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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
(22) Then Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, “Every boy that is born you shall throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
(1) A certain man of the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. (2) The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw how beautiful he was, she hid him for three months. (3) When she could hide him no longer, she got a wicker basket for him and caulked it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. (4) And his sister stationed herself at a distance, to learn what would befall him.
Rashi on Exodus 2:1:1ויקח את בת לוי AND HE HAD TAKEN TO WIFE A DAUGHTER OF LEVI — He had lived apart from her in consequence of Pharaoh’s decree that the children should, on their birth, be drowned. Now he took her back and entered into a second marriage with her, and she also physically became young again. For really she was then 130 years old — for she was born “between the walls” when they were about to enter Egypt (cf. Rashi on Genesis 46:15) and they (the Israelites) remained there 210 years, and when they left Egypt Moses was 80 years old; consequently when she became pregnant with him she was 130 years old — and yet Scripture calls her בת לוי a young daughter of Levi (Sota 12a; Bava Batra 119b).
Shemot Rabbah 1:22 And his sister stationed herself at a distance -why did Miriam stand from afar, Rabbi Amram said in the name of Rav, for she would make a prophesy and said in the future my mother would give birth to a son who would save (Yehoshiya) Israel, since Moses was born, the whole house was filled with light, her father stood and kissed her head, told her “my daughter, your prophesy has been fulfilled” as it is written: (Exodus 15: 20): Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels.” Aharon’s sister and not Moses’ sister, since she made this prophecy when she was Aharon’s sister and still no Moses was born, and since he was cast into the river, her mother stood and patted her on the head, told her my daughter and where is your prophecy?, and therefore it is written: “And his sister stationed herself at a distance” To know what will be at the end of her oracle. The Rabbis said all this verse was written in the name of the holy spirit as it is written: (Samuel I 3:10.): The LORD came, and stood there, and He called as before: “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel answered, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.” and (Proverbs 7, 4): “Say to Wisdom, “You are my sister,”and after (Jeremiah 31: 3): The LORD revealed Himself to me from afar”. “To know what would happen” from Samuel I 2:3 For the LORD is an all-knowing God; By Him actions are measured.
I have a custom of watching Midnight Mass and am happy to share with you two Sermons that were particularly meaningful for me, and I hope for you, on the concept of a new-born savior.
In 1995 I caught the midnight mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I was so blown away by Cardinal O’Connor’s sermon that I wrote the Archdiocese of New York for a copy. I kept it all these years, and have not found it reproduced on the web or in Google books.
The Cardinal quotes Arthur Miller:
“Jew is only the name we give to the stranger, that agony we cannot feel, that death we look at like a cold abstraction. Each man has his Jew, it is the other. And the Jews have their Jews.”
He (the Cardinal) writes of Jesus: “That Baby was a Jew. He might have been black or Japanese or Eskimo. To hate a Jew because he is a Jew is not an offense merely against political correctness. To hate a Jew, or a Black, or a Hispanic, or a Muslim or a homosexual, simply because he or she is such, is to hate God.”
Last night I heard the midnight mass given by Pope Francis:
Brothers and sisters, standing before the crib, we contemplate what is central, beyond all the lights and decorations, which are beautiful. We contemplate the child. In his littleness, God is completely present. Let us acknowledge this: “Baby Jesus, you are God, the God who becomes a child”. Let us be amazed by this scandalous truth. The One who embraces the universe needs to be held in another’s arms. The One who created the sun needs to be warmed. Tenderness incarnate needs to be coddled. Infinite love has a miniscule heart that beats softly. The eternal Word is an “infant”, a speechless child. The Bread of life needs to be nourished. The Creator of the world has no home. Today, all is turned upside down: God comes into the world in littleness. His grandeur appears in littleness.
Cardinal O’Conner’s sermon, in particular, struck a cord with my neshama… needless to say, I was not surprised to learn that in fact, the Cardinal also had a Jewish neshama…. According to the New York Times, John Cardinal O’Connor, the Cardinal of New York for 16 years, was Jewish…. and his grandfather was a Rabbi.
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded live on Clubhouse on November 18th 2021 as they discuss arguing with God in the Bible and later Rabbinic texts and Jewish Literature. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel which we are told means to struggle with Man and God. How do we live up to this name?
Geoffrey Stern 00:04
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern. And at Madlik we like to light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish tradition or text. We also host a clubhouse at 8pm, Thursday nights Eastern, where we have disruptive Madlik Torah. And tonight I’m joined with Rabbi Adam Mintz. And we are going to discuss the metamorphosis of Jacob, who turned into Israel by fighting, arguing, struggling with an angel. So get yourself into debating mode, where we discuss arguing with God, and man. Welcome to another week of Madlik, the Parsha is Vayishlach and we have the story of Jacob coming back to the land of Israel. He’s about to cross the Jordan. And because we are all a product of our past, now he has to confront his past, he has to confront his brother Esau, who if you remember he swindled out of birth blessing. And now he comes with a family. He’s a family man. He’s gotten some wealth to him. But he is basically fearful for his life. And we are going to focus on that moment, before he comes and crosses the Jordan River. And he’s alone at night, he sent his family, split them up into two camps to protect them. And now is alone on the bank of the Jordan and confronts an angel. So in Genesis 32, it says, “Then Jacob said, oh god of my father, Abraham and God of my father, Isaac, oh Lord, who said to me, return to your native land, and I will deal bountifully with you, I am unworthy of all the kindness you have steadfastly shown your servant with my staff alone, I cross this Jordan, and now I have become two camps, deliver me I pray from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, else, I fear, he may come and strike me down, mother and children alike “am al banim”. And then he goes on and he says, after taking them across the stream, he sent them all his possessions. Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn, when he saw that he had not prevailed against him. He wrenched Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him. Then he said, let me go for dawn is breaking. But he answered, I will not let you go unless you bless me, said the other. What is your name? He replied, Jacob, said, he, your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed. Jacob asked, pray, tell me your name. But he said, You must not ask why name and he took leave of him. So Jacob named the place Penuel meaning I have seen a divine being face to face yet my life has been preserved. Then the sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel limping on his hip. That is why the children of Israel to this day, do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the socket of the hip, since Jacob’s hip socket was wrenched at the muscle.” So this is the source of why Jews cannot eat filet mignon. So already, we have a wonderful takeaway. But the real question, is, this striving this struggling with this angel, and the name change to Israel, and the name Israel literally implies struggling with man, and God. So you can’t even say that this is a subtext of a subplot when someone’s name is changed, and that name means to struggle with God and man, that’s pretty profound. Are we? The B’nai Yisrael, the children of Israel, are we a little argumentative? Are we strugglers is that that the take away from this, is this a key characteristic of the Israelite Jewish story?
Adam Mintz 05:09
I think the answer is yes. I think that Jews throughout the ages have liked the impression that the Jews struggle that goes with Jews being a minority, you know, Jews are a minority, we always have to struggle. And therefore, even though obviously, the name change goes back to the Torah, I think it’s a name change that has resonated with Jews throughout history. And I think that’s kind of interesting when you think about it.
Geoffrey Stern 05:42
You know, there’s a famous saying, in Perkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, that says, A machloket l’shem shamayim an argument that is for the sake of heaven, will endure forever, but one that is not for the sake of heaven will not endure it. And anyone who has studied whether it’s the Mishneh, whether it’s the Talmud, the Oral Law, which is actually an oral law, it is a transcript of literal arguments between our rabbis, and those of you who like myself has studied in a traditional yeshiva know that when you walk into the study hall of a traditional Academy of Jewish learning, of a yeshiva, it is the absolute opposite of walking into a library, which is calm and quiet. A yeshiva the din of students arguing amongst themselves, they call it the Kol Torah is overwhelming. But in a sense, because everyone is arguing there’s a silence as well, you can actually focus and concentrate. But that truly is a real element of an argument and conflict of ideas and passions, deeply rooted in our tradition.
Adam Mintz 07:16
That is correct. The Rabbi’s say in the Talmud, that there’s nothing better than students arguing with one another when they’re studying Torah. That’s part of the experience of studying Torah is being able to argue with one another. And I that’s that’s a very strong idea. And you know, what’s interesting about the name Israel, is the fact that the Torah says that Jacob struggled with God and with man. And the question is, what the significance of that is, actually the one he’s struggling with is the angel. But the angel seems somehow to represent Easav, who’s the one he’s about to confront. So there seems to be two parallel stories, almost like two parallel train tracks going on here. One is the experience of Jacob and the angel. And the other is the experience of Jacob and Easav. And I wonder what we make about the combination of those two stories here.
Geoffrey Stern 08:20
You know, before I get to my understanding of what he means, by struggling with man, I want to make us very current, there was a book written about 10 years ago, and it’s called Startup Nation. And it tries to address why Israel per capita has so many entrepreneurs has so many startups and in the preface, it talks about a few Israelis who are sitting in a conference room and arguing amongst themselves at the top of their lungs, about a who knows what some minutiae of how to program or start their company, and the American colleague who views this, and then sees the same people that had been deep in argumentation, go have a drink later and laugh and hug each other was amazed by it. And the same thing applies to the Israeli army with is this lack of recognition of [authority], this anti hierarchical respect. And they both go to this sense of you can argue with anybody and and he liked something rather interesting, and I’ll quote, so when he asked Major General Fakash why Israel’s military is so anti higherarchical and open to questioning. He told us it was not just the military, but Israel’s entire society and history. Our religion is an open book, he said, in a subtle European accent that traces that traces back to his early tweens in Transylvania, the open book he was referring to was the Talmud a dense recording of centuries of rabbinic debates over how to interpret the Bible and obey its laws. And the corresponding attitude of questioning is built into Jewish religion, as well as into the national ethos of Israel. and Israeli author Amos Oz has said, Judaism and Israel have always cultivated a culture of doubt and argument, an open ended game of interpretations counter interpretations reinterpretations opposing interpretations from the very beginning of the existence of the Jewish civilization. It was recognized by its argumentativeness.” And and I quote that picking up on your comment about this sense of arguing with God, and arguing with men, and there’s no question that deep in our essence, in our core, is this sense of taking the other position of looking at an alternative approach. And whether he’s talking about his potential future confrontation with his brother ESAV, or the years that he spent working for his father in law, and striving against a man who at every turn, was out to get him? I think that in our case, Jacob Yaakov really did have under his belt, the ability to say, I have striven with man and I have striven with God. And I have prevailed.
Adam Mintz 11:44
I think that’s right. You see, Jacob is always identified as the first Jew in exile, the first diaspora Jew, because Abraham is basically in the land of Canaan. And Isaac never leaves the land of Canaan. But Jacob, his whole life is with Laban. And then with Easav It’s a life of struggle. We often don’t think about the story here. But Jacob has another confrontation in the city of Shem, when his daughter Dina is raped. And that’s a very difficult story, because his sons take revenge against the people of Shem. And Jacob seems to get angry at the sons for embarrassing him. And the sons seem to get angry back at Jacob, which is just a very interesting back and forth there about what’s going on. What exactly is Jacob’s, place in the diaspora, Jacob always seems to be struggling. And just to look forward to next week what’s interesting is, when Jacob finally gets settled back at home, that’s when he has real trouble, because that’s when he favors his son, Joseph. And that’s when Joseph is hated by the brothers, and sold, and the whole story of Egypt begins. So actually, Jacob has a hard time, we would say in today’s language, figuring it out, I think.
Geoffrey Stern 13:22
So. So in other words, it doesn’t end. [laughs]
Adam Mintz 13:25
Yes, That’s, that’s my, that’s my read of from here to the end of the book of Genesis. It doesn’t really end, Jacob has trouble. And more than anything, Jacob struggles, you know, is he victorious? I don’t know. If he’s victorious. You know, the rabbi’s want to make him victorious, the rabbi’s are very proud of Jacob, because Abraham has Yishmael, and Isaac has Esav, but Jacob, all his children are true to his tradition. So you know, in a sense, they want to make it seem as if Jacob is somehow superior to his father and grandfather. But I don’t know that that’s so clear or so simple.
Geoffrey Stern 14:11
So I want to pick up on this concept of argument is the essence of the Jewish people. I mean, you know, again, the fact that we are called Yisrael which means striving with God and man, according to the verses that we just read. You can you can ignore that. So there’s a wonderful book, and it’s called Arguing with God, a Jewish Tradition by Anson Laytner. And he literally writes a whole book about this concept and you have heard me speak previously about how we now know from Ancient Near Eastern texts, this whole concept of making a [treaty] covenant and stuff like that, what he picks up from similar ancient texts is that is a whole tradition of what he calls this prayer of arguing with God. And what he does is he talks about how it’s called The Law Court Pattern of Prayer. It’s literally taking a god to court. And of course, what the Jews did with that was because their relationship with their God was so unique, and they only had one God, it was taking the single God to court. And of course, that makes a paradigm shift, because you can’t play one god against another. And I think as we look at different examples that the author brings, I think we’ll see stuff that really resonates that we’ve all heard about. But I want to start with one of the texts that he bought that actually relates to the argument, or I should say, the thoughts that Jacob shares with us today. If you recall, when I read a second ago, Jacob split up his his family into two. And he said whether musing to himself or to God, that He says, I fear he may come and strike me down. Mothers and children alike, “Aim al Banim”and, and the Midrash pipes in and explains that he is actually in a sense, taking God to court here. And what he’s saying, and I quote, Bereshit Rabba 76 He says, “I fear he may come strike me down mothers in childhood, like, but you said, [Jacob says to God,] if along the road you chanced upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on ground with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting over the fledglings, or on the eggs, do not take the mother together with her young”, there is a law in Deuteronomy that literally prohibits you from taking the eggs out of a nest, while the mother bird is still on it. Somehow, it broke with the moral, the ethical aesthetic of the Bible. There’s another law that said, “he may come and strike me down mothers and child alike, but you wrote, you have written in your Torah, do not kill a cow, or ewe and it’s young on the same day.” So again, according to this operation, robber, Jacob is also referring to a law in Leviticus that says, you cannot, again for this same moral aesthetic reason, kill a mother and child cow on the same day. There’s something about uprooting any sense of continuity among any species that rankles the ethics of the the Torah. And it goes on to say, “if this wicked one, Esau comes and destroys all at once, what will happen to your Torah, which in the future you will give on Mount Sinai, who will read it, I entreat you deliver me from his hand, that he will not come and kill both mother and child together” So the the author of this book has multiple examples, we’re going to visit a few through history, where this Jewish concept of taking God to task, quoting his own Torah, and this is something that the author feels in any case, is unique in the Jewish religion, Rabbi, do you feel that that is something that is unique to us?
Adam Mintz 18:47
That’s a good question. I don’t know the other traditions well enough? To answer that question. I can just say that it is a very striking aspect of Judaism. calling God to task is a fascinating idea. The fact that, we have all these examples, my favorite is Abraham calling God to task about destroying stones, and you know, really try to negotiate with God, the idea of negotiating with God, it’s such a crazy notion, how can you negotiate with God, but Abraham feels comfortable enough to negotiate with God. So I think the fact that we’re willing to take God to task is something that is very striking, I’ll just add to that idea of taking God to task. There’s another rabbinic idea. And that’s the idea that God suffers with us, that when we suffer, God suffers together with us. We take God to task but God it’s not as if God’s our enemy, God is with us and even God, when we go into exile, God goes into exile with us so we take God Death. And God responds in a way that really is very compassionate.
Geoffrey Stern 20:05
Absolutely. Almost God’s there with us. You know, the other thing that we have touched upon in the past is that much about Genesis is a forecast of what will happen in Exodus, going down into Egypt, in the case of Abraham and Sarah, and even Jacob. And it occurs to me, that Jacob here crossing the Jordan is identical to Moses about to cross the Jordan. But unlike many of the other precursors, I think that this story is slightly different, because Jacob is allowed to cross the Jordan, with his people, and Moses is not. And another example of this argument with God can be found in Devarim Raba. And this is, what words are put into Moses, his mouth, and Moses says, “Master of the Universe, the labors and pains which I have devoted to making Israel believe in your name are manifold and known to you to what trouble I have gone with them in connection with the precepts in order to fix them Torah and precepts thought, just as I have witnessed, they are Whoa, so too, I would behold their award. But now that we’re word of Israel has come, and you say to me, You shall not go over this Jordan. [And here’s where Moses gives his argument.] Behold, you made a fraud of your own Torah as it is written, you must pay him his wages on the same day before the sunsets, for he is needy, and urgently depends upon it else, he will cry to the Lord against you, and you will incur guilt. Is this the reward I get for 40 years labor that I went through in order that Israel should become a holy and faithful people.” So here Moses is taking the law, that you have to pay a laborer, the money that you owe him before you go to sleep, you can’t let the sun set without paying him. And Moses is saying, I suffered with these people for 40 years, I paid my dues, and now you won’t pay me what is is owed to me. And and again, it’s an amazing argument. But I think in the sense, it becomes even more profound, because we have to grapple with why Jacob was allowed to cross over into the Jordan, I mean, Jacob, if you look at the text, both this week, and last week, Jacob makes a very similar argument. He says, I worked with Laban and I worked for seven years for one wave seven years for another, he gets to ESAV. And he goes, I know you are concerned about me having the blessing. But I worked for everything that I show you today. I paid my dues, and he is somehow allowed, to course the Jordan, but Moses, who makes this type of argument that I think only a B’nai Israel could make is somehow not allowed. So my question is, well, my comment is twofold. Number one, why was Moses not successful in his request, but two this sense of argumentation, of literally, just as Jacob was able to hold the angel and say, I will not let you go until you bless me is a tradition that starts, as you say, from Abraham, and goes all the way through Moses, and we’ll see in a second through throughout Jewish history, it’s it’s very profound.
Adam Mintz 24:05
Yeah, I mean, yes, the answer is it is it is very profound. How do you take it as it relates to Jacob specifically, What do you think the fact that this is true about Jacob, and that we’re called Israel? What does that mean for us going through history?
Geoffrey Stern 24:25
Well, I think it certainly gives us a license, if not an obligation to argue and to take our God to task. You know, it’s a very fine line who this angel is, at some point he’s called Elohim. At some point, you could come to understand him as to be man, but definitely, somehow by the end of the story, and Jacob is obviously a person who throughout his life is looking for blessings he’s looking for recognition, he’s looking for someone to, say you are you, you are your own person. But nonetheless, Jacob does achieve that. He can’t forget his past, it’s not going to go away from him. But the legacy that he gives to his children, and to the world is this, I would say, not only license but an obligation to struggle and to argue with one’s God. And it enables him, I think, to get across the the Jordan and get into the promised land. And so he is successful, where maybe Moses was not.
Adam Mintz 25:55
Yes. So the idea that He gives permission that I think is a very critical idea that Jacob is actually the one who gives us permission to challenge God. And that, throughout history, Jews have challenged God as the descendants of Jacob. And that’s what we do. We challenged God. I mean, we asked, Where was God? Where was God in the Holocaust? Where was God when young children are killed in terrorist attacks in Israel? Where was God? And what you’re really saying correctly, is that that’s what Jacob did in a way, in, you know, in in challenging the angel is he’s challenging God. I wonder why the rabbi’s say that the angel was the angel of Esav. What did they gain by that?
Geoffrey Stern 26:51
Hmm, I hadn’t really seen that. But whether the angel was the angel of God, or whether the angel was the angel of ESAV, where Jacob becomes Israel, is by standing on his own feet and standing up to him. And, you know, I think this concept of arguing with God almost transcends a standard belief in God. In the texts and the traditions that the author that I quoted before brings, he brings poetry written and prayers written during the Holocaust, and after the Holocaust, and you mentioned the Holocaust. And you know that, that is a tipping point, in a sense, and I’d like to read just a little poem written by somebody called Jacob Gladstein, that he quotes. And I’m not sure the person who writes it can anymore believe in God. But when I read it, I pictured Jacob, sitting after fighting the angel, giving thought to what everything he’s come through all of the losses that he’s had. And here’s what he writes. And it’s really about God, and this person sitting in the DP camp. And he writes, “I love my sad god, my brother Refugee love to sit down on a stone with him and tell him everything wordlessly, because when we sit like this, both perplexed, our thoughts flow together in silence, my poor God, how many prayers I’ve profaned, and how many nights I’ve blasphemed him and warned my frightened bones at the furnace of the intellect. And here he sits my friend, his arm around me, sharing his last crumb, the God of my unbelief is magnificent. Now that he’s human and unjust, how I love my unhappy God, how exalted is this proud, pauper, now that the merest child rebels against his word” , and I really see in this words, Jacob sitting with the angel after fighting all night, and they’re both breathless and out of any strength, and they just put their arms around each other. And it’s an amazing picture. I had a professor of philosophy at Columbia, Sidney Morganbesser, and he was in great pain before he died. And one of his students came to him, and he said, “Why is God making me suffer So? do you think it’s punishment for me not believing in Him?” …. yeah he said that and he’s quoted as saying that, but again, it has this same tension that we of Israel are obliged to struggle with our God. And that, in a sense, is our essence. It’s it’s just, it’s just fascinating.
Adam Mintz 29:59
That is correct. It is just fascinating that that becomes our essence. And your essence is always your name. We always say that right? You know, names mean a lot. And the fact that we are named the children of Israel means a lot that, you know, that shows that our essence is that we’re made to struggle. You know, they often talk about you talked at the beginning what it’s like to be in yeshiva, and you know, the argumentation. You know, that goes on. But that’s our personality, we argue with one another. And we challenge everybody, we even challenge God, Isn’t that an amazing thing? We argue with one another, and we even argue with God.
Geoffrey Stern 30:47
I think it is amazing. And the most fascinating takeaway that I have taken away from this, and I haven’t seen it written anywhere else. Is I started by saying that the outcome of this story is that the Jewish people do not eat filet mignon, they do not eat that part of the animal that has the sciatic nerve in it. Because Jacob walked away from this battle with a limp. And what’s fascinating is, there is really no commandment from God, that we not eat this piece of meat. The verse says, That is why the children of Israel to this day, do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the socket of the hip. And what’s amazing to me is this is a commandment that possibly does not come from God. Is it one of our 613 commandments? Yes, it is. But where does it come from? It comes from Israel to Jewish people. And it’s a sense of when you come out of that struggle, and you limp away and you fought with man, but more importantly, in this context, you fought with God. Therefore, until this day, we Jews, maybe it’s our commandment, versus God, we are we remind our God, our God within ourselves or a God out there, that we have struggled with him or her, we continue to struggle with him or her, but it is a commandment that comes from us. I mean, how many times in Genesis does it say there were seven wells and therefore until today it is called Beersheba. It’s not a commandment. It’s a point of fact. But in this particular case, the fact that Jews, Israelites B’nai Israel do not eat from this piece of meat is a testament to our willingness and our need and our obligation to strive with God and man.
Adam Mintz 32:59
That I think is a beautiful note with which to end this discussion. The portion next week is Vayesh. It’s right before Hanukkah. Let’s have a great discussion next week. Thank you and welcome back. Geoffrey, this was a really good discussion this week. And Shabbat Shalom to everybody. Happy Thanksgiving. And we look forward to seeing you all next Thursday, Thanksgiving day to talk about Yayeshev.
Geoffrey Stern 33:21
Shabbat shalom. Thank you. Bye bye
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse on Thursday November 18th at 8:00pm Eastern as they discuss arguing with God in the Bible and later Rabbinic texts and Jewish Literature. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel which we are told means to struggle with Man and God. How do we live up to this name?
A live recording of Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse on November 11th 2021 as we discuss the Rabbi’s enigmatic saying that God is the Place of the World, but the World is not His Place. שֶׁהוּא מְקוֹמוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם וְאֵין עוֹלָמוֹ מְקוֹמוֹ What can we learn from the Rabbis?
With “guest” appearances from Spinoza and the Kotzke Rebbe
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. We also host a clubhouse every Thursday evening at eight Eastern which we record and post as the Madlik podcast. If you like what you hear, give us a star and share with your friends. And write a review. Today along with Rabbi Adam Mintz we climb up and down Jacob’s Ladder, and explore the evolution of the Hebrew word for place; Makom. Makom signifies both a unique place in Jewish history and geography, and a place that transcends both place and time. So find yourself a comfortable spot, but don’t get too comfortable as we explore hamakom- place / no place. Well, welcome I am broadcasting from Tel Aviv and rabbi Mintz is in New York. So we are in two different places. And we have a wonderful portion today it’s called Vayetzea, and it is about a famous story of Jacob, on his way to find himself a bride and the sun sets and he finds himself in a certain spot, he puts a bunch of rocks under his head as a pillow. And he falls asleep and has a dream of a ladder going from the ground up to heaven. And there are angels going up and angels going down. And when he wakes up, he realizes that he is in a very special place. And we are going to focus not so much on that story, because I just told you this story. And know you remember it from Hebrew school. But we are going to focus today on a word that is used multiple times. And I have used it already a few times today. And it is the word for place it is Makom. So now I’m going to read a little bit of the text in the actual language it’s written in. And we are going to focus on how this word is used here. And then how the history of that word developed over time. So we are in Genesis 28. And it says of Jacob, “He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night for the sun had set, taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. That was one verse and it said Makom three different times. And then it talks about the story that I just described. And towards the end it says Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, Surely the Lord is present in this place. And I did not know it Shaken, he said, how awesome is this place? This is none other than the abode of God. And that is the gateway to heaven. Early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put unto his head, set it up as a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.”So Rabbi, what do you make of this use of the word place over and over again? Is it just a special place? What is going on here?
Adam Mintz 03:43
Well, first of all, let me say that, you know, that clearly is the key word in this story. It’s not so much the dream. It’s the fact that Jacob has found the place. Now according to rabbinic tradition to start backwards. This place is the place where Abraham was ready to sacrifice Isaac, it’s this place that became the place where the temple was going to be built. So therefore this is the place the mountain in Jerusalem, this is the place and Jacob locates the place. And I think that’s a really interesting idea in Judaism, that there’s significance to place. You know, on one hand, we’re told to believe that God is everywhere. Hasidic masters always say, Where is God wherever you let him in. But in addition to that, there is the idea of God being in a specific place, there was the temple, and when the temple was destroyed, the temple was replaced by synagogues and Geoffrey you’re in Israel, and this week you were in Northern Israel. They have some amazing archaeological finds there. of ancient synagogues. There were synagogues that go back more than 2000 years. So the idea of having a place in Judaism, and of course, you know, it’s funny in COVID, people had synagogues outdoors. But in the Middle East in the summer, they needed synagogues outdoors, so they kind of beat us to the punch. They had synagogues outdoors in gamla and in many of these places. So the significance of place is extremely important to find the place, there is a place where God is closer, there is a place where we can communicate with God. And I think at least on the simplest level, that’s what the Torah is telling us about Jacob, he found this place.
Geoffrey Stern 05:48
So you mentioned that the rabbinic interpretation is that the place is Moriah, it’s where the binding of isaac occurred. And Rashi, of course, because he always gives us an insight into what the traditional interpretation says, says exactly that. And the interesting thing about that is if you look at Genesis 22: 4 it says, “On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar” haMakom meRachok So that’s kind of interesting and some of the classical commentators pick up on that as well. That there’s a sense, of course, with Yaakov, of not knowing that he was in a very holy place, having the dream waking up and realizing my gosh, I am in a very holy place. And Abraham seeing the place from afar. As you mentioned, there is this connection between the place and a temple, a synagogue. If you notice at the last few lines that I read, what he does, when he realizes that he’s in a holy place, is he takes a stone, and he sets it up as a pillar and he pours oil on it. Later on in the parsha. way. later on, after Jacob has toiled for both Leah and Rachel, his two wives, and he leaves Laban, his father in law in a hurry. After Laban chases him they make a pact of friendship, because there’s a lot of tension there. And here, too, it’s kind of interesting, they set up a stone, very similar to what Yakov did at the beginning of the portion, when he finds out he’s in a holy space. And here, too, they set it up, but they do something kind of interesting. Yaakov calls it Gal Eid” (Gilaid) which means the stone is a witness. And Laban, in one of the few times in the Bible where we get a kind of a translation, he calls it “yigal Saduta” which is Aramaic. And those of you who have studied archaeology know, whenever they find one of these stones (stella’s) that has languages translated on it, it provides a way of understanding the past. So I think that if you look at it, just from the perspective of a physical stone, of physical place, we have all of these dynamics going on. We have man seeing the holiness from afar, and then maybe discovering it, we have man solving problems of social conflict and making a pact and consecrating so even if you look at it at the most, I would say literal way. It’s a fascinating insight into sanctification of a particular place, wouldn’t you say?
Adam Mintz 09:12
I would say there’s no question about that. And again, the idea that you can sanctify a place, we still have that idea. You know, there are certain rules that apply to synagogues that don’t apply to other places. You have to treat synagogues with a certain amount of respect. synagogues are sanctified
Geoffrey Stern 09:29
in a similar way. And then of course, there’s this concept of this stone here. So before we leave and go on a World Wind tour of how this developed in rabbinic literature, I think we would be remiss if we didn’t talk a little bit about the significance to at least two religions of literally, this stone. If you go to the Dome of The Rock if you go to Har Habayit, there is the cornerstone there, the Even hashatea We call it the Foundation Stone. And in Islam, it’s called the Noble Rock. And it’s very likely that this is the story of exactly that stone. And of course, you have the beautiful Midrash which explains why when Yaakov went to sleep, it says he put a number of stones under his head, and he woke up and it says, He took the single stone. So you have these stones fighting amongst themselves, whose head who will have the head of this righteous man on me, and they all come together. But this is the noble rock this is the Even hashatia, is it not?
Adam Mintz 10:53
It definitely is. So that stone becomes the holiest stone, the holiest place in Jewish history.
Geoffrey Stern 11:01
And there is a another beautiful Midrash that says that when the world was created, and man was made from the earth, that in fact, he was made from literally this earth. According to Rashi, it says “he took the dust from that spot on which the Holy Temple with the altar of atonement was in later times to be built, an altar of Earth thou shalt make for me.” And Rashi draws the conclusion, between the words Earth used in making the altar, and the words Earth used in making humankind so this is really the kind of the fulcrum, the eye of the universe for the biblical and rabbinic mind. It’s pretty dramatic.
Adam Mintz 11:56
It most definitely is This story of the place is extremely dramatic. And you drew the parallel to the story of the binding of Isaac. And they’re also Abraham sees the place It’s never by accident, when the Torah uses, the same word in different contexts. If the Torah uses the same word in different contexts, it’s coming to tell you that you’re supposed to connect the stories. So when you connect this story of Jacob’s dream with the story of the binding of Isaac, this story is elevated. And actually just to say another thing. That means that all three of our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all had an experience in the place, the place that would become the holiest place in Judaism is a place where the forefathers had their experience of relating to God, that’s very powerful.
Geoffrey Stern 12:52
So if we were to stop right here, we would have enough to chew on so to speak, in terms of taking these ancient stories and narratives of our forefathers and bringing them into the present in terms of the temple in ancient times and even today, but what amazes me is there’s a phrase in the Talmud, that is, brought in Bereshit Rabba and it’s from right here, and it asks a question. And the premise of the question is, for those of you who are aware of Jewish tradition, the word place makom in rabbinic tradition became a name for God. And of course, we know there were many names for God. You’re not supposed to speak inside of a bathroom because you might say the word Shalom. Shalom is a name for God. In a sense, we believe that God has no name and therefore there are many names. The colloquial, the common way of referring to God for religious Jews today is Hashem which means “the name” but Makom is used as a name of God. And we are going to visit all the times that it’s used, or at least the famous times that it’s used. But before we do, here is the amazing statement in Bereshit Rabbah 68 And it says, “And he came upon this place, quoting from our portion Rav Huna says in the name of Rabbi Ami: why do we substitute the name of the holy blessed one and use “place”? So he literally asks why when we do the Seder do we say Baruch hamakom, baruch hu” Why when we go to a Shiva, do we say “hamakom yinachem” instead of God should console you, we say the place should give you consolation. And here’s the answer that he gives. He says, because “God is the place of the world, but the world is not the place of God.” And for those of you who know Hebrew, you have to listen to the lyricism here. He says, “makomo shel olam v’eyn olam makomo” It’s an amazing phrase, I’m going to say it one more time, that “God is the place of the world. But the world is not God’s place.” And that is what Rob Hoonah says, is the reason why we substitute the name of Makom for God’s name. Are you as amazed by this phrase, as I am rabbi?
Adam Mintz 15:58
Well first of all, like you said, the poetry of the phrase, is that really amazing? It’s brilliant how they do that? But yeah, I mean, it’s such an interesting idea, you might have thought that the world and God are one, that it’s not that one is the place of the other, but the world is God and God is the world. But this phrase says that that actually is not true, that it’s not true, that the world is not God’s place, but God is the world. I mean, what is it? What let me ask you a different question, a Talmudic Question. What’s the difference between the two formulations? Meaning, what difference does it make if God is the world or the world is God?
Geoffrey Stern 16:47
Well remember what it says is that God is the world, but the world is not God’s place. So it doesn’t actually parallel the two. So I always think, I always think of when Elie Wiesel was standing in front of Reagan, and Reagan was about to go to a (SS) cemetery, He said, It is not your place. So I think in maybe the most broadest sense, what it’s saying is that everything is God. In other words, everything that we can see with us senses is God, every stone, every beam of light, every sound that we hear, but it’s not God’s place, meaning that doesn’t limit God. He’s more than that. But he is all of that. That’s kind of the way I kind of take it at face value.
Adam Mintz 17:47
That’s interesting. It doesn’t limit God, but it gives God a kind of a foundation in the world. I like that. And so the question is, if God is not connected to the world, how do we relate to God? God needs to be connected to the world somehow, right?
Geoffrey Stern 18:10
I think so. And that’s why I think there’s this sense of imminence and transcendence. In other words, it’s kind of like Jacob wakes up in the morning, and he goes, my God, (excuse the pun) This is his God’s place. He hadn’t seen it before. Or when Abraham sees the Makom from afar. I think there’s that also and of course that ties in a little bit to the ladder, doesn’t it about being close what you’re going to talk about this Shabbat, about the heavens and the earth, being both transcendent, and imminent?
Adam Mintz 18:54
Right. I mean, that is a very important point, the relationship between heaven and earth. Now, interestingly, the it’s the world that’s called Makom not heaven. You get the impression that God’s place or the place of God is the earth, not heaven. And that’s something different than we usually are brought up to think. Don’t we usually think haShamayim Shamayim L’Hashemthe … the heavens belong to God. VeHa’aretz natan l’bnai adam. But that’s not the way they’re saying it here.
Geoffrey Stern 19:29
Yep. And then if you think of the future temple, where God says “v’shechanti n’tochem” that “I will dwell withim you” You have that aspect of it. What I’d love to do is now that we have this amazing sense of what Makom came to mean for the rabbis, to first of all agree that in the biblical texts themselves, there’s not this sense at all. We started by talking About the holiness of this particular place this stone. And the question then if we agree on that is what happened? Why did the rabbis or how did the rabbis and what license did the rabbis have to go to this so sophisticated, so lyrical, so poetic, maybe even a Buddhist sense in a sense it’s everything is here but nothing is here How did this happen?
Adam Mintz 20:30
Yeah, that’s a good question. What was the development of the idea? Where did it come from? Since it’s not in the text? Where does the development come from? That’s really your question. Yeah.
Geoffrey Stern 20:43
Yeah. So what I’d love to do is to kind of go over a few different kind of key phrases where this new sense of Makom as God’s name appeared. And maybe we can together and I invite anyone from the audience to come up. We are in virgin territory. No matter how many (or few) years of learning gives you any prerogative here. It’s really poetic. But the first time that we really see this in the biblical text is in your Ezekiel and we use this phrase in our prayers in kedusha on Shabbat, so here’s what Ezekiel says. “Then he said to me, mortal, listen with your ears and receive in your mind all the words that I speak to you. Go to your people, the exile community, and speak to them, say to them Thus said the LORD our God, whether they listen or not, then a spirit carried me away. And behind me, I heard a great roaring sound, bless it is the presence of the Lord in his place. “Baruch Hashem mimkamo” If this is the first time that you really get a sense of Makom being associated with God, it certainly does bring up exile. And maybe that’s what this is all about. Maybe after the first physical sense of Temple no longer had meaning. And the people were in exile. This became a new temple, and it was a temple in God himself. I don’t know. But there is this association with exile in Yehzkel.
Adam Mintz 22:39
So let me tell you a very strong rabbinic tradition. The strong rabbinic tradition is a phrase “imo anochi b’tzara” that when someone is suffering, we empathize with the suffering. And the amazing thing is that the rabbi’s say that that phrase applies to God as well, that when Jews suffer, God empathizes with them, that when the Jews go into exile, God goes into exile with them. When the Jews are being punished, God is also being punished. And what they do is they reread several verses in the Torah to suggest that idea, Baruch Hashem Mimkamo from God’s place. Now, it’s not God’s place, it’s every place God is where he needs to be, or where God needs to be, not he or she, and when Jews are suffering or when people are suffering, God is with that. When people are celebrating, God is with them. I think that’s a very strong, very strong idea.
Geoffrey Stern 24:02
And part of that idea is that man is somehow involved here. So one of the alternative explanations of why God was there (with Jacob) was a “b’makom sh’tzadikim omdim sham haKadosh barchu nimtza” in the place where the righteous people are, that’s where God is. And I think that kind of ties a little bit into what you were saying. It also ties into the famous answer of the kotzke Rebbe when they say where is God, and he said, wherever we let him in. So you’re saying he’s everywhere, but nonetheless, it does relate to humanity in a sense, whether it’s because they’re righteous or because some other sanctification (suffering or joy). Michael, welcome up to the Bima, How are you today?
Michael Stern 24:54
Good. Thank you and it’s late at night for you and I really appreciate you being on this from Israel, I wanted to consider that. There’s a saying I think it was job. It’s like his heart is as firm as a heart of stone. I remember hearing that. And so when I think of what the rabbi’s said it’s everything is a perspective. So a heart of stone could be cold and hard and no empathy. And just crushing, walk, stepping on anything it passes. And then a hardest stone could be connected to earth energy, have permanence stability. I have endure and strength structure. So I just think that for me, I was listening of Makom And for my understanding Makom is this place. That’s everywhere. But I have been searching for it. And it’s within. And I have tried it all the heart of stone, no empathy, me, me, me and then a stone that is connected to the earth and to everyone else and the sacred space. So I just think it’s interesting, this heart of stone could be also seen in two different ways.
Geoffrey Stern 26:34
I think that’s beautiful. You know, there is a sense of, as you were saying, that this place is is available to everybody is all encompassing this sense of having the stone but having it accept everybody on different journeys on different narratives. Is one that I find very appealing. And if you think of how we use Makom in the Haggadah of the Passover Seder, we say Baruch Hamakom baruch hu baruch sh’natan Torah l’amo Yisrael. We’re saying how great is God that He gave us the Torah. And then it goes on. And it says keneged arba banim dibra torah that God spoke to the four children, which is really just a symbol of four different amongst a multiplex of different pathways that one could find to that stone. So I love that idea of having it being all encompassing. And the other time that we use makom is when someone is in mourning. And you know, the advice that the rabbi’s give is don’t say anything to somebody in mourning, whether it’s a Job or it’s Joe from next door. Who are we to understand what they’re suffering, what got them to where they are. So it says hamakom yinachem etchem, that the God or the place this all encompassing place should accept you. So I do believe that there’s a really strong sense in this attribute of God as a place that opens it up to so many different emotions and pathways.
Adam Mintz 28:18
Yeah, I mean, let’s let’s take a second go back to the idea that in Shiva, when you offer consolation, you say HaMakom the place why do we think that that is why do we refer to God as being HaMakom? Or is that actually what it means Hamakom yinachem etchem. Does it mean God? Or does it mean this place where you sit Shiva together with everybody else? Let that provide the comfort means I think it’s ambiguous what Hama comb refers to exactly
Geoffrey Stern 28:55
yeah, I agree. We do see here in Hamakom Yinachem this reference to the exile again, so that it is a recurring theme. It says that God should have Mamakom should comfort you amongst the gates of the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. So again, you know, you kind of get a sense of the evolution of this concept of a physical place to a less tactile place a more all encompassing place. Yes, Elise.
Elise Meyer 29:34
I keep thinking of Makom as being like a state like the state of mind the state of being the state of togetherness, you know, whatever. Whatever the Makom is, that’s your Makom.
Adam Mintz 29:49
Interesting hamakom yinachem etchem means where you are now that should comfort you. However you’re feeling now that should be a sign a source of comfort. The question elise is how do you get that from the word hamakom?
Elise Meyer 30:06
Think of the word situation? Situation is like makom.
Adam Mintz 30:11
Yeah, I mean, that’s what you need to say what you need to say is that it’s the situation. May the situation console you, right? That’s a very nice Geoffrey, what do you think of that? That’s a nice little twist to this.
Geoffrey Stern 30:28
I think it’s all there. And and I think we would be remiss and we are starting to run out of time, if we didn’t mention the most famous heretic and I say that in quotes of Judaic thought, and that is a guy named Baruch; Benedict Spinoza. And he was accused of something called Panantheism. Only because he said something to the effect of “whatever is, is in God, and nothing can be or be conceived without God.” In the notes that I give on Sefaria for this talk. There is a erudite lecture that says that who could say that this idea of Spinoza was not in Judaism. And literally the first argument he gives is our sense, that God is the world but the world is not God. And it’s really, it’s so transcendental and so universal. It’s such a powerful, powerful idea. But one of the things that Spinoza was influenced by was Descartes, who literally said, everything in the world is probably what’s in your mind. Because, you know, he said, Cogito ergo sum I think, therefore I am. And in a sense, at least, that’s what you’re saying this Makom is in our head, but maybe Spinoza took it one step further. And he said, the whole world is in God’s mind. So this is a mind blowing concept. There’s no question about it.
Elise Meyer 32:24
I love this. I love this conversation. It was great.
Adam Mintz 32:28
Thank you, Elise.
Geoffrey Stern 32:29
I want to conclude at least my comments by bringing ourselves back to Israel, which is where I am right now. And I was trekking in the Negev and I came to a sign put up by the nature authority, and it’s the type of sign that you’d expect to find on a campground. It says put all your trash away, lieve the site clean, but it’s in Hebrew, and it says at the end, Ben Adam L’makom between man and earth and place. And of course what it is doing is it’s taking another time that Makom is used in our tradition, which is before Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, we are told that for sins between man and God, between Adam v’Makaom you can ask forgiveness on your own between Adam v’havero (man and his fellow) you have to request permission. But what this sign did is it took this concept that we’re talking about right now. Back to the physical piece of land, and in an environmental way. It says it’s ben adam l’makom it’s between man and his responsibility to this beautiful world that we live in. And that really blew my mind.
Adam Mintz 33:56
That is a great way to end Geoffrey thank you so much. Enjoy Israel enjoy the Makom. Everyone we wish you a Shabbat Shalom and we look forward next Thursday night to learning the parsha of Vayishlach continuing the stories of Jacob and Geoffrey Shabbat Shalom in Israel. Lila Tov to everybody. Have a great week. Be well everybody, bye bye.
Geoffrey Stern 34:19
Shabbat Shalom to everyone and let the place be with you.
Recorded live on a Zoom conference at TCS, The Conservative Synagogue of Westport Connecticut, an exploration of what the biblical provision for celebrating a second Passover (Pesach Sheni) teaches us about celebrating Passover under extenuating circumstances.
(2) Let the Israelite people offer the passover sacrifice at its set time: (3) you shall offer it on the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, at its set time; you shall offer it in accordance with all its rules and rites. (4) Moses instructed the Israelites to offer the passover sacrifice; (5) and they offered the passover sacrifice in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, in the wilderness of Sinai. Just as the LORD had commanded Moses, so the Israelites did. (6) But there were some men who were unclean by reason of a corpse and could not offer the passover sacrifice on that day. Appearing that same day before Moses and Aaron, (7) those men said to them, “Unclean though we are by reason of a corpse, why must we be deprived [diminished, restrained, withdrawn, hindered, let down] from presenting the LORD’s offering at its set time with the rest of the Israelites?” (8) Moses said to them, “Stand by, and let me hear what instructions the LORD gives about you.” (9) And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: (10) Speak to the Israelite people, saying: When any of you or of your posterity who are defiled by a corpse or are on a long journey would offer a passover sacrifice to the LORD, (11) they shall offer it in the second month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, (12) and they shall not leave any of it over until morning. They shall not break a bone of it. They shall offer it in strict accord with the law of the passover sacrifice. (13) But if a man who is clean and not on a journey refrains from offering the passover sacrifice, that person shall be cut off from his kin, for he did not present the LORD’s offering at its set time; that man shall bear his guilt.
In each and every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he left Egypt, as it is stated (Exodus 13:8); “And you shall explain to your son on that day: For the sake of this, did the Lord do [this] for me in my going out of Egypt.” Not only our ancestors did the Holy One, blessed be He, redeem, but rather also us [together] with them did He redeem, as it is stated (Deuteronomy 6:23); “And He took us out from there, in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He swore unto our fathers.”
Despite being forcibly converted to Christianity in 1497 many of the Jews of Portugal continued to practice Judaism in secret. Today, residents of the village of Belmonte practice an amalgam of Christian and Jewish rituals.
The day of the Lord – the Day of the Great Forgiveness – (O Dia do Senhor) and the Holy Feast – the Easter – (A santa Festa) are the great holy days that remain; some still light the Sabbath lamp. Passover, the most important and most elegant holiday about a month after its actual date in the Jewish calendar, a memory of the Inquisition. The box of unleavened bread is the main ritual, which is performed in secret, at home. We see him here for the first time. Dressed in white, the participants sanctify the piece by throwing water and purging prayers of purification. They invoke God’s protection from various evils, don’t torture. During the Holy Feast they consume no meat or coffee and eat no bread other than unleavened bread. Then the Marrranes leave the city, in groups, and will pick bitter herbs (maror in The Jewish tradition); men and women whip the river with plants abseiling from the Red Sea crossing by Moses during the Egyptian Exodus. These ceremonies are preserved thanks to the photographs of Frederic Brenner for the first and perhaps the last time.
For once these Marranos of Belmonte expose themselves, a historic moment and a turning point in their becoming; they overexpose themselves to the camera. They make of their secret an archived invisible visibility. They are the only ones, in this series of photograms, to keep the secret that they exhibit and to sign their belonging without belonging. More than for all the others, I ask myself “who” they are and what they are thinking, in their for intérieur, as we say in French—that is, in their “heart of hearts.” (What is their for intérieur? What do they ﬁnally know of their secret, of the secret that keeps them before they keep it?) What do they think of what is happening to them, including the forgiveness asked by Mário Soares (“In the name of Portugal, I ask forgiveness of the Jews for the persecutions they suffered in our country”)? The ﬁlm The Last Marranos bears witness to the fact that those named in the title are undergoing the loss of their secret. They are forgetting it, paradoxically, in the very movement and moment in which they are reappropriating their memory in an “authentic,” assumed, “normal” Judaism: another “normalization” on the agenda, after the avowal, or rather let us say the confession, and then, ﬁnally, the repentance of the guilty ones.
— JACQUES DERRIDA Diaspora: Homelands in Exile (2 Volume Set) Hardcover – September 30, 2003
by Frederic Brenner Vol 2 Voices, p65
Please see Video: The Last Marranos on YouTube here and here at point where they describe previous practice of Pesach Sheni.
they were unnamed people who were engaged in tending to a corpse whose burial is a mitzva, i.e., which has no one else available to bury it, and their seventh day of impurity occurred precisely on the eve of Passover, as it is stated: “And they could not observe the Pesaḥ on that day” (Numbers 9:6). The Gemara infers: On that day they could not observe it; on the next day they could observe it. Although they would be purified at nightfall and would then be eligible to partake of the Paschal lamb, at the time of the slaughter and the sprinkling of the blood they were not yet pure. They asked whether the Paschal lamb could be slaughtered on their behalf. Apparently, they were obligated to perform the mitzva of burial of the corpse although it prevented them from fulfilling the mitzva of sacrificing the Paschal lamb, which is a stringent mitzva.
(2) What is “a far-off journey”?From Modi’im and beyond, and the same distance on all sides [of Jerusalem], the words of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Eliezer says: from the threshold of the Temple court and beyond. Rabbi Yose said to him: for that reason the heh has a dot on it in order to say, not because it is really far-off, but [even when one is] from the threshold of the Temple court and beyond.
And all three of them expounded the same verse to derive their opinions: “But the man who is ritually pure, and is not on a journey, and refrains from offering the Paschal lamb, that soul shall be cut off from his people; because [ki] he did not bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed season, that man shall bear his sin” (Numbers 9:13). Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi holds that the verse should be understood as follows: The phrase: “And refrains from offering the Paschal lamb, that soul shall be cut off,” means that he did not participate in the offering on the firstPesaḥ. In the continuation of the verse, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi understands the word ki to mean: If, as the word ki has various meanings, one of which is: If. Therefore, the verse can be interpreted in the following manner: If he also “did not bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed season,” with regard to the secondPesaḥ, “that man shall bear his sin.”
פסחים צ״ג א:י״ב
ושלשתן מקרא אחד דרשו והאיש אשר הוא טהור ובדרך לא היה רבי סבר וחדל לעשות הפסח ונכרתה דלא עבד בראשון אי נמי קרבן ה׳ לא הקריב במועדו בשני
Deprived: From the fact that they nevertheless did demand, “Why should we be deprived” we learn a wonderful lesson. When a Jew feels that he is missing something in Torah and mitzvos, some aspect of fear of Heaven, he relies on no one — not on Moshe Rabbeinu and not even on G‑d (so to speak). Instead, he cries out and demands, “Why should we be deprived!”
Recorded live at TCS, The Conservative Synagogue of Westport Connecticut, an exploration of the fine line between expressions of piety in the service of the Divine and the seduction of self-pride.
Using biblical, Talmudic, liturgical and Maimonidian texts and anecdotes from the Novardok school of Mussar we come to a surprising conclusion. The Torah not so much commands us to worship the Lord as it does give us permission or license. We call this the audacity of Torah.
1. There is a popular Jewish joke about the former Novardok Yeshiva, founded by Rabbi Yosef Yozel Horowitz known as the Alter of Novardok (1847–1919). Novardok was one of the more extreme exemplars of the mussar movement that developed in Lithuania in the latter part of the 19th century. This yeshiva placed great emphasis on “the negation of the ego and the physical world”. Students wore tattered clothing and engaged in deliberately humiliating activities to achieve that end. The joke goes as follows:
Chaim, a new student, arrived at the Novardok Yeshiva. Being a novice and not knowing exactly what was expected of him, he simply observed what the other students were doing and copied them. When it was time for davening, observing his fellow yeshiva students engaged in fervent prayer and shokeling back and forth with great intensity, he did the same. During the period for Talmud study, he mimicked the others with their sing-song chants and exaggerated hand gestures. Finally, it was time for mussar self-examination, when each student retreated to a private corner, beat his fist remorsefully against his chest and repeated the refrain in Yiddish: “Ish bin a gor nisht! Ish bin a gor nisht!” (“I am a complete nothing!”) Observing the behaviour of these students, Chaim sat down and, pounding his fist against his chest, likewise repeated the same mantra: “Ish bin a gor nisht! Ish bin a gor nisht!” One of the veteran students seated nearby observed Chaim disdainfully, turned to another old-timer and commented, “Look at this one! He’s been here just one day, and he already thinks he’s a gor nisht!” source
(א) וקרא זה אל זה. נוטלין רשות זה מזה שלא יקדים האחד ויתחיל ויתחייב שריפה אלא אם כן פתחו כולם כאחד וזהו שיסד ביוצר אור קדושה כולם כאחד עונים כו’ ומדרש אגדה מעשה מרכבה הוא וכן תירגם קדוש קדוש קדוש ג’ פעמים כתרגומו:
3. They would take permission from one another so that one would not precede [the others] and be guilty of [a sin punishable by] burning; rather, they all commenced simultaneously. This is the basis for what is said in the K’dushah d’Yotzeir Or: “all, as one, respond [and proclaim God’s holiness…]”…
Rabbi Chaim Ben Shlomo Tierer of Czernowitz (born 1816) explains the verse and prayer as follows:
“… Because we have already written elsewhere that whoever loves God will not act selfishly under any circumstance, there is no difference in him at all in doing the commandments whether he did or others do and the good comes from everywhere.
Ganze: There must be no “competition” for the observance. A Jew who does only one mitzvah a day does so pleasing the Almighty. And no one else has permission to criticize him that is only one mitzvah. And he continues:
“And that is the crux of his work please the Lord, and what if this Divine pleasure comes from him or from his friend. … Who loves his Creator A true love that longs for a spirit of Creator will never endeavor to snatch the mitzvah from others.
Ganz; There is no guardianship of the commandments! One or the other circle must not claim that only they know how to keep the commandments, and therefore every commandment that another Jew makes is wrong in the first place. Such an attitude causes God sorrow instead of joy.
And so they say with regard to the Kedusha: and everyone accepts them And lovingly give ‘each other’s permission’ to sanctify their creator in divine pleasure … ‘ And no one wants to be bigger than his friend even in the eyes of the God, and therefore, with great love, give each other permission to dedicate, etc. that all their intentions that come to give pleasure to the Creator of the world whether it comes from them or their fellow.
And Rabbi Elazar said: Moses also spoke impertinently toward God on High, as it is stated in the verse following the sin of those who murmured against God in the desert: “And Moses prayed to the Lord and the fire subsided” (Numbers 11:2), and this verse is interpreted homiletically: Do not read to [el] the Lord, but rather onto [al] the Lord, which indicates that he spoke impertinently….
The Sages of the school of Rabbi Yannai, however, say proof that Moses spoke impertinently toward God on High is derived from here, Moses’ rebuke at the beginning of Deuteronomy: “And Di Zahav” (Deuteronomy 1:1). …The Sages of the school of Rabbi Yannai said that Moses said the following before the Holy One, Blessed be He, to atone for Israel after the sin of the Golden Calf: Master of the Universe, because of the gold and silver that you lavished upon Israel during the exodus from Egypt until they said enough [dai]; it was this wealth that caused Israel to make the Golden Calf. …
Rabbi Oshaya said: This is comparable to a person who had a lean, but large-limbed cow. At one point, he fed it lupines, a choice food, and soon thereafter the cow was kicking him. He said to the cow: Who caused you to begin kicking me if not the lupines I fed you? Here, too, the sin was caused by an abundance of good. The Gemara offers another analogy: Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: This is comparable to a person who had a son; he bathed him and anointed him with oil, fed him and gave him drink, and hung a purse of money around his neck. Then, he brought his son to the entrance of a brothel. What could the son do to avoid sinning? ….
Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani said that Rabbi Yonatan said: From where in the Torah is it derived that the Holy One, Blessed be He, ultimately conceded to Moses that the reason for the sin of the Golden Calf was indeed the riches lavished upon Israel? As it is stated: “And I gave them an abundance of silver and gold, which they used for the Ba’al” (Hosea 2:10). …
In an additional aspect of the sin of the Golden Calf, God told Moses: “Now leave Me be, that My wrath will be enraged against them and I will consume them; and I will make of you a great nation” (Exodus 32:10). Explaining this verse,
Rabbi Abbahu said: Were the verse not written in this manner, it would be impossible to utter it, in deference to God.
הנה כבר התבאר לך כי כל אשר התבאר לך במופת שלילת דבר אחד ממנו – תהיה יותר שלם וכל אשר תחיב לו דבר מוסף – תהיה מדמה ותרחק מידיעת אמיתתו. …
וכאשר הרגיש כל אדם שאי אפשר להגיע אל השגת מה שבכוחנו שנשיג כי אם בשלילה והשלילה לא תודיע דבר מאמיתת הענין אשר נשלל ממנו הדבר אשר נשללהו – בארו בני אדם כולם העוברים והבאים שהאלוה ית’ לא ישיגוהו השכלים ולא ישיג מה הוא אלא הוא ושהשגתו היא הלאות מתכלית השגתו. וכל הפילוסופים אומרים נצחנו בנעימותו ונעלם ממנו לחוזק הראותו כמו שיעלם השמש מן העינים החלושים להשיגו. וכבר האריכו בזה במה שאין תועלת לשנותו הנה. והמפולג שנאמר בזה הענין – אמרו ב’תלים’ “לך דומיה תהילה” – פרושו השתיקה אצלך היא השבח. וזה המרצת דברים עצומה מאוד בזה הענין – שאנחנו כל דבר שנאמר אותו שנכון בו הגדלה ושבח – נמצא בו מעמס אחד בחוקו ית’ ונשקיף בו קצת חסרון; אם כן השתיקה יותר ראויה וההסתפקות בהשגת השכלים כמו שצוו השלמים ואמרו “אמרו בלבבכם על משכבכם ודומו סלה”:
וכבר ידעת אמרתם המפורסמת (אשר מי יתן והיה כל המאמרים כמותה!) ואני אזכרה לך בלשונה (ואף על פי שהיא ידועה) להעירך על עניניה.
והסתכל תחילה שתקו ומאסו רבוי תארי החיוב. והתבונן איך הראה כי התארים אילו הונחו לשכלינו לבד לא אמרנום לעולם ולא דברנו בדבר מהם; ואמנם כאשר הצריך הכרח הדיבור לבני אדם במה שיתקים להם מעט ציור – כמו שאמרו ‘דברה תורה כלשון בני אדם’ – שיתואר להם האלוק בשלמיותיהם תכליתנו – שנעמוד על המאמרים ההם ולא נקרא שמו בהם אלא בקראנו אותם ב’תורה’ לבד;
וכבר הישירנו שלמה לזה הענין במה שבו די ואמר “כי האלוקים בשמים ואתה על הארץ על כן יהיו דבריך מעטים”
It will now be clear to you, that every time you establish by proof the negation of a thing in reference to God, you become more perfect, while with every additional positive assertion you follow your imagination and recede from the true knowledge of God. …
Since it is a well-known fact that even that knowledge of God which is accessible to man cannot be attained except by negations, and that negations do not convey a true idea of the being to which they refer, all people, both of past and present generations, declared that God cannot be the object of human comprehension, that none but Himself comprehends what He is, and that our knowledge consists in knowing that we are unable truly to comprehend Him. All philosophers say, “He has overpowered us by His grace, and is invisible to us through the intensity of His light,” like the sun which cannot be perceived by eyes which are too weak to bear its rays. Much more has been said on this topic, but it is useless to repeat it here. The idea is best expressed in the book of Psalms, “Silence is praise to Thee” (lxv. 2). It is a very expressive remark on this subject; for whatever we utter with the intention of extolling and of praising Him, contains something that cannot be applied to God, and includes derogatory expressions; it is therefore more becoming to be silent, and to be content with intellectual reflection, as has been recommended by men of the highest culture, in the words “Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still” (Ps. 4:4).
You must surely know the following celebrated passage in the Talmud (Berakhot 33b) –would that all passages in the Talmud were like that!–although it is known to you, I quote it literally, as I wish to point out to you the ideas contained in it: “A certain person, reading prayers in the presence of Rabbi Haninah, said, ‘God, the great, the valiant and the tremendous, the powerful, the strong, and the mighty.’–The rabbi said to him, Have you finished all the praises of your Master? The three epithets, ‘God, the great, the valiant and the tremendous,’ we should not have applied to God, had Moses not mentioned them in the Law, and had not the men of the Great Synagogue come forward subsequently and established their use in the prayer; and you say all this! Let this be illustrated by a parable. There was once an earthly king, possessing millions of gold coin; he was praised for owning millions of silver coin; was this not really dispraise to him?” Thus far the opinion of the pious rabbi.
Consider, first, how repulsive and annoying the accumulation of all these positive attributes was to him; next, how he showed that, if we had only to follow our reason, we should never have composed these prayers, and we should not have uttered any of them. It has, however, become necessary to address men in words that should leave some idea in their minds, and, in accordance with the saying of our Sages, “The Torah speaks in the language of men,” the Creator has been described to us in terms of our own perfections; but we should not on that account have uttered any other than the three above-mentioned attributes, and we should not have used them as names of God except when meeting with them in reading the Law.
Solomon has already given us sufficient instruction on this subject by saying, “For God is in heaven, and thou upon earth; therefore let thy words be few” (Eccles. 5:2).
אי אפשר לפי טבע האדם שיניח כל מה שהרגיל בו פתאום. וכאשר שלח האלוק ‘משה רבנו’ לתתנו “ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש” בידיעתו ית’ – כמו שבאר ואמר “אתה הראת לדעת וגו'” וידעת היום והשבות אל לבבך וגו'” ולהנתן לעבודתו – כמו שאמר “ולעבדו בכל לבבכם” ואמר “ועבדתם את ה’ אלוקיכם” ואמר “ואותו תעבודו” – והיה המנהג המפורסם בעולם כולו שהיו אז רגילים בו והעבודה הכוללת אשר גדלו עליה – להקריב מיני בעלי חיים בהיכלות ההם אשר היו מעמידים בהם הצלמים ולהשתחוות להם ולקטר לפניהם והעבודים והפרושים היו אז האנשים הנתונים לעבודת ההיכלות ההם העשויים לכוכבים (כמו שבארנו) – לא גזרה חכמתו ית’ ותחבולתו המבוארת בכל בריאותיו שיצונו להניח מיני העבודות ההם כולם ולעזבם ולבטלם כי אז היה זה מה שלא יעלה בלב לקבלו כפי טבע האדם שהוא נוטה תמיד למורגל; והיה דומה אז כאילו יבוא נביא בזמננו זה שיקרא לעבודת האלוק ויאמר האלוק צוה אתכם שלא תתפללו אליו ולא תצומו ולא תבקשו תשועתו בעת צרה אבל תהיה עבודתכם מחשבה מבלתי מעשה: ומפני זה השאיר ית’ מיני העבודות ההם והעתיקם מהיותם לנבראים ולענינים דמיוניים שאין אמיתות להם – לשמו ית’ וצונו לעשותם לו ית’. וצוונו לבנות היכל לו “ועשו לי מקדש” ושיהיה המזבח לשמו “מזבח אדמה תעשה לי” ושיהיה הקרבן לו “אדם כי יקריב מכם קרבן לה'” ושישתחוו לו ושיקטירוהו לפניו. והזהיר מעשות דבר מאלו המעשים לזולתו “זובח לאלוקים יחרם וגו'” “כי לא תשתחוה לאל אחר”. והפריש ‘כהנים’ לבית ה’מקדש’ ואמר “וכהנו לי” וחיב שייוחדו להם מתנות על כל פנים שיספיקו להם מפני שהם עסוקים בבית ובקרבנותיו והם מתנות ה’לוים וה’כהנים’. והגיע בזאת הערמה האלוקית שנמחוה זכר ‘עבודה זרה’ והתקימה הפינה הגדולה האמיתית באמונתו והיא מציאות האלוק ואחדותו; ולא יברחו הנפשות וישתוממו בבטל העבודות אשר הורגלו ולא נודעו עבודתו זולתם: ואני יודע שנפשך תברח מזה הענין בהכרח בתחילת מחשבה ויכבד עליך ותשאלני בלבך ותאמר לי איך יבואו מצוות ואזהרות ופעולות עצומות ומבוארות מאד והושם להם זמנים והם כולם בלתי מכוונות לעצמם אבל הם מפני דבר אחר כאילו הם תחבולה שעשה העלוה לנו להגיע אל כונתו הראשונה? ואי זה מונע היה אצלו ית’ לצוות לנו כונתו הראשונה ויתן בנו יכולת לקבלה ולא היה צורך לאלו אשר חשבת שהם על צד הכונה השניה? – שמע תשובתי אשר תסיר מלבך זה החלי ותגלה לך אמיתת מה שעוררתיך עליו. והוא שכבר בא ב’תורה’ כמו זה הענין בשוה – והוא אמרו “ולא נחם אלוקים דרך ארץ פלישתים כי קרוב הוא וגו’ ויסב אלוקים את העם דרך המדבר ים סוף”. וכמו שהסב האלוק אותם מן הדרך הישרה אשר היתה מכוונת תחלה מפני יראת מה שלא היו גופותם יכולים לסבלו לפי הטבע אל דרך אחרת עד שתגיע הכונה הראשונה – כן צוה בזאת המצוה אשר זכרנו מפני יראת מה שאין יכולת לנפש לקבלו לפי הטבע שתגיע הכונה הראשונה והיא – השגתו ית’ והנחת ‘עבודה זרה’. כי כמו שאין בטבע האדם שיגדל על מלאכת עבדות בחומר ובלבנים והדומה להם ואחר כן ירחץ ידיו לשעתו מלכלוכם וילחם עם ‘ילידי הענק’ פתאום כן אין בטבעו שיגדל על מינים רביםמן העבודות ומעשים מורגלים שכבר נטו אליהם הנפשות עד ששבו כמושכל ראשון ויניחם כולם פתאום. וכמו שהיה מחכמת האלוק להסב אותם במדבר עד שילמדו גבורה – כמו שנודע שההליכה במדבר ומעוט הנאות הגוף מרחיצה וסיכה וכיוצא בהם יולידו הגבורה והפכם יוליד רוך לב – ונולדו גם כן אנשים שלא הרגילו בשפלות ובעבדות וכל זה היה במצות אלוקיות על ידי משה רבינו’ “על פי ה’ יחנו ועל פי ה’ יסעו – את משמרת ה’ שמרו על פי ה’ ביד משה” – כן בא זה החלק מן התורה בתחבולה אלוקית עד שישארו עם מין המעשה המורגל כדי שתעלה בידם האמונה אשר היא הכונה הראשונה. ושאלתך “אי זה מונע היה לאלוק מצוותנו כונתו הראשונה ויתן לנו יכולת לקבלה?” תחיב זאת השאלה השנית ויאמר לך ואי זה מונע היה לאלוק שינחם ‘דרך ארץ פלישתים’ ויתן להם יכולת להלחם ולא היה צריך לזה הסיבוב ב”עמוד הענן יומם ועמוד האש לילה”? וכן תחיב שאלה שלישית – על סיבת היעודים הטובים אשר יעד על שמירת המצוות והיעודים הרעים אשר יעד על העברות ויאמר לך אחר שכונת האלוק הראשונה ורצונו היה שנאמין זאת התורה ונעשה ככל הכתוב בה למה לא נתן לנו יכולת לקבלה ולעשותה תמיד ולא היה עושה לנו תחבולה להיטיב לנו אם נעבדהו ולהנקם ממנו אם נמרהו? ולעשות הטובות ההם כולם והנקמות ההם כולם? – כי זאת גם כן תחבולה שעשה האלוק לנו עד שיגיע ממנו אל כונתו הראשונה – ואי זה מונע היה אצלו לתת רצון במעשי העבודה אשר רצה וריחוק העברות אשר מאסם טבע מוטבע בנו?: והתשובה על אלו השאלות השלש וכל מה שהוא ממינם – תשובה אחת כוללת והיא שהאותות כולם אף על פי שהם שינוי טבע איש אחד מאישי הנמצאות אך טבע בני אדם לא ישנהו האלוק כלל על צד המופת. ומפני זה השורש הגדול אמר “מי יתן והיה לבבם זה להם וגו'” ומפני זה באה המצוה והאזהרה והגמול והעונש. וכבר בארנו זאת הפינה במופתיה במקומות רבים מחיבורינו. ולא אמרתי זה מפני שאני מאמין ששינוי טבע כל אחד מבני אדם קשה עליו ית’ אך הוא אפשר ונופל תחת היכולת אלא שהוא לא רצה כלל לעשות זה ולא ירצהו לעולם כפי הפינות התוריות; ואילו היה מרצונו לשנות טבע כל איש מבני אדם למה שירצהו ית’ מן האיש ההוא היה בטל שליחות הנביאים ונתינת התורה כולה:
(ג) ואשוב אל כונתי ואומר כי כאשר היה זה המין מן העבודה – רצוני לומר ה’קרבנות’ – על צד הכונה השניה והצעקה והתפלה וכיוצא בהם ממעשי העבודות יותר קרובות אל הכונה הראשונה והכרחיות בהגיע אליה – שם בין שני המינים הפרש גדול והוא שזה המין מן העבודה – רצוני לומר הקרבת הקרבנות – אף על פי שהוא לשמו ית’ לא חויב עלינו כמו שהיה בתחלה – רצוני לומר שנקריב בכל מקום ובכל זמן ולא שנעשה היכל באשר יזדמן ושיקריב מי שיזדמן “החפץ ימלא ידו” אבל נאסר כל זה עלינו והושם בית אחד “אל המקום אשר יבחר ה'” ואין מקריבים בזולתו “פן תעלה עולותיך בכל מקום אשר תראה” ולא יהיה ‘כהן’ אלא זרע מיוחד – כל זה הענין – למעט זה המין מן העבודות ושלא יהיה ממנו אלא מה שלא גזרה חכמתו להניחו לגמרי. אבל התפילה והתחינה היא מותרת בכל מקום וכל מי שיזדמן. וכן ה’ציצית’ וה’מזוזה’ וה’תפילין’ וזולתם מן העבודות הדומות להם:
(ד) ובעבור זה הענין אשר גיליתי לך נמצא הרבה בספרי הנביאים שמוכיחים בני אדם על רוב השתדלותם והתחזקם להביא הקרבנות ובואר לכם שאינם מכוונים לעצמם כונה צריכה מאד ושהאלוה אינו צריך להם – אמר שמואל “החפץ לה’ בעולות וזבחים כשמוע בקול יי? וגו'”; ואמר ישעיה “למה לי רוב זבחיכם? – יאמר ה’ וגו'”; ואמר ירמיה “כי לא דברתי את אבותיכם ולא צויתים ביום הוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים על דברי עולה וזבח – כי אם את הדבר הזה צויתי אותם לאמר שמעו בקולי והייתי לכם לאלוקים ואתם תהיו לי לעם”. וכבר הוקשה זה המאמר בעיני כל מי שראיתי דברים או שמעתים ואמר איך יאמר ירמיה על האלוק שלא צוונו ב’דברי עולה וזבח’ – ורוב ה’מצוות’ באו בזה? אמנם כונת המאמר הוא מה שבארתי לך וזה שהוא אמר שהכונה הראשונה אמנם היא – שתשיגוני ולא תעבדו זולתי ‘והייתי לכם לאלוקים ואתם תהיו לי לעם’; וזאת המצוה בהקרבה וכיון אל הבית אמנם היתה בעבור שתעלה בידיכם זאת הפינה ובעבורה העתקתי אלו העבודות לשמי עד שימחה שם ‘עבודה זרה’ ותתקים פנת יחודי; ובאתם אתם ובטלתם התכלית ההיא והתחזקתם במה שנעשה בעבודה והוא – שאתם ספקתם במציאותי “כחשו בה’ ויאמרו “לא הוא” ועבדתם ‘עבודה זרה’ “וקטר לבעל הלוך אחרי אלוקים אחרים… ובאתם אתם ובטלתם התכלית ההיא והתחזקתם כמה שנעשה בעבורה והוא – שאתם ספקתם במציאותי “כחשו בה’ ויאמרו “לוא הוא” ועבדתם ‘עבודה זרה’ “וקטר לבעל והלוך אחרי אלוקים אחרים… ובאתם אל הבית וגו'” – ונשארתם מכונים אל ‘היכל ה” ומקריבים הקרבנות אשר לא היו מכוונים אל ‘היכל ה” ומקריבים הקרבנות אשר לא היו מכוונים כמה ראשונה: ולי בפרוש זה ‘הפסוק’ פנים אחרים והוא מביא הענין בעצמו אשר זכרנוהו והוא שכבר התבאר בכתוב ובקבלה יחד שתחילת מצוה שנצטוינו בה לא היו בה ‘דברי עולה וזבח’ כלל ואין צריך שתטריד כלל שכלך ב’פסח מצרים’ כי היא היתה לסיבה מבוארת גלויה – כמו שאני עתיד לבאר; ועוד שהמצוה היתה ב’ארץ מצרים’ והמצוה הרמוז אליה בזה ה’פסוק’ ואמר ‘ביום הוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים’ – כי תחלת ‘צווי’ שבא אחר יציאת מצרים’ הוא מה שנצטוינו בו במרה – והוא אמרו לנו שם “אם שמעו תשמע לקול ה’ אלוקיך וגו’ “שם שם לו חוק ומשפט חוגו'” ובאה הקבלה האמיתית “שבת ודינין במרה אפקוד” – וה’חוק’ הרמוז אליו הוא ה’שבת’ וה’משפט’ הוא ה’דינים’ והוא הסרת העול. וזאת היא הכונה הראשונה כמו שבארנו – רצוני לומר אמונת הדעות האמיתיות והוא חידוש העולם. וכבר ידעת שעיקר מצות שבת אמנם היא – לחזק זאת הפינה ולקימה – כמו שבארנו בזה המאמר. והכונה עוד עם אמיתת הדעות – להסיר העול מבני אדם. הנה כבר התבאר לך שהמצוה הראשונה לא היו בה ‘דברי עולה וזבח’ – אחר שהם על צד הכונה השנית כמו שזכרנו: וזה הענין בעצמו אשר אמרו ירמיה הוא אשר נאמר בתהילים על צד ההוכחה לאומה כולה בסכלה אז הכונה הראשונה ולא היתה מבדלת בינה ובין הכונה השנית. – אמר “שמעה עמי ואדברה ישראל ואעידה בך אלוקים אלוקיך אנוכי לא על זבחיך אוכיחך ועולותיך לנגדי תמיד לא אקח מביתך פר ממכלאותיך – עתודים”. וכל מקום שנכפל זה הענין – זאת היא הכונה בו. והבינהו מאד והסתכל בו:
a. It is, namely, impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other: it is therefore according to the nature of man impossible for him suddenly to discontinue everything to which he has been accustomed. Now God sent Moses to make [the Israelites] a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod. 19:6) by means of the knowledge of God. Comp. “Unto thee it was showed that thou mightest know that the Lord is God (Deut. 4:35); “Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the Lord is God” (ibid. 5:39). The Israelites were commanded to devote themselves to His service; comp. “and to serve him with all your heart” (ibid. 11:13); “and you shall serve the Lord your God” (Exod. 23:25); “and ye shall serve him” (Deut. 13:5).
b. But the custom which was in those days general among all men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up, consisted in sacrificing animals in those temples which contained certain images, to bow down to those images, and to burn incense before them; religious and ascetic persons were in those days the persons that were devoted to the service in the temples erected to the stars, as has been explained by us. It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God, as displayed in the whole Creation, that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service; for to obey such a commandment it would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used;
c.it would in those days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present if he called us to the service of God and told us in His name, that we should not pray to Him, not fast, not seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, and not by any action. For this reason God allowed these kinds of service to continue; He transferred to His service that which had formerly served as a worship of created beings, and of things imaginary and unreal, and commanded us to serve Him in the same manner; viz., to build unto Him a temple; comp. “And they shall make unto me a sanctuary” (Exod. 25:8); to have the altar erected to His name; comp. “An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me” (ibid. 20:21); to offer the sacrifices to Him; comp. “If any man of you bring an offering unto the Lord” (Lev. 1:2), to bow down to Him and to burn incense before Him. He has forbidden to do any of these things to any other being; comp. “He who sacrificeth unto any God, save the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed” (Exod. 22:19); “For thou shalt bow down to no other God” (ibid. 34:14). He selected priests for the service in the temple; comp. “And they shall minister unto me in the priest’s office” (ibid. 28:41). He made it obligatory that certain gifts, called the gifts of the Levites and the priests, should be assigned to them for their maintenance while they are engaged in the service of the temple and its sacrifices. By this Divine plan it was effected that the traces of idolatry were blotted out, and the truly great principle of our faith, the Existence and Unity of God, was firmly established; this result was thus obtained without deterring or confusing the minds of the people by the abolition of the service to which they were accustomed and which alone was familiar to them.
d. I know that you will at first thought reject this idea and find it strange; you will put the following question to me in your heart: How can we suppose that Divine commandments, prohibitions, and important acts, which are fully explained, and for which certain seasons are fixed, should not have been commanded for their own sake, but only for the sake of some other thing: as if they were only the means which He employed for His primary object? What prevented Him from making His primary object a direct commandment to us, and to give us the capacity of obeying it? Those precepts which in your opinion are only the means and not the object would then have been unnecessary.
e. Hear my answer, which win cure your heart of this disease and will show you the truth of that which I have pointed out to you. There occurs in the Law a passage which contains exactly the same idea; it is the following: “God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt; but God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea,” etc. (Exod. 13:17). Here God led the people about, away from the direct road which He originally intended, because He feared they might meet on that way with hardships too great for their ordinary strength; He took them by another road in order to obtain thereby His original object. In the same manner God refrained from prescribing what the people by their natural disposition would be incapable of obeying, and gave the above-mentioned commandments as a means of securing His chief object, viz., to spread a knowledge of Him [among the people], and to cause them to reject idolatry. It is contrary to man’s nature that he should suddenly abandon all the different kinds of Divine service and the different customs in which he has been brought up, and which have been so general, that they were considered as a matter of course; it would be just as if a person trained to work as a slave with mortar and bricks, or similar things, should interrupt his work, clean his hands, and at once fight with real giants. It was the result of God’s wisdom that the Israelites were led about in the wilderness till they acquired courage.
f. For it is a well-known fact that travelling in the wilderness, and privation of bodily enjoyments, such as bathing, produce courage, whilst the reverse is the source of faint-heartedness: besides, another generation rose during the wanderings that had not been accustomed to degradation and slavery. All the travelling in the wilderness was regulated by Divine commands through Moses; comp. “At the commandment of the Lord they rested, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed; they kept the charge of the Lord and the commandment of the Lord by the hand of Moses” (Num. 9:23). In the same way the portion of the Law under discussion is the result of divine wisdom, according to which people are allowed to continue the kind of worship to which they have been accustomed, in order that they might acquire the true faith, which is the chief object [of God’s commandments]. You ask, What could have prevented God from commanding us directly, that which is the chief object, and from giving us the capacity of obeying it? This would lead to a second question, What prevented God from leading the Israelites through the way of the land of the Philistines, and endowing them with strength for fighting? The leading about by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night would then not have been necessary. A third question would then be asked in reference to the good promised as reward for the keeping of the commandments, and the evil foretold as a punishment for sins. It is the following question: As it is the chief object and purpose of God that we should believe in the Law, and act according to that which is written therein, why has He not given us the capacity of continually believing in it, and following its guidance, instead of holding out to us reward for obedience, and punishment for disobedience, or of actually giving all the predicted reward and punishment? For [the promises and the threats] are but the means of leading to this chief object. What prevented Him from giving us, as part of our nature, the will to do that which He desires us to do, and to abandon the kind of worship which He rejects? There is one general answer to these three questions, and to all questions of the same character: it is this: Although in every one of the signs [related in Scripture] the natural property of some individual being is changed, the nature of man is never changed by God by way of miracle. It is in accordance with this important principle that God said, “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me,” etc. (Deut. 5:26). It is also for this reason that He distinctly stated the commandments and the prohibitions, the reward and the punishment. This principle as regards miracles has been frequently explained by us in our works: I do not say this because I believe that it is difficult for God to change the nature of every individual person; on the contrary, it is possible, and it is in His power, according to the principles taught in Scripture; but it has never been His will to do it, and it never will be. If it were part of His will to change [at His desire] the nature of any person, the mission of prophets and the giving of the Law would have been altogether superfluous.
g. I now return to my theme. As the sacrificial service is not the primary object [of the commandments about sacrifice], whilst supplications, prayers, and similar kinds of worship are nearer to the primary object, and indispensable for obtaining it, a great difference was made in the Law between these two kinds of service. The one kind, which consists in offering sacrifices, although the sacrifices are offered to the name of God, has not been made obligatory for us to the same extent as it had been before. We were not commanded to sacrifice in every place, and in every time, or to build a temple in every place, or to permit any one who desires to become priest and to sacrifice. On the contrary, all this is prohibited unto us. Only one temple has been appointed, “in the place which the Lord shall choose” (Deut. 12:26); in no other place is it allowed to sacrifice: comp. “Take heed to thyself, that thou offer not thy burnt-offerings in every place that thou seest” (ibid. 5:13); and only the members of a particular family were allowed to officiate as priests. All these restrictions served to limit this kind of worship, and keep it within those bounds within which God did not think it necessary to abolish sacrificial service altogether. But prayer and supplication can be offered everywhere and by every person. The same is the case with the commandment of ẓiẓit (Num. 15:38); mezuzah (Deut. 6:9; 11:20); tefillin (Exod. 13:9, 16); and similar kinds of divine service.
(4) Because of this principle which I explained to you, the Prophets in their books are frequently found to rebuke their fellow-men for being over-zealous and exerting themselves too much in bringing sacrifices: the prophets thus distinctly declared that the object of the sacrifices is not very essential, and that God does not require them. Samuel therefore said, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord” (1 Sam. 15:22)? Isaiah exclaimed, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord” (Isa. 1:11); Jeremiah declared: “For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offering or sacrifices. But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my, voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (Jer. 7:22, 23). This passage has been found difficult in the opinion of all those whose words I read or heard; they ask, How can Jeremiah say that God did not command us about burnt-offering and sacrifice, seeing so many precepts refer to sacrifice? The sense of the passage agrees with what I explained to you. Jeremiah says [in the name of God] the primary object of the precepts is this, Know me, and serve no other being; “I will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (Lev. 26:12). But the commandment that sacrifices shall be brought and that the temple shall be visited has for its object the success of that principle among you; and for its sake I have transferred these modes of worship to my name; idolatry shall thereby be utterly destroyed, and Jewish faith firmly established. You, however, have ignored this object, and taken hold of that which is only the means of obtaining it; you have doubted my existence, “ye have denied the Lord, and said he is not” (Jer. 5:12); ye served idols; “burnt incense unto Baal, and walked after other gods whom ye know not. And come and stand before me in this house” (ibid. 7:9-10); i.e., you do not go beyond attending the temple of the Lord, and offering sacrifices: but this is not the chief object.–I have another way of explaining this passage with exactly the same result. For it is distinctly stated in Scripture, and handed down by tradition, that the first commandments communicated to us did not include any law at an about burnt-offering and sacrifice. You must not see any difficulty in the Passover which was commanded in Egypt; there was a particular and evident reason for that, as will be explained by me (chap. xlvi.). Besides it was revealed in the land of Egypt; whilst the laws to which Jeremiah alludes in the above passage are those which were revealed after the departure from Egypt. For this reason it is distinctly added, “in the day that I brought them out from the land of Egypt.” The first commandment after the departure from Egypt was given at Marah, in the following words, “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His sight, and wilt give ear to His commandments” (Exod. 15:26).” There he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them” (ibid. ver. 25). According to the true traditional explanation, Sabbath and civil laws were revealed at Marah: “statute” alludes to Sabbath, and “ordinance” to civil laws, which are the means of removing injustice. The chief object of the Law, as has been shown by us, is the teaching of truths; to which the truth of the creatio ex nihilo belongs. It is known that the object of the law of Sabbath is to confirm and to establish this principle, as we have shown in this treatise (Part. II. chap. xxxi.). In addition to the teaching of truths the Law aims at the removal of injustice from mankind. We have thus proved that the first laws do not refer to burnt-offering and sacrifice, which are of secondary importance. The same idea which is contained in the above passage from Jeremiah is also expressed in the Psalms, where the people are rebuked that they ignore the chief object, and make no distinction between chief and subsidiary lessons. The Psalmist says: “Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify against thee: I am God, even thy God. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt-offerings, they have been continually before me. I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he-goats out of thy folds” (Ps. 50:29).–Wherever this subject is mentioned, this is its meaning. Consider it well, and reflect on it.
Footnote on “If it Were Not a Written Verse it Could Not be Said /אלמלא מקרא כתוב אי אפשר לאמרו
משה הלברטל and Moshe Halbertal Tarbiẕ /תרביץ כרך סח, חוברת א (תשרי-כסלו תשנ”ט), pp. 39-59 (21 pages) here
The formula ‘If it were not a written verse it could not bee said’ is a sentence that introduces few statements in the Midrash. This rare formula serves as a conscious expression that something daring is about to be said, and that without the shield of a written verse it could not be said. The analysis of the occasions in which the ‘If it were not’ formula occurs is thus a key for our understanding of rabbinic religious sensitivities. The study of midrashim that are introduced with the formula yields the following conclusions: (1) in most cases the idea expressed by the midrash is actually not written in the verse in its straightforward meaning. The formula reveals therefore a circular nature: the interpreter creatively rereads the text, and then he states that if his interpretation weren’t already in the text he would not have dared to offer his reading; (2) in answer to the problem what is considered daring in the Midrash the following pattern is manifested: most of the midrashim that are introduced by such formula represent God in anthropomorphic metaphors in which God’s role is reversed and transformed. Anthropomorphic metaphors are usually drawn from hierarchical human structures, such as king and slaves, father and son, husband and wife, etc. God is always represented as the figure which is superior in the analogous social relationship; He is the husband, the king, the father, and so on. In midrashim that are introduced by the formula ‘If it were not’, God is represented as the inferior partner in the analogy — he is a slave, a student, a wife and a defendant in a trial. In these metaphors or parables Israel or the righteous are represented as the superior figure. Another form in which hierarchical metaphors are reversed is exhibited in the Midrashim that use metaphors from non-hierarchical relationship such as friends and twins. The last part of the essay is devoted to uncover the same pattern in other midrashim that are not introduced by the ‘If it were not’ formula, and to a discussion of the significance of this phenomenon in rabbinic religious thought.
See also: Torah min Hashamayim Ba-aspaklaria shel Hadorot (Theology of Ancient Judaism) Vols. 1-2, vol. 3 by Abraham Joshua Heschel; pages 191- 198 and in English Translation: Heavenly Torah as Refracted through the Generations by Gordon Tucker pp 223 – 235