parshat Chukat, numbers 20
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on July 7th 2022 on Clubhouse. In a parsha dedicated to death and with much attention on the enigmatic law of the Red Heifer we also witness the death of Moses and his siblings; the primary protagonists of the Exodus. Miriam dies in two verses and Moses and Aaron are sentenced to death with Aaron quickly dispatched. Which leads to the age-old question: Who Done it and why?
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s parsha is dedicated to death and with much attention on the enigmatic law of the Red Heifer. But we also witness the death of Moses and his siblings; the primary protagonists of the Exodus. Miriam dies in two verses and Moses and Aaron are sentenced to death with Aaron quickly dispatched. Which leads to the age-old question: Who Done it and why? So welcome to Murder in the Desert.
So, this year, as I’m going through the parshiot the second time, I tend to go to the second half and realize that there’s a sequence and there’s a connection, as tenuous as it sometimes is. And as I said in the intro, last year, we talked about this enigmatic law of the Red Heifer for which is used when any Israelite comes into contact with death in any aspect. And we discussed it last year. It’s fascinating. But then the very next chapter Numbers 20 Verse number 1 says, and the Israelites arrived in a body at the wilderness of zin on the first moon, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there. And then it begins with the next crisis, which is there was no water. But Rashi on that verse says, Why is this section narrating the death of Miriam placed immediately after the section treating of the red halfa? And he answers to suggest to you the following comparison, what is the purpose of the sacrifices, they affect atonement, so too does the death of the righteous effect atonement, מִיתַת צַדִּיקִים מְכַפֶּרֶת. So we’ve been spending a lot of time on sacrifices. And of course, that is the segue; the red heifer is part of the sacrificial cult, and Rashi is disturbed by why is the death of Miriam and we’ll see in a second the death of Aaron, put right next to this story of the Red Heifer. I think the question is as good as any answer you could give. The question is telling us that there is a connection, that you don’t just have a death without there being meaning to that death, you don’t have a death in terms of its placement without there being lessons to be learned. And his particular lesson is that just as when we sacrifice an animal, we are trying to somehow parlay that into acceptance of repentance. When we lose somebody very dear or in this case a Tzadik or Tzadekus, a female righteous person, that kind of bodes well for us. But what intrigues you more the question or the answer, Rabbi?
Adam Mintz 03:27
Well, the answer is very interesting that the death of the righteous somehow atone. I mean, that sounds very Christian to me. Right. So, I think we I think I think we need to, to own it, to kind of call it as it is, and say the idea the answer is really problematic, unless we say that the Jews had it first, that that’s our idea that the death of the righteous somehow atones. And the Christians took it from us. Now first of all, that would be interesting, historically. But I think religiously, we have to figure out what does that actually mean? What does it mean, the death of righteous atone? I mean, that’s a pretty harsh statement, …. there’s a big question, obviously, about why bad things happen to good people. And you know, there’s no good answer to that question. One of the bad answers to that question is that the death of the righteous atones, and because the death of the righteous atones, so therefore, you know, somehow there’s a reason for the righteous to die. So, you know, that’s, where that’s coming from. The question is whether we’re satisfied with that approach.
Geoffrey Stern 04:37
So I’m willing to discuss that I love the connection that you made with Christianity, and I would go even further and make a connection with Islam as well. In terms of the founding fathers, the seminal leadership is taken away and look at it from that perspective as well. Yes, we can talk about somehow, we’ve always accepted as a Christian notion that the death of the Savior somehow redeems all of mankind. And we talked a little bit about that, even when we discussed the Akedat Yitzchok (The Sacrifice of Isaac). Then there are those Midrashim that says he was actually sacrificed and brought back to life. We’ve had this sense of where the tribe of Israel put their hands on the Leviim וְסָמְכ֧וּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל אֶת־יְדֵיהֶ֖ם עַל־הַלְוִיִּֽם and gave them certain powers, we have that with the Sir L’Azazel, the goat that on Yom Kippur gets thrown over the rugged mountain with the sins of the Jewish people, you get this kind of sense of transference, where somehow you can transfer your liability on to something or somebody else. And that’s a very strong tradition. And I think you’re absolutely correct. That probably, or for sure, Christianity took that from us. And I would also say on the rebound, almost for sure. We sublimated it, we made that kind of concept. “Oh, that’s Christian. That’s not us.” But what I want to talk about because it kind of follows the story a little bit, is that when we get to Aaron, we’re gonna find out that Aaron and Moses did something wrong. And that’s why Aaron is told his life is at an end. In the case of Miriam, you really have to dig, you have to go back way back to the earlier Numbers. 12, where if you recall, Miriam and Aaron, are speaking against Moses and his Kushite wife. And they basically said, Has God spoken only through Moses? הֲרַ֤ק אַךְ־בְּמֹשֶׁה֙ דִּבֶּ֣ר ה. And that resonates with us a little bit from Korach’s argument last week, there seems to be two things that bother the Jewish people in the desert. One is food, or drink. And we have that in this week’s parsha. But the other thing is רַב־לָכֶם֒, you’ve taken too much upon yourself. It’s kind of like we benefit from our leaders, and then we destroy them. Do you think there’s that thread as well here?
Adam Mintz 07:38
You know, that’s interesting that we benefit from our leaders and then we destroy them. That you know, that’s a lack of gratitude. That’s a very interesting idea that we don’t appreciate what we have. Now, the Jews of the desert. This is a little a little far afield, but it’s important for the general discussion. The Jews of the desert, don’t appreciate God, and they don’t appreciate their leaders, right? They complain about God, you know, God splits the sea. And the first thing they do is they complain that we don’t have water. When we don’t have water. Obviously, if God splits the sea, he can give them water, but it doesn’t matter. They don’t appreciate what they have. And they don’t appreciate Moshe that’s the story last week of Korach, that they don’t appreciate Moshe. So, they have these leaders, they benefit from the leaders, but then they complain about the leadership. That’s an important thing. Now that’s not exactly the same thing as the fact that their death atones. Let’s take a step back. Who does the death atone for? Geoffrey, you mentioned the rabbinic statement then מִיתַת צַדִּיקִים מְכַפֶּרֶת Who exactly does it atone for? Does it atone for the person who dies? Does it atone for the people? What exactly is it? You should know that there’s some Midrash, I don’t know where it is that says that in every generation, there are 10 children, innocent children who died and that that atones for the entire generations. I mean, that’s a very hard statement to make. Because how could you say that that there should be some kind of justifications for the fact that children would die.
Geoffrey Stern 09:16
What makes the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer such an enigma is typically said in the following phrase שתטהר הטמאים ותטמא הטהורים, it makes the impure pure, and it defiles the pure; the priest who’s in charge of doing it, he himself becomes impure. And one of the takeaways that I took from that is that somehow this sense of kapara (purification) is a zero-sum game meaning to say that it’s like the transfer of energy, of pouring water from one glass to another. You know, we love to say The reason why Torah is compared to a light; is a light you can light and you can spread it without diminishing from the flame. But the way it treats purity, in a sense almost feels like it’s zero sum that if I have it you don’t. And if I give it to you, there’s a vacuum with me and I become impure. And my read on those 10 tzadikim, the ten pure children my read on the the sacrifices that they do in the temple and my read certainly on the tzadikim who are Michaperet, is that there is this transference. And we’re going to talk a little bit about Freud later, but it is a psychoanalytic concept where you transfer what you have, you expiate somehow on to something else, and then somehow you feel pure. And I do think that’s the basis of it.
Adam Mintz 10:58
Well, of course, that’s the idea of the of the goat that sent to Azazel, that’s sent to the desert and thrown off the cliff. And then the Jewish people are relieved of their sins on Yom Kippur war? Obviously, that’s the source of this whole idea. But that’s a goat. That’s not a person.
Geoffrey Stern 11:18
Well, absolutely. So let’s tack back a little bit to this concept of killing our leaders after they give us something and you said it lacks of Hakarat Tov of recognition of the good that we’re getting. So Rashi on Numbers 20: 2 says as follows There was no water for the congregation. Since this statement follows immediately after the mention of Miriam’s death. We may learn from it that during the entire 40 years, they had the well through Miriam’s merit. הַבְּאֵר בִּזְכוּת מִרְיָם. And of course, we nowadays have many songs with Miriam, the prophetess, and the relationship that she has to song and the timbrel, but also to the water. And unlike Aaron and Moses, that have someone to take up the charge, Moses famously has Joshua. And Aaron we’ll see in a few verses, has his son; Eleazar, Miriam, as I said, in the intro she dies in two verses. That in itself is tragic. But what’s amazing is that she when she dies, there’s something missing. When Aaron dies, they mourn. When Moses dies, they mourn, but when Miriam dies, they lose water, they lose water. And I think that is kind of fascinating because the next whole narrative in our parsha deals with the ramifications of them complaining about not having water, losing the water and then we’ll see in a few verses what Moses and Aaron did that got them into such trouble.
Adam Mintz 13:08
I think all this is good. I think that that’s good. I love the transference I love I love the Freudian transference idea. I think that if we can really prove that the toe rough where the rabbis have that idea of transference I think we can we can move Freud back about 3,000 years we’ll really have accomplished something today.
Geoffrey Stern 13:26
[Laughs] Very good. I liked that. I liked that a lot. So, in Numbers 20: 7 – 13. It has another famous story. And it says And God spoke to Moses saying you and your brother Aaron take the rod and assemble the community and before their very eyes order the rock to yield its water. Thus you shall produce water for them from the rock and provide drink for the congregation and their beasts. Moses took the rod from before God as He had been commanded. Moses and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of them and said to them, Listen, you rebels. Shall we get water for you out of this rock and Moses raised his hand and struck the rock …. twice with his rod. Out came copious water in the community and they are beasts drank. But God said to Moses and Aaron because you did not trust me enough to affirm my sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead the congregation into the land that I have given them. Those are the waters of Meribah meaning that the Israelites quarreled with God, whose sanctity was affirmed through them. And this is why I put the title of this podcast as Murder on the Desert, because it’s starting to sound a lot like Agatha Christie. First Miriam dies. Now we have Aaron and Moses within seconds and associated with the same issue of water, and they are told they too will die in an untimely fashion, if you consider not going into the promised land, which was their whole mission, an untimely fashion. So that’s why it seemed to me and I was struck by the key protagonists of the Exodus from Egypt, are given a death sentence in this parsha, and within a few verses of each other, it’s like the whole leadership of the whole people in one fell swoop in one chapter is knocked out. Well, don’t forget that last week, their leadership was questioned. So, you know, when your leadership is questioned, and that’s interesting, just in terms of, you know, today, Boris Johnson resigned, you know, when your leadership is questioned, that’s often the beginning of the end, right? You read the stories about Boris Johnson, you know, it started with a controversy, and then all of a sudden, he’s not the Prime Minister anymore, you know, and Korach questions, Moshe’s leadership, and all of a sudden, the next parsha they sin and they lose their leadership. It’s not by accident, it just didn’t just happen. Now, maybe Moshe and Aaron are frustrated, because their leadership was questioned, and therefore they lose their cool in a way that they would not have lost their cool had their leadership not been questioned. That in itself is a possibility and interesting, but I think the connection between these two parshas is very, is very, you know, significant. And again, we always look at the Kodak story, thank you for bringing it up. As what was wrong with Korach, what did he say that had no merit. But here we go. We have the same argument with Miriam and Aaron, questioning Moses, leadership in the in the beginning of the book of Numbers, we have it through the mouth of Korach. And here, we have basically God questioning their leadership to the extent that for whatever reason, and we can get into the minutiae of was it that he hit it was it that he hit it twice. But ultimately, the bottom line is that Moses and Aaron, were told, you’re not going to finish this job. You know, you can, you can take so many lessons from this, you can say, You know what it says in Perkei Avot, לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה, the job is not on each one of us to finish. And I think Martin Luther King Jr. made this case the most, he says, I’ve been to the mountaintop, and I might not finish it. And that’s always been one takeaway. And you could say what I said earlier, which is somehow we kill our leaders, maybe to expiate, in the sacrificial tradition. And maybe just because we have this, I don’t know, a difficult relationship with our leaders, we respect them, but in a sense, we feel they detract from our own identity. It’s kind of all here, and I’d love to hear your comments on that. But I’m gonna go right from here into what Freud actually did say about the death of Moses in the desert. But do you agree with me that it sounds so many different levels here?
Adam Mintz 18:19
I agree with you. I think this is the time to transition into Freud. Let’s see what Freud says, let’s try to pull the whole thing together. Good.
Geoffrey Stern 18:25
Good. So, in a book that he wrote in 1956, it was the last book that he wrote, it was called Moses and Monotheism. And he made two radical statements, I would say, three radical statements in it. The first thing that he did, and we’ve touched upon this before, is in the tradition of all of Greek and Roman mythology, where Romulus and Remus are, the children of the king, or exiled, have to fight their way back like Odysseus does. And then re-claim they’re titled, he said, something doesn’t work with the Moses story because Moses is not brought up by royalty and exiled to live with the slaves. He’s raised as a slave and then exiled to live with royalty. So, I think that makes our Bible unique Freud says that you don’t break any rules of mythology. He says, number one, Moses was an Egyptian. Number two, he was an in very enlightened Egyptian, and he was the one who came up with the idea of monotheism. And he took this rabble of Israelites into the desert. And like any good leader, he taught them these rules of against idolatry and all that and all they wanted to do is to go back to Egypt and eat their watermelons. And at the end of the day, what he preached was too much and they murdered him. And I want to focus on the murdering him part. Because usually as radical as a statement as you’ll make about, our texts, you’ll normally find a tradition like that in the text itself. And you really have to scratch your head to find something along those lines. We’re jumping a little bit ahead. But in our Parsha, after Moses and Aaron are condemned to death, it actually says that they took Aaron up out Aaron gathered his kins. And he told him I can’t go into the land of Israel. I’ve disobeyed Him. And they went with his son Elazar to the top of Mount Har. And it goes on and it says, And all the congregation saw that Aaron had died. And Rashi says, when they saw Moses and Elezar decending and that Aaron was not descending with them, they said, Where then is Aaron? He replied to them, he is dead. They thereupon said, Is it possible that a man who stood up against the angel and stayed the plague should die? And that’s why it says “in front of all the congregation”, Moses at once offered prayer, and ministering angels showed him (Aaron) lying upon the bier, and they believed, so I don’t want to drive the stake too low in this. But certainly, what it shows is that there was controversy over Aaron dying, all of a sudden, there were questions that were being asked here, Moses and Aaron go up, and only Moses comes down. So, it’s not, I think, outlandish to say that questions could have been asked by those of less faith, as to why Aaron, died. And of course, we all know putting on our Agatha Christie hats again, that Moses died in an unmarked grave, there was no habeas corpus they never produced the body for Moses. So, I think what the theory is, is something that potentially you could argue on a literary level as well, if you’re writing a book, or you have a series, and all of a sudden you do away with one of the characters. Okay, so you’re not murdering them. But you’re terminating them. And I do think that we have a right, with the suggestion of Freud to look at our texts. And think in terms of why was Miriam, Aaron, and Moses terminated? And that’s how I would like to rephrase Freud’s question, if you will, or statement, if you will, saying that they were terminated.
Adam Mintz 22:45
Right. Okay, so that’s really good. I mean, what you’re really doing is you’re saying, usually, when we think about Freud, Moses and Monotheism, you kind of get caught up in the fact that he says Moses was murdered. And it Torah doesn’t say Moses was murdered. So therefore, he’s making up the story. So, who cares about Freud’s story, but what you are saying is, leave that aside, don’t get caught up in that. Let’s talk about the fact that Moses is terminated, an airman is terminated and Miriam is terminated. Why are the leaders terminated? Why is it important that they’re they don’t reach their goal, and that they’re terminated? Now, this question is more complicated, because in the book of Devarim, Moses asked God, at least twice to be led into the land, you know, Moses, who put his life on the line so many times for the Jewish people, he asked God a little favor? And the answer is, he can’t even get that favor. And if you want to even go further than that, Moses wasn’t even buried in the Land. Right? At least you would say, you know, today when somebody dies, and they want to be buried in the Land, we put them on El Al, and they’re buried in the Land. But Moses didn’t even get that there was no El Al, but they didn’t take Moses into the land. Joseph, who dies in Egypt, they take him into the land, they carry him through the desert, they take him into the land and Kever Yoseph you know, the grave of Joseph is somewhere there on the West Bank, there is a grave of Joseph so that He was buried in the Land, Why did Moses get that benefit to be buried in the Land. So, he really is terminated, if you want to use the word in a cruel kind of way.
Geoffrey Stern 24:14
So picking up on this termination from a literary sense that he was dropped from the sequel, so to speak, in our portion and now portion contains a lot but this is kind of fascinating. In the next episode, the Jews are moving on and they reach out to the king of a Edom. And they say that we’d like to pass through you. We are going to stay on the Kings Road. We’re not going to take any food or water. And in his introduction, what Moses says by way of introduction, and he says as follows in Numbers 20: 15-16, He says our ancestors went down to Egypt that we dwelt in Egypt for a long time. And then he says, and we cry to Hashem who heard our plea, sending a messenger who freed us from Egypt. And it says, וַיִּשְׁלַ֣ח מַלְאָ֔ךְ וַיֹּצִאֵ֖נוּ מִמִּצְרָ֑יִם. So, Rashi says, a messenger, this was Moses. From this, we may learn that the prophets are termed angels. Iban Ezra was said, this is to be taken literally, it’s actually a real angel. And for those of you who know the Haggadah, the Haggadah in the first fruits decoration, we say and the Lord took us out of Egypt, not through an angel, not through a Seraph and not through a messenger, but directly by the Holy One, blessed behave, it goes on, I will pass through the land of Egypt, I am not an angel. And that of course always elicits the discussion. Why is Moses not mentioned in the Haggadah? So, I am making a case rabbi, that even in the beginning of this conversation, where we start repeating to other nations and people and then to ourselves, all of a sudden, we start to lose Moses, all of a sudden, now a discussion is being made, when you say, a messenger took us out, was that angel? Was it Moses, and the Haggadah maybe the result of a response to Christianity and Islam that had charismatic leaders, and they wanted to downplay the role of Moses, but in a sense, he was terminated in history too. And I think that is absolutely fascinating.
Adam Mintz 26:43
That is absolutely fascinating. And your connection to Christianity and Islam is also fascinating that the Jewish people moved away from charisma. Charisma became a bad word. It’s interesting in today’s world, you know, charismatic leadership, people are kind of suspicious of charismatic leadership, they’re worried that you know, what’s behind charismatic leadership, but what you’re going back is to is the ancient religions, and what you’re saying is that the charismatic leadership was problematic, or at least the Christians in the and the Muslims, they picked up on charismatic leadership. So, what Judaism did was they kind of tempered it, and Moses ism becomes less important. And the fact that Moses is not in the Haggadah is fascinating. And that is an attempt by the Rabbi’s, or the editors of the Haggadah, whomever they happen to be to temporal. Moses, his leadership, because it can’t be about Moses, because if it’s about charismatic leaders, then we’re all in big trouble.
Geoffrey Stern 27:39
So, in researching Moses and Monotheism and I love that book, from the first time that I read it, I found it so stimulating, I discovered that no less than Moshe Chaim Yerushalmi he wrote a book critiquing Freud’s whole approach on every level. But there is a guy named Mark Edmondson and I found an old article from the New York Times that I stuffed in my version of the Moses and Monotheism that I have in my library. And he talks about the third point that Freud makes. And the third point is that because the message that Moses gave was just too profound, too extreme for the Jewish people that he was, he was, yes, he was terminated. But then many years later, this enabled him the strength of that message, and the contrast to all of the cultures enabled to Jews to rediscover it. And at certain points in his book towards the end, he talks about this was the beginning of the power of ideas, that not only did we not have idols, we didn’t even have these charismatic, these icons of people that were bigger than life. And in a sense, that was his takeaway. And of course, Freud himself at the end of his days was starting to feel a little bit like Moses, because he had followers who will already started to eject his theory. So, I guess this was very personal for him. autobiographical, Moses is our father-figure at the end of the day, there is this deep-seated need, whether it’s Oedipal, and we want to kill our father or we want to distance ourselves from our parents and stand on our feet. This is as basic and as primal as it gets. And it’s all here in this this parsha that is dedicated to finding out how do we purify ourselves from the pull, the threat of death.
Adam Mintz 29:58
I think that’s great; I think Murder in the Desert. I think the idea of terminating I think connecting it to Freud. There’s a lot of, there’s a lot of food for thought here. And thank you, Geoffrey for these for these topics for these ideas. I wish everybody a Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem. I look forward to being back next week in New York back to our regular scheduled time at 8pm. New York Time Eastern Daylight Time, New York time and Shabbat Shalom to everybody and thank you, Geoffrey.
Geoffrey Stern 30:25
Shabbat Shalom, Nesia Tova, enjoy!
Listen to last week’s episode: Milk and Money
parshat bamidbar, numbers 1
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse recorded June 2nd 2022 as we meet a man named Nachshon ben Aminadav. A man with only an insignificant walk-on role in the text of the Torah but an iconic presence in Jewish religious and secular thought, culture and mythology.
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. Join us today as we meet a man who is hardly mentioned in the text of the Torah but whose singular action, on one day in history has kindled the imagination of scholars, rebels, social activists and leaders alike. So take of your shoes and prepare to dip you toe into a stream called Nachshon.
So welcome to Madlik. And you might all be wondering; we are starting a new book. It’s called Bamidbar, and it’s called Numbers. And we are going to be talking about the Exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea. And you might be saying to yourself, why are we going to do that? And it’s because one of the most famous stories of the Exodus doesn’t actually appear in the text, as I said in the introduction, and we learn about it only by things that happen in the book of a Bamidbar. So without further ado, let’s discover the source of this amazing story. So in Numbers 1, it talks about very specifically on the first day of the second month in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt. God spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai in the tent of meeting saying, take a census of the whole Israelite company of fighters by the clans of its ancestral homes, listing the names every male head to head, you and Aaron shall record them by their groups from the age of 20 on up, so basically what we’re doing is we’re working on the draft, and they go through this and in verse 5, it says, These are the names of the participants who shall assist you: These are the names of the participants of each tribe that will assist you.The head of each tribe was going to assist in taking this census. From Reuben, Elizur son of Shedeur. (6) From Simeon, Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai. From Judah, Nahshon son of Amminadab., Our boy, this is the first actual mention of him in the Torah. And then it continues and he’s not at the top of the list. Then on in numbers 2, it says they camped in the front or east side of the standard division of Judah to by troop chieftain of the tribe of Nahshon son of Amminadab., , his troop was 74,600. So again, it mentions with no great gravity no great sense of literary or legendary merit. He’s mentioned as the head of the tribe. And then in number 7, which will read in a few weeks is the fourth mention and there it says, And for His sacrifice of well being two oxen, five rams, five he goats and five yearling lambs. This was the offering of Nahshon son of Amminadab. In Numbers 7: 12, we get the only point where he is singled out. And it says in 7: 12, the one who presented his offering on the first day was Nahshon son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah. So clearly, Rabbi, there are two things that we already have to take note of. One is the tribe of Judah is a pretty important tribe, you’re going to be talking about the story of Ruth, and what conversion is all about on Shavuos night. That’s the tribe of Judah. That’s the tribe of King David, it starts with Judah, and it ends for those who believe in the Messiah with the Messiah. The other thing that we notice is that while in a few places he’s not mentioned at the top of the list, in 7: 12, of numbers, it says on the first day, Nahshon son of Amminadab gave the sacrifice, and this I believe, is one of the main triggers to explain how did this guy get to the front of the list? Am I right in saying we don’t know a lot about Nahshon?
Adam Mintz 04:44
You are 100% Right? The Rabbi’s really like Nahshon. Maybe that’s something we’re gonna talk about. Why do the rabbi’s like Nahshon so much? But he made them into a hero. There’s nothing in the text that makes him into a hero but They make him into a hero.
Geoffrey Stern 05:02
So for those of you who don’t know why he became a hero, this story about Nahshon, I think is right up there with the story of Abraham smashing the idols, where so many people have heard this story, they probably believe it is part of the text of the Torah, but it’s not. And in short, the story is, and we’re gonna read the text of it in a little bit, but I want to give it away so we can understand the importance here is that Moses and the children of Israel are at the Sea of Reeds, the Egyptian army is to their rear, and there is a sea in front of them. And the Egyptian army is coming fast. And Moses is praying, and nothing is happening. And all of a sudden, this guy Nahshon, so the story goes, puts his toe into the water, and it splits. And he’s responsible for getting us across. And that’s, I think, the common sense, the common way that we probably know this pretty Pinnacle story. And you’ve got to ask you’re question, unlike Abraham, that the story of the idols is one of many stories and we know him intimately. This guy, Nahshon we know nothing about, except that he was the head of this pack. And that’s a little bit of one side of the question we’re going to delve with tonight. And the other is so what did they make of this Tabula rasa? What did they make of this ink blot? What did we project onto this guy Nachshon that made him so important? Do you think, Rabbi that Nachshon, if you if you had to get the five great stories of Judaism? Is it right there?
Adam Mintz 06:59
No question become the most famous story that I’m sure you’re going to talk about? How in Israel, you know, they play on the story, right? I mean, it’s just such a well-known story.
Geoffrey Stern 07:13
So unlike the story about Abraham, where there’s no one who says no, that didn’t happen. If you go to Sota 36b, which is where this whole story comes from. Actually, no one even agrees about this story. It says what was the incident with Judah sanctified God’s name in public. Rabbi Mayer would say when the Jewish people stood at the Red Sea, the tribes were arguing with one another, this one saying, I’m going into the sea first, this one saying I’m going into the sea first, then in jumped the tribe of Benjamin, and descended into the sea first. And the princes of the tribe of Judah was stoning them for plunging in first and not in the proper order. Therefore, Benjamin, the righteous was privileged to serve as the host of the Divine Presence. It seems the temple is on the land of shevet Benjamin. And then Rabbi Yehuda said to Rabbi Meir, that’s not what happened. Rather, this tribe said, I’m going to go into the sea first and that one said, I’m gonna go into the sea first. Then in jumped, the prince of Judah, Tabula rasa. Notice with Benjamin it didn’t have a person’s name. They just the whole tribe jumped in. Well here with Judah, we got a guy Nahshon son of Amminadab, and he descended into the sea first accompanied by his entire tribe. And it says that Nachshon prayer at that moment was: Save me, God; for the waters are come in even unto the soul. I am sunk in deep mire, where there is no standing…let not the water flood overwhelm me, neither let the deep swallow me up” (Psalms 69:2–3, 16) And that’s a quote from Psalms. And then I think we get to one of the biggest punch lines. At that time, Moses was prolonging his prayer, he was מַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה and the Holy One, blessed be He said to him, My beloved ones are drowning in the sea, and you prolong your prayer to me, the conversation goes on. But from even the source text, we learn two things. One is that there’s no consensus that this is actually what happened. And 2 this Nachshon is someone who clearly has a presence and has been picked out as a personality as opposed to the other story, which is just about a tribe. And he is counter distinct from Moses. What he did was the opposite of what Moses did. Moses was מַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה. He was praying long and hard, and Naloxone made a short prayer And did the deed, do you think and I read this story afresh this week? And I was struck by those kinds of facts. When you look at the text,
Adam Mintz 10:09
The first interesting thing, is that Nachshon is the individual, while the tribe of Binyomin is the tribe, why did they move from tribe back to individual?
Geoffrey Stern 10:23
I think it’s part of the story became one of leadership for sure. And I said that in the intro,
Adam Mintz 10:30
Something like that you can’t have a tribe being a leader, you need to have an individual being a leader, that, to me is super interesting, that tribe wasn’t, wasn’t courageous enough to do it on its own. But you came to the individual and Nachshon shown as the first one.
Geoffrey Stern 10:48
So that’s one thing. And but of course, by having an individual, it focuses on both as an individual, but it permits this kind of ….
Adam Mintz 10:58
Of course, what you said was right, and that is that it’s his tribe, and his tribe is Yehudah. And Yehudah, is the famous tribe. And that’s what King David comes from. And that’s where the story of Ruth comes from. And that’s the important tribe. So that’s not by accident, that the hero is probably the most important tribe.
Geoffrey Stern 11:15
But you also get this dialectic now this conflict between individuals, because Moses is Moses and Moses is מַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה. I mean, typically מַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה,, someone who spends his time carefully at prayer. That would be something that would be to their credit, would it not, but here it is clearly, in a sense, derogatory, it’s not the right time.
Adam Mintz 11:40
Why is that? Why does it say that Moshe is מַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה? And why is it no good? I have a different question, why is that an important part of the story? It’s that Moshe doesn’t take the leadership, Moshe thinks, just pray and everything will be okay. And Nachshon is the counter to that, that you need to actually take leadership and jump in. Right? Isn’t that the point of the story?
Geoffrey Stern 12:09
I think that’s why this story has kind of touched so many people, we’re gonna see how it touched secular Jews, and Zionists and historians. But the fact that here, unlike Korach, and unlike other people who have taken a different route than Moses, here, the guy is put at the front of the list. And here, Moses, in a sense, is told either what you are doing now, or the leadership qualities that you have are not the right, leadership qualities for this moment. And there’s a time to act. And there’s a time to pray. And this clearly was a time to act. And I think that’s part of what makes this story. So, so powerful.
Adam Mintz 13:00
I think that’s right. And praying is the opposite of acting. You see, that’s not always true, by the way, you don’t think about when you pray that you’re not acting, you said there’s a time for prayer, there’s a time for action. But in this story, they’re competing with one another. Either you pray or you act, praying is wrong, what you need to do is you need to act. So we That’s great. By the way, that’s great.
Geoffrey Stern 13:28
So we are going to touch upon different aspects of how this hardly mentioned character is so flushed out by the text, but one thing that we can’t disregard is his name. Nachshon itself is very similar to nachash, which is snake and for those of you who remember the story of the Garden of Eden of the so-called Fall, snakes are not typically associated with the good guy, even in the tribe of Judah, who naturally is a direct descendant of, we have the story of Yehuda and Tamar, the harlot at the side of the road that we’ve touched upon. So there’s an aspect of Nachshon, which not only does he disagree with Moses, but his name and his tribal heritage. He is kind of an outlier. He is kind of a contra. And again, he’s only featured in this story. So you have to focus a little bit on well, maybe there’s a time and a place for such a being, but what do you think of his name?
Adam Mintz 14:42
The nachash is kind of cunning and shrewd and dishonest, right? Nachshon actually doesn’t have that. You don’t. Right. He’s not dishonest in any way. He’s not true. He actually has a different kind of personality. He’s kind of courageous. He’s aggressive he does. You know, it’s I wonder about the connection to the name.
Geoffrey Stern 15:10
So you find very few connections to nachash that I’ve seen there is clearly the connection to the storied history. of Yehudah the patriarch, the person, and Tamar and all of that stuff. But what you do get is a lot of question about the name, it seems to strike the biblical commentators as a strange name. So if you look at Bamidbar Raba. And remember, we’re talking about a guy who features in the Exodus, but all of the material on him is in our parshiot here in Barmidbar it says Nachshon the son of Aminadav of the tribe of Judah. Why was he called by the name of Nachshon, because he was the first to plunge into the Nachshal of the sea, the billow of the sea, I guess a billow is what you pump to light a fire or a furnace, Rabbi Shimon Ben Yohai explained the holy one blessing me he said to Moses, he was sanctified My name by the sea shall be the first to present his offering. And that was Nachshon. So there is this play and this explanation that you allow to change one letter for another so Nachshon can become a Nachshal. But again, there’s this effort to link his name back to this story. And to turn it into a good, it’s fascinating. I was looking at a wonderful series of books, Louis Ginsberg, The legends of the Jews and in a footnote, he writes the following. The story of naloxone is derived from the similarity of the named Nachshon to the word Nachshal, billow. Hence, this legend does not reflect the self-sacrificing character of the patriarchal house during the second century, as suggestion by Oppenheim, in HaHoker. Now I’ll admit to you folks, I only have one week to prepare for this. So I didn’t have an opportunity to research Oppenheim and HaOker. But I can assure you that he was one of 1000s of historians and academics who have tried to understand this story, this Midrash from the politics of the day. And what Ginsburg is saying is he’s arguing with that. And he’s saying, actually, the story was derived from the name and not the name from the story. But the point is that we have a little bit of an insight into everywhere, Nachshon Ben Aminadav is mentioned. There is a projection of what we believe was responsible for this story, for his fame, and for his longevity, in our legend, I just find that fascinating.
Adam Mintz 18:24
Well, let’s, first of all, it’s fascinating. And the Ginsburg series is amazing. I, you know, I find that interesting, because it seems to be like there’s a very conscious attempt to say, and his name is not like nachash. He looks for another word that similar but it’s not nachash Because somehow the story from the Garden of Eden doesn’t seem to reconcile well with the story of Nachshon.
Geoffrey Stern 18:53
I think you’re right. When I think of NAC shown, I think of the y son and the evil son of the Haggadah, where, if you look at some hagadot, the, the wise son is dressed in a suit and tie and the evil son is dressed like a bum. And then if you go to the kibbutz, you see that the wise son is dressed like a farmer, and the wicked son is dressed like a capitalist in a suit and tie. There’s a little bit of a switch here as to whether he was good or we was tainted. And here’s something as unbelievably fascinating that I found the Vilna Gaon on Seder Olam Rabba says, Nachshon Ben Aminadav died in the second year, because he was not mentioned except on the first journey. במסע שניה לא הוזכר on the second journey he was not mentioned, but died in the graves of Lust because he was one of the officers in the camp. We all remember the series that we did on the meat of lust. But this is an unbelievable diyuk. I can call it anything else that the Vilna Gon is saying not only is this guy mentioned just very rarely, but even in terms of the procession of the princes, he only appears in the first one, he must have died. And maybe you can help me rabbi. He was one of the officers in the camp. I mean, did every officer in the camp die? And was he held responsible for what happened at the the graves of lust? Or is there an insinuation here that maybe he succumbed to the basar Te’eva,
Adam Mintz 20:48
such as simulate attenuation? I’ll just tell you something for one second, the tau LRA. At the beginning of the of the story of the tribes, tells you who the different heads of the tribes are, who were the who were the spies, and the heads of the of the tribes went L’matehYehudah Caleb Ben Yefuna? Now, that’s just 13 chapters later, all of a sudden there’s a new head of, of Judah. And I think what that tradition is saying is what happened to Nachshon ben Aminadav. He must die because all the heads of the tribes got the guy got the position, but he didn’t get the position. It must be because he died.
Geoffrey Stern 21:39
So our story… This is getting more complicated. But right now there’s one aspect of it that has tickled my imagination, and I sense the imagination of Jews over history. And that was he stood up to Moses, he acted when Moses prayed. But there’s another element here that we can’t disregard, and that is that he’s a one hit player that I said in the intro on a certain day in a certain place, he acted and went down in history. And this Vilna Gaon Diyuk supports that, that not only did the act at the splitting of the sea only occur once, but his part of our story was short lived as well. And maybe he wasn’t capable of more great deeds. But it definitely reminds you of these great pieces of Talmud that says, and I’ll quote, the most famous one in Avbodah Zora that says Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said There is one who acquires his share in the World-to-Come only after many years of toil, and there is one who acquires his share in the World-to-Come in one moment. , יש קונה עולמו בכמה שנים ויש קונה עולמו בשעה אחת. And I think that also is something that is so fascinating and empowering by the story of Nachshon.
Adam Mintz 23:26
I would agree with you, And you’re right. I mean, if we think about Jewish history, we think about biblical history. The Bible is literally filled with these people who have one moment. And if you think about the story of Ruth, that whole story is one moment. We don’t know about those people in Ruth any other time. They have one story about them. Most people have one story. The number of people who have careers of greatness are very few and far between. Because that’s really what you’re talking about. You’re talking about Moses who has a career of greatness, and Nachshon ben Aminadav who has a moment of greatness.
Geoffrey Stern 24:09
I didn’t realize you were gonna take it that way. But that’s really an interesting way to take it. And that is that Nachshon has a moment. Now, he obviously was an important person, because he was the head of the tribe of Judah. But the Gemora that says that he didn’t make it until the second year suggests that he was the head of the tribe of Judah, he was recognized, but he was recognized for such a brief moment that he didn’t he didn’t have what I’m calling a career of greatness. He just really had a moment of greatness. And you know, there are similar Midrashim that talk about Rob Eliezer Ben Yaakov in Perkei Avot says, He who performs one commandment acquires for himself and advocate and he who commits one transgression acquires for himself when accuser. It says he used to say more precious is one hour of repentance. I mean, you know, some of us who know the gamut of Jewish life, kind of snicker when we see the Chabad mitzvah tank putting Tephilin on people. But the basis of that is it’s one mitzvah, the Rebbe used to say let women light the candles, take that one mitzvah, and I think it comes from this concept as well. As yes, there’s this 613 mitzvot, but that can become overwhelming. And then there are those that can get it in one mitzvah. And I think that’s a beautiful lesson from Nachshon as well, So I want to go into the, into the into the present, I want to move forward in time. And as you know, one of the things I love to do on Madlik is look at Israeli vernacular, look at the language spoken in Hebrew. And the word Nachson means a daring pioneer Nashanut means pioneering Nachshoni means someone who is adventurous, you know, some people become a verb, Nachshon ben Aminadav became a verb. And so there was this adventurous spirit too. This is casting away concerns maybe, maybe living on the wild side, maybe taking a risk. And that too enters into it. And I respect the genius of our language. And you’ve got to respect that as a commentary as well.
Adam Mintz 26:41
That is fantastic. I mean, it would be interesting to trace it, you know, there’s the famous Hebrew dictionary. It’s a Hebrew only dictionary that I bought many, many years ago. It’s the Ben Yehuda dictionary, you know that Eliezer Ben Yehuda was famous we know he’s famous because it’s an important Street in Jerusalem. It’s called Ben Yehuda Street. And there’s an important Street in Tel Aviv that’s called Ben Yehuda Street. Ben Yehuda was the father of modern Hebrew. He was the one who really introduced the idea that Hebrew was not just a biblical language, but it needed to be a spoken language. And it would be interesting to see the history of the word Nachshon, when exactly did it become, as you say, a verb? When did it become part of the language? And I think there are military efforts that are called Nachshon, isn’t that right.
Geoffrey Stern 27:33
Well, that’s a great segue. And before I get into those military actions, I just wanted to say that I decided this week that if I ever went back to academia and got myself a PhD, It would be the history of Nachshon.
Adam Mintz 27:53
Tat’s the most important part. You have a dissertation topic. Yeah, everything else is easy.
Geoffrey Stern 27:58
There you go. So here’s the military campaigns. The most well known operation Naloxone was a Hagana operation in the 1948 War of Independence, The Arabs had succeeded in blockading the road to Jerusalem, preventing essential humanitarian supplies as well as ammunition from entering the city. At the end of March, convoys were no longer able to get through, and the situation in Jerusalem became critical. On April 3rd David Ben Gurion insisted on the largest possible operation, forcing Haganah commanders to plan and execute the first brigade sized operation they had ever undertaken. The operation involved about 1,500 troops taken from the Givati and Alexandroni brigade and some others, including the Gadna youth cadets. and it was called Operation Nachshon. So I won’t say that Ben Gurion was not a scholar, he was just a prime minister and a general because he was a scholar. But here we have a general who understands the moment and understands that if this is what he’s going to do, if he’s going to risk it all, it needs to be called Nachshon. But there were two other operations. I mean, you know, we know Israelis are pretty creative when they call names of operations. They couldn’t get away from this word in in a six day war commanded by Moshe Dayan and initialized “the conquest of the Sinai front … the opening of the Abu ‘Agheila – Rafiah-al-‘Arish axes, and the destruction of the Egyptian army in this sector., and there was another one to operations in the Six Day War. This tickled, this piked the imagination of the design is soldiers. You know, HaShomer HaTzair” the most secular far left organization, the Socialist Zionist anti-religious youth movement in 1950 founded Kibbutz Nachshon in central Israel. There was also a Moshav started by Yemenite immigrants but now sparklingly beautiful homes called Aminadav overlooking Jerusalem, as well as an area called Nachshonim, and a town called Nachshon. My God, this infatuation with a name.
Adam Mintz 30:21
That is infatuation. That’s I didn’t know all that really there’s a town called Nachshonim.
Geoffrey Stern 30:26
Yes, absolutely. And if you if you Google Nachshon, you get the Nachshon project.com, which is training youth leaders. So really, this this resonated, I’m running out of time. But in many cases, what I do is I look for a fact that I know is there and then I find it. And in this particular case, I knew that the early Zionists had to be arguing about Nachshon. So one thing that I found and it’s in the source notes, unfortunately, it’s all in Hebrew, I didn’t have a chance to translate. But in the writings of Achad Ha’Am, he uses Nachshon, and he almost uses it in a Talmudic fashion. He says everybody wants to just jump on a boat and go to Israel, we have to plan for it. And then he goes into detail. And he says, and they are using Nachshon as an example. He already knew that Moses staff was able to open up the sea, but they were just afraid to go in. He didn’t do it on blind faith, it was a calculated risk. But it gives you an insight into how Nalchshon was used by the early Zionists to turn 2000 years of Jewish history and say there’s a time to pray. And there’s a time to act. And now is a time to act. And I’ll finish with the most amazing discovery that I had. And that is there was a writer who wrote a book his name was Elchanan Leib Lewinsky, and he wrote a book in 1892 about a journey to Eretz Yisrael and it was a journey in the future. And in it he has a chapter on going to a Moshav a farm and the farmers name is Mr. Nachshon Ben Aminadav and he portrays him as the perfect mix between a lover of the land a love of labor, and a person versed in the Torah and the tradition. And that to me is just so amazing.
Adam Mintz 32:41
I love it. This was a great one today a great way to go into Shabbat into Shavuot. Everybody should have a Shabbat Shalom a Hag Sameach. Geoffrey, enjoy your fantastic Hag. I can’t wait for report next Thursday.
Geoffrey Stern 32:54
Shabbat Shalom and Hag Shavuot Sameach let’s all meet at the foot of Sinai and get the Torah together. Enjoy
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