talk about moving into a new basis for humanity at both of those junctures you have this group of 70. And you have a wonderful implication, I think the idea that there were 70 nations, and that they were 70 languages, had beautiful implications for us. The most beautiful is that according to the rabbi’s in the tractate of Shabbat, 88b, when the Torah was given, each utterance of God’s mouth was divided into 70 languages. So, I’ll stop here, do you believe as now we start to explore the texts or the Bible’s sense of 70? Does it have to do with transition? What do you make of 70 Languages? What was the implications for the generation of the Exodus?
Adam Mintz 06:11
Well, I mean, there are so many different pieces of this. First of all, seventy comes from seven, and seven is the number in the Torah of a cycle, because that’s seven days. How do I know that? I know that from the story of creation, the very first cycle in the history of the Torah, in the history of the world, is the cycle of seven, God works for six days, and he rests on the seventh. So, I know from Genesis chapter one, that the key number in the Torah is going to be the number seven, and therefore 70, and therefore 49. And all of those variations of seven, sorry, so right that we know from the beginning. So therefore 70 languages, and 70 people fit in. Now, we’re not talking about this yet. But Rashi points out that if you count the numbers, the numbers are wrong, that actually, it’s only 69. And that, we have to get a 78 from somewhere. And Rashi suggests that number seventy is Yochevet, Yochevet is the mother of Moses, the daughter of Levi, who’s a grandson of Jacob, and the Rabbis say, she was וְנִתּוֹסְפָה לָהֶם יוֹכֶבֶד בֵּין הַחוֹמוֹת she was literally born on the way between Canaan and Egypt. Now that that is very important in its own, because she’s the mother of Moses. Moses is the one who took the Jews from Egypt to Canaan, he asked to have been born from a mother, who also knew both cultures, she was born between Canaan and Egypt.
Geoffrey Stern 08:07
So how does that relate to the number seventy?
Adam Mintz 08:11
Well, that’s number 70. If you just count up the numbers in this week’s Parasha, you don’t get to 70 You need a seventy. So, Rashi has this idea that these 70th is someone who was born on the way, so she didn’t make it into the genealogy in the Torah, but she’s counted as number 70. But obviously, that’s significant because you need 70. So where are you gonna get 70 from?
Geoffrey Stern 08:38
So that’s, that’s amazing. They really had to work at it. And I think what’s interesting about coming to this number of 70, for the generation of the Exodus, is it wasn’t all that neat. They make a point, the verse makes a point of saying, and you have to add Joseph who was already there, or you have to add Joseph and his sons who were already there. So although it’s this sense of 70 came down, it’s not as if they came down all at once. And even a few verses earlier in Genesis 45: 7 it uses the word וַיִּשְׁלָחֵ֤נִי אֱלֹהִים֙ לִפְנֵיכֶ֔ם לָשׂ֥וּם לָכֶ֛ם שְׁאֵרִ֖ית בָּאָ֑רֶץ וּלְהַחֲי֣וֹת לָכֶ֔ם לִפְלֵיטָ֖ה גְּדֹלָֽה, which means in later Judaism, we would have congregations who were formed that left Spain, and they were called like the one in New York City Shei’rit Yisrael the leftover the remnants of Israel, Pelatah, has the same meaning. You almost get a sense that maybe there were more people in Canaan left behind who, as would happen in a famine didn’t make the boat, weren’t so lucky. But here was this remnant who reunited with their estranged son/brother and became this whole. But it was it’s part of survival too, which is fascinating to me. And that’s the בֵּין הַחוֹמוֹת you we’re talking about between the walls.
Adam Mintz 09:46
I think all that’s true. By the way, when the Jews left Egypt, they didn’t leave with a number that was a multiple of 70. 600,000. Jews left Egypt. It’s not connected to 70. I can’t explain it. I’m just telling you that that’s a fact.
Geoffrey Stern 10:20
So that that becomes kind of interesting.
Adam Mintz 10:22
I can’t explain it. I’m just telling you that that’s a fact.
Geoffrey Stern 10:27
Yeah. I want to pick up a little bit on what you were saying about the number seven. Obviously, seven times 10 is 70 times seven is 49. We count that for the years of the Shemita, the Sabbatical Year that in the 50th year then becomes the Jubilee Year, the Yovel. When I was looking at the texts, I came across a comment by Everett Fox, who we’ve come across before and he says shivim; 70. Related to sever, it has to do with completeness with something that is perfection. And then he says, I’ve written more on this, but also see a certain scholar named Umberto Cassuto and Umberto Cassuto was an Italian Jewish scholar, who, because of the persecution moved to Israel, and join the Hebrew University, and because of Everett Fox’s reference, I went ahead and I opened up my book on Genesis by Cassuto. And for someone who doesn’t like numbers, this was like a mind opener to me. And he lists, I think, seven or eight ways in which the number seven plays a part in the creation of the world. And obviously, the most obvious one is seven days of creation. But he talks about the fact that the divine name in one of its forms occurs 70 times in the first four chapters, he says, And there was evening and there was morning, is seven times he says there were seven chapters who the Masoratim, the people that gave punctuation to the Torah scroll, if you look at a Torah Scroll, there is no punctuation. They created seven paragraphs. He said, The Seven times you have this divine fiat “let there be”. Then he talks about the terms light and day are found seven times in the first paragraph, and seven references to light in the fourth paragraph, he goes on water is mentioned seven times in paragraphs two and three. He says the expression good appears seven times. The first verse of the Torah about a set has seven words, the second verse contains 14 words. And at the end, he says, to suppose that all this is a mere coincidence is not possible. Full disclosure, I think that Cassuto, was arguing with what’s called high a biblical criticism, or form criticism, which implies that the Bible, especially the first chapters of Genesis, were written by different sources. And what he is arguing is, if you believe that the numerology of seven, and seven, and 14, and what built into the text, it’s pretty difficult to assume that the multiple edited texts would be able to convey this, it’s almost looking more like a Shakespearean sonnet that has certain rules to it, the rules are followed exactly, and his seven is pulling that up. But as a byproduct, …. if we buy into what Cassuto is trying to say, he’s trying to say that the original author of these texts was very mindful of the power of this seventh. And that, in the words of Cassuto, is very hard to believe is a mere coincidence. Have you ever seen this stuff from Cassuto? Before? This was the first I mean,
Adam Mintz 14:36
I’ve never seen it from Cassuto. But I’m very familiar with the idea. I mean, and you’re 100% right, because Cassuto was a scholar in the first half of the second half of the of the 1900s. And, you know, there was a big push towards scholarship, you know, Bible Scholarship, which says that the tau res, you know, written by multiple authors, and it’s a work of literature, and then what they I always do is they point out all these things that can’t be coincidence coincidences? And he points out that one of those big things is the number seven, seven is everywhere. You see, the Torah, even as God’s book has to be built on, you know, based on certain principles. And one of the principles, his argument is that one of the principles is seven. And he likes the fact that one of the principles is seven, because since there were seven days of creation, and that’s the first number, and that’s the first cycle. So it makes perfect sense that that should be the cycle around which the entire toe is creeping.
Geoffrey Stern 15:43
But it really I mean, it kind of you don’t have to buy one of his arguments, or two of his arguments, you can say, Well, that’s obvious. The weld was great in seven days. So, it says I was good seven times. But the cumulative power of all of these things, is fascinating. And it makes one say, okay, in our, in our profession, we have this, this sense of 70 people in the genealogy, it makes you look back at Noa where it doesn’t point out that it’s 70. And read it differently. And that’s my point. My point is that this then these numbers become a tool, a way of listening to the narrative in potentially a new way, which is kind of interesting.
Adam Mintz 16:34
Really interesting. And to think about why seven should be such an important number. So, I’m making a big deal about the fact that seven is the first number in the Torah; seven days of the week. But why is seven completeness? And why is 70 completeness. And why is 49 completeness. You know, it’s all based on God’s cycle. God determined that seven was the number. Since God determined that seven was the number, everything revolves around Gods sevens.
Geoffrey Stern 17:09
Yeah, and again, it’s not as though the tradition was not aware of 10. I mean, I think you can assume 10, and I’m no scholar in this regard. But 10 is 10 fingers, it’s the easiest way to count. We talk about the digital revolution, where everything is associated with a number digits come from our fingers. If you look up the word digit, it is a finger. So that I get and that is interesting, because that does appear we do have 70 is 10 times seven, which is fascinating. The Rabbi’s talk about the world being created in 10 phrases. And of course, Cassuto says well, he sees a combination there of the seven that he has identified, and three others, but I don’t have an answer to why seven is important other than the week and the importance of time. But that almost begs the question, how did we get to a seven-day week? It’s certainly one of the Jew’s greatest contributions to civilization, especially in terms of the seventh day, which is the holy day of rest, but I don’t have an answer. All I know is that this little exercise that we’re having today is sensitizing me and hopefully you to the numbers and the associations that the biblical author and or the rabbi’s later had with, with number associations.
Adam Mintz 18:49
I think I mentioned on this clubhouse Class A while ago, that there was a book written last year called The week. (The Week: A History of the Unnatural Rhythms That Made Us Who We Are by David M Henkin) And in the book, he traces this idea of the seven day week. And what I couldn’t believe but seems to be true, is that there have been attempts as recently as the 18 hundreds after the Civil War, to try to make the week simpler, you know, the week doesn’t work out with the month because the month is either 30 or 31 days. We all know, therefore it’s confusing. So, in December, December 10 was whatever day of the week it is. January 10 is going to be another day of the week and February 10 will be another day of the week. We’ve taken that for that we figure that out and we look it up on calendars. But before they had calendars that was complicated, one did have been easier had the week, and the month didn’t synch, meaning that the week been five or six stays. So that wouldn’t that have been easier? Yeah. And the answer is they tried it. And it didn’t work, because seven has been the number since the time of creation. And that really is interesting. You see, sometimes the fact that something wins, even though it doesn’t make sense, shows you the power of it. So, seven doesn’t make sense, it would have been better to do it the other way. But nevertheless, seven one, and I thought that was great.
Geoffrey Stern 20:32
And it speaks to the power the meaning that we humans also imbue something with it takes on a life of its own, which I think is fascinating. So, I wanted to take the discussion in a slightly different direction, because I did say that I had a kind of a bias against Gematria. And I did a little research the most preeminent scholar in Greco Roman influences on Judaism is Professor Saul Lieberman. And he wrote a book actually called a how much Hellenism in Jewish Palestine. And in it he talks about a Mishneh in Shekalim were they availed themselves the utility of putting Greek letters on jugs. The word Gematria itself… if it sounds like the word geometry there’s a reason. it’s a Greek word. we’ve all might have been exposed to the different forms of hermeneutics of Yishmael in terms of rules of interpretation, but there is a lesser-known rules of, interpretation for the Agada …. for the narrative portions, the moral the ethics, and that’s 33 Midot. There were 33 ways of doing it. And it was the first to cite one of these Midot is the numerical values of the text. And according to Lieberman, this was by Abulwalid ibn Ganah, and as you can tell by his name, this was anything but the rabbinic period. And in terms of our experience of Gematria. Here’s an interesting one, if you remember when we did our episode on Aramaic, and we talked about Eliezer, who was Abraham’s servant going down to find a bride for his son,….And I said, if you will call, while the Rabbi say it was Eliezer. The truth is, it never says Eliezer but the rabbi’s learn it and Rashi quotes from a gematria from the numerical value of 318, servants of Abraham, but it’s rare and late. And the interesting thing that Lieberman talks about is that this sense of even ascribing numerical value to letters comes very late. It’s he quotes in the Talmud that they got it from the Greeks in terms of a Mishnah in Shekalim, where they availed themselves the Greek alphabet. to put numbers on different jugs, the word Gematria itself, if it sounds like geometry, there’s a reason it’s a Greek word. So the first interesting thing is, the value of numbers is important. We’ve pointed that out. But giving these num numerical values to each letter is something that was much later as a tool of interpretation. What’s fascinating, is, we’ve all heard the Sofrim. Sofer is an author in modern day Hebrew, and the Sofrim were one of the earliest interpreters of the Bible. But if you know Hebrew, you know the word l’saper can mean to tell a story, Lispor can mean to count, and here Lieberman says something that after reading Cassuto, we all of a sudden, can recognize. And he quotes two pieces of Talmud, where they talk about the lost art of counting verses, counting words, and that they ascribe to the Sofrim. So on the one hand, Gematria might be something late, but I think doing something along the lines that we just saw Umberto Cassuto do with some maybe a lost art.
Adam Mintz 24:55
That selection from the Talmud. Sofrim, shows that there are actually was an entire profession of people who counted the words and the letters of the Torah, exactly what Cassuto did. That’s what they did. Now you understand, in those days, they didn’t have books, the only book they had was the Torah, and the Torah was a holy book. So, if you have a holy book, you might as well turn it over and turn it over and turn it over again. And turning it over means reading it, and reading and reading it all the different ways you can read it. And they believed that counting the letters and the words of the Torah was a holy pursuit, I think that’s an important thing that needs to be said that in itself was a holy pursuit.
Geoffrey Stern 25:37
And it probably as Cassuto points out, helped with punctuation, helped with structuring the text. So when Cassuto says that there are seven paragraphs of creation, and Sofrim were great, the Mesoratim were great in terms of putting those little brackets. It fed itself. They were, you know, the question was, is how much were they projecting onto the text? And how much were they uncovering some rhythms, some patterns of the tax that were helpful in other regards, that to me, is kind of fascinating. And as much as it goes against my grain to admit this numerology, there is something there that makes it makes it fascinating. I think about 10 Years Ago, there was a book called the Bible Code. And that went a little a little bit far, and made almost a ……
A mockery of it
I think that’s exactly it. And so you have to walk a very interesting line here. And maybe you need to scholars like a Cassuto, who see it that way to listen to them to help that enrich your experience of reading the text, but not overcome it.
Adam Mintz 27:02
I think you’re making a very interesting point about the Sofrim. We know that they counted. What exactly did they count. So the Bible Code took the Sofrim and kind of exploded it. And everything was allowed, because Cassuto limits it. But it’s interesting to think about the fact that the minute you start counting things, it’s hard to create limits. And basically, to say it a little cynically, but probably truthfully, your ability to count is as good as your ability to come up with a Devar Torah. If you’re counting will give me a good Devar Torah, that I’m willing to count. But if you’re counting is not going to give me anything. What’s the point? And I think that’s what the Bible Code got, The Bible Code has these crazy things, you know, they predicted World War Two, and all these kinds of crazy things. So, the minute that they actually were able to predict things, people took them seriously now it was wrong to take them seriously. This goes back to the very first thing you said today, and that is your kind of hesitation towards these kinds of numerologies. I think that’s our general 21st century view of that the numerology is we’re not afraid to say what Cassuto said, what we’re afraid to do is to get carried away. That’s dangerous. And that’s what the Bible Code did.
Geoffrey Stern 28:38
So yeah, I totally agree. But now I want to focus out what we can learn from this number 70. And this sense of how the rabbi’s took it. You already described this sense of between the walls and I love that it becomes part of the birth of our nation at that exact moment of transferring from Canaan to Egypt, where people were born. We had that number 70. I talked about Noah having 70 children and then having this story about languages. And from this, the rabbis learned that there are 70 languages. I also mentioned that when the total was given, there’s this beautiful Talmud that says, Every utterance emerged from the mouth of the Almighty divided into 70 languages. What I didn’t give you is the metaphor that they took from that. And they said that each word was therefore like a hammer that shatters a rock, just as a hammer breaks a stone into several fragments. So every and each utterance that emerged from the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He divided it into 70 languages ״וּכְפַטִּישׁ יְפֹצֵץ סָלַע״ and נֶחֱלָק לְכַמָּה נִיצוֹצוֹת so now we’re starting to see this kind of dynamism this kind of dialectic between 70 being a sense of complete, and perfection, and 70 being something that breaks outside of the boundary of completeness and perfection.. The Sparks when the hammer strikes the rock or the anvil. You know, this sense of language, we all know that you can’t translate perfectly, which maybe says something in a negative sense about translating. But the positive sense is that whenever you do translate, you’re seeing the original text in a new way, you’re taking it with new nuances. I’ll finish by saying that when the Bible was translated into Greek, the word that it was called, is this Septuagint for those of you who know Greek that comes from the word 70, because by rabbinic tradition, there was 70, scholars put in 70 different rooms, and they all translated the Bible the same, I would love to say that maybe they translated it the same, but by translating it, there was this spark this diversion and the rabbi’s understood that and that was manifest in this word. 70. Once again,
Adam Mintz 31:29
I think that’s great. And obviously, that legend about 70. It’s the same thing, you know, 70 is the round number 70 is the holy number. 70 is the special number. If you’re going to have it translated, obviously, it’s going to be 70. Right? It’s like if I were to wake you up in the middle night and say how many people translated the Torah, you will say, of course, it’s seventy.
Geoffrey Stern 31:51
What’s interesting is in the actual text, it says, it says some texts say 72, and some say 70.
Adam Mintz 32:00
We call it the Septuagint, which means the translation of the seventy. Yes,
Geoffrey Stern 32:05
And I would like to argue from that, that the word 70, was also taken in as a form as an expression. The other place that you have it, one of the reasons given for it being called the Septuagint, besides the 70 rooms, is that the text of the Greek translation was then sent to the Sanhedrin. How many people are members of the grand Sanhedrin? Rabbi?
Adam Mintz 32:34
Of course, 70, because that’s the only number it can be.
Geoffrey Stern 32:38
So here, too, we have this Sanhedrin, and that by the way, Kim was out of Numbers 11: 16, then God spoke to Moses gather to me 70 men of the elders of Israel, to whom you know that they are elders of the people and its officers. And that’s where he appointed his judges, you cannot mention the 70 members of the Sanhedrin without mentioning the unbelievable, mind-blowing piece of Talmud in Sanhedrin, 17a that says, if you have a Sanhedrin in a capital case, that has unanimity, each of the 70 judges says that this individual is guilty. He goes free. If there’s one or two of them that say no, I’m not convinced you can convict him of death. But I’d love to know what your takeaway is, my takeaway has always been in 70 people let alone 70. Jews can all agree about something there’s something wrong
Adam Mintz 33:45
There’s something wrong with the case. That’s correct. And that’s the way we’ve always interpreted it, right means you can have unanimity. There has to be some debate, There has to be a way to see it the other way. If you don’t give you can see it the other way. You haven’t tried hard enough to find the other argument. Isn’t that a great way to kind of pull the whole thing together?
Geoffrey Stern 34:06
It really speaks to this sense that seven might be complete and perfect. But perfection can never be unanimous. Universal. there has to be an outlier. There has to be something that’s open to discussion, whether it’s a translation or a judgement. And, you know, maybe if I knew more about numbers, I would be able to understand how seven is unique. It’s clearly not. It’s not divisible by whole numbers. So there’s something there, but I just think that the Sanhedrin and the Septuagint. And that a hammer hitting the anvil and making Sparks as a metaphor for Torah is a beautiful message of what those 70 individuals going down to Egypt had in store for themselves when they launched our nation.
Adam Mintz 35:04
What a great topic. So, thank you for talking about numerology, Shabbat Shalom, everybody enjoy 70. And think of all the other examples of seven and 70 and 49 that we have in our tradition, our tradition is full of them happy new year, and we look forward to continuing it’ll be 2023 but next Thursday night, we are going to continue with Vayechei and then we will bring it in to the book of Bereshit, the book of Genesis, Shabbat Shalom, everybody, Shabbat Shalom, Geoffrey, and everybody. And we look forward to next week be Well, everybody,
Geoffrey Stern 35:35
Shabbat Shalom that the force of 70 be with you all. And if any of you have any comments or suggestions or something that you want to share with us, please go ahead and raise your hand. And I would love to invite you up to the Bima. Hey, Michael.
Michael Stern 35:55
Hey, Geoffrey, thank you, I What a blessing to come on today. I’m driving, but I just wanted to add to the mix. That the year 2023 numerologically, adds up to seven.
Yeah, so I didn’t want to overlook it. And, of course, I believe and feels numerology. And I think that it’s very deep. And so I think there’s something going on, this is going to be a powerful time of alignment. Hanukkah and Christmas were also the same crescent moon rising. I check that out the last day of Hanukkah and the day of Christmas. So there’s something going on that I just wanted to share, and thanks for great Madlik today.
Geoffrey Stern 36:47
So Michael, I think that’s amazing that you are link our discussion today of Shivim of 70 the New Year, which adds up to seven because one of the sources that I had wanted to bring but I had neglected to bring was right out of the Haggadah. It says web Eliezer Ben Azaria said Behold, I am like a 70-year-old man, yet I have not merited to understand why the Exodus from Egypt should be said at night until Ben Zoma explained it to me. And from this, we learn that Shivim can also be related to time and more specifically years. And whether it means that he felt like he became an old person, which is the mainstream explanation because he was very young, when he was appointed to be the head of the Sanhedrin. Or maybe because he was from another generation. There was 70 years that the Jews were in captivity. in Babylonia there was 70 years plus or minus where the Second Temple was being rebuilt. So maybe he was saying, I I’m a man of a different generation of the generation of the galut of the destruction. And I didn’t know whether we should remember the Exodus from Egypt only during good times i.e., during the day, but also during bad times, but I love that he associates 70 with years, and we are about to celebrate a new year. And I’m also reminded of the Chinese that give every year a face every year is associated with a different animal. And that was why I called the podcast 70 faces Shivim panim because there is a tradition that every verse has 70 faces 70 different explanations at least. So, for this coming year, let us discover the face of the year let us discover the different textures of our texts and aspects of our friends and family and wishing you all a very happy New Year. Shabbat shalom.
Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/455577
Listen to last year’s fantastic Vayigash episode: Joseph – Tool of a Repressive Regime?
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