Category Archives: kabbalah

WHEN GOD gets small

parshat terumah (exodus 25:8)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on February 3rd 2022 as we explore a single verse: “Make Me a temple and I will dwell within them” This iconic verse, pregnant with meaning, enables us to visit classical Jewish commentaries and discover some surprising views of God’s relationship with His creation, not just with a tabernacle or temple.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/380865

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:02

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on the Jewish text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. Today we explore a single verse, “Make me a temple, and I will dwell within them.” Was that a typo? Did the toe mean to say I will dwell in it. Nah, there are no typos in the Torah. So put away your Wit-Out as we discover some surprising views of God’s relationship with our world. Join us as GOD gets small Well, welcome, welcome to Madlik. You know, it’s rare. I think that we spend the whole evening on just one pasuk (verse)  or maybe even one word within that pasuk. But tonight’s the big night, we are in parshat Terumah and we’ve gotten the Ten commandments, we’ve gotten a Code of Civil Law and, and here we are, and we’re going to build the tabernacle. And as I said in the intro… Teruma means collecting the tax. So there’s the, the the technical aspects of collecting the materials, and I know Rabbi Adam is going to speak about that in his synagogue on Shabbat. But at the end of the day, after God shows Moses or Betzalel the builder, a blueprint, he says, As I quoted before in Exodus 25: 8, “and let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” “Veshachanti b’tocham” There are many times where we connive, we push, we massage a text, to give us meanings that are beyond the Pshat.. beyond the simple meaning of the text. But if you look at this, why does it say b’Tocham? Why does it say after God says to make a sanctuary, an edifice if you will, or that he will live amongst them? Before we get into a whole journey of what will the commentaries say? Rabbi, what do you think the simple interpretation is?

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Adam Mintz  02:30

I don't think there is a simple interpretation. I think this verse is begging for interpretation for a real interpretation. It's so blatant, that the Torah uses the word that you wouldn't expect it to use, right? It's just like, kinda of a WOW momewnt...

 

Geoffrey Stern  02:50

I've been thinking about it all week. And the only straightforward explanation I could come up with is if it envisioned many temples. And so it was looking into the future and saying, there's going to be a tabernacle, there's going to be a temple at Shilo and at Bethel, and maybe they were going to be synagogues and sanctuaries throughout the world.

 

Adam Mintz  03:13

But then it would say Say in them... Yeah, I mean, it sounds like "B'tocham" is human amongst them amongst the people.

 

Geoffrey Stern  03:24

I agree. I'm convinced. But it's very rare. And that's why I say it seems almost like a typo  and you don't even get a sense that the commentaries are looking for a straightforward explanation. Rashi, who always comes to help, he simply says, Make for Me a sanctuary, make a holy place for the sake of My name. "V'asu L'shmi Beit Kedusha", he's bothered by a whole other problem. He's bothered by the fact that God is going to be dwelling in an edifice in a in a material subject. So he says, it's not for God, it's for his name. But he totally ignores this whole issue of what does it mean that he's going to dwell and I agree with you, it sounds almost humanistic "within them".

 

Adam Mintz  04:19

That's the question. and maybe the midrashic explanation that make me a tabernacle, and I will dwell among them, means the tabernacle will allow me to dwell among the people. Maybe that's okay. Maybe that's that's the simple explanation that the tabernacle is just made of wood or fabric or whatever it is, but it allows him to dwell among the people.

 

Geoffrey Stern  04:54

So, you know, we're kind of dancing around what I think us 20 century Jews believe which is the obvious explanation is B'tocham, means inside of you people inside of you Jews. You know, my grandmother lived to 102. And she was a health affectionado way before her time. And she always said your body is a temple. And when I read this, I think of her. But we all assume that the knee jerk interpretation is that it clearly is very humanistic. And it means that you can build all the temples you want with all the stained glass, windows and all the bricks and stones. But at the end of the day, the goal is that God will live within you; humankind. And then I'm looking for the texts. And to be honest, and maybe I'm missing something. But I didn't find an ancient Midrash or in the Talmud, something that said that explicitly. Let me give you a sense of the types of things that I did found find in the Babylonian Talmud in Ketubot, it says earlier, or in Exodus 15. It says "vetiviamu" that I will bring you and then you will make a temple. And it says, but ultimately, as it is written, that I will build a sanctuary to dwell among you. And the takeaway there is God couldn't wait. He was in love with these people. These people were in love with him. They were engaged, if you will, and they wanted to rent already, they wanted to buy a house. So it has an element of the humanity of the humanistic side. It has an element of what we've discussed in past episodes, where we say why was the Torah given in the desert and not in the land of Israel. So it makes it a universal house, because again, God's first tabernacle was on neutral ground. But most of all, it has this love story and this affection in it. But again, it's not a straightforward. I'm gonna live within every human being.

 

Adam Mintz  07:11

That is interesting. And I wonder why? Why do they shy away from what seems to be the obvious explanation?

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:21

So in Shemot Rabba It quotes Shir Hashirim the Song of Songs, it says, Open for me, my sister, my friend, and then it goes on to say For how long must I travel without a home. So the Torah says, Make for Me a sanctuary so that I need not be on the outside. "Ad Matay ehiye mithalech b'lo bayit" So here too it is a love story. There's more of a sense of the passion. There's more of a sense of this marriage. And I know, there are many interpretations of the tabernacle, as a Huppah, or maybe I should say, of the Huppah as a tabernacle. And this is a beautiful kind of commentary on what it is. But it's again, not the straight forward, Living within every human being. The one that I love the most is one that says that we are partners. So this takes away the romantic part of it. And it's in Hagaoni Uziel. So I've never heard of this. I don't think it's that old. But it talks about when you make Kiddush on Friday night, that you should not read Vayechulu that God finished. But it should save Vayechalu that we finished. And it says that when you make Kiddush on Friday night, you become a partner with God in the creation. And it goes on to say And every judge who judges a judgment and gives a truthful, true judgment. He is a partner with God. And then it ends by saying, Man is a chariot to the divine presence in the world. As it says, I may dwell among them. The whole world was not created except for this directive." So that too, I love the partnership part about it. I love the the fact that there's a little bit of the kind of necessity for God to be in the world and a partner with us. But all of these explanations are so beautiful.

 

Adam Mintz  09:40

So let's take a step back. What does it mean that God's a partner with us? Or that we're a partner with God? How do you understand just simply what those words mean? In what way are we partners with God? And why does the tabernacle reflect that

 

Geoffrey Stern  10:01

Well, I mean, I think the easiest way to, to dance around it is the Shabbat. The kiddush thing. We somehow sanctify God, we say kiddush. On a Friday night in this world, we stop working. When we work there's sweat of the brow, when God creates the world, it's more of a metaphor. But it does seem and I think we're going to touch upon this as we survey other interpretations of these words, that there is some inexplicable need. And I think that's the real answer to your question, there is no good answer of why would God create a world that needs him or her? I mean, that at the end of the day, is the real question that we're asking. When you say a partner, a true partnership is one maybe doesn't have to be of equals. But at least there's a reciprocal relationship, a need for the two parties. And the most obvious question is, why did God need a world? Why does he need a creation? Why does he need us?

 

Adam Mintz  11:12

Yeah, I mean, what you just did is you took this question about the Mishkan, and you blew it up to be a question about everything?

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:22

Well, I mean, it is a big question. And I think this concept of building a tabernacle would, on the face of it be a good time to ask a question. But by writing the verse, the way the Torah writes it, it almost forces us to to to discuss God's presence in this world. And God's presence in this world, begs the question of God's need for a world. So let me quote one more or two of these traditional commentaries that have this sense of partnership, have this sense of romance. And I shouldn't mention rabbi, in past episodes, I believe you've brought up certain Midrashim and historic texts that say that when the Jewish people are in Tzarot, are in trouble, God comes down, God is with them. And that, you know, is is part of this in terms of God making a temple and that will play out a little bit here. But that is something that you have quoted, that is a thread in Jewish thought that I think also enters into this picture. So one of the most amazing stories that I read, and I didn't have time to translate them, but they're in the source sheets in Sefaria is it's it talks about God saying to Moses, look at the plans now I need you to build this and it compares it to somebody showing a simple person, the most glamorous dress, the most glamorous habitat, and saying, I want you to go ahead and make this and it says "Kach amar Hakodosh Barachu l'Moshe asey li miskan" . Similarly, God said to Moses, make this Mishkan. And he says, and if you make this Mishkan l'mala, that I've shown you from above, and you make it L'mata, then I will come down. And it uses a word that for any of those of us who have studied the Kabbalah or the mystical tradition, it's going to make us open up our eyes, because it says,"V;yared umetzamzem shechinati benechem"  , I will come down and I will be "mitzamztem" I will diminish, I will contract, I will make small, my holy presence, and I will be down with you." So here too, you have this sense of if you'll take this bold step, and you can't say it anything but a bold step of creating this beautiful abode as if, for God. God will take the diminishing step the the reciprocal step of coming down and contracting Himself inside of it. I think that's an amazing image.

 

Adam Mintz  14:48

That is an amazing image. Now that is a definition of what partnership means. If you do A then God will do B. Partners play off one another, right they respond to one another's needs. If you do this, then God will do that "v'asu li mikdash" if you make me a tabernacle, "v'shochani b'tocham"  I will be your partner, because I will dwell in your midst. And I think the dwell in the midst means, at least according to the kabalists, that God will be "mitzamzem" somehow that he will contract Himself. Contract Himself means that he will take God which is everywhere, and kind of focus God just on the Mishkan. So  I like that a lot.

 

Geoffrey Stern  15:37

Yeah, in a previous episode, I think we called it gaming the calendar or gaming the universe. We talked about the Leap Year, and how actually, you know, creating a leap year and we have about to do that in this in this particular year, of adding a month to make the whole calendar workout is kind of like almost admitting that the world isn't quite perfect. So there's another Midrash Vayikrah Rabba Robin, that says Rabbi Abuha explained the scripture to be about the five elders that convene to make the year a leap year. What does the Holy One blessed be he do, he leaves his court above and descends and contracts His divine presence among them below. So it uses the same language "umetzamem et shechinato benehem milematan" And so there is this sense of a partnership, there is this sense of being, I wouldn't say it's a partner in crime, but it's a partner in fixing something that is, beyond our control, is not perfect. It's material. It's, it's a fascinating use of, and of course, you know, traditionally, when we talk like this, we should say the words "kiviyachol" "as if you can say" that God contracts himself, "as if you can say" that God comes down, these are all metaphors. But the metaphors are beautiful. And the metaphors are definitely powerful.

 

Adam Mintz  17:12

I would agree with that, and on some level, the idea of Mishkan is the idea of visualizing these metaphors, making these metaphors real, because if we have a tabernacle, we should imagine that God comes down, you know, the ark was built with the two cherubs on top. And the idea was that God's presence comes down through the cherubs, to the ark, and then out to the people. Now, that's an amazing image, because like, this is about God and how God is "m'tzamtzem"  but yet the image is seen as being real. And I think that's very powerful.

 

Geoffrey Stern  17:57

So the one image I want to share before we go and see how the Kabbalah took this, and the direction that it went, is the Midrash Tanchuma. And what it says is that "Rabbi Joshua Yahshua, of seeking said in the name of Rabbi Levy, this may be compared to a cave situated at the edge of the sea, though the sea rushes forth and fills the cave, the sea lacks nothing. Similarly, with the Holy One, blessed it be he may his name be blessed for through it is written and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Nevertheless, his glory is above the heaven and the earth, you should not say that the Holy One bless it be he compressed his sheckinah only into the tabernacle", I love this image of the vast sea, that doesn't need to fill the cave. But as as the water laps onto the shore, and this is particularly strong wave, it goes into the cave, and it comes out of the cave, and it doesn't need to fill the cave. But of course, for the cave, this is a big event. And I love that image of all of these images. Are the rabbi's playing, struggling, enjoying maybe this concept of how does the Divine Presence come into the physical world? Frankly, what I did is I went onto Sephera. And I did a search with tzimzum, this contraction, and all of the texts are pretty late, and they're pretty Kabalistic and we're going to get to them in a second. But there were a few pearls like this, that use this concept of contraction in a different way. It was a way of God making himself small and leaving a mark, making himself small and being our partner. Making himself or herself small, and being our lover. And I just loved all of the metaphors. And they really give such a profound meaning to and I will dwell within them.

 

Adam Mintz  20:15

I think that's great. And I think, obviously, and I will dwell within them, it calls for a metaphor, because without a metaphor, you don't know what to do with it, right?

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:25

Yeah, absolutely. And and it would have been so easy to ignore the issue, though, because everybody has a temple, you know, how do you have a religion without a temple. And this kind of focuses a little bit on some of the things that we've been talking about, which is, you know, this was not a given, this was not a kind of a reflex action, that we had to have a temple, we had to have sacrifices, we had to have prayers. At the end of the day, this was a revolution, and how the revolution chose to take certain cultural behaviors and modify them and change them is the story of the Torah that we're entering right now, when the rubber hits the road.

 

Adam Mintz  21:13

Yes, so that's also interesting, that this is the beginning of a different, you know, a different section of the Torah. And what's the relationship of this section of the Torah to what came before? Why is the why does the tabernacle follow Mount Sinai? Is it a symbol to the fact that actually the tabernacle is trying to concretize the holiness, the experience of Mount Sinai? You know, Mount Sinai was, was fleeting, it left in a second, but maybe now what we need is, we need something that will stick and that's the tabernacle.

 

Geoffrey Stern  21:53

So I think I love what you just said. That and the story of the water lapping into the cave, is a wonderful segue to see how the Kabalists and specifically Isaac Loria, and what is known as Laurianic Kabbalah, took this concept, because the reason I say it's a wonderful segue is because the whole concept of tzimzum of this contraction, as we will see, is how the spiritual Divine Presence leaves a mark. So you have a revelation, and you have a exodus from Egypt. And those are all stories in time. But how do you leave that mark? So let's explore for a second, the way Isaa Loria took this message. And this is someone who was expelled from Spain, and went to live in Safed. This was at the Inquisition in 1492. And in Safed, they created or some people believe found these ancient texts, and they created what we now call Jewish mysticism, and what he did, and I will quote, Gershon Scholem. I will paraphrase Gershom Scholem is he took what we have been discussing where God contracts him or herself, and fits it into a temple or a narrow place. And he turned it on its head, and he says, "it is one of the most amazing and far reaching conceptions ever put forth in the whole history of Kabalism. Tzimzum originally means contraction, but if used in the Kabbalah, it means withdrawal, or retreat." Let me explain how tzimzum works. The theory of symptom is as follows. Prior to Isaac Lauria, those people who were concerned with the issue we're talking about, say, How could a spiritual God create a material finite world? And one of the theories that they came up with from Plotinus was one of emanation. And emanation means, well, you know, God didn't actually create material things. First, he created maybe the idea of a table and then there was another sphere and those of you who know Kabbalah understand spherot. Spherot  are degradations. So in a more crass way, the the head of the mob is never going to have his finger on the murder. It goes through many, many different levels until it happens. It's not philosophically that satisfying because ultimately you're kicking the can down the road, and you're saying it wasn't directly that he created or she created something physical, but it was through many different spheres of increasingly material fire light objects, angels and thoughts and so forth and so on. Comes along Isaac Loria. And he turns that on his head, he says, No, God did not emanate, he contracted. So what did he do? He pulled himself away from what was and gave space for matter to appear. From a from a humanistic point of view from a pedagogic point of view. It's an amazing concept. Philosophically, you could say it doesn't resolve it any more than emanation does. But what it does do is say that God pulled himself away. And then the theory goes on that just like that water lapping into the caves, there were klipot... there were little parts of the Divine, that were left everywhere. But there was something called Shevirat hakelim, the breaking of the vessel. So when God pulled himself in, maybe this is a little bit like the Big Bang Theory, there was an explosion. And there were parts of God that we're all over. And talking about the partnership that we started in the early part, it's man's duty to be m'taken to bring those sparks of God's divinity back together. And when that happens, there will be true salvation. But what he did was he took the same concept of God somehow contracting himself. But unlike the earlier texts where God contracted and put himself into the world, and gave man the ability to experience the holiness, in Lauria's tzimsum  he pulled away from himself, and gave man the opportunity to find and to be M'taken to cure the world. It's just an amazing, absolutely amazing vision. Do you find it as exciting as I do?

 

Adam Mintz  27:13

I find it amazing. I think that's an amazing passage as you just read .... that idea. And the question is, if I could just bring it back to where we started, how is that really just an explanation of what "b'tocham"? Right ... basically that image is explaining what B'tocham means, what God does to be amongst us? And I'm trying to figure out, how does that all work?

 

Geoffrey Stern  27:41

So Shai Held my Rebbi, from Hadar, writes about the contradiction that most people believe that what the Bible says in our Parsha, about God cantracting himself into the tabernacle is 180 degrees different than God contracting himself away from the world, and letting the world become. And the way he rounds that corner, is quoting Martin Buber and others he gets back to the relationships. He says, if we're going to take away from this beautiful statement that we started with, about God being inside of the temple, and we look at it from a partnership point of view, and we look at it from a love and romance point of view. You don't want to smother the person that you love, you don't want to overwhelm the person you partner with. And so what Held does, and this is wonderful, is he says they are two sides of the same coin, that what we're learning here is that they are both right, that a relationship whether it's love or partnership or with God has to contain both the aspect of knowing that that person is present in a very profound way. But also know that that person or object or force or spirit gives you space to develop on your own. And I just love that that variation on Tzimzum, which at the end of the day becomes a variation on B'tocham, on what it means for God's presence to be amongst us.

 

Adam Mintz  27:43

I think that's beautiful. And I would just you know, kind of add that I wonder whether Kabbalah,  the whole idea of tzimzum doesn't actually find its source in the word b'tocham. That maybe the whole principle of tzimzum is an attempt to explain the way we started about why b'tocham is the right word in this context.

 

Geoffrey Stern  29:58

Well certainly Scholem when he references, the Midrash that I started with that has the word tzimzum in it, he says that Luria picked out a Midrash that no one had really focused on or studied before. So if that's the case, we give him a lot of credit. And that's the beauty of the history of ideas that ideas evolve. And so yes, it can be both things, and mean both things to everybody. So I do think that it comes from b'tocham. And at the end of the day, you know, for God's presence to be in the world is the key question that we are thinking about today, when we read Terumah, and when we discuss a tabernacle, which I love more than the temple because it is so fleeting. Because on a sukkot, which we compare to a tabernacle, we always talk about the "sukkah hanofelet" that the tabernacles can be put together and they can be taken apart. And that too, is part of tzimzum. I think what Luria pointed out was that it's a process, maybe it's a breath, in and out, present and removed. But to me, that makes b'tocham and Terumah and the Mishkan such a living message to us all in any generation.

 

Adam Mintz  31:31

That's fantastic. What a wonderful way to start these portions of the Torah that talk about Mishkan. Shabbat Shalom, everybody, enjoy "b'tocham" enjoy the understanding of the Mishkan. And we look forward to seeing everybody, next Thursday night to talk about the clothing that the Cohen used to wear. Shabbat Shalom, Geoffrey

 

Geoffrey Stern  31:52

Shabbat shalom. So you heard it here first. Next week is the fashion episode of Madlik disruptive Torah. And as always, I opened up the mic on the bimah, anyone who wants to join the after-party and has any comments, you're welcome to join. Otherwise, remember that this is a podcast and it is recorded, and you can listen to it, you can look at the Sefira source sheet and explore some of the sources that maybe we didn't have a chance to cover, Michael, welcome to the Bima. And welcome back.

 

Michael Stern  32:28

Thanks, Geoffrey. Really beautiful evening. Remember when you sent me about what the Pope wrote about the little going into the little? And so I just wanted to ask you if you're still trying to get the message that God is within?

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:50

So thank you for reminding me. And what Michael is talking about is I have a custom, I  turn on high mass at the Vatican on Christmas night. And this year, the Pope was talking about why in Christianity, God chose a little baby. And it was that littleness. And I do think that there's no question about it. Whether every human being is a temple, or this temporary tabernacle, and even the dwelling itself, nothing is permanent, but it's also very small, the small voice, so I love that addition. And I think it it rings very true.

 

Michael Stern  33:38

Well, good. And I also love Geoffrey ... from now on when I made kiddish, I will be making kiddish with God. I thought it was like a nice L'Chaim ... we look at each other's eyes. But wow, it's like with God and me how the week was, what my lessons learned, and new commitments and to God and me. And that was so beautiful. Thank you.

 

Geoffrey Stern  34:05

I love that. I love that. And you know, there were those that say that the reason why we have two candles is because we have an extra soul on Shabbat Neshama Yetera and I think that also reflects, no pun intended, the partnership, it's about a partnership. It's about welcoming the angels when you start it's about the two loaves so much of it as you think about it is about the duality that becomes one or even if it doesn't become one, at least it goes down that path. So I do love that. I do love that Vayechulu story. Ok. Shabbat Shalom, everybody, and we'll see you all next week.

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Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/380865

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Filed under Bible, Hebrew, Judaism, kabbalah, Martin Buber, Religion, social commentary, Torah, tzimtzum

God’s Gracious Ruse

parshat beshalach (exodus 13-14)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on January 13th 2022. God leads the Jews on the scenic (long) route to the Promised Land and the classical commentators wonder why. All of them find a pedagogic approach but their conclusions are diverse and in some cases, perplexing!  We join the Israelites as they embark on this fateful trip into the desert and we learn a little something about long roads that are short and God’s Gracious Ruse.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/375388

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:03

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and that Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and this week with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we join the Israelites as they embark on a trip into the desert. We are perplexed to see that God sets the GPS to wander mode and puts them on a circuitous route rather than the coastal expressway. So get into the backseat and be prepared to badger the driver and learn a little something about long loads that are short as we explore God’s Gracious Ruse.

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Well, welcome for our weekly trip. And this week, we are really on a trip because the Israelites are off to the great adventure of 40 years in the desert. We are in Exodus 13. And it starts when it says, "Now then Pharaoh let the people go. God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines. Although it was nearer. For God said the people may have a change of heart when they see war and return to Egypt. So God led the people round about by way of the wilderness at the sea of reeds. Now the Israelites went up armed out of the land of Egypt." And then it continues in Exodus 14. "The Lord said to Moses, tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp before Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, before Baal-zephon;  and you shall encamp facing it by the sea, feral will say of the Israelites, they are astray in the land, "Nevu heym b'Aretz" The wilderness is closed in on them, then I will stiffen Pharaoh's heart, and He will pursue them that I might gain glory through Pharaoh and all his host. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, and they did so." So we have a combination of two different travelogues if you will, that God prepares for the Jewish people one, even before he takes Pharaoh into consideration. He says, You know what, I'm not going to take you on the short path, I'm going to take you in a circuitous route. And he gives a reason because he's afraid they might have a change of heart. And then he looks at it from the perspective of Pharaoh and says, and there's going to be a real advantage here. Because he's going to think that the Jews are "nevuchim". They are confused. And he'll see this as an opportunity for him to have a change of heart. So Rabbi, what do you make of well, this changing of hearts and circuitous routes?

 

Adam Mintz  03:05

The Jews were clearly not quite ready to leave Egypt. They left because nobody wants to be a slave. You can take the Jews out of slavery, but their mind still thinks like a slave. And the way a slave thinks is that the first hint of any problem, I just want to go back. At least when I'm a slave, I'm taken care of, I may be persecuted, but at least I'm taken care of I get three meals, I have a place to sleep. And now we're going to get attacked on the way to Israel, and they're going to get afraid. Now, what's interesting is that God seems to be very much aware of this. God is like, like their psychologist. And he says, I can take them that way, I have to take them indirectly. Because only if I take them indirectly, will they kind of learn how to be free. That's also by the way, since we're talking about all this, that's why they don't get to Torah for seven weeks, they need a little bit of time, they can't get the Torah.

 

Geoffrey Stern  04:13

So I totally agree that there's almost a pedagogic aspect to all this. We are embarking on this great journey. And all of a sudden, by talking in terms of planning a trip and picking a route. We're almost given an opportunity to explore how does one move from one place to another, both physically but also spiritually and psychologically. And I think that's going to be a large part of the conversation. But before we even get there, this also seems to be a little bit of a prophecy or a prequel or a forecasting....  I think most of us who know the Torah believe that the Jews at a certain point were punished to die in the desert, the generation that left Egypt was punished whether it was at the golden calf, whether it was when the spies came back and they cried. And here we have, like we have many times. This this sense of it was predestined, or there are multiple reasons for the same event. Let me just read a little bit from the Mechilta d'Rabbi Yishmael... ""And Pharaoh will say about the children of Israel: They are nevuchim in the land": "nevuchim" is "confounded," as in (Joel 1:18) "How the beasts groan! The herds of cattle navochu!" Variantly: "nevuchim" — "bewildered," as in (Esther 3:15) "And the king and Haman sat down to feast, and the city of Shushan navochah." Variantly: "And Pharaoh said": He said and he did not know what he was saying. (i.e., unbeknownst to him he was prophesying. On the surface) he was saying that Moses was leading them without knowing where — but "nevuchim" (prophetically) intimates Moses, viz. (Devarim 32:49) "Ascend the Mount Avarim, Mount Nevo, (short for 'nevuchim')." Variantly: "And Pharaoh said," without knowing what he was saying, viz.: Israel are destined to cry ("livkoth" as in "nevochim") in the desert, viz. (Numbers 14:1) There's a play on words in the desert. "And the entire congregation lifted their voices and the people cried (vayivku)" Israel are destined to fall in the desert," So they're almost finding excuses to tie this premonition here, that God wanted the Jews to go in circles "listovev", not so much as a punishment, but as a prophecy. But it just seemed to be a rather profound message of this was necessary.

 

Adam Mintz  06:54

Yeah, I mean, you know, this was necessary. The question, Geoffrey really is, what's it necessary for?

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:05

So that that's the million-dollar question.

 

Adam Mintz  07:08

That's really what we need to talk about tonight, you're right, the Torah itself, even before you get to the Mechilta, the Torah itself says it was necessary. Had they done it the other way, it would have been bad. So, it was necessary. But nobody tells you exactly what it was necessary for. So, I gave this theory that they had to get the slave mentality out of their system. But really, I made that up. Why doesn't the Torah tell us why it's necessary?

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:39

So I think if you look at the actual verses that we just read, it says the people may have a change of heart when they see war. "Pen Yinachem hAm b're'otem milchama", maybe it's war, maybe it's trouble, maybe it's a tribulation, maybe it's hard work, and return to Egypt. And of course, returning to Egypt is something that we see throughout the book of Exodus, wherever things get tough. Their first response is nostalgically to say, let's go back to Egypt. So, I think even in the verses themselves, in terms of the mindset of the Jews, there is this sense that God changed the travelogue in order to ensure that the Jews would be protected from making that knee jerk reaction and heading home at the first sight of whether it was war, or some sort of turmoil, stress or challenge.

 

Adam Mintz  08:42

But it's really unbelievable, because can you imagine being a slave and going back to slavery? Now, I'm not an expert on the Civil War. But, you know, when the slaves were freed in the south, after the Civil War, you know, they had trouble. We know that trouble... took 100 years for there to be equal rights. For, you know, for black people. Did they go back today asked to be slaves again? Were there a group that said it's better to be slaves then to be free? Maybe there were, but that would be interesting.

 

Geoffrey Stern  09:22

I think what it does, is this points a little bit at how unique the Exodus story was an is in terms of disruption. How many times do you have a people that has this opportunity to make a total paradigm shift? And I think that maybe makes this whole question of this pedagogic question that much more interesting. So, let's start looking at how some of the classical commentaries look at this from a pedagogic point of view. The Mechilta d'Rabbi Yishmael in another place says "for it was near". They pick up on the verse that says he didn't want them to go through the Philistine route because it was too near "The holy one bless it be he did not bring them directly to Eretz Israel. But by way of the desert, saying if I bring them they are now immediately. "m'yad" is the Hebrew word. Each man will seize his field and each man his vineyard and they will neglect Torah study. Rather, I will keep them in the desert 40 years eating mana and drinking from the well and the Torah will be absorbed in their bodies. From here Rabbi Shimon would say the Torah was given to be expounded only by the eaters of Mana, and like them, the eaters of Terumah." So this is kind of fascinating. It's, it's really, I mean, there are two aspects of it. The first aspect I absolutely love, where he picks up on this thing about Karov about being near,  about being near and he moves it from something that is temporal, in terms of space, to something that is from a perspective of time, that there is an evolution that had to occur, you can get miracles in Egypt, you can get miracles at the Red Sea, you can't change a person's heart or a person's mind in the same miraculous fashion. Then, of course, he transitions into a yeshiva student to a teacher, and talks about the best way to study Torah is in the desert, away from distractions. But again, it's wonderful that from this perspective, and many that we'll see, they all saw these few verses, as the paradigm of how does one create change inside of a person and inside of a people.

 

Adam Mintz  12:00

Right? That's correct. That's really the story of 40 years in the desert. The reason for 40 years in the desert, was in order to create that that paradigm shift where the Jews go from being slaves in Egypt, to being free people, you know, there is work done. I'm not sure about what happened after the Civil War. But there is a lot of work done about countries that have revolutions. And it's interesting that very often, the one who leads the revolution is not the one who's a successful leader of the country going forward. It needs a transition phase. And that's really what you have in the Torah, you have a transition phase. And if you want to be honest, Moshe, who is the one who leads them out. He's the Liberator can't be the one who takes them into the land of Israel.

 

Geoffrey Stern  13:03

You know, I think that's a good point. But I'd also kind of argue that we're not yet there... these verses include a premonition, and they already have a premonition about wandering in the desert. I don't think the premonition is yet here, that after the wandering, you won't get into the land. I think that's another step.

 

Adam Mintz  13:25

But I'm just saying that it's interesting. This is the beginning of that process that will lead us there.

 

Geoffrey Stern  13:33

Absolutely. Absolutely.

 

Adam Mintz  13:35

By the way, you didn't talk about the fact that there's you know, there's a lot of complaining starts this week,

 

Geoffrey Stern  13:43

the complaining starts from day one, right?

 

Adam Mintz  13:46

That's right. Yeah. They cross the sea. They see the biggest miracle in the history. What do they do? They complain.

 

Geoffrey Stern  13:55

So let's get back to some of the lessons that the classical commentaries take. The next I'm going to quote is Rabeinu Bachya and and he says, that what we are just seeing "is characteristic of the way God dealt with the Israelites in the desert. They were to be raised gradually to a level of trust and the word in Hebrew is b'madregot ha'bitachon" "degrees". I think if there's one takeaway from tonight's discussion, is that faith doesn't come in a moment. Whether it's from the previous perspective of studying Torah, whether it's perspective of Rabeinu Bachya, where you're trying to get faith, there is no fast-food solution. There is no silver bullet. This question of a "milchama" could be a war, but it's also turmoil. You know, there's an expression we know it from the New Testament it says "seek and thou shall find" In the Talmud, it's "Yagat u'metzat, T'amin"  If somebody works hard at something, and they find it, believe them, but if they say "Lo Yagata umatzata al ta'amin", if they say now I just discovered this, I didn't work hard at all. Don't believe them if he said he found the answer. So I think it's clearly this sense of degrees. And you find this so much in religious thinking that one has to plod from one level to the next, that faith and understanding is cumulative. And Rabeinu Bachya brings a number of examples, which I think are kind of interesting, he says, "This is why God parted the waters of the Sea of Reeds only a little bit at a time. That is why even at Marah where God showed Moses how to make sweet water which had become bitter sweet again, God went to the trouble of first miraculously making that water bitter and then performing a second miracle. And Rabeinu Bachya goes on and on he writes for another three paragraphs, giving his I guess, exegesis on multiple miracles where he shows that the idea is not to stun, the idea is not to shock, the idea is to gradually, step after step, bring a person from where they are, to where they want to be. And he uses words like "davar Yom b'yomo" day after day "likvoa b'nafshotam midat habitachon"  to create in them this trait of faith. I think that's fascinating.

 

Adam Mintz  16:49

I would agree that that is fascinating. What do you think he has in mind? What do you think? What's the bigger issue that he's really addressing there?

 

Geoffrey Stern  17:01

Well, I think what he's saying is from these verses, we learn that going out on this journey is not simply about going to a destination, but it's how one gets there. And there's so much that needs to be learned from that journey. There's a Hebrew expression that comes from the Talmud that talks about short paths that are long and long paths that are short. And I think that is part of what he's saying that there are steps that need to be taken to to achieve the desired result. So the Gomorrah in Eruvin, said that there was an incident of a young boy, one time the great Yehuda HaNasi, was walking along the path. And he saw a young boy sitting at the crossroads. And I said to him, on which path Shall we walk in order to get to the city, he said, to me, this path is short and long. And that path is long and short. I walked on the path that was short and long. When I approached the city, I found that gardens and orchards surrounded it. And I did not know the trails leading through them to the city. I went back and met the young boy again and said to him, my son, didn't you tell me that this was short. He said to me, and didn't I tell you that it was also long, I kissed him on his head and said to him, happy are you Oh, Israel, for you are all exceedingly wise from your old to your young." So I think it's a beautiful expression, Ketzara varucha arucha v'kitzara" could the short path that is long, the quick fix that doesn't quite work, and the struggle that fixes everything? And I think ultimately, that's also a kind of a character lying in this discussion.

 

Adam Mintz  19:01

I think that's a great idea. That idea that the quick fix doesn't work is definitely a lesson that we have from this week's Parsha. From the very, very beginning, right? The Quick Fix was to go up the coast and to be in Israel in 11 days, "Achad asar yom meHorev derech har seir ad kadesh barnea"  11 days, but that would have been the quick fix. And that would have been disastrous. The amazing thing is that from the beginning, God's watching out for the people. It's not in God's best interest, either if we're allowed to say, to have the quick fix, and that the people get scared and want to run back.

 

Geoffrey Stern  19:42

Absolutely. Well, you know, God's part of the team.

 

Adam Mintz  19:45

Yeah, God says that the purpose of the of the plagues is to prove to the Egyptians and the Jews that God is God. Interesting. When Pharaoh ultimately throws the Jews out after the plague of the first born in last week's Parsha, he says to Moses and Aaron, get out of here. And then he adds three words, he says, And when you go and pray to your God, pray on my behalf to, I think those are the best three words in the whole Torah. Because right there, Pharaoh says, I finally believe in your God, pray for me too.

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:29

You reminded me about the 10 plagues. And as long as we're picking up on this sense of what Rabeinu Bachya was saying about Madregod about degrees, in a sense, there's a real powerful theme here, even for the Egyptians, who ultimately God was trying to teach a lesson to, he didn't just go to the 10th plague, there's this sense of an evolution, of a transition, small steps. And I think that has to be one of the powerful lessons of the Parsha. So now we're going to transition to the most absolutely radical explanation for going in circuitous routes, and, and going slowly, and it comes from a great rabbi and a great philosopher, who also happened to be a great doctor. And he starts the discussion by talking about biology. And he's almost prescient, in terms of if you listen to what I'm going to read. now, this almost sense of, of evolution, but his name is Rav Moshe Ben, Maimon, Maimonides himself. And he writes in Guide for the Perplexed..... and before I start, remember, the Jews are "Nevuchim", they are confused in the desert. That's the name of the book, we're going to be reading from the guide for the Nevuchim, he doesn't make the connection. This is only one of the radical ideas in his book, but maybe it's a seminal idea. So here we go. And he's talking about biology. He says, In considering the divine acts or the processes of nature, we get an insight into God's willy graciousness, the Hebrew. .... And of course, the Moreh Nevuchim was written in Arabic. So when you say the Hebrew, you have to say, who you're you're quoting, we're quoting   [Samuel ben Judah ibn] Tibon, who was the first translator of it, he goes, "Aramat Ha'elokut" L'arom is to lie...  so the Diety's willy graciousness as displayed in the creation of animals with the gradual development of the movements of their limbs and the relative position of the later. And we perceive also his willy graciousness. Now he uses a second word, "Tachluvot" , which is kind of subterfuge in the successive and gradual developments of the whole condition of each individual. And he goes through different animals. And he talks about how certain limbs are used at one time, and then stop being used, but they have their value. And the most powerful final example that he gives is mammals who wean their children. He says, Therefore, breasts were provided which yield milk. And the young can be fed with moist food, which corresponds to the condition of the limbs of the animal, until the later have gradually become dry, and hard. So the breasts are full of milk for a while, and then the child matures, and they dry up. It's an example of planned obsolescence, if you will. And he uses this discussion of biology, to segue into how God educated the children of Israel. And he starts by saying, "it is impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other. It is according to the nature of man impossible for him suddenly to discontinue everything which he has been accustomed. And he goes on to talk about how the ultimate goal of leaving Egypt, after all he was an Aristotelian was to contemplate the divine. And how do you get from living as a slave in a society where there are idols and there were sacrifices, how do you get from there to this sublime state, and he writes that it was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God, as disclosed in biology in the whole of creation, that he did not command us to give up and discontinue all these manners of service for to obey such a commandment would be contrary to the nature of men. So he says, Therefore God allowed these kinds of services to continue. He created a temple, he created sacrifices. And he goes, I'm not going to wean you from sacrifices, I'm not going to wean you from bowing down and from touching a holy stone, and looking in a particular direction to find God, I'm just going to change that. So you go to my temple, and you sacrifice to me, by this divine plan, it was affected that the traces of idolatry were blotted out. And the truly great principle of our faith, the existence of unity of God was firmly established. Does Maimonides know how radical an idea he's saying is that he's basically writing off all of the temple sacrificial cult, as a stepping stone as a necessary ruse a trick to get people from one place to another, he continues, "I know that you will at first reject this idea and find it strange. How can you suppose that all of these commandments were just employed, not for themselves, but to go to something else?" He goes, what would happen if somebody showed up today, and told us you don't have to wear tefillin, you don't have to pray three times a day, just contemplate God. He says we would also be upset. But he says it's written in the Torah. God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines flow that was near for God said ..... so he quotes our verse and he says, Here God led the people about away from the direct road, which he originally intended, because he feared they might meet on that way with hardships too great for their ordinary strength. He took them by another road in order to obtain thereby his original object. It was the result of God's wisdom that the Israelites were led out into the wilderness till they acquired courage. And he uses this same word of it was a divine ruse. It was trickery, if you will. And it was a very radical statement, I encourage you to go to the show notes and Safaria, and read the whole text that's built logically and forward. And that was his takeaway. And it's a radical takeaway, if you take it to its full meaning, which that he was basically saying even the tefillin, at fill in everything that we do is a trick or a ruse, or I would say it in a more nice term, a tool to get us to somewhere else.

 

Adam Mintz  28:06

I like the word tool. It's a tool to get us where we need to go. It's not in itself a goal.

 

Geoffrey Stern  28:13

But it is a pretty radical idea?

 

Adam Mintz  28:16

Crazy, but fascinating. It's so good, that everything we do is just to get us to the goal. But each one of these actions is not in itself valuable. Now, I think that Rambam would probably say that once you're going through them, though, you have to do them properly. means let's take tefillin. So tefillin’s not important for itself. It's important where it takes us but to put on tefillin wrong to do the wrong act in the ritual, to perform the Seder incorrectly to observe Yom Kippur incorrectly, I don't think Rambabu like that, either.

 

Geoffrey Stern  29:01

Not like that! I mean, he is a man who dedicated his wife life to codifying Jewish law [laughs].

 

Adam Mintz  29:08

That's what I'm saying, the codification of the detail is important, because it leads us somewhere else. Don't think the ultimate is just putting on the tefillin. The tefillin are a tool to get us where we need to go.

 

Geoffrey Stern  29:26

So we're running out of time, but let me give you a little bit of the history of this idea. The Ramban, Nachmonidies in Leviticus absolutely goes ballistic against Maimonides for saying this. And he says How could you possibly say this? Your your belittling the sacrifices which actually Noah gave and he goes on and on. We have to remember that Ramban lived in a Christian world He actually had to go into debate with Christians. And this concept that the laws don't really matter, that it's the spirit that counts smacks a lot of Christianity. And my sense is that those are rabbis who defended Maimonides, like the Abarbanel and others, maybe they will less exposed to the Christian ideas. But but here's the amazing thing. In Christianity, they built a whole philosophy on this idea, and it's called Divine Condescendence. And it goes back to the church fathers. And we talked about classical commentators. Some of them use this to explain that education is like with children, that you have to start somewhere and you slowly grow... "St. A rainiest, I deserve special mention, as a rare instance of a church father who relates Divine Condescendence to an evolutionary concept of the Hebrew people in which they pass gradually as a collective, from an infantile to an adult state." They have more variations on this concept than we have. And my guess is for those scholars that like Shai Held, that are finding ideas that we had that were taken by Christians and taken in a father direction, this idea of Divine Condescendence is certainly one of them. But Maimonides either because of his biological background, or because he lived in a Muslim world, and wasn't part of replacement theology. He wasn't afraid of saying that Judaism could evolve, was able to say this. And again, it kind of reflects what we were talking about last week, and what I think what you were just saying, Rabbi, that you can believe that the understanding of the law can evolve, and still keep it. You can keep it the way it was originally observed. But as you grow, as you grow as a person, and as you grow as a nation, your understanding can evolve as far as you want. And I think that's really the theme here. And the theme of what God is telling the Jewish people as they embark on this amazing journey.

 

Adam Mintz  32:44

I think that's beautiful. Thank you so much for the topic. Shabbat Shalom to everybody enjoy crossing the sea. And next week we look forward to receiving the Torah, The Ten commandments with all of you well, Shabbat Shalom,

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:58

so soon amazing Shabbat Shalom to you all. Let's all cross the Red Sea, the Sea of Reeds and begin the journey. Thank you so much.

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Walk like an Egyptian

parshat bo (exodus 13)

A live recording of Disruptive Torah recorded on the Madlik Clubhouse with Geoffrey Stern, Rabbi Adam Mintz, Rabbi Abraham Bronstein and “The Haftorahman”, Reuben Ebrahimoff on January 6th 2022.

Can Biblical commandments evolve and have alternative meanings at different times and to different people? Mitzvot; for some an obligation, for others a political, cultural or fashion statement and for still others a magical charm. In Exodus 13 we are introduced to the first formal commandments given in the Torah; a book of Law. These laws relate exclusively to the celebration of the first and subsequent Passovers. Out of nowhere we discover the first reference to what was to become the commandment of Tefillin. We explore the classical commentators and modern scholarship to discover the multiple layers and nuances behind tefillin and possibly all mitzvot.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/373717

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:04 Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey stern and at Madlik we light a spark was shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. And this week with Rabbi Adam Mintz we learn of the first commandments the Jews were given as they left Egypt. They were instructed to mark their doorposts with blood and put a sign on their hands and between their eyes. We explore how a commandment like this can mean different things to different people and at different times. So get ready for our weekly journey and walk like an Egyptian. Well, welcome. It’s great to have you here. Very excited about this discussion. You know, we’ve been studying the Torah week in and week out those of you who remember when we studied Bereshit, we studied a very famous Rashi. Which said Why does the Torah begin from when God made the first commandment? It’s a book of law. It should be “HaHodesh Ha’zeh L’chem” (Exodus 12: 10), and here we are in Parshat  Bo, and we’re getting some commandments. Things are changing, we’re moving from stories, from narratives to actual commandments, the rubber is hitting the road.

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So today, we're going to focus on the beginning of one commandment, we're going to start with Exodus 13, where it kind of starts by talking about the stuff we'd expect it to talk about. It says: "Throughout the seven days, unleavened bread shall be eaten. No leavened bread shall be found with you, and no leaven shall be found in your territory. And you shall explain to your children on that day, it is because of what the Lord did for me, when I went free from Egypt. And this shall serve you as a sign on your hand. And as a reminder on your forehead, in order that the teaching of the Lord may be in your mouth, that with a mighty hand, the Lord freed you from Egypt, you shall keep this institution at its set time from year to year." So I like to read the posture of fresh every year. And when I read it this year, I was absolutely struck by this introduction of what many of us will recognize to be a law of Tefillin; these frontlets these phylacteries, these leather objects that traditional Jews put on their arms and put on their heads, and it's smack in the middle of what we absolutely expected to hear, which is the story of unleavened bread, how they had their first Seder, how they had their first Passover, and how that influenced further celebrations of the Passover. But right in the middle, is this law that resonates clearly the the law of Tefillin, but it doesn't really say anything about writing, it says "this shall serve to you as a sign". So the first question is, what is this? When we read it later into Devarim; in Deuteronomy, we kind of say, oh, okay, so it's this, this paragraph that we need to put inside of the Tefillin. But here there's a question of what is the this in the this, and then an Exodus 13" 16. Just a little bit later, it says, "and so it shall be a sign upon your hand and a symbol on your forehead, that with a mighty hand, the Lord freed you from Egypt." And here we have this strange word in the Hebrew that not only should it be a sign an "Ot", a word that we have come across before, but it should be "ul'totafot bein enecha" , this "Totefot" between your eyes? So am I the only guy who read the parsha this week, and said, What is Tefillin doing here? It's not something that we normally associate with either leaving Egypt, or with the first commandments that are given. And it's not quite talking about writing anything. And it just seems so strange to appear. And this was, frankly, the first year that I realized that here when we're listing the first mitzvot the first commandments, boom, we're hit by this non sequitur, I would say, of the law of what ultimately became Tefilin. Anybody share my surprise?

Adam Mintz  04:50

There's no question that that point is right. Let's just review for a minute that in the tefillin that you described, there are actually four selections from the Torah. Two of those selections are from this week. Actually, chapter 13 is divided in half, because there were two references, as you said to tefillin. So, there's the first portion, that's "Kadesh Li" and then the second portion "Vehaya Keviacha". And then there are two more portions, the first two paragraphs of the Shema, which are found in the Book of Devarim of Deuteronomy, also which have mentioned Tefillin. And they're also included. So there are four selections in the Torah, that talk about Tefillin, all those four are in the Tefillin that we wear. And the question I think, is, as you said, Why is it here? What does that have to do with the Exodus? So let me Geoffrey, make the question bigger. This is actually the first parsha that we have, in which we have a combination of law and narrative. Up to now the Torah has been completely narrative, and there've been a couple of little laws here and there. But basically, the Torah has been completely narrative. All of a sudden, in this week's portion, chapter 12, we switch. And we have a combination of law and narrative. That's the first important lesson. And that is that the Torah is a combination of law and narrative, Each one plays on the other to understand the laws, the rituals of Passover, you have to understand the narrative of the Exodus. So that's interesting. Now, why fill in here, the reason tefillin in this here is very simple. And that is because the remembering the exodus is primary in everything that we do. That seems to be the most basic, if not one of the most basic laws that we have, and therefore the villain in chapter 13, those paragraphs remind us of the Exodus, and we put them on our hands and on our head, because we need to remember the Exodus, we need to remember the slavery and then we need to remember how God took this out of out of Egypt.

Reuben Ebrahimoff  07:17

I just wanted to first say, every morning, we have this zoom Parshat HaShavua class. So I'm following along. You know, Yetziat Myzrayim, Pharaoh and all this and then I it just struck me this year, I didn't understand what was this text doing, like smack in the middle of your storyline? So just to say I resonated with your question. I did.

Geoffrey Stern  07:46

Reuben, there must have been something in the water this year. I don't know.

Reuben Ebrahimoff  07:49

Oh, so then the other thing Rabbi Mintz you taught me about the website, Al Hatorah (https://alhatorah.org/) And in the morning as they're reading, I try to find the Hapax legomenons (see:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hapax_legomenon ) in the parsha or words with very low frequency. And here 'l'totafott" is once in this parsha. And then when it comes around back in Devarim it mentions it two more times. So it's a very, very rare word in the Torah.

Geoffrey Stern  08:26

But, but let me just you know, add to the question a little bit, if you look at Rashi when Rashi says "VeHaya l'cha l'Ot", it should be to you a sign, he says "The Exodus from Egypt shall be to thee a sign" "Yetziat Miztrayim ti'hie l'cha l'Ot" There's already a sensitivity to what is this in the this? What is the sign? Now, we sometimes talk about this personalities that we're talking about. I think the Rashi family had a little bit of a monopoly on tefillin. First of all, it's pretty well known that the daughters of Rashi wore tefillin and the Rabbenu Tam was a grandson of Rashi and the very very observant Jews put on two pairs of tefillin every day, they put on Rashi tefillin and Rabbenu Tam tefillin.  because the the grandson argued with the grandpa about the order of the parshiot (scrolls). But there was another grandson; Rabbenu Tam had an older brother, and his name was Rashbam, and Rashbam says something amazing on this verse. He says, "According to the true meaning and exhortation that this memory should be with you permanently, "as if", "K'ilu". The matter is literally inscribed upon you hand. And he says we have similar metaphorical expressions about putting things on your body. He says in Song of Songs, it says place it on your heart, as if it had been engraved there." And take it. On my, my word. There are commentaries like the Ibn Ezra and others who understand exactly what the Rashbam is saying. He's saying, don't talk about the other instances of the mention of this law that ultimately became tefillin, these black boxes of leather that we put on our body parts. Here. It is a metaphor. Here it is in the tradition of a Jeremiah who says, "and you should write these words on your heart", he goes and quotes multiple verses, where this concept of wearing God on one's body is a metaphor. So there's clearly a fascinating aspect of how........ it's easy for us to say we're talking about tefillin. But it's not totally clear that we're talking about tefillin as we know it, we're talking about an aspect of tefilin. And that blew me away,

Avraham Bronstein  11:19

I want to say something to what you just said. And then something back to what Rabbi Mintz just said, I think that when the Rashbam is talking about the metaphor of you know, "on your heart", "between your eyes", in those ways, he's talking more about where you wear the tefillin, right, because he's telling you that you wear the tefillin on your arm corresponding to your heart. You don't wear literally on your chest. And likewise, you wear that go on your head, between your eyes on top of your head, not literally on your nose between your eyes. And I think he's trying to use the term metaphors that way. So that the practice of wearing tefillin corresponds with the verse But even so, even if you take them metaphorically, he's describing a very, very embodied experience. You're literally taking these reminders of the Exodus, and you're strapping them to your physical body and you're walking around with them, you're wearing them and feel them and you're touching them. And they're part of how you get around your day. And so much of what we do to remember the Exodus on a day-to-day basis are the mitzvot that are connected to it, are very embodied mitzvot, right. We eat things, we drink things, we say things, we hear things. And what I meant and was talking a little bit about before about the combination between law and narrative and how those two formats kind of play into each other and inform each other. I think what this is showing you also is that there's even a deeper level to it or a deeper connection, because even the remembering even the mitzvah itself is so physical, it's so embodied and still it really sums it up more than almost anything else

Adam Mintz  12:59

Rabbi Avraham. I think that's really such a good point. That actually the relationship between law and narrative is reflected in the in the selections that we use for the villain, and that actually when we put them on our arms, and on our head, we're thinking about that relationship, not just the law of putting on tefillin, but the narrative, the Exodus from Egypt. I just will add one thing, Geoffrey. And that you made reference to the fact that there are two traditions, Hasidim put on two pairs of tefillin, they put on Rashi tefillin at the beginning of davening (prayer) and at the end of davening, they take off their Rashi tefillin they put on the Rabbenu Tam and they look the same, but inside there's a difference. And the difference is what the order of the portions is. Rashi's tefillin which is the tefillin that are generally used by most people have the order of the portions in the order they appear in the Torah. So therefore, you have the two portions from Exodus chapter 13. Then you have the portion of Shema. And then you have the pope the portion of V'haya im Shemoha". And that's the order in which they appear in the Torah. Rabenu Tam has it different.  Rabenu Tam says you start with the two selections from this week's parsha "Kadesh" "VayaHi kiviyach"  but he switches the order of the two chapters in Devarim and he says first is "V'haya im Shemoa" and finally is Shema. He switches the order of "Shema" and "V'haya im Shemoa". The question is what difference does it make? It would make sense....  Rashi makes sense. You should have the port the selections in the order in which they appear in the Torah. And Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik gave an amazing explanation. He said actually the four selections are actually two different themes.... This is what Rabbi Avraham was referring to.... the selections from our portion are talking about the Exodus. The selections from the book of Deuteronomy, talk about tefillin as an expression of our acceptance of God's kingship over us. So actually, according to Rabbenu Tam, they are in order, but one you read from left to right, and one you read from right to left. So the two portions from our from our chapter, you read from left to right, "Kadesh" "VayaHi kiviyach" , but the portions from Devorim, you read from right to left "Shema" and "V'haya im Shemoa". And the reason we do it that way is because we want to separate the two, to show those are two different things. One is about remembering the Exodus, and one is about remembering that God is King over the world. And those are two very distinct themes in our Jewish lives. So I think that that's just interesting, at least for a moment to, you know, to pay respects to rabbenu Tam and his different villain than Rashi tefillin.

Geoffrey Stern  16:14

So I love this discussion, because we are discussing the first mitzvot that are commanded to the Jewish people, in a sense, and some of the commentaries make this distinction there pre-Sinai revelation as well. And here we are, and we're looking at all of the different perspectives that you can have on this one; I would say it's a seed of a mitzvah, because I am not willing to concede yet that the mitzvah of tefillin is fully played out yet. I want to get back to the rush bomb. One of the commentaries that I have in the source sheet says

רשב"ם אינו רואה בפסוקנו אזכור של מצוות תפילין, אלא מפרשו כמטפורה.

This commentary is saying is at this point in time, does the Rashbam believe that there's a commandment of tefillin? He does, he's not a Karite. He's not a Samaritan. There were fundamentalists who read not only these verses, but the later verses. And they said, you know, it says you should write these words on your door post, the Samaritans wrote them literally on their door post. They talked about writing these words on your arm and on your head, they took it as a metaphor, the Rashbam is "Lahavdeel", not in that camp. But what he is saying is at this point, it's a metaphor. And what I love when we discuss Rabbenu Tam and Rashi and their different views of what should be inside of the to fill in, is here we have the first commandment. Yes, the first commandment that piqued Reuben and my curiosity... because it was literally made as a commandment, it didn't fit into the narrative that much. And all of a sudden, we can parse it in so many ways. And I'd like to think that this is an example of all the mitzvot to that are to come. And yes, there is an aspect of this commandment that is totally physical. But the Rashbam is saying something very profound; that you can take a commandment as a metaphor. And that doesn't detract from taking it also, as a physical, tactile directive as to what to do in the first four hours of the morning. And that I think, is an amazing thought. And I'd like to use that as a segue to then get into the various interpretations and explanations that Reuben talked about which is; what does this "totafot" mean at this point in time? Where are we? What does this mean? It's clearly using a foreign term and making reference to something that the audience that it was written to understood but that we do not. What what do you all feel is going on here in terms of what is "totafot"?

Geoffrey Stern  16:57

Haftorahman what do you think?

Reuben Ebrahimoff  19:40

I'm gonna digress for a second, on purpose. These prayers are in two places. One on the Mezzuzot and two on the tefillin. And not that this adds credibility But the story was told to me by Mr. Shlomo Musayev. And Shlomo said, originally, they didn't have doorposts. They lived in tents. And that this, this scroll was a Kamia, and they would hang it like a lintel. And that when somebody would go into their tent, they would have to move their hand in front of them across to the side, and they would touch the mezzuza, thereby merging the heaven and earth by touching the Mezuzah, which was this go-between area. So, to me, that sounds beautiful on a thought level. Then the other thing I think about is the name of God. You only have two places .... Rabbi Mintz, correct me if I'm wrong, where you have the shin on the Mezuza bayit and the Shin on the tefillin boxes for the shin dalet Yud name of God. So I always found that interesting, too.

Adam Mintz  21:13

Okay, what is uh, how does that relate to the word "totafot"?

Reuben Ebrahimoff  21:17

Okay, so I'm just gonna read what they had Al Hatorah....  it says, bands, so they must have just tied these things. And I think also, Geoffrey, that the Samaritans, like put it like in between their eyes there to fill in, like right down on the forehead. If I'm not mistaken

Geoffrey Stern  21:41

Well, let's get to the band's the the most straightforward explanation is in the Gomorrah in Shabbat 57B. And it says, "The Mishna said that a woman may not go out with the ornament called a totefet. The Gemara asks: What is a totefet? Rav Yosef said: A packet of spices to ward off the evil eye. Abaye said to him: And let the legal status of this packet be like that of an effective amulet, whose effectiveness is proven, and it should be permitted, as an effective amulet may be moved on Shabbat. Rather, Rav Yehuda said in the name of Abaye: A totefet is an appuzainu, an ornament worn on the forehead. This opinion was also taught in a baraita: A woman may go out with a gilded hairnet worn to hold the hair in place, and with the totefet, and with the sarvitin that are fastened to the hairnet, since a woman would not remove her head covering to show her friend those ornaments. And they said: Which is a totefet and which is sarvitin? Rabbi Abbahu said: Totefet is that which goes around her forehead from ear to ear...." and I think that's the opinion that you quoted. But the point is even modern scholarship and if you look at the notes on Safera to this episode, it gets into great detail and basically says, you know, I think the rabbis of the Talmud had it right. Totafot, as you said, Reuben; a headband. And we come across for the first time, it's to ward off [evil]. It's an amulet. Again, the tefillin strikes us Western, Moderns, as very strange. But my guess would be that, whether you called it a Kamia or Oh, whatever. In the ancient world, people wore charms people wore amulets, and it was an accepted practice to wear an amulet as a headband and on one's arm. I'd like to point out that one of our faithful listeners, Bob, who's in the audience today, pointed out a few weeks ago, that they just discovered a pharaoh. They were able to do a scan of him without actually touching him. And they found that he was circumcised which is interesting. Yeah, but they also found a bunch of amulets, a bunch of jewelry on his arm and stuff. So I gave the subject matter of tonight's talk "Walk like an Egyptian". It seems to me that, number one, we can all assume that unlike us, when the Torah said "totafot", everybody understood what it was referring to. It wasn't speaking in riddles. And so it seems pretty clear that this was some sort of an amulet both on one's head and on one's arm. You know this question... and I'll just give two other references to trigger further discussion. It has this strange expression of "between the eyes" , "l'zicharon Beyn Eynecha". Those of us whose children ask us, are you allowed to have a tattoo? We always said, no, no, no, no, you can't have a tattoo. It says in in the Bible itself. In Deuteronomy 14, "You are children of the Lord your God, You shall not gash yourselves or shave the front of your heads because of the dead." Now I just read a translation. But the Hebrew says, "Lo Karocha beyn einechem l'Meit" You can't make a mark on yourself. You can't cut yourself "beyn einechem"  between your eyes. And it's fascinating that when the rabbi's discuss that Karocha means to make oneself bald. So they actually learn from here that tefillin is not to be actually between one's eyes, but it's to be above the hairline. So they actually learned from the law against gashing and pulling out one's hair, maybe making tattoos and signs that it is above the hairline. There's a real connection here. And these are not stuff that was made out of nowhere. Yesh, me'ayin these were amulets, these were signs that were made. The other word that's used is an "Ot". And of course, we find that with Cain, the sign of Cain. And in the Midrash, it says, What is the sign of Cain the "ot" of Cain? Well, God took one of the "otiyot", one of the letters of the 22 letters of the alphabet and wrote it on Cain. So we almost have tattooing here, which is kind of fascinating. So that kind of really opens up the discussion, in terms of what.... from a metaphor to a tattoo, to an amulet, what this could be referring to and what its antecedents are.

Adam Mintz  27:21

So I would add the following. And that is that maybe we don't know what the word totafot leads. And maybe that's the idea. Maybe tefillin is the perfect model of the integration of the Written Torah, and the oral tradition, that without the oral tradition, we can't know what tefillin in really are. The Gemara says and another Gemara, it says that Tat means two and pat means two. And totafot just means for that we have four selections from the Torah. And maybe that's what we need, maybe we have to be willing to admit that if all we have is the Written Torah that's not enough. We need an oral tradition; we need a living tradition. A bunch of years ago, there was an exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls have the things they found in Qumran. And one of the things they had in the exhibition was a pair of tefillin. And I was always struck.. Qumran is about 2,100 years ago. And the tefillin from 2,100 years ago, looks basically the same as the tefillin we put on today. That's an amazing statement about Jewish tradition. Jews have been thrown out of places Jews have been prosperous in places, a lot has happened to the Jews over 2,100 years. But the tefillin are still the same tefillin that we had. And probably 1,000 years before that they were the same tefillin. And that's part of our living tradition. It's similar, by the way, Geoffrey to the Etrog. You know, the Torah says you should take a fruit of from a tree. We don't even know what the fruit is "Pree Etz Hadar" and the way we know what an Etrog is, that's part of the living tradition. We need the living tradition without the living tradition, we have nothing. And I think that totafot the tefillin actually is a great model of that.

Geoffrey Stern  29:28

I totally agree with you. The only thing that I would add .... and we've talked about so many facets of one of the first commandments that we've come across, is .... you know, one of the questions and I'll save this for my Shabbat Hagadol drasha is the obvious question of why Mezuzah isn't mentioned here after they put the blood on the doorposts and maybe Rabbi you'll talk about that on Shabbat

Adam Mintz  29:59

That's good also

Geoffrey Stern  30:00

But it seems to me that there's another element here. And in the New Testament, when Jesus talks about the Jews wearing tefillin, he says in Matthew 23:5-7, "everything they do is done for people to see they make their phylacteries wide and tassels on their garments long." And what he captures is this sense of pride, their sense of who we are. And it seems to me and you were talking about this living tradition, I'm not a scholar, I thought of the Egyptians have every time you see an Egyptian pharaoh, you see that little snake [uraeus snake] that comes out, right on the forehead, as a sign, it was not one by a foreigner, it was not one by a layman. It was only worn by a king. And I'd like to think that another aspect of tefillin is that these Jews, they might have put on the blood on the doorposts, so that the God would pass by and spare them. But then when they were told to put these ornaments on, they were like kings, a "Mamlechet Cohanim v'goy kadosh". And I would like to think that, that is also part of the aspect of what we're talking about, that this tefillin and this commandment here is this sense of being like a pharaoh walking like an Egyptian so to speak. And the ultimate lesson and the ultimate takeaway is in half an hour, I think we've probably touched upon 13, or 14 different ways of looking at one of these first commandments of mitzvah. And I think what we can learn from this, and I'd like to extrapolate going forward, is that not only are there "shivim Panim L'Torah"  70 faces to every verse and every idea of Torah, but a mitzvah, whether it's Shabbat, whether it's tefillin, whether Pesach can be taken at a metaphorical level, it can be taken as an amulet and a little bit of superstition. It can be taken as a political statement; it can be taken as a fashion statement. It's all there. It's all acceptable. And all that we are asked to do is to study the texts and become a part of that tradition. And I'd like to think that's the element of living that you were describing in terms of what the Oral law is.

Adam Mintz  32:35

That's beautiful Geoffrey. What a way to end enjoy the parish everybody. Shabbat Shalom and look forward to taking the Jews out of Egypt and crossing the sea next week. Shabbat shalom,

Geoffrey Stern  32:49

Amen. Shabbat shalom. We will see you all next week and discover another hidden aspect of the Torah and hopefully find something that resonates with us. So, with that I bid you all Shabbat Shalom, and let's all leave Egypt together this week. Shabbat shalom.

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holy crap

parshat vaera (exodus 7)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on December 30th 2021 as we use an innocuous reference in Rabbinic Literature to Pharaoh’s personal hygiene to explore the unique disposition of Judaism to the physical body and bodily functions and contrast it to other religions and cultures.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/372485

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark with shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. And this week with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we learn that old King Pharaoh not only had a hard heart, but he also had bowel issues. We use this discovery to explore the unique disposition of Judaism to bodily functions and contrast it with other religions and cultures. So join us as we follow Moses down to the Nile and record our episode entitled, holy crap.

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Geoffrey Stern  00:47

Well, welcome everybody, hope I didn't scare you away with a little bathroom humor and talk about something that we don't normally talk about, we do joke about a lot. We are going to focus on a very, esoteric comment that the rabbi's make about one verse in this week's parsha. But I do think that it will open up discussions not only regarding the subject matter, which is what is Judaism's approach to body and bodily functions, but also maybe focus on what Egypt represented. So I think it is, while small and trivial. It does relate to the bigger picture of Exodus and Egypt. So we begin on Exodus, chapter 7, verse 15. And it says, "Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is coming out to the water, and station yourself before him at the edge of the Nile, taking with you the rod that turned into a snake." So this is the beginning of the first of the plagues. And Moses is instructed to go down by the Nile because surely he will meet the Pharaoh bathing in the Nile. So Rashi, quoting the Midrash says as follows. "He went unto the water to ease himself, for he claimed to be a god and asserted that because of his divine power, he did not need to ease himself. And therefore he used to rise early and go to the Nile. And there eased himself in secret." So as we shall see there is not much in the Toba that relates to the bodily function, relieving oneself, even though it seems and if you google this, you'll find a lot of material. Jews love to joke about bodily functions and moving their bowels. So even that could be a good question to to begin our discussion today. But Rabbi, what is your impression of this? And before I let you speak, I do think that there's very little in Exodus that talks about the Egyptian religion. You know, we talk about them as taskmasters, as oppressors, in previous weeks, we've talked about their eating habits and their diet. But in terms of what Egypt is famous for the pyramids.... building these major edifices for a life to come and the Jews were they are building it, there's very little mention of what the belief was of the ancient Egyptians. And is this an opportunity to jump in?

 

Adam Mintz  03:46

It might be I mean, my question, Geoffrey, is what leads Rashi to say what he says, the Torah doesn't say it. Why does Rashi feel the need to kind of add that Midrashic twist to this?

 

Geoffrey Stern  04:01

Well, I think and as I was reading it, I was thinking this, he says, go to Pharaoh in the morning. And [laughs] I don't want to lower the level of the discussion to Jewish jokes, but the first thing you do in the morning is you move your bowels. But besides that, I think it's a very good question. And it's almost as though the commentary and it's not Rashi. As I said before, this same story is, is even mentioned in a little bit more detail in both the Midrash Tanchuma and Shemot Rabba. The Jewish sources saw it there. So I think the question can be reflexive as well, which is what did they see? Or what were they attempting to say? But I think it's a good question.

 

Adam Mintz  04:55

Yeah, no, it's a very, very good question. You know, but I'm just kind of I'm distinguishing between that which is explicit in the Torah, and that which, which is Midrashric. And there's a basic rule. And that is that the Midrash if it elaborates on something, that's not explicit in the Torah, there's a reason for it. It's trying to teach us something. And I wonder here, what it's trying to teach us. That's what I'm raising what they're trying to teach us. What is the Midrash, adding, that is important for us to know.

 

Geoffrey Stern  05:32

So let's parse it a little. First of all, it says that Pharaoh claimed to be a god in Russia, his version, it doesn't give any commentary in the Midrash, it says, Pharaoh Harasha, the evil one. So it's almost saying, putting him down, but he claimed to be a god. And that's one thing that the rabbis could want to point out. Another thing that they could want to point out is that gods don't defecate and that was an assumption that was made. And they don't seem to be arguing with that. So that raises the question of, well, what about we humans, who are spiritual beings created in the image of God... What does that say about us? So I don't think I'm answering your question. I do think that anyone who has studied the Talmud and the Jewish texts know that the rabbi's love to use any excuse to talk about what's on their mind, and this seems to be what was on their mind that morning.

 

Adam Mintz  06:43

So if you parse Geoffrey, there really are two things. One is the issue of Pharaoh thinking that he's a god. Now, that obviously is very important in the story. Because Moses and Aaron going before Pharaoh, it's a different story, if they go before, the king, who's just the king, or the King, who actually thinks that what he's doing is what is god doing? I mean, it gives a lot more, it adds, I think, something to the story, it also gives a lot more Chutzpa to Moses and Aaron, they're actually confronting a God, Hey, that's pretty impressive that they're willing to confront a god isn't it?

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:22

So I think that's a great point. And I think what that resonates with me is that we always think that if someone says they're a God, they're literally a god. But because the Egyptians are in a world of polytheism, and there are many levels of the Divine retinue, if you will, you know, there are points of that we've read in previous parshiot that says that Aaron will be the spokesman and Moses will be like a god. (Exodus 7:1) So even to the Egyptians speaking in their language, so to speak, it does imply that if one has certain divine powers, if one has certain levels of spirituality, one could be considered a god. And if that's the case, then that really raises the level of my question, which is where do the rabbis stand on this? So that can you be god-like, and maybe that's what I'm trying to say? That saying that Pharaoh was a god could also be intended to mean he was god-like, as Moses was god-like, and there are verses that say that. And so therefore, what is the rabbi's opinion? And how do they react to this contradiction between a God who has an anus so to speak,

 

Adam Mintz  08:54

Right.... So that already is very interesting. And that is that Pharaoh is godlike. But it's almost as if the Midrash is making fun of him. How can it be a god because he defecates and therefore he's not really a god? We would say he's a god in his own mind, right? But that doesn't really mean very much. And haha, Moses caught him when he went out to see him in the morning, because he saw him being not a god.

 

Geoffrey Stern  09:28

So so there's a book that I read. It was published in the 60s or 70s, by a guy named Ernest Becker, who was a psychologist, and it's called The Denial of Death. And we'll get back to it a little more. He spends a lot of time on focusing on. This, this this chasm, this really dialectic between being a spiritual being and being a physical creaturely being And he says "excreting is the curse that threatens madness, because it shows man his abject finitude, his physicalness, the likely unreality of his hopes and dreams." And I'm just wondering whether the rabbi's were at all touching upon this issue of can we be godlike? And at the same time, can we be as physical as we are creating... Every day, every morning, every time we go to the bathroom a physical sign of our decay and death, if you will, Elise, what can you say?

 

Elise Meyer  10:45

So, okay, what I wanted to say is, um, like, the presumption that Pharaoh thought he was god, he was God to the people and to him, I mean, the, the pharaohs were believed to be gods on Earth, as other civilizations have that human deity kind of connections. So,

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:10

So there are gradations is what you're saying that for us, when you say God, we automatically think about one absolute being, but for the other polytheistic and in other religions that including the Egyptians, there were gradations.

 

Elise Meyer  11:31

Right...  intercessive rulers.

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:34

Absolutely. And I think from that perspective, you could easily come away from this saying that the rabbi's were in, in basic agreement, that if you are truly a god, you can't crap. But I would love to explore how this plays out in In Jewish tradition a little bit, because I actually think that Judaism has a very unique approach to this. And one of the ways that we can find that approach is by studying other religions and other cultures, so I want to jump a little bit forward. You've probably all heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls. And you've probably heard that the people who are some of the people that might have written the Dead Sea Scrolls are called Essenes. And they lived in the Dead Sea. They were ascetics, they moved out of the urban areas they lived outside. Maybe John the Baptist was one they used to go into the mikvah into the purifying baths a lot. But Josephus has tells us something very strange about them. And Josephus us in the Jewish Wars says that they "not only do they abstain from seventh, day work more rigidly than any other Jews, for not only do they prepare their meals the previous day so as to avoid lighting a fire on the Sabbath. But they do not venture to remove any utensil or go and ease themselves." So he raises this thing that has really tantalized archaeologists for years looking for where the bathroom so to speak, where the Essenes are. Archaeologists have discovered that possibly the Essenes didn't eat on Friday so that they wouldn't have to ease themselves on Shabbat. When he refers to cooking on Shabbat. Our understanding today is they took the concept of a fire to the extreme, they sat in the darkness, they didn't believe you could even have light. So there's no question that they took what ultimately became Rabbinic Judaism and biblical structure. They took it way to the extreme. But the fascinating thing about what Josephus has says is that you had to go through a year-long orientation. And once you were accepted into the Essenes, they are gave you a loincloth, white garments, and a shovel to bury your feces. So this was something that was absolutely important to them. But important to the point where they had to defecate outside of the camp. There are scrolls in the Dead Sea scrolls that said that they believed you could not defecate within Jerusalem. They had a real problem with bodily function. And I think that as we transverse and move to what the Jewish position was on these things, you can't look at it from a vacuum. There were many ways that we could have gone. But this always seemed to be just so fascinating to me.

 

Adam Mintz  15:07

That is fascinating. What you make of that is the fact that defecating was something that was considered to be unholy. That actually is in line with the Midrash. That a god doesn't defecate, that works out well with the tradition we have in this week's parsha. It doesn't deal with Pharaoh. But it actually deals with defecation, which shows that we're human. And that's the piece that has to be done outside the camp. That's the unholy, part.

 

Geoffrey Stern  15:39

So I think you're absolutely right. And I think Rabbi, we have to be honest, the only reason why you and I are going down this road is we know of an amazing prayer. It's a prayer that the rabbi's created. That one says after one takes care of one's needs and leaves the bathroom. And I spent the last week while I was preparing for this, googling prayers, for bodily functions. And I couldn't find any from any cultures and I invite anybody...... There is an Islamic prayer that I found. It says "Praise be Allah Who relieved me of the filth and gave me relief." But other than that, I could not find any culture or religion that identifies moving one's bowels as a moment that required some sort of benediction, and by way of a benediction, some form of illumination. So I'm just going to read the prayer that we say it's called "Asher Yatzar" Who has created us, it's said, as I said, after one leaves out the bathroom, it is also said every morning, we get back to that morning trigger, that this is what one does when one wakes up in the morning. And it says "Blessed are you Adonai our God, King of the universe, who formed man with wisdom and created within him openings and hollows. It is obvious and known in the presence of your glorious throne, that if one of them were ruptured, or if one of them were blocked, it would be impossible to exist and stand in your presence, even for a short while. Blessed are you Adonai who heals all flesh and performs wonders." Now, before we discuss it, it's much more poetic in the Hebrew when it talks about openings and hollows. In the Hebrew it's Nikavim Nikavim, Halulim Halulim, those of you who know the Torah knows, when it is emphatic about something, if it wants you to follow justice, it says Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof, it says the word twice. If it wants you to heal somebody it says heal twice. And I have to think of Carl Sagan also. "Billions and billions and billions". These words are poetic, lyrical, but they are absolutely celebrating the myriad of valves and canals and vessels and veins in the human body. What is your thought of this prayer Rabbi Do you also think it's very unique?

 

Adam Mintz  18:45

It is absolutely unique and it shows the kind of the inside of the rabbis appreciating that we need to thank God for everything. And there's nothing that's out of the realm of what we need to thank God for. And anyone who's ever had trouble with, you know, the Nikavim Nikavim, Halulim Halulim... all of that understands and appreciates why we have to thank God for all of that.

 

Geoffrey Stern  19:12

And fascinatingly, it doesn't, it doesn't hide from the fact that we're doing all this so that we can stand in Your presence even for a short while. "L'amod Lifanecha afilu sha'a echat", in a sense, it's it's not ignoring our humanity, and the fact that we are born and we die, and all of that, and, and the other part of it is getting back to what Becker was saying about this dichotomy, this schism, this dialectic between the physical nature in our in our very human mortal animal created nature. The next prayer that we say in the morning is "Elokai Nishama s'natata bi" thanking God for the soul that God has given us that is pure. "You created it, you formed it, you breathed it into me and you preserve it within me, you will eventually take it from me and restore it to me in the time to come." So I don't think that the rabbis are even ignoring the dichotomy. They're actually addressing it straight on, which is fascinating.

 

Adam Mintz  20:29

Absolutely fascinating. There's no apology, generally speaking, the rabbi's don't apologize.

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:35

So the question is, how did the World see this blessing? Did it see it as we're talking about it today is something unique and fascinating or not? So I came across when I was studying philosophy, and I came across an early essay by Karl Marx, and it's the subject matter was The Jewish Problem. He is very much of a self-hating Jew in many senses. And he writes the following. "The monotheism of the Jew, therefore, is in reality, the polytheism of the many needs, a polytheism, which makes even the laboratory and object of Divine Law. Practical need. egoism is the principle of civil society." And he goes on and on, and basically, he's making the argument of the grubby Jew. And it's interesting from a number of aspects. Number one, how learned was Marx that he knew about this prayer. Number two, did he make this up himself? Was this a widespread canard of those who looked upon this strange process of making this blessing? Have you Rabbi or anyone in the audience ever come across any anti-semitic tropes or other ways that this prayer, if you're aware of the prayer has been used both for or against the Jews?

 

Adam Mintz  22:17

I have not. But that would be amazing if we could find something. Did you look around a little bit?

 

Geoffrey Stern  22:24

I googled it. I did. Because it's hard to believe that Marx would come up with something like this in our zone. Right? You know, he's basically repeating tropes that have maligned the Jews before. So it is fascinating. But of course, when you see something like this, it's kind of a reality check that makes you say, Look, maybe it's not just me, who says that this prayer is so unique and illuminating. It compares, in very iconic way against what the Essenes took to be the divine, the concept of the Divine. It's, it's taken by a MOCs, and he sees it at this. It just seems to me that Judaism as a whole has a very different and I would suggest even healthy perspective on and we can talk about bodily functions, but what we're all ultimately talking about is the body. What makes us an animal what makes us a living, breathing creature with needs?

 

Adam Mintz  23:45

Yeah, I think that that's absolutely fantastic. I mean, I don't think that it's an anti-Jewish trope. I mean, I actually think that this shows, you know, this shows kind of the sensitivity of the rabbis. I always compare this to the idea of Shiva. You know, if you read .... you were talking about Becker's book, The Denial of Death, when you talk when you read books about death, and how sensitive the rabbinic tradition is, by having the idea of Shiva, you see that Judaism, that the rabbis were willing to address the hard parts of life, that just not just the easy parts of life, and going to the bathroom and sitting Shiva are all parts of the hard parts of life. And they're willing to deal with that, which I think is amazing.

 

Geoffrey Stern  24:32

And it's amazing when they deal with it in a way that one doesn't expect because what I gather from this prayer and the juxtaposition of it in the morning to another prayer that celebrates the soul is that it is a real celebration of the human body as a physical, decaying, finite body. And you know, those of you who have been listening to Madlik for a while know that I'm very cynical about an early Israelite, ancient Hebrew concept of a world to come, which is never mentioned, of either a world after death or eschatological world in some time in the future, it just seems to be very much "Shamayim al ha'aretz"  that this is as good as it gets, it's "heaven on earth". This is this is the way it is. But here, you do see this concept of dividing between a soul and a body. The soul is almost on loan, so to speak. But there's no question that who I am, who is the I in I, it is as much my physical body as it is my soul and somehow the rabbi's and Judaism have been able to navigate this maybe with a strong touch of humor, as well. And maybe that's where I did Google "bathroom humor and Jews". And it's a very popular discussion, I can tell you, there's, there's something about Jewish humor that relates to this subject, and maybe, you know, with humor, there's the addressing things that make ill at ease.

 

Adam Mintz  26:19

Did they did they give kind of a history of Jewish bathroom humor? Like, why do Jews have bathroom humor?

 

Geoffrey Stern  26:28

You know, again, I found I found some antisemitic stuff coming from where we come from, not a big surprise, but on the positive aspect. If anything, it was a little bit of what I'm discussing today, which is a very healthy perspective on the physicality of who we are.

 

Adam Mintz  26:50

So they're very positive about it.

 

Geoffrey Stern  26:52

I think that there are a lot of very positive comments about it. And and, you know, there's this, this thing of aging, too, you know, there used to be a website called "Old Jewish Men Tell Jokes". You know, the fact that we call an older person in pretty much every language, whether it's an "old fart", or an "AlterKaker". All of those words have to do with this being able to control one's body that we ultimately lose as we get older. And so maybe it also has to do with a healthy perspective on aging. And as I said before, you can't look at humor without looking at a very powerful tool for addressing things that are beyond our power to address.

 

Adam Mintz  27:46

I think that's good. I mean, I think It's amazing that what is basically a Midrash on this week's parsha turns into this gigantic topic, about how Jewish tradition and how the rabbis deal with things that most traditions, even most religious traditions, are generally afraid to deal with, and have euphemisms for it. Now, Judaism also has euphemisms. But it doesn't seem like in this regard, they really have euphemisms. They say it as it is, don't they?.

 

Geoffrey Stern  28:23

They do they do. And as someone who studies, the Talmud, you know, there's so much involved with bodily functions a lot has to do with the laws of purity. This case, not so much. But it's a very down to earth approach. That can sometimes be a little bit. I don't know the right word "numbing"? But on the other hand, if you if you look at it, if you look at the fact that Rabbinic Judaism, for sure, gets involved in the details of every minutia and small part of life. It does say something loud and clear that no manifesto and no mission statement could, which is the minutiae of our lives matter to us. The fact that all lives are not static, but that there's a beginning, a middle and an end, is not something that we ignore. You're talking this Shabbat about how Moses and Aaron took on this job very late in their life. There is no question that Judaism focuses at the different stages of life. And that each one is different. And it just is kind of fascinating, because it also mixes that up with with the spiritual.

 

Adam Mintz  29:51

Yeah, I think that's great. This is a this is a great topic. It really gives us something to think about. And what's really great about it is it's not the usual topic for Vayera... the usual topic of Vayera talks about the plagues and talks about Moses and Aaron and Pharaoh. And here we found something that really talks about something in a much bigger light. And it's a nice way to end the year and to begin a new year to understand how pervasive Judaism...  Rabbinic Judaism is in so many different aspects. So thank you, Geoffrey, for this amazing topic. Thank you, everybody, for joining us. We have a really nice crew that joined us tonight. Happy New Year to everybody. Shabbat shalom. And we look forward to seeing you next week, as we lead the Jews out of Egypt with Parshat Bo, Shabbat Shalom,

 

Geoffrey Stern  30:39

Shabbat shalom, Rabbi, and I would just like to say that I started by saying that we spend all this time in Exodus looking at Egypt, but we don't really talk about the pyramids and the whole religion based on an afterlife. And so it off-subject but it's very much on subject. And as we approach a new year, we all want to leave behind all our pyramids, our Sphinx is our monuments... a sign that we were on this earth, and I think that we share with all humanity. And the question is where we find it. And I bless all of us, that we find it in all the right places and I invite any of you who want to stay on and talk casually in the after-party to do so. But otherwise, Shabbat Shalom and happy new year and the mic is open land. Michael?

 

Michael Stern  31:36

Well, you really made me love the Jewish people today. Because, you know, poop is the baby's first creation. And I've read psychologists who say that, that's the first creation, and then the baby watches it being washed down and annihilated and disappear. And their first creation, they lose. And then America is constipated, go to any CVS or Walgreens, there's a whole aisle for constipation. So something has gone wrong with our appreciation of the addressing it like us have taught us that the Jews address this whole process. And I also liked when the rabbi talked about Shiva and death because "dust to dust", there's nothing really dirty about our poop. It is in fact fertilizer. And today in sustainable living, one doesn't flush it down, one takes their bucket and makes a pile like manure. And this is a gift back to the earth. So I just think our Jewish people were really right on and thanks for bringing up this subject. Really healing subjects for our world today.

 

Geoffrey Stern  33:09

Well, thank you so much. So Michael Posnik. Welcome back to the Bima. How are you today?

 

Michael Posnik  33:17

It's good to be here. Thank you very much for this discussion. A number of things have come to mind during the discussion, including the odd phrase, "Let my people go". [laugh] And it seems that one could say from a psychological or point of view that Pharaoh is anal retentive character. He wants to hold on to whatever he's holding on to. And he's being invited to let go a little bit. So the other thing that came to mind was that this was an opportunity for Moshe to see Pharaoh as a human being acting like a human being defecating like a human being. And it seems to me if you'll forgive the expression, it gives him a "leg up" in the future conversations. He also grew up in the palace of Pharaoh. So basically, he knows that Pharaoh is not; quote a god. He's a man playing that role. So when he's invited to see that the future conversations that he's going to have with Pharaoh would take a very different turn if he thought he was talking to a god. So, just a thought.

 

Geoffrey Stern  34:38

I love that. Let my people go. I won't. I won't say it the same way again for the rest of my life. Thank you for that.

 

Michael Posnik  34:47

Thank you Geoffrey.  Shabbat Shalom.

 

Geoffrey Stern  34:49

Shabbat Shalom. Yeah, and as I intimated, we talk a lot about God hardening the heart of Pharaoh, but this was a different aspect of him that we might not necessarily think about. But I think you're absolutely correct that he was anal. In this regard, he is the definition of anal. And so it really, in that one moment of him as a person and has is him as a nation, not permitting the Jewish people, this people of slaves to go. He is the personification of what is all bad about being anal and trying to control things, right.

 

Michael Posnik  35:37

And Moshe has just come from meeting with God. And so that beautiful phrase at the end of the prayer, that I'm not able to stand in front of you in your presence, Moses was in the presence of a God.

 

Geoffrey Stern  35:56

I would just like to conclude with one more paragraph from Ernest Becker that I really liked. It says anality explains why men yearn for freedom from contradictions and ambiguities, why they like their symbols pure, their truth with a capital T. The upsetting thing about anality is that it reveals that all culture all man's creative life ways are in some basic part of them, a fabricated protest against natural reality, a denial of the truth of the human condition and an attempt to forget  the pathetic creature that man is", and ultimately, every faith system and every romance and every ideal is basically saying, Yes, I know I am that creature, and I know that the world is full of contradictions and ambiguities, but I embrace them. I'm not afraid of them. And I can live with that contradiction. So let's all have a wonderful new year. That is full of contradictions, but we are up to it. We are up to the ambiguities, and we can make beauty from it. So Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year to you all

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Genesis as Her-story

parshat vayeshev (genesis 38)

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

Genesis as Her-story

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

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

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:04

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

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

Adam Mintz  08:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  09:42

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

Adam Mintz  10:00

Charles did have something to add to that.

Charles S  10:04

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

Adam Mintz  11:58

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:54

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

Adam Mintz  19:02

Mendy What do you think?

Mendy  19:04

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:36

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

Mendy  23:20

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

Adam Mintz  23:37

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

Geoffrey Stern  26:00

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

Adam Mintz  28:28

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

Geoffrey Stern  30:21

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

Michael Stern  32:46

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

Mendy  34:21

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

Geoffrey Stern  36:09

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

Michael Stern  38:15

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

Geoffrey Stern  38:54

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

Michael Stern  40:13

Thank you

Mendy  40:14

very very appreciated.

Geoffrey Stern  40:17

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

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

Arguing with God and Man

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

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

HaMakom – Place / No Place

parshat vayetzei (genesis 28-32)

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

With “guest” appearances from Spinoza and the Kotzke Rebbe

HaMakom – Place / No Place

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

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

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:04

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

Adam Mintz  03:43

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

Geoffrey Stern  05:48

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

Adam Mintz  09:12

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

Geoffrey Stern  09:29

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

Adam Mintz  10:53

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

Geoffrey Stern  11:01

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

Adam Mintz  11:56

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:52

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

Adam Mintz  15:58

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

Geoffrey Stern  16:47

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

Adam Mintz  17:47

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:10

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

Adam Mintz  18:54

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

Geoffrey Stern  19:29

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

Adam Mintz  20:30

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:43

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

Adam Mintz  22:39

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

Geoffrey Stern  24:02

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

Michael Stern  24:54

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

Geoffrey Stern  26:34

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

Adam Mintz  28:18

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

Geoffrey Stern  28:55

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

Elise Meyer  29:34

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

Adam Mintz  29:49

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

Elise Meyer  30:06

Think of the word situation? Situation is like makom.

Adam Mintz  30:11

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

Geoffrey Stern  30:28

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

Elise Meyer  32:24

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

Adam Mintz  32:28

Thank you, Elise.

Geoffrey Stern  32:29

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

Adam Mintz  33:56

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

Geoffrey Stern  34:19

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

Adam Mintz  34:22

Amen.

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

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

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

Stolen Blessings and the Crooked Timber of Humanity

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

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

Pour out your Wrath on my Hametz

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

Listen to the madlik podcast:

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

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

 

notes

1. A Night of Watchings ליל שמרים

Exodus 12: 42

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

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

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

2.   The Four Cups – The Four stages of Redemption

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

                                                                                          וְהוֹצֵאתִ֣י אֶתְכֶ֗ם מִתַּ֙חַת֙ סִבְלֹ֣ת מִצְרַ֔יִם

  1.      and I will save you from enslavement

                                                                                                       וְהִצַּלְתִּ֥י אֶתְכֶ֖ם מֵעֲבֹדָתָ֑ם

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

     Exodus 6: 6                                                      וְגָאַלְתִּ֤י אֶתְכֶם֙ בִּזְר֣וֹעַ נְטוּיָ֔ה וּבִשְׁפָטִ֖ים גְּדֹלִֽים

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

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

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

Bless and drink the third cup of wine..

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

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

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

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

4.  Pour Out Your Love – Alternative reading

Pour out Your love on the nations that know You

And on the kingdoms that call upon Your Name

For the loving-kindness that they perform with Jacob

And their defense of the People of Israel

In the face of those that would devour them.

May they be privileged to see

The Succah of peace spread for Your chosen ones

And rejoice in the joy of Your nations.

שְׁפֹךְ אַהֲבָתְךָ עַל הַגּוֹיִים אֲשֶׁר יְדָעוּךָ

וְעַל מַמְלָכוֹת אֲשֶׁר בְּשִׁמְךָ קוֹרְאִים

בִּגְלַל חֲסָדִים שֶׁהֵם עוֹשִׂים עִם יַעֲקֹב

וּמְגִנִּים עַל עַמְּךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל מִפְּנֵי אוֹכְלֵיהֶם.

יִזְכּוּ לִרְאוֹת בְּסֻכַּת בְּחִירֶיךָ

וְלִשְׂמֹחַ בְּשִׂמְחַת גּוֹיֶיךָ.

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

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

אויל המתעה מרגיז ומחטיא        בלעהו קלעהו ועוד בל יסטיא

געול המגאל ומטנף טהורים        דחהו מחהו מלבות והרהורים

התל המהתל ומפתל ישרים        וכחהו שכחהו ולא יקומו אשרים

זבוב המארב במפתחי הלב         חנקהו נקהו ולב חדש תלבלב

טמא המזוהם ומסית להאשים    יעהו צעהו בלי ענוש בענשים 

כלי אשר כליו רעים                 לפתהו כפתהו מקום בית מרעים

מנון המפנק מנוער לאחרית       נדחהו קדחהו מהשאיר לו שארית

שאור המעפש ומבאיש העסה    עקרהו נקרהו חטא בלי לשא

פתלתל המנקש ומעקש דרכים    צרפהו ערפהו בלי היות סרוכים

קוץ המכאיב וסלון הממאיר      רעלהו העלהו כרם להפאר

שפוך מי טוהר דמים להדיח      תחטאנו באזוב תכבס ותריח

שני מתלבן עולם ונושע           ברחמים יצדיק חקר כבודם לשעשע

חוזק זרע יחשוף וישיב           וכשנים קדמוניות אותנו ישיב

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jewish

a.

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

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

b.

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

c.

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

Christian

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

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

8. You’re both right

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

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

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

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

Yossi Klein Halevi, CJN, March 11, 2013

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

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

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

[ii] Paytan

Born after c. 950

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gershom Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism

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Where is God?

Parshat Terumah

And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.  (Exodus 25, 8)

וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם

As the commentary in Etz Hayim notes: “The text does not tell of God dwelling “in it,” i.e. in the sanctuary, but “among them,” i.e., among the people of Israel.

The word Mishkan comes, afterall,  from the same root as Shochen “to rest or dwell” and is the source of the name of God which characterizes his presence Shechina.  You’d expect God to dwell in His dwelling place.. the Mishkan, but according to this verse, He dwells amongst the people.

This resonates with us moderns:  God does not inhabit an edifice of bricks and mortar; he dwells in the hearts and minds of his faithful.  For a humanist this translates into God lives inside of man.

If you’re a nutritionist like my 102 old grandmother was… this translates into:

“Your body is a temple… take care of it.”

But the challenge of God’s abode on earth has plagued theologians throughout the ages. For Jewish thinkers the question has always been. ..is God actually in the house? Is the shekina actually dwelling in our temple?

With regard to the tabernacle (mishkan) and the first temple there seemed to be a consensus that God was in the house… that the Shechina rested there.  The same cannot be said of the Second Temple.

According to modern scholars, the sects who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls lived in the desert of Qumran because they rejected the holiness of the Second Temple and they were not alone.. according to the Book of Ezra the old men who had seen the First Temple in its glory cried at the dedication of the second (Ezra 3:12) The priests were corrupt, and even after the Maccabee re-dedication there was no prophet to approve their work and no miracle to assure that the temple was the abode of God.  To add insult to injury, the Maccabees installed themselves as high priests even though they were not of the priestly line.  [1]

With regard to the propriety let alone political correctness of a Third Temple…. No need to go there…

But for classical theologians and mystics the question posed by a temple was not related to politics or signs from God… it was more basic… how can it be that God can be confined to one place?

As the Midrash says with regard to the place of Jacob’s dream of the ladder which occurred on the future location of the First and Second Temple:  “God is the place (makom) of the world, but the world is not His place” [2]

שהוא מקומו של עולם ואין עולמו מקומו

The problem is actually larger than justifying a temple or a holy place… for the mystics the problem is how to explain a finite physical world when God is infinite.  If God is the Eyn Sof … an existence that suffers no beginning and no end, how is a created world with beginnings, ends and finite dimensions, let alone “evil” permitted to exist.

The standard answer in the kabbalah .. the Jewish mystical tradition, is that of the 10 sefirot.  Everything is contained in God, but there are different emanations that shine and are reflected, in various degrees of physicality, which ultimately create a perception of a created world.

The same holds true for the temple.  There is an eternal and entirely spiritual temple which God inhabits and which inhabits God… our material tabernacle or temple is simply a reflection of that celestial temple.

When Moses is commanded to build the tabernacle in Exodus 25:9, God instructs Moses:

And see that thou make them after their pattern, which is being shown thee in the mount. (Exodus 25: 40)

וּרְאֵה, וַעֲשֵׂה:  בְּתַבְנִיתָם–אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה מָרְאֶה, בָּהָר

As the in Etz Hayim notes:  “Exactly as I show you The tabernacle and its furnishings are conceived of as earthly replicas of heavenly archetypes…  notions found earlier in the Ancient Near East and elsewhere in the bible.

According to this approach, the earthly temple is a reflection or emanation of a Celestial Temple. [3]

This concept of our Temple and prayer services mirroring the Celestrial Temple and prayer services of the Angels is institutionalized in our prayers especially the Kedusha where:

“We proclaim Your Holiness on earth as it is proclaimed in heaven above.”

נְקַדֵּשׁ אֶת שִׁמְךָ בָּעוֹלָם
כְּשֵׁם שֶׁמַּקְדִּישִׁים אוֹתוֹ בִּשְׁמֵי מָרוֹם

In the Pesikta D’Rav Kehana, [4] which was probably published first in the 8th century but contains material that dates back to (1) the times of the Midrash we find an interesting rendering of this theology.

The Holy One, blessed by He, said to Moses: If you pattern the tabernacle here below after the one in heaven above, I will leave My heavenly counselors, come down, and so shrink My presence as to fit into your midst below. (Pesikta de-Rav Kahana 1:3 see also note 43 to lecture VII Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism Gershom Scholem )

כך אמר הקב”ה למשה, משה אם אתה עשה מה של מעלה למטה אני מניח סנקליטין שלי של מעלן ויורד ומצמצם שכינתי ביניכם למטן

For anyone who has heard of Lurianic Kabbalah and the system of Tzimzum this is a truly revolutionary midrash which is the only Midrashic/Talmudic reference to Tzimzum in Rabbinic literature.

Let me explain…  According to Gershom Scholem, the preeminent authority on the development of the Kabbalah, the de facto solution to the infinite God creating a finite world and dwelling in a worldly temple was the theory of emanation, where God’s totally spiritual and infinite presence is reflected through a series of increasingly physical illuminations and reflections until the physical is possible.  This solution is not particularly philosophically satisfying since it literally kicks the can down the road… but it was the best that the mystics could do and it survived from the earliest days of the Kabbalah and Zohar until the expulsion from Spain in 1492.. close to 1,000 years after our Tzimzum midrash was written.

The expulsion from Spain disrupted Jewish thought and sensitized the mystics who went to Safed to the dialectic between Exile and Return and suffering and redemption.

Isaac Luria who lived only to the age of 38 turned the theory of emanation on its head.  According to Luria God didn’t so much as create the world and contract Himself into himself in order to permit the existence of a physical world, including matter, evil and a temple, but rather according to Scholem, Tzimtsum (contraction) as redefined by Lurianinc Kabalah “is one of the most amazing and far-reaching conceptions ever put forward in the whole history of Kabbalism.  Tsimtsum originally means “concentration” or “contraction” but if used in the Kabbalistic parlance it is best translated by “withdrawal” or “retreat”…

“Instead of emanation we have the opposite, contraction. The God who revealed himself in firm contours was superseded by one who descended deeper into the recesses of his own Being, who concentrated Himself into Himself, and had done so from the very beginning of creation.

צמצם עצמו מעצמו אל עצמו

To be sure, this view was often felt, even by those who gave it a theoretical formulation, to verge on the blasphemous.  Yet it cropped up again and again, modified only ostensibly by a feeble ‘as it were’ or ‘so to speak.’ (p 260-261)

Another way of phrasing contraction would be dimunition.  In a very real and radical way, tsimsum implies that God commits the ultimate blasphemy.. he diminished Himself.. the Godhead.

Tsimsum is a variation on the old conundrum… If all powerful God can make anything… can he make a weight that is too heavy for Him to lift?  In the case of tzimzum the answer is Yes.  God can diminish himself to a point that He alone cannot repair the damage…. As it were.

It is clear to me that tsimzum is a dialectical process.  Just as in our original midrash, God withdraws from the celestial temple to concentrate into the temporal temple. And when God withdraws he leaves traces of his holiness called Reshimu or residue.  Luria provides a metaphor of the residue of oil or wine in a bottle the contents of which have been poured out.  And this process is not smooth it is disruptive to the point that Luria coined a term “Breaking of the vessels” Shevirat haKelim.

When God contracts the vessel, so to speak, that holds him is ruptured into pieces.  Both the residue (Rashimu) and broken pieces contain remnants of the infinite, but God is removed, exiled and separated from these remnants and only man can unite God with these broken pieces and this….  is Tikun.

This is the mysitical concept of Tikkun Olam, fixing the world. What it has in common with the social action concept of Tikku Olam is that both are dependent on Man.

Getting back to our Temple… we now come full circle and have a radically humanistic conception of God’s presence in our world.

God’s dwelling in the Mishkan is exclusively dependent on man.  The Tabernacle and Temple are a poetic dance between God and man, exile and return, suffering and redemption… of both man and God.  The vision of Jews praying outside of the temple, willingly withdrawing from the temple looks less absurd.

The Kotzke Rebbe’s answer to the question of “Where is God?” makes more sense and is empowering at the same time.

“Where is God?  Wherever we let Him in.”

—————————–

[1] See Cohen, Cohen, Shaye J. D., From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Westminster John Knox Press, 1988. pp 98 and 131

“The second temple… although authorized by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, was built by a gentile king and was never authenticated by an overt sign of divine favor.  ….

But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, the old men that had seen the first house standing on its foundation, wept with a loud voice, when this house was before their eyes; and many shouted aloud for joy.

וְרַבִּים מֵהַכֹּהֲנִים וְהַלְוִיִּם וְרָאשֵׁי הָאָבוֹת הַזְּקֵנִים, אֲשֶׁר רָאוּ אֶת-הַבַּיִת הָרִאשׁוֹן בְּיָסְדוֹ–זֶה הַבַּיִת בְּעֵינֵיהֶם, בֹּכִים בְּקוֹל גָּדוֹל; וְרַבִּים בִּתְרוּעָה בְשִׂמְחָה, לְהָרִים קוֹל

[2]

 “ר’ הונא בשם ר’ אמי אמר: מפני מה מכנין שמו של הקב”ה וקורין אותו “מקום”? שהוא מקומו של עולם ואין עולמו מקומו” – בראשית רבה, ס”ח, י’

[3] See Chronicles 28:11 and for a comprehensive review of this literature see:

The Celestial Temple as viewed in the Aggadah by Victor Aptowitzer found in Studies in Jewish Thought ed Joseph Dan  – January 1, 1989 Greenwood Publishing Group – Publisher

[4] Undoubtedly the core content of the Pesikta is very old, and must be classed together with Genesis Rabbah and Lamentations Rabbah. But the proems in the Pesikta, developed from short introductions to the exposition of the Scripture text into more independent homiletic structures, as well as the mastery of form apparent in the final formulas of the proems, indicate that the Pesikta belongs to a higher stage of midrashic development. According to Strack & Stemberger (1991), the text of the current Pesikta was probably not finally fixed until its first printing, presumably in S. Buber’s edition. Zunz gives a date of composition of 700 CE, but other factors argue for a date of composition in 5th or early 6th century (Strack & Stemberger 1991).

This post was originally presented as a “Kavanah” class at TCS of Westport Connecticut in 2015.  For a variation on this theme and treatment of the materials, see The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion, Genesis and Exodus Paperback – September 1, 2017 by Rabbi Shai Held , see: Being Present While Making Space Or, Two Meanings of Tzimtzum

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Ha lachma

הָא לַחְמָא עַנְיָא דִּי אֲכָלוּ אַבְהָתָנָא בְאַרְעָא דְמִצְרָיִם.

Ha – This is the bread of destitution that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.

We begin the Seder in the vernacular. Aramaic – the lingua Franca of the Middle East and the first international language. How fitting for a story that spans so many generations, crosses so many borders and has inspired liberation for so many that it starts in a language which is supra-national. But the story of liberation transcends even language. We actually begin the Haggadah with a sound, or to be more precise, a breath. Ha We begin the seder/Exodus with the sound of the letter Heh, a sound that according to our tradition and many other ancient traditions, requires no movement of the tongue and therefore has the same meaning in any tongue.  According to our tradition God began creation with the sound of the letter Hey…

These are the generations of the heaven and of the earth w-he-n they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven. (Genesis 2:4)

אֵלֶּה תוֹלְדוֹת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ, בְּהִבָּרְאָם:  בְּיוֹם, עֲשׂוֹת יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים–אֶרֶץ וְשָׁמָיִם

When they were created – BeHebaram – Rabbi Abahu in the name of Rabbi Yochanan said: BeHibaram, With [the letter] Hey He created. And what is this Hey? All the letters require the tongue and this [the Hey] does not require the tongue. Similarly, it was not with effort and not with toil that the Holy One created the world, rather, (Psalms 33:6) “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.” Bereshit Rabbah 12:10

 בהבראם – ר’ אבהו בשם ר’ יוחנן אמר: בהבראם, בה’ בראם. ומה ה’ זה, כל האותיות תופסין את הלשון וזה אינו תופס את הלשון, כך לא בעמל ולא ביגיעה ברא הקדוש ברוך הוא את עולמו, אלא, (שם לג): בדבר ה’ וכבר שמים נעשו

 

Unlike Divine creation, human liberation requires a lot of preparation and work. God created the world and presumably redeemed us from Egypt without effort. One imagines God effortlessly  passing over the homes of the Hebrews.  Pesach – Passed Over – פסח

For the Hebrews, there was much pain, suffering, and physical and spiritual travail before the Exodus just as prior to a seder much physical and spiritual cleaning and other preparations are necessary.  According to tradition, the Hebrews left Egypt with great effort…  פִּסֵחַ limping… a different type of breath… maybe an in-breath.

But as the seder begins, maybe the aramaic text is inviting us to stop, gather our thoughts and center ourselves and exhale… before we begin our personal Exodus.

http://www.sefaria.org/sheets/33182?embed=1

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Where is God?

Parshat Terumah

And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.  (Exodus 25, 8)

וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם

As the commentary in Etz Hayim notes: “The text does not tell of God dwelling “in it,” i.e. in the sanctuary, but “among them,” i.e., among the people of Israel.

Similarly, with regard to the First Temple and as memorialized on the Haftorah selection:

in that I will dwell therein among the children of Israel, and will not forsake My people Israel.’

וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְלֹא אֶעֱזֹב, אֶת-עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל

This resonates with us moderns:  God does not inhabit an edifice of bricks and mortar; he dwells in the hearts and minds of his faithful.  For a humanist this translates into God lives inside of man. Dare we attribute such an enlightened interpretation to our forebears?

For classical  theologians and mystics the question posed by a temple was more basic… how can it be that God can be confined to one place… any place?

By tradition, Jacob’s dream of the ladder with ascending and descending angels  occurred at The Place (מקום) of the future First and Second Temple.  the Rabbis assert:

“God is the place (makom) of the world, but the world is not His place” [1]

“שהוא מקומו של עולם ואין עולמו מקומו”

For the mystics the bigger problem is how to explain a finite physical world when God is infinite.  If God is the Eyn Sof … an existence that suffers no beginning and no end, how is a created world with beginnings, ends and finite dimensions, let alone “evil” permitted to exist.

The standard answer in the kabbalah .. the Jewish mystical tradition, is that of the 10 sefirot.  Everything is contained in God, but there are different emanations that shine and are reflected, in various degrees of physicality, which ultimately create a perception of a created world.

The same holds true for the temple.  There is an eternal and entirely spiritual temple which God inhabits and which inhabits God… our material temple is simply a reflection of that celestial temple.

When Moses is commanded to build the tabernacle in Exodus 25:9, God instructs Moses:

And see that thou make them after their pattern, which is being shown thee in the mount. (Exodus 25: 40)

וּרְאֵה, וַעֲשֵׂה:  בְּתַבְנִיתָם–אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה מָרְאֶה, בָּהָר

 

As the Etz Hayim notes:  “Exactly as I show you The tabernacle and its furnishings are conceived of as earthly replicas of heavenly archetypes… ”

According to this approach, the earthly temple is a reflection or emanation of a Celestial Temple. [2]

This concept of our Temple and services mirroring the Celestial Temple and prayer services of the Angels is institutionalized in our prayers especially the Kedusha where:

“We proclaim Your Holiness on earth as it is proclaimed in heaven above.” (see Siddur Sim Shalom p. 357)

נְקַדֵּשׁ אֶת שִׁמְךָ בָּעוֹלָם
כְּשֵׁם שֶׁמַּקְדִּישִׁים אוֹתוֹ בִּשְׁמֵי מָרוֹם
כַּכָּתוּב עַל יַד נְבִיאֶךָ

 

In the Pesikta D’Rav Kehana, which contains material that dates back to the times of the Midrash (3rd and 4th century) we find an fascinating rendering of this theology.

The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: If you pattern the tabernacle here below after the one in heaven above, I will leave My heavenly counselors, come down, and so shrink My presence as to fit into your midst below. (Pesikta de-Rav Kahana 1:3)

כך אמר הב”ה למשה, משה אם אתה עשה מה של מעלה למטה אני מניח סנקליטין שלי של מעלן ויורד ומצמצם שכינתי ביניכם למטן.

For anyone who has heard of Lurianic Kabbalah and the system of Tzimtzum this is a truly revolutionary midrash and the only Midrashic/Talmudic reference to the Tzimtzum of God in Rabbinic literature.

Let me explain…  According to Gershom Scholem, the preeminent authority on the development of the Kabbalah, the de facto solution to the infinite God creating a finite world conundrum; not to mention His dwelling in a wordly temple, was the theory of emanation. In the theory of emanation God’s totally spiritual and infinite presence is reflected through a series of increasingly degraded and physical illuminations and reflections until the physical is possible.

This solution is philosophically unsatisfying since it literally kicks the can down the road… but it was the best that the mystics could do and it survived from the earliest days of the Kabbalah and Zohar until the expulsion from Spain in 1492… close to 1,000 years after our Tzimzum midrash was written.

The expulsion from Spain disrupted Jewish thought and sensitized the mystics to the dialectic between Exile and Return and suffering and redemption.

Isaac Luria who lived only to the age of 38 turned the theory of emanation on it’s head.  According to Luria, God didn’t so much as create the physical world as He contracted Himself into Himself in order to permit the existence of a physical world, including matter, evil and … a temple.

In my view, this emanation on-it’s-head approach is as philosophically unsatisfying as emanation.  It begs the same question.  But from a poetic, humanist, existential let alone pedagogic perspective it is stellar.  Any parent who learns to step back in order to permit a child to move forward will appreciate Tzimtzum!

According to Scholem, Tzimtzum (contraction) “is one of the most amazing and far-reaching conceptions ever put forward in the whole history of Kabbalism.  Tzimtzum originally means “concentration” or “contraction” but if used in the Kabbalistic parlance it is best translated by “withdrawal” or “retreat”…

“Instead of emanation we have the opposite, contraction. The God who revealed himself in firm contours was superseded by one who descended deeper into the recesses of his own Being, who concentrated Himself into Himself, and had done so from the very beginning of creation.

צמצם עצמו מעצמו אל עצמו

To be sure, this view was often felt, even by those who gave it a theoretical formulation, to verge on the blasphemous.  Yet it cropped up again and again, modified only ostensibly by a feeble ‘as it were’ or ‘so to speak.’ (p 260-261)

Another way of phrasing contraction would be diminution.  In a very real and radical way, tzimtzum implies that God commits the ultimate blasphemy/sin.. he diminished Himself.. the Godhead.

Tzimtzum is a variation on the old conundrum… If an all powerful God can make anything… can He make a weight that is too heavy for He Himself to lift?  In the case of tzimtzum the answer is Yes.  God can diminish himself to a point that He alone cannot repair the damage…. As it were.

It is clear to me that tzimtzum is a dialectical process.  As in our original midrash, God withdraws from the celestial temple to concentrate into the temporal temple. And, according to Luria, when God withdraws He leaves [concentrated] traces of His holiness called Reshimu or residue similar to the residue of oil or wine in a bottle the contents of which have been poured out.  The process is not smooth, it is disruptive to the point that Luria coined a term “Breaking of the vessels” Shevirat haKelim to refer to this big bang of contraction.

When God contracts, the vessel that holds Him is ruptured into pieces.  Both the residue and broken pieces contain remnants of the infinite. God is removed, exiled (c.f. “the Divine Presence in Exile” –  שכינתא בגלותאand separated from these remnants and only man can unite God by repairing these broken pieces and this is redemption – Tikun.

This is the mystical concept of Tikkun Olam, fixing the world. What it has in common with the social-action concept of Tikkun Olam is that both are thoroughly dependent on Man.

Getting back to our Temple…

We now come full circle and have a radically humanistic conception of God’s presence in our world.. hinted at first by the Rabbis of the Fourth Century Midrash and flushed out in a radical theology by a 30 year old decedent of refugees from the Spanish inquisition in Safed.

God’s dwelling in the Mishkan is dependent on man.  The tabernacle and Temple represent a poetic dance between God and man, exile and return, suffering and redemption… for both parties.  The vision of Jews and God outside of the temple, willingly withdrawing from the temple appears less absurd.

The Kotzke Rebbe’s answer to the question “Where is God?” is both empowering and obligating.

“Where is God?  Wherever we let Him in.”

——————————

[1]

 “ר’ הונא בשם ר’ אמי אמר: מפני מה מכנין שמו של הקב”ה וקורין אותו “מקום”? שהוא מקומו של עולם ואין עולמו מקומו” – בראשית רבה, ס”ח, י’

[2] For a comprehensive review of this literature see:

The Celestial Temple as viewed in the Aggadah by Victor Aptowitzer found in Binah: Volume I; Studies in Jewish History (Washington Papers) Paperback – June 6, 1989 PRAEGER, NY Westport, CT, London

tzimtzum

 

 

 

 

tzimzum -pesikta drav kehana 1

 

tzimzum -pesikta drav kehana 2
tzimzum -pesikta drav kehana English

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