Category Archives: Religion

Lost & Found in Translation

parshat toldot – Genesis 25 -28

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

Adam Mintz  01:18

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

Geoffrey Stern  01:27

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

Adam Mintz  03:55

I’m with you. It’s a great topic.

Geoffrey Stern  03:57

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

Adam Mintz  10:17

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

Geoffrey Stern  10:35

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

Adam Mintz  14:06

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

Geoffrey Stern  14:43

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

Adam Mintz  17:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:05

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

Adam Mintz  20:36

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

Geoffrey Stern  21:32

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

Adam Mintz  22:56

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

Geoffrey Stern  23:41

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

Adam Mintz  25:03

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:30

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

Adam Mintz  27:27

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

Geoffrey Stern  28:45

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

Adam Mintz  30:39

That’s fanatstic… that’s great.

Geoffrey Stern  30:40

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

Euro Maestro  31:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:29

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

34:05

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

Geoffrey Stern  34:22

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

Euro Maestro  35:18

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

Geoffrey Stern  36:00

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

Euro Maestro  36:22

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

Geoffrey Stern  36:47

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

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

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

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God Believes

parshat ha’azinu – deuteronomy 32

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

Adam Mintz  02:59

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

Geoffrey Stern  03:45

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

Adam Mintz  04:45

I’m ready. Fantastic. I love it.

Geoffrey Stern  04:47

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

Adam Mintz  08:23

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

Geoffrey Stern  09:53

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

Adam Mintz  13:05

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

Geoffrey Stern  14:02

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

Adam Mintz  16:31

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

Geoffrey Stern  17:17

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

Adam Mintz  19:06

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:12

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

Adam Mintz  21:09

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

Geoffrey Stern  21:35

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

Adam Mintz  22:51

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

Geoffrey Stern  23:03

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

Adam Mintz  24:25

We believe in.

Geoffrey Stern  24:26

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

Adam Mintz  24:57

That’s what he said?

Geoffrey Stern  24:58

That’s what he said…

Adam Mintz  24:59

That’s pretty funny.

Geoffrey Stern  25:00

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

Adam Mintz  25:52

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

Geoffrey Stern  26:23

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

Adam Mintz  28:15

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

Geoffrey Stern  28:32

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

Adam Mintz  30:26

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:25

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

Adam Mintz  32:01

Shabbat Shalom be Well, bye bye.

Geoffrey Stern  32:04

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

Mathew Landau  32:12

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

Geoffrey Stern  33:22

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

Mathew Landau  37:21

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

Geoffrey Stern  37:43

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

Mathew Landau  38:52

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

Geoffrey Stern  39:30

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

Mathew Landau  40:43

Okay, excellent.

Geoffrey Stern  40:45

Okay, Shabbat shalom, everybody. Bye bye.

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

Listen to last year’s podcast: Blame it on Dad

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First Fruits – First Prayers

parshat ki tavo – Deuteronomy 26

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

Adam Mintz  02:34

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

Geoffrey Stern  03:22

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

Adam Mintz  04:28

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

Geoffrey Stern  04:46

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

Adam Mintz  08:48

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

Geoffrey Stern  10:10

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

Adam Mintz  11:27

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

Geoffrey Stern  11:51

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

Adam Mintz  12:36

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

Geoffrey Stern  13:00

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

Adam Mintz  14:09

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

Geoffrey Stern  15:24

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

Adam Mintz  18:50

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

Geoffrey Stern  19:00

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

Adam Mintz  20:00

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:22

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

Adam Mintz  20:26

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

Geoffrey Stern  20:31

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

Adam Mintz  21:28

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

Geoffrey Stern  22:12

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

Adam Mintz  25:20

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

Geoffrey Stern  25:30

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

Adam Mintz  26:12

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

Geoffrey Stern  28:37

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

Adam Mintz  30:36

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

Geoffrey Stern  31:01

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

Adam Mintz  32:14

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:20

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

Adam Mintz  32:50

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:57

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

Miriam Gonczarska  33:08

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

Geoffrey Stern  33:32

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

Miriam Gonczarska  33:39

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

Geoffrey Stern  34:07

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

34:42

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

Geoffrey Stern  36:05

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

Miriam Gonczarska  36:10

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

Geoffrey Stern  36:15

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

Miriam Gonczarska  36:26

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

Geoffrey Stern  37:07

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

Miriam Gonczarska  37:23

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

Geoffrey Stern  37:41

As you should have been.

Miriam Gonczarska  37:43

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

Geoffrey Stern  37:47

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

Miriam Gonczarska  37:56

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

Geoffrey Stern  38:14

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

Miriam Gonczarska  38:17

Bye bye.

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

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A time that never was

parshat re’eh – deuteronomy 12-13

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse August 25th 2022. The Torah prohibits us from adding or detracting to its directives and also against rewriting history. It even predicts that there might be a time where our leaders will try to reinvent our past. We discuss.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/426413

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. In this week’s Torah reading is Re’eh. The Torah prohibits us from adding or detracting to its directives and also against rewriting history. It even warns that there might be a time where our leaders will try to reinvent our past. So hop into your time-machine and join us as we discuss…. A Time That Never Was…

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Well, welcome. We are broadcasting from the Franco-American timeline. The rabbi is in Gay Paree, and I am in Connecticut. Thank you all for joining us. And we are getting towards the end of the Torah here. And as I said in the intro, the parsha Re’eh and it really covers a lot of good stuff. It starts with a little tease about a blessing and a curse and the whole Mount Grezim him and Har Ebel thing that we’re going to have soon, but doesn’t really go there. Then it starts talking, as it’s thinking about coming into the land, of destroying the altars that are there. And it’s focused on centralizing Judaism so that the idea is that you should only worship God in the designated, appointed place and destroy all of the altars of the non-Jews. And then it talks about how do you eat meat outside of that designated place, talks about false prophets gets into kosher rules, gets into tithes, the sabbaticals and holidays. So, it’s really got a lot of stuff. But we as is our custom are going to focus on something that could literally fall through the cracks. And that is in Deuteronomy 12: 29 It says, as follows. “When your have God has cut down before you the nation’s that you are about to enter and dispossess and you have dispossessed them and settled in their land, וְיָרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֹתָ֔ם וְיָשַׁבְתָּ֖ בְּאַרְצָֽם beware of being lured into their ways after they have been wiped out before you do not inquire about their gods saying How did those nations worship their god? I too will follow these practices” you will say, “You shall not act thus towards your God, for they perform for their gods every abhorrent act that God detests. They even offer up their sons and daughters to fire to their gods.” So, this is very strange, it really struck my attention. Because we’ve heard so many times about being influenced by the Canaanites by the idol worshipers that are in the land. But here it’s talking about a situation where you’ve already dispossessed them, and you’ve settled in the land. And it really is talking about don’t start looking kind of like an archaeologist It would seem or, or maybe a theologian curious about ancient practices, beware of being lured into the ways do not inquire about their gods, it says to וּפֶן־תִּדְרֹ֨שׁ לֵאלֹֽהֵיהֶ֜ם. And the commentaries are either very silent, or there’s one commentary that I found Rabbeinu Bahya who really does point this out. He says, you know, what’s the logic here, you’ve already destroyed them. When you beat somebody and they lose a war, you hardly want to imitate them. So what’s going on here and he says, This prohibits “Even the inquiry into details of the former inhabitants’ religious worship is forbidden” So it’s almost forbidden to do what we do so many times here at Madlik wishes, we look into context in history and practices of other people.

Adam Mintz  04:37

So, your point is a very important point. And that is that, chronologically, the way the Torah is set up. This is Moses speaking to the people before they enter the land. But because Moses is not going to enter of the land. He talks to them as if they’re already in the land. And they have all the challenges of being in the lands. Now, the idea of Kosher is a very interesting thing, just to take one thing that you mentioned, the idea of Kosher is not mentioned here for the first time, it’s mentioned in the book of Leviticus. But in the book of Leviticus, it means something very different. Because in the desert, the only time the Jews were allowed to eat meat was if they sacrificed a sacrifice, they sacrificed the sacrifice, and then they ate meat as part of the sacrifice. It was only when they entered the land when the borders became too great too wide and they weren’t able to get to Jerusalem every night where they wanted to have hamburgers, that they were allowed to eat from the meat even without, even without sacrifices. So even something like that, Jeffrey, I think that’s an interesting point that you make even something like that, you know, the laws of Kosher which we know from before, but they have a completely different meaning now, because they’re talking about a different situation, a situation that’s not limiting, but actually is expanding.

Geoffrey Stern  06:13

So, I totally I totally agree, everything is now focused on going into the land. But what I took away from this is this was one step further, this imagined prophesizes, if you will, a time where you’re successful, where there aren’t no pagans in the land, either they’ve converted or they’ve left or what else could have happened to them, but they’re not there. And the commentaries kind of focus on this is what what exactly is being prohibited here. And I think either looking at the few commentators like I did, like Rabbeinu Bahya or just looking at it as we do, you gotta think it’s strange. The question is, why would you number one, one to inquire about the gods of these unsuccessful inhabitants? And what is the concern about inquiring…..  that I do think we have an inkling, it says, If you inquire, then you might start acting like them. And keep in mind, they go so far as to offer their children to their gods. But it is, to me anyway, it struck me as strange. And I think that for once the rabbinic authorities either didn’t have much to say about it, or when they did, the best they could really come up with is, maybe don’t be curious. Don’t be looking back. But I want to continue on this thread in our parsha. Because if you go to verse 13, the next chapter right after this, it says, Be careful to observe only that which I enjoin upon you neither add to it nor take away from it לֹא־תֹסֵ֣ף עָלָ֔יו וְלֹ֥א תִגְרַ֖ע מִמֶּֽנּוּ. And this, of course, is a little bit of a parallel, because you would think from the earlier statement, that you might be tempted to say, well, exactly how did they pray? And how did they deal with their tabernacle architecture, maybe we should take some of the beauty that we can see in the fallen structures around …. this idea of adding to the Torah, and clearly of taking away where we have requirements. As you mentioned, kashrut, Shabbat, all of the things that are mentioned. Don’t take those away. In historical perspective, I think this has been used as a double edged sword, correct me if I’m wrong, not adding, would really protect us from zealots who want to increase …..  I think Rashi is example that he gives is, for instance, “to place five chapters in the Tephillin, to employ five species of fruit and plants in the fulfilment of the command of Lulab”. So, Rashi is focused on a quantitative addition. But the idea is, don’t be a “Machmir”, don’t be a fanatic and crazy and start adding certain things and detracting would be the typical argument against the reformers, the enlightenment, where they would take away from the commandments and say, this is not necessary. It’s the Spirit of the Law. But do you see this? There’s kind of a correlation, a train of thought here between the two statements that we’re working on so far.

Adam Mintz  09:54

I think that’s all really good. Let me just deal with two points you just made. The first point is why people would be tempted towards idolatry. It’s interesting. The Talmud says that there are two big Yetzer Hora’s, two things that people desire. One thing is sexual, you know, sexual promiscuity, and the other is idolatry. And the Gemara says that the Yetzer Hora for idolatry has already disappeared, but the age of horror for sexual promiscuity that’s still there. But the question is, why is that so? Why is it that? Nowadays we’re not interested in idolatry, but then they were interested by Idolatry. And I think you have to understand something about what idolatry offers, that that monotheism that one God doesn’t offer. You know, when somebody’s sick, we pray to God, when we go on a trip, but we want to be safe, we pray to God, when we want to be successful in business, we pray to God. It’s the same God we pray to, in idolatry, everything has its own god, you know, like the Greek god Poseidon. When they went on a trip across the ocean, they weren’t going on planes then, when they had a trip across the ocean, they went to Poseidon. When they got married, they went to the God of love, when they got sick, they went to the god of healing. And there was something extremely, you know, desirable about this idea that everybody had a personal God, it’s kind of like the way you feel when you’re sick. You know, God forbid, if someone has a specific, problem, they don’t want to go to the general practitioner, right, Geoffrey, that was in our parents or grandparents of generation that everybody went to the to the GP, and he or she solved all the problems. Now you want the specialist, you want the specialist, who’s the specialist of the specialist of the specialists, who only deals with exactly what your problem is, the truth of the matter is that that’s the same thing with gods, we want a god who was a specialist, and naturally why there was a Yetzer Hora. And that’s why the Torah says don’t go after their gods, that, you know, they looked at these people, and they said, hey, you know, maybe something’s right, because they seem to be living in good life, and they have very specific gods. That’s number one. Number two, is the idea of not to add and not to subtract, obviously, that is at the core of everything Jewish, because that’s the whole tradition of the evolution of the law. You know, obviously, the law has been added to and has been subtracted from just take the littlest things, right, the fact that we sell our Hametz (leaven), before Pesach, is in addition to the law, the fact that we avoid the laws of the Shmita, the seven sabbatical years by selling the land to a non-Jew is an addition to the law. It’s subtraction from the law. So, what is it exactly this acceptable and what’s not acceptable? And why when the reform movement came around? And they said, you know, we’re going to cut out some the prayers and these kinds of things. How did everybody know that was unacceptable? Maybe that was part of the acceptance. And this law of don’t add it don’t subtract is really about rabbinic authority. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about who makes the rules. And the amazing thing is that according to tradition, the Torah was written 3,300 years ago, and we are still in 2022. arguing about that point, who makes the rules? I’ll just tell you a funny Paris story, Sharon, and I were walking down the street this afternoon. And we overheard some young woman who was on her cell phone….. And of course, we Americans always talk too loud…..  So, she was on her phone. And we heard her say, Maharat for Shabbos. I like, we stopped and say what, what are you talking about Maharat in Paris, and it seems to be that there is a Maharat in Paris, and she’s on of my students. And we’re going there for Shabbos lunch. And this young woman is invited, and she was telling her mother that she’s going to Maharat for Shabbos lunch. Now, that’s just kind of funny, this small world that we live in. But you know, that’s an example, who says that women can’t be rabbis? Why is that an addition to the law that the Orthodox won’t accept, while you know selling your Hametz is something that they will accept. So this idea of adding and subtracting to the law is something that we’re still fighting about this every day.

Geoffrey Stern  14:10

I love the fact that you’re all the way in Paris and you heard about Maharat the school that you teach that that trains women rabbis in the Orthodox tradition. Small world is the only term that comes to mind. So I think you’re right. And I love the fact that you bring in things that are across the border, because in Deuteronomy 13: 7, it repeats kind of with a new nuance, the prohibition about taking customs and worship rights from the pagans. It says “If your brother, your own mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your closest friend entices you in secret, saying, “Come let us worship other gods”—whom neither you nor your ancestors have experienced — from among the gods of the peoples around you, either near to you or distant, anywhere from one end of the earth to the other: do not assent or give heed to any of them.” So again, I believe this is totally new territory. Because up until now, we’ve been concerned with the pagan practices that they are being exposed to, don’t let your kids marry someone from the Canaanites, all of that stuff. And here, the field of vision is so much larger, there’s this issue of secret, which we’re going to have to deal with. But even before we get there, it’s a movement of people. But it has stuff that not even your ancestors, this isn’t even the paganism that Abraham rejected, or that you might have seen maybe in Egypt. The field of vision is so much larger. And I’m going to ask you to comment, and then I’m going to give you what I believe, is, is the historical context for these paragraphs. But do you agree with me that there’s something strange and different in this prohibition than other ones that we’ve seen here to four?

Adam Mintz  14:12

Yes, I think it’s right. And I’m gonna I’m going to pause for a second to listen to your historical analysis. Because I think that’s what it’s really all about here. What’s the background for this paragraph? So why don’t you shoot with the history and then we’ll talk about,

Geoffrey Stern  16:40

so thank you. So as you know, when we started reading Devarim (Deuteronomy), we really said it is a totally different voice, a totally different book. The Torah itself talks about it being discovered. And in the books of Tanach. There are those that say that it was written/discovered during the reign of King Josiah. But in any case, it has a different vision. And I am reading what is the first popular history of the Jewish people by a guy named Heinrich Graetz. We Jews love history, but we don’t necessarily study history. And he has two things that struck me that I read recently that really kind of put this into context. The first is a king called Jeroboam. And he ruled 977 to 955. And what he did is that he started to take control, and he’s used religion as a way of gaining control of all the people. I’m gonna read a little bit from greats. “He was the only man of ability and daring and an Ephraimite. From the tribe of Ephraim. They readily fell into his scheme and he introduced other tribes to join them. To obviate the need of pilgrimages to the temple.” Remember, we just came through the Torah, saying you have to make the pilgrimage to the set centralized temple, to which the people had been accustomed and in which their lurked a political danger, Jeroboam hit upon a mischievous scheme, which was to lead Israel back into idolatry. During his sojourn in Egypt, Jeroboam became acquainted with the animal worship of the Egyptians and learn the stupefying effects that had upon people. The introduction of Apis worship in Egypt, in effect on the Israelites would render them more tractable, and in addition would raise Jeroboam in the favor of the Egyptians.” So, there was domestic politics involved, and there was a foreign politics involved. “Moreover, Jeroboam determined to pose as a restorer of the ancient religion of Israel, and not as the creator of a new one. In Egypt and later in his own countries. They worshipped sacred bulls, and it goes into detail how this king drove them. You consolidated political party by leading a false movement of returning to a past that never existed, and he was successful. There was another king Manasha of Judah who was 200 years later, who did very similar things. He promoted idolatry again, I’m reading from Greitz throughout the kingdom, built pagan temples and Egan sacrificed on his sons and the fires of my life. He There’s a tradition that he killed Isaiah. So I think as you read these, and I would love you to go to the Sefaria notes and read in detail what Greitz wrote, and others wrote, I think that puts a totally new face on what we just read. This wasn’t pure speculation if you’re a traditional Jew, and you believe that Devarim was spoken by Moses, it was prophesizing, this period where these dastardly kings would go ahead and manipulate the past, and try first in secret amongst friends and family and then move it out where they would consolidate power, and use a religion that they imported from afar to do this. It seems to me that if you get a sense of history, and you know the history of for instance, these two kings, who by the way, preceded the King, who found (the book of Devarim) under his role, he did a true return Tshuvah, a true return to our religion. And he is responsible for bringing the book of Devarim to the fore.  I feel like I’ve been robbed, I had never realized this part of Jewish history. And once you read it, and then you read the verses that we just read in Devarim, it puts them in a totally different context. It’s talking about real situations that will happen prophetically, that did happen?

Adam Mintz  21:27

So that’s first of all, thank you to Greitz, I’m happy that you’re reading Greitz. Because, you know, the history of the prophetic period or the Kingdom is really the history of monotheism, the belief in the one God, the Jewish God, in the case of the prophets, and idolatry. And what you see is, and unless you read it Geoffrey, you can’t really believe it. You see the pull that idolatry had on people. It had on people it had on Kings, and then how complete societies were actually idol worshipers. I’m gonna tell you something else. That’s interesting. I don’t know if Greitz mentioned this. But you know, we have the tradition, the Torah, that the golden calf was the worst sin of the Jewish people. We know from archaeology now that during the time of the first temple, the Jews, the committed Jews, the Jews committed to God committed to the temple committed to the Prophet committed to the king, they actually had little idols, little golden calves at home, and they use them to worship God, the Jewish God. So, what you see is that idolatry was so strong, that even the good guys used idolatry, sometimes to help them with their religion. So, you see exactly what you said, what the pull of idolatry was all about. And you kind of understand, you know, during the end of the First Temple, the 10 tribes, they went north, and they basically broke away, and then they were captured by Sennacherib, and then they were dispersed, and we don’t know anything about them. And what we have is really the tribes of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin. So, we only have, two out of the 12 tribes have remained for everybody, maybe three because Levi also was there because idolatry gobbled up the other tribes. Yep, that’s an amazing thing. Think about that. Idolatry literally gobbled up 9 of the 12 tribes.

Geoffrey Stern  23:27

It is it is totally amazing. And the other parallel aspect of it is how closely linked politics and religion were. It’s not a modern phenomenon. Certainly, anyone who studied the papacy knows that. But the point is that if Graetz is even 80%, correct, in the in his treatment of these two kings, and he, by the way, does not make the connection to the book of Devarim. It was just that kind of small world moment where I’m reading the parsha and I’m reading Graetz, and it just leapt out of the page, that in fact, you couldn’t get a better explanation of the strange verses that we just started with, then to understand that there were going to be leaders who were going to reach near and far who were going to pretend that this was an earlier religion, that they were reformers, so to speak, and we’re going to use it and yes, the outcome is tribes were lost the whole tapestry of the Israelite tribes was broken over this. And as we as we end, what I would like to do is to bring this up to date, because I think it’s very clear that on not only from the beginning has politics and political power, diplomacy and religion been very united, we see it even today there are two books that I quote in the in the in the notes on Sefaria. One is it’s called Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites Its History Hardcover – May 1, 2015 by Marc B. Shapiro (Author). And of course, you Rabbi talked about the Halachic aspect of this. And the book is written by a real deep scholar. And the other book is The Uses of Tradition: Jewish Continuity in the Modern Era (Jewish Theological Seminary) Paperback – February 1, 1999, by Jack Wertheimer (Editor). And it brings an amazing story there. And it’s the story that in Israel, there was a great scholar named The Hazon Ish and this story is called The lost kiddush cup. And he decided that there was a particular shiur, there was a particular measurement that the kiddish cup had to be to be yotze, to fulfill the obligations of making kiddush and one of the students took his words very seriously. And he went home. And he brought back the kiddish cup that his great grandfather who was a major scholar in Poland used and guess what, it didn’t have the right shiur, it wasn’t large enough to hold the wine that the has a nice wanted. And he uses this as an example. And it goes on to say there was a whole to-do because they found the kiddush cup of the Chafetz Chaim and it also wasn’t large enough. And the scholar who wrote the book uses this to explain how we constantly are rewriting history. And we have to be careful of it. And first of all, you have to identify it. And then you have to be careful of it because as the verse said, you can’t add or detract from these things. But I think the most important thing is we have to be aware of it. And it’s so important to understand not only what’s added and what’s not, but sometimes what the motivations are. And I think that becomes very powerful and in the State of Israel, where religion at the end of the day is playing a very large role, we can definitely see how secular leaders are a able to use tag words of religion and to sway people and it’s something that I think needs to be to be studied and at times called out that to me is how up to date these warnings are and not simply about adding a few laws here and there but changing the whole fabric.

Adam Mintz  27:47

That is fantastic. So I think what you see here and it’s really more true in Devarim, these portions in Divorim than anywhere else is that the issues that affected the Jewish people 3,000 years ago were still the issues that affect us today. And we can learn both from the mistakes that were made in the past and the you know the things that people did right and you talk about the Hazon Ish and the Hazon Ish’s kiddish cup and you talk about women rabbis, and all of these kinds of things. It’s really amazing to see how we still argue about it. But we should gain strength just to end on a nice note we should gain strength and the fact that the Jewish tradition is alive. And then on clubhouse we can still argue about argue and discuss the same issues and that makes us stronger and that makes us better. So whether you’re in Paris, none on the East Coast or anywhere in between have a Shabbat Shalom, enjoy the Parsha Chodesh Tov. It’s the beginning of the month of Elul.  Rosh Hashanah is right around the corner. Enjoy everybody and we look forward to seeing you next week at our regularly scheduled time. Eight o’clock on the East Coast Eastern Daylight Time. Shabbat Shalom Shabbat Shalom Geoffrey

Geoffrey Stern  28:55

Shabbat shalom. Au revoir rabbi and enjoy and take notes from Paris and for the rest of us. Yes, let’s realize how up to date, the Torah is always and keep our focus on strange little pictures and visions that occur and try to get to the bottom of them. Be sure to look for the Madlik podcast, give us some stars say something nice. And with that I will say Au revoir from Connecticut. Shabbat shalom.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/426413

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Enough

parshat vaetchanan, deuteronomy 3

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on August 11th 2022. Moses pleads with God to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. God is cross with Moses. When should we ask for more? When do we ask for too much? That is the question.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/424108

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s parsha is Vaetchanan Moses pleads with God to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. God is cross with Moses. When should we ask for more? When do we ask for too much? That is the question. So puff up your chest and join us for Enough,   די , מספיק כבר

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Well welcome How about you are in bear Sheva about to officiate at a wedding. And it is the 15th of Ab, which as you mentioned in the pre-show is the Valentine’s Day mentioned in in the Talmud. So what a special day it is for you. Thank you so much for being able to join with us.

Adam Mintz  01:15

Wouldn’t miss it and this is a great parsha…. you chose a really good topic, so let’s get going.

Geoffrey Stern  01:20

Great. So, as I said in the introduction, this is Vaetchanan and we start in Deuteronomy 3: 23. And again, it’s written in the first person because it is the book of Devarim, and it’s straight from Moses’ mouth. And it says וָאֶתְחַנַּ֖ן אֶל־ה I pleaded with God at that time saying, oh, Lord God, You who let your servants see the first work of your greatness of Your mighty hand, you whose powerful deeds know God in heaven or on earth can equal let me I pray, crossover and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan. In the Hebrew it says, אֶעְבְּרָה־נָּ֗א cross over. And on the other side of the Jordan is בְּעֵ֣בֶר הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן, but God was wrathful וַיִּתְעַבֵּ֨ר ה’ בִּי֙ on account, and would not listen to me. God said to me anough never speak to me of this matter again. And he tells him to go up onto the mountain top, look at it well, for you shall not cross yonder de Jordan, give Joshua his instructions imbue with him strength and courage, for he shall go across the head of his people. And he shall a lot to them the land that you may only see. So you mentioned this last week as a prime example of Moses talking in the first person pleading with God. And here we are. And as you could tell from the Hebrew that I threw in, I was totally struck by one word that was used over and over again, the easiest form it was used was בְּעֵ֣בֶר הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן which means on the other side of the Jordan, but also, if you notice, when Moses asked to cross over he says, אֶעְבְּרָה־נָּ֗א let me cross over. And then what I never noticed before when God was cross, and it’s interesting that in English, the word for cross can be mean to transverse. And it can also mean to be upset. And in Hebrew, lo and behold, the same thing occurs when God is mad at Moses. It says וַיִּתְעַבֵּ֨ר ה’ בִּי֙. So were you struck by this as well? Have you given this any thought?

Adam Mintz  03:59

I have not, that is absolutely fantastic. I never thought about that. That the word וַיִּתְעַבֵּ֨ר , and עֵ֣בֶר הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן are exactly the same word. And to be cross and to cross is the same. Now obviously, it makes sense. To be cross with somebody to be angry at someone is to go over to the other side, we assume that you’re supposed to be friendly. So, if you’re not friendly, you cross over to not being friendly. So I understand the etymology. But that’s great to find that at the beginning of this week’s parsha, I love that

Geoffrey Stern  04:32

And of course, while I had never really associated it with being angry, we have associated it with sinning עֲבֵרָה is when you transgress the law when you cross the boundary so to speak.

Adam Mintz  04:52

Exactly the same idea.

Geoffrey Stern  04:54

Let’s focus a little bit more on this עֲבֵרָה. On this over on passing over.  And of course, I mentioned that it associated with sin, but it is also associated with being a Jew, an Ivri, I should say a Hebrew it is the Hebrew word is “ivri”  “hivri”, Hebrew” and as far back as Genesis when in Lech L’cha it says וַיַּעֲבֹ֤ר אַבְרָם֙ בָּאָ֔רֶץ עַ֚ד מְק֣וֹם שְׁכֶ֔ם, it uses this term. And in Genesis 14, when Abraham is talking to the kings, it says וַיָּבֹא֙ הַפָּלִ֔יט וַיַּגֵּ֖ד לְאַבְרָ֣ם הָעִבְרִ֑י and it came to Abraham, the Ivri, the one who had passed over the one who had provoked to anger, maybe the one who had transgressed the norms of the past. So this is really, it’s not just a moment where Moses can’t pass into the land. It’s a moment that Moses can’t be his version of Abraham, in a sense, it’s very profound.

Adam Mintz  06:10

And just we’ll add one last example of that, you know, the fact that Ivri, the one from the other side is the way that you know, the Jews define themselves at critical moments when Jonah is trying to run away from God, and he gets on the ship, and they don’t know who he is. And he says, עִבְרִ֣י אָנֹ֑כִי, I am from the other side means that at critical moments, that’s the way we define ourselves that we’re different that it’s so interesting that that’s true to this very day, is that you know, our differentness is something that helps identify him.

Geoffrey Stern  06:45

Yeah. And I think this this sense of anger that I discovered in this week’s parsha …. how does that relate to Ivri to a Hebrew? I, to me, it resonates as a provocateur, to me, it resonates as someone who can provoke anger, because again, he seems to be passing over the boundaries, he seems to be going to a place that was maybe taboo. How do you package all of them together?

Adam Mintz  07:23

I think that’s good. I would just say, I think in literature, they say that sometimes a word is used, even if it not common use of the word to remind us of something else. And I think that’s what you picked up on. The word for God getting angry and Moses is וַיִּתְעַבֵּ֨ר, because the Torah wants us to do exactly what we’re doing today on clubhouse and that is think about all the ways in which Ivri defines the Jews עִבְרִ֣י אָנֹ֑כִי    וַיִּתְעַבֵּ֨ר       בְּעֵ֣בֶר הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן so it’s it’s successful means by וַיִּתְעַבֵּ֨ר is not the natural word for getting angry. The Torah knows the word כַּעַס the Torah knows the simple word for getting angry, but chooses not to use it because the Torah wants to sensitize us to the idea of all the things that we’re talking about which is great.

Geoffrey Stern  08:16

And you find this a lot it’s almost poetic using the same sh0resh (Hebrew root) over and over again in a literary element and making you think along the lines that we are so I totally I totally agree. So now that we’ve kind of focused on the Ivri part of it, maybe we can focus a little bit on something that last week I said maybe I’m gonna do a podcast on this next year. But lo and behold, here we are, I mean we know this concept of רַב־לָכֶם֒ has haunted Moses for quite some while So רַב־לָכֶם֒ here means God says enough never speak to me of this matter again.  וַיֹּ֨אמֶר ה’ אֵלַי֙ רַב־לָ֔ךְ אַל־תּ֗וֹסֶף דַּבֵּ֥ר אֵלַ֛י ע֖וֹד בַּדָּבָ֥ר הַזֶּֽה. And we know that when Korach led his rebellion in numbers 16 is the first time that we came across this expression. And it’s when when the members of the tribe of Levi had said to Moses and Aaron presumably because they had taken leadership positions. They said  וַיִּֽקָּהֲל֞וּ עַל־מֹשֶׁ֣ה וְעַֽל־אַהֲרֹ֗ן וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ אֲלֵהֶם֮ רַב־לָכֶם֒ כִּ֤י כׇל־הָֽעֵדָה֙ כֻּלָּ֣ם קְדֹשִׁ֔יםYou have gone too far you’ve done a power grab. And then a few verses later, Moses returns to them and says You, Korah and all your band, take fire pans, (7) and tomorrow put fire in them and lay incense on them before ה’. Then the candidate whom ה’ chooses, he shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, sons of Levi!”, Rob look em Binay Levy.  רַב־לָכֶ֖ם בְּנֵ֥י לֵוִֽי  So they are trading this barb at each other of רַב־לָכֶ֖ם I almost feel like we are outside of a private joke at this point. And I’ll go on to mention what prompted me last week in Deuteronomy 1: 6. Moses is beginning his first person, sermon to the people. And he says, you know, and when you were at Mount Sinai when you were at Horeb and God spoke to you saying, you have stayed long enough at this mountain, רַב־לָכֶ֥ם שֶׁ֖בֶת בָּהָ֥ר הַזֶּֽה. And then he goes on because he’s talking to them about all of the different trips, they took all of the different transfers and stops they made in the 40 years in the desert. And in Deuteronomy 2:3, he says, You have been skirting this hill country long enough. Now turn north, רַב־לָכֶ֕ם סֹ֖ב אֶת־הָהָ֣ר הַזֶּ֑ה פְּנ֥וּ לָכֶ֖ם צָפֹֽנָה. So, are we outside of a private joke here? Or am I just plucking this out of the air?

Adam Mintz  11:18

No. But I think you started at the beginning in your introduction by saying that we still say in Hebrew די, or מספיק כבר ….. the idea is enough. That’s the way we respond when people overstep their bounds. Now in the Torah, the Torah is really all about bounds, because the Torah is about God’s relationship with people. And God has certain boundaries. And when you pass over those boundaries, then you’ve broken the rule. And when God says to you is too much, so Korach was too much. You pass God’s boundary, Moshe this week is too much you pass God’s boundary. Now sometimes you don’t know what too much is. You can’t fault Moses.  He wanted to enter the land. And you know, God gets angry at him says, Enough? Enough is enough. I don’t want to hear about it anymore. But you can quote Moses for trying?

Geoffrey Stern  12:15

Well not at all.. And I think part of the subtext of today’s discussion is when do you need to try? When do you overstep the bounds? When are you supposed to be patient? And when are you supposed to be impatient? And you picked up on the colloquial expressions in modern day Hebrew? You know, I think they always say about the Eskimos, they have at least 10 words for ice. I think, in Israel, they probably have 10 expressions for impatience.

Adam Mintz  12:53

You know, that’s most important thing is they actually can say it without words, you know, when they put their first finger in their thumb together, that’s also saying like enough, right?

Geoffrey Stern  13:05

It’s absolutely true. And as I looked it up, it’s מספיק כבר and די. And it’s די כבר    כבר מספיק. It’s so much part of the, the Middle Eastern or certainly the Israeli mentality, they are impatient. It speaks to this sense of they want to get on with it. And it’s not so much the power grabbing thing, and that’s why I was happy to quote those other verses from last week’s portion where Moses twice uses רַב־לָכֶ֕ם in a sense of move on already. If you’ve been at Mount Sinai, enough, move on. You’ve wandered in the desert long enough, move on. So it is power grabbing, but it’s also maybe the status quo, grabbing that and not moving on. And it totally relates to Ivri, to someone who passes over the boundaries, someone who passes over the river and moves from one country from one reality to another. You can’t disconnect the two they’re almost the flip side of each other.

Adam Mintz  14:25

I think that that’s right. And I think it’s really interesting. It’s funny, because what you said was that the Eskimos have 11 words for ice and we have 11 words for enough, but the Torah, same word again and again, Rav right, the Torah could have said it in different ways. But the Torah wants us to connect all these different places in which God says enough is enough. And it’s interesting that it’s also used within the idea of move on means enough means you know, you need to move forward, enough standing still,  enough paralysis? I think we say that also, right our phrase is “get on with your life” is really the same thing, right? Enough get on with your life.

Geoffrey Stern  15:10

So I totally agree I started to quote the Sifrei Bamidbar that Rashi quotes. And I think the first explanation that he gives for Rav Lechem, was the difference between a private prayer and a public prayer. I think that related a little bit to this original use of the term against that Korach used, you’ve taken too much power into yourself, you’re too into yourself, you’re asking for something for you to move into the new land. God listens to prayers, but he listens to prayers of the group of humanity of the whole people. And this thing is enough for you. You’ve asked for too much. But it goes on and it gives at least two or three other explanations for Rav Lechem. One of them was “much for you”. He said to him much reward is in keeping for you. Much is stored away from you. Quoting Psalms 31: 12. So here it’s not so much putting Moses down as saying, you have enough already. You can cash in your chips. You can bank, the commandments, the Mitzvot that you have done, maybe leave it for somebody else. But certainly you’ve finished your mission. Do you think there’s an element of that here?

Adam Mintz  16:44

I think the entire book of Devarim of Deuteronomy has a lot of that God’s saying it’s time to leave it for the next generation. Enough. Enough. Moshe, your Your time is over. I think that that’s all over the place. And I think this is really the first place that you see it. It’s interesting. We talked last week about the fact that Moshe speaks in the first person in the book of Devarim. Actually, the Parsha last week was more or less just Moshe’s narrative Moshe’s story, the first time that we have a conversation between God and Moshe in the first person of Moshe is here at the beginning of Vaetchanan. So this is actually an important moment. Because now Moshe tells you what his relationship is with God from his perspective, not from God’s perspective. And he must have been frustrated, because all he wants to do is enter the land. And what God says to him is enough, right? That must have been so frustrating for Moshe, I actually saw Geoffrey an interesting thing today. You know, why is it that Moshe wanted to enter the land? It’s a funny question, because you say the Land of Israel, everybody wants to go to the land of Israel. But what was it that Moshe wanted in Israel? Did he want the Holy Land? Did he want to be the leader? Did he not want to give up the leadership? You know, there are a lot of different pieces of Moses, and it’s hard to know exactly what Moshe thought was most important in his desire to continue.

Geoffrey Stern  18:19

Amina, I think we can all conjecture and maybe we’ll get into it a little bit later. But certainly he wanted more. Continuing on with the Sifrei. Another “much for you” Rav Lechem. He said him much. Have you labored much have you toiled take Lee Moses, and rest? We have the oldest president in the history of the United States. And there are those that are saying, Rav Lechem, Joe, it’s time.  You know, it’s time for another generation.

Adam Mintz  18:53

It’s so funny, you say that. And you see that Joe Biden doesn’t want to except that it’s very hard to be told as you get older enough is enough that you need to leave room for the next generation.

Geoffrey Stern  19:05

Absolutely. Another interesting thing is I don’t think it’s happened lately. In Israel, it happens more often, where you can be a prime minister, and then in the next government, you can just be a minister, you can go down. I think it’s maybe in the early days of our Confederacy, our country. You had someone like Thomas Jefferson, who would be a president, and then he might become a senator. But the other thing that the Sifrei brings is that Moses says, Look, I’ll even go into the Promised Land, and I’ll work for Joshua. I’ll work for Joshua. So the Lord says, Rav Lecha, the station of Rav is yours. It does not befit a Rav to become the disciple of his disciple.  הרב נעשה תלמיד לתלמידו? So this is kind of interesting because here you are Rabbi, You are a Rav And the rabbi’s of the Talmud saw in the word Rav truly a Rav, a master, and the master can’t serve the disciple. But that is also kind of interesting. It reminds me of another expression. In the Talmud, מעלין בקודש ואין מורידין, you can take something up in holiness, but you can’t bring it down. What’s your read on this?

Adam Mintz  20:29

I mean, I love that Sifrei because it’s kind of a joke, because in the Torah, the word Rav doesn’t mean rabbi. That’s a rabbinic word. We all know that rabbis were invented by the rabbis, rabbis were invented by the Talmud, Moses is never called a rabbi until the rabbi’s later refer to him by Moshe Rabbeinu. So when the Medrish, when the Sifra plays on the word, and says it means, Rabbi says that I would even work for Joshua. So it’s actually just a kind of a funny play. It’s not what the Torah actually means. But it’s kind of the rabbinic interpretation. And you know, the rabbi’s love to play with the words of the Torah, they know that it’s not what the Torah means, but they still like to play with the words.

Geoffrey Stern  21:21

And I’m sure that it would be easy enough to make a case for the clergy grab, here. On of the things I think that distinguishes Judaism from so many other religions, is that as much as we admire our rabbis, they can’t be counted for more than one person of a minyan (quorum). They can’t do anything more than any simple Jew, they are admired for their leadership skills. They’re admired for their knowledge. But it’s not as though they can do communion and no one else can do communion. And that is Rav Lachem. The rabbi, cannot take any more power that’s kind of unique. I don’t think that’s embedded in this comment. But it’s certainly an interesting insight.

Adam Mintz  22:21

That is definitely an interesting insight. That’s great. So the Sifra has gone in a whole different direction, which is really what the Midrash does so often is it allows you to kind of develop a completely different idea.

Geoffrey Stern  22:32

So I think after we go through all of the Midrashic interpretations, we still come back to the fact that we are all allotted a certain amount of time on this blessed Earth. And beyond that expiration date is Rav Lachem. Enough, you’re  only given so much whether it’s you know, you should take a rest now, or you can cash your chips now. But this concept that I don’t think anyone has really said any better in modern times than Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s I’ve been to the mountaintop, the metaphor of this is as far as you get, and I know, you just want to cross the Jordan and get into the promised land, but that might not be allotted to you. And that certainly is not a ruler of your success in life. I think that ultimately, has to be the most basic message here. I think of it in Perkei Avot 2: 16  Rabbi Tarfon used to say, it is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it. לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה. Would you say that the basic message here?

Adam Mintz  23:57

That is the basic message and the rabbis in that line? And obviously, that’s the most famous line of all, you know, I think they really summarized all of the things we’re talking about here. And that’s what God is saying to Moshe, I mean, it happens to be that the book of Devarim, all took place in the last 30 days of Moses his life, so he doesn’t have much to do. So the וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה, there isn’t much left for Moshe to do, other than to make sure that the transition of leadership is gonna go smoothly. And as we move on and Devarim, we’re going to see that that actually is an issue that they’re worried about that how are the people going to accept Joshua? What’s that going to look like? What’s that transition going to look like? You know, it’s interesting, we always say when we have presidents, so the transition is planned, because, you know, one president wins and one president loses and you move on, but when you have leaders like kings and queens, that you know, they win the leadership, it’s moves on When somebody dies, it’s very difficult because it’s hard to prepare for it. And I’m sure we all know that, you know, they’ve literally have spent 30 years preparing for the Queen’s death means they know exactly what’s going to happen when Queen Elizabeth dies, even if it’s 20 years from now they know exactly, because it’s very hard to have transition of leadership, when you can’t prepare for that transition, when you don’t know when it’s gonna happen.

Geoffrey Stern  25:24

Absolutely. You know, we’re almost coming to the end given you’ve got to go to the wedding. And I promised that we’d spend some time talking about Beer Sheba. And the segue that I want to give is actually another word that is related to Ma’avar, to cross over. And that is Ma’abarot, מַעְבָּרוֹת transit camps. And when the Jews especially from the countries in the Arab world, in the Middle East, and for those of you who are listening, there’s so much that said about Israel being “colonized” by people coming out of Eastern Europe. We forget until we go to a place like Beer Sheva, how many Jews have from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Morocco, settled in the land of Israel, returned to Israel because they were being persecuted. But it was started by the elite Ashkenazi Eastern European Jews. And what happened typically, and this is a story you can either confirm or deny rabbi, but this is what I heard when I visited Beer Sheva. And that is when the Jews from Morocco got to Israel, and they got to the buses, taking them to the different locations. They all want it to go to Jerusalem. And so there were buses marked Jerusalem they got on, they woke up in the morning. And guess what? They weren’t in their Promised Land. They were in Beer Sheva. And they also went into transit camps מַעְבָּרוֹת. And from that, we know that you don’t pass over the Jordan immediately that it’s a process. And sometimes it takes one generation and sometimes it takes multi generations. And what I was thinking, and we’d love to hear from you about this is how Beer Sheva, which was started by immigrants, who many cases were not that sophisticated. And were put in the back lands of Israel, so to speak, have through multi generations, not that first one, created something beautiful down there. So let us give us an update.

Adam Mintz  27:44

That’s a great segue. So I’ll just say quickly, that we all know that Jews lived in Middle Eastern countries, Morocco is just one of them. But Libya and Iraq and Iran. And what happened was that starting after 1948, with the creation in the State of Israel, the Jews didn’t feel comfortable in these Arab countries, and therefore many of them came, they came to Beer Sheva. They were not sophisticated. You know, we look at everything through our eyes. They weren’t sophisticated in the kind of the intellectual Western sense of being, you know, I’ve gone to college and being professionals. They were traders, they opened shops, and that’s what Beer Sheva looked like. For a long time. There were people who lived in bear Sheva. Actually, when Sadat came to Israel in 1979, he came to visit Beer Sheva means there was a significant city even then, what turned Beer Sheva around was in 1969, they opened the university in Beer Sheva, and all of a sudden, the intellectuals started coming to Beer Sheva. It’s interesting that were many American professors who came who made Aliya and started teaching in Ben Gurion University. You know, it was hard for an American professor to get a job in Israel in the 1970s because the university jobs were taken by Israelis. These were foreigners. They couldn’t compete with the Israelis. But Ben Gurion University was a new university, they were looking for impressive professors. So, you had all these fancy professors from the United States who moved to Beer Sheva, and you actually have and this is what you have. Now, you have this amazing melding together of a of a university community, and it’s now one of the top universities one of the top medical schools, they have a great hospital here. And there are, you know, there, there’s high tech here and there’s development and there, there are buildings and I went to, I went to a swimming pool today; it’s hot, you have to go swimming during the day. And it was fantastic to see the people there. And everybody was together. You had the Ashkenazi and Eastern Europeans with the, you know, with the Middle Eastern people, and they’ve really developed an amazing community here and you eat and what you see is you see The way people live when they came in the 50s and 60s, you see small little houses. And then you see the big the big tall apartment buildings you were talking about. It kind of looks like some of the buildings in Geoffrey look like suburban Tel Aviv don’t they?. It’s just great down here. And it also interesting …. we kind of forget this, but the way people are sensitized here because it’s so hot. There still is that tradition in bear Sheva that if you walk in the shop, and every city has a wonderful shock, if you walk in the shock in Beer Sheva in between like one and four in the afternoon. Many of the stores are still closed, meaning it’s hot during the day. They go home, they eat lunch and they take a nap. They take a siesta and they come back at four o’clock when it’s a little cooler. So they really developed an amazing culture here. And it’s really this is now the gateway to the south in Israel. What’s happened in Israel and I know Geoffrey, that your work. Takes you even further South and then Beer Sheva. What’s happened is that there are there are cities and towns that have developed beyond the Beer Sheva. So now you say it’s really a gateway to the south. And they actually call Ben Gurion The University of the Negev. It’s not just them Beer Sheva University is University of the Negev. So it’s a very exciting city. I kind of would tell people when they come to Israel, and I fault myself too I haven’t been in Beer Sheva for a long, long time. That is a mistake. Sharon and I are going to come to Beer Sheva to visit this is a really it’s really important to understand Israel to see Beer Sheva, like you said there are different types of places you know you go to old kibbutzim, you go to small new development towns. And I’ll just end by saying that the Torah of course, introduces Beer Sheva, Beer Sheva was a place where Avraham; Abraham and Avimelech who was the king of Groh, who was the king, one of the neighboring countries, they made a pact here to get along, and probably the word Beer Sheva. It’s a trick Sheva means seven, but probably the word Beer Sheva means that they made a Shavuah, they took an oath around the well. And it’s amazing that this is the city, so many 1,000s of years later, that actually is a city where different kinds of people can come together and can live together. So we maintain that tradition of of Avraham and Avimelech. And it’s, you know, there’s a religious community here, and there’s a secular community here, and it seems like I don’t know why, but it seemed like all the Moroccan restaurants in the shuk today, we’re all kosher, you know, in Jerusalem in Tel Aviv, you have to ask whether they’re kosher in their chef, every single thing seems to be kosher, which I thought was kind of fun. So that’s nice. I want to wish everybody a Shabbat Shalom, Geoffrey, this was great today. I’m happy that I was able to make time because this was a really really good one today. This shabbat is called Shabbat Nachamu, it’s a Shabbat of consolation, after Tisha B’Ab. The last weekend was a weekend where there actually were rockets, rockets and sirens here in Beer Sheva, and please God it should be a time of Nachamu, of consolation and comfort and good things. And everybody should enjoy the summer Geoffrey and I look forward to being back on a New York Time eight o’clock Thursday night looking forward to seeing everybody Shabbat Shalom,

Geoffrey Stern  33:28 Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Adam, we feel like we’re part of your simcha and I just want to say that this episode is dedicated to the beautiful town of Beer Sheva, and I wish you all a Shabbat shalom

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God – What’s in a name

parshat balak – numbers 22-23

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on clubhouse on Thursday July 14th 2022. We read the story of Balaam and note the selective use of the generic “God-Elohim” and the particular name of the God of Israel – “YHVH”. We wonder if it is simply stylic variation or does it have significance. In the process we compare traditional Rabbinic solutions to the so-called Documentary Hypothesis and consider whether the Torah is comprised of different literary voices edited together.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/418965

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we discuss parshat Balak which has a great story about a talking donkey and contains a curse turned into an iconic blessing of the People of Israel.  But our focus will be on how God is referred to, both here and elsewhere in the Torah and what that teaches us about who wrote and how the Bible was written.  So Baruch Hashem you are here and let’s begin God – What’s in a Name

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Adam Mintz  00:58

Bararuch Hashem Nice to see you, nice to be part of this with you and we’re ready to roll. Let’s hear about God.

Geoffrey Stern  01:04

So as I said in the intro, the parsha is called Balak, who was a motorbike king who sees the people of Israel starting to make their way into the promised land. And guess what he’s in the way. So he hires a prophet for hire, named Bilaam. And the idea is that Bilaam will curse the Jewish people, the people of Israel. And during that, we’ll see there’s a there’s a story about a donkey. So we have a Disney moment, if you will, a talking donkey. But I want to focus on the words that are used specifically how God is referred to in the text itself, and see if there are any lessons to be learned. So we’re in Numbers 28. And I’m starting because I gave you the context, right from verse 8, which is after the messengers from King Balak come to higher Bilaam and ask him to Chris, the Jewish people. In verse 8, he said to them, spend the night here, and I shall reply to you, as Hashem may instruct me. So whenever God is referred to by Yud Hey Vav Hey which the witnesses referred to as Jehovah, and we are Jews referred to as simply the name I will say Hashem. So, he says, Stay the night, and I will reply to you, as Hashem may instruct me. So the Moabite dignitaries stayed with Balaam. God, the Lord, now it does not use the word Hashem. It uses Elohim, which is a generic name for the Godhead, God came to Balaam and said, what do these men want of you? Balaam said to God, Balak son of Tzipur king of Moab sent me this message. Here is a people that came out from Egypt and hides the Earth from view, come now and curse them for me. Perhaps I can engage them in battle and drive them off. But God said to Balaam do not go with them. You must not curse that people for they are blessed. Balaam arose in the morning and said to Balak’s dignitaries, go back to your country for Hashem will not let me go with you. The Moabite dignitaries left and they came back to Balak and said Balaam refused to come with us. Then the king sent more dignitaries to convince him to come. And again, Balaam replies in verse 18. Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything big or little contrary to the command of Hashem. So stay here overnight, and let me find out what else Hashem may say to me. That night, God came to Barlaam and said to him, if these agents have come with you, you may go with them. And then we segue into the whole story of Balaam being on the donkey, on the ass going to see the King, and this donkey appears in front of him. But let us stop right here. Rabbi, do you think it’s strange that whenever Bilaam is talking to the people, he wants to influence, the people he wants to impress, That he refers to God as Hashem, the Jewish God. And when he talks to God, the text and you assume him refers to God by the generic name. Is there a lesson there?

Adam Mintz  05:05

Well, you know, let’s take a step back and let’s try to evaluate what it means to be a prophet in the Torah, who’s not part of the Jewish people. It’s a unique situation. The prophets we know were all Jews, the prophets we know in the Torah, the prophets, we know in the later books of the Bible, they’re all Jews. What build on doing being a prophet? How can he be a prophet? Why does God choose to speak to Bilaam? And it seems to be and it’s hard to know, but it seems to be that the point of the tow HR is that God chooses people from the many nations of the world to spread God’s message to different people. And if that’s true, it’s not surprising that when Bilaam, speaks about God, he refers to God as the Jewish God, because his role is to spread the Jewish God’s word to other people. That’s a very, very interesting idea, just kind of theologically, that there is such a person to spread God’s message to the world.

Geoffrey Stern  06:22

In my mind, you give you give Balaam too much credit. In other words, he might have ended up as a prophet, and I refer to the beautiful blessing, the curse that became a blessing that he preached the famous מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹהָלֶ֖יךָ יַעֲקֹ֑ב, how goodly are the tents of Jacob, that you find in pretty much every sanctuary. So he ended up being a Jewish prophet, or a prophet that spoke well of the Jews and delivered. And I guess if that’s the point, if he’s a prophet, he delivered God’s message. But I don’t think he did that intentionally. And so I think I take your question to be really, whether he was a prophet of the non-Jews. And of course, I think sometimes we confuse prophecy with someone who predicts the future, from the true prophet, which is the Jeremiah, that we’ll be hearing in a few weeks, in Lamentations, the conscience of God, the nagging guilt deliverer who puts you on the straight path, and can bless you. But I think that the first question you asked, and I took it to be, can a non-Jew be a prophet for his own people? For others, I do think that we do have examples of, for instance, a Job. We have an instance of a Jethro, where, in Jefro’s case, he’s presented as a very good guy who gives good advice to Moses. So my answer to the first part of your question is, yes, clearly there are non-Jews who are given accelerated access to the Divine and can provide insight. I mean, would you agree to me on at that level?

Adam Mintz  08:24

Absolutely. would agree with you about that. Yes.

Geoffrey Stern  08:27

So then I think the next question is: was he a prophet of God? Or another way of saying that is, how does the Bible use these non-Jewish prophets? And I think, if we exclude Job for a second, I think if you look at Jethro and you look at Bilaam, it’s kind of like we Jews today, when a Jew does well wins a Nobel Prize, or when there’s a character in a book, a tale, who’s Jewish, because we’re a minority, somehow it validates us. And I think a large function of the non-Jews, certainly in the typos of Jethro and Bilaam is ultimately to validate the Jewish people. There’s a there’s a commentator, actually a translator of the Bible called Everett Fox. And he says that one of the functions of this story of a curse turning into a blessing right here is because in Numbers in the in the stories that we’ve been reading of Korach, and of the water, the Jews have just been punished; of the spies. They’ve just been one punishment after another, one curse after another. If you take: you will not go into the Promised Land as a curse. And this is to give us a little respite. This is according to Fox to show that curses can change into blessings. But whether that’s the case or not, I think certainly that the non-Jewish figurehead or prophet who does good things for the Jewish people, validates us. And that’s why it’s worthwhile putting them into a sacred text.

Adam Mintz  10:19

I would agree that 100% Actually, I want to talk about both those things, you know, the idea that that those who you bless will be blessed, and those who you curse will be cursed, is actually a phrase that used twice in the Torah. It’s used concerning Bilaam. In this week, parish shot, and it’s used continuing Abraham at the beginning of the Torah, right, God says to Abraham, those who you bless will be blessed, and those who you curse will be cursed. That’s so interesting that the Jewish puppet and the non-Jewish prophet have the same power, that is that those who you bless will be blessed, and those who curse will be cursed. That’s a unique thing to this prophet. We don’t find that anyplace else. You talk about Job. You talk about Jethro, but we don’t have that idea, the idea that it flips, what they say, flips is an amazing idea, isn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  11:19

Yeah, absolutely. And the idea of it flipping giving it power, giving it more power than had it not flipped. Because it was supposed to be a curse, and it became a blessing that makes it that much more effective. No question, no question about it. And it’s like, when you preach to the choir, that’s not necessarily such a great sermon. But when you preach to people who aren’t in the choir, and they listen, that’s a little bit, I think of what we have here. So, I want to get back a little bit to the choice of names of God. And when I first read it, my first impulse was, you know, it’s like, if you want to get access to the president, let’s use our present president as an example. And you say, Do you know the President, you go, Joe, Joe, and I go way back. When you go into the room, it’s Mr. President. And so I think there’s a little bit of that, it’s clear to me that Elokim is and we can, we’re going to talk a little bit about what we Jews do to these words, we say Elokim, we don’t say Elohim. But Elohim is God. It’s a generic word. We can refer to other gods as Elohim Aherim, other gods and it ultimately comes from the word power, El and some people make a case that the word Allah in Arabic, is similar. It comes from the same shoresh, if you will, and it means the Godhead, but Yud Hey vav Hey, those four letters put together that our tradition says no one, but the Cohen Gadol pronounces on the highest holy day of the year in the Holy of Holies. That’s clearly a reference to the particular god of the Jewish people. And I think at the most basic level, that’s what’s happening here. And it’s kind of fun from a literary perspective, because it’s giving you insight through the word choice of what Bilaam is trying to do. He’s trying to make himself like, yeah, I talked to a Hashem all the time, you know, and let me go in there, and you sleep on it tonight, and I’m going to talk to my buddy, Hashem. Do you think there’s part of that here?

Adam Mintz  13:45

There’s no question. As part of that. Let me just go back to the beginning of what you said. So first of all, the word Elohim, you’re right. It’s not a special word. You know, Elohim Acherim more than that. The Torah in Parshat Misppatim uses the word Elohim to refer to judges. Also people of power, judges are called Elohim. You know, what’s interesting about the yud hay vav hey name is that it’s not pronounced the way it’s spelled. It’s a mysterious name. You know, it’s that you’re not allowed to refer to them by their names. You know, that’s exactly what you said about Mr. President. I always think of that in terms of the queen. The queen doesn’t have a name. If I asked you what’s the family name of the royal family? Nobody knows the family name of the royal family because they don’t have a name. They’re just no known as royalty, Queen and Prince, all those kinds of things. Right. So the idea of having mystery in a name gives the name a certain amazing power to it, doesn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  14:59

It does So on one level, it’s an amazing power. And on the other hand, it really has a sense of intimate friendship. And you know, I once heard and I didn’t have a chance to, to find this out if anyone in the audience knows for sure. The answer to this, I’d love to hear it. But I once heard that in Islam. The preference is when you speak a language other than Arabic, that you refer to who they refer to as Allah, you refer to as God, because they don’t want you to think that the word Allah is like a name they too believe that God has no name. But what that does in a sense, is it illuminates a strange fact that because we use the word Hashem, which, you know, and I know means the name, and is literally continuing on this tradition of he has no name. When we say Hashem, or when a kitd in cheder says Hashem is going to help me with my homework tonight. It’s our best friend. And in a sense, that is kind of defeated. The, the meaning and the purpose of God not having a name, …. now he has a nickname. Now he’s your closest buddy. But it’s an insight into what bilaam did. Bilaam used the ability to say the Hebrew word for the God as a way of trying to show his intimacy when the curtain closed. We know God knew, Bilaam them knew there was no intimacy there, we went back to God. Elohim

Adam Mintz  16:47

You’re really playing on a very interesting idea. And that is the tension between intimacy with God. And the fact that God is mysterious and scary, and far away. Isn’t that an interesting kind of tension. And maybe that’s the tension that we have with God. You know, when we when we make a bracha (blessing), we say Baruch atah hashem…. We don’t usually think about this, but actually the tense changes, Baruch, bless be Atah is you….  were talking directly to God, we refer to God as you, that’s personal. And then we go back to a HaShem, which is in the third person. So we talk to God both personally. And in the third person, we ourselves every single time we make a Bracha, we have that tension.

Geoffrey Stern  17:49

Absolutely. And I think the word I was looking for is the word you chose personal. It’s a personal name. So let’s move on a little bit. For anyone who has ever studied the Bible at academic levels. They all know that there was this theory called the Documentary Hypothesis, and that was in broad strokes that the Bible was edited at the time of Ezra probably, and combined multiple manuscripts. And the names for those manuscripts. One is E for Elohim, and the other is the P , the priestly code. And the they make a distinction between texts that use the word Elohim. And J is the other another text that is Jehovah is Hashem. And we’re gonna get to them in a second. But for those of you who have listened to the podcast before, you know that I believe heartily, that modern scholarship has never discovered anything that the rabbi’s didn’t already recognize. So if I would normally say to you, Rabbi, when the Torah speaks, in and uses the term Elohim. And when it uses the word Hashem, is it referring to something different? Or are they synonyms? What would your typical response be?

Adam Mintz  19:21

My typical response is that they’re synonyms.

Geoffrey Stern  19:23

(laughs) So you didn’t fall for my trap.

Adam Mintz  19:31

We can discuss it on, you know, on a deeper level. But you asked me what my first instinct is, my first instinct is that God has different names, Shadai is the name of God, HaShem is the name of God. Elohim is the name of God. Sometime it’s Hashem Elohim. There are different ways to refer to God. It’s all the same name. Okay, so I actually I think I ended up in your place, but I want to go through the rabbinic traditions and One of the rabbinic traditions and it’s all over, but I’m going to quote Sifrei Devarim כל מקום שנאמר ה’ זו מדת רחמים, and כל מקום שנא’ אלקים זו מדת הדין whenever the word God is used as Hashem the personal name of the Jewish God, it is the attribute of mercy. And whenever it is used as Elohim, just God, it is the attribute of strict justice. And that segues a little bit into what we were saying before that even Bilaam was aware of when he wanted to show that he had an inside track to the Godhead, He would use Hashem, which is the Midat HaRachamum, because you come from the rechem, because you come from the womb, because you have a relationship. And when he was in the room, and the facade came off, he knew he had to speak with God, and God was going to tell him the straight truth, Din, and you know, if you look at the first chapters of Bereshit and this is why the biblical critics that are documentarists will say that there are different accounts of creation, that were coming from different texts from different collections, the beginning of creation is Elohim. Midat HaDin or the E document, and then it moves into Yud Hey Vav Hey. And so in Bereshit Rabbah, it says as follows. So to the Holy One of blessing said, If I create the world with the attribute of compassion alone, no one be concerned with the consequences with the attribute of justice alone, how would the world stand rather Behold, I created with both the attribute of judgment and compassion. So if you remember in our segment on Challah, first Gods creates it with the Midat ha’din, strict justice, and then Man is created, and we mix the two together. So it seems to me that the rabbi’s 100% was sensitive to ways in which the representation of God and I’ll agree to you, Rabbi that they might be synonyms. But I think you’ll agree with me that Say what you will, the Yud Hey Vav hey is personal to the Jews, it would never be used to describe other gods, it would never be used to describe gods of other nations. So that you’ll give me. Yes, I’ll give you that.

Geoffrey Stern  22:30

And so there we do have contiguity here, and to answer the biblical critics will say, yes, it’s conscious. You can learn lessons from it, you don’t have to ignore it. Whether that means that there are different documents or the texts are written in slightly different voices, from a different perspective, which the same author could obviously do, that you can discuss amongst yourselves.

Adam Mintz  23:23

I will accept that. I think that that is probably right. You know, it’s interesting that we’re having this conversation regarding Bilaam. You know, you talk about how he refers to God, it’s Bilaam. You know, how does Moshe refer to God, when he talks to God? You know, the Torah tells us that Moshe had a unique relationship with God, Pe el Pe b’mareh v’lo bechidot says that Moshe talked to God. Like we talk to one another. We look at each other in the eye, we look at each other, mouth to mouth Moshe spoke to God. Now Bilaam didn’t have that relationship with God, I don’t think and therefore, it was a whole different kind of experience, wasn’t it?

Geoffrey Stern  24:16

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And again, I think that that comes through when he has to change the way he talks when he’s in the inner sanctum so to speak. He might make it sound like he can speak to God like a Moses or an Aaron. But when we get privy to the private conversation, it’s a one way conversation. And when he addresses it’s Elokim. It’s God. So I think it’s there and I think it helps us understand the text. I looked up some of the great scholars who addressed things like the documentary theory, and they say, there are those who then come to a portion like ours, and they Try to figure it out, they actually try to make the case that all verses that I talked about the inside and the outside ones are different texts combined. And I think if anything, our story here shows the fallacy of that, it does confirm that you can make a distinction based on how God is referred to about the situation. I mean, I must say in the source sheet, you will find Shadal, Shmuel David lezzato and he takes this historically to Rome. And he says many nations when they conquer another nation, they not only take their God, but they bring it back to Rome, and they set up a temple for that god. So he puts it into the context of, of a Bilaam, trying to colonize to hijack to, engage in cultural imperialism….  without permission, the Hashem, the Jehovah so to speak, and I think that’s a fascinating insight as well, but at least Shadal was focused on the question that I had. Not a lot of other traditional commentaries comment on this back and forth ping pong between the use of the two names of God, which I, I must say surprised me.  I think, you know, in terms of what you said that your sense is that they were used interchangeably. If you look at Psalms 47, 6 it says, עָלָ֣ה אֱ֭לֹקִים בִּתְרוּעָ֑ה ה’ בְּק֣וֹל שׁוֹפָֽר God ascends amidst acclamation the Lord to the blasts of the Horn. That is your position. They are you they are synonymous, they are used interchangeably. And even in our own portion, when Bilaam, finally gets around to a blessing the Jewish people he, he does the following. He says in 23, No harm is in sight for Jacob, No woe in view for Israel. Their God ה’ is with them,. So he interchanges Yaakov with Yisrael, we would totally get that. And then he says Hashem Elokav, he puts them together. So I think you’re absolutely right. That’s why I say at the end of the day, I agree with you that ultimately they are synonyms. But there are nuances involved with being synonymous one with the other. And I think that is kind of fascinating. The really fascinating thing that I’d like to discuss is that the Talmud believes that all Parsha, especially the part that deals with a Bilaam is a book in of itself. In the Talmud in Baba Batra, it says The baraita now considers the authors of the biblical books: And who wrote the books of the Bible? Moses wrote his own book, i.e., the Torah, and the portion of Balaam in the Torah, and the book of Job.  It says מֹשֶׁה כָּתַב סִפְרוֹ וּפָרָשַׁת בִּלְעָם And the book of Job. So we’ve discussed this before, we always think of a parsha, as what you read in the Torah that week. But the Parsha here is not parshat Balak  It’s parshat Bilaam. It’s a literary segment. And the rabbi’s for whatever reason, and that’s one of the reasons I chose this story, to talk about documentary theory and the belief that the Torah is a combination of different documents, is for whatever reason, maybe because, as you started by saying, What’s a non-Jewish prophet doing in a book like this, they made this into a separate book. What do you make of that? What did they accomplish? What did they achieve? And does it relate at all to our wider discussion?

Adam Mintz  24:16

It might, because I think that the rabbi’s who said that the book of Bilaam is a separate book are bothered by how you can have a non-Jewish prophet. You see, you talked about Job, and you talked about Jethro, Job and Jethro, are not portrayed as prophets. They may have spoken to God. Here Bilaam is a prophet. He is called on by the king to curse the Jewish people. He is plugged into God, we would say the following we would say that he somehow has God’s cell phone number, right? That he knows how to access God and Balaam knew that and because Balak knew that he wanted to take advantage of Bilaam. Isn’t that right? Yeah. Isn’t that what it’s all about? It’s about having someone’s cell phone number. If you have God’s cell phone number, then you’re really in good shape.

Geoffrey Stern  30:03

I think so. And the manifestation that we see it in the text is this use of God. And I want to get back as we finish up to to that kind of concept when we Jews use the word Hashem, which really just means we don’t know his name, he’s not my best friend, I don’t have his cell phone number, I call him the name. But what it means in reality is he is my best friend, he’s my, I call HaShem. And we do G-D, as something that is specifically what Jews do. Again, the G-D should be removing us from saying that this word means more than it is. And in a sense, we make it into something that is very personal. And I think that is a kind of a fascinating takeaway into the use of God’s name in real life. And in reality, where do you stand with the G-D?

Adam Mintz  31:06

I don’t think that’s necessary. I mean, plenty of people do it. But you know, the idea is that it’s only Yud Hey Vav Hey  that’s not allowed to be written. That’s the special name of God, the translation of God’s name doesn’t really have sanctity in the same way. Yeah, means I got it. I understand why they do it. But I think that that’s an unnecessary stringency.

Geoffrey Stern  31:27

And I think possibly to a degree when the other monotheistic religions were born, and they were basically talking about the same God, we had to find out or make a way of keeping that distinctiveness nonetheless, and maybe that had something to do with it. I couldn’t find it. But I’ve got to believe in the last year, I actually saw an article written by evangelical Christian and it used G-D. I don’t know whether that’s a thing or not. But it is kind of fascinating how we try to parlay the way we use God’s name to translate into a representation of our relationship to God. And I think that’s kind of a fascinating takeaway of our story. I think the other fascinating takeaway from the story is all their different voices in the Torah, I think the answer is yes. You can say whatever you want about why the rabbi said that, our Pasha, or parts of our Pasha, were a book by themselves. It’s fascinating that Moses wrote them anyway. Moses, it says, wrote his book, Moses wrote, The Balaam and he wrote the book of Job, and then Joshua wrote his book. But I do think that we can all agree there are different voices. And it doesn’t matter if it’s from the same author or multiple authors, whether it was written at one time or over time, whether part of that is reflection on our voice and our hearing. But as I always say, the most academic reading of the of the Bible and the rabbinic reading of the Bible in traditional reading the Bible don’t need to be at odds.

Adam Mintz  33:26

I think that’s right. This is a great topic. And I think it really you know, adds a lot of different levels to our understanding of the parsha. So enjoy the parish everybody we look forward to next week, joining you again as we start the three weeks and we start with Parshat Pinchas be well everybody Shabbat Shalom, enjoy

Geoffrey Stern  33:45

Shabbat shalom. B’ezrat Hashem, we’ll see you all next week. Looking forward

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/418965

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Nachshon

parshat bamidbar, numbers 1

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

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

Transcript:

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

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

Adam Mintz  04:44

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

Geoffrey Stern  05:02

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

Adam Mintz  06:59

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

Geoffrey Stern  07:13

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

Adam Mintz  10:09

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

Geoffrey Stern  10:23

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

Adam Mintz  10:30

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

Geoffrey Stern  10:48

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

Adam Mintz  10:58

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

Geoffrey Stern  11:15

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

Adam Mintz  11:40

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

Geoffrey Stern  12:09

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

Adam Mintz  13:00

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

Geoffrey Stern  13:28

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

Adam Mintz  14:42

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

Geoffrey Stern  15:10

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

Adam Mintz  18:24

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

Geoffrey Stern  18:53

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

Adam Mintz  20:48

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

Geoffrey Stern  21:39

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

Adam Mintz  23:26

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

Geoffrey Stern  24:09

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

Adam Mintz  26:41

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

Geoffrey Stern  27:33

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

Adam Mintz  27:53

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

Geoffrey Stern  27:58

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

Adam Mintz  30:21

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

Geoffrey Stern  30:26

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

Adam Mintz  32:41

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

Geoffrey Stern  32:54

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

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divide and sanctify

parshat kedoshim – leviticus 19 – 20

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on Clubhouse on May 5th 2022 as we ask: what does it mean to be holy? Does holiness divide or unite us? Join us as we ask whether the revolutionary perception of holiness contained in the biblical text is eclipsed by puritanism and sectarianism.

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Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik.  My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition.  Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8:00 PM Eastern and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform.  Today we ask: what does it mean to be holy? Does holiness divide or unite us? so settle down and cut yourself a slice of pie for this week’s episode divide and sanctify.

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Well, welcome to another week of Madlik disruptive Torah. And as we were talking about in the pre-show, usually, Kedoshim, the Parsha that we have this week is kind of wrapped with Acharei Mot, the parsha that we read last week, so it kind of gets buried in the lead. And it's rather exciting to me at any rate, to have the focus today just on the parsha of Kidoshim. And I must say that there is an Israeli expression that I heard recently this amuses me because secular Jews say it when they quote somebody who's passed away. They say Acharei Mot Kedoshim Emor. Is that correct?

 

Adam Mintz  01:34

Rabbi, that is what they say.

 

Geoffrey Stern  01:37

And all that is doing and I've heard that from secular Jews. So it's, it's kind of become part of the standard expressions, it combines the first name of the three parshiot , and it means after death, you are holy in what you say. And so when you quote somebody who's passed away, and you give them a little extra credit, you say, Acharei Kedoshim Emor . And just always love instances where things that are innocuous, Jewish halachic. biblical laws have entered the speech of everyday Israelis.

 

Adam Mintz  02:18

It's a great it's a great saying, isn't it?

 

Geoffrey Stern  02:20

Yeah, I love it. So anyway, we are in Leviticus 19 and 20. And what I am going to do the word kedoshim means holy, as I said in the intro, I believe that we are all going to be surprised by what the Bible considers holy. And so what I'm going to do is kind of read verses selectively, because my bias is normally when we think of something that's holy, we think of ritual, we think of taboo that you can't touch it, that it's pure. And I think you'll be surprised by where the emphasis of the holiness is. So let's dive right in. God spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the whole Israelite community, and say to them, You shall be holy for I Your God am holy. You shall each revere your mother and your father, and keep my Sabbath. I God am your God. You shall not pick your vineyard bear or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard, you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger, I Hashem am your God. That's the kind of repetition You shall not steal. You shall not deal deceitfully or falsely with one another. You shall not swear falsely by my name. profaning the name of God, I am HaShem. You shall not defraud your fellow Israelite You shall not commit robbery, The wages of a laborer so not remain with you until morning, you shall not insult the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind, you shall fear your God, I am HaShem your God. You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kin fairly. (16) Do not deal basely with members of your people. Do not profit by the blood of your fellow [Israelite]: I am ה'. (17) You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kin but incur no guilt on their account. (18) You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against members of your people. Love your fellow [Israelite] as yourself: I am ה'. (19) You shall observe My laws. You shall not let your cattle mate with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; you shall not put on cloth from a mixture of two kinds of material. (20) If a man has carnal relations with a woman who is a slave and has been designated for another man, but has not been redeemed or given her freedom, there shall be an indemnity; they shall not, however, be put to death, since she has not been freed.kinds of seed you shall not put on a cloth from a mixture of two kinds of material. If a man has kind of relations with a woman who is a slave and has been designated for another man, but has not been redeemed or given her freedom. There shall be indemnity they saw will not, however be put to death. Since she has not been freed. I kept on reading the last pot, because that's I think what most of us predicted would be here, there would be laws of sexual and chastity, there would be laws of mixing us the seed of flax, these who came that we had talked about earlier. But that's almost the end of it in the middle. All of these laws don't normally refer to us as the holiness laws. And the fact that it starts by saying, kind of you shall be holy, because I am holy. God doesn't have these kinds of relationships. He doesn't pay his workers, so to speak. So to me, it's a really radical definition of holiness. Are you struck in that way as I am rabbi.

 

Adam Mintz  05:58

Well, I'm struck by the definition of holiness. I'm struck by the fact that the Torah waited until the middle of the book of Vayikra, to talk about holiness. If it's so central, shouldn't the Torah start that way? It kind of sneaks up on us here, does it?

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:15

Well, maybe we've been preparing for this all this time, right?

 

Adam Mintz  06:20

that that itself is a dvar Torah. That dvar Torah 's says that we weren't ready to be holy, yet. We needed all the Torah up to now to get to holiness. I wonder whether that's true. That's a nice Dvar Torah right. I wonder whether that's true?

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:35

Absolutely. I mean, I think the other thing which comes out clearer in the Hebrew than it does in the English is, I wouldn't say it's a sing song. But it starts by saying, I am holy, therefore you should be holy. And then it rolls out one or two or three verses, and it repeats. It has like a drumbeat. I am your God,

 

Adam Mintz  07:00

Well, that's, that's the refrain. And that's the refrain from the first verse, Be holy, because I'm holy, and because I am your God, because I am your God. It seems to be that either God is seen as having these moral traits, or we need to have moral traits, because God is our God, meaning that we need to be moral, that's part of our religious obligation. You don't need to say fast on Yom Kippur, because God is God, because that's a part of the ritual. But to be moral, you may think that has nothing to do with God. The answer is yes, Ani Hashem. It's only because God is God.

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:45

So one fascinating interpretation. And I think one of the themes that we are going to kind of find today, and it's something that always impacts me, is those of you who have ever studied higher biblical criticism, where they look at the texts of the Torah as though they're written in different formats, possibly they were edited and put together. If after you study the higher biblical critics, you go back and study the traditional rabbinic interpretations, you find that this is not a discovery, the rabbi's themselves.... because they lived this language and they live these laws. They were very attenuated to when there was a change in types of phraseology. So one rabbi, Rabbi Hiyya taught: this section, and he says parsha zoo, was spoken in the presence of a gathering of the whole assembly, because most of the essential principles of the Torah are attached to it. Rabbi Levi said because the 10 commandments are included therein.  And I quote this In brief, but it goes on to map, literally map every one of the 10 commandments on to these verses. And what I want to focus on for a second is number one, that the rabbi's call it this parsha. This whole sense of having parshat hashavua ...  you know you don't really find references in the Talmud, correct me if I'm wrong, Rabbi

 

Adam Mintz  09:28

No, you're 100% right. The Talmud... in many places they had a triennial cycle. They didn't finish the Torah every year. They finish it every three years. So therefore, they didn't have parshat Hashavua the way we have it. That was something that developed only over the centuries. That's absolutely right.

 

Geoffrey Stern  09:46

But not only that, you'll never get in the Talmud where they refer like oh, yeah, like we saw in parshat Noach. Or what we saw in parshat Mishpatim.  They do have a concept of parsha. And when they refer to a parsha they mean a chapter, a piece that's clearly unique and stands on its own. And that's why again, I find if you study the rabbi's in that way, after you study higher biblical criticism, they're really talking about the same thing in different manners. So the first thing is this Rabbi Hiyya talks about this parsha, and he's not talking about Pasha hashavua, , He's talking about this segment that is clearly stands on its own and is one literary, unitary piece. And then he says that this is a piece that was said in public. And of course, the word that he uses B'hakel. And we know that there is a commandment to gather all the people at certain times and to read from the toe a biblical commandment. So he is really saying this is a very, very important piece. And then when you add to that this Rabbi Levy, who says it's really a restatement, or I'd say, a parallel presentation of the 10 commandments, that becomes fascinating.

 

Adam Mintz  11:12

That's fascinating. I mean, first of all, you know, it's interesting about the Ten Commandments. So you know, we are all sensitized to the fact that the Ten Commandments are what we like to call the top Ten Commandments, means the top 10 laws, but actually, that's not the way the Torah presents them. You know, the laws and the Ten commandments are not somehow more important than, you know, the little laws, you know, the laws of Shatnes, the prohibition against wool and linen. The idea in the Torah is that all laws are of equal importance. So that's interesting, isn't it?

 

Geoffrey Stern  11:47

You know that they used to say, the Ten commandments in services every single morning. They only changed that, because Christianity thought that the Ten commandments were the only commandments that you had to listen to. And in order to prove the Christians wrong, they took that out of the Davening. But they used to say it in the davening. It is absolutely. The issue that you raise is a complex one, because many non-Jews would come to us and try to focus on the Ten commandments. So for instance, there was a custom to stand for the Ten commandments. And then people said, Well, if we just stand for the Ten commandments, that might be an interpretation that it's more important, and that laws like Shatnes don't mean as much. So we'll stand for the whole thing. So it was a sensitive issue. But there's no question. At the end of some of these re-statements, it does say these are the Ten commandments, even if it's not the one that we target, there's something you know, call it numerology, there was something packed about Aseret Hadibrot because, obviously, Moshe came down with the 10 commandments, you can't dilute that.  So this is an ongoing theme in Madlik, where the way we Jews practice and study our Judaism has, through better or worse been affected by non Jews, by Christians, by others, whether we have been a reflex against that, or simply other dispositions. But absolutely, what you're just saying is what I was trying to say. And so there's no question that this is a very important segment. Now one of the things that I think Henry even mentioned it last week, because he read this portion as his bar mitzvah. The second half of our portion today talks about all the forbidden sexual relationships. And I think even last year for this podcast, we focused on same-sex and the prohibition against same-sex. It's all at the end of this portion. And because we operate in this portion of the week, we tend to lump them together. But I want you to listen very carefully to Vayikra Raba.  Vayikra Raba says as follows. Rabbi Judah Ben Pazi  asked, Why was the section dealing with Consanguineous relationships placed next to the section dealing with holiness? So in Hebrew, it says, Why was parshat arayot connected to parshat Kedoshim. So the rabbi's understood that these were two totally different sections. And just like sometimes they ask, why are the laws of this Sabbath connected or juxtaposed to building the Mishkan; the tabernacle. And they learned something from it. Here, too, these two sections were clearly different. And the laws of the Forbidden incestuous, and other relationships is not kedoshim. It's a way out. It's a section that deals with that topic. And that too, is fascinating to me, because it does impact what Kedoshim is, we can ask why they were put together. But kedoshim by itself doesn't include those things.

 

Adam Mintz  15:40

Yeah, that's interesting. So what do you make of that?

 

Geoffrey Stern  15:45

So again, it absolutely emphasizes what I took away when I read Kedoshim this year afresh. And what I was reading about was, yes, there was some things about the Sabbath. We'll get to that maybe in a second. And clearly, it did talk about the mixed species. But for the most part, when it says, Be holy, because I am holy, because I am your God. It's about paying the laborer on time. It's about having scales that are correct. It's about telling the truth. Even when it talks about not taking God's name in vain. It means when you swear an oath against somebody else, it is so interpersonal, it is so social, that I think it's a revolutionary interpretation of a term that we typically associate with ritual and taboo and those types of things.

 

Adam Mintz  16:46

I think that that's right. I'll just tell you in these months between Peasach and shavuot, there is a tradition each week to study Perkei Avot... , which is the ethics of the Fathers, the laws of morality, begins Moshe kibel Torah Be'Sinai  umsur l'Yehoshua it has the list of the trend of the transmission. Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai and pass it to Joshua. Joshua to the elders and the elders, to the members of the great Knesset; of the great assembly. So the question is asked, Why does the laws of morality give us this line of transmission? Isn't it true about all the Talmud, it's all part of the transmission? The answer is that we know that the obligation to fast on Yom Kippur? Or the obligations, to eat matzah on Pesach. We know that comes from God, you don't need to tell me the transmission. But it could be that the laws of morality have nothing to do with the Torah that the laws of morality have to do with the way people behave in the society that we come from. And the answer is No, the answer is Moshe kibel Torah Be'Sinai, that that that also is part of our tradition, being moral is part of our tradition, which I think is really a nice idea.

 

Geoffrey Stern  18:08

And I would emphasize that. That when you look at Kedoshim, and you read it on Saturday, on Shabbat, anew, you will see if you take just this segment of kedoshim, and you don't go into the latter stuff that talks about all of these incestuous and [forbidden] sexual [relationships] and passion and all of that you will see it is very ethical when we say ethical, ethical between ben Adam l'chavero between man and his fellow. And it's social. And so it's not "also"...  we just heard that this is read in public, this is a rephrasing of the Ten commandments. It's "emphatic", and I think that is so powerful. So I want to go back to what Kedoshim means and how it was taken. But before I do, I can't but talk about one little juxtaposition that came up. And it says in "keep my Sabbath". And I "honor your parents" and Rabbi correct me if I'm wrong, but in the standard tradition of the Ten commandments, you also have the same juxtaposition. You have the fifth commandment is to keep the Sabbath and the sixth is to honor your parents. Am I right?

 

Adam Mintz  19:31

Four and Five, Four is Honor the Sabbath and five is honor your parents.

 

Geoffrey Stern  19:36

Okay. So Rashi here gives the traditional explanation because when I say he gives an explanation. It's based on a question, why are these two laws always combined? And is two really high, high profile places where they are combined, and he says is, this is the traditional explanation that you have to honor your parents. But in a situation where your parents tell you to break the Sabbath, you don't have to listen to them. And I want to ask you point blank rabbi is, is the question a good question? And how does the answer resonate with you?

 

Adam Mintz  20:23

I mean, the question is not a good question, but the answer is a good answer.

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:28

oooooh,  I would go the other way. Why do you think the question is not a good question?

 

Adam Mintz  20:32

You think the question is good? The questions a made up question.

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:35

When it talks between four and five of the Ten commandments? I think the question is a made up question. But when you look at our verse here, that combined in one verse, Leviticus 19: 3 it says, "You shall each revere your mother and your father, and keep My sabbaths: I ה' am your God."  I think that's a good question.

 

Adam Mintz  20:58

Good. Okay. I think that's a good question.

 

Geoffrey Stern  21:01

Okay, so now we agree, it's a good question. Now, why do you think it's a good answer?

 

Adam Mintz  21:09

You you started, you tell me do you like the answer?

 

Geoffrey Stern  21:13

I don't like the answer. I think the answer? You know, it's a good question. Why are you lumping these two things that have nothing to do with with each other together? And we come up with a innocuous situation of a Ba'al Teshuva, or something, someone who's more religious than his parents?

 

Adam Mintz  21:34

Let me tell you the reason I think that it's a bad question, is because the only reason they asked the question is because they have an answer. If they didn't have an answer, they would never ask.

 

Geoffrey Stern  21:47

Okay You know what I mean, right. Before we get to the answer, everything in the Torah is next to one another, right? I mean, they could ask that question on every single verse in the Torah. Why is this next to this? But this is in the same verse? It's in the same verse,

 

Adam Mintz  22:05

But they could ask the question so many times, the only reason he asked that question is because there's an answer. Now, okay. So the answer is, so what happens if your parents tell you to violate the Shabbos? So it comes to tell you that Shabbos wins over your parents? Because I am God? Now, that's an interesting moral kind of dilemma, which is who do you listen to your parents or God? That's a great kind of question. Because I think you can make a pretty good argument that maybe you should listen to your parents, your parents are your parents.

 

Geoffrey Stern  22:43

So I am going to give a radical new interpretation...  is that okay? Heard first here on Madlik.  And this is not a interpretation that I think is the peshat, the original intent, but it is a little bit of drash. And it's looking at it through our modern eyes. For many of us, we will late Shabbat to family, we relate Shabbat to families coming together. There is an Israeli, not for profit, and it's secular, and it is arguing for some sort of public transportation system on Shabbat. And their argument is for people who don't have a car, how do you have Shabbat Friday Night Dinner with your parents. And I have in the source notes their most recent ad from Valentine's Day, and it has a picture of a challah and it says אהבה אמיתית זה לבוא איתה לארוחת שישי אצל ההורים, to come with this collar to the Friday night dinner with her parents. And then it says we should have some sort of public transportation. But what I do believe is that for all of us, it resonates the connection between Shabbat and family and whether that was the original intention or not. But I do think there is a very strong intention and that we should lean over backwards to make sure that of all of the oneg all of the joy that you can celebrate on Shabbat. The one joy that we should lean over backwards to make possible is for children to be with their parents.

 

Adam Mintz  22:53

Good Good. I like that. I mean, that's first heard on Madlik, but I like it.

 

Geoffrey Stern  24:49

So I'm going to have to contact Yisrael Hofsheet and give them some material that came out of Madlik. Okay, so let's get back to this concept of Kadosh holy. So, while she says something very interesting, you shall be holy. This means keeping aloof from forbidden sexual relations. So he studies the same Midrash that I quoted a second ago, that refers to the two parshiot the two sections individually, he is follwowing that. But what is amazing is the language that he use, הֱווּ פְרוּשִׁים מִן הָעֲרָיוֹת. So, there is an expression  קדושים תהיו פרושים תהיו   that means you shall be holy, you shall be separate. And in many sense that falls into the traditional understanding of what holiness is, when I say the mountain is holy, I have to step back, I have to make sure that I don't come into contact with my wife for three days, I have to look at it as a holy mountain sanctified it is a separation, it is holier than now it is an other, it is beyond the material. And that's one level of what he's saying. And therefore it's very natural for him to link our little segment that we read of kedoshim as a holiness with the next one, which was פָּרָשַׁת עֲרָיוֹת, which was the sexual perversions. But I want to talk about the history of this idea. Because the English translation of Peru Shem is actually Pharisees. In other words, Rabbinic Judaism, whether they refer to themselves this way, or this was a label that was put on them were called Perushim. And in a sense, that was their sense of holiness.

 

Adam Mintz  27:03

So I'm going to tell you a secret. See the Pharisees refer to a group that became the rabbinic Jews. They were a group during the Second Temple period. There were the Pharisees. And there were the Saducees. In Hebrew, we say the Perushim. And the Zadukim, the Zadukim were the priests. They were the ones who ran the show. The Peru Shem, the fat juicy, the SAT and the Pharisee. Sorry, they were not the ones who are the leadership, they were the average person. How did they make themselves special, even though they were not the ones who were the priests who worked in the temple. What they did was they separated themselves from forbidden foods, from foods that were Ta'amei from foods that were ritually impure. So what's amazing is they were known by that practice, and therefore they were called Perushim. So actually, it's exactly the same term. The term is people who separate themselves exactly the same term. Isn't that interesting?

 

Geoffrey Stern  28:21

It is absolutely interesting. And from a certain perspective, there is in the notes, you'll see modern scholarship that I bring. So there's an argument of whether this was a term that was a derogatory term like these guys are the outsiders, these guys are the rejectionists or whether it was a term of pride, and you are following a line of thought where they separated themselves from and they observe the types and the other laws of purity and are in at a higher level. And I don't think there's the verdict is not really out on this. But what I want to focus on is again, this concept and those of you who are attenuated to Hebrew, now we've used the same shoresh, the same three letter shoresh twice in the same segment, we talked about a "Parasha", which is a division of the Torah into different segments [literary pieces] , and we've talked about now holy is to be separate. And then there was this sect that really either was tagged as separatists or proudly wore the banner of being separate. But they were the same rabbis who wrote in Perkei Avot that you should not be אַל תִּפְרֹשׁ מִן הַצִּבּוּר. So they understood the problems of sectarianism. They understood the problems of this division.

 

Adam Mintz  30:03

So say it even better. That is it's okay to be separate and ritual matters. It's not okay to be separate and communal matters. And that's amazing.

 

Geoffrey Stern  30:14

I think they struggled with it. I mean, these are the same rabbis who said the temple was destroyed because of Sinat Hinum. They understood this was a time where they were different sects. And this was a time where we were tearing ourselves apart. And so what I would like to finish with is, and I don't know how I got here, but there was a term that Solomon Shechter came up with, which is a very strange term, and it's called Catholic Israel. And he brought it up in a speech where he dedicated The Seminary, the conservative seminary, and you have to understand when he dedicated that there was no real Orthodoxy in America, he was really trying to address Reform and all that. But what he said was amazing, and what the takeaway was, was amazing, and he says, What unites all of Judaism is that if you look back in history, and you look at, for instance, the Kararites who were literalist or fundamentalists who only listened to the written word and argued with the Pharisees, he says, they triggered a response in Rabbinic Judaism, to focus more on the texts to focus more on our tradition. So what he says is, we do have a lot of separation, we have different portions, we have different sects within us. But if you study those portions, and if you study those different movements, and you bring it all to your present in Torah learning, you have a Catholic Israel, which means a united Israel and a holy Israel. And I think that's a fascinating, fascinating idea, as we focus on the connection between Kedusha; holiness and separation

 

Adam Mintz  32:10

That's a great way to end because to imagine that he said that 120 years ago and we're still talking about it and trying to figure out its relevance for today that's really a nice idea. So thank you Geoffrey. I think we really kind of try to get to the bottom of what you do shot is but also what the verses at the beginning with Shabbat and parents and try to understand the tension there I think it's a parsah full of great things. Enjoy everybody and next week join us when we'll have a lunch and learn as we study parshat Emor together.

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:47

It will be at one o'clock Eastern because I will be in the Holy Land. Shabbat Shalom you should all be Kodesh bye bye

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Scapegoating

parshat achrei mot – leviticus 16

A live recording of Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz on Clubhouse on April 28th 2022 for Madlik Disruptive Torah. A goat is thrown off a cliff to atone for our sins. A troubling rite with a rich history for the Jewish people and for Christianity that believes in a Savior who died to expiate the sins of mankind.

Sefaria Source Sheet: www.sefaria.org/sheets/401839

Transcript:

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam mints I host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. We’re back from spring break with fond memories of our Passover Seder, where we sang about a goat My father bought for two zuzim, Had Gad Ya Had Gad Ya. Today, we encounter another goat. This goat is thrown off a cliff to atone for our sins, a troubling rite with a rich history. So welcome back to reality, and join us as we explore Scapegoating.

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Well, welcome back from spring break. Here we are the Madlik podcast. It's on all of your favorite channels, Apple podcasts, and Spotify. So, if you like what you hear today, you can go ahead and share it with your friends, listen to it, and give us some comments as well. So Rabbi, welcome back from Israel. Here we are, we didn't miss a parsha because no one has been reading from the weekly parsha in the Torah. For the last two weeks, it's been Passover. And we are back in Leviticus, we're in chapter 16. The name of our parsha is Acharei Mot, which actually skips back a few parshiot to when Aaron's two sons died for bringing a sacrifice that was strange and not requested. So here we begin, in chapter 16. And God spoke to Moses after the death of his two sons. And it just carries on from there and talks about what the Aaron and the other Kohanim need to do. And then it begins with a very strange, rite, and it says in verse 5, from the Israelite community, he shall take two he goats for a sin offering, and a ram for a burnt offering. And it goes on Aaron shall take the two he goats and let them stand before God at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and how you shall place lots upon the two goats. One lot is marked for God, and the other is marked for Azazel. Aaron shall bring forward the goat designated by the lot for God, which is he to offer as a sin offering, while the goat designated by the lot for Azazel shall be left standing alive before God, to make expiation with it and to send it off to the wilderness of Azazel. And then it goes on further and it says, Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated agent. Thus, the goat shall carry on it all their iniquities, to an inaccessible region, and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness. V'nasa ha se alav et kol avnotam. The one who set the Azazel goat free, he shall also wash those clothes and bathe the body and water. After that they may we enter the camp. And then finally, it ends by saying, and this shall be to you a law for all time, in the seventh month, on the 10th day of the month, you shall practice self-denial, and you shall do no manner of work neither the citizen nor the alien who resides amongst you. For on this day atonement shall be made for you to purify you of all your sins, and you shall be pure before God, it shall be a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practice self-denial. It is a law for all time. And obviously we're talking about Yom Kippur war, and it has the verse in it כִּֽי־בַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּ֛ה יְכַפֵּ֥ר עֲלֵיכֶ֖ם לְטַהֵ֣ר אֶתְכֶ֑ם מִכֹּל֙ חַטֹּ֣אתֵיכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֥י ה' תִּטְהָֽרוּ׃, which is words that we say at the high point of the Kipper service. So this has so much in it Rabbi for us to discuss It's almost hard to figure out where to begin. But as we discussed in the in the pre -how, this is the source literally, of scapegoating, which is a modern day word. It's something that came right out of this strange rite, and we use it even till today. So Rabbi, what about it? Is of the most interest to you? Is it that we put our sins upon an animal? Is it that the animal is not the animal that we sacrifice in the temple, but we send out to the wilderness? What about this is striking to you? Are you surprised by anything? Are you troubled by anything? What does it mean to you?

 

Adam Mintz  04:50

The idea that we symbolically get rid of our sins by placing the sins on this goat the scapegoat, I think is a is a such an interesting idea. I mean, it's a unique idea, in the sense that you don't find it anywhere else in the Torah. You never have this kind of symbolic, you know, transference that's really what it is. We're transferring our sins onto a goat. Isn't that fantastic? I mean, isn't that you know, like, like, how in the world does that work? And it seems to be כִּֽי־בַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּ֛ה יְכַפֵּ֥ר עֲלֵיכֶ֖ם לְטַהֵ֣ר אֶתְכֶ֑ם מִכֹּל֙ חַטֹּ֣אתֵיכֶ֔ם לִפְנֵ֥י ה' תִּטְהָֽרוּ׃, just like you said, On this day, God will forgive us for our sins, atone for our sins. It sounds like it actually works. Somehow this magical formula of placing our sins on the head of the goat works.

 

Geoffrey Stern  05:43

I mean, I agree with you totally. On the other hand, in a sense, I disagree. Because if you think back at religion, and I'm talking about the most primitive forms of religion, where powers are imbued upon inanimate objects, it's called Totem. It's called taboo. In fact, it's almost natural, this concept of even when we sacrifice an animal when we sacrifice a human being, are we not somehow placating the spirits? Are we not engaged in this what you were describing as projecting, displacement, focusing our feelings of aggression our hostility and it's, it's something that's primitive, but I was just quoting from the medical definition of scapegoating. It's something that we have done for ever, you know, when when your kid stubs its toe on the table, and you hit the table and say, bad table, what you're really doing is reenacting this very primal urge of us to, to get rid of the evil, to push it out, and also to bring in the holy. So on the one hand, it's very strange. But on the other hand, it's not really surprising at all.

 

Adam Mintz  07:23

So that's interesting. So I will tell you, that generally, when it comes to sacrifices, you know, sacrifices are a strange thing. Why does Judaism put such an emphasis in the Torah on sacrifices. It's not something we can relate to today, we don't have sacrifices. But in the Torah, the torah spends basically an entire book of the Torah, the Book of Leviticus, talking about sacrifices. So Rambam, Maimonides, has this theory that sacrifices were the way that the ancient world worship their gods, and therefore the Jews worship their God in the same way. But Ramban, Nachmanides, has a different explanation. He says that basically, every sacrifice is a transference. Really, we should be sacrificing ourselves to God. But practically, that won't work out very well, because we sacrifice ourselves to God, that wouldn't be a next sacrifice, that would be it. So instead of sacrificing ourselves, we sacrifice an animal in our stead, in our place. And if you take that explanation, actually, the scapegoat of Yom Kippur is very much in line with the idea of sacrifice.

 

Geoffrey Stern  08:45

So again, I totally agree with you. But one of the reasons why this has become such a subject of discussion, even we'll see with the Ramban, who you just quoted, is because it juxtaposes this sacrifice of the goat to Azazel. And we'll get into what Azazel could mean in a second to the sacrifice that is given in the temple to God. And then of course, there's this lot this, goral, you picked one goat, and it is for God. And the other one is for Azazel, could it be a place? Could it be an alternative God? Could it be an alternative power? So I think that as troubling as just the very act of throwing a goat off a cliff and putting all of your sins on it is then that's compounded by the fact that the person who does it needs to clean themselves before they can come back to the congregation. And so there's a sense of, we're doing something that's unorthodox pardon the expression. And then it has to be countered, as opposed to the other goat. So in your scheme of things, Rabbi, we have now two sacrifices, the one that is to Hashem, to God is a typical type of sacrifice. But that's not the one that we put all of our sins on. So Ramban needs to come up with an explanation to explain this alternative sacrifice.

 

Adam Mintz  10:38

Okay, so you've said a mouthful there, there's a lot of different pieces of this. So the first interesting thing is the lottery the lot. And that is you take two goats, and it seems to be random. And that is that you know, which goat goes to God and which goat goes out to the desert is literally random. That's so interesting, because we know that in many ways, life is random, and which is gonna go to God and which is gonna go out to the desert, it's random, it's by chance. That's such a, that's such a powerful idea. You know, we try to control so many things in our lives. And in the end, the ultimate, the ultimate decider of our fate is random. So that's the first interesting thing. But this idea, you see one sacrifices to God. The question is, what is the other goat that goes to the death according to many people, and Rabbi Soloveitchik, Rabbi, Joseph Soloveitchik, was famous for saying this, actually, that when the goat that goes to the desert is also a sacrifice. It's just a special kind of sacrifice. It's a sacrifice that it doesn't go on the altar. It's a sacrifice that goes to the desert. But that also has the status of a sacrifice, it sent to the death. But in a way, it's our way of asking God to atone for all our sins. So that's really a very interesting idea that the one that we send away, is also sent away, but it's also kind of towards God.

 

Geoffrey Stern  12:22

So the thing that really bothers I think the Jewish commentators is exactly this juxtaposition. And some of them focus on the fact that one of them is to God, it's more to God. And the other one is to some other force. And the the traditional Jewish sources point out also that one of the words that's used in the verses that I read a few minutes ago, where I said that this is a aw forever, it says it's a Chok. And those of you who are attenuated to, to the Hebrew know that while Chok can mean law, in many instances, it's referring to a law that is not so logical, that defies logic, maybe even more that contradicts our logic. So we've talked about the Red Heifer where the priest that brings the red heifer, which is made to purify someone who's come into contact with death. So it's Metahar et hatemaim u' mtameh et ha tehorim, it purifies the impure, and it profanes the pure, and you have a little bit of that here, and so the rabbi's pick up on this, and they say that this is one of those Chukim, this is one of those laws that defies logic, but Ramban, who you quoted earlier, goes even further. He says that this almost smacks of idolatry. This almost smacks as though one is sending a sacrifice to another being he writes, it's for this reason that our rabbis have interpreted and my statutes you shall keep these are matters against which the evil can the inclination raises accusations, and the adult who is likewise bring charges such as, and he goes on and lists and he says, They accuse us in connection with the goat that is sent away to Azazel because they think that we act as they do. So here this is not some profound question. question of why when you purify do you become impure? Here, this smacks of Bible comes out against idolatry. And here we are sending a sacrifice to this Azazel. So maybe it's a good time to discuss what Azazel might mean. And if in fact, we're talking about the Bible recognizing other powers, other forces other gods, maybe a Satan. Is that something that is here?

 

Adam Mintz  15:35

Good. That's an interesting topic. So just from reading the Torah, it sounds like Azazel is the desert. Right? It sounds like Azazel hamidbarah, the Torah says to Azazel which is in the desert. So it sounds like as well as the desert. Now you raise an interesting point, Jeffrey. Because it might mean that as Azael is a power, or a god-like being in the desert, that is how is good in the desert, that our God is in the temple. And then there's Azazel, which is in the desert. So it's not clear. But what happened was the rabbi's identified Azazel with the desert, rather than, you know, that addressing this question of potentially another deity being Azazel, they just identify Azazel as being the desert, you send it out to the desert, you send it away, far away. And we were talking in the pre-game, about how Azazel became came to mean hell. And probably it's related to that. Hell is the sense of far away the bad place with all the sins, right. And that's also the sense that you get, at least from the way the rabbi's understand the verse.

 

Geoffrey Stern  17:00

So I think the name of this episode is scapegoat. And of course, like any other great word that comes from the King James Bible, but the word Azazel. First of all, it has "oz" in it "oz" means strength and power. And again, as much as the rabbi's would love to say that it just means the wilderness, you can't get away from the fact that it's juxtaposed to this one is to God. And this one is to something that's not God. And I think that they were very sensitive to. And so there are some that talk about Azazel as a demon. There were some that look at az azal, which means Ez is a goat, and zaal means to leave. And that through the Septuagint and others is probably how the King James Bible translated the word it's, it's not even a goat. It's azazel became the scapegoat, which is kind of a fascinating, departure in the history of words. But the Ramban quotes, a Midrash, an older rabbinic tradition. And he says something that is absolutely amazing. He quotes Rabbi Eliezer and it says, the reason why they would give someone else the reason why they would give Sammael [i.e., Satan] a conciliatory gift on the Day of Atonement, he calls this a Shochad; "gift" does not do Shochad justice. Shochad is a bribe. And the Ramban picks up on a tradition where the goat is not to God, but it is to Satan. And it is a bribe to Satan. So I think there are some rabbis as you say, that talk about just the wilderness but there is no question that there's a rich tradition that goes in various other traditions that don't necessarily have to say Azazel is another god or power, but it does admit acknowledge within Judaism there is this Yetzer Hora, this inclination that we have for bad and it's personified in this Satan who always seems to be out there. Is Shochad l'Satan a bribe to Satan as radical a thought to you Rabbi as it is to me.

 

Adam Mintz  19:51

It's tremendously radical, but I have to tell you that Satan plays a very critical role in the Rosh Hashanah and the Yom Kippur service, we have an interesting tradition. The tradition is to blow the shofar every morning after services during the month of Elul before Rosh Hashanah and of course the real blowing of the shofar is on Rosh Hashana a custom developed over the centuries not to blow the shofar on the day before Rosh Hashana we take a break between the blowing during the month of lol and the blowing on Rosh Hashana and the reason given is Kidei l' Arev et hSatan, to confuse the Satan what does that mean to confuse the Satan that you know the Satan will think that shofar blowing his over that you know we finished that our holidays are over and he'll therefore he'll go on vacation and he won't bother us on Rosh Hashanah and therefore will be Satan-free on Rash Hashanah. When we blow the shofar. It's a great image because it's just like Shochad l'Satn, we try to get rid and we do whatever we can to get rid of the Satan. We trick them by not blowing the shofar on the day before Rosh Hashanah, and we send them bribes. The idea is that somehow the Satan interferes with our relationship with God. And we want to get rid of the Satan so that we at least on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can have a direct relationship to God without any interference. Isn't that a great idea?

 

Geoffrey Stern  21:36

Well, it's a great idea in the sense that all of these ideas that admit to these other powers like Satan, in a sense, crack the perfect package of monotheism. Because in the in the Talmud, the opposite of monotheism is Shtei Reshuyot, there were two powers, there's good and evil. And in a sense, this is something that as I started by saying, because I quoted the psychological definition, the medical decision of scapegoating is so primal to our existence, that even as much as Judaism, and our texts argue for, there's only one God. And there's only one power. We recognize, through these traditions, that there were other powers, there were things beyond our control, there were things that we don't understand and can control. And that, you know, the truth is, there's also a tradition before Yom Kippur that you shlug kapparot, you take a pigeon, and you hold it over your head, and then that was modified, and you take some money, and you hold it over your head (and put your sins on it). But again, it gets back to this primal need that we have. It's a zero-sum solution, that if we, if there's bad, we have to replace it with good and that bad has to go somewhere. And I think that's why studying texts like this is so helpful, because it puts us in touch with problems that humankind has been struggling from time immemorial. And this will clearly puts a picture on it. So yes, we blow the shofar to confuse the Satan. So you know, Nachmanides, the Ramban say what he brings into this discussion is he brings a little bit of a solution. And what he says is that if the priest would dedicate the merely by word of mouth and say, one for the Eternal, and one for Azazel, that would be like worshiping Azazel, or taking a vow in its name. So Ramban is actually calling as Azazel, another power, call it Satan or whatever. But Ramban makes an argument that hat changes everything is that God is telling us to do it. And he brings an example of let's say, there's somebody who's not such a nice person, but your father tells you, he wants you to eat with them. Your father tells you; he wants you to entertain them. So that modulates everything. And in a sense, what Nachmanides, Ramban is doing is he is saying that, yes, this smacks of idolatry. And yes, this smacks of admitting that they are powers other than God, but God is commanding us to do it. And I think that's also a fascinating concept, both in terms of theology, but in terms of how our religion has kind of adapted to the quirks of humanity.

 

Adam Mintz  24:59

So I I'll tell you, first of all, that's fascinating. I love that I think it's fascinating. I'll tell you a little bit about the history of religion. The biggest problem in religion is why bad things happen to good people. Right? It's not fair, why does bad happen to good people. And most religions solve that problem by saying that there are two forces a force of good and a force of evil, and basically the force of good and the force of evil, the god of good, the god of evil, they fight with each other every day. And sometimes the god of good winds, and sometimes the god of bad wins. Now, Judaism doesn't believe that because Judaism only has one God, but it still believes in that force of evil. And that force of evil is the Satan. And we also have to deal with that problem, that the that the force of evil is all over the place, and we need to try to get rid of it. And I think that relates to what you just said. And I think that relates to the Ramban about a Shichad l'Satan, I think especially on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when we want to have a direct line to God, we need to get rid of the Satan, because the Satan kind of distracts, you know, or kind of interrupts that direct line that we have to God.

 

Geoffrey Stern  26:21

So it's fascinating in terms of theology, that within Christianity, there was also a concept of the Ransom Theory of Atonement. And of course, what is missing from this whole picture, because we are celebrating, maybe celebrating is not the right word. We are commemorating Holocaust Day today, where 6 million Jews were sacrificed. That word Holocaust comes from incinerating a sacrifice. And the concept morphed very quickly, that there was this ability to put one sins on somebody who could then atone. Remember, we started with talking about the two sons of Aaron, and it segwayed right into this, the same idea was taken by Christianity, to make Jesus into also this, this person who went through the steps of the cross. And people were putting the screaming at him and saying how bad he was, and he was taking all of the sins of the people and he got that, from Isaiah. Isaiah in 53, talks about (1) “Who can believe what we have heard? Upon whom has the arm of the LORD--a been revealed? (2) For he has grown, by His favor, like a tree crown, Like a tree trunk out of arid ground. He had no form or beauty, that we should look at him: No charm, that we should find him pleasing. (3) He was despised, shunned by men,-b A man of suffering, familiar with disease. As one who hid his face from us,-c He was despised, we held him of no account. (4) Yet it was our sickness that he was bearing, Our suffering that he endured. We accounted him plagued, Smitten and afflicted by God; (5) But he was wounded because of our sins, Crushed because of our iniquities. He bore the chastisement that made us whole, And by his bruises we were healed. (6) We all went astray like sheep, Each going his own way; And the LORD visited upon him The guilt of all of us.” So Christianity took it from our texts in Isaiah, that we can also become that suffering servant who accepts these sins. So this is a very dangerous concept too. And I think I'd like to finish by saying how Judaism took it in alternative directions, the same phrases that you will find about the  the scapegoat, taking all the sins and washing away all the sins also said about the day of Yom Kippur. So in pure Heschelian fashion, we transferred the concept of putting our sins on a person on a body on something material into something in time. And I think that's ultimately what even though the Yom Kippur service has remnants, as you were describing rabbi, of the Satan and of putting our sins on something else, it also transcends it I believe, by giving us a way out where God commands us to, to to get rid of our sins, put them behind us and move on. But it is a fascinating, troubling subject.

 

Adam Mintz  29:56

It's fantastic that that is such an interesting idea and I think you know, we took off a couple of weeks and now we're back. This is really an interesting discussion. There's so much here scapegoats and transference and bribes for the Satan it was a great way to come back. We wish everybody a Shabbat Shalom, enjoy the parsha. And we look forward to seeing you next week when we discuss the code of morality, the parsha of kedoshim. Shabbat Shalom to everybody,

 

Geoffrey Stern  30:24

Shabbat shalom. I almost feel like I need another spring break after this one. We'll have Shabbat to revive us. And we'll see each other all next week. And I will stick around if anyone has any suggestions, questions something that they want to discuss on this subject? Because it's certainly a subject that is interesting to us. Henry, what says you?

 

Henry Feurstein  30:48

Okay, people, just in hearing that the last analysis that the rabbi gave? I'm, I don't understand. I don't understand. What was God's purpose in setting this setting this whole this particular system up? Was he just trying to make it easy for us, for the Jewish people or the Israelites to kind of wave a magic wand? And now you're forgiven? It? I mean, that's an easy solution. Is that what God intended? Or is it something deeper than that?

 

Geoffrey Stern  31:23

See, my take is that God, or the Bible, or the wisdom of our tradition, has recognized certain primal needs that we have. And its job is to recognize, acknowledge, and then possibly redirect. But I really do feel that unless you can address these primal needs, you can't transcend them. And I was not being a snide when I said, when that you know, two year old has stubbed their toe, and you and you smack the table and you say, bad table, we really do have this belief that if something bad happens, there has to be a culprit. And if there's impurity, the only way to get rid of it is this kind of quid pro quo. But you know, we're living with scapegoating. Look at Putin. He started a whole war based on a false accusation. We Jews know everything about a scapegoating. And we also know about the other side of it, which is as ugly, which is somehow believing that suffering will bring redemption. And these are all ideas that came out of this concept, which I don't believe started with Judaism. And that's what my real answer to you is that the Bible is recognizing a tradition, a human response, and trying to deal with it. That's so when you say did, why would God do this? I think that it's this old concept of lo dibra Torah ela b'lashon bnei Adam, that the Torah speaks in the language of man. And that doesn't mean just language, it means in the symbols in the social institutions, and I think that's ultimately what I see is happening here.

 

Henry Feurstein  33:22

Yeah, but what concerns me is there's no, you expecting this process should bring some sense of our level of repentance from the people. There's no I mean, they're not doing anything. They're just saying, you know, Hocus Pocus, I put my hand on the goat's head, and I'm done. There's no commitment. There's no investment by doing that. That's why That's why I asked the question what was God's you know, intention in this was just to make it easy for us and so that we will continue to follow him or her.

 

Geoffrey Stern  33:50

Yeah. I mean, you you wonder, the rabbi's that agonized over the fact that this is a bribe to Satan. Well, what is a sacrifice to God? Does that mean that that's okay, because it's a bribe to God. I mean, what is this whole tradition? Is it no less hocus pocus when one gives charity and wants to get a good outcome from it? You know, we're trying to control our fate in some, hocus pocus like manner. And it's natural, but it doesn't really matter whether it's to azazel or it's to God in either case, it's I think, from a modern perspective, we feel it's, it's lacking.

 

Henry Feurstein  34:37

So if this was so important, why was it addressed as a one-off? It wasn't set up as a system to continue it was the one-off you do it, you send the goat to azazel that's the end of it. That doesn't seem to have any, like stick to itness

 

Geoffrey Stern  34:58

you mean that they we have this one? exception..

 

35:01

no, no, not a one exception. It's just a one-off. Meaning, you know, you have the goat you have that you have God's goat and you have Satan's goat. I mean, just to make it simple, and we don't ever do it again, there's just this one time in the desert, that God commands us to do this.

 

Geoffrey Stern  35:18

No, no. It happened as long as there was a temple this used to actually happen.

 

Henry Feurstein  35:26

That's not what the Torah says. It doesn't always, always says you shall have the sacrifices, or you shall celebrate this holiday or you shall on Yom Kippur not anoint yourself. But it's an every year profits and every year concept. Here, there's just a one -ff and it seems like it's important

 

Geoffrey Stern  35:45

that the you know, look, I think there's another challenge to the text when it begins, there is no association with Yom Kippur. It's only towards the end that it does. So if you if you look, for instance, at Rashiat the beginning of Leviticus 16, he says he goes out of his way to say this is on Yom Kippur. But and his proof is that if you continue eating at the end, it says it's on Yom Kippur. But I think you're right in the sense that there is this tension here, whether this was only for Yom Kippur number one, but in terms of Yom Kippur. It says this shall be to you a law for all time and the rabbi's interpreted this and normative Jewish law interpreted it, as every year they had these two sacrifices, and you have Talmudic stories in in the tractate of Yoma, where it actually describes how this person would go, on Shabbat Shabaton where you're not allowed to go outside of the Tachum, outside fo the 2,000 amot, and they would set up little Sukkot, it almost sounds like a marathon, where there were people lining on the side of the road. And it actually says they had food that they were offering him on Yom Kippur. And in case he got weary, because it was a good trek to go out of town, so to speak, to get out to the suburbs and the wilderness. And it has a beautiful expression. It says that he never took the food. But it's called something called pas b'salo.... He had bread in his basket, he knew that if he got if he got too weary, he would be able to get some bread. So it gave him that extra confidence. So maybe at the end of the day, that's what's happening here. That God commands us to do something that's almost pagan, that's almost outside of everything that the Bible stands for. Just to move us along. Maybe that's that's part of it. But I mean, that's certainly in the tradition that says that Judaism is an amalgamation of earlier traditions that are modulated.

 

Henry Feurstein  37:56

I know this ended up at the, the end of the Azazel concept is yes, you and you shall commemorate on the Day of Atonement, you know, all the things you years it's not a day of happiness. It's a day of not sadness, but it's a day of repentance. I get that is what you're saying is that the Azazel concept would predate Yom Kippur, at the at the at the temple, they would actually do something like this,

 

Geoffrey Stern  38:22

oh, this was done at the temple. In in temple times, they would stand at the, at the gate of the temple, and they would take this lot, and they would take one goat for God and they would take the other goat, bring him to the wilderness. Absolutely. There's a place even in Israel today that they identify as this is Azazel, this is where it is. So no, this happened. This definitely was documented. And I think, again, getting back to the Jesus thing, when Jesus went the Stations of the cross and people were pelting him, and he was carrying the course, the Christians made this comparison, that he was like the goat of Azazel in the sense that all of the sins were being put upon him. The trick that the Christians claim that God came up with was that he was resurrected and came back to life. So they had their cake and eat it, which I'm allowed to say now that it's not Pesach. But you know, this is a very historically if you think of the persecuted Jews as a scapegoat, and that the concept basically came from our text, not created, not created, but I think you preserved here and made popular and a part of the nomenclature is fascinating.

 

39:48

What makes you what rather what makes you think there's something that predates the there's a concept that predates this particular one.

 

Geoffrey Stern  39:55

In one of the sources that I have in Sephira. It looks at this into terms of the ancient Near East and it shouldn't be surprising because this concept of putting one hands on something and then sacrificing is the most obvious a pagan concept. I think that should not surprise

 

Henry Feurstein  40:15

is the operative word is that it's a pagan concept

 

Geoffrey Stern  40:18

yes

 

Henry Feurstein  40:19

It's not us it's you know and yet we yet we are, excuse my expression, we have resurrected that concept in our in our you know tradition or history.

 

Geoffrey Stern  40:30

Absolutely yeah this is one of the few cases where it's not a surprise that we find it within the cultural milieu what's surprising is that we retained it and we actually sanctified it. Okay, Henry, I look forward to coming to shul this Shabbat and hearing you read the Torah, I'm gonna have to guess which shul you go to. Okay, Shabat shalom, everybody. Bye. See you all next week.

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Purim, St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras & more

parshat Tzav (Leviticus 6 – 7)

Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on March 17, 2022 on Clubhouse. Grab a drink as we explore this week’s Torah reading and how it relates to Spring Folly and Spring Cleaning. Exposed to the ingredients that are used in the sacrifices we realize that Hametz, Matzah and Bread (not to mention, hard liquor) have significance unrelated to the Exodus story and more related to the trials, violence as well as joys of life.

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Transcript

Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and that mADLIK we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish text or tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz We host Madlik disruptive Torah and clubhouse every Thursday at 8pm. Eastern, and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite podcast platform. Today, the gods of folly are shining on us, as Purim coincides with St. Patrick’s Day so grab a drink as we explore Purim St. Patrick’s Day Mardi Gras, and more.

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So welcome and l'chaim to you all. Thank you so much for joining us today. So Rabbi, are you struck as I am that here we have Purim the same day as St. Patrick's Day. And you know, Mardi Gras, which is I guess, before Easter, which is like Lent, and is also a kind of crazy, crazy holiday. And then I'm in LA with a lot of Persians and it's also Narouz. And so as far as I understand Narouz is also a New Year's holiday. It does have one interesting facet to it. I mean, it's a feast, a major feast, and I guess the Persians are like the Jews in that regard. The what's the point of celebrating if it doesn't include food. But it also includes an interesting aspect, which is shaking of the house where in some communities they actually take all the furniture out, they definitely shake the carpets. So there's an element in many of these holidays of both folly and maybe a little bit of alcohol and frivolry as well as a little bit of spring cleaning. Some refer to the beginning of Lent, as there's something called Clean Sunday. And they all obviously coincide with with spring. So is this a coincidence? Or do you like me think that there's some tzad Hashava, something that connects them all?

 

Adam Mintz  02:35

There has to be something that connects them. It's just like we've spoken in the past about the fact that in winter, everybody has a holiday of lights, whether it's Hanukkah, or Christmas or Kwanzaa, everybody has a holiday. And we understand that because it's when the days are short, and it's cold and it's dark, you need a holiday of lights, there must be something about the beginning of the spring that requires us to let go. And to start anew, there must be something there that connects all these holidays. And I look forward to exploring that with you tonight.

 

Geoffrey Stern  03:10

Absolutely. Now, I think the easy one for us because Christianity is so related to Judaism, is that certainly lent I understand the word comes from long, which is the days are getting longer. We just changed the clock for that very reason. And there's no question that we all know that Lent is a time where Christians are more observant, where Christians take upon themselves certain stringencies And I think the most obvious connection between Mardi Gras and Carnval in Brazil, and Lent is that this sort of a release before you begin TwshuvaI mentioned last week, St. Augustine said, you know, Lord, make me chaste, but not quite yet. And there's a little bit of that working here where you you go ahead and get wild and release. And then you get very serious. And I'm wondering, you spoke last Shabbat I believe in your synagogue between the connection between Purim and Pdsach. And I know that we're supposed to start studying about Pesach right after Purim ends, what was the connection between Purim and Pesach that you talked about?

 

Adam Mintz  04:34

So I what I talked about was the fact that Purim and Pesach both represent redemptions. Purim is one kind of redemption; Purim was the redemption of the Jews from Persia. And Pesach is a different kind of redemption, the redemption the Jews from from Egypt, but we made we put the two holidays next to one another. And the explanation that I talked about last week was The following that this year is a leap year. The Leap Year means that there are two Adars this year. And because there are two Adars is this year, the question is when to celebrate Purim? Should we celebrate Purim in the first Adar or the second Adar? And the Talmud says that we celebrate Purim in the second Adar so that we can connect the two redemptions to one another? So there's no question that they're connected. And another interesting thing that already you know, Purim has been over here in New York for about an hour. And already, there's talk that you have to start preparing for Pesach. The The Talmud says that 30 days before Pesach, you have to start studying the laws of Pesach. Maybe by talking about that law, we fulfill that obligation. And therefore tonight is 30 days before Pesach. Actually, four weeks from tomorrow night will be the first Seder. It's hard to imagine, but four weeks from tomorrow night will be the first Seder. In addition, some people have the tradition that they do not eat matzah, between Purim and Pesach. The Mintz family has that tradition. We're done with matzah. Until Pesach we are done with natzah we will not have matzah. And the reason is that kind of gets us excited about Pesach when we sit down and have Matza at the first Seder, it's something we haven't had in a month. So there definitely is a connection. Somehow poram builds up to Pesach somehow.

 

Geoffrey Stern  06:40

Do you think at all that drinking all of a scotch and beer is we're getting rid of the Hametz already 30 days before it is?

 

Adam Mintz  06:51

But I think that your question is a good question. And that is why is it that we drink on Purim? I think that is an interesting question. And you said that the Persian holiday also drinks. So where does the drinking come from?

 

Geoffrey Stern  07:10

So the Persian holiday is like I said Narouz, and they have something called “khooneh tekouni”, which means literally shaking the house, and that's part of their cleaning thing. I don't know whether they drink Obviously, today, so many Persians are Muslim, that they probably don't drink. But now Narouz is a pre Muslim holiday. It's really going back, which is kind of fascinating. again, I reset the room, and we're talking about basically holidays that come from Persia before Islam. We're talking about Christianity that came out of Judaism, and then obviously, Judaism, and they all have these two different themes. One is some sort of release. It seems frivolry, folly before you get very serious, and the other one is cleaning. You know, we because we know of Western Christianity. We know about Ash Wednesday. But as I said before, there is this Clean Monday and part of the Clean Monday in the Eastern Church literally has to do with doing Teshuvah, they read the same psalms that we do before we do Rosh Hashanna. There is definitely a build up to the climax of redemption which we share. That is Pesach. And you pointed out that there is this inextricable connection between Purim and Pesach. I mean this year, you could make the case that had we not had an "ibur Shana" a "Shana Me'uberet' a leap year, I would be talking to you right now at the Seder

 

Adam Mintz  09:05

There's no quetion that that's right.

 

Geoffrey Stern  09:05

This would be this would be the Seder. And so I think that there's there's something about Purim. One of the beautiful Midrashim, or words that people say about Purim is that Yom Kippur is a "Yom ki Purim" that Yom Kippur is like Purim and Yom Kippur clearly as the most serious holiday of the year. And poem is probably the most frivolous. And there's no question that one of the things that we need to talk about tonight is the connection between the two, that these are the two extremes and are the two extremes connected at all? Are there pathways for some people to find God and spirituality and redemption through very serious introspection and for others from pure undulated Joy, I think that's another wonderful question that we can discuss.

 

Adam Mintz  09:12

That is a very good question to discuss. Yes.

 

Geoffrey Stern  10:14

So so, you know, the fascinating thing is that one of the connections that we have is that on Pesach, they are very stringent laws about what you can't have. And you know, I said a second ago, that is there a connection between drinking the liquor which is basically Hametz because it is grain that has fermented, which ultimately is what Hametz is, and what you're not allowed to do on Pesach. And so, you know, really at Madlik, we discuss the pasha every week. And in this week's Parsha, we have a fascinating insight into things that we normally associate only with Passover, and that is leavened and unleavened bread. So if you look at Leviticus 6 and 7, it starts going through the different sacrifices and what I love about the different sacrifices. And I've talked about this before. I think that in our synagogue services, we need to modify our synagogue services so just like, there's minha service, which is the afternoon service, but which is actually modeled after a particular sacrifice called the minha sacrifice. They have to be services for different people at different times, feeling different emotions and having different spiritual needs. But in any case, we go through the different sacrifices that are bought. And we will see in a second that some of them have no unleavened bread. And some of them have a mixture of leavened and unleavened, and some of them emphasize the leaven. So it's again, a kind of variation on the theme that I think we're talking about which of these opposites, there's a place for the opposites. So in Leviticus 6, the first sacrifice that it talks about, and you can almost read these as recipes is the תּוֹרַ֖ת הַמִּנְחָ֑ה the meal offering and and again, we have a service that we do every afternoon, that is modeled after that. And it says in verse 9, it shall be eaten as unleavened cakes, in the sacred precept, they shall eat it in the enclosure of the Tent of Meeting, it shall not be baked with lemon. So those of us who believe that the whole Simbiology of Leaven has to do with the Jews leaving Egypt and not having time to bake their bread have to take a step back here, because obviously, we're being exposed to a grammar, to a vocabulary that says certain things about a sacrifice. When it says, and this one, you can't use Leaven, as opposed to the sacrifice of well being the  זֶ֣בַח הַשְּׁלָמִ֑ים, and that is made of unleavened cakes with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil and cakes of Choice flour, the offering with cakes of leaven bread. So here, all of a sudden, in this other sacrifice, we have a mixture of leavened and unleavened. And there's a wonderful commentary that kind of drills down into this and says, Well, you know, this is a זבח תורת שלמיו it's about your peace. It's about your wholeness, and thanks, and it has to have the leavened bread. And it's fascinating that he says that, you have to eat it very quickly, which causes you to invite more people. So many of these sacrifices had to be eaten. We always think of a sacrifice as something that gets burned and destroyed. But most of the sacrifice, at least many of them had to be like the Passover sacrifice. They had to be eaten with a bunch of people. And so the one commentary which is the Emeka Davar, which I have in the source sheet and didn't have chance to translate it, but it talks about number one, if you're celebrating you have to have leavened bread. And two that you have a time constraint, which requires you to share your joy with other people. So I think the takeaway from all of this is that there is a much more universal vocabulary of what leavened means and what unleavened bread means. And we have to kind of enlarge our universe of discourse when we discuss these things, and it will help us on Passover, but it will also help us the rest of the year. What does leavened and unleavened mean to you, Rabbi?

 

Adam Mintz  15:39

So you gave a great introduction. Thank you, Geoffrey. And obviously, this is relevant thirty days before Passover, generally speaking, the rabbi's understand leaven, as a sign of wealth. Now that comes from the Pesach story, that matzah is called the bread of affliction the bread of poverty, right? Poor people can't afford a whole piece of bread. So that's why we break the matzah. You know, at the Seder, just looking forward to the Seder we we make the afikomen how do we make the afikomen we break the middle matza in half right. That's the tradition everybody breaks the middle matza.  One of the reasons you break the middle Matza in half is because matzah is the bread of poverty. Leaven; bread that rises is considered to be assigned of wealth, generally speaking, the rabbi's explain the Torah there are only two sacrifices that have leavened bread, the Toda the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and on Shavuot, on Pentecost, the Shtei halechem the sacrifice the represents the new crop. Those are the only two sacrifices the whole year that have leavened bread. And the way they explained it is as follows. Generally speaking, sacrifices are our sign of humility, as we stand before God. But two times you don't want to be humble. When we give thanksgiving to God, we want to throw everything to God, we want to give him the best, right? Because we're so thankful we want to give him even leaven bread. And the same thing with the sacrifice of the two breads, the Shei halechm, that's a celebration and we celebrate, then we want to do the best we can do we want to we want to kind of show off our wealth and our success. So actually, the idea of leaven and unleavened is very much connected to Pesach the idea of leaven being something, you know, wealth and prosperity and unleavened as poverty. But I think the key jump here is .... and this is a very important jump. And that is unleavened also means humility. And that you know, Passover is supposed to be a holiday of humility. They explain the Hasidic rabbis explained that Mitrayim, that's Egypt could also be a be pronounced the Mitzarim, which means tight places. Mitzrayim was tight places. It was a place where it was hard to get around, right with the Jews didn't have flexibility. They were slaves. They were in tight places. And only when they left were they able kind of to exhale. So the experience of slavery was was an experience of poverty, of difficulty of unleavened bread.

 

Geoffrey Stern  18:30

You know, I love the Hebrew Mitzrayim is like Metzar, which is a narrow place. Well, all of us know the the Yiddish or anglicized version of tzarot, Xtores, Gehakta tzores, it comes from the same word tzar, which is narrow. And then you talked about the bread, the Hametz is always associated with wealth, but the Hebrew word for wealth is Ashir Ashreynu also comes from that there's not always a negative connotation to being rich, because richness can be in material goods, but it can also be ASHRAE yoshveh vetecha those of us who are complete and whole and rich, in in spiritual things

 

Adam Mintz  19:28

And that's the idea of gratitude, that when we express gratitude, we want to be complete and rich and wealthy and give it up, give it all we got, I think is what we would say in English.

 

Geoffrey Stern  19:40

You know, it's amazing to me the part of the Haggadah called Maggid has only one requirement and it says in the Mishnah that you have to say the verses that are said, when you bring the Bikurim the Those loaves of the first, the first grain, which is amazing. If you think of it here you are at a meal that you are eating only Mtzah and not hametz. And you are quoting, you know, the part that begins with my forefather was a wandering Aramean. That is what somebody says, correct me if I'm wrong, when they raise up those the elevation offering two loaves of bread to thank god, is that also the a little bit of this duality here?

 

Adam Mintz  20:38

Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. It's a tension is, I would say a balance. But I think the better word is a tension. And I think that's really interesting that there's a tension between the idea of humility, and the idea of gratitude, you know, with all that we have.

 

Geoffrey Stern  20:59

So you know, the word that is hametz, now that we've kind of pulled it away from the Passover Exodus story, and we talk in terms of, it's kind of a universal at least as far as the ancient Near East, it meant something, hametz meant something. And, and lechemmeant something. And I'd like to look at that for a second. The word Hametz can mean sour. You know vinegar in modern day Hebrew, is Hamutz. It's when something ferments, it also can mean something that has gone bad. It's deteriorated. It's gotten stale, so to speak. And I think one of the aspects that unites all of the responses to the spring is to kind of wipe away that which has kind of deteriorated over the winter, and look at the new crop and the new sproutings and spring has come. And I think there's a level of that is well here. You know, hametz has a sense of, you know, in the in the New Testament, they taught they criticize the Jews for being a hametz. And they took that right from our tradition, because in our tradition, the hametz obviously needs heat, which translates into passion to rise. It's been associated with redness with with the passion of anger and stuff like that. It's been associated. on the one hand we've seen with ashirut which is can be both richness in a bad sense. But clearly, richness also, in a wonderful sense. But then also, this aspect of the evil inclination and the passion of the moment, and then the deterioration and you want to wipe off the old and bring in the new.

 

Adam Mintz  23:28

Yeah, I mean, there's no question that That's right. And I think that's a tension that plays itself out in so many different areas. But sacrifices is one of those areas, and the holiday of Pisa is another one of those areas. On one hand, matzah is a bread of affliction. At the same time, matzah is the bread of freedom. How can it be that the matter of affliction is also the motto of freedom? The answer is that that's what we always that that's what we always, you know, have a tension between how to how do we look at things, you know, do we do we see things as our opportunity for leaven for opportunity for all of these things? Or do we say no, that we need to be humble? And I think the answer is it of course, both are true.

 

Geoffrey Stern  24:10

You know, and of course, bread, you know, takes us back to the sin of eating the apple. In Genesis 3, Adam is punished, and it says, By the sweat of your brow, shall you get bread to eat until you return to the ground. Every time we make a blessing over a challaha we say hamotzi Lechem min haAretz. And we are clearly making reference to this verse and again, it's a question Is this a curse? Is it a curse to work? Or is it the reality and the joy of being human? Because you know I'll never forget when the peace treaty was made between Begin and Sadat, the verse that Menachem Begin quoted was Hazorim b'dima yikzaru He who sows in tears will reap in joy. There's a part of our tradition that puts down labor. And there's a part of our tradition as we visited in recent episodes, that celebrates labor. And here too, there's this sense of struggle, we can not but admit the connection between Lechem and milchama...  and war, the struggle of life, the struggle between crazy people like Putin, who want more bread, who have a desire for more who need to have that struggle. It's all in here. Is there a connection between milchama and lechem?

 

Adam Mintz  26:04

I never thought of it. But you know, maybe there is maybe, you know, maybe that's what we fight for. And you know, maybe that's part of the challenge, milchama, Lacham, the word lachamand the word Lechem. I mean, it's no question the word lacham, and the word lechem is the same word. I wonder what the connection is between the two. That's very interesting.

 

Geoffrey Stern  26:25

So the connection that that I made, I haven't seen that much, it seems clear to me, the connection that I think you find in the text of the Bible is the opposite. In other words, I go from war and conflict, to lechem which is the staple of life, and that at the end of the day, it's the fighting over territory, over turf. But the Bible goes the opposite direction. So in Numbers, when it talks about the spies coming back from seeing the land of Canaan, it says, כִּ֥י לַחְמֵ֖נוּ הֵ֑ם, they will devour us, they will eat us like bread. And they say אֶ֣רֶץ אֹכֶ֤לֶת יוֹשְׁבֶ֙יהָ֙ it's a land that eats its settlers. But there's no question that there is a connection between the struggle to eke out a living and to provide, and the struggle of limited resources. And war and conflict.

 

Adam Mintz  27:37

There is no question that that's right. I mean, and that, you see that so strongly, and you know, in what's going on in Ukraine, you know, what, what are we fighting about? Are we fighting lacham about Lechem is ultimately all war, about bread, about success, about you know, about being prosperous, is that what war is about is luck, calm and left him the same thing, or lacham and lechem opposite things?

 

Geoffrey Stern  28:09

So, you know, I think at the end of the day, this this conversation of lechem of bread and matzah and unleavened bread, and both of them have connotations that are very opposite. You know, as you mentioned, matzah can be both the lechem Oni, it can be the bread of the poor person. But it can also be the bread of the person who doesn't need those riches (whose self sufficient/fee) who's pure and doesn't require the passion has that that mindset of serenity. And the same goes for the bread, it it can be richness and material, but it can also be the ashrey Yoshvey the pure wealth of prosperity, and it can be this joy that people have when they bring the first fruits and they thank God for it. And I think this confluence that we see here in the sacrifices, but also in these traditions that we see that this connection between Purim and Passover.  think there's a line between the two and we all have to find a spot on that line or spots on that line. It makes it so fascinating this, this wonderful month that we are entering now, we make this transition from the giddiness of drinking to excess, and then sitting down at the Seder and redemption is somewhere in there. It's to me I just, I love Purim, I have to say it's one of my favorite holidays. I've been at Purim meals, where people have gotten drunk fathers have talked to their children, their grown children, and just kind of share their soul with them as one would never hear. And it's a beautiful holiday. And it's a surprise....

 

Adam Mintz  30:30

That is really a good word for Purim is a surprise, right? You never know what to expect on for every holiday, you know what to expect, you know what Yom Kippur is going to bring? You know how you're going to feel you know what the davening is like, you know what shul is like? It's very much the, you know, expected Purim is always a surprise. That's a very smart idea.

 

Geoffrey Stern  30:57

A pleasant surprise, and it can be a troubling surprise.

 

Adam Mintz  31:01

It could be a bad surprise, surprise, right? You never know. And I think you need to build surprises it. I wonder whether that's what the drinking, what the frivolity. I wonder whether that's part of it, the idea of having a surprise?

 

Geoffrey Stern  31:19

Well, you know, certainly one of the themes of Purim is Vinehapachu which means to turn things on their head, you know, we know you're supposed to get drunk. So you don't know the difference between cursed be Haman and blessed be Mordechai. But I think our little exploration today that tied into to both the holidays that are celebrated by many different peoples on this day, and the Parsha that we're reading, certainly shared that with us. There's this delight that we can have this open tent that welcomes everybody, no matter what path they come from, whether it's joy or sadness, there's a message for all of you. And that's kind of also the message of the Parsha. As you read it this Shabbat, there's a sacrifice for everybody. And I think, again,I've been preaching that these aren't so much sacrifices, as ways of relating and ways of expressing different emotions at different moments.

 

Adam Mintz  32:21

I think that's beautiful. I want to wish everybody again, a Happy Purim for those people who still have for him a Shabbat Shalom, it's a confluence of Shabbat and Purim and all the good things right after Purim comes to Shushan Purim. In Jerusalem they're actually just beginning their celebration of Purim now, they celebrate the day afterwards, the 15th day of Adar. So Shabbat shalom. We look forward to next week to as we continue our travels through the book of Vayikra, the Book of Leviticus, Shabbat Shalom,

 

Geoffrey Stern  32:49

Shabbat shalom. Hag Purim samayach, to you all. We'll see you all next week.

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