Category Archives: prayer

body language

parshat miketz, genesis 41-42

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

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

Transcript:

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

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Well, welcome Rabbi and Happy Hanukkah.

Adam Mintz  01:14

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

Geoffrey Stern  01:20

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

Adam Mintz  03:46

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

Geoffrey Stern  03:59

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

Adam Mintz  05:57

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

Geoffrey Stern  06:30

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

Adam Mintz  08:19

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

Geoffrey Stern  08:45

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

Adam Mintz  10:30

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

Geoffrey Stern  10:44

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

Adam Mintz  12:44

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:56

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

Adam Mintz  13:53

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

Geoffrey Stern  14:31

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

Adam Mintz  16:59

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

Geoffrey Stern  17:15

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

Adam Mintz  19:12

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

Geoffrey Stern  19:26

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

Adam Mintz  20:19

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:50

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

Adam Mintz  22:36

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

Geoffrey Stern  23:19

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

Adam Mintz  26:49

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

Geoffrey Stern  27:02

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

Adam Mintz  28:05

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

Geoffrey Stern  28:22

It really is.

Adam Mintz  28:23

It’s an elaboration of that verse.

Geoffrey Stern  28:26

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

Adam Mintz  30:05

Right… that’s what they were worried about

Geoffrey Stern  30:05

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

Adam Mintz  32:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:23

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

Adam Mintz  33:29

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

Geoffrey Stern  34:06

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

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

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

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Lost & Found in Translation

parshat toldot – Genesis 25 -28

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

Adam Mintz  01:18

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

Geoffrey Stern  01:27

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

Adam Mintz  03:55

I’m with you. It’s a great topic.

Geoffrey Stern  03:57

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

Adam Mintz  10:17

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

Geoffrey Stern  10:35

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

Adam Mintz  14:06

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

Geoffrey Stern  14:43

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

Adam Mintz  17:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:05

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

Adam Mintz  20:36

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

Geoffrey Stern  21:32

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

Adam Mintz  22:56

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

Geoffrey Stern  23:41

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

Adam Mintz  25:03

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:30

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

Adam Mintz  27:27

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

Geoffrey Stern  28:45

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

Adam Mintz  30:39

That’s fanatstic… that’s great.

Geoffrey Stern  30:40

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

Euro Maestro  31:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:29

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

34:05

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

Geoffrey Stern  34:22

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

Euro Maestro  35:18

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

Geoffrey Stern  36:00

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

Euro Maestro  36:22

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

Geoffrey Stern  36:47

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

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

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

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God Believes

parshat ha’azinu – deuteronomy 32

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

Adam Mintz  02:59

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

Geoffrey Stern  03:45

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

Adam Mintz  04:45

I’m ready. Fantastic. I love it.

Geoffrey Stern  04:47

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

Adam Mintz  08:23

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

Geoffrey Stern  09:53

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

Adam Mintz  13:05

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

Geoffrey Stern  14:02

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

Adam Mintz  16:31

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

Geoffrey Stern  17:17

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

Adam Mintz  19:06

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:12

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

Adam Mintz  21:09

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

Geoffrey Stern  21:35

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

Adam Mintz  22:51

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

Geoffrey Stern  23:03

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

Adam Mintz  24:25

We believe in.

Geoffrey Stern  24:26

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

Adam Mintz  24:57

That’s what he said?

Geoffrey Stern  24:58

That’s what he said…

Adam Mintz  24:59

That’s pretty funny.

Geoffrey Stern  25:00

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

Adam Mintz  25:52

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

Geoffrey Stern  26:23

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

Adam Mintz  28:15

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

Geoffrey Stern  28:32

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

Adam Mintz  30:26

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:25

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

Adam Mintz  32:01

Shabbat Shalom be Well, bye bye.

Geoffrey Stern  32:04

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

Mathew Landau  32:12

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

Geoffrey Stern  33:22

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

Mathew Landau  37:21

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

Geoffrey Stern  37:43

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

Mathew Landau  38:52

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

Geoffrey Stern  39:30

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

Mathew Landau  40:43

Okay, excellent.

Geoffrey Stern  40:45

Okay, Shabbat shalom, everybody. Bye bye.

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First Fruits – First Prayers

parshat ki tavo – Deuteronomy 26

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

Adam Mintz  02:34

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

Geoffrey Stern  03:22

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

Adam Mintz  04:28

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

Geoffrey Stern  04:46

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

Adam Mintz  08:48

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

Geoffrey Stern  10:10

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

Adam Mintz  11:27

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

Geoffrey Stern  11:51

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

Adam Mintz  12:36

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

Geoffrey Stern  13:00

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

Adam Mintz  14:09

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

Geoffrey Stern  15:24

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

Adam Mintz  18:50

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

Geoffrey Stern  19:00

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

Adam Mintz  20:00

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:22

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

Adam Mintz  20:26

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:31

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

Adam Mintz  21:28

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

Geoffrey Stern  22:12

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

Adam Mintz  25:20

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:30

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

Adam Mintz  26:12

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

Geoffrey Stern  28:37

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

Adam Mintz  30:36

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:01

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

Adam Mintz  32:14

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:20

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

Adam Mintz  32:50

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:57

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

Miriam Gonczarska  33:08

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

Geoffrey Stern  33:32

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

Miriam Gonczarska  33:39

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

Geoffrey Stern  34:07

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

34:42

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

Geoffrey Stern  36:05

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

Miriam Gonczarska  36:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  36:15

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

Miriam Gonczarska  36:26

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

Geoffrey Stern  37:07

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

Miriam Gonczarska  37:23

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

Geoffrey Stern  37:41

As you should have been.

Miriam Gonczarska  37:43

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

Geoffrey Stern  37:47

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

Miriam Gonczarska  37:56

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

Geoffrey Stern  38:14

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

Miriam Gonczarska  38:17

Bye bye.

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Nachshon

parshat bamidbar, numbers 1

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse recorded June 2nd 2022 as we meet a man named Nachshon ben Aminadav. A man with only an insignificant walk-on role in the text of the Torah but an iconic presence in Jewish religious and secular thought, culture and mythology.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/410450

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Join us today as we meet a man who is hardly mentioned in the text of the Torah but whose singular action, on one day in history has kindled the imagination of scholars, rebels, social activists and leaders alike.  So take of your shoes and prepare to dip you toe into a stream called Nachshon.

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So welcome to Madlik. And you might all be wondering; we are starting a new book. It’s called Bamidbar, and it’s called Numbers. And we are going to be talking about the Exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea. And you might be saying to yourself, why are we going to do that? And it’s because one of the most famous stories of the Exodus doesn’t actually appear in the text, as I said in the introduction, and we learn about it only by things that happen in the book of a Bamidbar. So without further ado, let’s discover the source of this amazing story. So in Numbers 1, it talks about very specifically on the first day of the second month in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt. God spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai in the tent of meeting saying, take a census of the whole Israelite company of fighters by the clans of its ancestral  homes, listing the names every male head to head, you and Aaron shall record them by their groups from the age of 20 on up, so basically what we’re doing is we’re working on the draft, and they go through this and in verse 5, it says, These are the names of the participants who shall assist you: These are the names of the participants of each tribe that will assist you.The head of each tribe was going to assist in taking this census. From Reuben, Elizur son of Shedeur. (6) From Simeon, Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai. From Judah, Nahshon son of Amminadab., Our boy, this is the first actual mention of him in the Torah. And then it continues and he’s not at the top of the list. Then on in numbers 2, it says they camped in the front or east side of the standard division of Judah to by troop chieftain of the tribe of Nahshon son of Amminadab., , his troop was 74,600. So again, it mentions with no great gravity no great sense of literary or legendary merit. He’s mentioned as the head of the tribe. And then in number 7, which will read in a few weeks is the fourth mention and there it says, And for His sacrifice of well being two oxen, five rams, five he goats and five yearling lambs. This was the offering of Nahshon son of Amminadab. In Numbers 7: 12, we get the only point where he is singled out. And it says in 7: 12, the one who presented his offering on the first day was Nahshon son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah. So clearly, Rabbi, there are two things that we already have to take note of. One is the tribe of Judah is a pretty important tribe, you’re going to be talking about the story of Ruth, and what conversion is all about on Shavuos night. That’s the tribe of Judah. That’s the tribe of King David, it starts with Judah, and it ends for those who believe in the Messiah with the Messiah. The other thing that we notice is that while in a few places he’s not mentioned at the top of the list, in 7: 12, of numbers, it says on the first day, Nahshon son of Amminadab gave the sacrifice, and this I believe, is one of the main triggers to explain how did this guy get to the front of the list? Am I right in saying we don’t know a lot about Nahshon?

Adam Mintz  04:44

You are 100% Right? The Rabbi’s really like Nahshon. Maybe that’s something we’re gonna talk about. Why do the rabbi’s like Nahshon so much? But he made them into a hero. There’s nothing in the text that makes him into a hero but They make him into a hero.

Geoffrey Stern  05:02

So for those of you who don’t know why he became a hero, this story about Nahshon, I think is right up there with the story of Abraham smashing the idols, where so many people have heard this story, they probably believe it is part of the text of the Torah, but it’s not. And in short, the story is, and we’re gonna read the text of it in a little bit, but I want to give it away so we can understand the importance here is that Moses and the children of Israel are at the Sea of Reeds, the Egyptian army is to their rear, and there is a sea in front of them. And the Egyptian army is coming fast. And Moses is praying, and nothing is happening. And all of a sudden, this guy Nahshon, so the story goes, puts his toe into the water, and it splits. And he’s responsible for getting us across. And that’s, I think, the common sense, the common way that we probably know this pretty Pinnacle story. And you’ve got to ask you’re question, unlike Abraham, that the story of the idols is one of many stories and we know him intimately. This guy, Nahshon we know nothing about, except that he was the head of this pack. And that’s a little bit of one side of the question we’re going to delve with tonight. And the other is so what did they make of this Tabula rasa? What did they make of this ink blot? What did we project onto this guy Nachshon that made him so important? Do you think, Rabbi that Nachshon, if you if you had to get the five great stories of Judaism? Is it right there?

Adam Mintz  06:59

No question become the most famous story that I’m sure you’re going to talk about? How in Israel, you know, they play on the story, right? I mean, it’s just such a well-known story.

Geoffrey Stern  07:13

So unlike the story about Abraham, where there’s no one who says no, that didn’t happen. If you go to Sota 36b, which is where this whole story comes from. Actually, no one even agrees about this story. It says what was the incident with Judah sanctified God’s name in public. Rabbi Mayer would say when the Jewish people stood at the Red Sea, the tribes were arguing with one another, this one saying, I’m going into the sea first, this one saying I’m going into the sea first, then in jumped the tribe of Benjamin, and descended into the sea first. And the princes of the tribe of Judah was stoning them for plunging in first and not in the proper order. Therefore, Benjamin, the righteous was privileged to serve as the host of the Divine Presence. It seems the temple is on the land of shevet Benjamin. And then Rabbi Yehuda said to Rabbi Meir, that’s not what happened. Rather, this tribe said, I’m going to go into the sea first and that one said, I’m gonna go into the sea first. Then in jumped, the prince of Judah, Tabula rasa. Notice with Benjamin it didn’t have a person’s name. They just the whole tribe jumped in. Well here with Judah, we got a guy Nahshon son of Amminadab, and he descended into the sea first accompanied by his entire tribe. And it says that Nachshon prayer at that moment was: Save me, God; for the waters are come in even unto the soul. I am sunk in deep mire, where there is no standing…let not the water flood overwhelm me, neither let the deep swallow me up” (Psalms 69:2–3, 16) And that’s a quote from Psalms. And then I think we get to one of the biggest punch lines. At that time, Moses was prolonging his prayer, he was מַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה and the Holy One, blessed be He said to him, My beloved ones are drowning in the sea, and you prolong your prayer to me, the conversation goes on. But from even the source text, we learn two things. One is that there’s no consensus that this is actually what happened. And 2 this Nachshon is someone who clearly has a presence and has been picked out as a personality as opposed to the other story, which is just about a tribe. And he is counter distinct from Moses. What he did was the opposite of what Moses did. Moses was מַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה. He was praying long and hard, and Naloxone made a short prayer And did the deed, do you think and I read this story afresh this week? And I was struck by those kinds of facts. When you look at the text,

Adam Mintz  10:09

The first interesting thing, is that Nachshon is the individual, while the tribe of Binyomin is the tribe, why did they move from tribe back to individual?

Geoffrey Stern  10:23

I think it’s part of the story became one of leadership for sure. And I said that in the intro,

Adam Mintz  10:30

Something like that you can’t have a tribe being a leader, you need to have an individual being a leader, that, to me is super interesting, that tribe wasn’t, wasn’t courageous enough to do it on its own. But you came to the individual and Nachshon shown as the first one.

Geoffrey Stern  10:48

So that’s one thing. And but of course, by having an individual, it focuses on both as an individual, but it permits this kind of ….

Adam Mintz  10:58

Of course, what you said was right, and that is that it’s his tribe, and his tribe is Yehudah. And Yehudah, is the famous tribe. And that’s what King David comes from. And that’s where the story of Ruth comes from. And that’s the important tribe. So that’s not by accident, that the hero is probably the most important tribe.

Geoffrey Stern  11:15

But you also get this dialectic now this conflict between individuals, because Moses is Moses and Moses is מַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה. I mean, typically מַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה,, someone who spends his time carefully at prayer. That would be something that would be to their credit, would it not, but here it is clearly, in a sense, derogatory, it’s not the right time.

Adam Mintz  11:40

Why is that? Why does it say that Moshe is מַאֲרִיךְ בִּתְפִלָּה? And why is it no good?  I have a different question, why is that an important part of the story? It’s that Moshe doesn’t take the leadership, Moshe thinks, just pray and everything will be okay. And Nachshon is the counter to that, that you need to actually take leadership and jump in. Right? Isn’t that the point of the story?

Geoffrey Stern  12:09

I think that’s why this story has kind of touched so many people, we’re gonna see how it touched secular Jews, and Zionists and historians. But the fact that here, unlike Korach, and unlike other people who have taken a different route than Moses, here, the guy is put at the front of the list. And here, Moses, in a sense, is told either what you are doing now, or the leadership qualities that you have are not the right, leadership qualities for this moment. And there’s a time to act. And there’s a time to pray. And this clearly was a time to act. And I think that’s part of what makes this story. So, so powerful.

Adam Mintz  13:00

I think that’s right. And praying is the opposite of acting. You see, that’s not always true, by the way, you don’t think about when you pray that you’re not acting, you said there’s a time for prayer, there’s a time for action. But in this story, they’re competing with one another. Either you pray or you act, praying is wrong, what you need to do is you need to act. So we That’s great. By the way, that’s great.

Geoffrey Stern  13:28

So we are going to touch upon different aspects of how this hardly mentioned character is so flushed out by the text, but one thing that we can’t disregard is his name. Nachshon itself is very similar to nachash, which is snake and for those of you who remember the story of the Garden of Eden of the so-called Fall, snakes are not typically associated with the good guy, even in the tribe of Judah, who naturally is a direct descendant of, we have the story of Yehuda and Tamar, the harlot at the side of the road that we’ve touched upon. So there’s an aspect of Nachshon, which not only does he disagree with Moses, but his name and his tribal heritage. He is kind of an outlier. He is kind of a contra. And again, he’s only featured in this story. So you have to focus a little bit on well, maybe there’s a time and a place for such a being, but what do you think of his name?

Adam Mintz  14:42

The nachash is kind of cunning and shrewd and dishonest, right? Nachshon actually doesn’t have that. You don’t. Right. He’s not dishonest in any way. He’s not true. He actually has a different kind of personality. He’s kind of courageous. He’s aggressive he does. You know, it’s I wonder about the connection to the name.

Geoffrey Stern  15:10

So you find very few connections to nachash that I’ve seen there is clearly the connection to the storied history. of Yehudah the patriarch, the person, and Tamar and all of that stuff. But what you do get is a lot of question about the name, it seems to strike the biblical commentators as a strange name. So if you look at Bamidbar Raba. And remember, we’re talking about a guy who features in the Exodus, but all of the material on him is in our parshiot here in Barmidbar it says Nachshon the son of Aminadav of the tribe of Judah. Why was he called by the name of Nachshon, because he was the first to plunge into the Nachshal of the sea, the billow of the sea, I guess a billow is what you pump to light a fire or a furnace, Rabbi Shimon Ben Yohai explained the holy one blessing me he said to Moses, he was sanctified My name by the sea shall be the first to present his offering. And that was Nachshon. So there is this play and this explanation that you allow to change one letter for another so Nachshon can become a Nachshal. But again, there’s this effort to link his name back to this story. And to turn it into a good, it’s fascinating. I was looking at a wonderful series of books, Louis Ginsberg, The legends of the Jews and in a footnote, he writes the following. The story of naloxone is derived from the similarity of the named Nachshon to the word Nachshal, billow. Hence, this legend does not reflect the self-sacrificing character of the patriarchal house during the second century, as suggestion by Oppenheim, in HaHoker. Now I’ll admit to you folks, I only have one week to prepare for this. So I didn’t have an opportunity to research Oppenheim and HaOker. But I can assure you that he was one of 1000s of historians and academics who have tried to understand this story, this Midrash from the politics of the day. And what Ginsburg is saying is he’s arguing with that. And he’s saying, actually, the story was derived from the name and not the name from the story. But the point is that we have a little bit of an insight into everywhere, Nachshon Ben Aminadav is mentioned. There is a projection of what we believe was responsible for this story, for his fame, and for his longevity, in our legend, I just find that fascinating.

Adam Mintz  18:24

Well, let’s, first of all, it’s fascinating. And the Ginsburg series is amazing. I, you know, I find that interesting, because it seems to be like there’s a very conscious attempt to say, and his name is not like nachash. He looks for another word that similar but it’s not nachash Because somehow the story from the Garden of Eden doesn’t seem to reconcile well with the story of Nachshon.

Geoffrey Stern  18:53

I think you’re right. When I think of NAC shown, I think of the y son and the evil son of the Haggadah, where, if you look at some hagadot, the, the wise son is dressed in a suit and tie and the evil son is dressed like a bum. And then if you go to the kibbutz, you see that the wise son is dressed like a farmer, and the wicked son is dressed like a capitalist in a suit and tie. There’s a little bit of a switch here as to whether he was good or we was tainted. And here’s something as unbelievably fascinating that I found the Vilna Gaon on Seder Olam Rabba says, Nachshon Ben Aminadav died in the second year, because he was not mentioned except on the first journey. במסע שניה לא הוזכר on the second journey he was not mentioned, but died in the graves of Lust because he was one of the officers in the camp. We all remember the series that we did on the meat of lust. But this is an unbelievable diyuk. I can call it anything else that the Vilna Gon is saying not only is this guy mentioned just very rarely, but even in terms of the procession of the princes, he only appears in the first one, he must have died. And maybe you can help me rabbi. He was one of the officers in the camp. I mean, did every officer in the camp die? And was he held responsible for what happened at the the graves of lust? Or is there an insinuation here that maybe he succumbed to the basar Te’eva,

Adam Mintz  20:48

such as simulate attenuation? I’ll just tell you something for one second, the tau LRA. At the beginning of the of the story of the tribes, tells you who the different heads of the tribes are, who were the who were the spies, and the heads of the of the tribes went L’matehYehudah Caleb Ben Yefuna? Now, that’s just 13 chapters later, all of a sudden there’s a new head of, of Judah. And I think what that tradition is saying is what happened to Nachshon ben Aminadav. He must die because all the heads of the tribes got the guy got the position, but he didn’t get the position. It must be because he died.

Geoffrey Stern  21:39

So our story… This is getting more complicated. But right now there’s one aspect of it that has tickled my imagination, and I sense the imagination of Jews over history. And that was he stood up to Moses, he acted when Moses prayed. But there’s another element here that we can’t disregard, and that is that he’s a one hit player that I said in the intro on a certain day in a certain place, he acted and went down in history. And this Vilna Gaon Diyuk supports that, that not only did the act at the splitting of the sea only occur once, but his part of our story was short lived as well. And maybe he wasn’t capable of more great deeds. But it definitely reminds you of these great pieces of Talmud that says, and I’ll quote, the most famous one in Avbodah Zora that says Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said There is one who acquires his share in the World-to-Come only after many years of toil, and there is one who acquires his share in the World-to-Come in one moment. , יש קונה עולמו בכמה שנים ויש קונה עולמו בשעה אחת. And I think that also is something that is so fascinating and empowering by the story of Nachshon.

Adam Mintz  23:26

I would agree with you, And you’re right. I mean, if we think about Jewish history, we think about biblical history. The Bible is literally filled with these people who have one moment. And if you think about the story of Ruth, that whole story is one moment. We don’t know about those people in Ruth any other time. They have one story about them. Most people have one story. The number of people who have careers of greatness are very few and far between. Because that’s really what you’re talking about. You’re talking about Moses who has a career of greatness, and Nachshon ben Aminadav who has a moment of greatness.

Geoffrey Stern  24:09

I didn’t realize you were gonna take it that way. But that’s really an interesting way to take it. And that is that Nachshon has a moment. Now, he obviously was an important person, because he was the head of the tribe of Judah. But the Gemora that says that he didn’t make it until the second year suggests that he was the head of the tribe of Judah, he was recognized, but he was recognized for such a brief moment that he didn’t he didn’t have what I’m calling a career of greatness. He just really had a moment of greatness. And you know, there are similar Midrashim that talk about Rob Eliezer Ben Yaakov in Perkei Avot says, He who performs one commandment acquires for himself and advocate and he who commits one transgression acquires for himself when accuser. It says he used to say more precious is one hour of repentance. I mean, you know, some of us who know the gamut of Jewish life, kind of snicker when we see the Chabad mitzvah tank putting Tephilin on people. But the basis of that is it’s one mitzvah, the Rebbe used to say let women light the candles, take that one mitzvah, and I think it comes from this concept as well. As yes, there’s this 613 mitzvot, but that can become overwhelming. And then there are those that can get it in one mitzvah. And I think that’s a beautiful lesson from Nachshon as well, So I want to go into the, into the into the present, I want to move forward in time. And as you know, one of the things I love to do on Madlik is look at Israeli vernacular, look at the language spoken in Hebrew. And the word Nachson means a daring pioneer Nashanut means pioneering Nachshoni means someone who is adventurous, you know, some people become a verb, Nachshon ben Aminadav became a verb. And so there was this adventurous spirit too. This is casting away concerns maybe, maybe living on the wild side, maybe taking a risk. And that too enters into it. And I respect the genius of our language. And you’ve got to respect that as a commentary as well.

Adam Mintz  26:41

That is fantastic. I mean, it would be interesting to trace it, you know, there’s the famous Hebrew dictionary. It’s a Hebrew only dictionary that I bought many, many years ago. It’s the Ben Yehuda dictionary, you know that Eliezer Ben Yehuda was famous we know he’s famous because it’s an important Street in Jerusalem. It’s called Ben Yehuda Street. And there’s an important Street in Tel Aviv that’s called Ben Yehuda Street. Ben Yehuda was the father of modern Hebrew. He was the one who really introduced the idea that Hebrew was not just a biblical language, but it needed to be a spoken language. And it would be interesting to see the history of the word Nachshon, when exactly did it become, as you say, a verb? When did it become part of the language? And I think there are military efforts that are called Nachshon, isn’t that right.

Geoffrey Stern  27:33

Well, that’s a great segue. And before I get into those military actions, I just wanted to say that I decided this week that if I ever went back to academia and got myself a  PhD, It would be the history of Nachshon.

Adam Mintz  27:53

Tat’s the most important part. You have a dissertation topic. Yeah, everything else is easy.

Geoffrey Stern  27:58

There you go. So here’s the military campaigns. The most well known operation Naloxone was a Hagana operation in the 1948 War of Independence, The Arabs had succeeded in blockading the road to Jerusalem, preventing essential humanitarian supplies as well as ammunition from entering the city. At the end of March, convoys were no longer able to get through, and the situation in Jerusalem became critical. On April 3rd David Ben Gurion insisted on the largest possible operation, forcing Haganah commanders to plan and execute the first brigade sized operation they had ever undertaken. The operation involved about 1,500 troops taken from the Givati and Alexandroni brigade and some others, including the Gadna youth cadets. and it was called Operation Nachshon. So I won’t say that Ben Gurion was not a scholar, he was just a prime minister and a general because he was a scholar. But here we have a general who understands the moment and understands that if this is what he’s going to do, if he’s going to risk it all, it needs to be called Nachshon. But there were two other operations. I mean, you know, we know Israelis are pretty creative when they call names of operations. They couldn’t get away from this word in in a six day war commanded by Moshe Dayan and initialized “the conquest of the Sinai front … the opening of the Abu ‘Agheila – Rafiah-al-‘Arish axes, and the destruction of the Egyptian army in this sector., and there was another one to operations in the Six Day War. This tickled, this piked the imagination of the design is soldiers. You know, HaShomer HaTzair” the most secular far left organization, the Socialist Zionist anti-religious youth movement in 1950 founded Kibbutz Nachshon in central Israel. There was also a Moshav started by Yemenite immigrants but now sparklingly beautiful homes called Aminadav overlooking Jerusalem, as well as an area called Nachshonim, and a town called Nachshon. My God, this infatuation with a name.

Adam Mintz  30:21

That is infatuation. That’s I didn’t know all that really there’s a town called Nachshonim.

Geoffrey Stern  30:26

Yes, absolutely. And if you if you Google Nachshon, you get the Nachshon project.com, which is training youth leaders. So really, this this resonated, I’m running out of time. But in many cases, what I do is I look for a fact that I know is there and then I find it. And in this particular case, I knew that the early Zionists had to be arguing about Nachshon. So one thing that I found and it’s in the source notes, unfortunately, it’s all in Hebrew, I didn’t have a chance to translate. But in the writings of Achad Ha’Am, he uses Nachshon, and he almost uses it in a Talmudic fashion. He says everybody wants to just jump on a boat and go to Israel, we have to plan for it. And then he goes into detail. And he says, and they are using Nachshon as an example. He already knew that Moses staff was able to open up the sea, but they were just afraid to go in. He didn’t do it on blind faith, it was a calculated risk. But it gives you an insight into how Nalchshon was used by the early Zionists to turn 2000 years of Jewish history and say there’s a time to pray. And there’s a time to act. And now is a time to act. And I’ll finish with the most amazing discovery that I had. And that is there was a writer who wrote a book his name was Elchanan Leib Lewinsky, and he wrote a book in 1892 about a journey to Eretz Yisrael and it was a journey in the future. And in it he has a chapter on going to a Moshav a farm and the farmers name is Mr. Nachshon Ben Aminadav and he portrays him as the perfect mix between a lover of the land a love of labor, and a person versed in the Torah and the tradition. And that to me is just so amazing.

Adam Mintz  32:41

I love it. This was a great one today a great way to go into Shabbat into Shavuot. Everybody should have a Shabbat Shalom a Hag Sameach. Geoffrey, enjoy your fantastic Hag. I can’t wait for report next Thursday.

Geoffrey Stern  32:54

Shabbat Shalom and Hag Shavuot Sameach let’s all meet at the foot of Sinai and get the Torah together. Enjoy

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Temples with no Cloud-Cover

parshat pekudei (exodus 40)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz for a lunch & learn on clubhouse on Thursday March 3rd at 1:00pm Eastern as we complete the Book of Exodus and its lengthy treatment of the construction of the Tabernacle. In so doing, we recognize the twofold message that the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of God filled the Tabernacle but also that when the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the Israelites would set out, on their various journeys. We use this observation to address the challenge of temples which lose their spiritual cloud-cover and ruminate on the necessity for movement in Judaism.

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Why Blue and White?

parshat Tetzaveh (exodus 27-30)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse recorded on February 10th for a new episode of Madlik Disruptive Torah. We explore the Torah’s preeminent use of a hue of blue called Tekhelet in the construction of the Tabernacle and in the Priestly garb. This rare and dear dye; extracted from a non-kosher mollusk, was also used on the four-cornered tallit of every simple Jew.

Sefaria source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/383005

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we host Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and share it as a Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. Today we’ll explore the Torah’s preeminent use of a hue of blue, called Techelet in the construction of the tabernacle, and in the priestly garb. This rare and dear die extracted from a non-kosher mollusk was also used on the four corner tallit of every simple Jew. So get ready to decorate and take out your color strips as we ask, why blue and white? Well, welcome I think last week, I said stay-tuned for a fashion edition, maybe it’s going to be more like the Pantone Edition or the pick your color for your wall edition. But in any case, here we are, we’re starting to decorate our tabernacle.

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Last week, we we had a lively discussion about why after saying build me a temple, God said the "veshachanti b'Tocham" and I will live in them. And over the week I've been thinking about it. And I started to think that you know, maybe it foreshadowed a time already when you built the temple, when you built the Mishkan, the tabernacle, that you wouldn't have it. And I think that foreshadowing thought is going to come through a little bit in our discussion of the emergence and history of this wonderful hue of blue, called "techelet", how it starts, and how from the way it starts, and its history, it foreshadows its later development. So we are in Exodus 26. And I am just going to pick those verses that mentioned our color and you'll see that I'm not really looking for a needle in a haystack. This the halo this blue is actually featured throughout and grows with importance. So in Exodus 26:1 it says "As for the tabernacle, make it of 10 strips of cloth, make these a fine twisted linen of blue, purple and crimson yards "techelt v'argamaon v'tolaat shani" and then in Exodus 26, it says "make loops of blue wool on the edge of the outermost cloth of the one set and do likewise on the edge of the outermost" so at first it's mentioned amongst another palette of different colors. And now all of a sudden, it's the edging color. In Exodus 26: 31 It says "you shall make a curtain of blue" "perochet techelet" Those of you who know about synagogue architecture know what a "perochet" is. It is the frontal canopy in front of the holiest place in the synagogue. So you shall make a curtain of blue purple and crimson yards and find twisted linen. it shall have a design of cheruvim worked into it. In 26: 36 It says "you shall make a screen for the entrance of the tent "petach ha'ochel" , "and it shall be blue, purple and crimson yarns". So blue is being featured regularly. And in fact if you look into the notes, I actually have some illustrations from a wonderful book called The Tabernacle, its structure and utensils. And the figure of elements of the perochet are actually the cheruvim themselves are in blue. In Exodus 28: 31 It says, "You are to make the tunic for the efod completely of this blue "Kalil Techelet" And of course, the "ephod" was almost a a royal garment a smock. It looked almost like an apron. So it was frontally, it's what you saw when you saw the high priest. In Exodus 28: 36. It says, "You shall make a frontlit"  this "tzitz"s on the pure gold and this is of course what the Cohen wore on his forehead and it was made of gold and engrave on it the seal of God suspended on a cord of blue, a "petil techelet" so that it should remain on the headrest. So if you stop to actually visualize this use of blue, it is, I would say, the pre-eminent color. I'd love to know what you think, Rabbi, but certainly when you look frontally at the Cohen, it's the smock. It's what he's wearing. And it's that golden name of God that sits on his forehead is tied with these "Patil techelt". So are you struck as I am by this use of this? This blue?

 

Adam Mintz  05:34

Yes, I am. And obviously, the blue is also in the talit. So it goes beyond the priests. But there's no question that blue, this blue, this techelet is the most significant color, not only in the Cohen's clothing, but I would say in the entireTorah, if you were to ask me, what is the color of the Torah, I would tell you the color of the Torah is techelet.

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:00

So the official color of the Torah of the Israelites, of the Jewish people, becomes blue. And you've already begun our journey because you referenced thetalit.  In numbers 15. It says and we say this every day as the third paragraph of the Shema. "And Hashem said to Moses as follows speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garment, "v'asu lachemtzitzit al konfei bigdeyhem" throughout the ages. Let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. "al tzitit hakanaf p'til techelet"  there shall be for you a frimge, look at it and recall all the commandments of God and observe them so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments, and to be holy to God, I got am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God. I am God." So So that's almost Is it a fast forwarding? Is it a similar parallel to what we had last week where we're this direct connection between what happened institutionally in a tabernacle? And what happens to individual Jews? I was kind of struck by that. Do you think there's any anything there?

 

Adam Mintz  07:35

I wonder. And, you know, what's the connection? Well, first of all, let's say like this, there clearly is a connection between the talit and the clothing of the Cohen. Because they're both clothing, you have to remember, this is an important thing to remember, we wear the elite as a special garments, we wear it over our clothing. That's not what the Torah has in mind, when it talks about a talit. When the Torah talks about a talit, it means that they used to wear these kaftans. And the kaftans had four corners. And they used to put tzitzit on the bottom of the kaftans. So it actually was their clothing. So there actually is a much closer connection between the description of the techelt in the talit, and the clothing of the Cohen.

 

Geoffrey Stern  08:31

Absolutely. And forgive the pun, there's a thread that connects what happened in the tabernacle in terms of the the aesthetics and aesthetic choice of color for the edifice itself, for the wearing of the high priest. And the way that a simple any-Jew could wear. In in a sense, we're going over some familiar territory for those of you who have been with us, for the past year, we had a fashion episode where we talked about Korach who led a rebellion against God. And his argument, according to the rabbinic sources, was that he was wearing a tallit, she'kulo techelet.  and according to the Midrash, he didn't just bring an argument, he actually showed up with a bunch of Kohanim. And they were wearing this garment that was fully techelet. What I was struck by as I read this, and I considered what the ephod actually was, was that was actually very close to the garb that we are describing right now. If you looked at the Cohen, the predominant color would be this techelet. So So in a sense, again, maybe foreshadowing a later time, but at the time that this was written, the Kohanim were set aside by wearing this blue. And if anything, the thread on the corners of the talit, kind of reflected the total effect, if you will, the total look, the total fashion. But you can't get away from the fact that there has to be a connection, this is the first time that techelet to my mind is actually mentioned in the Torah, and it's mentioned with regard to the tabernacle. And here, every Jew later on is commanded to simulate that in some regard. And I think that's kind of a powerful, a powerful message.

 

Adam Mintz  10:58

I would agree with that. Let's think about the techelet. Do you think the fact that it's blue is significant? Like it could be any color, and in Torah, this week, there are other colors? Why is blue such an important color? So I'll tell you what the Midrash says, The Midrash says that when you look at the blue, on the talit, you're supposed to think of the sea. When you think of the sea, then you're supposed the blue of the sea, then you're supposed to think of the blue of the heavens. And that reminds you of God. So the blue is actually a color that reminds you of God. It's a little indirect, but it reminds you of God. Isn't that interesting?

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:45

I think it is. And of course, if you add to that, that the techelet itself comes according tradition, from a dye, we'll get into the history of the dye in a few minutes. But from a mollusk, which is in the sea. So form follows function type of thing. You look at the blue, it inspires you to think both by way of its origins, and its color of the sea, then the sky, the firmament, and then God. And those are great associations. Those associations are in the Talmud, in the rabbinic literature. I think if you were to ask me reading the text itself, what the association is, I would put it into the context of everything else that's in our Parsha, which is very rare materials, beautifully selected stones that create this Orim v'Tumim, the very best, the hidur of the of the thing, and I would add, and this will come up in our discussion are very dear in the sense of very rare, very expensive, very exclusive by the laws of supply and demand, hard to come by. And so I think there's also if you look at, for instance, the word ephod, this this smock that I was describing, that was won by King David, and by King Solomon, these were royal garments. And to me the most, I would say, straightforward association, is in exclusivity, something that is of a very, very high value, hard to come by. Do you think there's any merit to that as opposed to the associative thinking of what it reminds one of?

 

Adam Mintz  13:49

Good, I think that there is absolutely something to be said for that. Now, it's interesting when you think about supply and demand, Geoffrey, where did they get this mouse from? In the desert? How do they have the color of techelet in the desert?

 

Geoffrey Stern  14:07

Well, you know, I wasn't in your synagogue last week, so I didn't hear your sermon. But if I recall, you were going to talk about how many of the materials by tradition, rabbinic tradition for the Mishkan were brought with the Jews down into Egypt and I and I added to that, that there was a much talk about when the Jews left Egypt, they were given riches that worked for them and against them when it came to the golden calf. They all seem to have jewelry to contribute, but it is an issue and you know, those who would question how this could have been done in the in the desert, either you believe in miracles or you don't so I do think it's a good question. And obviously part of that is a mollusk comes from the sea and here they are in a desert that makes it a little bit more challenging,

 

Adam Mintz  15:00

Right that's why I asked specifically here is because the mollusk comes from the sea. And here they are in the desert,

 

Geoffrey Stern  15:07

No question about it. And again, I think that whether it's the tabernacle, the Mishkan or the temple, you know, one can can make many cases that there is a foreshadowing of what would become a Mishkan or what was to be a Mishkann. But I think that, you know, it comes down to, to belief and perspective. But I think if you get over that, there is no question that the the Kohanim in the tradition of giving honor to God and building cathedrals, and a beautiful edifices, were decked out in the best, and that there's no question that techelet to me, has a level of royal blue to it. And that comes out, I think, a little bit in in coax argument as well, where he's looking for authority, he's looking for exclusive power grabbing, so to speak. So I think from that perspective, it becomes fascinating. If one traces the history of the use of techelet directly from being used by a Cohen Gadol or high priest, and then ultimately, being part of, it even with a thread of a pushiter yid, so to speak of the simple Jew

 

Adam Mintz  16:35

That reminded me, you said royal blue, and I thought to myself, Where does royal blue come from? And let me read you from Wikipedia. Royal Blue is a deep and vivid shade of blue. It is said to have been created by clothiers in road, Somerset, a consortium of who won a competition to make a dress for Queen Charlotte concert of King Charles the third. So isn't that interesting? I mean, even in England, there was significance to blue as being the royal color.

 

Geoffrey Stern  17:13

But absolutely, and in some of the readings that I've gone through this week, you know, there was talk about during the Roman period already, only the Caesar was allowed even to wear it. So one cannot help. But think of Exodus 19, "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation", that ultimately, this seamless transition from the Cohen wearing techelet, the tabernacle, the temple of God, being really accented heavily in techelet and then the simple Jew having that techelet, it seems to me overwhelming that the message is that you are a kingdom of priests in us in a sense. And that to me is you know, is very similar, like I said, from the beginning to the message that we might have taken last week, which is God says build the temple, but I'm going to live in each one of you.

 

Adam Mintz  18:13

Right, I think that's beautiful. And of course, that relates to the fact that it's not only the Cohen, but it's also in the tallit. So we are a kingdom of priests. And therefore it starts with the priests. And then it goes to each and every one of us. It's such a nice idea, right? In fact, it flows so beautifully.

 

Geoffrey Stern  18:32

It flows and you could say it's hermeneutics and Parshanut and giving drash. But the truth is, that the temple the tabernacle did not last. Techelet as a part of a temple and part of a priestly culture did not last. The remnant of it was in that thread. And so it's less of a commentary but yes, I know when you look at it, you're supposed to remember the sea and the firmament and then God, but you can't help but also remember the rich history of it in the Torah itself, and that that history carries on in each Jew. And I don't think that's hermeneutics. I think that's actually what it really mean. It was a material a material signification in a sense, and that is kind of fascinating.

 

Adam Mintz  19:29

You know, it's also interesting that for centuries, the techelet was lost, you know that right? We didn't have techelet. About 25 years ago, there were two people students of Rabbi Riskin in Efrat, who actually went diving in the sea off of Haifa, and they found what they claim to be Techelet. And today you can actually buy a tallit with techelet.

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:00

So, you again, you, you're pushing us forward rabbi, I love it. We're going forward in the history of this. I wouldn't say idea but a color. And yes, the Talmud does say that in the Midrash, Tanchuma it says that when there was real blue, but now we only have white because the blue has been hidden Shehatechelet nignaz,. I always thought that it was obviously something that was extinct. And I always loved the concept of we are guardians of God's world. And if we don't take care of it, not only can we lose a species, we can lose a commandment. I mean, that's a big deal. When one of the 613 commandments, you can't fulfill it anymore. So so I always think there's a lesson there. And I was at the the I was at the aquarium and like any aquarium in any museum in Israel doing Hol Hamoed Hasidim come and everybody comes. And I said, you have to have a whole area of this on techelet, because it's some it's an aspect of Judaism that is connected to the world that we are the guardians of. So there's a whole separate mission there. But again, it's it's related. Because just as the temple was lost, just as the Mishkan was lost, just as the Kohanim were last so the mollusk was lost. And I almost regret the fact that we quote unquote, have refound it, because looking at the simple white tallit, it reminds you as much of what is there as what is not there. And I think that's a beautiful message as well. But you're correct, that this is an area where science impacts Judaism, discovery, academics, it's it's fascinating. It's a beautiful, beautiful narrative of an arc of history, so to speak. One other aspect of how it quote unquote, was hidden, was that because it was very expensive. On the one hand, it's a wonderful lesson, that even though it's expensive, even though it's quote, unquote, royal blue, every Jew can have it. But at the end of the day, when the rubber hits the road, it's expensive. And what that meant was it created a situation for fake techelet. I mentioned this a little bit when we discuss Korach. But Yigal Yadin in a book on Bar Kochba was excavating a cave, and he found balls of wool that were blue. And he says, Wow, this is amazing. Not only have I found tephilin, but I also found techelet and it was clear that the Zealots were keeping all of these commandments. And then he sent it to a lab. And the lab came back. And this is all in his footnotes. This is a general and archaeologist, but He's tying it all into the Talmud. He says it was clear that this was not techelet. It was false techelet and that probably the Zealots were duped along with many other Jews in buying this from incorrect sources. And in the source sheet, I have places in the Talmud where it talks about this. But ultimately, it is very possible that the rabbi's, in order to stop corruption and to snuff out these black markets for fake techelet, said, there's no mitzvah. And that's an amazing lesson to take from this color. And again, it's the absence of the color that teaches this. But it is an amazing lesson.

 

Adam Mintz  23:58

That is an amazing lesson. That's right. I mean, let's just take a step back, the fact that the Talmud knows about fake Techelet so that kind of points to your idea that it was expensive. And it was special, right? Because you only make you only make replicas of things that are worth it, right? You only make replicas of things from Tiffany's right things that are really worth it. So, so techelet, obviously was something that was very, very special. And it's also interesting that it shows how important that was how important people you know that people could be duped you know, people aren't duped for just anything people are duped for things they want. And what they wanted was techelet because that was the royal color.

 

Geoffrey Stern  24:46

Yes. So that is definitely a fascinating aspect. So I want to get back to the verses that we talked about at the beginning when we were describing the fashion so to speak, and it says V'asita Tzitz" That you should make this frontlet. And then it talked about a petil techelet a chord of blue. And those two words also are pregnant with with fascinating meaning in history. So tzitz can mean wings. In Jeremiah, it says, tnu tzitz lmoav, give wings to Moab. And of course those who know about that the Hebrew for the commandment of the Tzitziot, it's on kenaf, the corners, but kanafayim is wings as well.

 

Adam Mintz  25:35

But what does it mean in this week's parsha?

 

Geoffrey Stern  25:45

So in this week's Parsha, it means vasita tzits zahav tahor, you shall make a frontlet Everett Fox says, "a flower or a gleaming, perhaps alluding to it shining quality, or its shape of some kind" on his forehead. Very similar to maybe where tephilin is.

 

Adam Mintz  26:09

I always thought that the tzitz was a funny thing. Can you imagine wearing a gold flower on your forehead?

 

Geoffrey Stern  26:18

Well, I mean, again, it's very similar to tephilin. And it's very similar to the headdress and the helmet that the Egyptians and maybe Sumerians wore with the Egyptians it has this snake coming out. But maybe it's the third eye. The forehead seems to be a place where there was embellishments, Kamiot, magical things. So yes, to us, it's probably strange. But I think too, it's a frontlet. It's, it's, you know, it's not your license plate in the back. It's it's the way you go forward.

 

Adam Mintz  27:01

If you look at the picture, the picture of the tzitz seems to be very narrow. So it may be it's like ephilin. Maybe they have the same idea that he you know, it's kind of just the more elaborate type of tephilin made out of gold.

 

Geoffrey Stern  27:18

No, no, no argument there, for sure. But since has another meaning as well, in Numbers 17. It says "the next day Moses entered the tent of the pact and there with a staff of our end of the house of Lavie had sprouted, it had brought forth sprouts produced blossoms and born almonds." So this was a particular situation. But there it talks about "Vayatzetz tzitz" produced blossoms. So we have the first image is one of soaring of wings of something that's shiny and translucent. And then we have this other aspect of tzitz as a blossom of life. And these, of course, you can't ignore the connection between tzitz and tzitziot. As a sprout from the four corners of the garment. So we're playing with language, again, how that commandment of tzitziot for the the civilian Jew, if you will, connected with many of these concepts that we see regarding the priestly garments. And that, to me is fascinating and kind of exciting.

 

Adam Mintz  28:43

That is really exciting. It's interesting, because you start with something as kind of mundane as the color doesn't sound like it's gonna be interesting. But there's so much richness in trying to figure out the color that it really brings the whole thing to life. And it really adds a different element. Usually when you learn Tezaveh, you talk about the different articles of clothing, the things themselves, but thinking about the colors is really so much more striking, because that's actually what people saw. What they wee struck by.

 

Geoffrey Stern  29:14

Well absolutely, We're getting towards the end of our half hour. And the subject of tonight was why blue and white. And we've talked a lot about the blue. We've even talked about the white where the rabbis said once the Blue was hidden, it's all white. But I as you know, and you could probably sense when I quoted Yigal Yadin, the general and the archaeologist who knew his Talmud, somehow the Zionists as secular as they were, understood this message, all the messages that we've talked about tonight, and when they picked the colors for the flag of Israel, which really If you think about it looks like that talit...  it has those blue stripes on it you call them a tzitz. When Rabbi Hertzog made the prayer for the State of Israel. And in it he played with that this idea that we say three times a day when we when we pray, and we talk about umatzmiach yeshoua...  that deliverance should sprout. I just love that word that you know deliverance, you can say could explode, it could come out but that deliverance should sprout, is amazing to me. And of course, he said Reshit tzemiachat geulatanu. He took the same concept. So we really, we've taken the history of a simple color and traced it through the ancient texts all the way to modern day Israel. And it's an inspiration hopefully to us all. May you glow in the shine of the techelit this Shabbat and join us next week. What do we have next week Rabbi?

 

Adam Mintz  31:17

Next week we have the sin of the golden calf there's so much next week wow, You know the breaking of the of the tablets and the sin of the golden calf. We're gonna be busy all week preparing for next week.

 

Geoffrey Stern  31:28

I can't wait Sabbats alone to everybody and have a great Shabbat and see you all next week.

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Is Judaism Exclusive or Inclusive?

parshat yitro (exodus 18)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on January 20th 2022 as we discuss the Torah portion that includes the Ten Commandments but is named after a non-Jewish priest. A priest who blesses God, successfully offers sacrifices, shares a sacred meal and, with God’s sanction, establishes institutions of jurisprudence for the Jewish People. For a religion that is known for exclusivism, we use this realization to explore inclusive and exclusive tendencies in Jewish tradition.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/377219

Transcript:

Geoffrey Stern  00:03

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 Madlik disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern. And this week along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we discuss the Torah portion that includes the Ten Commandments, but is named after a non Jewish priest named Jethro. For a religion that is known for exclusivism, we use Jethro’s contribution and top billing to explore inclusivism universalism and pluralism in Jewish tradition. So come listen to a story about a man named Jethro, as we ponder the question, is Judaism exclusive or inclusive?

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Geoffrey Stern  00:55

Well, welcome to Madlik. Another week of Madlik disruptive Torah. And this week, wow, do we have a great portion, a great parsha ... it is the portion that includes, as I said in the intro, the Ten Commandments, but it's named after Moses' father in law, who was a priest of Midian named a Jethro. So we are going to focus right on the beginning of the Parsha, something that we don't normally do. And I'm just going to dive into it. And as we do, we'll explore some fascinating insights. So in exodus 18: 1 it says 1) Jethro priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel His people, how the LORD had brought Israel out from Egypt. And then it goes on to say:   (6) He sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you, with your wife and her two sons.” (7) Moses went out to meet his father-in-law; he bowed low and kissed him; each asked after the other’s welfare, and they went into the tent. (8) Moses then recounted to his father-in-law everything that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardships that had befallen them on the way, and how the LORD had delivered them. (9) And Jethro rejoiced over all the kindness that the LORD had shown Israel when He delivered them from the Egyptians. - And he did something very Jewish, he made a blessing. - (10) “Blessed be the LORD,” Jethro said, “who delivered you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh, and who delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. (11) Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods, yes, by the result of their very schemes against [the people].”-c (12) And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices for God; - So in the Hebrew it says, עֹלָ֥ה וּזְבָחִ֖ים לֵֽאלֹקִ֑ים "he brought Oleh u'zevachim l'elohim"  - and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to partake of the meal before God with Moses’ father-in-law. (13) Next day, Moses sat as magistrate among the people, while the people stood about Moses from morning until evening. (14) But when Moses’ father-in-law saw how much he had to do for the people, -  Now he does something that's really Jewish, he starts giving advice. - he said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone, while all the people stand about you from morning until evening?” (15) Moses replied to his father-in-law, “It is because the people come to me to inquire of God. (16) When they have a dispute, it comes before me, and I decide between one person and another, and I make known the laws and teachings of God.” (17) But Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not right; (18) you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. (19) Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You represent the people before God: you bring the disputes before God, (20) and enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings, and make known to them the way they are to go and the practices they are to follow. (21) You shall also seek out from among all the people capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens,  (22) and let them judge the people at all times. Have them bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute themselves. Make it easier for yourself by letting them share the burden with you. (23) If you do this—and God so commands you—you will be able to bear up; and all these people too will go home unwearied.” - And he basically set up the laws of jurisprudence that until today are followed in, in Judaism of Beth din and a Sanhedrin of setting up how do you resolve the law and how do you define the law -  (24) Moses heeded his father-in-law and did just as he had said. And he basically set up the laws of jurisprudence that until today are followed in, in Judaism of Beth din and a Sanhedrin of setting up how do you resolve the law and how do you define the law? And he said at the end, if you do this, and come and God so commands you, you will be able to bear up and all these people to will go home unwearied Moses, he did his father in law, and did just as he had said."  So here we have this priest from Midian, a non-Jew who comes to Moses, and first of all, he gives a blessing. He gives a bracha. Then he offers a sacrifices. He brings an Ola and zevachim. And then He gives advice, which he says was sanctioned by God. And Moses listens to him. So you know, so many times when people talk about this, they focus on the last part, that he gave this sage advice, this wisdom advice about setting up the courts. And I think they miss the fact that he makes a blessing. And I think they miss the fact that he brings a sacrifice and the words that are used for that sacrifice are exactly the words that are used in the later Israelite tradition of bringing a sacrifice. And then yes, he does give a legal ruling that is sanctioned by God. So Rabbi, what do you make of this? Is this as unique and as fascinating to you as it is to me?

Adam Mintz  06:02

It is, and I'm going to echo your questions, and I'm going to raise you one. And that is, last week, we read about the splitting of the sea. This week, we read about the giving of the Torah, of the 10 commandments on Mount Sinai, you would expect that the story in the middle would be something that would be tremendously uplifting. And instead, it's a story about Moses getting advice from his father in law. And it's not even clear that Moses does anything wrong. And he gets advice from his father in law. And the question is, what is this story about? And why is it placed right before the giving of the Torah? And I would just throw an idea out, which will kind of begin our discussion of your questions. Maybe the story is here to teach us about what Moses is like. Maybe the real question in this week's Torah reading is, who is this Moses who deserve that the Torah, the 10 commandments should be given to him? What has done? He followed God, he went to Pharaoh, but who is he? And you know what we learn about him, we learn about him that his father in law's upset, because he sits and he listens to the people from the morning until the evening. That's pretty amazing. When you think about it, you know, that was his crime. That he was totally committed to the people from the morning to the evening. Maybe the story is not a story about Jethro. Maybe the story is a story about Moshe to tell us that you know what, he is the right person to receive the Torah, the Ten Commandments, because he's someone who really cares about the people. He sits with the people from morning until night.

Geoffrey Stern  07:58

So I love that you've kind of personalized it. We all know that Moses is humble. And there are many situations where one wonders where that attribute comes from, because we know he has an anger management issue. He gets angry very easily. But where's the humility? We've already come across it in the burning bush, where he says, Why pick me. But I think you're absolutely right, that this humility of the man and why maybe the man was chosen comes through. And it does take humility, to listen to advice from other people. But I think that we can focus on the Moses, but we can also focus on the bigger picture. Because as you say, why was it put here? Why was it put literally, before the Torah is given? Why are we exposed to the fact that here is another religious figure who comes and gives blessings? Who comes and give sacrifices? And who comes and can speak in the name of the Lord and say, This is not right, what you're doing. And I and I do think it's fascinating. Well, so and maybe we'll come and address this at another time. The reason that he gives is fascinating because he says it's not sustainable. He doesn't say what you're doing is wrong. He just says that it's not realistic, you'll burn yourself out. But getting back to why it features right before we get to the giving of the Torah. I think all of us know the Midrashim that talk about why was the Torah actually given where it was given at Sinai and we probably also know that the reasons that it was given in the desert and not in the land of Israel was because it was on neutral ground, so to speak. It was not in any particular country, or nationality. And I think that has to be a little bit of what factors into this discussion. We all know the wonderful Midrashim that says that God went to all the nations of the world. And that is why He gave the Torah at Sinai in Sifrei Devarim it says, "And the Lord came from Sinai, when the Lord appeared to give Torah to Israel, it is not to Israel alone that he appeared, but to all the nations." And I think this concept or this introduction of talking to a Jethro, it kind of plays with both this idea of humility, both on a personal level of Moses, but also on a national level, it takes a level of humility, to say that the truths or the revelation that you're going to be receiving not only belongs to you, but belongs to everyone. And conversely, not only comes from your wisdom, but comes from the universal wisdom of all humanity. So I'm kind of taking your point, and I'm almost expanding it. I'm taking Moses as a person, and Moses as a personification. Does that resonate with you at all?

Adam Mintz  11:53

I like it, I like it. So I was emphasizing Moses as a person, and you're talking about Moses as a personification. But both are important, because if we're going to appreciate why the Ten Commandments are given to Moses, and this is always interesting, they're given to Moses as a person, and Moses as a personification. And Moses is actually... and this is also has to do with the Jethro story... you almost get a sense that Moses is like the two train tracks at the 72nd Street subway station, you have the express, and you have the local. On one hand, you have Moses as the leader of the people, the one who talks to God, the one who seems to literally be living in heaven, that's the express train. But then you have the slower train, that's Moses as a person. And you know, Moses doesn't necessarily do so well that way. Because Moses, you know, he seems to be separated from his wife and children, because it says that Jethro brings his wife and children.  You know, we don't hear very much about Moses, his interaction to 40 years in the desert with his wife. So we're not sure how Moses does as a person. But here we have an insight. And while he may not be so good with his own family, but he's very, very good. As, we might call a shul rabbi, be someone who cares about the people from morning to night. And that's something that's also very important. So that the Ten Commandments are given given to Moses, on the express track, and given to Moses on the local track.

Geoffrey Stern  13:32

So you know, I think when we read the Torah, each one of us brings a little bit of their own personality. And I love the fact that as a pulpit rabbi, you deal with the most lifelong challenge of anyone who serves the community, not only in clergy, but in any facet of life, this this, this tension between serving man as a whole, and then wonder about your family and your children and your wife. And I love that there. But there is a tension here. And I think that to just jump in and say, yes, the reason why the Bible brings this little story of the pagan priest who has an effect on Moses right before the giving of the Torah is such a universalistic message and ties into this concept that the Torah was given in the desert and belongs to everybody. We could fall into the trap and say that this is such an easy thought. It's such an easy read. But I'd like to play the devil's advocate a little bit and talk about how the classical commentaries looked at this, to kind of give us a fact check that we are looking at this in the right way. So the Ramban Nachmanidies, who we came across a little bit last week, brings the the midrashic interpretation. And he says that this could be in sequence. It could be that this happened before the giving of the Torah. But he says it's also possible to explain "that scripture arranged the entire narrative of Jethro, even though the particular event occurred after he stayed with the Israelites a long time, and in the meantime, became converted through circumcision immersion, and the sprinkling of the blood of a sacrifice according to Jewish law." So here, Ramban, Nachmanidies is echoing what's in the Midrashim. And it's this big discussion of number one did Jethro ever convert? And if he did convert, when did this story happen? We all know there's a concept in biblical hermeneutics, and it says "Eyn Mukdam u'meucha b'Torah" , that there's no time frame within the biblical narrative, that you can have flashbacks, you don't necessarily have to render the events in the chronology that they happened, you can have some sort of literary and poetic license. And there are many within the classical biblical commentators, and the Midrashim who have a really hard time in accepting that Jethro, when he said these things, was not Jewish. It was very hard for them to accept that something as basic as how jurisprudence is set up could have come from a non-Jew, it's very hard for them to accept that non-Jews could give zevachim v'olot; sacrifices, as we Jews do. It's hard for them to accept that a non-Jew could bless God. And I think it's important to recognize this challenge that they have, because it gives more credence to the fact that if you take the opinion, which they all cite, that this was in chronological order, how revolutionary, how radical it was, and I don't want to dilute that in terms of looking at a religious - biblical text and saying matter of factly. Yeah, they were open to suggestions from a non Jew, and more importantly, that they were open and understood and gave value to religious experiences outside of Judaism.

Adam Mintz  18:01

Wow, that's a lot there. First, let's talk about whether Jethro was Jewish, and whether it mattered whether Jethro was Jewish. I mean, when you talk about who's Jewish, look at Avraham Yitzchok and Taakov. who did they marry? They didn't marry Jews. What made them Jewish? The answer is that they marry Jews, so they became Jewish. And that's probably what happened in those days. If a woman married a Jewish man, then the woman became Jewish. So what's interesting is that Tziporah's Jewish, even though her father is not Jewish? That's interesting, isn't it? But Yitro, Jethro, is identified throughout the Torah, whenever he's talked about as Cohen Midian, he's very much not Jewish. He's very much you know, the wise man from Midian. I always like to read the story, that it's nice that advice comes from outside. I don't really need Jethro to be Jewish. Do you need Jethro to be Jewish?

Geoffrey Stern  19:15

I think it's a stretch. I think that the commentators who struggle with it and who make Jethro Jewish, are telling us more about themselves than they're telling us about Jethro.

Adam Mintz  19:28

That is such an interesting point. I mean, that's really good.

Geoffrey Stern  19:32

And maybe about ourselves, ... you know, those of us who study the biblical text and I don't care whether we're Jewish or Christian, or Muslim, we all say this text. We're proud of our story. And I can understand that, but I also think that it's radical from within that story. It doesn't say the ex Cohen From Midian, it says the Priest for Midian. So I think we can all agree that the simple reading of the text is that he actually was a priest from Midian at the time that this story occurred, and that they are simply illuminating to us and reminding us how radical this is. And therefore I give their response such value, because there's a truth in what they're saying, you know, there's the expression in business, "not created here". Even in a business, even in creativity, in literature, in art, we all love to claim that we are not influenced by others, and that we came up with things on our own. And it takes a radical text to be able to clearly say that it is the the result of the best. So I want to continue with this discussion about the sacrifices and the blessing. If you recall last week, and this is kind of almost a two-part series, we had my Maimonides saying that the sacrifices will all there as kind of a concession to bring the people from one spot to another. And if you recall, Nachmanidies said, No, Noah gave sacrifices Cain and Abel gave sacrifices. They were not idol worshipers. So there was nothing wrong with using sacrifices because it was part of the original, natural religion. And I think if we have to focus on what is and dive a little bit deeper into how a text like the Torah can so easily accept the contributions of a Jethro. And, you know, I keep on saying that Jethro gave the sacrifice. Well, I should also mention that Aaron came and ate from the sacrifice. This was not anything but a holy offering to God. So those Midrashim actually on our texts here, and they're all in the source notes in Safaria and talk about how this concept that Adam and Cain, and Noah actually followed a natural religion that every human being is imbued with, that has this kind of desire to make an offer of a sacrifice, if you will, that have this natural desire for prayer, that have a natural desire for blessing, and even expand further. This is kind of fascinating. One of the Midrashim says, so why did Noah sacrifice after he was saved? Because when God told him to put animals onto the Ark two by two, when it came to kosher animals, he said, add seven. And according to the Midrash, Noah said to himself, hmm, I'm not a dummy. Why is he adding more of these pure animals.... the word kosher didn't exist in those days. But even here, there's this sense that Judaism has allegiance, and is a continuation of this what I would love to call this natural tendency, characteristic part of humankind, for religion. You know, sometimes I listen on clubhouse to atheistic groups, and what they all forget, when they ask, is there a god? Is there not a god? You know, I'd like to say is there beauty is there love, there are things that are part of the human condition that have been there for such a long time, that you can't put your finger on, but they are part of us, we have this sensibility for love. We have this sensibility for beauty. And we have this sensibility for religion. And I think the Jewish texts that talk about the origins of many of the customs of the Jews, in human nature, play tribute to that. And I think that's also part of what this is an exploration of. It is almost as though the Torah was given at Sinai to the Jews, but it was offered to all of humankind. It was offered in a neutral zone, and therefore it is an exploration. It's an aspiration. It's a rendering of what is very natural to humanity. And I think that's also part of the message here.

Adam Mintz  25:01

So that Midrash, that the Torah was offered to all the nations, does that mean that the Torah is inclusive? Or is that point of that Midrash that the other nations gave up the chance that they're no good, because they didn't appreciate the value of total? See, I don't think that's about inclusion. There is a Midrash, about inclusion. The Midrash, about inclusion says that the when God said, I am the Lord your God, who took you out of the out of Egypt, that the entire world was quiet, that a bird didn't chirp at a baby didn't cry. And the entire world heard God say, I am the Lord your God, that Midrash is very much inclusive. That means that the entire world was part of the experience and outside not, which is a very powerful idea. Not that we left people out, but actually that everybody was part of it.

Geoffrey Stern  26:05

So I agree with you totally. But I want to focus on the flip side of that, it's not so much that everybody was included and open and privy and made available, to the revelation at Sinai going forward. But that the revelation at Sinai was an expression of something that was natural to man and there's a critical difference there. And what I was touching upon was this sense that Jethro was in the tradition of Noah, of Adam, of Cain and Abel, of those who followed this natural kind of human condition where we believe and that man reaches out that there's something more there, and that we don't know quite what it is. And we express ourselves whether we're Buddhist, whether we're Hindus, or whether we're Muslims, or whether we're Christians. And there is this aspect in Judaism, and in the classical texts, where we all had it, and we kind of lost it. A good example, is the story of, of why we celebrate a holiday of lights. And the the Talmud in Avodah Zara 8a talks about the exact seven days that we celebrate Hanukkah that is close to when the Christians celebrate Christmas, and have their lights. And it says that Adam in the first year that he experienced, he saw the days were getting shorter and shorter, and he was sure the world was coming to an end. And then all of a sudden, there was the winter solstice, and the days started to get longer. And he created a festival. And it's where the Talmud in a Avoda Zara is talking about pagan festivals. And it ends by saying "he Adam established these festivals for the sake of heaven. But they the Gentiles of later generations, established them for the sake of idol worship." So here too, it's almost as those there's a patrimony of humanity, that we all have these needs to celebrate light when it gets dark, to talk about hope, when it seems that there is no hope. And that the Judaic or the the concept of revelation that we're celebrating in the Parsha of Jethro is one that says not only is it available to all the nations, but it comes from a shared patrimony of all the nations. And I think that's kind of fascinating and exciting.

Adam Mintz  29:00

That is fascinating and exciting. And I think, you know, we talked about inclusion, and that was the title of tonight's class, the idea of inclusion. And I think that maybe that's the lesson.  We started at least I started by suggesting that the reason the story is here is to tell you about the personality of Moses. And I think we're coming full circle and your suggestion is a little different. Your suggestion is that the reason this story is here is to tell us the Judaism, the Ten Commandments, the law is really inclusive, and incorporates a lot of different kinds of people and a lot of different kinds of traditions, and a lot of different kinds of things. And while God may have said I am the Lord you got it took you out of the land of Egypt, the house the bondage, which is something very Jewish, but actually before he says that, we have the story of Jethro, before it's exclusive, versus inclusive. And I think that's a great great point. So I think that's really a you know, a really nice read of the, of the introductory chapter to the giving of the telegraph. Want to wish everybody that they should enjoy receiving the Ten Commandments this Shabbat and we look forward to seeing you next week when we start the civil law; Mishpatim and all the stories related to that. Shabbat Shalom Geoffrey Shabbat Shalom everybody.

Geoffrey Stern  30:30

Shabbat Shalom to you all. We've certainly had a wonderful introduction with the help of these parshiot to the law that we're going to get so I look forward to sharing with you our journey as we discover those laws. I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom and listen to the podcast. This is recorded and there are source notes that go much farther in terms of the discussion then the half hour will permit but Shabbat Shalom to you all and I will see you all next week on Madlik disruptive Torah.

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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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